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Is Casual Mutually Exclusive with Hardcore?

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]

2 replies on “Is Casual Mutually Exclusive with Hardcore?”

Anybody who thinks Tetris doesn’t belong on such a list is, um, not fit for polite society? It’s about the only game that I can’t think of anything wrong with, a delightful local maximum in the game design space.

I have always been a fan of breaking up awards into genre categories. Tetris is a puzzle game and could arguably be number 1 in that list. It just doesn’t make sense to say that Tetris is better than Doom or vice versa. Which do you think is better? Yahtzee or Legacy of Kain : Soul Reaver?? You see what I mean? Both are technically “games” but it’s not really fair to compare the two.

I think the Nintendo Power list is flawed in that it is basically a list of apples, oranges, and even other fruits and vegetables that I wouldn’t eat in a single sitting. The term ‘game’ or even ‘video game’ is a very broad category. I would venture to compare the scope of such a term to the term ‘snack’. Ok, so lets list the top 100 snacks.

1. Cool Ranch Doritos
2. Twix
3. Apples
4. Oranges

No one would ever agree on this list because it is flawed in the same way as the discussed example. Close in on the scope and it makes much more sense. How about the best kinds of chips? Or the best candy bars or fruits? Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.

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