Why Cuphead’s simple mode shouldn’t cut content

cupbird header

In my review of Cuphead [official site], I praised the inclusion of a much easier ‘simple’ mode that also strips out some of the game’s content. It’s true that Cuphead could have just had a single difficulty setting, and the game is better for simple mode’s inclusion. But what would have been lost if simple mode included everything, and just made the game easier?

In simple mode, the bosses have much less health but also have some of their attacks removed. It takes away entire stages from each fight, meaning players don’t get the opportunity to appreciate the full inventiveness of every boss design. They also don’t get to play the last 10% of the game, which only unlocks once every boss up to that point has been defeated on regular.

So, on the one hand we have the argument, in its most absolute form, that no content should be gated away from players because of difficulty. John recently wrote about just that, praising Ubisoft’s decision to add a ‘Discovery Tour’ mode that removes all challenge from Assassin’s Creed Origins.

There’s a strong case behind it: the best game design in my view is the one that provides the largest net total of happiness. I diverge a bit from John and think that if all of Cuphead’s content was accessible to everyone, then the happiness of the minority that previously had exclusive access to it would be reduced, but it’s hard to see how this wouldn’t be offset by the added enjoyment that everyone else would get.


Why, exactly, might the happiness of that original group be decreased? I can think of two reasons. 1) They would no longer feel special and 2) the actual experience would feel less rewarding because it could, with a flick of the difficulty setting, have taken less effort to get there. I don’t think that first reason should be dismissed out of hand. Feeling special is part of the joy behind finding a secret or chancing on some rare loot, where exclusivity plays a role in their value. What stops that from being a compelling argument is that here we’re talking about exclusivity of a different, more total kind. Rare loot and hidden secrets are side dishes, while Cuphead takes away part of the main meal.

As for the second reason, in my experience finishing a game when I had the option of making things easier for myself can actually be more rewarding than if the possibility of dialling down the difficulty hadn’t been on the cards. It means I can look back at those moments where I nearly buckled, and be all the more glad that I persevered. Not everyone’s mind will work that way, but if an all-access easy mode can increase the enjoyment of both people that don’t want a challenge and a subsection of those that do, it starts to look like a no-brainer.

Djinn cup

I haven’t yet talked about the idea that perhaps difficulty is a core part of the experience, and people should be incentivised to play the version of the game that they’ll get the most out of. I think this is the reason why Cuphead’s developers made the decisions they did about simple mode. They want to nudge people towards the experience they intended. It’s why it’s called ‘simple’ mode rather than ‘easy’, it’s why they put time into changing the attack patterns of bosses rather than just giving the player more health or making them do more damage, and it’s why you can only play the final section of the game if you’ve beaten the rest on regular.

The problem is that for every person that does end up playing on the harder difficulty and enjoying themselves, there will be many other people who never try it or lose interest in advancing when they do. The decision to cut content only makes sense then if the total enjoyment of people who do shift towards regular difficulty is greater than that of the much larger number of people who would get to see everything that the game has to offer through a full-content easy mode.

While overcoming challenge is part of Cuphead, and a part that I take great pleasure in, seeing the reveal of each boss and the individual stages of those fights is valuable independently of that. It doesn’t help that the last stages of each fight are the ones that simple mode removes, as generally they’re the most surprising and unique. Cuphead is a better game for including simple mode, but an easy difficulty level that didn’t remove any content would have been better still.


  1. postmanmanman says:

    Really doubling down here huh. This is a lot different, however, than merely the idea of allowing players to skip past difficult content… what you’re saying here is that the developers should make *more* content that doesn’t match their creative vision in order to appeal to a more general audience.

    I just wish games journalism was what it is today during the golden era of arcade games. I would absolutely adore seeing people try to explain why everyone should be allowed to fight 2nd Loop Hibachi in Dodonpachi because it would “widen the appeal.”

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      That’s funny because it seems like you actually wouldn’t like that.

      • postmanmanman says:

        Are you kidding? It’d legitimately be hilarious. Do I agree with the author here? No, but I absolutely do get a kick out of reading stuff like this.

    • leeder krenon says:

      Truly spoken like someone who never had to make it across the road in Horace Goes Skiing.

