Fun for all

By Rosemary Young (April, 1996)
Now I know I'm not alone in saying this -- far from it -- it is an undeniable fact that games, and adventure games in particular, are getting easier. These days it is a rare thing to find a really tough game, one that makes you rack your brains and pull out your hair. Particularly for experienced adventurers, with the odd exception, gone are the days of the real 'challenge'. Now we must often be content with completing a game in a day or so (or within a few hours if we're particularly unlucky) and all without a single hair out of place.

In order to make games easier lots of devices are being used, not least the tendency to concoct less devious puzzles. Some of these devices include 'hot spots' to lead you directly to the crucial item/object on screen (not too damaging if the associated puzzle is sufficiently sophisticated), essential items being conveniently located precisely where you need them, and other characters in the story telling you how to solve a problem instead of letting you think for yourself. Of course, added to this there's also the 'very friendly' interface such as those that 'helpfully' open your inventory for you when you select an item on screen or, perhaps, solve a puzzle for you if you select the correct inventory item in the correct location, not to mention the present 'miracle' of the smart cursor which is smart enough to do much of your thinking for you.

So what has happened? Quite obviously game writers and producers are primarily aiming their products at the 'new' games market, the multitude of new computer owners who are sampling their first serving of computer games. Of course, though many of us resent this trend at the same time we can't grumble too loudly because we love playing computer games and, like people who read books and want to share their passion with other people, we also want others to enjoy game playing.

So what can be done to satisfy everyone? Well one answer is 'hints on tap' i.e. having access to a hint file during the course of play. This idea is being used in a range of games now but it only works to satisfy all players if, in the first place, the game contains a sophisticated range of puzzles. It doesn't benefit experienced players if they have no need of hints!

But why on earth, I wonder, can't computer game designers take some cues from the past? Whatever happened to the option of producing adventure games with different difficulty levels. Remember the classic Infocom games, individually they were aimed at a range of players. And what about the LucasArts' Monkey Island games. As far as I can remember they had two levels within one game (or maybe it was just MI 2). Now that was a perfect combination. Something for everyone. Surely this must be worth some consideration and maybe it would even boost sales.

Imagine ... more games that suited everyone with puzzles simplified on the easier level and maybe even some omitted, or a sophisticated hint system that doesn't give away too much at the first cry for help. Novice players would feel welcome and the masochists amongst us wouldn't be forgotten -- we could still enjoy the privilege of chewing our nails and losing our sleep.

Dream on ...

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.