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A Non-Gamer Plays Halo: Reach
by Craig Ellsworth on 02/10/12 05:32:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I have a friend who was once a gamer back from Sega Genesis era and earlier, and lost interest over time until he stopped playing altogether.  Now, games seem intimidating to him, but he wants to get back into them.

We had long conversations about gaming, from the differences between PC and console gaming, to the online social component, to the control schemes.

He told me that he'd tried a Halo game once before, in multiplayer, and he sucked so bad at it that the other players made a game of seeing if they could kill him only by sneaking up with melee.  The people he was playing against were also quite unsportsmanlike in their dialogue, so it all-around made him feel like games today are full of jerks who have mastered games and don't give the time of day to people interested in getting into games.

We also discussed how modern controllers seem too complicated, and he'd be happy to go back to the two big red buttons on an NES.  He asked me if any game ever uses the two sticks on an Xbox 360 controller for different functions, and what they could possibly be.

I told him he might like the Wii, because you can use the virtual console and because you can often turn the Wiimote sideways to act like an old-fashioned controller, but his response was that "all the good games are for Xbox."

So we popped in Halo: Reach, and the first thing that came up was an update.  He skipped it.  Then came the character customization screen.  And I quote: "What the hell is this?  Just let me play!"  He skipped it.  Then two cutscenes.  He skipped them.

Finally, the game.  A very slow-paced opening, with perhaps ten minutes or more of wandering around, before he got to shoot an enemy.

He had a difficult time aiming.  He had a difficult time figuring out any controls that weren't shown to him on screen, like crouching.  He had a difficult time driving vehicles.  He ran out of ammo way too often, and was forced to pick up crappy weapons that he didn't enjoy using for the latter half of every level.

He was also on easy mode.

The first time he died, he did so because he thought he had no other choice but to kill himself and restart.

He was at a point where he had to pick up some object which he thought was a crappy-looking gun (a target locator), and he didn't want to pick it up, because he was holding a nicer-looking gun.  But the game wouldn't continue until he picked it up.  So he finally relented after I insisted he pick the gun up, since he kept trying to wander away and continue for five minutes.

He picked up the gun, then immediately dropped it, swapping it for the gun he had just put down, then continued.  He passed through a door, and the door locked behind him.  It was now impossible for him to go back and get it if he needed it.

He had a battle, and he couldn't seem to kill three of the enemies.  They simply had no weakness.  All of his AI teammates died, and he was left with three immortal aliens on his heels.  I thought that perhaps the only way to kill them was to use the gun he refused to use.

In my head I also thought this had to be terribly poor design if he was a dead man walking.  He tried to go back and get to the gun again, but his way was blocked off.  Finally, he ran into the enemy and got killed, just so he could restart.

But he restarted this side of the locked door, and still couldn't get the weapon.

So instead he just went in, guns blazing, and stuck some grenades in the beasts, and they went down in one hit.  I am still not sure if the game recognized the error and made the creatures vulnerable, or if he just happened to stick the grenades in a small chink in their armor.  Either way, the same battle that had once taken twenty minutes was over in one.

A similar moment would occur later, but we'll get to that.

Next, battle, cutscene, battle, cutscene, battle, cutscene.  He tried watching one of the cutscenes but couldn't follow it, so he skipped the cutscenes and just blasted ahead.  Every time he skipped the cutscene, he would say his new catchphrase: "I just want to play."

He thought that perhaps he'd follow it better if he had played Halo 1, 2, and 3 first.  I'm not even sure of that.

At another point, he reached space, and he got to fly a fighter spaceship.  When he began flying, up was up and down was down, which is the opposite of most flight sims, so I told him to try pausing and seeing if he could invert the controls.  He found the option soon enough, but then discovered he didn't just invert the up and down, he reversed what the two sticks did.

He groaned, but said "Whatever, if up and down is right, I'll get used to this."

