Easy mode in Souls games - an argument against

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#1 Edited by Strathy (188 posts) -

The subject of mandatory easy modes ('story' or 'assisted' modes alternatively) being included in games has come up quite a bit recently, inflamed somewhat around the discussion of the (very challenging) Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Initially mulling it over while listening to the latest Bombcast, my first thought was to agree with Jeff's position that "sure, throw in an easy mode, nobody looses in that equation". It seemed like a no-brainier at the time. But thinking back specifically over my relationship with the Souls series, I really think those games would have been significantly harmed by having an option to alter the difficulty.

When I first played Demon's Souls way back when, I was very new to console gaming (PC only previously) and I was still struggling with just using a pad and analogue sticks, so that was a GREAT early choice. I made a bit of progress, and was absolutely beguiled with the game, but ultimately just couldn't keep up with it and ended up putting it down. I came back a year later with a much better grasp of pad controls and finished it, and from then on the souls series would become my favorite franchise.

Thing is, if there had been an easy mode I probably would have taken it when it hit that initial bump, and the experience I got from Demon's Souls would have been some shallow walk-through of a game with (famously) little narrative component. In a game that's fundamentally about learning and honing systems and technique I would have completely missed the point, and I probably would have fallen into the same hole when the later Souls games came around, if I even played them. I would have either missed out on, or destroyed the experience of what would be some of my most cherished games.

I don't think this argument applies to many games. Most can be enjoyed largely intact when playing through them on easy or 'narrative' mode, and I think it's good that so many include those now, especially narrative driven games (I've gotten a few non-gamers into the Uncharted series because they can wade through them like they're the terminator and just play the story, and it's great). But some, whether they are competitive, strongly gameplay driven, or specifically built around their challenge in order to be what they are, like Souls (or Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, and so on), would be rendered pointless experiences if the difficulty was altered beyond the authored intent. To the point that you'd get a better experience just watching a play-through - since then you would at least be vicariously exposed to the nuances that made the game special, through seeing how the player was handling it (and, you know, you could eat chips too).

//I have specifically neglected to go into discussion of 'accessibility' vs easy modes (i.e control options for those with disabilities), because it is a much broader issue than the nature of Souls games and their difficulty. By all means discuss that in another thread, but I fear that if it starts up here we'll all be on the prison bus to locksville penitentiary by the morning//

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#2 Posted by stantongrouse (182 posts) -

@strathy It's interesting to hear your views, and in a well put manner, given how angry this has got more than a few people.

I agree (without the accessibility options being a part of the discussion) it's a tough subject to get a one solution fits all answer. If games were all made for the same purpose and with the same level of artistic intent then it would be easier, but we all know that a heartfelt, passion project from a small team will have very different mindset towards these things than a massive project which is driven to be a profit turning product.

Given the nature of the Souls games I totally see why the argument that "this is just how they're supposed to be, if it's not for you there are other things" is used as a reason to not include a difficulty slider in them. And, when it seems a large part of the enjoyment of the games is the slow drip feed of finding out the strange depths of the game and narrative behind this difficulty ceiling I understand why this is suggested. But with people openly discussing all these things online, all the thousands of YouTube guide and playthroughs I don't see the difference with having a easy mode in the game for those that want the 'Tourist' experience but still have a sense of controlling the flow.

Personally, I have no real side I sit strongly on, I see that both have reasonable arguments for their cause. I do feel that by saying things like, 'it's not for you if you aren't good enough', comes across as pretty elitist even if it's not meant to and this keeps igniting unnecessarily heated debates.

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#3 Edited by Tennmuerti (9455 posts) -
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#4 Posted by TobbRobb (6577 posts) -

Yeah I've always thought people underestimate the difference a bit of challenge does for the overall emotion and feel of a game, and also overestimate their ability to pinpoint their own abilities. It'd be interesting if From ever tried adding an easy mode to one of these as an experiment. I think the same people who thought they wanted the game to be easier will end up feeling unfulfilled instead. I also think Sekiro would suffer even more greatly than a Souls game would have, because the entire core of Sekiro is focused around a challenging task. They have arguably already made it as easy as they could have without ruining it since the timings are very forgiving and you are given multiple ressurects and plenty of healing to make up for mistakes (not so much in the early game to be fair).

But what do I know. Maybe I'm the only one that would've bumped the difficulty down on particular annoying mini bosses and then bored myself to death because the game lost it's edge. Maybe everyone else that wants a mode like this has excellent self control and can exactly decide what's "just right" for them.

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#5 Posted by Efesell (4442 posts) -

I just.. there’s a selfishness to “I don’t want to be tempted” that really gets under my skin.

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#6 Posted by goosemunch (60 posts) -

@efesell: Yeah. I don't know how real this temptation is, even. Plenty of souls fans choose to play through them solo and resist the temptation to summon just fine. Summoning was basically the easy mode, so I kind of don't get this argument to maintain sanctity where none existed in the first place.

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#7 Posted by soulcake (2706 posts) -

I always liked Souls games cause the developer would "hide" some kind of easy mode in the game through builds or over powered weapons like (the dragonsword in DSI that Black Knight Polearm if you where lucky The Katana you get from killing a merchant early on, the music box in BloodBourne) i would go through a bunch of wiki's min maxing favorite weapon builds. From early lighting throwing clerics and other weird stuff. But all of this is gone in Sekiro the prosthetic attachment are neat but don't make that much of a difference and are more based on skill, this game is purely skill and the weird delay i get sometimes on controller input is weird and crucial even on a constant 60FPS (poor console guys getting even less frames to react).

So my Conclusion is a difficulty slider, nope, but give people more options through Summoning, OP weapons some where hidden at the start of the game etc.

To be honest, i cheated a few times and used CheatEngine cause i was not having fun and didn't want to waste 3 hours just to see a new zone.

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#8 Posted by Efesell (4442 posts) -

@efesell: Yeah. I don't know how real this temptation is, even. Plenty of souls fans choose to play through them solo and resist the temptation to summon just fine. Summoning was basically the easy mode, so I kind of don't get this argument to maintain sanctity where none existed in the first place.

It's also a matter of.. I mean sure this doesn't apply to everyone but I played all these games on PC and literally if I wanted to cheat miserably I'm a 10 second google search away from it.