    • ThePuzzler says:

      The golden era of arcade gaming was 1997? I would have guessed 1980…

      • son_of_montfort says:

        Yeah, I had the same thought. While 1997-98 was a great year for gaming – Ultima Online, StarCraft, etc. – the best arcade days include Joust.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      On the other hand, I absolutely love Hollow Knight. The art and sound design is awesome.

      But I am stuck on a boss. Sure I could spend 5 minutes getting to the boss, die, rinse and repeat 20 or 30 times and maybe get good enough. But I have died 10 times and only got her down to 75% health. And maybe my reflexes at 53 aren’t as good as the game designers and it just isn’t possible for me – especially as an exclusively PC nerd who has never held a game controller before.

      It is particularly galling because from what I have read this particular early boss is harder than many of the subsequent ones.

      What is so wrong about giving me a way of skipping that particular fight and enjoying the rest of the content. It would be as simple as a console command or an editable XML file of boss attributes.

      • Archonsod says:

        I think the thing there though is defeating the bosses pretty much is Cuphead’s content. If it let you skip bosses it’s pretty much skipping the content.

        I suspect the problem is that calling what Cuphead does a difficulty mode is something of a misnomer. It cuts the last stage of the boss and makes the previous stages quicker, but it doesn’t actually make them easier as such. I wonder how much difference it would have made if they called it “Demo Mode” or similar.

        • Fade2Gray says:

          I think Cuphead is in a unique situation though because, for many people, the art and animation are in-and-of-themselves a significant part of the content apart from the challenging gameplay. Many people will see the trailers and screenshots and think to themselves “I want to play a game that looks like that.” For them, the reason they’re playing is to see all the great art, so gating that art behind challenging gameplay actually diminishes the experience.

          • Yellow Jack says:

            That describes me to a T. In fact, while reading the original review I found myself thinking that I would rather watch a video than play the game and I feel like that is kind of a shame.

        • sonofsanta says:

          If it let you skip bosses it’s pretty much skipping the content.

          Literally though: who cares. If people choose to skip the content and lessen their enjoyment of the game (by your standards, that is; skipping boss fights they have tried and failed to overcome in order to enjoy the content beyond is very likely increasing their overall enjoyment of the game compared to, most likely otherwise, quitting outright in frustration), how does that affect you?

          If someone has paid money for the game, how does it affect the developers how people enjoy it after that? You’d think “as many people as possible getting as much enjoyment as possible” would be the best outcome for anyone who’s poured years into a game.

          It’s not the arcade years any more. Making the game as hard as possible hasn’t been the business model for 25 years.

          • Zandolar says:

            People such as yourself aren’t considering the opposite to what you say.
            What if the devs decide their easy mode is simplistic and short and doesn’t come across as a good game?

            A game like Cuphead could certainly end up like that. They make an easy mode which shows all the content and now people are clearing it in less than an hour and leaving negative reviews and calling it a waste of money. The developers are now negatively affected by their easy mode because their game is not rated as well as it would be.
            Its their right to ensure critical and public reception is as good as possible. If they feel an easy mode is counter to that, they don’t have to add it just because some people are whining about the game being too hard.

          • sonofsanta says:

            Here’s an idea then: a message on the difficulty selection screen that says “THIS IS THE DIFFICULTY THE GAME WAS DESIGNED AROUND. We believe that the challenge presented here provides the most satisfactory experience, and ask that you give it a chance.” Hey presto! Problem solved, whilst also solving the problem of 1* reviews saying “too hard, couldn’t make any progress”.

      • onodera says:

        Are you talking about the fight with the girl with a needle in the green area? Yeah, this is one of the hardest fights, because you don’t yet have any perks that let you tank boss attacks like you can in Metroid games.
        There’s only one reliable way to beat her and it is to learn her pre-attack poses and cries. Don’t take any chances, attack only when you are sure you won’t get hurt.

        • jonahcutter says:

          And that is an extremely important lesson, arguably the most important lesson, when fighting game bosses:

          Don’t get greedy. Don’t spam attacks. Play safe.

          Interesting how such a lesson is pushed early in the game. A boss skip button would undermine that important reminder to players.

      • Coming Second says:

        I don’t know if this will make you feel any better, but I found that Hollow Knight boss a relative piece of piss, and several subsequent ones very much in the ‘so aggravating I no longer want to play’ bracket. It does get better in as much as you can simply explore other parts of the world if you run into a brick wall here and there, but I don’t think you’d have escaped the feeling you describe if you’d perservered with it.

