How to make an accessible hardcore game part 2

How to make an accessible hardcore game part 2

Last updated on June 14th, 2018

We hear it all the time:

  • This game is too easy
  • This game is too hard.
  • Developers need to make money so they dumb down.
  • There’s money to be made from the casuals.
  • Hardcore are a dying bred
  • 22% of gamers are mobile, that’s more than the “core”.

What does it all mean? Are games really undergoing a transition to become easy experiences with easy rewards and just tickle your brain into a dopamine high? Read on to find out. Part 1 here. You can continue to Part 3 here.

How to make the accessible hardcore game Part 2

So, given the previous definitions, what are the Fextra propositions for making an accessible hardcore game? A game that can convert players into community members, who can attract blue ocean dwellers to the comfy “core” shores? Of course one can not tell a studio how to run its business. But one can certainly warn a studio of what would ruin the business: taking your customers for granted.

Studios find and dedicate to satisfying one segment of the gaming market. Those aiming to satisfy everyone often find themselves with little sales because taking what makes a genre popular and changing it to try and appeal to the interest of those who “may” look this way is risky. If you create a fantastic puzzle game, the FPS crowd is likely out of your reach, no matter how many millions of them you think they are. Yes there are many very successful games based solely on the concept of a lended pay-to-win hand (such as Candy Crush), but those approaches will not run far with the “core” crowd. This concept of how that which works for one segment is unappealing for the other is unfortunately, hard to get through to higher organizational levels, who often ask “couldn’t we just make it more appealing to other audiences and retain our current customers”. Talks of revamps, rethinking, reboots and “freshness” come through, and you end up with another flop like DMC (budget aiming to sell 5 million, can’t make it to 1.5).

For the purpose of this article, we’ll take into account the progression of the Souls series, given their trademark challenge and recent comments of “accessibility”. Whether the propositions herein make it to the Dark Souls II release next March, we shall have to wait and see.

Demon’s Souls came at a strange time. Games haven’t in general gotten any simpler, but they have surely gotten more convenient. The evolution of save systems and progress mechanics had grown to accommodate the time of your play session and to give you options and opportunities to fix your mistakes. Some games challenged you by offering incentives for perfect clears, but overall sitting in 2007 one would have been content to finish the game, 1253260724-Demons_Souls_Deluxe_Editionget to the goal, look for the next item in the backlog. There was also some convention of what sort of mechanisms would introduce you to the game. How the controls and progression would be made clear and seemingly how everything would have its own mini-tutorial, showing you how to achieve your goal. Such was the image of the need to be forgiving that Nintendo designed a system of walk-throughs that solved your game for you. You could literally watch a machine clear the level for you.

Not Demon’s Souls. From Software went stoic and old-school and decided to create an unforgiving world and purposefully not give you the manual. Originally backed by Sony, story has it the difficulty was perceived as such that the marketing team wanted to wash their hands off the product, cancelling global launch. Previews from western outlets paid no heed to this game and called it a “Devil May Cry clone”. And then, it launched. And it rocked the socks off the Japanese market. It became an underground cult and gaining surprising international following, creating a gray market of Japanese copies that sold for over 100USD at times. Atlus published in the US, Namco published for Europe, and Sony admitted they may have been wrong to think it too hardcore. Why did this game succeed? Because it was very challenging, but it was above anything fair:

Director Hidetaka Miyazaki was keen to share the five development concepts that are the backbone of the sequel, Dark Souls:

“We have five key criteria on which the difficulty level is judged. We want any player to be able to clear any obstacle simply by learning from mistakes and paying close attention. Then, the reasons for failure must always be clear and understandable. Every problem must have multiple solutions, so that players can tackle it whichever way they want. The game’s controls can never be a factor from which difficulty is derived. And finally, we want to make sure that there’s the possibility for miracles to happen; those magical moments that spread stories outside of the confines of the game world.”

Speaking to Edge Magazine, March 2011

It is clear that this game does not focus on failure but rather on the human approach to it. When faced with a challenge, when defeated, will you quit out in a rage or will you pause, consider your actions, and search for a solution? The latter will yield success as your reward. It is not about skill, it is not about finishing the level. It is about overcoming the challenge presented by the developers.

As Dark Souls 2 takes a change in the director seat, many fans have been alarmed by the comments:

“The reason why we used the word accessible was not to say that the game is going to be easier by any means. We’re maintaining the difficulty and we think the challenges are required. What we meant was, there are certain aspects of the game where it didn’t really have a direct connection to the sense of satisfaction of overcoming. There were things that were a little bit time consuming or a little bit tedious that we wanted to streamline – sort of carve away all the fat so we could really deliver the lean pure expression of what Dark Souls tries to communicate, which is the sense of satisfaction of overcoming. In terms of accessibility, what we meant was a more streamlined experience to deliver the more pure essence of Dark Souls.”