The first volley of enemy fighters came up, he switched to missiles, and painted some happy explosions.  When the second volley of enemy fighters came in, he didn't trash them so quickly.  They had shields, and the text and voices on screen suggested he needed to use "cannon fire" to destroy their shields, then missiles when their shields were down.

He didn't have cannons.  He had missiles, and machine guns.  He guessed they meant machine guns.

It took him twenty minutes to kill one enemy.  He was happy to be done with that when he finally got all three.

Then a third volley.

He couldn't wait to get back on the ground.

Although the same kinds of shielded fighters came in, they were much easier to destroy this time.  I figured this must be the second time the game needed to go easier on him.

Now, let me pause here and give my friend a few credentials.  He's a Marine, having served in Iraq.  So as you can imagine he's fired a gun.  His job was transport, so he knows how to drive a military vehicle.  He also trained as a pilot, so he knows how to fly a plane.

He said doing all of those things in real life was easier than doing them in Halo.

After finally getting to touch down on a spaceship, he played a bit longer to get the taste of the flying out of his mouth (and, mind you, he likes flight sims; he liked Ace Combat 4 for the PS2, Starfox for the SNES, Top Gun for the NES, and F-15 Strike Eagle II for the Genesis), and finally quit.

He considered that perhaps he would like Modern Warfare better than Halo, but either way, he was not impressed.

The reason he decided to play Halo in the first place is because he's considering buying and Xbox 360 and wanted to be sure he was making the right decision.

He was also considering buying a Kinect with it, but decided it's too expensive to buy a system and a Kinect.  We talked for a bit about how gaming consoles and games themselves are much too expensive, and that's one of the reasons he stopped playing games in the first place: he couldn't afford it.

Now, he says, the only people that play games are people that make them their life, and so they get too good at it, and call him a noob as they destroy him online.  And we were back to that conversation again.

After all this, I find it's amazing just how many barriers there are to games.  The fact that he has a hard time grokking the controls is one thing, but to add to that his frustration with other gamers, his stereotypes about them, and the money factor all add up to a wall of separation between a non-gamer and some games.

If he wants to play a sport, he learns the rules, gets some friends, and plays.  But he is completely turned off by the idea of playing a sports videogame because he doesn't know the first thing to do with it, and it intimidates him.

A Marine is intimidated by a controller.  Let that sink in for a moment.

He's my age, but has the same problems getting into games as my father does.  They both played games when they were younger (my dad loves to relive his glory days mastering Q-Bert), but now games are far too complicated and expensive to bother with.

Anyone can watch a movie.  Anyone who's literate can read a book.  Anyone who wants to have a fun time with some friends can learn to bowl, to play pool, to play darts; even if you suck at them, even if they are intimidating at first glance, you can learn quickly with a circle of friends that are encouraging and won't kick your ass intentionally for an ego boost.  And they are cheap experiences.

Why is this so much more difficult with videogames?  Publishers and advertisers and businessmen and designers alike are always asking the question: how do we get more people into videogames?

Sure, we can claim we're making great strides with casual games, family games and party games, but these don't solve other core issues getting new (or one-time) gamers into hardcore games.  And I don't mean getting your grandma to play Halo, I mean getting people who want to play those games.

Do me a favor and try this experiment for yourself:  find a friend who seems like the kind of person who should be into hardcore videogames, and if you can, find someone who wants to get into videogames, and have a direct conversation about why they aren't into them.  Then have them play a hardcore game and watch, but don't say a word.

It's eye-opening.

Don't forget to take notes.

To read this article with pictures and jokes, or other articles, reviews, and dev logs, check out http://scattergamed.blogspot.com/ 


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Comments


Luis Guimaraes
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Awesome article. Thank you for this, Craig.

Nathaniel Grundy
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An interesting exercise, and one I'd never considered.

Robert Bevill
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To be honest, his first problem was "All the good games are for the Xbox". The Wii's one big strength is that its games are easy and approachable. Someone who hasn't played games since the Genesis should feel right at home with games like New Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the two Kirby games. Once someone is comfortable with those, they can move into the third dimension.



Jumping straight into a AAA title with no frame of reference is only going to turn someone off from the medium.

