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Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Like a lot of goons I've had a lot of downtime to dig into and expand my bloated Steam library. And thinking about games I impulse buy, games that I get bored of immediately, games I can go back to after years and enjoy, and games I steadily play. It got me wondering, what makes a game fun?

I'm sure a lot of thought goes into every detail of a game. I ask the question because while many people can explain on the surface why they like/hate a particular game (the game was addictive, or the game was too boring), the specifics of it tends to be hidden behind many curtains. What gives a game a lot of replay value? What makes a game that can seem 'great' on the steam sale page /reviews/forums still feel like a punishing chore to play? Why can some games with low stakes send gamers into a frothing rage if they lose, while other games that practically simulate household chores have people up till 3am playing (neglecting their real chores in the process)?

I learned a term a few years ago described as 'Nintendo hard'. You know, back in the 8 bit Era before true difficulty settings, limited strategy guides, and simple graphics. As an adult, I wonder if some of those games were hard because I was young and bad at games, or because the games themselves were designed poorly. Certainly limitations in hardware present challenges in terms of the size of the game or how well the game could illustrate what the hell you were supposed to be doing. I also often wondered if a lot of replay value came from making a game excessively long or tedious.

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New Yorp New Yorp
Jul 18, 2003

Only in Kenya.


Pillbug

Panfilo posted:

I learned a term a few years ago described as 'Nintendo hard'. You know, back in the 8 bit Era before true difficulty settings, limited strategy guides, and simple graphics. As an adult, I wonder if some of those games were hard because I was young and bad at games, or because the games themselves were designed poorly.

Most games of that era were shovelware trash that had very little effort put into playtesting or balancing because they were developed on shoestring budgets.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

New Yorp New Yorp posted:

Most games of that era were shovelware trash that had very little effort put into playtesting or balancing because they were developed on shoestring budgets.

Very few of them were what I would describe as 'too easy' though, and I would assume a badly designed game would just as likely be too easy as it would be too hard. And that would make sense for movie tie in games or straight up knockoffs of good games, but I felt like quite a few NES ports were a step up from their arcade counterparts, taking a game designed to loop forever and actually giving it a beginning middle and end (Gauntlet, Rygar)

Getting a Game Genie was a real game changer, because it let me brute force past parts of a game I was stuck on. It was mind boggling how long some games seemed to go on for,or how opaque the objectives were. The barrel in carnival night zone from sonic 2 was a good example of ubintuituve design creating a major bottleneck in progress.

PT6A
Jan 5, 2006
THE VOLKSWAGEN DEFENDER HAS LOGGED ON

The one thing I've noticed even since the late 90s is how much less broken sports AI is in particular. I remember getting frustrated as gently caress at some games because there was literally no fun difficulty setting with some games. Either it was too easy, or ridiculously hard, but more recent games seem to have figured out ways to increment difficulty very precisely in response to your behaviour, and some like MLB The Show will do it on the fly to adjust as you get better or worse in specific areas, to keep things fun.

Hyrax Attack!
Jan 13, 2009

We demand to be taken seriously


PT6A posted:

The one thing I've noticed even since the late 90s is how much less broken sports AI is in particular. I remember getting frustrated as gently caress at some games because there was literally no fun difficulty setting with some games. Either it was too easy, or ridiculously hard, but more recent games seem to have figured out ways to increment difficulty very precisely in response to your behaviour, and some like MLB The Show will do it on the fly to adjust as you get better or worse in specific areas, to keep things fun.

Oh yeah that's true, I remember a lot of sports games went from kinda fun to absolute joy when you had a human opponent. Four player Mario 64 tennis, lots of baseball games, I barely knew what was going on in FIFA but that became a mainstay.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Rubberband AI was such bullshit. Racing games had it too. RC pro am had that rear end in a top hat of an orange car who loved to come from behind to rob you of first place.

roomforthetuna
Mar 22, 2005

I don't need to know anything about virii! My CUSTOM PROGRAM keeps me protected! It's not like they'll try to come in through the Internet or something!


It's not at all simple. There are distinct axes of a game being fun, some of which are opposed to others, and they go for different target audiences.

A fun model to consider is which brain chemical is triggered by different kinds of games.

Serotonin: the chemical of achievements and increasing numbers. Idle games are serotonin games. RPGs where you level up and become unstoppable are exploiting serotonin at that point.

Endorphins: the chemical of overcoming challenges. Roguelikes, tough puzzles and Nintendo-hard games are heavy endorphin games.

Oxytocin: the chemical of social bonds and teamwork. MMORPG guilds and team shooters are oxytocin games. Story-driven games are also doing Oxytocin.

Dopamine: the chemical of rewards. Lootboxes and other random number based victories are exploiting dopamine. This includes most casual phone games, e.g. Candy Crush is significantly random-based victories. Also present in Roguelikes and especially Diablo-style RPGs, "a +6 sword of banana-slicing!"

