Not so long ago, the media flashed a short message that the update to Horizon: Forbidden West will add a special mode to the game for players who suffer from the so-called thalassophobia. If you happen to have no idea what this name means, then know that it is a fear of deep water or wide bodies of water. Players who turn this mode on do not have to fight with limited air capacity even at the beginning of the game, the same mode also highlights the bottom below the surface, for example, and should thus reduce the level of anxiety. I don’t dare to estimate how effective it is, judge for yourself from the pictures.
Modes and modes for people that limit various physical and psychological obstacles while playing are becoming more and more common, and there are also those who turn them on purely out of curiosity. It doesn’t have to be about disorders or disabilities, in the accessibility tab you will often find choices of a more cosmetic nature reflecting the player’s preferences.
There are more reasons why this is so. In addition to good PR for the development studios, this is mainly due to the fact that game budgets are still swelling, so the creators are doing everything to expand the ranks of those they want to reach with their work as much as possible. Especially if they have a rich corporation behind them, such as Sony. All kinds of accessibility options, which are usually turned off by default, are certainly not a problem for anyone, and their optional implementation is only positive for the end player.
Accessibility versus stupidity
In the effort to reach a wide audience and prevent the user from putting the game down in disgust, there is also a practice that is less commendable – and rather than accessibility I would call it obstinacy. While accessibility helps open up the game to those who find something bothersome, the foolproof features are turned on automatically, sometimes can’t even be turned off, and provide assistance of an unwelcome nature.
What do I mean specifically? It is essentially a burned-out navigation and help to the player in all possible and impossible ways. A map cluttered with waypoints showing every detail of the game world and navigating your heroic adventurer to the millimeter so that he doesn’t accidentally get lost. Trivial puzzles, the solution of which the game will ring for you without warning. Over-the-top tutorials that bombard you with tips and disrupt your flow hours into the game. Especially in high-budget productions, this problem often tends to go to unnecessary extremes and rather harms the experience.
Let me mention a few specific examples. For example, I was a little annoyed when playing Deathloop: The game first explains to you in the first half of the hour that its structure is one big puzzle that you have to solve. In the second half, he leads you by the hand in such a strict way that it defies the very principle of the word “puzzle”. The climax of the absurd situation is the only correct solution to the whole pseudo-puzzle.
I also have to mention the otherwise excellent Doom Eternal, which, upon meeting each new enemy, immediately presents you with the best tactics on a plate to send that villain back to hell as efficiently as possible. And what about Assassin’s Creed, in whose would-be innovative exploration mode, the game still clutters the map with question marks and subtly places them always where something is supposed to “surprise” you. And finally, I’ll mention Kratos’ helpers in God of War: Ragnarök, who willingly call you the solution to many puzzles without warning, while the Uncharted series, for example, at least had the decency to ask you first.
You might argue that similar forms of assistance can be turned off in many games. You are partially right, but it is not that simple at all. The era of manuals is long behind us, and the authors now dump everything on the player directly during gameplay. And jumping into a new game without any information is quite risky. Even the first Souls games did not leave users completely in the dark, and you usually welcome some basic information. The problem is in their quantity, dosage and style in which the system communicates with you.
For example, I don’t mind if the game gives you hints and tips without interrupting or slowing down the action on the screen. In such cases, you can usually easily look up what you miss somewhere in the help, when you see fit. Alternatively, you can cut the passage again. Similarly, Rockstar does it in GTA V or Red Dead Redemption 2, i.e. games that cannot complain about the lack of audience. On the other hand, pop-up windows interrupting the action bother me, especially if they are numerous and the authors bombard you with them long after the game has started.
Nobody can blame Nintendo and their Mario for being inaccessible to the user, but deliberately notice how these games interact with the player. One of the best-selling titles of all time, Mario Kart 8, has no in-game tutorial, although many things could be explained through it. And the practice of teaching the player control elements in the beginning mainly through objects or signs with inscriptions intuitively placed directly in the game world, the Souls games probably took a cue from games like Super Mario World or Mario 64. The effort not to slow down the player is, after all, also evident in Super Mario Odyssey.
Enemy HUD and GPS on horseback
Unfortunately, the pushed stupidity doesn’t end with the tutorials. Personally, I am one of those players who, for the sake of immersion, wants to have the screen as little cluttered with HUD as possible while playing. That’s why I turn off everything possible and grind my teeth when the menu lacks a “dynamic” option to turn on, for example, the health indicator only in moments when its display is really needed. I can do without information like “you picked up this and that specific branch” in Horizon: Forbidden West, for example.
