How game difficulty has evolved over the years

Gamers Gaming

Hardcore gamers and fans of the latest video game reviews will be very excited when they read this article. Over the years, the gaming world has gone through a number of changes in order to cater to its target market, while adapting to the current technology. While the most noticeable of these changes is the visual quality, game difficulty is one of the most important aspects of the game that has changed over the years.

During the Atari days, games were simple and responsive, with little difficulty – other than skill to navigate and (sometimes) attack. However, it was during the early years of the Nintendo Entertainment System that things began to change. Technology progressed, and games became more challenging to provide more satisfaction and value for money.

Unfortunately, there was a backlash; not everyone could adapt to the changes, especially when the difficulty level of many games had been increased for the wrong reasons. To be in line with technological trends, developers tried to push too much on gamers, demanding outrageous tasks with a limited and often unsuitable control set. Games that were popular for their difficulty during this era included the Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden series. There were instances where games were not intuitive and kept players guessing as to where to go or what to do next, and occasions where they weren’t even programmed properly. As the gaming industry moved on to the next generation of consoles, the issues were gradually ironed out by providing greater control, adjustable difficulty settings, frequent checkpoints and save-points, and better navigation.

In a bid to capitalize on a game’s difficulty, developers began incorporating new ideas that tested one’s patience. The most popular of these tactics is the time-constraint to complete a certain objective/level. It puts pressure on players to complete a task as quickly as possible, causing them stress, and leaving little room for them to enjoy. Another big nuisance was continuing the game, post-in-game deaths or breaks. In retrospect, when gamers ran out of life, they had to start from the beginning of the stage/level. As technology progressed, respites like checkpoints, passwords and game saves were introduced. However, the fear of returning to a save-point, after a long and arduous play session, made gamers anxious; and the fact that the checkpoints were spread out far apart didn’t help matters.

The ability to adjust the difficulty with one’s appetite (for a challenge) was a welcome change. Gamers who were new to the game could “take it easy”, while hardcore gamers could crank it up to make it more challenging. As time passed, certain games began to automatically adjust the difficulty level in order to suite the skill of the player. This feature was based on the player’s performance, and the first game to utilize this was Max Payne. It changed the number of enemies spawned, the total damage output, amount of health and ammo within a stage – all based on how a gamer played. This meant that players now faced challenges that were fair to their playing abilities.

Perhaps the most evident change took place in the realm of shooters. Initially, first and third-person shooters had players working with a life-bar that would deplete with the amount of damage taken, and that could only be replenished at specific locations or by using specific items. While this concept was modeled to appear more realistic, gamers often witnessed instances where they had to take down a swarm of enemies with only a sliver of health remaining.
A game like Uncharted 3 is also helping out in that regard.

One of the first games to change this formulaic gameplay was Call of Duty 2, which opted for a regenerative health system, instead of a life-bar. If the player was taking heavy fire and was in a near-death state, taking cover and avoiding damage for a while, automatically refilled his health – genius! Such concepts allowed a more strategic and action-packed take on shooter mechanics, without players having to suffer an untimely death. Needless to say, no idea became so popular that it became an industry staple. Games that originally worked on the health points system such as Mass Effect and Kane & Lynch choose to incorporate this new system for greater accessibility.


Unfortunately, not all games try to make the virtual life of gamers easy. In many cases, gamers thrive on the challenge of a difficult video game. While most instances of difficulty in the past could be attributed to technical limitations and unintuitive controls, games have steadily risen up to the level where they provide a fair challenge based on reflexes and skill. Even though the industry tries to go easy on newcomers, seasoned veterans will always find another level of challenge waiting for them.


By Sohail Qaisar

Sohail Qaisar loves to write on topics like technology review , checkout his very interesting article on graphics cards, nvidia or ati. Contact him through: [email protected]

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