Commentary

Publishers' Puzzle: Classic Games Too Hard For Today's Players?

A recent release on the XBL Marketplace and Steam is making old gamers wax nostalgic -- the "Secret of Monkey Island, Special Edition." If you missed this title for whatever reason -- because you're too young to have played it, or you're a more recent arrival to the gaming culture -- it's well worth a download, as one of the classic old-school adventure games that have more or less died out.

One thing I was reminded of while I was playing was how much harder these games are than the standard fare today -- so difficult that in the days before the Web, $2/minute hint lines seemed like a reasonable idea. And there's even a specific idiom to describe the unique brand of torture visited upon classical gamers.

As game publishers begin to monetize their back catalogs through digital download services like Steam and XBL, they should consider how to repackage these games, with their sometimes-absurd difficulty levels, to appeal to an audience that's used to fewer arbitrary deaths and obtuse puzzle solutions.

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Lucasarts, Monkey Island's developer, has addressed this issue by adding in-game hints that are never more than a button-press away. But while softening up these games makes them more accessible to more people, will it take away some of the fun of the old-school adventure game?

I'm interested to hear what some of the veteran gamers who read this column think. Excessively hard puzzles: Are they a bug, or are they a feature?

4 comments about "Publishers' Puzzle: Classic Games Too Hard For Today's Players? ".
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  1. Shane Bogardus from OnRoute Digital Media, July 17, 2009 at 3:32 p.m.

    Games like ZORK, Planet Fall, even Myst (added graphics) are the true tests of a "gamer" - Very Few now have the visual patience or problem solving skills to win it. If you can't shoot it from 1st or 3rd person or buttom mash to move on to the next "LEVEL" they Bail! Whimps! :)

  2. Jonathan Fish, July 17, 2009 at 3:43 p.m.

    Changing the difficulties for modern day gamers ruins the original gaming experience. If people want to some of the classics they should have to play them as they were meant to be.

  3. Adam Radcliffe from simpleview inc., July 17, 2009 at 4 p.m.

    From a marketing perspective, it's a good idea to add the hints, etc. so that people who buy the games now don't get frustrated immediately and throw their controller through the tv. It's a selling point. Even w/o the hints though, answers are never more than a click away these days. Some of these games are hard (zork, like mentioned above) though and the geek in me hopes people avoid the hints and get the "intended" experience.

  4. Megu Kobayashi from pronto.com, July 17, 2009 at 4:16 p.m.

    In-game hints definitely take the fun away from a challenging game, but it's not surprising that publishers are now including them to cater to the average less patient and more easily frustrated gamer of today. Although the number of self-proclaimed gamers are increasing, the hardcore population is diluted by the more casual gamers who are definitely of a different mindset than old-school gamers. (Remember when there were no such things as game saves?)

    As Madden Media says, hints are easily available on the web for those who desire them; I think publishers should leave them out of the games and use alternative tactics to entice frustrated gamers to complete the tasks at hand: the oh-so-desired achievement points or trophies.

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