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#9 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2024 posts) -

@strathy: regards to your third paragraph, my guess is that the devs never had a difficulty option partly due to that and I'm sure it was a very considered choice. Personally, I'm very glad there was no difficulty option in Demons Souls and the original Dark Souls.

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#10 Edited by Efesell (4442 posts) -

@frodobaggins: I'm more torn on this because I think that yeah maybe Demons Souls needed to be more than a little fucked up to be a hook and to build a mystique, and Dark Souls helped with that.

But despite it being the claim to fame the difficulty of these games isn't even the most interesting thing about them and now that a foot is in the door I think it's a great time to be able to let even more people realize this.

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#11 Posted by Gundato (168 posts) -

@soulcake said:

I always liked Souls games cause the developer would "hide" some kind of easy mode in the game through builds or over powered weapons like (the dragonsword in DSI that Black Knight Polearm if you where lucky The Katana you get from killing a merchant early on, the music box in BloodBourne) i would go through a bunch of wiki's min maxing favorite weapon builds. From early lighting throwing clerics and other weird stuff. But all of this is gone in Sekiro the prosthetic attachment are neat but don't make that much of a difference and are more based on skill, this game is purely skill and the weird delay i get sometimes on controller input is weird and crucial even on a constant 60FPS (poor console guys getting even less frames to react).

I think the problem with a lot of the "easy mode" items is that you need to seek them out and know what you are seeking out.

The Dragon Sword is if you spend five minutes shooting arrows at a dragon from under a bridge

Merchant weapons involve killing NPCs

The closest we get to an "intuitive" one is the music box. And it has been a few years since I did the bloodborne platinum, but isn't there actually a penalty to overusing that on Gascoigne?

I think a better example might be the Astora Straight Sword (?) in Dark 1, although that feels like more of a penalty as Faith was... not good in Dark 1. Demon is arguably closer because of the various elemental weapons you can find, but those are similarly counterintuitive in that you want to head to Storm world to get a weapon to help you out in Swamp world (?) and so forth.

But I do agree that most Souls games provide an easy mode. But more in the context of summons. If you play the game while it is still alive then you are bound to find Sun Bros ready to help you out. Some of the later ones hid the covenant/made it too far in to strongly benefit early game, but there are still the people who are too lazy to pop a humanity and would rather earn one from killing a boss. Butthe problem with that is that it only works for the first year or so after release (and then makes going back to platinum the Dark 2 re-release hell because nobody is summoning me and I need medallions).

Although, even that is a double edged sword as anyone who struggled with Smough and my boy Ornstein can tell you. Anor Londo's bonfire was annoyingly far from the fog gate (and had an intimidating run) and was ganker central. I lost count of the number of times I went there to engage in jolly pvp by just putting down a summon and holding off the gankers while my player ran to the gate.

----

I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the Celeste devs chimed in and I suspect their stance is what I would want. Don't give folk a proper easy mode, but add a few options people can enable. If memory serves, Celeste lets you add an extra jump or increased grip strength which goes a massive way for folk who get frustrated. I could see a Souls game adding free-humanity whenever you rest at a bonfire and maybe even a way to limit how much you lose on death (only 50% of souls maybe). Neither of those would imbalance PvP but it would go a long way towards making the game less intimidating for new players.

And it looked like Dark 3 was sort of trying this as the pre-release version seemed to have a way to make temporary bonfires and the like.

But I still mostly come down on "Souls games don't need an easy mode". Not because you need to "get good" but just because of how well designed they can be. Places like Cainhurst in Bloodborne or Painted World in Dark 1 are some of the greatest levels in all of gaming. They are frustrating, draining, and hellish. But you are also constantly finding new checkpoints and unlocking new shortcuts. And in the case of Cainhurst it even seems set up to have de-aggro points to make sprinting past enemies a lot easier. So any challenge is, at most, a one minute sprint away. But you'll also feel like you are dying a death of a thousand cuts as you move on to the easier/"breather" sections of the maps.

Where Souls games tend to piss me off are when you need to schlep your ass halfway across the world to try again. I am replaying Salt and Sanctuary on my Switch and I am remembering how much I hated the Pitted Forest or whatever it is called (place with the fucking unicorns below the ziggurat). It isn't that the area is bad (fucking unicorns aside). It is more that I need to watch a long ass ladder animation and do a bunch of torch jumps just to get back to the timed platforms and the annoying one shot enemies. I vaguely recall the sanctuary is left of the unicorns, but I am probably done with that game for a while as I just don't want to keep walking back there.

And that tends to be the "unrelenting difficulty" that makes people stop playing. It isn't that the game is overly hard. It is that it doesn't respect your time and gets frustrating.

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#12 Posted by BladeOfCreation (1271 posts) -

@efesell: Yeah, I have a similar reaction to this sort of argument. When I played the original BioShock, I chose to reload my save when I died instead of using the Vita Chambers. I didn't like that mechanic, so I did something to make the game more challenging for myself. Playing it that way had absolutely no effect on anybody else's experience with the game.

@soulcake: You used CheatEngine? And literally nobody else's experience was affected by that? Who would've thought?!

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#13 Posted by nutter (1977 posts) -

A game must have an easy mode when the following is true:

- The game has a singular creative vision under a director.

- That director has a team he trusts to see his vision through.

- That vision includes an easy mode.

Seriously, let’s avoid shoehorning features that don’t male sense. I’ve never finished a Souls game, and that’s okay. The experience I had was worth it and would have been greatly reduced by a compromised vision.

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#14 Posted by nutter (1977 posts) -

@bladeofcreation: I HATED vitachambers and did the same thing. The game felt too easy with them in place. I rejected them on principle.

This was also before I had kids...

The no vitachambers mode came after I finished the game...I don’t recall if I went back and did that for real...I’d be curious to replay the game and see if my views changed over a decade later...

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#15 Posted by Efesell (4442 posts) -

@nutter: The "vision" as outlined in the past from Miyazaki is a feeling of accomplishment in overcoming tough odds. This has, according to him, just naturally resulted in a tougher game and not something he has consciously set out to make.

I would argue that this vision actually has very little at all to do with a required setting. It is purely about personal accomplishment and a person who can't do something on one setting might well be able to and still feel great about it on another.

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#16 Edited by nutter (1977 posts) -

@efesell: If that’s how he and his team interprets it, cool! Easy mode!