Adrenaline: probably less of a thing, but it crops up in games where you can feel in danger, maybe horror games and fighting games (the low HP adrenaline rush, also swings to endorphins when you successfully end the danger situation).

PT6A
Jan 5, 2006
THE VOLKSWAGEN DEFENDER HAS LOGGED ON

Hyrax Attack! posted:

Oh yeah that's true, I remember a lot of sports games went from kinda fun to absolute joy when you had a human opponent. Four player Mario 64 tennis, lots of baseball games, I barely knew what was going on in FIFA but that became a mainstay.

I think it's actually starting to reverse. The AI is getting competent enough that it can simulate an opponent who is just slightly better than you, and realistically so, so that you can improve your skills without getting frustrated. Better than playing some random human online who could be wildly better or worse than you, though obviously playing against friends is still more fun.

DAD NO
Sep 6, 2011






taking for example a narrative-heavy "waifu game", you could have gameplay mechanics and story-lines change based on what girls the player has unlocked or is using, sort of like pokemon (you're trying to collect all the heroines) and fallout (quest-based, open-world) or deus ex (branching storylines based on your decisions). deus ex in particular has an intricate story with some interesting themes, and adam jensen does fit some definition of cute (*winks at the camera*).

the main game board would be the date scene, and a gameplay mechanic would be needing to remember awkward details. some of it is realistic, like her birthday and what day she's free (in numbers, because they can't be bothered to code text recognition). story lines in these kinds of games are...well, kinda not the point. It's about 'doing' stuff, about 'levelling up' as a character. It's recognizing certain things and acting upon it.

now, if you get more into.. light novel type games, where you only click the text to progress the story? then the storyline is the whole point. skimp on the story, and you shoot yourself in the foot. but make no mistake, I've played games like this without a storyline.. if the player is only there for the barely sfw art of attractive girls (or guys, or animals, or robots, or whatever else the target audience is interested in), then why play the game? why not just look at screenshots of the game? if you want to create more than just an irritatingly complex photo gallery of your art, you need to have something beyond that to keep the player wanting to actually play the game, and a good story is the second most reliable way to do that (gambling via micro-transactions is the most reliable, but that's risky legal waters in some parts of the world).

PT6A
Jan 5, 2006
THE VOLKSWAGEN DEFENDER HAS LOGGED ON

DAD NO posted:

taking for example a narrative-heavy "waifu game", you could have gameplay mechanics and story-lines change based on what girls the player has unlocked or is using, sort of like pokemon (you're trying to collect all the heroines) and fallout (quest-based, open-world) or deus ex (branching storylines based on your decisions). deus ex in particular has an intricate story with some interesting themes, and adam jensen does fit some definition of cute (*winks at the camera*).

the main game board would be the date scene, and a gameplay mechanic would be needing to remember awkward details. some of it is realistic, like her birthday and what day she's free (in numbers, because they can't be bothered to code text recognition). story lines in these kinds of games are...well, kinda not the point. It's about 'doing' stuff, about 'levelling up' as a character. It's recognizing certain things and acting upon it.

now, if you get more into.. light novel type games, where you only click the text to progress the story? then the storyline is the whole point. skimp on the story, and you shoot yourself in the foot. but make no mistake, I've played games like this without a storyline.. if the player is only there for the barely sfw art of attractive girls (or guys, or animals, or robots, or whatever else the target audience is interested in), then why play the game? why not just look at screenshots of the game? if you want to create more than just an irritatingly complex photo gallery of your art, you need to have something beyond that to keep the player wanting to actually play the game, and a good story is the second most reliable way to do that (gambling via micro-transactions is the most reliable, but that's risky legal waters in some parts of the world).

I hate every part of this post. We are collectively poorer for its presence.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

PT6A posted:

I think it's actually starting to reverse. The AI is getting competent enough that it can simulate an opponent who is just slightly better than you, and realistically so, so that you can improve your skills without getting frustrated. Better than playing some random human online who could be wildly better or worse than you, though obviously playing against friends is still more fun.

This reminds me of something else - emergent behavior. I noticed one popular aspect of roguelikes is that sometimes you get an unusual or unintended combination of events. This makes for a great narrative story (like the Dwarf Fortress and SS13 sagas) even if other aspects of the design are lacking.

Phyzzle
Jan 26, 2008

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA


I looked into the "theory of making games fun" at some point, and what's written is pretty vague, like that fun tends to involve solving new puzzles.

But game designers presumably have more specific examples. Like escort missions and mechanics for "shocking" or "freezing" the player are universally considered anti-fun. Are those used much anymore?

There's been loads of ink spilled on analyzing how Minecraft is or isn't fun. Like the game designers wondered "how do we give this block stacking game more of an interesting challenge? We could do:

A. Instead of clicking to place a block, you have to click 8 times in a row. More to do = more challenge.

B. To get certain blocks, you play through what amounts to minor skill games like platform jumping, aiming, and seeking.

C. You place blocks by clicking once, but roughly 1/100 blocks will explode, completely at random. "

Now I would think B is the only choice, but the game makers added a hefty dose of C and a considerable amount of A. So I guess it's not really a settled technique.