    • Ragnar says:

      I love how you turned asking the devs to not lock their existing content behind a difficulty setting into asking them to “make *more* content that doesn’t match their creative vision.” You are truly skilled at creating straw man arguments.

      And their “creative vision” stops when I sit down to play. Unless they’re sitting there with me, tweaking the game as they watch me play, then there’s virtually no chance that my playthrough will mirror what they had in mind. They don’t know my ability. I may struggle where they expected me to breeze through, and breeze through when they expected me to struggle. Their intentions are meaningless as my experience of playing the game is the only thing that matters.

      • postmanmanman says:

        Making more content is literally *exactly* what’s being asked, though. The author even notes in this article that simple mode isn’t just “you have more health and the enemies move more slowly” — it’s a complete reworking of the game that eliminates some patterns that would be too hard to simplify and significantly edits others so that they’re easier. This is not just a matter of setting “game_difficulty_bullet_speed” to a lower number — it’s a completely new set of boss patterns and behaviors.

        And yes, this is *completely* different than the game they’ve shipped otherwise. If you want an idea of what “the same but with slower enemies” would look like, you can look at the various Touhou games’ easy modes, which are simply the normal modes with reduced bullet speed and density. Ironically they’re actually sometimes *more* difficult than normal, because flatly dropping bullet speed makes some patterns more difficult to navigate through. That’s a good, practical example of the fact that easy modes aren’t as simple as tweaking a couple variables to increase player survivability — when done properly, they require the developer to completely rethink portions of their game design.

        • wackazoa says:

          Are you a game developer? Because wouldn’t the solution to making a game easier just be making the players health bar bigger and upping their damage and defense, while at the same time making the npcs health bar smaller and reducing their damage and defense? How is that making extra content??

          • Zandolar says:

            Because its not that simple. They risk trivialising content if you can just stand there, face tank the boss while you kill it and the game is not close to how it was designed to play. Now you have a situation where someone has a game mode that is fun but too hard, and one that is pathetically easy but also not fun.

            Would you be happy with that? No. It needs balancing. Anyway you look at it, that is asking the developer to put in extra work. They are not compelled to do that. Not every game must be made for everyone. If a specific game is too hard? Lots more games out there. Its nothing but entitlement to expect every game to cater to you. Would it be fair to expect walking simulators to add some form of challenge for people who like hard gameplay? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. So is the idea that RPS are pushing that games must have difficulty levels for everyone and let players skip whatever they please.

          • wackazoa says:

            “Would you be happy with that? No”

            Why ask a question of me then answer it for me. To answer your question for myself, yes I would be happy. That is why I suggested it. My 2 hours a week for gaming is time I want to have fun, not frustration. It looks like a beautiful game and has the old Disney/Oswald animations that I like. Also I wouldnt mind seeing the story & world the developers have worked hard to create. But the shear difficulty involved means I will only ever watch someone else play it. And that to me kind of makes me sad, not happy.

            Also asking is just that, asking. The dont have to do it. But if they can why not? You might sell more copies and get fans to enjoy your hard work. If developer want to add a challenge to “walking” simulators they usually add puzzles. I am ok with that. Why do you assume that I wouldnt be?

    • Nest says:

      100% correct. Asking for things like a “skip boss fight” button, etc; is a plea to turn videogames into TV. Watch TV. Watch TV about videogames (let’s plays) if you are especially obsessed with seeing the animations and scenarios (“content”) as they play out in Cuphead. (although maybe first watch every single Flip the Frog, Felix the Cat, Silly Symphonies, early Popeye and Disney cartoons if that’s what you’re after).

      If you don’t want to engage with the mechanics of a videogame, there is nothing wrong with you. But it literally means you aren’t interested in playing a videogame. The game is not “skill-shaming” you by requiring a certain level of mechanical engagement. It is just being a videogame. If you don’t like that, it’s because you don’t like videogames. Thats COMPLETELY OK.

  2. Behrditz says:

    Assassin’s Creed Discovery Tour doesnt “remove all challenge” from the game, its a completely separate historical education mode. People keep acting like it lets you beat the regular game without doing combat or something.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      This hasn’t been said nearly enough. AC’s discovery mode sounds much more like an elaborate take on the “asset viewer” many games have where you can view concept art or 3D character models as a special bonus setting. It isn’t god mode. You’re probably not going to see cut scenes and story content.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Wait what, people don’t realise this? That’s hilarious. And yeah, i guess it is worth repeating then.