If not, also cool! No easy mode!

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#17 Posted by Efesell (4442 posts) -

@nutter: I'll be curious to see if he has any further or clarified thoughts on this in future interviews given that Sekiro has prompted a much more visual conversation about all of this.

Although personally I place very little value upon artistic vision when weighed against more people being able to enjoy something.

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#18 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2024 posts) -

@efesell: you could be right from a business standpoint.

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#19 Posted by cikame (2765 posts) -

I completed Dark Souls 1 and 2 twice each and burned out on the idea of a Souls style challenge, The Surge seemed like an easier game on the outside, but after playing it i grew to dislike its style of challenge and never finished it.
Now there's all sorts of Souls games i want to experience, Nioh, Dark Souls 3, The Surge 2, Sekiro, but i'm too intimidated to even start them.
Were the first two Dark Souls special games to me? Yes.
Was it because of its difficulty? No, it was everything else.

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#20 Posted by Aviont (83 posts) -

Just tossing my two cents in, I don't want to play From games to beat myself over the head with a cudgel (I can use a cudgel for that). So sadly until From makes an easy or easier mode they will not be getting any money from me. They can make whatever game they like, and if it is tough as nails games then I will happily spend my money elsewhere and watch a Let's play. I do think not adding an easy mode is hurting their sales, but if they make enough to be content and continue on then /shrug, you do you From.

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#21 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

This idea that something that makes a game more inclusive is bad, or against authorial intent, is so devoid of any thought or consideration about what someone other than oneself might experience that it's baffling to me. Someone else playing a game for whatever reason they choose, and in whatever manner they choose, has literally no bearing on one's life.

And trying to separate the idea of having difficulty options from issues of accessibility is disingenuous. They're intrinsically linked in many cases. Did y'all play those Soulsbornes in a language other than Japanese? If so, you enjoyed yourself a nice little slice of an "easy mode." Maybe git gud, and learn Japanese next time!

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#22 Posted by mikewhy (331 posts) -

Yeah I just used Wemod.

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#23 Edited by Gundato (168 posts) -

This idea that something that makes a game more inclusive is bad, or against authorial intent, is so devoid of any thought or consideration about what someone other than oneself might experience that it's baffling to me. Someone else playing a game for whatever reason they choose, and in whatever manner they choose, has literally no bearing on one's life.

And trying to separate the idea of having difficulty options from issues of accessibility is disingenuous. They're intrinsically linked in many cases. Did y'all play those Soulsbornes in a language other than Japanese? If so, you enjoyed yourself a nice little slice of an "easy mode." Maybe git gud, and learn Japanese next time!

I think it is more complex than that. A Souls game needs to "feel" punishing and unforgiving to succeed at its goal. That doesn't necessarily mean it needs to be hard as balls (and they generally aren't), but it has to "feel like" it does. Its similar to how games like Zone of the Enders used fancy animations and target locking to make you feel like a badass mech pilot moving faster than anyone can understand

To use your language example: Sometimes it is the idea of "needing to" watch Dragon Ball in the original Japanese because that is the true way to experience it. And sometimes it is more like Your Name where the inherent gender of various words and other wordplay is almost a character in the plot. With a sufficient dub and localization it is possible, but how much more of an audience are you going to get with a "good" English dub?

But to just cal it an accessibility issue is overly reductive.

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#24 Posted by Casepb (636 posts) -

I wonder if Demon's Souls had an easy mode from the start, would the Souls series have gotten as popular as it is today? It seems like the only reason they are so popular is because of the difficulty.

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#25 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@gundato: In your interpretation, a Souls game needs that to succeed at its goal. That's totally fine and valid. For someone else, the goal may be to take in the atmosphere and vagary inherent in the storytelling to enjoy the lore. The difficulty may, then, be a direct impediment of that. One can tell a story about suffering, pain, redemption, etc, without the recipient of the story necessarily living through that experience. Does that change the impact of the story? Maybe for some people, and maybe not for others.

And my language example is not subs vs. dubs. It's literally: no subs, no dubs. Having an alternate language track or subtitle in an accessibility issue that directly is tied to the difficulty of the experience for someone who cannot understand the original language. This is why throwing around a term such as "easy mode," which is almost always couched in a negative connotation, but willfully excluding the argument that difficulty settings may be an inherent accessibility issue for those who physically or mentally do not have the capability to play the game in its default state, is problematic.

Regardless, all of this ignores the obvious question of why a difficulty adjustment that doesn't have to be used takes away from the experience for you, whether or not you choose to use it. You mentioned your relative lack of experience with a controller when you first started Demon's Souls, and the possible temptation of using a difficulty adjustment due to that. But, you came back to it after better learning how to manipulate the controller and succeeded where you previously failed. Imagine, though, that you physically couldn't have improved beyond that initial level of skill due to a physical or mental limitation. There are assuredly many, many people in that very circumstance who are interested in the From games for the aforementioned aesthetic reasons who can't experience that first-hand due to a lack of any sort of adjustable difficulty, even with accessible controller options. If the core default experience remains unchanged, but difficulty options are presented that make it possible for more people to experience something that they like, I cannot possibly understand why that would be a negative.

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#26 Posted by nutter (1977 posts) -

@efesell: There are so many games out there for so many people, that I find it hard to care if a game doesn’t cater to me. Plenty of fish in the pond. It’s a great problem to have.

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#27 Posted by Gundato (168 posts) -

@ralphmoustaccio: I think you are missing the point

Miyazaki has gone on record many times on what he wanted the Souls games to be and it generally boils down to "alien, dread inducing, and something you feel really proud of beating". That doesn't necessarily require the game to be hard, but it requires it to FEEL hard. And I am all for finding ways to make that even more accessible. Hell, I even suggested a few earlier in the thread. But a Creator should not have to compromise their vision to do so. If it was vital to the game that Sen's Fortress have those god damned boulders then so be it. I definitely felt like I was climbing a tower full of traps. Did the boulders need to basically be one shot kills? I disagree and I think the game could have done a lot better to telegraph without killing (a common problem with Souls games: the warning is an insta-death).

As far as the idea of making the game easy enough that anyone can beat it: This gets into a weird area. Let's ignore the problems with Souls games being inherently multiplayer for a bit.