Biffmotron
Jan 12, 2007



I think there's actually a fair degree of consensus about why we find video games enjoyable. Three perspectives on more or less the same underlying phenomena. The first is the that video games are a way to experience what game designer and TED talk guru Jane McGonigal calls fiero, the emotion of triumphant victory. Modern life doesn't offer many opportunities for triumphant victory. Another way of looking at is that games invoke a flow state, a pattern of escalating challenge and mastery that blots out immediate concerns. And the most cynical way is that games provide a reliable dopamine hit of accomplishment, a level cleared, a skirmish won, a tech researched or an item discovered. Not only do we accomplish things in the game, but we know that we can definitely accomplish things in the game, unlike life, which has unclear rewards and a real risk of failure.

Looking at my Steam library, I think I tend to play games until I've reached a level of boredom or frustration. Boredom and frustration are obviously subjective, but frustration can be encompassed by an interface that makes basic actions like moving around levels or governing your empire an exercise in click-driven tedium, reflexes beyond my abilities, or a grind that takes more hours I care to put in to advance the game state. Boredom can be hit in two ways. Either I've seen the story and am done (or enough that I don't care to continue), or I understand the underlying systems of the game, and it no longer provides any challenge to win.

Now why game X is good and game Y bad is a lot harder to define, let alone knowing how to make a good game over a bad game. It's been years since I read it, so the details are fuzzy, but I remember Jesse Schell's The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses to be a really provocative book about what separates good video games from the horde of shovelware crap.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Phyzzle posted:

I looked into the "theory of making games fun" at some point, and what's written is pretty vague, like that fun tends to involve solving new puzzles.

But game designers presumably have more specific examples. Like escort missions and mechanics for "shocking" or "freezing" the player are universally considered anti-fun. Are those used much anymore?

There's been loads of ink spilled on analyzing how Minecraft is or isn't fun. Like the game designers wondered "how do we give this block stacking game more of an interesting challenge? We could do:

A. Instead of clicking to place a block, you have to click 8 times in a row. More to do = more challenge.

B. To get certain blocks, you play through what amounts to minor skill games like platform jumping, aiming, and seeking.

C. You place blocks by clicking once, but roughly 1/100 blocks will explode, completely at random. "

Now I would think B is the only choice, but the game makers added a hefty dose of C and a considerable amount of A. So I guess it's not really a settled technique.

In general, anti fun mechanics are ones that removed any kind of control from the player. Things like stuns had to be balanced really carefully. When I first saw the diminishing return elements of CC effects in world of warcraft I was immediately aware it was meant to prevent people from stun locking their target. The pace of the game and combat mechanics really dictated what 'reasonable' amount of stun was balanced. Take a game like League of Legends, where even a 0.5 second stun will have lots of utility and making it a bit too abuseable results in a very un fun experience for the victim.

Another anti fun element I observed from other players was RNG. Roguelikes such as Darkest Dungeon had randomness in an unforgiving setting where things could snowball very badly for you. was all about the frustration of the AI being 'unfairly' lucky even when you felt like you were playing prudently. But sometimes people's evaluation of risk got a little weird when it came to games; I'd often point out that people who hit on a 12 in Blackjack will just when they bust, but making a similar play in Darkest Dungeon or XCOM will cause them to rage out.

Canine Blues Arooo
Jan 7, 2008

when you think about it...i'm the first girl you ever spent the night with


Grimey Drawer

Panfilo posted:

As an adult, I wonder if some of those games were hard because I was young and bad at games, or because the games themselves were designed poorly.

Just a comment on this - A lot of the famous 'Nintendo Hard' games were super tight. While a lot of mechanics were in their infancy, SMB offered up a very solid template for platformers to copy (which many games featured as a mechanic later) and there were few mechanics to worry about. Mega Man, Battletoads, Contra, Castlevania, Bucky O Hare - these games were hard, but the controls were ultra responsive and they were generally really well designed games. Ninja Gaiden almost fits the bill as well, but you could make arguments about wall cling and graphical presentation of said walls as a sticking point (looking at you 5-2). Even games like Faxanadu, which have very non-conventional platforming physics still offer really tight controls. The core systems of those early games were generally super good, largely because there were strong examples of what worked well, and that there just weren't that many systems or variables to polish, so you polished the poo poo out of what was there.

Modern games have so much more going on, and you need an increasingly talented designer pool to manage all that stuff. The problem as I see it is that most designers are pretty awful at their job and you get some very safe 'paint by numbers' titles - I feel this is most of the AAA industry right now. There are exceptions - God of War, DMC5, Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 and others are really strong across the board, despite coming out of the cesspool that generally births the mediocre trash that lines stores around December. There is oddly something genre-specific about this as well -- Most fighting games are actually very competent and mistakes are usually made in nuance. A game like Tekken is so technical, but Tekken 7 clearly understands the genre and how to execute well. On the opposite side of the coin, MMORPGs are almost all trash. No one in that industry seems to understand how to design rewards or class, and when they do accidently put together good class design, they have a habit of trashing it because they don't actually understand the thing they are supposed to be designing and so said design was exactly that: An accident. I don't believe the MMORPG is dead, I just think the games are all terrible and it's awaiting a renaissance.