Eric Schwarz
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Yeah, this. Fact is that games on the Xbox and PlayStation are created with the expectation that the people playing them have years of experience. If you're getting into Halo Reach, it's probably because you've followed the games for years and years, and the developers have to cater to you. Unfortunately, games focused on appealing towards new players tend to a) be for kids and b) don't have the same prestige, marketing etc. so ironically are less accessible.



This is a very eye-opening read, and I'm sure the experience was for you. I'm not sure if this can so easily be looked at as "Halo Reach has bad design because a complete newbie couldn't play it!" but it definitely highlights that a lot of the games industry is perhaps willfully ignorant of new players.

Craig Ellsworth
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@Robert Bevill: I wouldn't say it's his problem that he has this view, but rather it's as Eric Schwarz said, that Nintendo games aren't marketed to appeal to him. A game like Halo: Reach appeals to him. He grew up on Super Mario Bros., but he feels he's outgrown Nintendo. Even though I know plenty of hardcore gamers who love Nintendo (myself included), the marketing of Nintendo as a children's console or family console makes him feel that it's not for him. FPSs appeal to him.



I think, for him, the thought of "working his way up" to games like Halo: Reach turns him off even more. He doesn't have the time or money to play and get good at games that have no appeal; he would rather just give up on gaming if he can't jump into the kinds of games he wants to play.



It's like if you told me I couldn't play Chess until I've mastered Checkers. I don't like Checkers, so if you forced me to play Checkers first, I would decide that Chess wasn't worth it and must not be as interesting as it appears, and I would miss the fun of Chess.



Also recall that he wasn't turned off by the game; it was instead the price of the hobby first, and the stereotypes and previous experiences with other online gamers that was second.



In fact, after I wrote this article, he came by to play some more. Ultimately he didn't think it sucked, it was just a major disappointment. I believe his words were "It's just a mediocre shooter. A VERY mediocre shooter."



@Eric Schwarz: Oh, God, I hope I didn't make this seem like the takeaway was "Halo Reach was poorly designed". Ultimately it wasn't about the game at all, but rather about how a non-gamer views gaming, using a case study as an example.

Robert Bevill
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I see what you mean about Halo Reach being more appealing. That "kiddy stigma" is something I've gotten tired of, but it's not entirely unreasonable.



Earlier this week, my boss told me that he had got an Xbox 360 because he wanted to get back into gaming, so he asked me for recommendations. After I found out he previously enjoyed Grand Theft Auto, I suggested Saints Row the Third as a good starting point. I figured the familiarity would be enough to make him more interested in gaming (and it's a good game on its own merits). We'll see how that plays out.

Lorenzo Gatti
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"...games like New Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the two Kirby games."



Let's assume these games are as "easy and approachable" as they should. That's 4 titles out of hundreds: too few to draw conclusions about the Nintendo Wii as a whole.



On the contrary, I think the games you list represent a dying Nintendo tradition: the main focus of the Wii is the motion controller, which has a new tradition of imprecise and unfathomable control schemes.

Jonathan Jou
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One of the most interesting things I learn about nongamers is how rigid their world view quickly becomes. As much as I believe that I am entrenched in genre conventions, it's always stunning to observe how difficult it is for nongamers to suspend their disbelief. My brother and I used to play FPS games and try to kill each other, and the conclusion he always made was that I was a cheater somehow and whatever I was doing there was no way he could do the same thing.



These days, we play Co-op FPS games, and I spend minutes trying to get him to press the other half of a two-person switch, or pick up the ammo he desperately needs. After a few minutes of glancing around he immediately declares "I can't find it. It doesn't exist." and proceeds to go back to whatever he thinks the objective is.



For the record, my brother is a lawyer. A very smart lawyer. And yet where the gamers identify the rules of the game and reason within their confines, it seems like the nongamers impose their own expectations on the game and become frustrated when the game doesn't give them exactly what they wanted.