Some games are inherently mechanics heavy. I am very "okay" at fighting games. I like that we increasingly have auto-combos and simple chains. But if you want to "get good", you need to develop the muscle memory and stop mashing. I like that games like Under Night are ridiculously approachable and accessible. I don't think I should be able to go to EVO and mash square.

Some games are inherently text heavy. It would REALLY suck to be dyslexic and want to play Sunless Seas or Dwarf Fortress or even Crusader Kings. A lot can be done to make those games more accessible by having simple animated movies for common activities and strong GUIs. But you have an inherent incompatibility with wanting to have emergent behavior through procedurally generated text/quests/stories and having a game where you don't need to read all that much. In a perfect world they would find ways to handle all of that through cinematics and GUI elements (Cultist Simulator does a pretty great job at that). But resources are limited.

Similarly, I remember a shockingly heated discussion with someone in GB Infinite where they were adamant that games like Persona (?) and Arkham Knight are inherently bad for hiding the golden ending behind endless grind. I strongly disagree with that and think it is great. People with more time than sense who really want a hundred hours of the shittiest Batman can have fun. I just said "Cool. That ending sucked. Let's open youtube... That ending REALLY sucked". Not everyone needs to "earn" the golden ending. If only because, you just have to check achievement/trophy stats to see how few people even earn the "normal" ending. Either people got their enjoyment out of it or they didn't. And that doesn't even necessitate beating it. I had a blast in Ni No Kuni 2. I also stopped playing during what I think is the final dungeon and have no intention to ever reinstall that.

Its a balancing act. And game design is really hard. I definitely think Souls games could do more to be approachable... and a lot are. In a lot of ways, Sekiro is considerably more accessible than Nioh (best Souls game). And in a truly offline game I could see benefit to having even more features. But claiming it is just an accessibility issue is about as reductive as saying that I should be able to mash circle and beat Shao Khan with a finisher. It is a much more nuanced problem than that.

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#28 Posted by burncoat (557 posts) -

@casepb: I think people liked it because of the weird obtuse nature of the world and progression.

"Here's a bunch of worlds you can go to! Here's a bunch of features and NPCs you can interact with!"
"Cool, how does everything work?"
"~I'll never tell!~"

You're not just conquering the difficulty in the game, you're conquering the way the game was put together. Stats that don't explain what they do until everyone messes with them, NPC questlines that seem arbitrary and impossible to guess the next steps, entire levels changing depending on if you beat a boss or died in human form, material lizards disappearing forever until you kill the next boss. It was an adventure just to piece together how to play the game. People learned to love it in spite of the difficulty, not because of it. I think people and FromSoft's marketing latched onto the "this game is so hard you're gonna DIE" aspect too much (Prepare to Die edition, the cackling ladies in the beginning of DS2) so now we have people trying to hold the difficulty as the sole aspect of the game that is why the games are amazing.

The whole thing reminds me of that bit in Futurama where they go to take Fry to his first Blernsball game. I feel like in the future if FromSoft made games more accessible or added an easier difficulty we'll have loads of naysayers going "Huh, so they finally made it more accessible."

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#29 Edited by nutter (1977 posts) -

@casepb: I got furtherst in Dark Souls 2. I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much if I just zipped though the various regions in a single go.

I think the world is interesting, but a lot of it is the beauty coupled with the fear and dread.

As a parent, I almost need a pause function. I often pause a movie every 15 minutes to deal with work, one dog, my son, my daughter, my wife’s job, my other dog, etc.

I’d still not change the souls games by adding a pause function. Even pausing feels like a respite that would hurt the tension and mood. It means I may never finish one, but I think I appreciate them more for what they are than I would as something that felt compromised.

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#30 Edited by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@gundato: None of what you said is wrong, but I also think you're missing my point, which is: why does having that option for someone else negate anything about your experience, and why is your experience the one that should decide what is the ideal?

If you're concerned about the multiplayer aspect, that's as simple (from my completely non-developer perspective) of matchmaking so that those who use the accessibility options are matched against one another and those who don't are matched against one another. Separate but equal is a trash doctrine in many circumstances, but competitive scenarios should be balanced for everyone's enjoyment. We can't have children fighting adults in real life martial arts competitions, as an obvious example.

Your dyslexia example is an interesting one. I have no doubts that that is a problem, but there would be external options that could make that workable for someone. For example, you can take photo of the screen with a smartphone, import it into Google Translate, and have it read the words aloud. Maybe that's an overly-complicated way of playing a text-based game for a person with dyslexia or some other reading comprehension impediment, but at least it would allow that person to play it if they wanted. Being unable to play a game because of the inability to physically enter commands quickly enough to play a game can't be solved by external interventions, in most cases. That's where additive difficulty adjustment options come in to play, and why I do think that this discussion can't be had absent that consideration.

Lastly, I'd like to include this tweet I just saw from Jason this afternoon, as a reminder that things we enjoy can be taken away at any time and that it sucks to not be able to participate in preferred activities because of a limitation that you have no control over.

Edit: That tweet didn't embed the way I'd hoped. Here's a link: https://twitter.com/unastrike/status/1114254370755862528

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#31 Edited by Shindig (4883 posts) -

WHO WILL SCIENCE NOW!?

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#32 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@shindig: There's other aspects to the science than just the gameplay!

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#33 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@nutter said:

@casepb: I got furtherst in Dark Souls 2. I don’t think I would have appreciated it nearly as much if I just zipped though the various regions in a single go.

I think the world is interesting, but a lot of it is the beauty coupled with the fear and dread.

As a parent, I almost need a pause function. I often pause a movie every 15 minutes to deal with work, one dog, my son, my daughter, my wife’s job, my other dog, etc.

I’d still not change the souls games by adding a pause function. Even pausing feels like a respite that would hurt the tension and mood. It means I may never finish one, but I think I appreciate them more for what they are than I would as something that felt compromised.

Did you bring up the pausing intentionally, since you can actually pause Sekiro? It's seemingly the one gameplay feature they made more forgiving.

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#34 Edited by Gundato (168 posts) -

@ralphmoustaccio:

@ralphmoustaccio said:

@gundato: None of what you said is wrong, but I also think you're missing my point, which is: why does having that option for someone else negate anything about your experience, and why is your experience the one that should decide what is the ideal?