I also think it's no surprise that Indie studios are putting out some of the best stuff we've ever seen. Ori and Hollow Knight crush the Metroidvania genre. Disco Elysium has better writing than nearly every AAA game. Factorio and Satisfactory both execute super well on logistics-driven gameplay. I think this largely comes from people who want to build something in a genre they *really* understand, and the results are apparent for all to see. It should be a wake-up call when a random team of fans creates the best Sonic game in 20 years.

As for what makes games 'good' - I think that varies a lot per genre, and understanding the values of your audience is a big part of that. Fighting games have a different set of values and standards than platformers has a different set of standards than RPGs. I can speak to some of these, but definitely not all of them.

Canine Blues Arooo fucked around with this message at 06:12 on May 5, 2020

Straight White Shark
May 16, 2009



Fun Shoe

Canine Blues Arooo posted:

Just a comment on this - A lot of the famous 'Nintendo Hard' games were super tight. While a lot of mechanics were in their infancy, SMB offered up a very solid template for platformers to copy (which many games featured as a mechanic later) and there were few mechanics to worry about. Mega Man, Battletoads, Contra, Castlevania, Bucky O Hare - these games were hard, but the controls were ultra responsive and they were generally really well designed games. Ninja Gaiden almost fits the bill as well, but you could make arguments about wall cling and graphical presentation of said walls as a sticking point (looking at you 5-2). Even games like Faxanadu, which have very non-conventional platforming physics still offer really tight controls. The core systems of those early games were generally super good, largely because there were strong examples of what worked well, and that there just weren't that many systems or variables to polish, so you polished the poo poo out of what was there.

How exactly do you define "tight"? I think it's odd that you lump SMB and Mega Man together with Castlevania and Faxanadu given how wildly different their control physics are. OG Castlevania is "fair" in that the controls are consistent and predictable but I think there's a reason that modern platformers control more like SMB/Mega Man than Castlevania (and even Castlevania's sequels moved in that direction.)

Canine Blues Arooo
Jan 7, 2008

when you think about it...i'm the first girl you ever spent the night with


Grimey Drawer

Straight White Shark posted:

How exactly do you define "tight"? I think it's odd that you lump SMB and Mega Man together with Castlevania and Faxanadu given how wildly different their control physics are. OG Castlevania is "fair" in that the controls are consistent and predictable but I think there's a reason that modern platformers control more like SMB/Mega Man than Castlevania (and even Castlevania's sequels moved in that direction.)

'Tight' has a couple qualifiers, but the big ones are 'Inputs produce predictable, intuitive results' and 'the time to see those results is consistent'. Basically, the game isn't making any assumptions on your behalf and is being responsive along the way. My current go-to example for a more apples to apples comparison would be Smash Melee vs Smash Ultimate. Melee has really tight controls, almost to a fault. The game makes some assumptions on your behalf and fudges some inputs in the players favor, but a lot of that exists on the fringes. Ultimate's controls are a hot mess - it's making so many assumptions on the player's behalf and has a huge list of arbitrary rules with it's inputs that don't make intuitive sense. Ultimate is undoubtedly an easier game to play, but that ease of play has come at a cost that becomes increasingly visible as you improve at the game.

For a more 'on the nose' example of super loose controls, I could point to the entire Wii library.

I think a lot of people would say that OG Castlevania and Faxanadu don't have 'tight' controls, citing a slow attack speed or some really inflexible jumping physics, but I'd differentiate between what seems be very intentional design vs how actions are expressed through buttons on a controller. I suspect some would argue that the distinction doesn't matter, but I feel that distinction is worth making.

Canine Blues Arooo fucked around with this message at 18:52 on May 5, 2020

Solenna
Jun 5, 2003

I'd say it was your manifest destiny not to.



I don't have a ton of stuff to directly contribute, but game makers toolkit on YouTube has a ton of really interesting deep dives into game design and what makes games fun.

https://m.youtube.com/user/McBacon1337


I guess I do have stuff to say about Nintendo hard and games being fun. I played and finished Celeste which was absurdly hard and I really liked it, even though I died like two thousand times. Without doing the bonus stuff, too hardcore for me. So I died a lot, but respawning was super fast and didn't have annoying sound effects or anything. And the controls were really precise, my dying felt like me doing it wrong, not the game being arbitrary or unfair. It's hard to explain, but they felt right for the game, like the right amount of speed and movement for each button press and joystick movement. I generally prefer 2d to 3d games because I usually find the controls better to deal with and I don't like dicking around with the camera. I would have hated a game with as much jumping in 3d. So for me, I'll be happy with a really difficult game if I like the movement and respawning is painless. And if the story is good that helps too.

