On Prince of Persia and making games too damn Easy.

A little while ago, a fellow made an interesting video, and declared the new PoP the most innovative game of 2008.  Slashdot then ran it under a story regarding the new PoP and Avoiding Wasted Time.  The whole thing smacks of a ludology seminar, which makes it exactly the kind of thing I like to wax philosophical about.

The articles centre around the concept of Penalty Free Learning; something the PoP franchise isn't a market leader in. Travellers Tales has had no-lose gameplay in the entire Lego series; Braid too.  Mr Young's point however is that PoP isn't cutesy.  It's both approachable and respectable as a game that non-gaming grownups can play.  It doesn't have a checkpoint system, so you never have to retrace your steps to progress. (Okay, let's ignore the game's whole mechanic of collecting orbs for this argument, eh?  I can't wade through that kind of irony... ;-)

My concern with this philosophy of game design, is that PC games have long had a god-mode as well, but I'd say that's universally regarded as cheating.  

Back in 1990 I wrote a letter to Nintendo Power, saying it would be great if all games had invincibility on the Easy difficulty, because a superhero like Batman never dies in the movies.  I'm so glad somebody finally listened! ;-)  Now I can trade-in my Game Genie.

Sorry, I can't see a line of distinction between the developer or the player "switching off" death.  I'm not convinced that it's "innovative" for the new PoP to become an extremely patient hand-eye-coordination trainer.  I'm pretty sure I'd learn faster playing Gradius.  Sands of Time and GRID have excellent limited-rewind features.  Part of your skill set becomes forecasting your severe mistakes to get the maximum chance for correction.  In Braid your mistakes become irrelevant, all results come from your success, and that made it the most satisfying puzzle game I played all year.

The notion of people wanting to "save time" in modern games is utterly foolish, as the current zeitgeist encourages completionist players.  Cases in point: WoW grinding; achievements; item collection metagames; multiple difficulties; time trials...  how many DAYS does it take to master completing an average 5-minute stage in less than 90 seconds?

Sure, sure, it's nice to hand the controller to my mother-in-law or grandfather or neice and watch them enjoy playing.  Yes, Rock Band 2 has a no-fail mode for a good reason.  But do you, a serious gamer, really want to keep paying $60 for a game that takes you 5 hours to finish in one sitting?  Wasn't Heavenly Sword ridiculed for that?  I'd say it was 5 hours of entertainment well spent, but it cost me $6 to rent.  I am very happy to value my entertainment time at $2 per hour.

With many console game developers trying to draw more casual players, and present a short cinematic experience, rather than a long narrative... I wonder is it possible that they're deliberately attempting to shift the industry to pay-per-play or digital rentals?  I don't want to play Boom Blox by myself, but I would absolutely pay $4 to activate it every time I set up the Wii with some friends.  The rumblings about disc-less consoles coming into the future generation would support this theory.  If casual gamers are where new profits are being found, that will inescapably result in making "hardcore" game properties more accessible to more players.

Grab a towel to wrap your console in, things are about to get watered down.