The gradual progression and (re)emergence of narrative in games, particularly in adventure games through the likes of Telltale productions, got me thinking about difficulty and easy modes and how this might be a significant barrier to entry.
In some games the level of difficulty is absolutely intrinsic to the gameplay; it’s an essential part of the experience and without it the game mechanics would break. Games such as Super Meat Boy, Ikaruga, and DayZ come to mind. Most other games, particularly first and third person shooters and action games, include the option to tinker with the difficulty settings but generally I don’t think these go far enough.
They change enemy artificial intelligence, health pick-ups, and mission objectives but what I think is needed is something a bit more radical. Something that alters the game mechanics and changes the way the game is made easier. An over simplified version of this is evident in New Super Mario Bros. U, where after some attempts you’re basically guided through the level on autopilot in certain sections – bypassing the hard part.
The reasons for this are twofold: firstly, time. Lots of gamers have less time to play and efficiency of gaming becoming more important than ever. Multiple developers will show that large percentages of players don’t actually complete their games and with family, jobs, and other commitments fun per minutes is getting squeezed. Fewer people have the time or inclination to invest multiple hours on teeth-gnashingly difficult hair-pulling levels anymore.
Secondly, the gaming audience. More mainstream game players with varying levels of ability are participating and a big barrier to immersion and interactivity is the difficulty level. The success of narrative adventure games is partly evidence of that (without forgetting the great writing, design, and voice acting of course).
So what’s the solution? I propose a ‘narrative’ mode that minimises complex controls, gives auto aim and guides the player. It would turn The Last Of Us into more of an adventure game in the traditional point and click sense, like The Walking Dead, where the player performs the basic inputs and command sensitive prompts without worrying about circle strafing or weapon customisation.
This undoubtedly wouldn’t work for a lot of games. But for those that tweaks and adjustments do work well, it could potentially open experiences like Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, and Dishonored to an audience of those previously intrigued by trailers and story but put off by complex entry requirements.