Solenna fucked around with this message at 06:16 on May 6, 2020

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Straight White Shark posted:

How exactly do you define "tight"? I think it's odd that you lump SMB and Mega Man together with Castlevania and Faxanadu given how wildly different their control physics are. OG Castlevania is "fair" in that the controls are consistent and predictable but I think there's a reason that modern platformers control more like SMB/Mega Man than Castlevania (and even Castlevania's sequels moved in that direction.)
Would you throw Ninja Gaiden in there too? Very similar to Castlevania, and similarly frustrating 'trying up jump a chasm but there's a stupid loving bird flapping around loving me up every time until I execute my jump+slash with pinpoint timing (and get murked by another bird that instantly spawned when I scrolled over a bit more). That game brought the fury over deceptive Mercy Invulnerablity, which felt about a half second too brief letting you get bounced off ledges all the drat time.

Want to trick the player into thinking he's playing a forgiving game? Give him a huge rear end health bar because 99% of the time he'll be falling down pits/crushed and the lifebar is only maybe relevant in boss fights.

TMNTs floaty Luigi jumps also made for a frustrating experience because they definitely hosed with you on that in a number of occasions.

Straight White Shark
May 16, 2009



Fun Shoe

Solenna posted:

I guess I do have stuff to say about Nintendo hard and games being fun. I played and finished Celeste which was absurdly hard and I really liked it, even though I died like two thousand times. Without doing the bonus stuff, too hardcore for me. So I died a lot, but respawning was super fast and didn't have annoying sound effects or anything. And the controls were really precise, my dying felt like me doing it wrong, not the game being arbitrary or unfair. It's hard to explain, but they felt right for the game, like the right amount of speed and movement for each button press and joystick movement. I generally prefer 2d to 3d games because I usually find the controls better to deal with and I don't like dicking around with the camera. I would have hated a game with as much jumping in 3d. So for me, I'll be happy with a really difficult game if I like the movement and respawning is painless. And if the story is good that helps too.

Honestly a big part of "Nintendo Hard" is less about controls or even level design and more about checkpointing. Most NES games have very sparse checkpoints you return to after death, only a few lives before you have to continue and get kicked back before the checkpoint (possibly getting kicked back between levels as well), and often a limited number of continues before you have to start over from the beginning. Dying or continuing may also cause you to lose important powerups that you'd be better off restarting for anyhow.

There's also obtuse (often mandatory) secrets, but that's more of an early 80s trend (Tower of Druaga ) that was largely in decline by the time the NES really hit its stride.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Straight White Shark posted:

Honestly a big part of "Nintendo Hard" is less about controls or even level design and more about checkpointing. Most NES games have very sparse checkpoints you return to after death, only a few lives before you have to continue and get kicked back before the checkpoint (possibly getting kicked back between levels as well), and often a limited number of continues before you have to start over from the beginning. Dying or continuing may also cause you to lose important powerups that you'd be better off restarting for anyhow.

There's also obtuse (often mandatory) secrets, but that's more of an early 80s trend (Tower of Druaga ) that was largely in decline by the time the NES really hit its stride.

That's true as well. So much of platformers is pattern recognition, and punishing death with having to replay a lot of content makes it harder to 'learn' how to get past a difficult area through trial and error. I notice modem games are a lot more forgiving; a very difficult jumping puzzle is balanced with the fact you can repeatedly reattempt that 'screen' an unlimited number of times.

To some extent this might go back to limitations in hardware, using passwords because battery backups were prohibitively expensive on most titles (only remember Zelda games and dragon warrior having it). But it can be painful, especially in those earlier titles where there's little to nothing gained having to repeat old content. At least in newer games there's various currencies and achievements you can farm when slogging through old content.

roomforthetuna
Mar 22, 2005

I don't need to know anything about virii! My CUSTOM PROGRAM keeps me protected! It's not like they'll try to come in through the Internet or something!


Panfilo posted:

To some extent this might go back to limitations in hardware, using passwords because battery backups were prohibitively expensive on most titles (only remember Zelda games and dragon warrior having it).
Nah, they could easily have put a password more often if they wanted to, the real issue was in those days games came out infrequently and you had to actually go to a shop to get one, so a game would try to last a couple of weeks. If you play the same games today with a forgiving model (i.e. in an emulator where you can save and load at any time) you can easily finish them in a day.

It was also to some extent that early games were modeled on arcade games, where kicking your rear end meant taking more money.

Straight White Shark
May 16, 2009



Fun Shoe

roomforthetuna posted:

Nah, they could easily have put a password more often if they wanted to, the real issue was in those days games came out infrequently and you had to actually go to a shop to get one, so a game would try to last a couple of weeks. If you play the same games today with a forgiving model (i.e. in an emulator where you can save and load at any time) you can easily finish them in a day.

