As a longtime gamer, the excessive handholding and easy difficulty of modern-day releases grates me. Are you kidding me? Do you know how many wars I’ve seen?
I like video games. It’s something that can de-stress me after a frustrating day or something that can fill long hours of boredom. I love it because I love it, and I love it because of the challenge.
Unfortunately, it seems recent changes in video game development have turned it very strongly toward eliminating parts of the latter. Most games now start with incredibly handhold-y tutorial periods in which they try to introduce you to as much of the game as possible without letting you figure things out on your own. Even a game like the new Gran Turismo, a fairly standard racing game, insists on putting as many parachutes on you as possible.
I’m not pining for the days of no save points throughout the whole level – “I can’t pause the game, Mom! I haven’t reached a save point and I’ll lose all my progress!” – or games so hard that getting any distance from them was considered the stuff of legend (lookin’ at you, Joust, Dragon’s Lair, and Castlevania).
A game should be fun, yes. But part of the fun is the challenge. Comedian Dara Ó Briain was pretty spot on when he described video games as the only art form that punishes you for being bad at it. “You cannot be bad at watching a movie,” he said. “You cannot be bad at listening to an album. But you can be bad at playing a video game.”
And he’s right. You can. A big reason the old games were so hard was because the storage available to keep them on was limited, so each level had to be quite challenging in order to make the games – which were, in reality, quite short – seem long. Cartridges, floppy disks, and arcade machines did not have a lot of memory, so part of the appeal of playing a game was getting far in them because they were so hard. Or, in cases of games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders, just going for the longest and racking up the most points.
Nowadays, there is hardly a game that I pick up that I do not, or cannot, finish. Sure, there are some I don’t enjoy so I put them down and never return, but video games have evolved to the point where you are never so stuck or beaten down that finishing the game seems impossible.
And while I am thankful for saving whenever I damn well please, I feel like the handholding is becoming a bit much. The “tutorial” levels – which often take up the first hour or more of gameplay – want to give you all the information necessary in order to take on the game. But they don’t have to. Most of us who play have been playing for a long time. We know the tropes. We know, more or less, what each button is going to do, what each attack is going to look like. That’s not a bad thing, it just is.
Storage was limited so each had to be challenging in order to make the games seem long. The appeal was getting far, because they were so hard. Or, in cases of games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders, just going for the longest and racking up the most points.
Now, for those saying that they do this for those who haven’t really gamed before, I hear you. And maybe you’re right. But I guess I’d like the option of turning off those “helpful hints” or “entire first levels of the game that are only teaching me stuff” so that I can play at my pace. If I want to know the finishing moves in Mortal Kombat, I’ll look them up; I don’t want a little paperclip Liu Kang to appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen and say, “It looks like you’re about to finish him!”
While I’m on the subject, please get rid of quick-time events. They are worthless. They serve no purpose but to artificially get the blood pumping from stress and punish you for not being fast enough. I should succeed or fail on my skill with the game, not from a random button push in the correct series. They’re jarring and take you right out of the game.
This could be my little lizard brain talking, but it feels like the best time for this kind of balance was right around the Game Boy Color – Super Mario Bros. 2, Kirby’s Dreamland, Pokémon Red & Blue – these games meted out learning and challenge and you just picked up what to do along the way. Then again, Nintendo especially has always been the master of teaching you what you need to know in increments, mostly without you ever realizing it. (Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson actually has some great video rants about game design in his Sequelitis series.)
Sometimes it feels like these days what developers think is “hard” is a boss that has an insane amount of health or does an egregious amount of damage. It’s just a big lump of damage-eating death trap and there’s no extra challenge besides how often you die trying to beat it. And that feels a bit cheap.
Make no mistake, we’re living in a time where there are probably more fantastic games than there have ever been – especially from independent developers – and that’s because more people are into it and the technology is better, allowing them to do more. I am so glad this fun hobby has expanded to so many new and excited people. It’s something very dear to me and I just want to see it done in a way that doesn’t feel like it holds my hand the whole way through because it thinks I’m an idiot.
That, and could they please put an end to fucking pre-orders, using the numbers as an excuse to release a broken, unfinished game and then immediately putting out a Day One patch that’s 8,000GB?