      • jonahcutter says:

        Well, considering John Walker used it to call for skip buttons for bosses/difficult content, it seems he might not be aware that it is basically an asset viewer.

      • Zandolar says:

        Yep. I was not aware. Thank my “news” source for that. Namely the article the other day that made zero mention of this and made it sound like it was some sort or option for skipping boss fights.

  3. shinkshank says:

    Well, if someone is dead set on seeing all the bosses, cutscenes, ending and whatever else, I’ve no doubt that these can all easily be found on Youtube. I don’t think that having easy modes is a bad thing, but I do think that it’s very presumptuous to ask that developers spend their already stretched time and resources into making the game more appealing for people who the game, essentially, isn’t really intended for.

    And I’m sure saying might sound impudent, the idea that something can’t be enjoyed by everyone, but it’s true. Some games are made explicitly with the goal of being difficult and unforgiving. I don’t see why this should be compromised or worked around to “widen appeal”. In general, the notion of making every single game as approachable as possible to as many people as possible is flawed to me. If you were to go to a restaurant and ordered the highly regarded Cup’Ead soup, but asked them to remove the jalapeño because it’s too spicy, I’m pretty sure they’d suggest a different soup. Everyone gets the same soup, from one big pot, not a bunch of small pots suited to each person’s taste.

    • Rince says:

      Maybe you just need to go to a better restaurant?

      It’s like asking to be served food without salt, because you have high blood pressure, and then denied because “everyone is served the same”.
      I would never go to that restaurant again.

      • Risingson says:

        MOther of God, these are games, not health issues.

        • Nogo says:

          Has an analogy on the internet ever not devolved into an argument about how valid the analogy is?

          Just say no to internet analogies.

      • jeppic says:

        I actually don’t think it’s a bad analogy. Sometimes, exclusivity is part of the experience. You don’t see restaurant critics berate a 5* restaurant, for not having KD on the menu, just because it would be more accessible.

        I’m not the target market for this game, because I don’t like really difficult games. I understand that, and don’t begrudge the creators for making it. Could they have made more money by making it more accessible? Definitely. Does that mean we should criticize them for not doing so? I personally feel it’s unnecessary.

        Given the choice I’d rather have more developers making unique games that hit specific target demographics, than every developer making every game accessible to everyone. I think it would limit their artistic license, but also it wouldn’t push the envelope for game design. (Besides having games I’m not interested in buying is better for my pocket book :P)

        • jonahcutter says:

          The “they could make more money” and lost sales arguments for content skip buttons that regularly surfaces certainly is been an ironic one, coming from a gamer community that historically puts a premium on uniqueness in game design and artistic vision. And generally criticizes the compromising of design and vision for maximizing profits.

          • Zandolar says:

            It just shows the hypocrisy of some people.

            “Games must be made to cater to a wider audience WHEN THEY DON’T SUIT ME”

            When its some obscure “games as art” bollocks they actually like, everybody else shouldn’t criticise because “there are games out there for everybody”.

        • Zandolar says:

          Yep the idea of games being diverse and inclusive should mean “there are games out there for everybody”, not “every game suits as many people as possible”. The second mentality doesn’t lead to diverse games. It leads to homogenised games that become more and more similar because they aren’t allowed to target specific groups anymore.

          I personally just cannot see articles such as this and Walkers from the other day as anything other than childish entitlement and a “make everything to suit ME” attitude.

          Yet the same people mocked and decried people for holding the opinion that they didn’t like walking simulators because they were devoid of mechanics and presented no challenge.

      • stragne234r says:

        I don’t get this analogy if you don’t want salt don’t go to a restaurant that only sells salt and expect them to change their menu meaning If you don’t like hard games don’t play hard games and expect the developers to make it easy for you

    • Fade2Gray says:

      “I do think that it’s very presumptuous to ask that developers spend their already stretched time and resources into making the game more appealing for people who the game, essentially, isn’t really intended for.”

      Except, that’s exactly what they did here. Rather than simply leaving it at adjusting health pool numbers, the devs actually when out of their way to remove content from the easier gameplay setting. That’s way it’s raised this debate over limiting content based on difficulty level. The devs opened the door to this debate by going that extra step when developing their difficulty settings.