It was also to some extent that early games were modeled on arcade games, where kicking your rear end meant taking more money.

Part of the issue is that a lot of games were developed for the Famicom Disk System and had easy built-in saving via a mechanism that didn't exist overseas, so some games opted to just tear it out in lieu of shelling out to program a password system or add a battery save.

I've also heard that Japanese developers specifically did not want to make international releases too forgiving because they were worried about the US rental market cannibalizing sales if you could beat the game in a day or two.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

How difficult was it to program a password system into a game? I learned through trial and error that you could reverse engineer a games password system sometimes (much like figuring out new game genie codes yourself - take an existing code, change it by a digit, observe what changed if it works). A good example was 1943,which had a very short password where one digit was your stage progress, another was your planes armor, weapons, etc.

Some Broderbund games had obscenely long passwords; Guardian Legend and Legacy of the Wizard in particular. There were a lot of items to track in particular with those games, which probably contributed.

I thought we got EASIER versions of many Famicom games? Like I thought Zeldas 'second quest' was the Japanese versions 'first quest' that they decided to just keep as a bonus for Americans? Compare the order you get items and the dungeon layouts; that second quest was harder (who can forget those loving blinky bastards that cursed you preventing you from using your sword?) and I can't imagine going in blind with that being the 'default'.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

One big factor too was how intuitive a game is. I noticed that arcade games tended to be better at this which makes sense; they need to grab your attention and entice you to shovel quarters in. They don't necessarily have to be balanced or fair (any more than the typical carny game) because it's unlikely you'll be playing long enough to really notice (conversely, competitive games like Street Fighter II had more incentive to keep this in mind since people will notice).

But like think about stuff you might take for granted, like an enemy flashing white or red when they took damage, bits breaking off over the fight or enemies flickering when they are low on health. NES games were all over the place with this. If you were in a boss fight with little feedback or no life bars, how would you know how much progress you were making against the boss? How would you even know you were hurting them? Some examples: Final boss in Snake Rattle N Roll was this big frozen foot that did have hitstun, but took a loving ENORMOUS amounts of hits to destroy. My friend and I would be up till 2am just wailing on this bastard until we beat it eventually. In Target: Renegade there was a boss I was stuck on for a long time because when you hit him it looked like he was BLOCKING your punch, so I kept trying other stuff but nope, just slug him in the gut 18 times and he's KOed. There was also this bomber man game I forget the title but in the first level you had to donate 4 bombs next to a well to open it up to progress. When I rented the game I never figured this out; other terrain would get destroyed outright by bombs, same vs enemies. There was no flash, no cracks, nothing to indicate using 1 bomb was making any progress. Watching someone else play it years later I couldn't believe it never occurred for me to bomb this well 4 times. After all it didn't work the first time why would I assume 4th times the charm?

Alterian
Jan 28, 2003



Games were a new medium in the 80's and the "language" most people who play games now understand was still being worked out. I love retro games. I grew up playing them, but a lot of the designs are crude in comparison to modern game design. There's a lot of good concepts out there that are still used in modern design, but things weren't nearly as polished as you can get in a modern game in an overall sense.

I'm a video game professor and I love using instances of "older" games that do things right.

Edit: On "tightness" of games: Boy was playing NES Remix on the Wii U frustrating sometimes. There was a slight delay compared to how the old games played that would mess me up at critical moments.

Alterian fucked around with this message at 09:29 on May 8, 2020

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

What are things retro games did right? I can think of a few examples -

Mega Man games were fun because unlike a lot of other games, you could do the levels in any order. Each boss was weak to a weapon of another boss, so you were subtly encouraged to play in a particular order but you didn't have to if you didn't want to.

Rosalie_A
Oct 30, 2011


Panfilo posted:

How difficult was it to program a password system into a game? I learned through trial and error that you could reverse engineer a games password system sometimes (much like figuring out new game genie codes yourself - take an existing code, change it by a digit, observe what changed if it works). A good example was 1943,which had a very short password where one digit was your stage progress, another was your planes armor, weapons, etc.

Some Broderbund games had obscenely long passwords; Guardian Legend and Legacy of the Wizard in particular. There were a lot of items to track in particular with those games, which probably contributed.

On a fundamental level, a password system is exactly the same as a save system. In both, you're serializing a game state into a form you read later. It's just a matter of whether your storage medium is battery backed RAM or a piece of paper the player has. The limitations of the latter are just a player's patience in writing and entering a password, and so you'd only save a limited part of the game state because you didn't want your player to hate you or just because you didn't need to save that much.

Orcs and Ostriches
Aug 26, 2010



The Great Twist

Panfilo posted:

What are things retro games did right? I can think of a few examples -

Mega Man games were fun because unlike a lot of other games, you could do the levels in any order. Each boss was weak to a weapon of another boss, so you were subtly encouraged to play in a particular order but you didn't have to if you didn't want to.

