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Why were NES games so hard?

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Why were NES games so hard?

Post by VG_Addict » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:41 am

A number of NES games had absolutely brutal difficulty. It's even become a phrase, "Nintendo Hard". So, why were they so hard?

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Post by St. Tazy Ten » Wed Jun 28, 2017 7:58 am

Replay value pretty much.

Most kids tried games via rental stores and if you could beat a game in two days they wouldn't have to buy it and that is a lost sale. Since NES cartridges don't have the space for a 48 hour adventure (most of them anyway) the next best way was to make the game so hard and unrelenting that you could only beat it through practice and for most that meant buying it eventually. Not to mention saving was a rare thing to have so you had to get creative and make the game worth owning by punching your consumer in such a way that they enjoyed it.

But that also meant that some games were made too hard and confusing with no real elegance or inventiveness to make you buy it. It's what separates hard but fair games like Gradius from "memorize every enemy spawn in 15 stages" games like Silver Surfer.

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Post by Marilink » Wed Jun 28, 2017 11:26 am

Game design was still finding its way at that point. What constituted "fairness" was still up in the air, and sometimes fairness didn't even matter. Games were also making the transition from Arcade to Home, and in the Arcade there was the special incentive to design games that would eat quarters. It took a while for that mindset to work its way out of the game design psyche.
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Post by X-3 » Wed Jun 28, 2017 1:30 pm

-Replayability
-Rough design
-Smaller audience
-Skilled developers balancing their own games
-Spite

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Post by Cravdraa » Wed Jun 28, 2017 2:01 pm

It's also because they inherited a lot of gameplay mechanics from arcade games at the time, which were designed to take your money while still feeling "fair" enough to keep people playing.

To get at the core of this you need to look at concepts like "Lives" and "Continues" and "Worlds" and "Levels" and what they mean to game design.

All of these factors combine to the point that game design philosophy AND player philosophy was different as well. In more modern games, often time each section of a game is meant to be viewed as it's own challenge. Once you made it past a challenge, you don't have to do it again.
While that was true in the past as well to some extent (games were still broken up with levels and checkpoints) They also built more off of eachother to the point that the entire game was considered one big challenge as a whole. Beating a game required a certain level of mastery of it's gameplay, level design, and mechanic. The game overs didn't sting as much because they were a normal part of the experience. Players did not play expecting to win, they expected to play until they ran out of time or lives/continues, hoping that they would make it a little farther this time.
And to make it farther, you wouldn't necessarily need to get better at what stopped you the previous time you made it there. By improving in earlier stages, learning new tricks, or discovering more secrets, you'd have more resources to throw at the trouble area the next time you made it there. You might just barely squeak by and then get to enjoy more of the game and your success until you hit the next choke poke, at which your next option would be to either master this next challenge, or master the previous one so you can have even more resources to throw at this problem.

Today, it's not uncommon to see limited lives or continues called "Fake difficulty."
Because why should you have to beat a challenge you've already beaten?
Well this is why: it adds another layer of complexity to the gaming experience that ties the whole game together as more of a complete package. It grades you and expects you to get better as you build higher and higher, rather than letting you through when you've only just squeaked by.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, in more modern "Difficult" games with unlimited (or so numerous you're unlikely to ever use them all) lives, you're far more likely to encounter repeated challenges that require faster reaction times or memorization of what comes next. This is both because it's more reasonable to expect them of the player since you don't have to build up to them each time, and also because it can get a greater feeling of overcoming the game's challenges.
(I'm looking squarely at games like Super Meat boy which demand near perfection to proceed, or the Donkey Kong Country Returns series, which was far too fond of making the entire levels disintegrate behind you and giving few chances to catch your breath later on.)

By eliminating the requirement to replay earlier parts of the games, designers are free to actually make challenges more difficult or even "unfair" (challenges you're unlike to be able to clear without knowing about them ahead of time), because there's little penalty to failing to clear them.

It's certainly possible to go too far in either direction. The NES and other early systems were filled with overly difficult games (few if any check points, 3 lives or less, no continues) unfair games (like described above) or worse of all, both. There were certain games that might be fun, but pretty much everyone acknowledged it was unreasonable to even try to beat without cheat codes unless you wanted to devote your life to them.

On the other side, the less you tie together your challenges, the more segmented and less cohesive a traditional level-based game becomes. And often times, again, uses that as an excuse to present "unfair challenges" to retain a sense of difficulty.

Beyond that, there are a whole lot more genres with more open worlds and different types of game play. and those can follow completely different sets of rules and mechanics.

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Post by Shane » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:44 pm

Super Mario Bros was my first Nintendo game like most people. I remember it taking me months and months of regular play to get through. Now you can watch people online beat it in like 10 minutes. Once you memorize the patterns and die over and over again in the same spot enough times, you see just how short the games really were.
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Post by VG_Addict » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:52 pm

Do you think the lack of internet and the fact that most games in those days didn't allow you to save made those games harder?

