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November 14 2019

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Thread Author: shion
Thread ID: 5394
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There are 4 posts in this thread, and it has been viewed 1064 times.
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Reason behind high difficulty and SNK syndrome
Is it true old Japanese games were made especially difficult to expand their replay values? If so, is there a source confirming this for games in general or just a particular game? Whenever this topic is brought up at Neogaf, someone always says that is the reason, but occasionally brings up an interview with some old designer from Tecmo/Capcom/Konami (I don't remember) saying something similar. I assumed said designer was speaking just for himself, however.

It sort of makes sense, but there are other angles which can't be ignored.

  1. A lot of games have themes designed for 8-12 year olds. Why not make games enjoyable for kids instead of deliberately difficult?
  2. Some companies didn't care if they made playable games. The poor quality in some games is often mislabeled at as deliberate high difficulty (but is really just careless design).
  3. Although stereotypical, it does bear some truth that Japanese strive for perfection against heavy odds (there is spiritual value derived from it). I've always believed this value went into a lot of their games.
Interesting topic Shion. It's hard to say. I'm not sure it's universal. There are a lot of old Japanese games that are quite easy too. For every Megaman there' another Japanese platformer you will complete easily. I remember Sonic and Mario World even being criticised at the time in the West for being a little too easy. Who didn't complete SMW with 100% completion for example? Also in the Playstation era, European versions of Japanese Playstation games often had to be made harder. I'm pretty sure Metal Gear Solid was one of them.

With a lot of the arcade games, it made sense to make them hard - to swallow your coins. An arcade designer will strive for a maximum 2 minute playtime for a first time player. Many of the Capcom arcade games, like Strider, Ghouls n Ghosts, the internal difficulty level increases the longer you stay alive. When these games came to home console, people expected them to be hard. However some arcade games created an articially high difficulty by introducing ridiculous difficulty spikes or enemies that read your inputs (SNK, cough..cough)

I grew up with Western games on 8 bit computers which were rock-hard and unfriendly and you almost never expected to complete them. I liked it like that because when you did finish one, it felt like a real acheivement
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It just feels like the Japanese bosses of the old companies said to the designers: make it harder! So the designers did. However, there wasn't enough time to make the difficulty 'fit' the game concept that had already taken months to program, so it gets shoe horned into the game, hence why we have so many NES games that suck because of a few glaring difficulty tweaks (one hit kills, small life bar, permanent power up loss, redundant or confusing stage layout, lack of check points, lack of power ups, enemy respawns, stages too long, backtracking, etc.). Interesting that you do bring up Nintendo because they were one of the few Japanese companies that did extensive QC after difficulty adjustments had been made. SNK also did lots of QC after making a tweak to their KOF games in development. Hence a game should be both enjoyable and challenging, like SMB3 or KOF98.

I can totally understand you seeing the inclusion of difficulty differently from your point of view. Piracy of computer games, like those on the Spectrum, was not unusual. Therefore, less sales due to piracy warrants designers to put in less effort to make future games difficult? Rental stores were not common back then, so how do the researchers that say "rentals caused high difficulty" explain the high difficulties in British computer games? The high difficulty feels more like a labor of love or 'just for the fun of it' in the case of British games, but who knows for sure? I saw a YT documentary about the brothers that made Fantastic Dizzy (which is one of my favorite games and series), and while they were talented, in the documentary they make it clear their motivation was profit before design!
Probably like you say it was a way of extending the lifespan of the game. I think replayability in Japanese designers minds is when they make you play the game through twice before you get the 'real ending' Grin

I think a lot of it was conventions of the day. Everyone following everyone else

I would say its gone too far the other way now. All the tutorials, hand-holding and pop-up tips really annoy me. Some of my best memories of games in the past was getting stuck on a problem, sometimes for months then having a 'eureka' moment and rushing home to try it - and it working! good times Thumbs Up

Actually the Dizzy games were some of the easier ones. They did churn out too many of them for sure but I totally understand about making money now though. When you leave schooling early (like they did) using family and friends' money to start a games business, profitability always comes before anything else.
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