Category Archives: History of challenge

Quarter Muncher Pt.2

Another example is Golden Axe. Right before the final boss the game would send a group of previous bosses at you. Check out the clip below.


Quarter Muncher

any early arcade games were either endless with minor changes in courses or they were very short. In order to keep the player playing longer designers made very challenging games. Often bosses were near unbeatable in a single life, this of course culminated in the final boss. However designer saw that players would quit in frustration when they died so close to the end. But if the player died right before the final boss they would put in just one more quarter,one more quarter, one more quarter, etc… So many games during the golden age of the arcade benign making impossible levels right before the final boss.  For example,  double dragons featured a level full of instakill traps that are seamless with the background as well as a very small ledge space to get knocked off of and be instantly killed. watch this clip at 15:08 for a few seconds to see what I mean

These super challenging levels set a standard that Nintendo would continue with their Nintendo entertainment system.

The challenge of High Scores

Image result for Periscope (arcade game)

The dawn of the video arcade game was preceded by electro-mechanical games, such as Sega’s 1966’s hit  Periscope and 1969’s Duck Hunt. These games set the standard of a quarter to

play and had to print a ticket with your high score! Players scores were evaluated based on the number of hits. People would compete with each other to see who could get the higher score, making it much more challenging to beat friends when the base game was pretty easy to win.


The arcades and carnivals set the stage for Galaxy Game, Galaxy Game was a coin operated copy of Spacewar set up by some students in 1971, but electronic games didn’t pick up wide spread adoption until Pong!



Challenge for Monitory Gain

Before we jump into the earliest video games, we should take a look at carnivals. The moment money was introduced into games, people invented weighted dice.

Carnival games realized they could charge a small price, offer large prizes and rig the game to never allow anyone to win using simple tricks. They would set the difficulty so high that almost no one would win because they knew people would try again and pay more money.

In this article: “Police officer-magician shows kids tricks of carnival games” (Teresa Stepzinski, The Times-Union Brunswick News March 28, 2002) The Glynn County police officer, Glenn Hester, shows off several popular carnival games and how to easily rig them in his favor.

Though there are many honest games at carnivals these days, game design in early arcades did carry this over with quarter-muncher levels. We will talk about that in our next post.

Limited Choices

Backgammon is one of the oldest known board games in the world, yet it is still played today. it uses a simple rule set balancing randomness with player skill. the game involves two players sitting on opposite sides of the board, players take turns rolling two dice and moving their checkers around the board to get them home. Each time they MUST move their pieces if they can. The strategies and difficulty of the game come from which pieces to move, Because if the player can move their piece to a spot where the other player has only once piece they send that piece all the way back to the beginning. Or if the player stacks two or more pieces on a spot the other player can no longer move there.

Image result for Backgammon

Each player can only do their best with the moves they have to take. This makes interesting choices, something most games strive for.

The challenge of this game comes from moving your pieces to best limit the other player’s options while opening options up for you. While dealing with dice that limit your options with randomness.

Randomness Makes Difficulty

Capture for post 9-5-2016

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.