790 Purposefully Unfair

There’s a very thin line between making an interesting and challenging experience and making something difficult for the sake of difficulty.

Many old NES games fall into this category. Gaming was in its infancy, you can’t blame it too much. I saw a recent good example of this while watching Vinesauce play Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, during a section with some of the series’ infamous flying Medusa heads. They were appearing from the edge of the screen in what seemed to be an entirely random pattern and frequency, in a section that also had certain jumping restrictions to it because of how it was laid out. This is bad design by modern standards. Why:

1) The nature of a random pattern means that there will inevitably be (and I saw this happen) situations that are impossible to navigate without taking damage or dying. 1) Because of it’s unpredictability, it’s not encouraging or allowing the player to use the skills they’ve learned in the game. 2) Since the game is challenging to begin with, the player can take very few hits without dying, making this even more difficult. 3) The game takes away your ability to jump for this section, which is basically your main ability. 4) Getting past this part doesn’t feel good (at least not the good good), it feels like luck. 5) Because it’s random, there’s the potential for the player to get past it with ease on the first try, which leads to vastly different player experiences with the same section of the game.


Those fucking Medusa heads… (Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on NES, 1989)

Ok, you get the point. And this is a well-loved game. It’s just put in that common NES category of difficult.

These types of games take tons of repetition to conquer, and inevitably through the repetition you will eventually succeed. But understand that there is always a percentage of that success that is strictly because of luck.

Contrast that to a series like Dark Souls which is just as well-known for being as difficult. However, there is zero randomness in Dark Souls. Ok, not zero, but zero examples of randomness used the way it was used with Medusa heads in the above example. Every difficult situation the player is faced with can always be beaten either with luck or with skill. And the repetition that it creates enforces and increases that likelihood of solving it with skill. Now that is the good good type of feeling.

I’m defending Dark Souls and I don’t even like that style of challenging game. It goes to show that great game design transcends petty preferences.

Note: there will always be gamers that prefer to play more difficult games, and this doesn’t necessarily apply to those people. They are looking for an extreme challenge, and don’t necessarily care whether it’s good design or not. Luckily, this is the minority of gamers.

[ Today I Was Playing: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game ]

March 1, 2017