Why Old-School Video Games Got The Formula Right

If you’ve played practically any modern video game (with the possible exception of Super Meat Boy and the Dark Souls series), then you know that video games aren’t what they used to be. Many of us grew up in the 1980s and 1990s when games were impossibly hard. Remember Tetris? That certainly got your brain working. What about Arkanoid? You had to be some kind of robot to have the reaction times to do well in that one (which is probably why Google’s AI unit trained its software to play it).

But even some of the less archaic games were stupendously difficult. Progression in the first Gran Turismo game on the original PlayStation was notoriously tricky. And on many of these games, it just wasn’t possible to adjust the difficulty to make it easier.

Today, it’s a different story. Gamers get to choose how difficult the game is, and this is part of what is undermining gaming as a discipline. When you complete a task on a modern video game, you don’t get the same sense of satisfaction that you got in the past. Sure the graphics are a million times better, but you don’t feel as if you’ve achieved anything: you just get the sense that you’ve wasted an afternoon.

Giving players the ability to adjust difficulties downward is an error. People need to feel a sense of challenge when they play a video game: there’s no satisfaction unless it’s hard.

Are We Going Back To Classic Video Games?

If you take a look at the number of classic arcade games for sale, it soon becomes clear that the market is changing. Not only are people returning to the old games, but they’re also looking for developers who understand what they want from games.

Sure, they might say that they want games to be tolerably challenging. But how do you explain a phenomenon like Dark Souls? Dark Souls is an insanely difficult IP, with players dying in their droves on the first enemy every time.

Namco, the people behind the Dark Souls series, understand something: they know that the way that you get people to come back to a game time and time again is to make it stupidly hard. People want to be forced to use their brains – almost against their will – to get a sense that they’ve achieved something.

Nobody finishes a game like Dark Souls confused about what they got out of the experience. The game is a rare example of something that challenges you profoundly.

Developers Know That People Want Difficulty

Developers are finally getting the message that people want games to be hard. The problem is that in the past, gaming didn’t have any mainstream appeal: it was something geeky gamers did in their bedrooms on BBC computers and old IBMs. Those days are long gone, and the people who make games need to appeal to a broader audience. In doing so, however, they’ve lost something – the magic of completing a video game. We need them to bring that back.

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