    • ElkiLG says:

      Your “difficult and unforgiving” is my “impossible”. Your “easy” is my “difficult and unforgiving” and unforgiving. Difficulty is subjective. When people say difficult games are enjoyable because they’re difficult they’re speaking for themselves, for me it’s impossible, and an “easy” mode for them could be my normal/hard mode, where I would enjoy it as much as them.

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        FhnuZoag says:

        Right. It’s curious when people pair talking about the devs having a creative vision with arguments about how unlike others they find the game’s difficulty easy or “just right”. Maybe you are *too good* for the game? Maybe the “just right” difficulty you experienced is not actually the intended experience and you’re supposed to die and be frustrated way more?

    • Ragnar says:

      I think it’s pretty presumptuous for a developer, or anyone else, to say, “No, you can’t play and enjoy this game. It’s not intended for you.”

      Spending time to make games more accessible generally pays off, but in this case they spent time to make the game less accessible. It would have taken less time to just make the whole game easier, rather than changing the boss fights and locking out other content.

    • Ragnar says:

      Also, just for your information, that’s not how restaurants work at all.

      You can both add and remove spice. You can make substitutions. Don’t like mayo? Ask them to hold the aioli.

      You can make meat dishes vegetarian. You can order the Steak Salad without the steak or without the salad. They can’t change everything, but highly regarded restaurants will bend over backwards to accommodate your preferences as best they can.

      • Kamikaze-X says:

        I think you will find that just like games, restuarants are all different, and cater to different tastes. Its likely that if you went to say, Nandos, and asked them to substitute your periperi chicken for a jerk fish they will look at you weird and suggest you are in the wrong restuarant.

      • Ulminati says:

        Highly regarded restaurents will suggest you a different item from the menu (or a different restaurent altogether if you’re doing something incredibly crass). The face they lose by watering out their menu overshadows the few extra sales they’d gain by offering to drench your steak in ketchup on request.

        On the topic of restaurent metaphors for game difficulty:
        link to dwarffortresswiki.org

        • Zandolar says:

          Which is exactly what could happen here. Water down their game experience by trivialising the content and the few pleased people and the money they spent are completely overwhelmed by the lost sales because they are no longer talked of as a challenging experience and people are leaving negative reviews because they saw the whole game via the watered down experience in less than an hour and did not feel that experience was very good.

    • mygaffer says:

      It is so bizarre to me the things that people who write about games write these days. We have a great and wondeful diversity in gaming experiences today, far more than ever before in the history of the medium.
      We have incredibly difficult, demanding games. We have games with no real challenge at all that are about presenting narrative experiences. We have games designed for long play sessions and games you play in 15 minute chunks.
      So why with Cuphead all of a sudden we’re seeing people say “games shouldn’t be too difficult?” Because couched in equivocating language as it might be this is the statement they’re making.
      Frankly that is preposterous. If a designer’s vision is a punishing, brutal game let them design it and show it to the world. There are people who will love that experience. There are people who hate that experience. For them there are other games that will appeal more to their gaming interests.
      I kind of wonder if the cartoon art feels a little dissonant with the relatively difficult moment to moment game play and that’s why we’ve seen these puzzling articles.

  4. Ulminati says:

    Cuphead has a simple mode that doesn’t cut content. It’s called watching a let’s play.

    Either accept that the hard bits aren’t present or accept that the game is hard. Can’t have you cake and eat it. If being able to fail in a game offends, you, there is plenty of non-interactive mediums you can partake in instead.

    • instantcoffe says:

      So people like you really do exist!

      • SigmaCAT says:

        Can you imagine if someone asked a director to “make their movie less complicated cause I think it’s too complicated and I can’t enjoy it”?

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          I wish people would stop making this comparison. It’s so inane; it’s almost as if they’re scrambling to defend a viewpoint that they know is indefensible.

          • klops says:

            So why that viewpoint is inane @Lenny? Most likely this has been repeated over and over, but in my mind that’s a valid comparison.

            “X is too hard. I could do something else or train myself to beat/understand/whatever that X but instead I demand X to change because I don’t like it to be so hard”

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Because playing a game is so different from watching a film that the comparison is nonsense. For instance, no one would watch the same 10 seconds of a film a hundred times, sometimes almost understanding it, other time dying at the first metaphor, before they finally get it. Also a film progresses whether you understand it or not, and can in fact play to its conclusion while you sleep through a hangover. If anything they are an example of John Walker’s ‘skip the boss button’ idea working. Though of course it’s a false equivalency in the first place.

