As I've mentioned previously in this blog, I started reading the original Dracula in October out of some lunatic idea of looking at the Castlevania series as an adaptation of the original novel. (Which may still happen someday, who knows what horrors the future will bring.) Life being what it is, it took significantly longer than I'd originally planned and I only finished the book yesterday. While focusing on a that particular video game franchise's use of the titular antagonist is admittedly goofy, I can see why Dracula is a book that's been adapted into playable formats for decades. Besides the iconic title character, the novel's final act is built out like a game, with specific established rules (for both vampire lore and Victorian society) and resources available to the vampire hunters and their quarry. It was, in fact, through a DOS game that I first encountered this part of the story, as most adaptations skip it or quickly breeze through. Difficulty within the story, then, is bound by these factors: as a vampire, Dracula is difficult to kill, the limited hours of daylight (and, later, Mina's condition) make it difficult for the characters to do what they need in the allotted timeframe, Victorian law and custom make it difficult to obtain information or enter locations... and so on. The difficulty of their situation is what gives the story its stakes. Interestingly, while we associate difficulty being countered through skill and preparedness, luck is a significant factor in their success... yet "luck" is rarely considered an appropriate way to overcome difficulty, even when it's literally how the concept of difficulty is approached in many tabletop games (we'll get to that later). We want our protagonists to succeed due to their own choices and efforts, and if that success is too much the result of luck, it their role and agency in their own story is diminished. Nonetheless, while Victorian novels are often notorious for deus ex machina conclusions, Dracula's ending (in terms of both the book itself and its title character) really is the result of the group overcoming challenges through their own work and risktaking. The difficulty, as presented as a set of obstacles, was sufficient, so the audience stays engaged and the work becomes a classic.offering different difficulty levels for their action sequences versus their puzzles. Here, at least, the gameplay is more straightforward, and "difficulty," at least theoretically, largely comes down to numbers: how many lives a player starts with (one more than was standard), the size of sprites and their relative hitboxes, how much damage attacks can cause, etc). Design is a factor, too if a less obvious one: the placement of enemies and taps, the frequency of health items, even the size of a level relative to player exhaustion was a element to consider in the days before save states. The relationship of intended difficulty to the player becomes an interesting one - it's more the expectation of difficulty for the average player to navigate these obstacles, and many of these were new elements in the early days. A lot of that expectation came from imagining that "average" player and adjusting around those assumptions. While it's frequently attributed to giving home games a longer shelf life (and to make it so a game couldn't be finished in a standard rental period, necessitating a purchase), I think the phenomenon of "Nintendo Hard" is more about the newness of these factors - it hadn't been that long since the era of Pac-Man, Missile Command, and Space Invaders, all of which could only increase difficulty by making enemies move faster and player resources less available. Add to that totally unexpected factors like the effect of different television formats and it all gets incredibly complicated. In short, when a game, especially an older one, is described as "difficult," any prospective player has to fill in their own experiences with all the known and unknown factors - a better question might be "is this difficult for me?" The result is, despite the static nature of design in games like the Castlevania series (which includes little to no randomization), a unique experience to each player and each playthrough. Where we experienced secondhand the difficulty of killing Dracula in the novel, it's all our own when we do it in Castlevania. The relation of story and audience in even primitive (by today's standards) electronic games show the richness and potential of the medium as a story and an artform. And I think that's pretty neat... even if I still haven't gotten to kill Dracula myself yet.when those rolls are necessary, and when leaving things to chance would be detrimental to the story. There was more than a bit of luck in everything coming together in destroying Dracula in just the nick of time... but it was the how the characters decided to get there and the risks they chose to take that made their battle legendary. It's just something to bear in mind, whether you're making your challenges on the page, the screen, or at the table.
Send comments and questions to email@example.com or Tweet them @neversaydice2 (if Twitter still walks this benighted Earth as a monstrous Un-Dead)