I’m downright allergic to icons with the name of the key you have to press for the desired interaction. Now I’m not talking about quick time events, but like placing a giant square icon over every stupid car trunk in the PS4 version of Days Gone. Similarly, I find labels naming an object or character that you can easily identify with your own sight (often with an icon of a button that you have to press to interact if you happen to forget) to be similarly distracting and often unnecessary.
Finally, I have a fanatical hatred for system-generated pop-up waypoint icons that turn games into GPS simulators and open game worlds into linear tunnels. The solutions are here, just look at the wind navigation in Ghost of Tsushima, for example.
When it comes to turning off such conveniences, many games are willing to accommodate me, but the problem is that they are not optimized for such gameplay. So what follows is a trial-and-error process, where I try to pick up which information is crucial for playing, and which I can do without. I put Cyberpunk 2077 down after a few hours due to my own inner turmoil. Either I was bothered by being overwhelmed with information of all kinds, or I felt that I was too blind in it. At the same time, games have a lot of options to communicate with the player in a more elegant way.
You didn’t see that your character was in trouble not only in the first Resident Evils, where injured characters were visibly bleeding, but also in Mario, who in his small form could not withstand more than one hit. Steady and easily recognizable shapes of key objects, better use of haptics or vibrations on the controller, the appearance and animation of the character, memorable colors and specific sounds – all this can be used by developers for more natural and fun communication with the player without disturbing the naturalness of the game world with uncouth assistance.
Well, let’s solve this first world problem by finally turning off those distractions. But hey, here we can encounter another pitfall, which is represented by the sometimes rather unclear nomenclature in the game settings. This is because sometimes it is so complicated that you are not able to decipher what each choice actually means. Assists, tooltips, hints, tutorials – what are those pesky tooltips that tell me that I can pick up this and that item I’ve picked up a hundred times for the second time? And which option do I use to turn off the large representation of the collapsible key that I’ve been using for thirty hours?
As already mentioned, unlike special accessibility options, similar forms of assistance in games are usually turned on by default. And it must be noted that when the authors have already taken this awkward path, it makes a certain sense. When something bothers you, you usually start thinking about how to turn it off, while on the other hand, it might not even occur to you. But the trick is not to design the game in such a way that the game naturally assists you only when you need it. It’s not impossible.
It goes the other way too
Last year’s megahit Elden Ring once again clearly showed that in order to sell a title in the millions, you don’t need to overwhelm the player with information or navigate them every step of the way. It’s true that Elden Ring is noticeably more accessible than, say, Dark Souls or Bloodborne, but that’s partly due to the fact that it’s a much larger game set in an open world, where the writers felt that the same austere level of assistance as in the Souls series would she was too much for many players. The navigation solution through natural game components was exemplary in Elden Ring.
In this, the game followed the excellent Zelda, whose design philosophy has long been based on the fact that the player navigates the map and solves puzzles or quests on his own. In both cases, they were commercially successful blockbusters that also won most polls for the best games of the year. I also have to mention the brilliant games of Fumita Ueda led by Shadow of the Colossus.
The design of these games is to guide players to the key with the help of elements located directly in the game world. Not only does this increase the sense of immersion, it also makes the user play more attentively, enjoy freedom better and experiment more. Is this something that the average person wouldn’t be able to do, as the authors of many titles try to suggest?
When even a child can do it
That crude attempt to please less experienced players makes no sense. Consider how little children play games. They don’t care about any tutorials, hints and maps, instead of going through them, they immediately start looking for whatever will occupy them at that moment. Not to mention some lack of knowledge of foreign languages. In short, the Caparti ignore all rules, on the contrary, they invent their own and play kamikaze style. Maybe that’s why they like all kinds of sandboxes that allow them to have a good time. For example, I remember racing Vette corvettes from my childhood! from San Francisco. The city was full of pedestrian figures and ordinary road users. I guess I never reached the finish line, but I had more than enough fun. And with Carmageddon it was actually similar.
And those older beginners? Even here, I don’t think it’s the best tactic to overwhelm the poor guy with tips and tutorials right at the beginning, telling him what to do when, only to end up putting him in front of a giant map with lots of icons of all kinds winking at him imperiously. I would rather guess that the newbie will want to take a breath and look around first. I’ve seen cases where similar newbies put the game down very early with a dry “nice but complex, not for me”. On the contrary, throwing into water works reliably in Mario Kart, for example.
I started the article by praising openness towards people whose gaming experience is spoiled by very specific conditions and preferences. I’m not in favor of removing the various crutches and tools now included in the “default” item from games, but the authors should seriously think about whether by chance a large part of them are not among the more artificial navigation elements that should be rather more. I don’t expect such a significant shift in graphics from the games of this generation, but rather more naturalness and a more elegant solution to what in the past seemed artificial and rigid. Especially when some successful brands have been practicing a similar fluid approach forever.
Source: Games by games.tiscali.cz.
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