Maybe there's a psychological study worth doing here: does playing games with abstract or "unrealistic" rules improve the ability to adapt to new environments?

Eric Schwarz
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I've noticed this as well. Non-gamers are very quick to erect walls around themselves, perhaps as a defense mechanism in order to help justify their own lack of experience and not feel quite as bad about playing poorly. The social stigma associated with being a bad player probably contributes to that "I'm just not good enough, I can't play" attitude that some have - people are discouraged from learning at their own pace, and expected to be able to jump in and be competitive right from the start.



My father recently started playing the Half-Life series of games and had to more or less learn how to play shooters from the ground up. It was a very interesting thing to watch and I had to help him out with it on numerous occasions, and it was actually startling how aware he was of the game's limitations and design techniques used to funnel him around. When you don't have the rules and conventions of a game entrenched, you naturally become that much more aware of what those limits are and how you are being manipulated into adhering to them. In some senses it was far more enlightening to see a non-gamer figure things out than to look at it with my own experienced eyes.

Mark Venturelli
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"Anyone can watch a movie. Anyone who's literate can read a book."



I'm sorry, you are wrong. I would go as far as saying, without knowing your friend very much, that he would also have a hard time enjoying an Almodovar film or a Saramago book.



Some games have higher requirements than others. Anyone can play Bejeweled, and anyone can watch and enjoy a Jackie Chan movie, because the barriers for entry are low. Some games (as other forms of entertainment) build upon established knowledge - you can't fully appreciate the experience unless you have that knowledge. I find it surprising that you find it surprising! "Hardcore" games have the name for a reason.

Evan Combs
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It sounds like the problem is he is looking for a game not an experience or story. When going into modern AAA title's single player you need to go into it look for an experience or story, not looking for a game. What he really wants to play is the multiplayer. I would suggest to him to play Firefight in Halo: Reach. It might be exactly what he is looking for, and will open up the door to other aspects of the game.

k s
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You are exactly right Evan, single player is about the experience and/or the story.

Guerric Hache
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I did something similar over the Christmas holidays, during which my non-gamer girlfriend agreed to play some games with me. I didn't go straight for anything hardcore, though - my first pick was Tobe's Vertical Adventure, which was available cheap on Steam at the time. For those not familiar, it's a simple, retro-style platformer that features two characters and three "story" modes - one for each character, and a co-op mode.



We played co-op, of course, and I also had to go through the process of teaching her to use the gamepad, trying to be being very patient and not overwhelming her with information. It took a really, really long time to get past that first level successfully, but one of the things that helped, I think, was the co-op format - occasionally she would die, but it wasn't such a big deal because either A) I could complete whatever small bit of the level was left over, or B) she would respawn wherever I was, so I could quickly relocate my character when she died to get her past some problematic obstacle. A lot of the game was just jumping puzzles, and that helped as well, since there were no consequences for failing (though in later levels, there were a lot of deadly obstacles).



By the end of the game (16 levels), she was actually really good at it! She still hadn't quite got the grappling hooks, but everything else was no problem for her. Since then, we've moved on to Trine, and she's quite enjoying beating the crap out of skeletons with the Knight, and the physics are always a source of fun, though the controls are a little harder.



I agree that it is a very instructive experience - playing together with a not-yet-gamer helps give you a new perspective on things. For instance, playing Trine alone, I had always thought it was a beautiful-looking game - but once my girlfriend started playing, she came to the conclusion that "There's too much stuff on the screen! I can't see where I have to jump!" An eye-opener, and a good experience for someone looking to get into development later on. Not to mention playing with somebody near and dear is just a heck of a lot of fun!

Jacob Pederson
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What is really happening here? Why are kids so "good" at games, and adults so "bad?" It's purely a matter of motivated learning.



I'm sure anyone who is a parent can see what I'm getting at. My ten-year-old taught himself red-stone circuitry by watching a few you-tube videos, and now makes "display" screens out of pistons so fast it'll make your head spin. I picked him up a no-touch kindle and he mastered it in minutes. A yo-yo, no problem, Violin, like a boss. Point being that kids have all their learning neurons turned on a maxed out. If they LIKE a thing and it's possible, they will learn it.



