Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Bite-Sized Hardcore Gaming Manifesto

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 4, 2012

Cliff Harris breaks things down in a way that I think many of us here feel. The industry these days likes to divide the market into two groups: Hardcore gamers with lots of time on their hands and a passion for realistic violence, high-action, and long games; and the casual gamers, who are almost exclusively female and who like cute, fuzzy free-to-play games that take no more than 15 minutes to play.

Guess what? There are probably more players out there who don’t neatly fit in either category as those who do. Like… um, me. And most other gamers who started out in the “hardcore” category as kids but grew up and now have work and families to worry about. And hey, not all women gamers prefer the so-called “casual” games, and not all the people who play those games fit that characterization either.

So what about games for the rest of us … the people who don’t neatly fit into either category? The people who love big games but don’t have big chunks of time to play them? The people who are experienced (you can even call us “jaded”) and aren’t impressed by the newest game with flashiest graphics which is repeating the same gameplay we’ve repeated dozens of times over the years?

Cliffski has a manifesto for game developers and publishers. It will probably be ignored by its intended audience, but I think many readers here will greet it with some enthusiasm:

Cliffski’s Blog: Bite Sized Hardcore

Preach on, Brother Cliffski!

Now, I’m not totally anti-grind (I actually kinda like having the option to make some small progress this way when I don’t have enough time to “properly” play through a segment of the game), nor am I fundamentally opposed to the “freemium” approach of some games which are extra-cheap or free but offset it by charging small amounts for in-game bonus items. I have a little bit more of an issue with a full-price game that tries to pull the same-thing, especially when the “bonus” feels like something that was once integral to the game but was ripped out in order to charge more. But overall, I like the list – more as guidelines than hard-and-fast rules.

And to that list, I’d like to add the following:

9) No arbitrary save-game restrictions! With some acceptable exceptions (like in the middle of a combat sequence, for example), I expect to be able to save and exit the game at any time, and then come back and pick up more-or-less where I left off.  If for some technical reason your game does have “checkpoints” rather than save-anywhere, EVERY SINGLE FRICKIN’ ONE OF THOSE CHECKPOINTS SHOULD BE A VALID SAVE LOCATION! None of this B.S. about having three or four checkpoints in-between valid save points. You obviously DO have the game state recorded from each check point in memory, so there’s no reason you can’t store it to the disk.

10) Make your PC game as playable as possible WITHOUT a game controller plugged in. It’s fine to port a game from the consoles and note that the game plays “best” with a controller. You optimized it for that input device, that’s fine.  But make a friggin’ effort. Not all PC gamers want an XBox controller plugged into their system, but they DO want to play your game, especially as a “casual” diversion between sessions of “serious” work. Ridiculous control schemes that are obviously just brain-dead remappings of controller inputs poorly implemented on the keyboard are not acceptable. And no, players won’t appreciate your attempt to “force” them to use a game controller on their PC.

11) In addition to keeping the cut-scenes short, make them easy to pause, review, or at least check out the summary and critical exposition / explanations revealed in the scene. Because when the wife enters the room and needs to talk, she does like having to wait until the cut-scene is over.

I think Cliffski’s list and my additions aren’t really tall orders, even for indies.

Filed Under: Casual Games, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Yes, a thousand times yes.

    Never thought I’d be happier with shorter games, but the only games I’ve completed in the last month or so have been Space Quest 2 and the SQ2VGA remake (by Infamous Adventures). It took me less than four hours to complete both of those games.

    On the other hand, I have on-going games of New Vegas, Planescape: Torment, The Witcher 2 and Frayed Knights… all of which I’ve put more than four hours into (according to steam I’ve played New Vegas for 34 hours… yikes! I don’t feel like I’ve got anywhere in the main plot, and am half way through one of the DLC).

    But what do I play the most? Minecraft and Mount & Blade (With Fire and Sword currently). Why? I don’t really know. They’re both good games, but so are the others I neglect.

  • Rachel said,

    I’m conflicted about save points. I would love to have save-whenever in every game, but it adds a lot of tension to not be able to save your game all the time! So I think in some cases it could be a conscious design decision… a decision to frustrate players.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @Andy – Yup, I’m generally in the same boat. I have a ton of unfinished games with a few hours in ’em right now. I want to get my money’s worth out of a game in terms of both quality and quantity… I remember feeling very disappointed around 1991 when I bought Loom and beat it in two evenings. It’s really a question of the quality of time. A game that is only 10 quality hours long is superior to me than a game with 10 quality hours and 20 “filler” hours.

    @Rachel – Yeah, that’s definitely an issue. That’s exactly what I was trying to address with Drama Stars in Frayed Knights … to encourage that tension without restricting the ability to save & restore.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    … This is random, but: I was going to say something in the forums only to discover that apparently accounts now need SPECIAL ACCESS to post, and I don’t have it?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Lemme fix that…

    But yes, you do. The spambots took over while I was out of the country, and getting admin approval was my best defense at the time.

  • Corwin said,

    Oh how I empathise with the wife wanting your attention during a critical cut scene; it’s Murphy’s Law at it’s worst. 🙂 There’s only one thing worse than a game with save points; one with save points where if you die before reaching one, you not only have to replay waves of repetitive combat, but a 5 minute long conversation with the boss dude who sends out those waves of enemies just as soon as he finishes telling you how wonderful he is.

  • OttoMoBiehl said,

    I would have to “like” point 10 one million times over. I’m getting sick of getting a new game and getting ready to play wasd+mouse only to discover I need an XBox controller plugged in. Sheesh.

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    Amen to all. You’ve read my mind about xbox controllers too. Every dev should follow the example of Jamestown. That interface should be standard.

  • Robyrt said,

    Great list! On the other side of #10, if you do have a “console-optimized” PC game, make sure it actually supports the Xbox controller. Renaming the tooltip so it says “PRESS BUTTON 8 TO CROUCH” instead of “PRESS Z” is not helpful.

  • Do you want bite sized hardcore? | dickyjim said,

    […] Tales of the Rampant Coyote blog later followed up Cliffski’s post. His additional point 9 (No arbitrary save-game restrictions!) is possibly the biggest problem I […]