Years ago, Nintendo Power’s 100th issue listed the best 100 games of all time. Besides Mario and Zelda games, Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior, there was the game listed at #3: Tetris.
I remember that a lot of people complained that there is no way that Tetris could be ranked so highly in such a list. In fact, people still complain when they see Tetris listed very highly in Nintendo Power’s most recent update of the list with the top 200 games.
Tetris is a great game. It was probably the first financially successful game that caused other game developers to say, “Wait, I’m crunching for years at a time, and I could have made THAT?” So why all the animosity? Oh, right. It’s a casual game. It’s too simplistic to be considered among the best.
But is casual really mutually exclusive with hardcore? Are these words really describing two different types of games?
Earlier this year, Corvus wrote that casual games can be identified as such by how forgiving they are. If you only have 5 minutes in your busy schedule to dedicate to a game, you’ll play Bejeweled sooner than you’d play Starcraft. Trying to play Starcraft in 5 minutes would be an exercise in stress management. You can’t just stop when you have to leave, so your choice is to keep playing the map you’re currently on, ruining your schedule, or quit and lose your progress. Bejeweled much more forgiving in this sense.
In this sense the GameBoy game Wario Land 2 was much more casual in nature than many other platformers. In this game, Wario was unkillable, a departure from the typical Mario-based platformers. If you can’t kill or harm Wario, what can you do? Solve puzzles! If you’re not very dexterous, the game doesn’t punish you the way Super Mario Bros would. Again, it’s very forgiving. Contrast Wario Land 2 with Super Mario Sunshine, which gives you a limited number of lives, requires you to restart a level if you fail, and features enemies and obstacles that can kill Mario. Super Mario Sunshine is very punishing. The challenge comes in punishment avoidance.
Contrast Strange Adventures in Infinite Space against Sins of a Solar Empire, two very different games. One lets you play multiple games within a matter of minutes, while the other one requires a much larger time commitment. Actually, if you’ve ever played SAiIS, you’ll know that the game also requires a larger time commitment simply because you won’t notice that an hour has passed and that you’ve played hundreds of sessions. Still, the interface for SAiIS is point and click and dead simple. SoaSE might have a good interface for strategy fans, it’s just hard to fathom someone fresh to video games getting it as easily as they would with SAiIS. And how about the difference in game play? If you lose a space battle or otherwise fail in SAiIS, it’s not so bad. Just start a new game, just like you would if you won. Try again. The sting of defeat isn’t harsh because you probably lost and won many games in the time it took you to read this post. Losing in SoaSE, on the other hand, is a bit more harsh.
So maybe there is a difference between casual and hardcore games, but I still think that there are steps that a game developer can take to make any game more accessible. Developers should take steps to make the complexity more manageable through the interface at the very least. And if your game is punishing the player for taking certain actions or for failing, ask if it is really necessary to punish him/her that badly. Hey, Nintendo! Do we really still need a limit on lives for Mario games?
[tags] indie, casual game, game design [/tags]