It's not that an adult can't learn to game, it's that they don't want to. The motivators are all shut off. Despite the term "game," the skills required for our favorite pastime are much more equivalent to piloting or playing a musical instrument. Nobody baulks at calling those skills "hard." I'm sure the marine mentioned above spent 100's of hours learning to pilot, but expects to master Halo in minutes?



My dad was super in to the Might and Magic series (not the crappy one, but the open-word RPG one) when he was younger. I was able to use this to gently leverage him into the into the Bethesda series, including Oblivion, Fallout, and Skyrim. He's past sixty, but headshots dragons in flight with the best of em now. Having that leverage of motivation is key.



A couple other random points. At a younger age, I discovered the joys of Descent on my brand new 486 pc. I was able to master joystick technique like 6DOF circle strafing, in which you use the up/down sliders combined with the straffe keys, to diagonally spin around a target while still facing him; however, a few years later, I was completely baffled by the mainstream switch from southpaw to "standard" fps controls. My first FPS was Turok, which featured southpaw as standard, because of the backwards Nintendo controller. To this day, I have to take a pass on fps games with no southpaw controls, because my adult brain is too lazy to relearn.



So perhaps the trick to gaining new hardcore gamers isn't to baby them into it, but to emphasize the difficulty and press for pride in mastering the skill? No helicopter pilot is ashamed to admit that it was a tough time mastering their abilities, why can't gaming be similar?

David Serrano
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"... games today are full of jerks who have mastered games and don't give the time of day to people interested in getting into games." "He said doing all of those things in real life was easier than doing them in Halo."



Craig's friend unknowingly summed up the two biggest problems with AAA gaming for the past several years. A toxic segment of the audience that practically all AAA designers and developers have embraced, encouraged and pandered to, paired with "hardcore" designers in all genres who ramp up the difficulty curves of actions and tasks when it serves absolutely no practical purpose. Other than adding difficulty for the sake of adding difficulty.



Don't make the mistake of dismissing this experience as the mistakes of an inexperienced, unskilled player. As Jason Rohrer pointed out in a speech last year: "it's gotten so bad that outside of my friends in the industry, nobody that I know plays video games anymore. The medium is losing its best, most thoughtful players." This is a big reasons why they left. I gave up on multiplayer in 2010 and if it wasn't for my interest in design, I would have stopped playing outright. Rohrer also accurately noted that a cultural "line in the sand" exists between the possible mainstream audience and core gaming. Craig's friend just identified Rohrer's line in the sand. Yet amazingly, Rohrer's own suggestion for crossing the line is... challenge. The kind of challenge found in games like Dark Souls and Super Meatboy. Which only highlights how detached from reality and the actual audience core - indie designers have become.



http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/38330/MIGS_2011_Redefining_Cha
llenge_In_Games_Can_Push_Artistic_Boundaries_Says_Rohrer.php

Joe Wreschnig
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Complexity isn't challenge. Getting stuck because of an AI bug isn't challenge. Getting routed through poorly-signaled doors isn't a challenge. Watching a cutscene isn't a challenge.



Craig's friend's complaints have nothing to do with the game being challenging (nor the game being not challenging enough). They have to do with the game being inaccessible, baroque, artificial but with a confusing veneer of realism, steeped in a language he doesn't understand or care to learn, and H:R wouldn't teach him even if he did.



Super Meat Boy is *hard*, but it's instantly understandable.



Dark Souls is another matter - It's definitely not accessible. But I could come up with a "playing list" of modern games that would help ease someone into Dark Souls, starting with, say, a recent Zelda and a God of War. I can't come up with a similar list for Halo - I'd have to suggest starting back at Doom or Quake. Which is crap - if I want to learn to read an inaccessible modern novel like something by Pynchon I don't need to start by going back to Chaucer or Shakespeare. Doing so can help me appreciate a more modern work, but it's not a fundamental requirement.