If you're concerned about the multiplayer aspect, that's as simple (from my completely non-developer perspective) of matchmaking so that those who use the accessibility options are matched against one another and those who don't are matched against one another. Separate but equal is a trash doctrine in many circumstances, but competitive scenarios should be balanced for everyone's enjoyment. We can't have children fighting adults in real life martial arts competitions, as an obvious example.

Your dyslexia example is an interesting one. I have no doubts that that is a problem, but there would be external options that could make that workable for someone. For example, you can take photo of the screen with a smartphone, import it into Google Translate, and have it read the words aloud. Maybe that's an overly-complicated way of playing a text-based game for a person with dyslexia or some other reading comprehension impediment, but at least it would allow that person to play it if they wanted. Being unable to play a game because of the inability to physically enter commands quickly enough to play a game can't be solved by external interventions, in most cases. That's where additive difficulty adjustment options come in to play, and why I do think that this discussion can't be had absent that consideration.

Lastly, I'd like to include this tweet I just saw from Jason this afternoon, as a reminder that things we enjoy can be taken away at any time and that it sucks to not be able to participate in preferred activities because of a limitation that you have no control over.

Edit: That tweet didn't embed the way I'd hoped. Here's a link: https://twitter.com/unastrike/status/1114254370755862528

Because it has nothing to do with my experience or your experience or anything. It has to do with being the game. My cousin wants to play Samurai Shodown. Why would having the ability to mash triangle and beat the game not be in it?

And I keep bringing that up because Tekken 7 (?) actually did that. On the easier difficulty settings in story mode they give you auto-combos and even auto-specials. And that is almost a universally hated feature that actually makes the game harder for anyone with even basic fighting game experience as it tends to result in broken combos and sequences. And anyone who relies on that is going to get screwed when they do the god awful 2 round arcade modes, let alone play against a person.

And that is the thing. There is lots of room for adding accessibility features and even difficulty adjusters. Souls games have been doing that since Demon where you could use the Cling Ring to lessen the hollowing penalty. Dark 2 and 3 cranked up the number of NPC summons so that even people playing offline could get help. Nioh has a faction system that gives you some pretty substantial buffs. Sekiro greatly lessens the death penalty (sort of) and adds pausing (yay).

But after a certain point you are making a different game. A fighting game with too many auto-combos becomes, at best, PS2/3 God of War. And a Souls game with too many modifiers stops being a Souls game. Finding that balancing act is the hard part. And it is something devs have been doing pretty much since they realized not everyone was playing in an arcade and that dickishly killing people wasn't needed to turn a profit.

And while having an easy mode wouldn't inherently hurt the normal mode (until you realize how much you are splitting your playerbase for the purpose of summons and the like), it also isn't really a Souls game at that point. I recently replayed the Crash trilogy. Fuck that shit. I don't know how the hell I put up with that as a kid. But that is the game. Activision could have mandated a much easier mode that turned it in to an autorunner. That would let people who don't like driving nails into their dicks to play it, but would it really be Crash at that point?

But at the same time, Activision probably SHOULD have mandated an option to turn on infinite lives as that is basically a QoL feature these days. They definitely should have had some fricking subtitles. And so forth.

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#35 Edited by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

Why would having an option to turn on infinite lives in Crash a quality of life feature, but Sekiro not having a difficulty adjustment of any kind sacrosanct? That's a legitimate question. I'm not trying to be pedantic.

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#36 Posted by Shindig (4883 posts) -

I've got to imagine there's a core section of the From fanbase that sees difficulty as a key part of the package. Certainly the numerous critical pieces over the years cite the challenge as crucial to the experience. From a marketing standpoint, Dark Souls 2 had the difficulty as part of the brand. It's intrinsically linked to the series and, by extension, From Software themselves.

That's not to say it's out of line to change it. It's not but, as developers, in what way would Sekiro be eased up? I suspect it's already been considered and discussed extensively during development. And it will happen again.

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#37 Posted by CurseTheseMetalHands (176 posts) -

If the developers at From Software decide to implement an easier difficulty, I'm fine with it, because it's their call. But they shouldn't be pressured and bullied into it. If their artistic intent is to make games that are brutally difficult, that require you to work through frustration and rage to find a zen state of pure focus that allows you to master the combat systems and know the elation of that triumph, then an 'easy' mode betrays that vision. The game is that experience. So, when people argue that they want to experience the game but they want it easier, then they don't actually want to experience the damn game. If they just want to see the art, the world and character design, and see the story from beginning to end, then they should just watch a friggin' playthrough video on YouTube or Twitch.

As for the argument that an easy mode would make the games more accessible for people with disabilities... I have personal feelings on the matter, but I'll keep them to myself because 1) this isn't the place, and 2) I don't have the energy for the arguments that might arise. So, my thoughts aside, the cold reality is, people with disabilities who want to play these games are a very small percentage of the market. From a purely business standpoint, is it really worth the time and money they'd spend balancing an easy difficulty just to sell maybe a few thousand more copies? There would have to be some balancing, because I imagine those people still want the experience to be at least somewhat satisfying. I can't imagine they'd want a complete cakewalk playthrough where the enemies never attack and the bosses can be killed with a single hit. If you asked a dozen people who want an easy difficulty what that difficulty should involve, you'd likely get a dozen different answers. Resources would have to be spent on making the easy difficulty easy, but not too easy, and they'd probably still end up with people who wanted that mode that are dissatisfied. Then, if they did offer an easy difficulty, how much would that impact the sales from those people who appreciate that From Software's games have already had only one mode and demanded players meet the games on their terms? If a large percentage of people feel like From Software has sold out and compromised their vision, will the new audience that change brings in be able to fill that void? And how many of the developers like making games that are balls hard? Might there be an exodus of talent as the developers feel that they've been pushed to make generic, mass appeal games? There are at lot of angles to consider beyond the fact that some people can't play and/or enjoy these games because they're too unforgiving.

For all we know, From Software has already considered this matter and it was decided long ago that they're catering to a very niche market and, for better or worse, some people just aren't going to be able to play these games, whether it's lack of skill, lack of patience, a disability, or whatever. They have a vision of the type of games they want to make, they have their target market, their established fanbase, and that's all they're concerned with. Some people are just going to get left out. It is what it is.

