Today I tuned in to a design talk by Spelunky creator Derek Yu, who was hoping to learn what went right and wrong during the development of Spelunky 2 over the past few years. And I got it, but I was surprised to find buried in Yu’s talk a tangent about what can make the difficulties of the games so satisfying. The difficulty that games should have and the accessibility that they should have is a perennial issue, and whenever it appears, it is a sign of closing the Twitter session for a few days. But instead of the usual grueling arguments about easy fashions, I found Yu's breakup – which he builds around a spicy food analogy – to be really insightful. It also made me hungry.
For Yu, difficulty is just one element of what he calls "thorny" game design.
"I think punishing games are often considered punishing, but for me the difficulty, while an important part of the design ethics, is in the service of the goal rather than the goal itself. "said Yu. "The real goal is to put the player in a state of focus on the game and really care about what they do at all times. It's to make them feel that the world existed before they arrived and will exist after they leave. "Making it feel real. Winning or finishing the game, in my opinion, is not the main goal of a thorny game, even if that is ultimately what is working."
The strengths that accompany this part of Yu's talk were some basic elements of spiky design, which are easy to spot in Spelunky: actions should have big consequences, design should provoke great emotional reactions, and unintuitive design is well when in service. to force players to be in the moment.
In other words, sharp games are not just difficulties, or at least they shouldn't be. But just like spicy food, difficulty is usually the first impression you get when trying to play a game like Dark Souls or Spelunky.
“It can be hard for people who don’t like spicy food to understand why spicy food fans like it so much,” he said. "If you are just starting your journey with spicy food, you won't be able to taste it, just the heat. And the pain. In the same way, the sharp games generate a lot of excitement from their fans, but for people who aren’t there yet, may seem tough.
"Difficulty is just part of the equation. It's the hot part of spicy foods. I don't eat spicy food to feel pain. But pain wakes me up and it's the gateway to interesting flavors you can't to find anywhere else. Taste is what makes spicy foods good. And it's getting easier to endure the heat the more you experience. "
The “flavor” of sharp game design is the feeling that the game world can exist without you and the great rewarding consequences on how you interact with it. In comparison, what Yu calls “soft” design emphasizes players ’comfort and progress, minimizing negative feelings about their interactions with the world. The biggest takeaway for me was that the soft design makes the player feel like you are the center of the game world, rather than being an inhabitant of it.
Yu also stated that games are not only sharp or soft, but always contain elements of both types of design. He wanted to make Spelunky 2 softer without making it less sharp, which he did by expanding base camp. This gave players a place to relax and practice between races and a way to feel a sense of progression even if they died.
Yu's descriptions of soft, pointed game design are similar to the usual "hardcore" and "casual" descriptors, but he said he thought those terms were "too loaded" now and too focused on difficulty, which he doesn't always do. it is necessary for pointed design. He gave the example that Nintendo's Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not a difficult game, but that it still has sharp design elements. Its user interface forces players to slow down, which is frustrating for many people, but the point is that your island feels "like a place to live, rather than minimizing and optimizing and getting the biggest house as fast as possible. "
“The best part is that you can’t eat just one spicy dish to improve the ability to eat spices,” Yu said. "Eating one and making it a lot easier for you to appreciate another. The same with sharp games. Learning to enjoy them will open up a whole lot of games for you to enjoy."