AC3 Devs: Easy Mode ‘Ruins Games’

How do you feel about easy modes in games? The director of Dark Souls seems to think they might be a necessity. But are they? Hell no, says the Assassin’s Creed 3 team. In fact, they might be the most terrible thing in the world.

Speaking to Edge, lead designer Alex Hutchinson offered a particularly blunt assessment of easy modes. A lot of games have been ruined by easy modes,” he said. “If you have a cover shooter and you switch it to easy and you don’t have to use cover, you kind of broke your game. You made a game,” he insisted, “that is essentially the worst possible version of your game.”

This is a tricky subject, because it depends on how you define easy mode. Hutchinson’s metaphor, for instance, doesn’t quite add up. “It’s like if I picked up a book and it said, ‘Do you want the easy version or the complicated version?’ [Game designers] can simplify the language, you know; we can make it two syllables.” While I see his point, that metaphor combined with his comments about shooters don’t entirely make sense. A modern video game has lots of layers; action, puzzle, simulation, platforming and more tend to show up in games that are otherwise firmly in a single genre. And of course, this doesn’t include story, an increasingly important part of the mix.

Which is to say, you can reduce the difficulty of a game without removing what makes that game the game. Granted, I haven’t played a cover-based shooter with an easy difficulty that turned it into something like Doom, only simple. The closest I can think of is later Mass Effect games, which still encouraged heavy use of cover simply because of all the, you know, cover laying around. Likewise, if a game has a really strong story and a player would rather experience the story in a breezy way, there’s nothing wrong with that. And something else comes to mind. Sometimes, there’s an aspect of a game that makes other aspects maddening for less than expert players. For example, the Uncharted series’ difficulty settings don’t remove the most important part of gameplay, which is climbing and solving puzzles in pursuit of the game’s goal, they just make the enemies less difficult so you’re not constantly replaying a section over and over again. Nothing wrong with that, if it’s what you want.

Also worth noting: No game with easy difficulty removes hard difficulty. Playing easy can be an excellent way to learn the ropes without risking a ragequit. And speaking just as someone who reviews games and often must do so with a particularly quick turn around, easy difficulty can be a blessing. Granted, I prefer to start on whatever the game’s average difficulty happens to be, but there are times…

Anyway, what do you think? Sound off in comments.

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4 Comments on AC3 Devs: Easy Mode ‘Ruins Games’

R.J.

On September 4, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I don’t see it as a bad thing. I never touch easy modes since I want challenge from my games, but that is my choice. If someone chooses a simplified version because they just want to see the story or are having such a hard time that the game is no longer fun, then it doesn’t hurt anything for them to adjust the difficulty. Somebody playing on easy mode knows that the game is not functioning in the same way as it would normally. I doubt there are too many people out there playing on easy mode that are also saying, “This shooter is terrible because I don’t need cover.” They know the reason why the game is suddenly so, well, easy.

As Ross pointed out, adding an easy mode doesn’t mean that higher difficulties are removed. It’s just there if you want it. That’s part of the unique freedom that comes with games. And, as he also pointed out, easy mode usually only applies to combat. If you die a lot in God of War, it will ask if you want to play on easy, but it will also include the caveat that only the combat changes. In the first game, there was a trap that kept killing me, and the option to switch difficulties would not have broken the game for me in any sense because my problem would not have been solved.

LTenhet

On September 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I think the most important aspect, which you mentioned, is that Easy doesn’t negate the inclusion of a Hard (or Insane) mode at all. People who whine that easy mode ruins games, or even something like Cheats ruins game, are entitled and want people to play the game the way -they- play it, because -they- think it’s how it should be played. Easy mode is optional, you don’t HAVE to play it, you never even have to scroll over it, if someone needs an Easy Mode then let them have it.

Gasmaskangel

On September 4, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Here’s the thing, I play games to have fun. Sometimes that means a thumb blistering, keyboard smashing jaunt through some kind of ludicrously difficult game, and other times I want to unwind by shooting demons in the face without being constantly torn to shreds.

Alex Hutchinson’s comments seem to me like part of a growing trend towards snubbing fun and treating everything as super serious in games these days.

Robin

On September 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I tend to like playing games on the hardest difficulty, or the hardest I can manage anyway, but some people play games to relax and don’t really want to be all that challenged. I don’t think these people should be shut out from gaming necessarily.