As others have said, including Ben who caught some shit for it on Twitter: not everything has to be for everyone. And I just want to point out that we're talking about a fucking video game. Sure, it sucks that some people are left out of the experience because they have some physical disability, but this isn't life and death. This isn't the lack of a wheelchair ramp outside a polling station robbing people of their right to vote. This isn't a case of discrimination where a company refuses to hire someone because they don't believe the individual would be capable of doing the work. This is a goddamn hobby. This doesn't - or shouldn't - impact anyone's life in a truly meaningful way. If you feel compelled to focus your outrage into not being able to play a damn video game, then maybe you need to reexamine your priorities. And, similarly, if From Software decides an easy mode is good business and you can't fucking handle that, then just don't buy the games. As I said, it's their call. And there are more important things in life to worry about, and certainly more important issues worthy of your indignation.

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#38 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@cursethesemetalhands: I'm just gonna say that suggesting that minority populations should shut the fuck up and take what scraps the majority decides is relevant is an extremely bad take.

Also, thanks for being the arbiter of indignation. What is worthy worthy of discussion, in your opinion, on this video game forum, if not, y'know, "fucking video game[s]?"

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#39 Posted by Efesell (4442 posts) -

"Games don't have to be for everybody" is fine and reasonable when it's about a niche interest that only a handful of people are going to want to engage in.

But throw it in the goddamn trash whenever it turns into "I want this to be for me, but it can't."

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#40 Edited by Gundato (168 posts) -

@ralphmoustaccio: I've already provided multiple examples to explain the difference. Infinite lives is something even frigging Mario has done these days. In all of those games lives and continues boiled down to "head back to 1-9 to go grind lives when you run low" or whatever. It serves no purpose and is just an extra loading screen. It is comparable to allowing for save states in classic "nintendo hard" games.

Aside from that: I didn't want to say this, but you've now reached the point where it needs saying. Continuing to conflate "easy mode" with "accessibility" is reductive at best and disingenous at worst. By continuing to do so and ignoring discussions of why it is a more nuanced topic and there is a difference between making something more accessible to normal players, more accessible to those with disabilities, and visual novels you are turning this into a constant appeal to emotion where you imply that anyone who disagrees with you hates those with disabilities (and now minorities...).

If you want to have a discussion of specific tweaks that can improve the games while keeping the spirit of them then I would love to chat with you. If you are going to continue down this path: Have fun, I'm out.

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#41 Edited by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@gundato: I haven't played Sekiro yet, because I have a hell of a backlog to get through as it is. That said, some specific examples I've seen to tweak the difficulty that would make the game more approachable, if that word is more to your liking, are things like sliders that would affect enemy movement speed to make the timing for parrying more forgiving, altering the rate at which posture decreases/breaks, increasing the number of revives that you get, buffing player damage/reducing enemy damage, and so on. Players could use what they want, or not at all. Hell, make it so you make things harder from the default setting, so the masochists really have something to bang their heads against.

My perspective on your other point is that ignoring the accessibility angle is making the discussion less nuanced, because the argument for not including difficulty adjustment then just becomes one of two things, basically: artistic intent (which gets debated all the time in all forms of media), or the idea that the product itself is fundamentally diminished for everyone by the mere presence of the options. I can understand the artistic intent debate, though I don't think it's inherently compelling enough to overcome the idea of inclusivity, but there is no evidence that I have seen that increasing the player base by making the game more approachable negatively impacts the experience for those that play on default settings. We briefly discussed the impact of this on multiplayer aspects, though in Sekiro's specific case that's moot, since there is no multiplayer. In games with multiplayer, I think that could be relatively easily solved, as I previously noted, with matchmaking that puts those playing with altered difficulty settings together. It does diminish the available player base for each group, but I don't see that either group would be particularly negatively impacted, since their overall gameplay experience would be more enriching by playing against people of similar skill level. If the gameplay experience is better, they're more likely to continue playing, thus ensuring a thriving community for multiplayer games.

Now, as the minority question, look to that other guy's post. He literally said it wouldn't be worth From's time to add difficulty options because there are so few players with disabilities that they won't make their money back on the effort. My response to that is not intended to reflect on the points you have made.

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#42 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@gundato: Also, I now realize that I got you confused with the OP in a previous reply where I mentioned the story of struggling with the control system when first playing Demon's Souls. Sorry to both you and the OP about that.

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#43 Posted by nutter (1977 posts) -

@ralphmoustaccio: No. I actually wasn’t aware. I haven’t had time to check out Sekiro yet. I’m sure I will at some point, hopefully before thr end of the year.

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#44 Posted by Pezen (2372 posts) -

@gundato: None of what you said is wrong, but I also think you're missing my point, which is: why does having that option for someone else negate anything about your experience, and why is your experience the one that should decide what is the ideal?

For me personally, the availability of easier modes negates my urge to challenge myself. As I grew older, I stopped being a 'stupid proud gamer' and actually started using easy modes whenever I felt like I was banging my head against a game for no good reason, but I still wanted to see it through. That has made my gaming a lot more enjoyable. But it came with a cost, and I can't blame anyone else for it, but I am now noticing a severe drop in patience with games that are a bit hard. I'll drop it to easy way quicker than I probably should.

What From Software's games have given me is an ultimatum; get better or don't finish the game. As a result, I haven't finished all of them. But I did finish Bloodborne and I am banging my head against and learning the ins and out of Sekiro. And I am having a ton of fun in the process to the point where part of me wants to go back to Dark Souls and give it another chance. I know if these games would have had easier modes available, I would have lowered the difficulty by now. And while in theory, adding a difficulty slider for some people may not change the normal mode, it does make an actual impact on my behavior with a game. So it wouldn't actually just exist without consequence.

And to your last point; why should someone that want an easier experience decide what's ideal from a franchise and developer that have been repeatedly been told their games are on the verge of being too hard for years? I know my experience shouldn't decide that either, but the flip side of your question is equally valid. Most people that love From Software's games do so because of the way the games are designed (deliberate, well established rules, no hand holding, etc.), not despite of it all. And by this point, most people know what a From/Souls-like game is like and can make an educated decision based on that. The fact that their games are hard for people isn't news to them, if they wanted to alter that they could have done so a while ago. But they still haven't done that. Which, to me, tells me they are content in their design philosophy regarding these specific games and what they want to do with them.