Speaking to gameinformer

Can you really cut away the fat and keep the integrity of the sense of accomplishment? Would the game be the same without the “tediousness” of not having the ability to port from one bonfire to the next, or having only limited warping options? The simple answer, in keeping with our proposition of accessibility, is “no”

An often overlooked item on the game’s progression is its community evolution. Any community will reach a point were “old guard” are too entrenched and the new people feel left out. Newcomers covet the seniority of the “top” players. However, the gap to reach that level seems too wide, and thus shortcuts become the flavor of the day. Glitches become mainstream, exploits make it into everyone’s lists, guides detail mechanics on how to “easily” become the best. Parts of the community react with outrage: don’t cheapen my achievements! And the developers are left with a strange sense of disorientation as to who to listen to. Maybe the truth is in the middle? Maybe the new players and those who quit midway have a point regarding how some aspects were just too bothersome and didn’t really have a purpose…

Dark-SoulsThey do not. The annoying aspects of a successful game are still part of it. They are what the hardcore players pushed through to achieve a goal and what kept them going was knowing that they were going where others did not. The reason the game’s boards have half a million posts and that 739 days after release the online activity is still as high as day one: because the reward was worth all the pain. For people to reach their objectives of getting certain items, they would have to farm some enemies. They would have to travel through the same locations many times with “inconveniences” that forced them to learn the terrain, pay attention, and accept that it is the game who is in control of the rules, not them. Knowing that you did the grind is part of what brings that sense of accomplishment. When you remove the parts of the challenge that forced players to deal with “un-fun” items, you partially remove the challenge. An unpopular trophy that makes a Platinum very difficult and time consuming is part of what makes that Platinum desirable.

So if by our proposition the key to an accessible hardcore game is to have a straight forward setting and a fair challenge, but not cheapen achievement by streamlining the grind out and providing a cop-out for laziness, what should Dark Souls 2 do to achieve our goal of becoming an iconic hardcore game anyone can play? Read our next article to find out! You can continue to Part 3 here.

You can find the Souls series here.

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MMO raider by day and guide writer by night, Fex enjoys multiplatform gaming, good books and animes, and streaming with a cold beer.

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6 comments on “How to make an accessible hardcore game part 2”

  1. ravnazrael says:

    I started on Dark Souls first and heard some things about Demons Souls. I love how the souls series sucks you in with one accomplishment and in the next path crushes you and robs your humanity (in and out of game!)
    Looking forward to part 3 of this article, and especially looking forward to Dark Souls 2.
    Overall I find games with a challenge much more rewarding as a gamer and as a human being. The struggle to succeed is enjoyable and can really portray how the human spirit continually seeks to improve itself. Of course the other side of the spectrum is quite visible as well but there is always a bad apple or two.
    Well I said enough.
    See you around and in games!

  2. Devokai says:

    I feel like until we’ve actually sat down and played the full game ourselves, we can’t as a community write off any of what the new director’s intentions for the game are as cheapening the experience. It is however very important and only natural to have questions and concerns about something you love possibly being changed for the worse. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

    Your comments about almost every community out there coming to a breaking point where old becomes ancient and everything new is fragile and timid. This is an area where both Demon’s and Dark Souls excel in that the community as a whole set (all be it sometimes misdirected) guidelines and the amount of effort it takes to compete with the people you look up to comes down to the human element. Do you have a drive to compete, do you have a desire to surpass players who may have once been better than you in certain aspects, all of which comes down to your own abilities of learning through observation. Of course this is mostly a rant directed at the PvP side of things, but the co-op is no different. Some players feel that same drive to learn the maps as well as possible, learn the boss’ attack patterns and help others to the best of their ability. And that’s why the Souls community is one of the, if not THE best gaming community in existence, the human element that expands the possibilities of the game(s) every single day.

    Also great article, keep up the good work.

  3. Cas says:

    She really hits the nail on the head. There is always that push from the management section of a gaming company to make their games more marketable, but many of them have no idea why their game was so successful to begin with. I’ve seen this happen with many many games.

    Unfortunately this is what has happened to my favorite MMO: Lord of the Rings Online. They’ve tried to widen their audience and by doing so have driven out parts of it. They are banking that more will come than more will leave. They could be right or wrong, but problem is if you are used to it and love it the way it is and it changes, then you are one of the ones leaving.

    If they made Dark Souls 2 too easy, how many of the ones that loved how hard the series was will play it long? It would become another game you play and beat and goes back on your shelf or you trade in for cash. How many people who play Dark Souls already feel some kinship with others that are playing simply for the fact that they are playing a game that most gamers feel is too hard to play?

  4. Emergence says:

    My biggest fear with Dark Souls 2 is impropery defining difficulty to mean “enemies that hit really hard” and then increasing the difficulty. Souls to me has never been about difficulty. It has always been about assessing the landscape, memorizing the layout and subsequently choosing the best tool for the job. It is methodical, tedious and requires the player to pay attention to every step and it rewards proper planning and persistence. Every choice has a trade off and consequence from your weapon to your rings. I don’t want things streamlined. Don’t tell me how a covenant works, let me find by trial and error and comparing notes with others. Don’t eliminate travel and make the enemies more lethal, that just encourages charge in play and removes consequence. Make me increase my IQ and not my damage output.

  5. Fex says:

    Loving the thought-out comments! I am planning on a checklist of what can be improved upon for Dark Souls 2, and what should be left alone. If anyone has suggestions this is the time to bring them forth!

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