          • klops says:

            So how my example is not working? I’m not trying to argue or be defensive here, although this may sound like it. I just don’t understand the logic behind this: “Video game can’t be too hard for me, but sports, a movie, maths or raising a dog can be. Because the are different than video games.”

            By my logic that X can be anything and that X can also be “too hard”. And like Risingson said below, in case of computer games, it’s ok. The hardest part to get is how this would not be ok?! Am I missing a crucial part of my brain in some logic sector?

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            FhnuZoag says:

            Being difficult to understand is a perfectly legitimate criticism that can be leveled at a movie. “I can’t understand the lead actor’s accent”. “The fight scene is too messy and you can’t tell what’s going on”. “The night time scenes are too dark and murkily shot”. Heck even “the plot is needlessly convoluted and there’s too many characters to remember”. No, the creators of Suicide Squad do not in movie criticism get a pass for claiming that nonsense was their ‘vision’.

            Obviously unlike a game the movie development process is more distanced from the audience, it’s not like a director can patch in an easy mode – with the exception of ‘director’s cuts’ that only a few filmmakers get a chance to do.

            Usually filmmakers do do a test screening with a target audience though.

          • klops says:

            A movie is not “difficult” if you can’t understand the lead actor’s accent. Or at least I’ve never seen anyone use the term in that sense when speaking about movies.

            How I’ve seen it, “difficult” means the movie is hard to understand. It could also be tough to watch. Something that demands something from you (yeah, not understanding the speech demands something from you as well, but…). Of course, Suicide Squad could be like that, I haven’t seen it, but I strongly doubt it and again, I’ve never heard anyone speaking Suicide Squad as a too difficult movie. Plain bad, yes.

            You can overcome that difficulty by thinking more about the movie, or watching it again or discussing it with other people, if that’s so important to you. It could still be too hard. Then you can just walk away and perhaps watch different movies. Or then you can demand that this particular movie needs to be made so that _you_ understand it perfectly, even though world is full of movies.

            Well, I’m repeating myself and certainly am not the first one here. I just don’t get the logic, even less after your answers. So nothing personal or serious. I just don’t get why it can’t be ok for something to be too difficult for you (“you” in general, not “you” in particular).

          • mygaffer says:

            Wait, what’s the indefensible viewpoint? That some games are hard and that’s OK?

        • durrbluh says:

          Pretty sure that was the premise behind the film backers forcing Ridley Scott to have Deckard narrate the plot to the original release of Blade Runner, actually.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Yeah, it’s true that this absolutely happens all the time in films. But they’re still films, not games.

        • Ragnar says:

          Could you imagine if a movie stopped you every ten minutes for a quiz, and forced you to rewatch the movie from the beginning if you got it wrong?

        • Ulminati says:

          “Can you imagine if someone asked a director to “make their movie less complicated cause I think it’s too complicated and I can’t enjoy it”?”

          How do you think we get Michael Bay “blockbusters” every summer? This is essentially what people are asking for here.
          “This and thas game does something that doesn’t appeal to me. Make it more generic to suit everyone’s tastes.”

          • Zandolar says:

            Which is why you have mass market blockbusters similar to mass market AAA games.
            We accept that they exist because of their mass appeal and make lots of money because of it.

            Then you have niche indie movies and games. Designed with a more select audience and subject matter in mind. People are now arguing that indie games need to be given more mass appeal. No different to people saying they should dumb down indie movies because some people can’t understand it.

            I don’t care if one is watched and one is played. I don’t care if one doesn’t stop you progressing and one does. Its the exact same concept.

    • Nogo says:

      “You know what would be great for our game and wallets (which we mortgaged our houses for btw!)? Telling people to not buy it and watch it on youtube instead!”

      Seems there’s a subset of gamers that care deeply about developers and their vision, until it actually comes down to them being able to eat.

      • dkfgo says:

        Wait, what the hell!

        I dont want creators to pay their mortgage! I want good games! Give me good games and take my money, which you can exchange for goods and services, like paying your mortgage. I dont need to care for your mortgage more than you have to care about mine, right? In case you actually think you do, email me so we can discuss your donation, I’ll take whatever you’re willing to send me!