In my mind then, disagreeing with the notion that a difficulty slider should be in the game isn't so much demanding our experience should decide what's ideal so much as it is an argument of accepting the game as it was intended to be experienced. And if that experience isn't for some people, it isn't. That being said, I wouldn't stand on the street corners shouting at the clouds if they did add difficulty options. If that did in fact bring in new people to their games and those people had fun, more power to them. But I do know it would be a net negative for myself, but as you said and I agree, it isn't my experience that should dictate whatever is done with the games. I can only hope my experience keeps being what it has been so far, as that is the experience I come to these games for.

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#45 Posted by KingBonesaw (1382 posts) -

I just wish FromSoftware would have made the pizza eating minigame in Enchanted Arms easier. Is that too much to ask?

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#46 Posted by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@pezen: I certainly understand the desire to have a feeling of accomplishment, and not wanted to be tempted to reduce that by using some type of assistance that you think impacts the experience, but that really is a personal responsibility rather than a reason to not include the option. As a seemingly-unrelated anecdote, I built a birdhouse recently, and I did everything by hand rather than using power tools (except for a drill, because manual drills are trash). I did this for no good reason other than I wanted to do so. I'm proud of that little birdhouse, and maybe I'd be slightly less proud of it if I had made all the necessary cuts, sanding, etc. in a fraction of the time. But I did it that way for a reason, dammit, even though I'd still have a birdhouse if I'd used the "easy mode" tools. So, like I said, I get where you're coming from.

You're right that it's difficult to decide what is the best way to balance the interest of the majority, minority groups, and the developers in situations like this. My natural inclination is to lean in the direction of a more inclusive experience than less, basically in all things at all times. The majority may only be such because others haven't had a legitimate chance to participate, so they should have as much an equal opportunity as possible, in my opinion. Authorial intent should also be respected, but altering the way something is experienced happens constantly in all media. A streamed copy of a movie isn't nearly as high resolution than it is on film in a theater, and the audio at home is usually significantly less impressive, an MP3 isn't as high-quality as a master recording, an audio book doesn't allow you to consume a story at your own pace, but most of the time you can a fundamentally similar experience. Even in cases where the presentation was integral to the experience, such as films shot in 3D--and I'm not arguing that 3D is good, mind you--generally get some type of release not reliant on that presentation, which allows more people to experience it even while altering the authorial intent. That larger pool of participants helps provide more interpretations and viewpoints about the work, helping expand the understanding of the intent.

At any rate, I am glad you're enjoying Sekiro, and I am looking forward to digging into it later, after I get through a bunch of other stuff in the backlog. More good-faith discussion about topics like this should only help to improve our hobby.

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#47 Posted by FrodoBaggins (2024 posts) -

@ralphmoustaccio: nobody should decide what's ideal for a franchise except the developer. People can only say what they would like and what they prefer. Obviously, in this case, the developer seems to think thay it's best not to have difficulty options.

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#48 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4239 posts) -

I see this discussion stem from the uneasy position games are in. With 1 foot in the art camp and with 1 foot in the service / product camp. Can games be an artful expression from the creator, or does the creator have to work within the boundaries that have been set to make it an enjoyable experience for an as large as possible crowd? The first thought that came to mind is how people kept bringing up how terrible MGS plays, because it employs it's own unique control scheme that doesn't let you shoot & aim with the triggers. Back then i saw that as a misguided call, given that it wasn't the point of MGS to just aim & shoot your way through the game. It was much more a game about positioning yourself in a good position & changing items & weapons around to deal with specific situations. Eventually that series changed in a way where the shooter standards made more sense and most people seemed to be alright with that.

I think it's important to bring up the need for accessibility options, but i don't understand why that concern mostly pops up around From Software games. As if difficult timing is the one thing people can wrap their heads around and call out as a dealbreaker for disabled people. It just feels shortsighted to me when the vast majority of the games are near impossible for many people out there. Games like Fortnite PUBG, Apex Legends, Baba Is You, The Witness, Dota, Counterstrike, COD, Fighting games, Starcraft & Zachtronic games are already not in a place where everyone can enjoy them. Where are the button remap menu's Nintendo? Where can we choose our hud colors? Where are the text-to-speech options? font & size options? Where are the adaptive controllers? Private lobbies? Mod capability? Any matchmaking options at all? Offline gaming? There is so much work to be done to make the games that do try to cater themselves to an as large as possible audience friendlier to people with a disability. Imagine how cool it could be if you could just fill up a PUBG match with people from your quadriplegics discord group. Trying to tackle the game that has never been too interested in capturing that audience to be mindful of these issues, seems like an odd target to start with.

In this particular case, it's no surprise that From Software is not focusing their attention on catering to those with a disability. They've been making these games for decades, often met with a shrug. Suddenly, their tech is good enough for their game to become an instant classic. A game that prides itself on being hard, in an age where most games get created with the idea that players of each skill level should be able to have fun with a product. For that developer to move away from everything that made that game a classic would be an incredibly risky move. That's why you see the hand of soulsgames in everything they've done afterwards. It's third person, it's about swinging weapons at enemies & bosses, and it's about making your way through a vast landscape where each lightsource you reach lets you breathe a sigh of relief & accomplishment. Could they make a version of this kind of game that is playable for most quadriplegics while also being fun for the original crowd? I bet they could. But that will only be a focus when it's straight up not okay for games to release without these options in place. After all, with their taglines about how you will die over & over, it's clear that they have positioned themselves away from the rest of the AAA-gaming scene with their oldskool difficulty as it's own unique selling point. Getting the tools out there for the 90% of videogames that do somewhat try to cater to an as large as possible audience, would be much more meaningful. Instead, these seem to regress in many ways that would've offered those people a helping hand.

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#49 Edited by NTM (11647 posts) -

My question is though, who exactly wants the options? Is it fully capable people that just don't want to put in the work to master it, or is it people that simply cannot do it because of some kind of disability? Maybe I haven't looked into it enough, but it seems to be the former. I love when a developer makes a game, knowing what they're making. Sekiro, just like the Souls games are extremely well-made games in what they're trying to do that I think people, to really get the most out of it despite them thinking otherwise, should just stick with it. You're getting the benefit of satisfaction with every triumph over the challenges you face, and then everything surrounding that.

