When a developer re-balances a game after release, it usually means tweaking a variable here and there, not three new game modes. But that's what happened with Gods Will Be Watching, a pixelated tour of death.
Gods Will Be Watching is tense, heartbreaking, and hard as hell. In a recent patch, dubbed "The Mercy Update," developer Deconstructeam went back into the code and significantly retooled it.
Here's what Deconstructeam added:
- Puzzle Mode: All the challenge of Original Mode, but without random factors in play. If you want to remove the element of chance from the game, this is the mode for you.
- Puzzle Mode Light: The easier version of the game that also removes random factors and chance. If you want to remove the element of chance and face easier puzzles, this is the mode for you.
- Narrative Mode: The easiest mode and a way to enjoy the game as a narrative experience, without a heavy challenge.
Those changes, especially the inclusion of Narrative Mode, suggest a pretty radical shift in thinking, even if it doesn't preclude players from experiencing Gods Will Be Watching in its original form. The update only adds new options, and doesn't take anything away from the game. You're free to enjoy the game's punishment.
The original game jam prototype for Gods Will Be Watching prompted such an enormous response that Deconstructeam expanded the project's scope, and built a whole game out of it. The game jam version was brutally difficult, as well, and I never ended up seeing the credits roll back when I played it for Worth Playing.
To get a better sense of what prompted Deconstructeam to mess with its game again, I emailed over some questions to game director Jordi de Paco. Here's what he got back to me with:
Giant Bomb: One assumes you released the game in a state you were happy with. What moment did you realize "well, maybe we need to revisit this"?
Jordi de Paco: Well, we were happy, and we are happy, but I have to confess that we were afraid of the reaction of the players after releasing a heavy challenge like this. And, yes, we got a lot of complaints and harsh feedback. But on the other hand, we got to connect with the kind of players we are, who were expecting a game that doesn't hold their hands, and they enjoyed the challenge. It's been great to discover there are a lot of people to which we can appeal with our kind of games. However, as game developers, we want as many people as possible to play--and enjoy--our games, so we analysed carefully all the feedback from players who found the experience frustrating and came with a way of making the game more accessible to all kind of players.
Giant Bomb: Can you talk about the play testing and balancing you did while the game was in development? How did you arrive at what the game shipped with?
De Paco: Originally, the game was even more difficult. We ran this through a lot of players who kindly offered to suffer the terrors of Gods Will Be Watching, and we set the bar where eight out of 10 players were able to beat the game. What we most had to improve was the communication of the game. The hardest challenge in Gods Will Be Watching is communicating failure properly, since there's a lot of things going on at the same time, and the worst that can happen is a player not knowing why they keep failing. We knew there would be still players who wouldn't be able to beat the original experience, but, well, if we wanted to appeal the more hardcore puzzle solvers we had to do it this way!
Giant Bomb: In the press release, you mentioned wanting to make the game "as accessible as possible to every kind of player." Does every game need to be accessible?
De Paco: I don't think so. I mean, making Dark Souls more accessible would make it less appealing for its hardcore audience. But the nature of Gods Will Be Watching allowed us to easily set different levels of challenge. In the end, making it more accessible or not is a decision of the developer, and we felt like Gods Will Be Watching was something that could be enjoyable even as a narrative experience. Seeing that a lot of people were expecting that instead of a hardcore puzzler game, and that we are able to deliver that experience, we went for it.
Giant Bomb: When the team decided to revisit the game's difficulty, where did you start? Clearly, you didn't stop with just including an "easy" mode.
De Paco: The most important cause of the frustration of the players who found the original experience too harsh was the element of chance. When I designed Gods Will Be Watching, I saw that as a way to let the player decide among the amount of risk vs. reward they wanted to take, so you can decide if to play it safer but spending more resources, or you can decide to take your chances when drastic measures are needed. The problem is that there’s an 80% chance it can still go wrong. For some players, that's perceived as unfair, and for others, it just felt natural--as we feel about it. So, the Puzzle Mode's purpose is to keep all the challenge of the original but remove all the luck involved in solving the scenarios, so it's plain fair for everybody. Also, there's the narrative mode for the ones who were expecting more of an interactive story rather than heavy puzzles. We are trying to please as players as much as possible.
"We were afraid of the reaction of the players after releasing a heavy challenge like this."
Giant Bomb: From what I read, the "chance" moments are what really bothered some players. Can you talk about why the game had such moments?
De Paco: There are several reasons. The first is to make every playthrough different. Secondly, it's so there’s not a scripted way of solving a puzzle, so you have to keep adapting your strategy as the puzzle progresses. But I have to say that the element of chance is not an issue if you solve the puzzle. Players who "solve" every situation are able to succeed again and again since if you discover the patterns which rule every chapter. It's not a challenge anymore, but it keeps being interesting, since you always have to adapt you strategies to what the luck element throws in your way.
Giant Bomb: Do you think you're done tinkering with the game's difficulty?
De Paco: Yeah, I think that going any easier wouldn't do any good for the game, because without any challenge, sacrifice loses all of its meaning. And, also, there were these kind of super-players who reported they found the game too easy in its hardest difficulty so... It's impossible to make it rain in the way everybody wants. Five difficulties are enough for Gods Will Be Watching.
Giant Bomb: Generally speaking, what's are the big lessons from this experience, ones the team will take forward to future projects?
De Paco: Making games is hard. Making a game which is loved by most of the players is harder. But, in the end, I believe it's about making the games you want, because this job it's really demanding. If you're not doing something that you really love, working way too many hours a day from Monday to Sunday is definitely impossible. We'll probably keep getting better at entertaining other people as we keep making games, but there's no such thing as improving without making mistakes.