Game difficulty comes in many forms. From the first dice roll, made of goat teeth, to the modern video game the human race has been using difficulty to make games fun. My post on this blog will be diving into the history of challenge in games to help us understand how games formed over the years.
Though many games came before Snakes and Ladders, It’s where we will start. It was one of the first commercial games of the modern era that originated all the way back to 2nd century B.C. (gamesmuseum) The game uses a board space of 100 squares and a dice. Each turn a player rolls the dice and moves up that many squares. If the player lands on a ladder they are propelled forward towards their goal. Be the first to reach the top. However, landing on a snake sends the player backwards down the track.
The original intent of the game was to teach kids about Jain philosophy. This was done by making good karma propel you forward and bad karma sends you back. So a snake would be labeled lying, and a ladder could be helping those in need.
The challenge of the game comes strictly through randomness. There are no decisions to make, only consequences to your roll. This unpredictability was part of what made the game last so long. It was easy to learn, but the outcome was always unknown. Much like gambling it is exciting to not know the outcome ahead of time. Randomness makes difficulty. It is much harder to win when the player must react rather than plan.
In modern games, like Minecraft, the system uses “random” code to spawn enemies in different places each time a player passes through. This means the player can only think on the fly to defeat or pass the enemies. Other games like StarCraft 2 use limited random generators for the damage each unit does. This makes fights much more interesting, and difficult because the outcome could swing in either player’s favor.
Of course, too much randomness makes the game too hard or unfair and destroys the difficulty curve of a game, but that’s a topic for later.