I would like to thank rabesandratan for pointing out this gamasutra article or I would have missed a very interesting discussion. For those that missed it, Nintendo is preparing the “Wii Help” which is a system that will make the game play itself if the player is stuck at a tough section and would like to get past it without playing it. The gamasutra comments section is ablaze with people talking about it and as someone who focuses on gameplay the idea of skipping it has some interest to me.
To me this is a dangerous idea on par with online access for console games due to the level that it can be abused. Gameplay in a video game is the main point of a game hence why the word game is included in the phrase. I know that some people think that everyone should be able to beat every game with little or no effort, but that isn’t right. Now I completely understand the difference between frustrating design and challenging design, the former is bad design and the latter is good design. Games are meant to provide a challenge or stimulation to the player, being able to skip sections of it will keep the player from actually improving their skills. I can understand the idea of playing games just for their stories but not playing a video game basically goes against the main functionality of games. For my point I want to look at two different topics one being the target demographic and two on the issue of gameplay itself.
First on the target, according to the article this kind of system is aimed at younger gamers and more casual gamers and I have to raise some kind of offense to this. Before I begin my rant I want to say that my background is in the form of challenge for gameplay, I like games that are relaxing but I also like to play games that make me sweat. When it comes down to it, I believe that if you want to skip parts of a video game then you are doing it wrong unfortunately (I know the common response here and I’ll talk about it in a few minutes). There are many ways to give less skillful players an advantage without downsizing the game experience. One of my favorites was in the first Sly Cooper game that if the player failed a section enough times the game would give the player extra health. I liked this as the designers didn’t need to simplify the gameplay but instead gave less skilled players a little more help. The other part of this point is that it should let anyone regardless of skill level be able to beat a game and this is also where I have a problem.
I remember reading in a game design book a few years ago that one of the popular concepts for design now is to make a game that everyone should be able to beat and I did not like that idea. I can come up with a list of games both older and more current of titles that their difficulty was either the main attraction or the cornerstone of the experience. This is one of those concepts that are too broad for its own good in my opinion as should games aimed at the hardcore gamers of the genre be made to attract complete newcomers? Now this is not aimed against games that have different difficulty levels, I fully support having the game scale to the person’s skill level, this is against games that in order to get a larger audience either scale back the design or simplify the game. Next it’s time to talk about the gameplay and what danger this poses to it.
Let me come out and admit it, there are plenty of games that I’ve played that having something like this system would have been great for. However I personality would never use it and this is where my 2nd point against this comes in. If a game features a section that is poorly designed enough to warrant this system then the designer has failed and I’ve seen it happened plenty of times. An imbalanced section, a sharp spike of the difficulty curve and so on can become a wall for most gamers to progress. Metroid Prime 3 features several poorly designed sections that made me came close to quitting and one that finally drove me away (the final boss fight). Having the Wii Help would have made life easier but really should we ignore bad design because of this system? This is where I believe the danger of this kind of system comes in, as it gives designers a free pass against balance. I had the same reaction to the rise of downloadable content on consoles as a way of rushing games to the market or abusing that system similar to how EA has done with cheats that can be bought for certain games. I want to make a distinction between skipping game sections and providing in game hints as I’m fine with the latter. Another favorite mechanic of mine was introduced in Myst Uru where the player could get different degrees of hints on every puzzle in the game from the Myst web page. From a gentle push in the right direction to a step by step guide and I think something like that would be a better fit.
Determining what is considered a challenge and was is considered bad game design is a bit too much for this topic but an important part of this discussion. We all have our own opinion of challenge in games but when we’re not dealing with the latter, the point of video games is to play them. If someone isn’t good enough to figure out Lego Star Wars then maybe they’re not ready for that game yet. There are many games I’ve played when I was younger that I had a different experience playing them now with more experience under my belt. Instead of trying to shoehorn every gamer into every game, try aiming for those that will appreciate what you are going for, or in other words the target audience.