Punished for Accessibility

Core Vs. Casual

Points if you remember what game this is.

Gamers as a whole are genuinely excited about playing video games. Everyone harps on how great their special gems are, whether they’ve just played through Journey or they’re still admiring how nobly different Dyad is.

The feeling that comes with sharing a new find is my favorite part about gaming, and it’s why I love writing about games.

But there’s a tendency for sensationalized pessimism to shine through at times. If general website comments are any indication, the gaming community is not usually the nicest set of people.

Core Casual FightingEver since mainstream gaming moved from arcades to our homes and subsequently our mobile devices, there has been a noticeable divide between the gaming casual and the gaming core. I don’t say divide as in both sides are taking up arms to defeat the other, rather these are two distinct palates that publishers work to corral.

Heck, according to THQ’s press site, games fall under three categories: Core, Casual and Fighting (haha).

You know who you are if you belong in the core category. In fact, according to Google Analytics, if you’re reading this then you’re almost certainly a core gamer. That or you stumbled upon our site looking for news about Assassin’s Creed III.

Or you’re looking for naughty pictures from Katawa Shoujo.

Knowing that you’re probably a core gamer, I’d like to shine the light on the other faction of gamers; the misinterpreted and often maligned casual gamers. These are the faceless mass who creep into our favorite series and destroy them. They dwarf core gamers and unknowingly pollute the experiences that we hold dear.

World of Warcraft, Battlefield, Diablo, Street Fighter (well, any fighter really), Final Fantasy, etc. All of them routinely accused of degradation brought on by the influx of casual gamers, every major publisher’s darling demographic. These guys haven’t been around long enough to know that there was a two-dimensional Prince of Persia. Angry Birds is their torch and App Store reviews are their bible.

Street Fighter X TekkenThat’s all unfair to say the least, especially considering that they have probably saved more franchises than they have killed. They simply bring the money that the industry needs to keep on producing.

On that note, we have developers who suddenly seem turncoat. Capcom and its camaraderie who’ve faithfully brought us exquisite work in the past now feel that it’s in their best interest to simplify the moveset. This is in order to attract the spectators that used to be befuddled by the thought of having six different attack buttons.

I remember that feeling. Walking up to my first Street Fighter machine and seeing that there were three different kicks, three different punches, and somehow I had to figure all of that together into a super attack when the meter flashed mockingly at me.

Now I rest easy knowing that stylish-looking launcher combos can easily be initiated by hitting a predefined string of light, medium, heavy, heavy in Street Fighter X Tekken.

We may not all be playing games on our phones, where gaming is most condensed but this simplification has seeped into more traditional channels. I honestly appreciate the accessibility testing that Capcom went through to allow me to not look so foolish when I approach legendary fighting systems like Marvel vs. Capcom.

Checkpoint Creed IIAt the same time, I also found myself sighing in resignation when the Blizzard team nerfed World of Warcraft’s hard modes month after month. Most recently, they nerfed Diablo III’s Inferno difficulty. Again, it was in order to afford everyone access to the full game that they purchased. Good news to most, sour news to some.

Tired of falling to your death in a platform game? No problem, automatic ledge grabs are there to catch you. Getting rocked by the AI in the latest FPS game? Activate slow-motion-swan-dive-bullet-tornado and you’re golden. If all else fails – checkpoints.

A platoon of checkpoints will rescue you.

Other horrible development decisions aside, Blizzard and Capcom are trying to rally their fanbase and make sure there’s enough interest for new installations of their franchises. This means simplifying the mechanics that core gamers have come to enjoy.

Developers dance the line between designing challenging gameplay that pushes our reflexes and designing simple context cues for where to go next. This process can result in implementing multiple difficulty levels with cute descriptions like “for those who want to die” as well as glowing yellow indicators on our minimaps.

But those are time-savers really. The difficulty levels let us cherrypick how often we die while the glowing arrows make sure we don’t end up checking mundane walls for hidden buttons like we did in games of old. Backtracking is never fun and modern games have seen to its destruction.

How about the whole nerfing business? Is it OK to give games an abridged feel a few weeks after release all in the name of accessibility? Hell yes. Or rather, Inferno yes.

Max Payne 2Imagine how terrible it would be if only the top 10% of gamers were ever allowed to finish the latest Zelda game. Or if you had to pass a gear check in Demon’s Souls in order to even start playing Dark Souls. Brutal examples aside, what if games simply got rid of their precious checkpoints. We’d be back in the days of yore when saving at the wrong time meant that you would be reliving your death on each reload.

That’s a personal nod to an experience with Max Payne 2 when I saved while diving into a piece of falling building..

It’s easy to frustrate someone who may be new to a game, genre or even controller. Sure, we core gamers may be proficient with the classic analog stick layout but recall the last time you had to teach someone how to look around and move in an FPS, it’s awful and highly discouraging for that person when they get killed those first ten times.

I urge the core not to bemoan simplicity. Everyone has to start somewhere. Games that are simple to pick up and play afford casual gamers the chance to catch up to the rest of us.

For instance, quick time events are challenging and rewarding for this demographic. Sometimes a straightforward action game is exactly what people want. It’s worth sheltering against waves of third person action games in order to let the industry birth the next Shadow of the Colossus.

Dead Space 3 is easy to criticize for its recent design decisions incorporating co-op and more accessible action elements, but these things are additions and not replacements to the survival horror antics that fans have come to expect. After a bit of thought I’m thankful for the addition of co-op. It gives me another way to enjoy the game.

Game designers have the unique position of bridging the gap between the experienced and the nubile. It’s a tricky position full of sleepless nights that eventually leads to release day, when all the critics come out and evaluate their past few years as mediocre at best.

Don’t punish developers with harsh words for configuring accessibility options and general time-savers that allow them to reach past us and into the multitude. That multitude pays their bills and in turn it pays for a lot of the risks that publishers are willing to take.

And for the record, checkpoints are genius.