Sunday, May 8, 2016

Dark Souls + Easy Modes = True?

I read an interesting blog post the other day, and the first few paragraphs immediately struck a chord with me;

"I understand the game [Dark Souls] on an intellectual level, and in my first play session years ago I basically zipped all the way to the Taurus Demon without much pause. I’m not bad at the game, but I certainly don’t possess the personality traits that would make me excel at it. I’m often impatient. I don’t like to lose progress. I don’t enjoy doing something over and over again in order to learn how to do that one thing (I bounced off Bloodborne for this reason).

However, I love the way the game is put together. I love the little story moments. I love the characters. The relationships between those characters, the ruins, and the grand narrative of the world are balanced in such a perfect way. But, due to the way I like to play games, I mostly have to get those things packaged for me from Twitter convos, wiki readings, and channels like Vaati’s."

(The entire blog post is very good and you should definitely read it, I don't know what my post can add to the discussion really but what the heck).

This could've just as well been a description of my feelings for Dark Souls, and not just Dark Souls, but a ton of other game series I love and respect, yet don't have the patience or skill to play. So I can definitely sympathize when I hear players ask for an easy mode for a game, and maybe especially a game like Dark Souls. Do I think Dark Souls should have one however? Yes and no. Let me try to explain.

I try to avoid Easy Modes whenever games have them, but I'm not ashamed of going there if I feel like the game is giving me too much of a hill to climb. Geneforge is a good example of this as it allows the player to change difficulty mid-game if necessary. Starting up a game I am worried Easy Mode will remove from the experience as in if the game is too easy, I won't enjoy it. The same goes if a game turns out to be too hard however. I think this is where the first disctinction comes in - easy, normal and hard mode are just names that try to convey difficulty relative to eachother. Just because it's easy mode doesn't mean it's easy nor does hard mode have to be hard. Some games have easy mode as "normal mode" in different regions for instance, showing what the developers think of the intended audience gaming skills. The important thing to remember is that the varying modes are there to allow for individuality since we perceive challenge very differently. This is why I often dislike when game developers actually change content depending on which game mode you play, for instance making easy mode shorter or have other modes have different endings. I realize this is to incentivize people to try the game on harder modes because why would anyone play the difficult modes if you can have it all on the easier modes? This basically boils down to a discussion on whether players can be trusted to manage their own "fun level" in a game - essentially relevant for this post but still a bit of a sidetrack that I will forego for now (although my answer would probably be "no").

Challenge in a game is a huge factor to how fun it is - maybe not 100% of the fun, but definitely important. But how big a factor? If you had asked me, and probably a lot of other people, ten or even five years ago, I think most would've said that it is the single most important factor. Graphics and story were important too, sure, but people play games to overcome challenge and get that satisfactory kick of succeeding, right? Then came the interactive story games (again, technically) or as they were lovingly nicknamed - walking simulators. Anyone who has played The Walking Dead, Gone Home or To the Moon know that the challenge factor has been turned down to almost non-existant, something that would probably have been unthinkable not that long ago. Yet these games have been very well received and although debates have gone high and low on whether they should even be called games, one thing is clear - people have fun with them. So is challenge really that necessary for a game? Can any game be made into a walking-simulator for the people who prefer to experience the story rather than the challenge?

This is where opinions differ but first a quick sidenote. There is another argument being held up as a reason not to add easy modes to certain games - artistic integrity. I respect artistic integrity, but personally I don't think it should ever stand in the way of having fun with a game. I wonder if the people who shout about artistic integrity when people want easy modes in a game, or change the gender of Link, have never ever used a mod for any game they've played? Have they played a DotA game or Counter-Strike perhaps? Reimaginings of existing content is hardly a thing of evil and I doubt the gaming world would be any way better off without it. So when some of these people say that the way the game was originally designed is the only way to enjoy it, I tend to just think they're narrow minded. But it's rarely that simple and I can see where they're coming from. So let's wrap it back up to where we were, because these two issues are related;

Can any game be made into a walking-simulator? Can a game be played in any possible way and still be the same game?

Playing differently doesn't have to be bad.

See when I first read the above blog post I totally agreed. I would love an easy mode to Dark Souls. My SO, who is a massive Dark Souls fan and belongs to the arrogant pricks that likes to tell people that it's "not that damn hard", made me try it out. And I instantly understood what he liked so much about it, equally fast I put down the controller and told him it just wasn't for me. Just as the blogger mentions I get very quickly bored with bashing my head against a wall and find absolutely no enjoyment in repeating my actions over and over. My problem is that the satisfaction I feel from finally overcoming a huge obstacle in no way makes up for all the frustration I felt overcoming it (funnily enough this was never an issue in WoW where I could wipe 100+ times on a boss without getting bored, but that's matter for another post). I even get frustrated with how easily I get frustrated. I hate failing too much and I don't enjoy winning enough to play those sort of games, simple as that.

This unfortunately makes me miss out on so many good games, Dark Souls being just one of them. Basically any NES era game is out of the question and most platformers/puzzle games as well. So at first I was all go for adding an easy mode to Dark Souls. But then I started thinking about what would happen if I did the same thing to other games I like but don't have the patience to play. My first thought went to the Resident Evil series of which I am a huge fan but have never finished a single game. And the more I thought about it, the less I liked the idea of putting an easy mode into Resident Evil. The tank controls are part of what make it fun, the risk of dying is what sets the mood I love so much about the game. In essence, if you made it too easy, if you removed the risk of dying or the feeling of dread and peril around every corner, if you didn't jump when the dogs came crashing through the window - it wouldn't be Resident Evil anymore.

How about a Resident Evil/Gone Home mashup though?

It might still be a fun and enjoyable game! But it would be a wholly different experience. And that doesn't mean it shouldn't be done - if people accept that they won't be playing the same game and still want to check it out, then really what is the harm? But I really think that some games have the difficulty so firmly inbedded in the core concept of the game that changing it too much would completely alter the experience. So if you play Dark Souls on easy mode can you really say that you have played the same game? I've got to agree with the nay-sayers who say "probably not".

Imagine the reverse, like putting enemies that need to be avoided/killed into a game like Gone Home or swapping the Walking Dead QTEs for FPS shoot outs. You could still experience the story of the game, but the end experience would be very different from someone who played it the "original" and if you like, intended, way.

And in the end I am fine with that. I still think that adapting games so that more people enjoy them outweighs any fears purists might have that the altered experience might... what exactly? Ruin the community? Ruin the legacy of the game? Even though I can understand those fears I choose to believe more good than bad can come from it and there is plenty of proof to show it's true.

(Seriously though, how cool wouldn't a RE + Gone Home crossover be?)

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