There’s a big feature on the upcoming Axiom Verge 2 over on the PlayStation Blog, and while the whole thing will be of interest to fans of the first game, there’s one passage in particular that really stood out to me.
Written by the series’ creator Tom Happ, it talks about how he’s approaching the tough question of difficulty when it comes to designing games, and the novel solution (well, solutions) he’s come up with for Axion Verge 2:
Although I try to put on my blinders with respect to other people’s opinions about my games and stay true to my original vision, one common theme came up when I watched people play. There were some people who wished the game were a lot harder, and there were those who wanted it to be easier. Some loved the exploration but just got to a boss they couldn’t get past. That’s happened to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to stop playing a game because of a choke point.
I addressed the difficulty issue in two ways. First, I’m letting players adjust their own difficulty settings. Rather than choosing among an Easy, Normal, and Hard Mode, players can adjust both how much damage they do and how much enemies damage you. Second, bosses are optional. You will be rewarded for defeating them, but gone are the days where they stood in between you and the rest of the game.
Without (obviously) seeing how they work in practice, in theory these ideas both sound fantastic. Sometimes boss fights are challenging and rewarding experiences, and other times they’re just tedious roadblocks standing between you and the actual fun parts of a game, so sure, why not give players the option to turn them off if they want.
And damage sliders? Even better! General difficulty settings do their job in the most overriding sense, but the option to fine-tune things—like, say, leaving yourself vulnerable at higher difficulty settings but also increasing the damage you do—sounds great.
Look at Control, for example, which has a one-shot “cheat” mode that, while obviously making the game easier, also makes it incredibly satisfying, to the point where I went from turning it on as a novelty to just leaving it on because it felt so badass.
Happ’s ideas aren’t the only ones in this area, of course, nor are they the first, but seeing them both mentioned together like that is great to see published somewhere like the PlayStation Blog, because they’re a much more nuanced and practical way of approaching difficulty than the tired “we need a story mode” vs “git gud” argument.