Have you ever spent a moment revisiting a childhood game only to find yourself scratching your head and wondering how on earth you were ever able to complete even the early levels? Well, it is a little more interesting than you may realise and things are not quite as fair as meets the eye.
The first thing that was working against you when you booted up your NES version of Super Mario Bros. was the inability to save. Although that may seem obvious, if you dig a little deeper you will notice that it had even greater repercussions. Titles had such limited capacity to reposition your character at different points that they often defaulted basic systems, such as those that simply gave you a limited amount of tries and tossed you back to the most readily available area – sometimes the main menu. Sure, some would allow you to stick in a code that could jump you ahead, but the reality is with such simplistic technology, it was incredibly challenging for the developers to set you to a particular point. So not only were you unable to save your progress, but your opportunities to retry a segment were limited accordingly. Now we are accustomed to those handy saves just before a challenging boss battle that just were not present in historic platform titles. Considering it is a genre that puts so much emphasis into trial and error, it was incredibly punishing.
It was not just the technology working against you though, it was also the inability for the designers to get inside your head. You see in great platformers of today, here is looking at you Ori and Super Mario Odyssey, the games teach you how to play the game as you play it - that may seem obvious but there is a great deal of effort put into the design of the levels allowing you to learn new mechanics in a simplified manner that ramps up in difficulty and precision over time. When you have completed a good skill curve you will be able to complete fantastical feats without ever feeling like the challenges ahead of you were insurmountable at any point in the game. In contrast, older games were always going to get rough quickly and your only hope was to just figure it out. So not only were older games more punishing, but they also were not particularly good at telling you what they expected you to do.
This next one is a bit of a meta issue, it's not so much that older games were pushing you away intentionally, but developers have come to realize that even games that don't necessarily focus on character arcs and personalities still can make the protagonist come alive in a relatable way to keep you captivated and invested in the eventual outcome. This means that you embrace the story and want to find out where it goes, thus giving you the additional incentive to complete levels because you care about finishing the story enough to prevent you from giving up during a frustrating trial.
That is certainly a meta issue, but one that incentivizes you to become a better player in modern games. This lack of story development is likely a simple issue of supply and demand. Today, you have hundreds of options whenever you are nearby a smart device, computer or console, but fifteen years ago your choices were limited considerably more. Nowadays, every developer knows that any advantage over the competition is necessary and relatable stories and characters are mandatory.
The last issue levelled against you historically is something that we are still improving day by day. In fact, as our industry grows we become more equipped to use this technology to go beyond simply giving a regular person a great gaming experience. With enough effort we can make the lives of physically and mentally challenged people a little more enjoyable and engaging. I am of course speaking of the input device. Input devices have become so much better, so much more responsive, and so much more sophisticated. You are not only getting the benefit of having extra buttons, you also gain the benefit of all the technology that makes it easier to hold a controller for longer periods of time; the benefit of having physical feedback alerts for important moments in the game and of course the fact that games are more intelligently designed around these input devices with endless hours poured in, ensuring that players have the best possible experience.
In hindsight it is probably not that you've become a worse gamer overtime, but rather that your patience has run out for games that are punishing, and you have come to expect a better service from the games themselves. We care far more about how good a game is nowadays than how it looks or how available it is. You can go further and deeper down this rabbit hole and find so much more depth in how platformers have changed and how much of an impact these changes have had on the gaming industry, but for now, just rest assured you could probably still beat the 10-year-old version of yourself if you gave it enough effort… If I might suggest - if you have a chance to chat to the 10-year-old you, it may be more worthwhile advising they invest in crypto currency early than challenging them to a round of Ice Climber.
*Article by Devin Rigotti
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