David Serrano
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Joe Wreschnig



True, none of the things you mentioned are intentional challenge. But I could give you a long, long list of games I've played over the past few years where intentional and unnecessary challenge was applied to activities or in instances where it served absolutely no purpose. Other than to antagonize the player. Each and every time it happens, I say out loud "what the hell do they (the designers and developers) think they just accomplished beside pissing me off?" The problem is too many designers and developers blindly adhere to the design orthodoxy of challenge, without questioning if it's still applicable Inevitably they all end up "working by the numbers", rarely questioning if an orthodoxy that was formed in the 20th century is still applicable for a 21st century audience. The result is what we currently have... designers and developers who've are disconnected from reality. On multiple levels. It's clear they absolutely do not understand how non-hardcore players react and respond to their interpretation of "challenge."



The industry needs to stop rationalizing feedback like this away because they are serious warning signs. Collectively, the industry must ask and answer two questions: 1 - How well aligned is AAA gameplay with the preferences and skill set of the players in the audience who are responsible for the majority of all sales? 2 - What can designers and developer do differently to make the games more accessible to new or inexperienced players while still addressing the needs of experienced players? The answer to the first question is it is severely misaligned, to the point where it is driving long time players out of the market and preventing new players from entering. The answer to the second question is, start by collectively get down off their high horses. Then stop tailoring mainstream core titles around the preferences of hardcore players and instead focus on restoring the balance gameplay found in mainstream AAA titles prior to the accession of shooters and multiplayer and the "new hardcore" audience.

David Serrano
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@Roland Austinat



For the record, I've completed COD 3, MW 1 & 2, COD:W@W, Black Ops and Bad Company 1 on veteran or hard. I also prestige'd at least once on all in public multiplayer except COD 3 and BC and finished with more kills than deaths. The only reason I did it was an academic interest in design and to demonstrate that in most cases, lack of skill had nothing to do with why most people don't enjoy high difficulty in games.

Joshua McDonald
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"So we popped in Halo: Reach, and the first thing that came up was an update. He skipped it. Then came the character customization screen. And I quote: "What the hell is this? Just let me play!" He skipped it. Then two cutscenes. He skipped them.



Finally, the game. A very slow-paced opening, with perhaps ten minutes or more of wandering around, before he got to shoot an enemy."



As a hardcore gamer, I second these complaints. I never found out if FF Tactics on GBA was any good because it took so long to get to actual gameplay that I turned it off and sold it on ebay. I know I would have gotten there eventually, but it was a really bad sign about what the rest of the game was going to be like. Had the same game been made for standard consoles, the intro would have been 3 times longer because they would have voice-acted all the lines and spent a lot of time camera-panning.



The interesting thing about the comments here is that multiple people are talking about the bad trends the industry has followed but fully disagreeing on what those trends are. I guess each gamer feels a lack of the type of games they like and feels like that's the trend of the industry.

Evan Combs
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Why do games have to be only these super difficult hardcore games or these super easy only about making it simple? Why can't we have both, and those who like one type play that type of game and those who like the other play the other? Why does everyone make everything a zero sum game, why can't we all win?

Chris Daniel
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I would claim for example all Valve games are pretty accessible. Expecially the Portal games come to my mind. The simple interface works so well because instead of standing between the game and the player it enables the player to focus on the game world and not on how to control the game.



I personally think that a controller with 10-12 buttons is a design failure which complicates things especially to people who are unfamiliar with the technology.

Craig Page
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I want to be a professional football player because I think it would be fun, but I don't want to do any of that boring stuff I want to get right to making lots of money and winning games.



I'm really not interested at all in learning the rules, or even the strategies of the game. My attention span is very short too, anything longer than it takes to press a button is too long for me.



You can post replies telling me exactly what I need to do to get better, but I won't read them because they'll be boring too, I just want to get to the fun part and skip everything else I don't understand.

Craig Ellsworth
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Professional sports:Professional gaming::Amateur sports:Amateur gaming.



