Majority of Gamers Today Can’t Finish Level 1 in Super Mario Bros.
During a Q&A session, Satoru Iwata revealed why Nintendo’s newer games are easier. Nintendo conducted a test with many gamers and found that most of them were unable to finish the first level in the original Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata fielded a question regarding the simplification of games during their 73rd annual stockholder meeting. The following is a translation of the question and answer:
"I feel that Nintendo games today are much easier which is why the Wii U might be failing. Back then, games were much more difficult and therefore gamers really enjoyed them so they continued to buy Nintendo games and systems. Do you feel the same way?
Satoru Iwata (president): I actually agree with your assessment. However, since you are speaking as a stockholder, you should agree with our strategy after you hear about the tests we have conducted.
It may come as a shock to some of you that most gamers today can not finish the original Super Mario Brothers game on the Famicom. We have conducted this test over the past few years to see how difficult we should make our games and have found that the number of people unable to finish the first level is steadily increasing.
[[SNIP BY ME FOR SPACE]]
Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. designer, also added that he originally designed the game so that everyone could beat it. “I failed miserably,” he said at the end of his answer.
I hate to say this, but hearing this makes me feel two things:
1 - This is fucking depressing.
2 - I’m sorry, but the people they got to play the first level either have some major malfunctions, or have some serious attention span issues. Because this shit is the most straightforward game design in existence.
I feel I need to address something here about difficulty and the generation gap in gaming. I’m curious as to the age of these players, because we’re talking about a game that came out what, nearly 30 years ago? (oh sweet genius i’m old)
Super Mario Bros. is very much a product of its era… and that was the era of the mall arcade, the quarter-muncher. And the overriding philosophy of that era is
Everything and anything can and will kill you with a single touch. Also we may arbitrarily kill you if you don’t do what we want within a time limit. Basically, we’re going to kill you quick and often.
It was the era of “survival gauntlet” games. You died a LOT. They were unfair. They were unrelenting. They dangled your very survival like a carrot to make you jump through hoops (sometimes literally).
We were never expected to “beat” these games. The Pac-Man game-ending “kill screen” is there because the programmers couldn’t fathom anyone not dying before the program would reach the limits of its counting ability. There generally wasn’t a learning curve so much as a learning cliff, and it was a toss-up as to whether you started at the bottom and laboriously scrabbled your way as far up as possible before falling, or if you were thrown off the top, screaming and attempting to delay the inevitable and sudden ending.
And we went along with it… because the worst was we were out a quarter and a few minutes’ time. That tiny initial investment could lead to big entertainment payoffs with luck and skill. And we would plunk in another quarter (and another and another and another) in the hopes that this time, luck and skill were on our side.
Kinda like how casinos work. Okay, exactly like how casinos work.
There is no purer expression of that than Gauntlet, which could not be more aptly named. It is a game that constantly reminds you of your impending end with that thumping heartbeat accompanying your Health points forever ticking away. This wasn’t a game you could skill-pattern through. Your doom was guaranteed from the beginning. And presenting the best option for delaying the end as simply cramming another quarter into the machine to again just forestall the inevitable… sick genius. And so you went, deeper into infinity, until your money ran out and the game won. And it was a monstrous hit.
And that’s a game being kinda generous. Many games didn’t even have that kind of false courtesy. Not too long ago I was at a friend’s place, and he has a massive NES collection. We dusted off BurgerTime, which is a game I classify as the “we hate you” kind of game. You move about as fast as a concussed box turtle, your ability to merely stun foes is severely limited, and simply clearing the first screen takes forever, assuming you make it. It was a pile of frustration and annoyance we gave up on after a few minutes. And the early days of the NES was full of arcade ports along these lines.
And you would pay upward of $40 for that experience instead of a quarter. And that’s in 1986 money, which once adjusted for inflation, is about the equivalent of paying $80 for a game today.
That’s a lotta Transformers and My Little Ponies that $40 could have bought.
Games had to evolve away from the arcade mentality because there was no way in hell the consoles could survive if it kept that up, the same reason that arcade games evolved into the arcade quarter-at-a-time mindset because the home game market had died a few years prior, and done so in an impressively catastrophic manner (thanks, Atari!). Games were investments, not impulse purchases. You could still have your cruel-fun games like Tetris, but they could NOT be the standard by any stretch of the imagination. (And even Tetris knew to make sure to have a nice smooth learning curve.) We expected more reward because we plunked down a LOT more money for the experience. Thus, the very goal of games changed, shifted from survival to achievement, heralded by long, definitive-winning-ending-having flagship games like Metroid and The Legend of Zelda WITHOUT having to single-play-through marathon the damn thing.
Man, the password “save” system was a godsend, wasn’t it? Didn’t it feel really good knowing you didn’t have to force-march Pit through the entire Underworld all over again when you wanted to tackle the Overworld od Skyworld? ‘Cuz you used to have to do that. Getting through some games, like the first Mega Man, used to mean leaving your NES on for like six days to the point where you could make a grilled cheese on it.
Over the last nigh-on-thirty years, games became about growing, not merely not dying as long as possible. It became discovery, uncovering secrets, acquiring items, completing a story. Enemies turned away from being one-touch lethal to just grinding you down with their inexhaustible numbers… while you were building yourself up with a bigger arsenal and stronger defenses. Hell, even the modern Mario side-scrollers are more about discovering secret Star Coins and hidden levels than not dying.
We have an entire generation that has grown up with an entirely different core goal in mind when it comes to video games, where the “sandbox” game where you continually make your own boundaries is the norm, and the notion that you can die in the first three seconds is practically suicide for a game. No company wants to be the one to garner the reputation of putting out a game you paid a lot for then couldn’t get through for being too damn hard.
And let’s take a look at the AAA studios’ competition in the industry. No, not each other… the “indie” game. The cell phone game. Steam and Newgrounds and the like. The rebirth of the inexpensive (free counts!) arcade “impulse game”, only this time they’re not dangling your survival like a carrot in front of you (well, mostly)… they’re still dangling that carrot, but this time the carrot is “more”. I mean, what’s a couple bucks for this cell phone game you can play just about anywhere versus a $50-ish dollar game you have to put into a big expensive console attached to a TV you can only play at home? And if the game sucks, it’s only two bucks or so, right? That’s a soda and bag of chips (maybe). Never mind League of Legends and its ilk with the “free to play X number of characters and sure you can earn lots of points to buy more stuff but you knoooooow we can expedite the ‘more’ process if you pay us real money” model.
Pretty damn enticing, innit? And it’s only getting easier and easier for the small developer (or even hobbyist) to get their vision out there that larger companies can’t afford to take a risk on.
So while I agree that yeah, some games do hand-hold a bit much… let’s be honest here. We helped make the environment that way, and it’s part of the pendulum swinging far in one direction because it started way the hell far on the other side. (We seem to focus on the A+ games in these discussions, the Zeldas and Metroids, rather than the Bayou Billys and Mighty Bomb Jacks.)
Just throwing that out there as a counterpoint.