Sequels and remakes of classic games have all the proof: developers are placing less faith in the basic puzzle solving and navigation skills of gamers. We like shooting things. Not figuring things out, apparently.
This dumbing down process is what developers call “broad market appeal.” While AI can be adjusted to the different skills of players through varying difficulty levels, areas that can’t be adjusted are slowly degrading to a level of mindless simplicity.
“Mass Effect” is a good example of this. With “Mass Effect 2,” EA wanted the game to reach a broader audience, and to do this they dumbed down the RPG-style player leveling options and moved it closer to becoming a FPS. This will be even more so with the coming of “Mass Effect 3,” which as EA CEO John Riccitiello told investors, will bring broad market appeal by making the game the “equivalent to shooter-meets-RPG,” to “address a much larger market opportunity than Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 began to approach.”
The “Splinter Cell” series moved down a similar road. It was once among the most difficult series out there. Players had to evade detection, move fast, and choose whether taking down a target was worth the risk of search parties later in a level. The games had a strong following, but were too difficult for the broad market. You could not play this game without thinking carefully about your every move, and the guns blazing approach was not an option.
The latest game in the series, “Splinter Cell Conviction” lowered the difficulty bar, however, to appeal to players who just want action with a bit of stealth thrown in. The game still had stealth levels—albeit much easier than previous games—but had moved closer to a third-person shooter with stealth kill options. It brought some newcomers to the series, but long-time fans saw it as a let-down. As one user states “Ubisoft has made it clear that the wants of old fans means diddly-squat to them. It is all about the casual market.”
When “Duke Nukem Forever” was released, jokes started about how linear FPS games were becoming compared to their complex roots. “Duke Nukem Forever,” is an extreme example of this—as it even punished exploration in some parts—but it started an interesting conversation. Games like “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D” made players scour each level and were filled with secret rooms and easter eggs. Most modern FPS games guide you down a set trail, maybe with a couple break-off paths that eventually lead to the same place. Check out the image to the left from HALOLZ, which jokingly compares FPS map designs from 1993 to today’s games.
The upcoming remake of the first “Halo” game, “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary,” will be taking a similar route, mainly on one of the most memorable levels, “343 Guilty Spark,” where players first encounter The Flood. It dropped players in a jungle at night, forcing them to search and find their way to a hillside base. The dark search created atmosphere. By the time you found the base, a sense of mystery had been formed that lent to the effect of the level.
This will not be so in the remake, however, as players are guided by a trail of large, bright lights that illuminate everything. The atmosphere is lost. Dan Ayoub, executive producer of 343, talks about this in a preview, stating “This is a level people sometimes had navigation issues with—line of sight issues and things like that. But when we do it today we’re actually able to guide the player better than we were able to ten years ago.”
“As you can see,” he says, “we can use lighting and things like that—little tricks gamers have grown accustomed to, to help work around some of the navigation issues that people had.”
All roads lead to your objective, and if you can’t find it, just follow the trail of glowing lights. When you make it, you can have an achievement. Because you’re special.
Your gaming short bus has arrived. Now get off my lawn.
* Main image courtesy of Psycho AI