Your analogy breaks down because you have compared professional sports to amateur gaming. Your analogy would work fine if my friend wanted to become a professional gamer and play in tournaments and make money off of it. But instead he would like to play the videogame equivalent of a game of touch football: a friendly version of the sport that can be played instantly and picked up on the fly.



The argument then becomes whether games like Halo: Reach offer touch football versions of themselves, or if they even should.

Luis Guimaraes
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You don't (and shouldn't) need to be Cypher, n0thing or T-Squared just to play the Halo Reach campaign.

Joshua Sterns
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@ David Serrano----Nice one brother! Saved me from ranting about Zack's comments.



@OG Author!



Like the others have said. An open mind, patience, and reading are key to learning videogames. If someone doesn't have all three, then forget about it.

Caleb Goh
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Perhaps we should all review the meaning of games. What is your definition of games? We all have varying definitions, but I'm quite sure that somewhere in the definition, the word "fun" is present. I can totally identify with his friend, feeling the urge to play that AAA title with fancy graphics, explosions and intense action, regardless of prior experience. While we cannot please everyone, leaving out a large demographic (new to the genre) is missing the point.



I've noticed that recent FPS have very basic tutorials that serves as a reminder to the FPS skill set as well as an introduction to any new mechanics in that particular game, more then actually being a tutorial. After that, players are pretty much thrown into the deep end and probably overwhelmed.



Should the fundamental game design be changed to accommodate new players? No, but I'm quite sure that there are quite a number of interesting and fun solutions that would bring new players up to speed! While not really a Call of Duty fan, I thought that the Modern Warfare obstacle course and difficulty selection was a great way to start a game. Perhaps a longer "introduction" period, which reinforces what a new player has learnt and requires them to constantly use it, while having the fun elements (i.e. blowing stuff up), I'm quite sure Craig's friend would have a totally different experience!



Perhaps, we should look at how yesterday's games introduced us to their mechanics, and remind ourselves that no one should be forced to revisit yesterday's games to play today's.

Jason Busch
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A question for you to consider...



Aside from trivial...mundane crap, what makes a gamer (or developer) abandon their passion for gaming entirely?

Chris Daniel
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Finding not what you are looking for. And finding it elsewhere (literature, movies, music, etc.)

Amir Sharar
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Maybe I'll share my experiences, as I've done this many times for many hardcore games and have gotten nearly everyone into them, mainly because my approach is different and more suited to getting them to learn while having fun rather than throwing them to lions (which is not the fault of you, but the single player structure of the game).



Part of this is introducing the game in an environment that is a rewarding experience despite poor performance. This works well in games like Wii Sports and Guitar Hero, but also for hardcore games like Halo.



The reason why it works because the user feels like while they do not yet have the proficiency to do well, they were still part of a fun collaborative effort. At my place I have multiple Xboxes networked, and we play Halo 3/Reach over LAN and splitscreen. New players (even people who have never touched a controller in their lives) are shown the basics and we hop in. We make it a point to never directly engage with new players, they are not our targets. When you play 4 vs 4 or more, the other team-mates on the new player's team show them the ropes and keep things simple for them. Ie. forget about picking up other weapons, driving vehicles, just follow experienced team-mates (allows them to learn the map) and see what it's all about. More often than not, they see something crazy awesome (given the vehicular nature of big team Halo games this is almost a given). They enjoy the experience and even if they didn't do much, they felt a large part of it. We've minimized frustration and at the same time given them some tools to be a part of the action. Through this I've gotten many non-gamer, former-gamer, and anti-gamer people involved and enjoy themselves. I have seen people who have never touched a controller since the days of SNES actually been able to aim and shoot at people at the end of a night, all the while having a blast.



