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Old school game difficulty...


merlot
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Since I'm now particpating in Beer Monkey's Midway Arcade Treasures high-score contest, I forgot how hard games were back in the 80's. Right now we are playing Robotron 2084 and while the first 2 or 3 waves are relatively easy, it just gets so damn hard so damn fast. The game is completely unforgiving. Even having just 1 or 2 bad guys left on the screen is never a gimmie as far as completeing that particualr wave of enemies.

 

Compared to games now, the difficulty level was dramatically harder. I'm wondering what the cause is from. Games today are arguably more complex than the simplier "reflex" games from the 80's. Were those games difficulty level so hard in order to make money from the kids that kept feeding the machine quarters? Are games today getting easier to attract more casual gamers? The obvious answer to both questions seems to be yes. What's eveyone's thoughts on this?

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Originally posted by merlot@Mar 29 2004, 10:59 AM

Were those games difficulty level so hard in order to make money from the kids that kept feeding the machine quarters? Are games today getting easier to attract more casual gamers?

I agree with your hypotheses.

 

First, like you pointed out, games are more complex these days. I don't think there's a lot of places to go with the old "twitch" arcade games. With Space Invaders or Afterburner, for example, you could bring more and you could bring more faster.

 

Today's games allows more complex styles of gameplay. Whereas yesterday's games were about reflexes, today's can incorporate that and still bring more to the party. A team-based FPS like Ghost Recon, for example, requires a player to learn the strengths and weaknesses of available assets and deploy them to maximum effect in a dynamic environment. Robustly. (Had to throw "robust" in there, sorry).

 

Second, also in line with your comments, I think the shift from arcades to homes accounts for some of the difference, as well. If they've already got your $50, there's no need to simply ramp up difficulty to stay on the "Continue? Yes/No" bandwagon.

 

Now that you own the game and want to finish it, a creator has the ability to tell a story to its conclusion, which provides an incentive to make sure that players can progress.

 

Finally, you suggest that game difficulty might be easier to attract casual gamers. I'd agree if we changed "casual" to "normal." For a while (and even now, for all I know), I could go to Project Gotham Racing 2's Live leaderboard and see quite a few LCVGers there. A lot of you people are really, really good and well outside the norm.

 

-j

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I think the ease of todays games is mostly a money issue as well, that in part with our low attention span.

 

If they make a game easy enough, and short enough, you get a high turn around in the market. The breed of gamer that will keep a single game and keep playing it over and over is rare. And being in a society of such instant gratification, casual gamers need a easy game they can feel like they acomplished something on. I have a friend that fits this discription perfectly, he wont even play a game if it is much longer than 10 hours.

 

Personally I loath this marketing tactic. That is why I like RPG's. If I don't at least get 15+ solid hours of gameplay out of a title, I feel a little ripped off. That is why I have been picking up the short play games used or discounted. I have no problem spending $70 on FF X-2 because I know I will get about 60 - 70 hours of play out of it. I can handle $1 an hour for entertainment. But games like Ico which are about 5 - 7 hours, I would feel a little ripped off had I payed full price (BTW, this is not a knock against ICO, one of the coolest games I have play, just a little short), but for $19.99 used, that a lot better.

 

As for old arcade games, I tend to agree with Dogbert, they machines were nothing but cash cows. You can zip through the first couple levels in a few minutes, then the game gets so difficult you get killed fast. That is the grab, you have already invested 5 minutes, so you continue, but this time you get killed again really quick. So you plug another quarter, and another. Each time the Time vs Money changes significantly. Firrst quarter got you 5 minutes, second 2 minuter, 3rd 1.5 mins, and so on. That coupled with the fact that back in the day games had no endings, just faster and faster levels till you can no longer keep up.

 

I still remember playing Dr Pepper on the Coleco Vision. I was 6 at the time, my dad bet me 3 New coleco games and a roller controller I couldn't get 1000000 points. It took me six solid hours of twitch gameplay (and holy crap it was fast) before the game froze when the counter hit 999999 as it didn't have a 7th digit. My dad never bet me to play a video game again. Sigh.... to be that fast now.

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And being in a society of such instant gratification, casual gamers need a easy game they can feel like they acomplished something on.

 

I'm not sure your conclusion follows from your premise. I enjoy instant gratification for games, I prefer arcade-type games and really haven't gotten into a single RPG in 20 years (I've tried).

 

But that has nothing to do with my attention span, which is long enough to read a dozen+ science books a year, it has to do with what I want to spend my free time doing, and of course, how much free time I have.