Mega Man games also had a very consistent and "tight" control scheme throughout the series. Sure, there's some weirdness jumping out of slides game to game, but the base control is very responsive and consistent in the series. Even the SNES Megaman X games have the same run speed, jump arc, and air control. Compare to Mario games, which while the control is still generally considered good, run speeds, jumps, air control, and even ground friction when landing can vary from game to game.

Straight White Shark
May 16, 2009



Fun Shoe

Panfilo posted:

How difficult was it to program a password system into a game? I learned through trial and error that you could reverse engineer a games password system sometimes (much like figuring out new game genie codes yourself - take an existing code, change it by a digit, observe what changed if it works). A good example was 1943,which had a very short password where one digit was your stage progress, another was your planes armor, weapons, etc.

Some Broderbund games had obscenely long passwords; Guardian Legend and Legacy of the Wizard in particular. There were a lot of items to track in particular with those games, which probably contributed.

I thought we got EASIER versions of many Famicom games? Like I thought Zeldas 'second quest' was the Japanese versions 'first quest' that they decided to just keep as a bonus for Americans? Compare the order you get items and the dungeon layouts; that second quest was harder (who can forget those loving blinky bastards that cursed you preventing you from using your sword?) and I can't imagine going in blind with that being the 'default'.

Passwords themselves were not especially hard to implement - there was some math involved but there weren't a lot of moving parts, so it was relatively easy. But cramming new systems into an already-complete game that wasn't built with them in mind can get a bit trickier, especially when you need to squeeze everything into a certain amount of space to fit it on the cartridge, and it eats up time and resources that you'd just as soon not spend if you could help it.

Different games got changed in all sorts of ways between translation versions, but yes, a surprising number of NES games actually had the difficulty pumped up when they got ported (although again, in some cases this was less of a conscious decision to make the game harder and more a side effect of losing the save capabilities of the Famicom disk system and not bothering to replace them with passwords.) There's a perception that it was mostly the other way round because a few big flagship titles got toned down for US release, which seems to be consistent with the rental hypothesis--big developers could be confident that their blockbuster releases would sell copies regardless and could afford to pander to a wider audience, but smaller more obscure games were not at all assured of success and would be very sensitive to rentals eating into their margins.

I'm pretty sure The Legend of Zelda had the same first and second quest in Japan, though. There's a story that the dungeon designer misunderstood the amount of space he was supposed to fill and wound up cramming all of the game's dungeons into half the space allocated to them. It turned out that this wound up being a pretty comfortable size for the dungeons anyhow, but they already had the space earmarked, so they decided to make a second set of alternate layouts as a bonus feature.

Straight White Shark fucked around with this message at 19:50 on May 8, 2020

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Rosalie_A posted:

On a fundamental level, a password system is exactly the same as a save system. In both, you're serializing a game state into a form you read later. It's just a matter of whether your storage medium is battery backed RAM or a piece of paper the player has. The limitations of the latter are just a player's patience in writing and entering a password, and so you'd only save a limited part of the game state because you didn't want your player to hate you or just because you didn't need to save that much.
I figured the lack of saves was due to hardware costs, given how much companies had to shell out for the cartridges themselves, and the cost of data storage at the time, it would cut into their bottom line even more.


Orcs and Ostriches posted:

Mega Man games also had a very consistent and "tight" control scheme throughout the series. Sure, there's some weirdness jumping out of slides game to game, but the base control is very responsive and consistent in the series. Even the SNES Megaman X games have the same run speed, jump arc, and air control. Compare to Mario games, which while the control is still generally considered good, run speeds, jumps, air control, and even ground friction when landing can vary from game to game.

That's interesting. I think hardware can also play a factor as well. With just an A and B button there's only so many combinations of inputs you can do. At some point you either need to go into a menu to switch weapons (Zelda, Mega Man) or use multiple key inputs like up and A which need to be forgiving enough to use consistently. But take something like the SNES controller, and you have a lot more single key presses. I played many games with 6 distinct inputs and it felt very ergonomic and straightforward. In contrast, the Genesis controller was a bit of an odd duck; no select button and only 3 action buttons. For a lot of games that was either one button too many or one button too few (leading to workarounds like double tapping a button or holding two down at the same time. They were kind of late to get a six button alternate version out and even then it was because of street fighter 2 I think.

Canine Blues Arooo
Jan 7, 2008

when you think about it...i'm the first girl you ever spent the night with


Grimey Drawer

Rosalie_A posted:

The limitations of the latter are just a player's patience in writing and entering a password

Speaking of Faxanadu, typing in those passwords was always a process...

Tuxedo Catfish
Mar 17, 2007

You've got guts! Come to my village, I'll buy you lunch.


roomforthetuna posted:

It's not at all simple. There are distinct axes of a game being fun, some of which are opposed to others, and they go for different target audiences.

A fun model to consider is which brain chemical is triggered by different kinds of games.

Serotonin: the chemical of achievements and increasing numbers. Idle games are serotonin games. RPGs where you level up and become unstoppable are exploiting serotonin at that point.

