Monday, March 21, 2016


Thoughts About Star Fox Zero's Invincibility Mode

So Jim Sterling's done a bit about backlash to the announcement that Star Fox Zero will feature an Invincible mode, and it's got my brain stirred up.

I should preface this by saying that I think the conclusion he's come to is absolutely correct -- there is a sentiment among long-time video game fans that is hostile toward opening up video games to a larger audience.  But I don't think the place it comes from is as irrationally mean-spirited as Sterling suggests.

What it comes down to is, people don't like to feel like they're being patronized.

Video games, for all of their potential as a new medium for artistic expression and storytelling, are often still games.  They are systems where you put in effort in the form of the choices you make and the way you respond in twitch-action segments, and you expect to receive a reward.  And in the back of our minds, there is this knee-jerk feeling that the reward we receive should be proportional to the quality of the effort we've put in.  Players don't like to think that it's possible to see the entire game in an invincible mode because they want to think that their effort is worth something.  Why should I play the hard mode when I can see the entire game in easy mode?  Why should I play the easy mode when I don't have to put any effort into it?

It's less a desire to be exclusive for its own sake, and more a sort of instinctive desire for "fairness".

Extra Credits summed it up pretty well when they examined the difficulty of Dark Souls II.  Players don't like explicit manual difficulty selection options.  They don't use it for the stated purpose of customizing their play experience to their own comfort level -- by and large, most players want to play the "real" game, the way it was "meant" to be played.  If you want to give your game easy paths, you kind of have to trick players into thinking that they've earned it.

Because let's be honest.  Gamers are not above taking the easy way through the game.  That's why we subscribed to Nintendo power and learned all of the cheat codes and where the warp zones are.  That's even why we bought the Game Genies and Game Sharks way back when.  Look at Super Mario Brothers 3.  Nobody in history has ever complained that there are enough warp whistles within the first four levels to take you to the last world of the game.  They're not even difficult to acquire once you know where they are.  But by putting them outside of the normal path, they satisfy our psychological hangups.  They require you to take unusual action, so they're a "reward" for a particular "effort".  They're not along the normal path, so we can comfortably think of them as not being the way the game was "meant" to be played.

Or take this far more generic example.  Say there's a game where you earn coins as you progress through a level.  When you die, you return to the start of the level, but you keep your coins.  After you've attempted the level and died ten times or so, you've earned enough money to go to the game's shop and buy a power-up that allows you to complete the level more easily.

Players will never balk at an option like this, and yet it's functionally equivalent to the White Leaf that everyone hates in the newer Mario games.  It's an option that becomes available after you've failed multiple times, and you don't need to take it.  But players prefer this because it feels like something you've earned rather than a bone thrown to you out of pity.

I do think that gamers could stand to take a step back and examine whether or not this is actually a big deal or not.  Because really?  It's not.  What they're really objecting to amounts to window dressing.  But on the other hand?  I get where they're coming from.  And it's not useful to dismiss their feelings about these design choices as raw, selfish mean-spiritedness.  Nintendo used to be very clever about making games where players could customize their experience without feeling like they're being spoon-fed.  I like to think that they can figure out a way to make everyone feel like they have a place at the table.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?