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Post by Marilink » Wed Jun 28, 2017 4:53 pm

Yes.
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Post by X-3 » Wed Jun 28, 2017 5:05 pm

Players also had less games to build off of in terms of gaining experience.

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Post by е и ժ е я » Fri Jun 30, 2017 1:10 am

Why are you so bad at them? It's a chicken or egg scenario. Are they actually hard, or are the people who label them performing at a mediocre level? Humans and their underdeveloped motor skills, I tell you what,
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Post by Valigarmander » Fri Jun 30, 2017 2:30 am

The game cartridges have to be hard in order to protect the delicate circuitry within. Duh.

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Post by Jesus » Sat Jul 01, 2017 12:56 am

Don't mean to toot my own horn, but I did beat Space Ace. If you want to talk hard, play that game son. NES games were childs play. I beat the evil Commander Borf, reclaimed my manhood stolen from the evil infanto-ray, and even got the girl all in one day.

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Post by Sim Kid » Sat Jul 01, 2017 4:50 pm

[QUOTE="X-3, post: 1634423, member: 27765"]Players also had less games to build off of in terms of gaining experience.[/QUOTE]

This is one thing a lot of people forget. When we were like, single digit ages, we didn't know to look around for hidden things, which areas to poke around, and what sorta things to instinctively do cause a lot of games taught us them.

I recently redownloaded Mario land 2. I platinumed the game in a few hours with 55 lives to spare. I only died once on the three little pigs, and a few other times when I touched instant-death pitfalls. 20 years ago? That game and Wario Land would give me game overs and I would have to set it to easy mode just so I could learn the level layout on the final stage. This time? I strolled right through the Space Zone without even getting hit on the star level. Give it to some kid who's never played a mario game and i guarantee s/he'll think it's hard. Give it to a kid who's played a few, and they'll probably die a few times but then be able to learn the game.

I always find an odd pattern with how the people who seem to be complaining about games being "too easy" seem to be in their 20s and 30s and have been playing for 20-30 years. I dunno why - maybe i'm just seeing a pattern where there isn't one. I do see them all the time. (Like how all the people talking about "When Nickelodeon went bad" always seem to single out the point when they were in Middle School...)



One other thing: Peoples' idea of difficulty varies. I remember this one guy talk about how Pokémon was too overcomplicated. the guy who walked through bloodborne in a weekend on his first try, can recite every monster pattern in Monster Hunter after fighting them once, and can recite the Dark Souls lore by heart. Thought Pokémon was too overcomplicated. I asked why and he said "I attacked a tree with fire and it wasn't very effective, it wasn't inherently obvious that it was a rock type". Really? I breezed right through the Pokémon games - even R/B and G/S, the only reasons I didn't beat those games within a week and a half (like I did with Moon) was cause I literally was not paying attention so I had no idea what to do next. I didn't even start raising an actual TEAM until Gen III. Hell I remember my 11 year old (at the time) cousins talking about how Pokémon Black and White were hard - when everyone else whined that it was too easy. And I remember back around the early 00s, people made FAQs about how to survive Beatrix fights in Final Fantasy IX. I was like "...lol what?" and I didn't even have Quina the first time!



but yes, I do agree with the fact that game designs have changed. A lot of games have a much better quality of life - less "BS" to deal with, for example. (ie, less inventory management puzzles, better hardware so the characters don't jerk around) Plus, waaaaayyy better camera controls.

one thing I notice a lot with these days, especially with Nintendo games, is that a lot of the challenge is in optional stuff - they let you SEEK OUT the challenge. Buuut, a lot of people don't like that - they want you to be clubbed over the head with the challenge.


[QUOTE="VG_Addict, post: 1634421, member: 34516"]Do you think the lack of internet and the fact that most games in those days didn't allow you to save made those games harder?[/QUOTE]

oh, lol, you mentioned that. Yeah, remember how, with the exception of he bonus levels, Mario World was a LOT easier than 3? Or how Mario Land was a LOT easier than 1? You could play the trouble levels whereas in the first Mario Land, you could only practice the Chai Kingdom stages after beating the first three worlds. EVERY TIME.

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Post by Jesus » Sat Jul 01, 2017 5:57 pm

Tubular was a personal trouble for me when I was younger. I don't really see many 4-10 year olds figuring this out without outside assistance. About a year in was when I realized that first question block had a balloon in it. Months after that I finally figured out other question blocks had them too. It took me by surprise to see a world REQUIRING a certain powerup in order to progress.

[MEDIA=youtube]hSXSWqUirGA[/MEDIA]


Newer Mario games do in fact have challenging levels though. Take this one for example.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbsM93nQwA0

You can't touch any enemies or it's automatic game over. Also, if you get too many coins you lose. There's even hidden blocks where you may THINK are good places to jump but will penalize you with a coin. The reason I say don't touch the enemies either (it's unnofficial) but the lakitus are perfectly programmed to where it's impossible to kill one and steal its cloud. That would be too simple ;)

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