Endorphins: the chemical of overcoming challenges. Roguelikes, tough puzzles and Nintendo-hard games are heavy endorphin games.

Oxytocin: the chemical of social bonds and teamwork. MMORPG guilds and team shooters are oxytocin games. Story-driven games are also doing Oxytocin.

Dopamine: the chemical of rewards. Lootboxes and other random number based victories are exploiting dopamine. This includes most casual phone games, e.g. Candy Crush is significantly random-based victories. Also present in Roguelikes and especially Diablo-style RPGs, "a +6 sword of banana-slicing!"

Adrenaline: probably less of a thing, but it crops up in games where you can feel in danger, maybe horror games and fighting games (the low HP adrenaline rush, also swings to endorphins when you successfully end the danger situation).

Wait, is this actually how it works, or is this just a semi-serious joke about brain chemistry for people in the know? Is there that strong a correlation between types of enjoyment and specific chemicals?

(Also adrenaline as a component of enjoyment is absolutely a thing -- this is incredibly nerdy but I used to get physically shaky when I was about to win local MTG tourneys as a teenager.)

ultrafilter
Aug 23, 2007

It is time for your viscera to see the light of day!

There were a few reasons for Nintendo hardness. The lack of a save system on the NES, arcade ports and rental concerns have already been mentioned, but there are a few other big ones.

First, games were expensive, and people didn't like short expensive games any more than we do now. Making the game harder was an easy way to make it longer.

Second, games were developed and playtested by people who spent a lot of time playing games. As a result, they were very good at video games, and without good customer feedback mechanisms, they didn't always have a good way to know that regular players were struggling.

Third, the translations weren't very good. There are definitely times where a clear hint in the Japanese version became something unintelligible in the US. That wasn't as major a factor but it still mattered occasionally.

Finally, there was no GameFAQS where you could go to look up how to do stuff. You had to figure out everything on your own unless you had access to a physical guide.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

Localization was definitely a problem. I was in first grade when I got a NES. Having a first grade reading level combined with crappy localization can just make things that much more confusing.

Another thing I really stress is the nature of making a game hard. A lot of games weren't so much hard but straight up un fun :

-The lack of saves or limited lives means you don't get to practice difficult parts of the game that might require memorization. More often than not people just get frustrated and move on to another game.

-Opaque mechanics that are poorly explained and give little indication of success or failure.

-Repetitive content to stretch out the game length making the progress feel like a chore.

The reason I said the Game Genie was a real game changer is because it let you see just how well balanced a game really is. Conversely, I don't think making a game easier necessarily hurts its value; Contra wasn't a hard game with the 30 lives code, and if you could beat it with the code after a few playthroughs it wasn't hard to beat it without the code. My friend and I beat Contra and Jakal many times ;both games were fairly short and definitely beatable without cheats.

Contrast that with a game like Battletoads which was a tough game to beat in 2 player. Now, to its credit, Battletoads was a game that had a variety of levels. Like Adventures of Bayou Billy or Earthworm Jim the variety can make the game a lot more fun but where you might get stuck has more to do with the type of level, not so much the overall difficulty itself.

ultrafilter
Aug 23, 2007

It is time for your viscera to see the light of day!

Battletoads had a bug that caused it to stop reading input from the second player's controller on the next to last level. I think that goes beyond just hard.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

ultrafilter posted:

Battletoads had a bug that caused it to stop reading input from the second player's controller on the next to last level. I think that goes beyond just hard.

I mean the fact that one person dying on the speeder bike level makes both players need to replay the sequence doesn't help either. Or how easy it is for one player to gently caress up and scroll the screen causing the other person to die.

That speeder bike level was one of the most frustrating things. I had to use a game genie to get enough attempts to actually get through it.

roomforthetuna
Mar 22, 2005

I don't need to know anything about virii! My CUSTOM PROGRAM keeps me protected! It's not like they'll try to come in through the Internet or something!


Panfilo posted:

I mean the fact that one person dying on the speeder bike level makes both players need to replay the sequence doesn't help either. Or how easy it is for one player to gently caress up and scroll the screen causing the other person to die.

That speeder bike level was one of the most frustrating things. I had to use a game genie to get enough attempts to actually get through it.
Sometimes that kind of behavior unexpectedly adds to a game's replayability - Marble Madness was harder with two players for the same reason (you get the same amount of time but you're competing for space with another marble, and you lose visibility because of the shared-screen scrolling, and you can get murdered by being too far behind and get penalized 5 seconds) - I enjoyed the extra challenge, and beat the game playing as both players at once.

Panfilo
Aug 27, 2011

EXISTENCE IS PAIN

It's also a good way to get a controller whipped onto your dome when you keep scroll-killing your friend and mercilessly stealing their lives when you die from getting distracted by pissing them off.

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shame on an IGA
Apr 8, 2005



If you want to see Nintendo Hard done right without feeling cheap, go play Solar Jetman. That game did so many things right and nobody remembers it.

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