        Its also a false dichotomy, its not you either make easy games or you become homeless.

      • Zandolar says:

        That’s purely up to the developer to manage their product and their target audience.

        Its not up to some games journalists getting on their high horse to start demanding what the developer does with their game because it doesn’t suit them.

    • Oasx says:

      I have never understood why hardcore gamers feel so threatened by lower difficulties. I pretty much play all games on Normal or Easy mode, yet it doesn’t bother me that there are higher difficulties.

      What if the developers could have sold 20.000 more copies of the game if they simple had an easy mode with 20 health for each boss? It would require almost no work.

      I don’t have a problem with Cuphead being what it is, but it’s a gorgeous game that is also relatively cheap, I just have no desire to spend money on it, because the experience wouldn’t be fun for me.

      • Ulminati says:

        Conversely, I never got why – for the lack of a better term – unskilled players felt so offended that some games are difficult.

        Cuphead was marketed from the start as being a challenging platformer with old-school graphics. Why can’t you let the challenging platformer audience have their fun without demanding that the game is tailored to your interests? It’s not like there isn’t a considerable segment of mainstream gaming dedicated to catering to players that just want to sight-see and never die.

        If you try to make a game that everyone finds acceptable, you’re shooting for mediocrity that no-one finds excellent.

        • wackazoa says:

          “Conversely, I never got why – for the lack of a better term – unskilled players felt so offended that some games are difficult.”

          Its not being offended. Its just a suggestion. Some games that have boss battles/high difficulty on a normal setting frustrate players that aren’t “gud” or have no time to invest to “git gud”. Making a way to breeze through areas, that are frustrating to “gud” players even, for the lesser players so they can still experience and enjoy your game is just a simple suggestion. And it would possibly attract more people to your game to experience your vision.

          Its not like anyone is demanding this happen or they will shut down developers. They did it with cheat codes years ago, some games do it with fast forward type things today. A simple adjust player health, damage and defense v. npc health, damage, and defense would do the trick.

          • Zandolar says:

            The developers do have to be wary though.
            Take a game like cuphead. Without repeating the boss battles and stuff, the game is likely breezed through in an hour. Does that reflect well on them? They have to be careful of advertising this challenging experience and then having people put it on the lower difficulty because “Well this will still be hard enough for me”, and its not because its sightseeing mode.
            Now they have people leaving negative reviews because they just bought a game that lasted them an hour and they’ve seen everything.

          • wackazoa says:

            As far as the boss battles keep them. Dont remove a thing. Just give the players an ability to hit harder for a little bit or longer if the player wants. The story is still there. The battles are still there. Just the players hits harder and the boss dies easier. The only thing that gets changed are the numbers.

            People who choose to play on easy arent the ones who would complain about breezing through. That would be the “hardcore” people who feel they need the “ultimate” challenge everytime. And most games include Hardest/Killer/Extreme modes for them usually.

    • Parovoz_NFF says:

      Well spoken, sir.

  5. Despatche says:

    The purpose of the Simple difficulty cutting content was to convince people to actually play the regular difficulty, telling those people “you need to put in more effort”. That’s not a problem with the game that needs to be fixed. It’s a solution to the problem of people not caring about games unless they “have” to.

    Like so many that play with this argument, their premise is always about elitism. This review clearly tries the angle of the enjoyment of “those few” who care about the game. But difficulty in video games has nothing to do with elitism. There are no “gatekeepers” keeping you from enjoying difficulty, except your own self that tells you to take the easy way out. That unfortunate minority everyone wants to hide beyond usually puts a lot of effort in playing by the same rules as everyone else, because they are convinced that it’s the right thing to do. They tend to be better at video games than their more-fortunate peers because of the amount of effort.

    Removing difficulty is removing gameplay, this shouldn’t even be said: difficulty *is* gameplay. Making games more “accessible” does not build up playerbases and communities, but actually *shrinks* them because more people will take the easy way out and never come to appreciate the game. Simply having an easier difficulty is not a terrible idea, but not everyone can do multiple difficulties properly, and you always have the high chance of people defaulting to it and never touching the harder difficulty.

    Dark Souls shows that it is possible to make people believe that simple difficulties are unnecessary. Memes or not, Cuphead is seen as a similar game by enough people that it will be successful no matter how many difficulties it has. Money is not an issue, especially since this game was in development for almost decade.