There are not a lot of games that are like Soulsborne or Sekiro, and I think there is room for that type of game without the easy option. I've seen some say that it's ruining their enjoyment, but I don't see how it can if they're not trying to excel at it. If you die and die and die and say 'too hard, I quit, where's easy mode?' then that's not the right way to look at it. You should want to keep trying, I think you'll gain a lot more satisfaction out of that than if you had dialed the difficulty down. From my experience, none of the Soulsborne games, including Sekiro are cheap, it's just about determination. I'll also say this: if you ever manage to beat the Souls games and Sekiro, you'll probably want a lot more games to challenge you. You'll feel like you can master any game if you can beat them, and that's a nice feeling.

Also, there's the 'if you don't like it, don't buy it' argument, which is honestly just true. All the Souls-like games are doable, it just takes time and determination. While in some cases 'get gud' (which is a very condescending way to put it obviously) is applicable, I think anyone can 'get gud'. You just have to want to. I think people that haven't gone through them just haven't, and obviously can't have realized how good it feels to get through the games. The challenge isn't everything that makes them special, but as I said in a previous thread, it is perhaps the glue that holds it all together. The environments, for instance, are awesome, but if it weren't for difficulty, there's a chance that them being as memorable as they are wouldn't be there because you really have to memories enemies in the places and how to get about the best way.

I'm not one of those people that say 'get gud' or think I'm better than others because I get through the games, that's a stupid attitude, but I think people should be determined to get through it if they buy it and really do want to see it through. Frustration is part of the game, but it's not what you take away from it in the end. Honestly, difficulty select is one of the few issues I have with God of War. They don't give you a lot of reason to play on harder difficulties. I know satisfaction is one of them, but why would I when that's the only reason? And yet, I don't think it's challenging enough. That's not a problem you can choose to run into with the Souls games.

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#50 Edited by RalphMoustaccio (291 posts) -

@onemanarmyy and @ntm These last two comments are well thought out and articulated, and it is a difficult topic to realistically address. Cheers.

I didn't give enough thought tot he very first sentence of the original post, which mentions "mandatory easy modes." In doing so, I think that's a fundamentally misguided perception. Criticism and request for difficulty options (again, I think "easy mode" is generally used in a pejorative manner) are not demands. They are feedback and requests, and every game should get feedback and requests made of it, especially when it's a large, highly visible series. If developers are the only ones who should ever get to decide how their games play, Destiny would be a hugely different thing than it morphed into, or MGS would have stayed with a control scheme that was wildly out of sync with modern standards, or, generally things like colorblind adjustment options just wouldn't even be considered. Those all resulted (some more quickly than others) due to player feedback. Without players, developers can't sell games.

But who should games be for? I think they should be for as large an audience as possible, and larger development teams should have a larger responsibility for responding to the feedback they receive to improve the size and inclusivity of their player base. I have heard literally no one say that there should be any removal of features, difficulty, control options, etc. from a game. They just say stuff should be added. I realize that takes resources, which is why I think it's more incumbent upon the larger development teams to include accessibility settings of all kinds, as trends and feedback call for them, which in some cases includes difficulty adjustment options. I think it's important to step back and consider a wider set of interpretations and methods to enjoy the work of creators, rather than hiding behind the idea of the artistic intent in most cases. I could go to the Louvre and stare at the Mona Lisa, and have my own thoughts on it, and so could anyone else with means and interest to do so. Yes, that doesn't change the ink on the canvas, but a collective experience and discussion of a work of art can change the interpretation of it. Some people are content to watch playthroughs on YouTube, but others might not be. It is a fundamentally different experience, however, and I don't think that option replaces the need to be more inclusive in the gameplay.

I think this argument springs up loudly around From games specifically because there is so much chest thumping by people who have beat them that the mere thought of providing difficulty options so that someone else can makes them feel less important. Like the old joke, you know what beating Bloodborne and 50 cents got me? A coke. Sure, it felt like an accomplishment in the immediate short term, but I felt more accomplishment finishing the birdhouse I mentioned before. That's, of course, just my perspective. I don't know what someone else would feel accomplished for completing, and so if someone feels accomplished for beating any game on a lesser difficulty setting, congratulations to them. Telling someone not to buy something if they don't like it is a fine standard, which I abide by. I don't buy most JRPGs, for example, because it is not one of my preferred genres. I think in a lot of cases involving accessibility needs, the reality with some games and a lot of hardware is more akin to "I want to buy this, but can't because I fundamentally can't use it."

There are absolutely discussions of accommodations on a larger scale, but sometimes it's important to have a moment where it gets thrust into the spotlight so that the industry can grow and include more people. I am not a person with a disability, but my professional work is in that field, and it's frustrating as hell to see companies so willfully ignore the population. I suspect that part of that is because there is a stereotype that people with disabilities are poor so why cater to them, which is gross as hell. Another part of it is that the mechanics of video games are so reliant on a consistently increasing number of buttons. If someone doesn't have full use of his or her hands, or even has a condition like arthritis, reaching those buttons can be a challenge, or repetitive motion can be painful. Disability can be just about anything, ranging from relatively minor like the aforementioned arthritis, or something major like quadriplegia. The default image is one of significant disability, of course, and that should also change. Not every roadblock can be eliminated, but listening to those groups of people and working on systems to improve the situation either through hardware (yay, Microsoft!) or software is important.

I'm sure there are some people who just want difficulty settings added to Sekiro for the sake of having them. Doesn't bother me. But, that's why I think the topic of difficulty as it relates to accessibility needs to be included in the conversation, because otherwise it's too easy to just say "nah, git gud," and continue the chest thumping. Developers do need to work on making it evident what changes might be included in existing difficulty levels, and that would provide better decision making to the player. The Witcher 3 did this pretty well, as I recall, noting on the selection screen how the gameplay might change as the difficulty was increased, without being condescending on the descriptions of the lower levels. They also had five difficulty levels, if I remember correctly. More granularity, to me, is the right way to go. Including sliders that adjust varying aspects of the gameplay, rather than or in addition to preset difficulty levels. This way, an individual player can tailor the experience to their interest and capability more specifically.

I hope that this moment does shed some light on the need for greater inclusivity in the video game space, but the changes are going to take years. That's no reason to stop asking.

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