This month’s roundtable over at Man Bytes Blog is about difficulty. Difficulty where a game sends you up the wall, your fist through the monitor, and the disk into the trash compactor. That kind.

Some people suffer through all that, then come back for more. Whatever emotional factors are involved, they keep trying until they either win or finally give up the game as hopeless.

In my early Apple days, I bought several arcade games, all of the “shoot things down” variety. I didn’t finish any of them. For that matter, I don’t know if any of them even had a “you win” conclusion. Sooner or later, usually sooner, I’d be out of “shooters”, and not long after, the game went into the “forget it” pile.

In that pile were such gems as Ceiling Zero, Sneakers, Snack Attack (a blatant Pacman ripoff), and Genetic Drift, among others. Even in my early days, I wasn’t fast enough for any of them. You’d think after one or two, I’d have gotten the idea.

Of course, eventually the realization penetrated and I decided to stick with the more restful adventure games and CRPGs. However, some of those had their own little frustrations. Perhaps not so little.

One I gave up on practically at the start was Moebius from Origin. It had some sort of Asian/Oriental setting. Which is about all I know of it, because I kept dying.

Every game began with either a drought, so I died of thirst, or a famine, so I died of starvation. One time, I found an area with plenty of water. Unfortunately, I had to move on, with the expected result. After about ten attempts (all new games), I said…well, you can imagine ;) Let’s leave it at that. Yeah, let’s leave it, period.

Aside from that, most of the “first gen” CRPGS like Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, and Might & Magic were harder than most care to remember. In the first place, saving was no easy matter. Wiz made you come up out of the dungeon to “town”. BT only allowed saves in the Adventurers Guild of Skara Brae, and M&M had inns, the only places to save.

This was all the nastier because combat was so unbalanced. Your poorly-equipped band of newbie wimps could easily come across multiple parties of enemies who could rips your guts out with no trouble at all.

Each step in a dungeon or outdoors was fraught with peril. Aside from a fight suddenly occurring – you couldn’t see any monsters approaching, they just “popped up” – you might step on a cruel trap you had no way of knowing about until it was too late.

Just to make it more “fun”, you had to map every step along the way. No auto-mapping in those pioneer times. How did we stand it? How did we manage? Why did we keep going with this masochistic setup? Probably because we didn’t know any better back then. All games were like that; it was the “golden era” standard. Good thing we’ve progressed since those days!

On his blog, Coyote mentions Bard’s Tale, and yes, that one could start nasty. I remember it well, spending a lot of time in the Adventurers Guild creating my first party. We stepped outside: it was night! Yep, the game time ticked away during creation. Ouch!

Even worse, all the shops were closed at night. You don’t how I felt after getting this bunch of losers alive to the weapon store and not being able to enter. ARRRGGHHHH!!!!!!!

Since I had to review this for the magazine, in two weeks (haha), I took advantage of BT’s special feature: the ability to import a party from Wizardry (one of several reasons many called BT “Wizardry with graphics”). I grabbed a Wiz save disk and it turned out to have a 7th level group on it. Not all the Wiz gear came over, but the team had enough, and were strong enough, to survive the torments of Skara Brae.

Later on, I did go back and make up new teams. Being forewarned, I’d step out the door. Was it dark? Back inside, quick! Then I’d read for awhile, and check again. Once it was light, off we ran to the weapons shop.

Yeah, there were plenty of hard times in those early games. I wouldn’t want to go back and do any of them again. While more recent products have had their tough spots, I’ve found they’re mostly a matter of tactics: the boss fight with the “trick” to it, or just using the right combination of spells and fighting.

None of that compares with what we went through in those “good old days”. I wonder how many, or if any, of today’s players would be able to work through (honestly) any of those “classics”? I have my doubts; they’d be too hard for the instant gratification crowd. They’d probably be too hard for us today, spoiled as we are by better design. Even for veterans, there’s a limit to masochism. Sometimes ;

Abusively Difficult Games on Coyote’s blog