Are games easier, or more convenient?

It’s an interesting time when after a day at hospital you end up talking to a nerdy sort on the way back home (the joys of 3DS matchmaking!) and talking about everything from how to build a PC (remember to put the RAM in!) and the next gen (Sort of agreeing that SD Cards will probably in five years replace discs).

But we did have one clash – are games easier today than they were in our misspent youth, or are they just more convenient?

I do admit, and agree, that a lot of games are comparatively easier. But there are still difficulty levels, still cheap bosses, still games out there designed and even promoted on the back of their difficulty level – Dark Souls, due out next week, is a testament to that. Forget that the RRP for this is £10 more than it should be (a whole other debate topic!), these games exist.

And then you have the other end of the spectrum – Gears of War 3, out last week, is finishable in six to seven hours without any complication. So often, as I pointed out, this works out at £6 per hour of game, leaving a limited multiplayer option to somehow carry the game onwards. And it will for some – but not for others.

Thing is though, I argue the reason games feel easier is that we can save every last detail. For me, one of the best games of my childhood was Gods, a SNES/Mega Drive/Atari platformer-come-puzzler by The Bitmap Brothers. Based loosely on Greek mythology, it told the story of a man promised immortality should he survive and defeat the evils of The Labyrinth.

We reckon swarming is a modern thing with new AI techniques, but Gods was all about throwing masses of monsters at you. And working out the smartest way of taking them down – weapons, puzzles, shortcuts, doorways, bombs, the options were there and you put the pieces together. It was a hard game. Very, very hard.

But it had a password system so if you managed to get through Stages one and two without dying, and with a bunch of new lives, if you turned the machine off and started again with the password – you’d have lost those bonus lives.

Today, a game with that degree of challenge would save your position, location, what weapons you have, what money you have, what lives you have etc. In effect, the convenience of our modern obsession with checkpoints and automatic saving in gaming is making some tough games a lot easier.

But that said, look at games like Bayonetta – where the challenge is in the technical side of the controls, dancing and dodging your way through stages to achieve perfect platinum ratings. This is utterly compelling and compulsive. Also, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – a game which teases you with a perfect rating if you perform certain feats in the course of a mission – be it not getting hit, not being seen or finishing a mission in a time that feels nigh impossible. But because you are told this, off the bat, suddenly you WANT to do it. And in that comes the challenge – especially if you are not completely familiar with the map layouts yet.

So games CAN provide a challenge if designed to instigate that challenge. But games like Gods are of an era when we didn’t have smart technology, when we had to rely on passwords and were happy to waste four bonus lives because it was time for bed.

That said though, I feel we must also accept that certain games back then – Streets of Rage, Goof Troop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – were easier and often mocked for being easier. They DID exist. But one could argue at the time, the industry was a brave new frontier still and making obscene money on the back of fresh ideas.

This was an age of Zombies Ate My Neighbours (another tough game, but I IMPLORE people to demand this on 3DS store. It. Is. Fantastic!), Earthworm Jim, Gunstar Heroes and EVO: The Search for Eden (another legendary game that so needs a revival). Games were cheaper to make, cost more or less as they do now (we still paid £30-£40 per game back then!) and, at a brave new frontier where Mortal Kombat was brand new and pushing the limits of taste and decency in gaming, there were no limits.

Unlike today, where many are limited by shareholders and the sheer size and expense of making a modern game. Games today are safer and comparatively less varied than when I was a kid. I mean, come on, when are we getting Boogerman back? Decap Attack? Toejam and Earl?

Developers have to make games now based on current trends and tastes, and the era of varied experimental games is all but over. Yes, that is a shame – but it was going to happen sooner or later.

So instead of worrying if games are easier, or more convenient, let us worry more about whether a game is fun, whether a game is entertaining, whether it is worth the asking price or not. A £3.50 3DS download that lasts 10 hours is of course a bargain compared to a £40 360 game that lasts six hours. The visuals, the budgets don’t matter – it’s the comparitive worth, and in an era of such high fidelity graphics, we have in some regards spent too much time focusing on the visuals.

As long as you are having fun, then play Call of Duty, Gears of War, Deus Ex, Zelda, Sonic… err, preferably NOT the modern Sonic games… or play Terraria, Dungeons of Dredmor, Crimson Alliance, Scott Pilgrim vs The World…

Easier or more convenient, as long as we enjoy ourselves, then we’re getting value for money. Some games arguably more than others, but that is always a very personal decision.

And now, I am off to download Four Swords on my 3DS – a freebie game that should last me many, many hours. Now THAT is a bargain!

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