You take games too seriously.

Taking the Hard out of Hardcore

The Vita-Chamber. For the hardcore community, this was BioShock’s great failing – the ability to be immediately resurrected at any point in the game, mere steps away from where you last were, with the effects of what you did in your final blaze of glory constant. The feature was so loathed among the hardcore that the game offered ways to turn it off, and the patch that the creators eventually released even incentivized avoiding them with a massive 100 point Xbox Live achievement.

For me, though, the Vita-Chambers were one of the best things about the game. They opened me up to trying new things – to attacking enemies in new ways, to exploring when I just didn’t have the ammo or the health, but didn’t feel like grinding all the way back to the nearest recharge stations either – and gave me the freedom to explore the world and the story without micro-managing my play style to death.

BioShock, though, seems to be a rarity among games, a game that expects that you might want to have it match your play style as you go along. It lets you play as you see fit, and then self-adjusts to allow you to continue playing without having to go back and grind for ammo, experience, and upgrades. If you learn from your mistakes, you can play straight through the game relying more on trial and error than painstaking failure after failure.

Continued after the jump.

BioShock isn’t entirely unique, though. Other games do things like this, with their own unique takes on it.

Chris’s baby, Ninja Gaiden: DS, begins with only the normal difficulty available, with the harder (impossible?) difficulties only open after defeating the game one time around and mastering the basics of the game’s mechanics. The God of War series has its much-joked-about “maybe you’re a sissy” screens after you die enough times, allowing and suggesting that you kick it down a notch and play at your level.

New Nintendo DS RPG The World Ends With You takes this even further, with a system that actually rewards you for stepping away from the game, and a difficulty system that allows you to choose as the game goes on to play harder and harder, but keeps the fundamental difficulty basically the same. Not only does your level and the basic difficulty of enemies when you’re aware of the way to play stay basically the same, but by saving your game and turning the DS off, your attacks level up. If you get stuck on a boss, the old adage of “turn the game off, wait a day, and try again” is more than just a mental exercise – you’re actually stronger when you get back.

But these games are the exception, not the rule. They’re rarities, games that accept that sometimes you only want a bite-sized experience, but you still want to spend that time with what they created.

For me, gaming is something I do to blow off steam after a long day or to occupy me on a subway or long break. I want to be challenged, but I also hate it when a developer decides that I need to be run through the ringer over and over, that at even the calmest moments of the game I should be in fear that something will leap out and send me back to the place I was an hour ago. If an hour is all I have, where the hell is the fun in that?

This is one of the things that came up the first time the “hardcasual” nomenclature ever arrived – that BioShock was aware of a fact of life that seemed to be alien to game designers, if not game players. We’re here to enjoy ourselves, and to enjoy the worlds and the stories that you guys are creating. But if you’re creating a world where a half-hour’s play can gleefully be stricken from the record if we’re not save-junkies or ammo-hoarders, you’re cheating a group of people who would enjoy your work a lot more.

– Sam Ryan


Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. Let it be said that World of Warcraft also rewards players for walking away. Players are given an experience bonus relative to how long it has been since they’ve last logged on. Unfortunately, this is lost on the majority of the gaming community, who have little need for experience in the endgame.

  2. Korey says:

    I more and more enjoy and appreciate games that don’t punish me. As I’ve gotten older (25 now) I’ve come to hate games where I lose progress and have to replay a long section repeatedly to advance. I don’t have as much time for gaming, so I want games to be both challenging and constantly allowing me to advance. In that sense, adjustable challenges are exactly what I need.

  3. I thought BioShock’s vita chambers were great. I didn’t have to constantly worry about saving and reloading or have to curse at a badly implemented checkpoint system. I could just keep playing. I liked Prey’s resurrect system too, though that little minigame got annoyingly repetitive after a while.

  4. Pombar says:

    The test for me is: Is the game still fun, under the influence? If a game requires painstaking attention to detail at all times, careful tinkering and balancing of every little trinket, or a ridiculously fast thumb, it just isn’t a good wind-down game after a day’s work – also not a good party game, evidently.

  5. Like Pombar, I also play all my videogames after dropping acid.

  6. […] already talked a little bit about what makes the gameplay so special. The level of customization I talked about there – the […]

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this is a blog about video games by chris plante, sam ryan and chris littler.

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