Somewhere between Mickey’s Magical Quest and Ninja Gaiden is where you’ll find the sweet spot of difficulty.
Making a game a challenge is an important role of any game designer. It’s one of those fine lines you walk that can really make or break all the years of work you’ve put into developing a title. If a game is too hard, people get easily frustrated and they simply give up. They’ll never get to enjoy all the nuisances and hidden gems you’ve tucked away in the world, as they are blinded by a piercing anger at the super-cheap boss fight that ruins the fun (leading to rage quits). Of course, there’s the other side of that coin, as making a game too easy can also diminish the experience. There’s nothing worse than playing a game whose difficulty is so low, you feel like you’re on auto-pilot. You lose that sense of accomplishment you feel when having to overcome challenging obstacles. A game’s difficulty should start at a reasonable level and ramp up. This way, by the end, you feel like you’ve been on a journey.
With the next-generation of consoles still in their infancy, there is one company that I have faith in who can pull off just such a perfect balance. A company whose proven their quality to the game industry in the past; that company is Bungie.
With Halo, I can tell you that I’ve played the campaign's co-op mode with 12 year old kids, who did a pretty good job of keeping up in the earlier levels. I also found myself struggling towards the end of the game in single player, which perfectly highlights the earlier formula I outlined. Bungie gets it. With their upcoming Destiny release, they hope to create a game that reaches a wider scope. Much secrecy surrounded Destiny early on (to the point where some speculated it was an MMO). The announce trailer confirmed it would be an FPS, and let’s face it, this is a genre Bungie knows. Why mess with a good thing? We don’t need “New Coke” from them. Luckily, Bungie knew it was smarter to dance with the one that brought um’ (as this is their first big outing on their own since their break from Microsoft). They know their game is under the microscope big time, which is why they hope to make Destiny something that anyone can pick up and enjoy (not just FPS fans). In a recent interview, Tyson Green (Lead Investment Designer for the project) stated that the campaign mode will be more accessible to the average gamer. He wants people who walk in from a stressful day at the office to know they can kick back with Destiny and feel completely immersed right away.
Now, I’m all for accessibility (which does mean a wider appeal), but I’m sure the die-hards must be wondering “…what have you done for us lately?” After all, a calm walk in the park isn’t for everyone. Some are looking for that adrenaline-filled rush when it comes to their gaming.
Bungie claims they’ve got you covered on that front as well. Aside from the multi-player component (which they call “faster and more lethal”), the campaign mode of Destiny will provide challenges that even seasoned gamers will find difficult to overcome. In fact, Green goes so far as to promise that you WILL FAIL when going up against many of the elements that the game will throw at you. “We're building lots of encounters, and even activities, where it's not immediately obvious what you should do. And in fact, you're going to fail. Oh my god, you're actually going to play a AAA video game and fail a lot. When we say that we're building something for every mood, we really mean it.” He says.
Regardless of which side of the equation you fall into (the casual or the hardcore), there is another element of Destiny that intends to provide some middle ground and bridge the gap between these two factions. The co-op mode is something that Bungie hopes to innovate in its upcoming release and redefine the concept of cooperative play among teammates. Up ‘till now, it’s been somewhat of an afterthought of most games, but they assure their title brings a different kind of experience to the table. Only time will tell if the new vision they tout will indeed revolutionize as promised.
I can think back to our classic gaming roots and remember just how frustrating “beginners traps” could be. You didn’t’ realize a platform would drop beneath your feet, so you lost a life the first time you tried. The second time of course is a different story. It was a one-off trick that the developers would always sneak in. With Destiny, I’m looking forward to how they plan to take this concept and turn it on its ear. Let’s hope that it’s not just a series of next-gen puzzles where you’re forced to buy a strategy guide in order to progress. I’m truly hoping that things are challenging, but the solutions remain intuitive (where they can be figured out with a little logical thinking).
Remember Bungie: this is like your first solo album after leaving The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. You’ve got one chance to prove you’re not a one hit wonder.
"Don't let me down..." - Let It Be Sessions, Circa 1969