I was watching my daughter play Tetris on her Nintendo DS the other day. (I found a copy a while back.) She picked it up out of our box of DS games and decided to give it a try as a break from various flavors of Pokemon. (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon… NetHack meets Pokemon… has been the favored flavor of late.)
I was interested to see what she thought of the game. But I am always interested to see what she gets out of older games, classics or ones with which I have a history.
She grasped the game pretty quickly and enjoyed it for a bit. But Tetris on the DS advances levels at a rather swift pace if you’re any good at all, and soon she was at the frantic stage of blocks dropping out of the sky and the game was over.
After a couple of games she asked, “Why does it have to get faster?”
A deceptively easy question, that.
The obvious answer is that it gets harder because that is the challenge. If a game always ran at the same speed you would lose only to boredom. The history of video games is jam packed with games that get harder the further you progress.
But that is not entirely correct. Challenge can go too far, at least for each individual. There is a point for all of us just shy when we have essentially given up control of those falling blocks where the game is exactly as challenging as it needs to be, where we are immersed, tense, and on the edge of losing control.
In a perfect world games would be able to analyze our play and keep us at or near that threshold, advancing only when we had begun to master the current level of difficulty.
Now Tetris is an older game, so it is tough to fault it for not being perfect. I first played it back on my Macintosh SE over 20 years ago. It was a best seller on the original GameBoy, the esteemed ancestor of my daughter’s DS. There were versions out for all sorts of systems including the Apple II. I am surprised there wasn’t an Atari 2600 version of the game. If ever there were a console system well adapted to dealing with things shaped like blocks.
So we can forgive Tetris its jumps in difficulty, but it does point to an interesting aspect of game design. How quickly should difficulty ramp up in a game?
Which in turn makes you wonder about some MMORPGs. Well, it made me wonder.
This week I ran some quests with my level 78 paladin and my level 44 druid (who is cat, so dont heel) in World of Warcraft, and playing one was not particularly more or less difficult than the other. 34 levels between the two but no noticeable change in skill required to play. The effort expended doing quests was about the same. Sure, the monsters being slain were higher level for my paladin, but his equipment and abilities canceled that out.
Would I put that much time into a game like Tetris if it never got harder? Maybe if the level of challenge was right, but probably not.
Since I enjoyed playing both characters, it would seem that for me the level of achievement was in balance with the level of challenge. WoW seems to work for me.
But you can see that if the level of challenge versus the achievement doesn’t work for somebody after the first 20 levels or so in a game like WoW, it isn’t going to get any better for them beyond that.
But does any MMORPG really get more challenging as you move through the main body of content? Sure, there are dungeons, and even heroic versions thereof, as well as raiding, but I would argue that most players never go far in those directions.
And should they get more challenging? Should getting from level 79 to 80, for example, require not just more experience points and some equipment upgrades, but additional skill? Is character advancement enough? Is there some happy medium between the two?
And my daughter?
She thinks WoW is great, Tetris is not, and that comparing the two is “totally ridiculous.”
The view from age 7 1/2.