Another hardcore game I get people into is Gran Turismo/Forza Motosport. I have many friends who are car guys and not into games period. I know many women who like movies like Fast and the Furious but have never raced a car and never played any games. I have a nice wheel setup and that helps a lot, but I believe my approach helps even moreso. For all players, controlling a sports car without any computerized assists is very hard (as it is in real life). I usually choose a lower classed car and choose any difficulty track that is a short ribbon and ask the person to drive through it at 50km/h. At those speeds it is very easy to control a car and you get a good feel for the vehicle's dynamics. After a few laps of learning the track I ask them to go faster to 70km/h. At this point, they are starting to feel where the car loses it and begin to rationalize exactly why. They compensate by allowing the car to slow down or by braking. They also compensate by naturally picking a better driving line. Through these sorts of introductions I've been able to get all sorts of people racing in a relatively short time period. They like it, they are having fun, and they want to see if they can do better on their next lap.



I've done similar stuff for my friends who play fighters exclusively on pads and not on sticks. I've had people claim they will never play with one, now playing exclusively on sticks. It all depends on how you introduce them to it. I could easily destroy them in second and demotivate them, or I can show them how to do all that they want to do, allow them to practice and get better at it.



There's clearly a common thread in how I perform these introduction to games. They are all assisted by another human being. Another common thread: They are all situations where there is no goal and no pressure. In Halo, we have team-mates assisting new players, and not expecting new players to make kills or even avoid being killed. In Gran Turismo there are no other cars on the track, in hot lap mode a user can drive anywhere and with no damage there are no penalties. All the while another person is telling them the basics of car handling. In SF with arcade sticks, they are not playing the computer but rather another stick player going light on them, showing them the ropes.



Parallel this with games like Guitar Hero and Wii Sports, other titles known for their accessibility. We often concentrate on their modes of input (guitar/drum/mic and WiiMote) and credit those alone for the games being accessible. The reality is that many new players learned these games from other players. I've seen many a time where new players didn't know how to navigate through menus in both games and needed to be assisted in that regard. Even while playing such games, people had to learn the controls from others. New players still mess up, but they don't mind because everyone (including themselves) are having fun.



There's a good reason why games like Halo: Reach don't do this. It is based on the assumption that most people understand how to play those sorts of games. Yes, this can be a bad thing. Games like Forza Motorsport 4 do an excellent job of keeping things accessible from a gameplay point of view, with the game doing the braking and turning for you on the easiest settings. This would never be considered for an FPS game, ie. where you can increase the amount of auto-aim (something that Halo has a bit of anyways) for newer players. Actually, that's a lie as Call of Duty has this feature when you scope in, it automagically targets for you in single player (can be turned off).



Jacob Pederson made an excellent point about motivation and our capacity to learn and explained it better than I could ever have. With what I've done for players, is address both of those points, and it seems like single player games aren't doing a good enough job of that as they may be assuming that people are already motivated and skilled enough to play them.

Jose Rivera
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There's a few things going on: there's the story of the individual, the story of the community, and the story of the industry. As far as the individual is concerned, gamers come in a variety of forms and clearly a single game cannot cater to all of them. However from the point of view of increasing market share you want to make your game accessible to as many individuals as possible. There's nothing wrong with including an easy mode; veteran gamers can skip it, while noobs get eased into things.



For the community, it is every collective's right to be as inclusive or exclusive as they please. However, if they want to spread the fun of something to more people, it behooves them to be welcoming and encouraging rather than disparaging. Assuming a nice, well-meaning noob, there's no reason to not be nice to them in turn even if you don't feel like being one to help or mentor them. Courtesy, civility, and sportsmanship should be constantly encouraged and reinforced in online gaming communities on principle.



For the industry, there's definitely a problem of perception. They WANT to be perceived as all-inclusive (to increase profits, of course), but the major studios still focus a lot of their advertising and development towards a core demographic of gamers. Not to say there isn't good reason why they're doing that: that's where the money has been traditionally.



In the end, there's nothing inherently wrong with individual games NOT including an easy mode or having complex controls. But when there is a trend of inaccessibility across the realm of flagship/AAA titles, then it becomes a systemic problem that merits discussion. Is the solution to offer alternatives in the form of (for example) casual games, or is it to innovate our control schemes (Wii, Kinect), our design principles, or something else?


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