 

To that end, I really like a game that doesn't have an overarching plot-line that either I get to the end of, or I've wasted my time. I like a game that I can jump into now and then, and get some enjoyment out of without any unfinished business.

 

As for old arcade games, I tend to agree with Dogbert, they machines

were nothing but cash cows.

 

I'm not sure how broadly you mean to construe that statement, but while I agree that money was always factored into game design in the arcade heyday, that doesn't mean that games were 'nothing but' cash cows.

 

Even a simple looking game like Robotron is not impossibly hard, it has nuances, and subtlety, it allows for strategy. I knew people that could play a single game of Robotron for more than an hour, partly because they had figured out the right strategy, and partly because they had good reflexes...but they needed both.

 

As far as Merlot's original question, I agree wholeheartedly about the economics, these games made money by the game...more games per hour= more money. But they games still had to pull in an audience, and they did this with creative and addictive gameplay.

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It's been a while since I've played a videogame in an arcade. How do the new games get you to spend more quarters (more like dollars) now?

 

By limiting your play time no matter how well you do. Most arcade games now are the big deluxe machines with some sort of gimmicky thing to make it different from a home game.

 

A racing game like Daytona will typically only give you a single race for your money, and even that can be cut short by running out of time.

 

DDR will only give you a certain number of songs, even if you're perfect all the time.

 

The only real exception that I can think of now a days is fighting games, which still do eventually end when you beat the final boss character. But a fighting game machine always has the opportunity for a 2nd player to plop some money into the machine and play alongside another person... and the loser of course has to pay to keep playing.

 

I guess Light Gun games can be played for a bit too, but even they end pretty quickly.

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Even a simple looking game like Robotron is not impossibly hard, it has nuances, and subtlety, it allows for strategy. I knew people that could play a single game of Robotron for more than an hour, partly because they had figured out the right strategy, and partly because they had good reflexes...but they needed both.

 

And they learned those nuances & strategies, gained those reflexes by pumping quarters into the machine ;)

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I actually didn't play Robotron very much when it came out at the Arcades.

 

It wasn't because it was too hard, but because I subconciously did the mental calculation that the cost of getting good at it was too high. What I mean by that is if a game stymies you at the same place in a couple of consecutive attempts, you are more likely to deduce that it is going to be more difficult to improve at that game.

 

The best games that kept players coming back were the ones in which you can make at least marginal gains with each and every consecutive replay. (throwing out a few interspersed setbacks, of course). Either that, or the game had to leave you with a sense of "Oh, I know what I did wrong, and next time I won't make that mistake." It didn't matter if you then proceeded to make a mistake, because you still believed that you could avoid it the next time.

 

This, for me, was the reason to invest countless quarters into a fun game. But, eventually, a player will reach his plateau, and there will be no more improvement. Case in point with me was Xevious. I got really good at that game, and wanted to get even better, but would die at or near the same point every time. At that point it became time to move on and create for myself a new favorite game.

 

Robotron to me is not one of these games. The deaths to me never were always too random and, most distressingly, INAVOIDABLE. Even today, when I can play to my hearts content "for free", I still have a nearly equal chance of having a good performance as I have of having a terrible performance.

 

 

Back then, games were about points and levels and endurance and high scores. The tedium of advancing through the easy, early stages never felt like tedium, because you knew that your previous personal break-point was quickly approaching, and this would be the time when you would go further.

 

 

This, of course was in the days before "insert coin to continue" became the norm.

I wrote my feelings on that particular phrase here. in this thread.

When that option appeared, everything changed, and now you could "buy" your way through a game, and to me, this is when the true Quarter Eaters started to appear.

 

For good or bad, when "insert coin to continue" appeared, everything changed.

 

Seemingly overnight, games became about about specific goals and objectives, and telling stories, which is good. Just different.

 

Carlos.

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The best games that kept players coming back were the ones in which you can make at least marginal gains with each and every consecutive replay. (throwing out a few interspersed setbacks, of course). Either that, or the game had to leave you with a sense of "Oh, I know what I did wrong, and next time I won't make that mistake." It didn't matter if you then proceeded to make a mistake, because you still believed that you could avoid it the next time.

 

Actually this is how I felt about Robotron. I always felt like I was mere millimeters from breaking a level wide open, and if I only paid a little more attention to some detail I could surpass my best game yet.

 

I think in the end it all comes back to your personality, what intrigues you and what doesn't. For me it had very little to do with the cost of a game and everything to do with how cool I thought a game was. There were games I despised (Crazy Climber) and games I loved (Tempest), even though Crazy Climber is probably an easier game, to me it was annoying and uninteresting.

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