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With our first entry in Defending Design, we sought to give credit to design choices that were becoming unpopular, whether through constant use, frustration or otherwise negative aspects. The problem is that these elements represent some great choices in-game design that shouldn’t go away until better options are presented. We haven’t seen too many of those.
So in the interest of an even playing field, here are three more design choices that don’t get enough credit.
Generic Difficulty Modes
Some of us are Alpha Gamers and look to prove they’re the best. Others are gluttons for punishment. Then there are people who are naturally more skilled at games and want a challenge for themselves. All these gamers are comfortable with choosing the top difficulty of a game and most end up coming out the other end without a broken controller. Or screen.
Most games today use what is dubbed “Generic Difficulty Modes” to provide this higher challenge. Basically, “Normal” difficulty is the baseline experience: you take and deal “Normal” damage, get the “Normal” number of items dropped, and have “Normal” AI to deal with. “Easy” mode usually doubles advantages and halves disadvantages, and vice versa for “Hard” mode. This translates to a very similar experience whatever difficulty you play on, and that makes some people unhappy.
But you know who is ok with that? The majority of gamers, who can’t naturally shoot fireballs from their eyes and bolts of lightning from their arse, or at least the video game equivalent. “Normal” gamers are looking for a fun experience that lets them feel powerful after being in an office all day. They already work through hell. Gaming is their off time.
Generic difficulty means they can even step up the difficulty a bit without instadeath. In all honesty, most players complete only a single playthrough, and less do it on the highest difficulty. Adding new enemies, weapons, tactics and rewards for playing on the highest difficulty means that less skilled players would pay the same money for less of an experience, and that’s not right. Plus, the achievement/trophy system kind of already takes care of giving you a little extra for your struggles.
Player Cutscene Defeat
This is a complaint heard way too often. You’ve become a killing machine, upgraded your abilities to an early maximum and your run of the mill bad guys have little to no chance of fending off your onslaught. You start a story mission, turn the corner and *WHACK* your character is knocked out and soon after tied to a chair about to be lit on fire. How’s that fair??
Well, it’s not. That’s kind of the point. If things were fair, Jason Brody would have had a great vacation, Darth Revan would be a random Republic trooper and Solid Snake would have wondered why he looked 80 as a 30-year-old retiree in peaceful Alaska.
These scenes exist for the benefit of the player’s experience. Yeah, it feels like a cheat when you get cheap shotted and tied to a chair, but these provide opportunity for narrative, character development, story progression, exciting escapes, etc. Think about it: aside from the opening cutscene, imagine how little of Vaas you would have seen in Far Cry 3 without them. Or how else would the FOXDIE have saved Snake at the end of MGS?
Even if you’re angry about it, doesn’t that fuel the fact that the video game made you feel something? Emily Dickinson once wrote, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.” The same could be said of a good video game.
Quick Time Events (QTE)
This one will probably be the hardest to defend. Around since Dragon’s Lair in 1980, and arguably popularized in its modern form by the God of War series, QTEs involve timed button presses during cutscenes in order to finish off an enemy, survive to the next part of the game, and multiple used in-between. Over-saturation in gaming has led to a general decline in its popularity.
I completely agree that QTEs can be overused, but ultimately I want to continue seeing them. It’s nice to grab a snack or put down the controller during a cutscene, but there’s already a pause system built into virtually every game, sometimes even during the cutscene. If I want to pause and grab a Mountain Dew, I’m not compelled enough by the cutscene to put off my bodily functions. That doesn’t sound like a good cutscene to me.
Then there’s the extra layer of gameplay. Being able to control my character during a cutscene is amazing. In God of War gameplay, I’m limited to the animations of the moves I have unlocked. In cutscenes, I’m ripping creatures in half, making visually mind-blowing movements, and doing things the regular gameplay doesn’t allow. Who doesn’t love that?
Yes, games could cut back or cut out QTEs entirely, and some gamers would cheer. I love them, but I know there are ways of making them better. Ultimately, losing Quick Time Events would be a step back in interacting with our interactive media. Think about it.
What do you think of these game design elements? Drop a comment below and be the discussion! And check back for Part 3!