Super Difficult Charles Darwin? – Post mortem

Posted by
August 31st, 2012 8:42 pm

The game:


As I read the comments for my entry it was clear one issue was constantly being highlighted: level of difficulty.

I have distilled the main perspectives I’ve gotten in the feedback into 2 main opinions:

  • “It was too difficult, and I would have enjoyed the game more if it wasn’t as difficult”
  • “It was difficult, but it was fun so I played anyway”

Now at a glance it would seem the solution is simple, make it less difficult so everyone can enjoy the game!
However I have some experience and logic to suggest difficulty is actually very crucial to the genre I picked for this LD.


This is actually 2 good questions:

  • For what design reason is this game so hard?
  • Are the right things making the game hard?

I made Super Charles Darwin with a very specific type of 8bit/16bit console era game type in mind, just like the title suggests.
In these type of games such as the Megaman and Contra -series the design logic of the difficulty is quite simple:

  • Memorization: enemy placements are constant, environment is deterministic
  • Timing: right moves at the right time, to me playing a Megaman 9 level resembles a rhythm game surprisingly a lot.
  • Strategy: alternate routes, risk/reward tradeoffs for upgrades

So we can see that the amount of “live decisions” in these games is actually fairly small, since you have a reasonable expectations of everything being the same each playthrough.
The central challenge instead lies in being able to piece together one of the right sequences from the numerous trial and errors and then being able to execute on it. This is the reason why save states for example eliminate most of the challenge from these games. It is not that hard to memorize a short sequence of events and the right timing pattern for it. It only becames a challenge when you have to remember everything and a long pattern of events.


So what does a designer get by alienating their audience with this nonsense?

  • player can experience a true sense of achievement, overcoming what indeed at the start was an impossible obstacle 
  • high stakes, having limited checkpoints/lives increases the emotional price of each playsession, creating memorable moments
  • player investment, well made hard game is nearly never boring
Most likely not. My main concern was trying to make the action fun enough that dying repeatedly wouldn’t deter the player from trying again. I also originally wanted to implement a traditional lives system, but settled instead on having the player always being able to start at the beginning of the current level, as I don’t want to take the earned progression away.
All in all, I’m fairly sure that among the games I’ve done for jams etc. this one has the most people playing it all the way through. And similarly probably the most number of people quitting on the first parts of the first level.
As one final note I thought the music and sound was very important in keeping the “mood up” in a game where you inevitably die tons of times. So I actually cut some time from content to make the audio as good as I could in the time I had.


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