    The more “accessible” a game is, the more people that will attempt to boot it up… but the less people that will actually care about it. A game designer cares about the latter. A businessman cares about the former. Indie developers are supposed to be game designers, not businessmen. The entire indie scene only exists because the path of the businessman was seen as the wrong way.

    Please understand that games do not have to appeal to everyone, or even anyone besides the creator. That’s another important thing about the indie scene. When you start talking about “appealing to more people” like this, you start talking about money and markets, not game development.

    Also, please go and read up on Discovery Tour. It’s not at all what you think it is.

    • MrUnimport says:

      It’s interesting to see Dark Souls brought up as an example. Rather than difficulty settings, the game provides a number of mechanisms by which the player may adjust the game’s difficulty to match their comfort level. Grinding for levels, upgrading gear, applying consumable buffs, and most importantly by far, summoning NPCs and other players to fight the boss with/for you. The result is a challenging game that has many soft outs that aren’t conceding that the player wants a different experience from the norm.

      Also the Discovery Tour is pretty cool, wish more games came with a guided educational tour. It doesn’t seem to be a ‘skip button’ in any sense of the phrase.

      • Nogo says:

        Kinda ironic that a game without a proper “Game Over, start from the beginning you weak, uncoordinated worm” is heralded as the height of difficulty.

        Almost like the game was intricately designed to be beaten without undue frustration or overly unfair setbacks…

        • BooleanBob says:

          I don’t think it invalidates the argument necessarily, but it throws it into relief. What makes games fun for many people is the ‘right’ amount of challenge, Goldilocks-style. The number of people who enjoy Dark Souls might be a significant niche; I suspect the number who want to struggle through Super Ghouls n Ghosts is vanishingly small.

          Every gamer has a different amount of ability, though, so the ‘right’ amount of difficulty is a shifting target. John isn’t wrong to suggest that developers add flexibility into a game’s difficulty, so that challenge can be fine-tuned and more players can find the ‘bite’.

          (I say that with the caveat that putting the onus on players to curate their difficulty, and in effect be their own game designers, might be more of a pandora’s box than any of us suspect. But some genres have been doing this for decades anyway, with RPGs and level grinding being the obvious case in point.)

          Regarding Cuphead, I expect the developer’s thinking here is that if you are able to get through simple mode, you’ll have improved to such a degree that conquering it on regular will be a natural progression. This is similar to the widely-lauded pleasure of repeat playthroughs of DMC/Platinum/From Software games on the next level difficulty up or New Game+ mode.

          The question of whether it’s valid to use content-gating as the incentivising factor is an open one, I’ll admit.

    • April March says:

      Removing difficulty is removing gameplay, this shouldn’t even be said: difficulty *is* gameplay.

      Whoa whoa whoa stop right there. You don’t get to drop a bomb like that like it was a basic premise. Difficulty certainly is a kind of gameplay, and your argument certainly holds for Cuphead and Dark Souls and most roguelikes and etc etc etc, but it doesn’t apply universally.

      For a simple counterexample that comes to mind, I don’t think the difficulty of Just Cause 2 improves the game (and it isn’t even that difficult). That’s because being shot at by dudes (the part that’s difficult) often gets in the way of zipping around the game like a madman (a part that’s not difficult at all but is way more fun). That’s a game that would be improved a lot if it was easier. You can argue that the problem isn’t that dude-shootin’ is difficult, but that it isn’t engaging enough, and I’d like it if it was. And yeah, perhaps that’s true, but since the thing I like better is zippin’ around then it wouldn’t help me at all if I had to devote even more mental space to shootin’ dudes.

      Plus, this leads to dangerous fallacies. If difficulty is gameplay, and gameplay is good, then the harder the better, surely? There are people who do earnestly believe that, but it’s far from accepted wisdom. Otherwise I Wanna Be The Guy would be considered the best game ever. Or, for a non-snarky example, the super-quickly respawning checkpoints in Far Cry 2 wouldn’t be so universally reviled, since they make the game a lot harder. (And that is indeed a game that, otherwise, would lose a lot if it was easier.)

      • Emeraude says:

        In IWBTG, you can die crushed by Dracula’s negligently thrown wine glass. If that doesn’t make it the BEST GAME EVER!!! I don’t know what miserable pile of secrets will.

    • The First Door says:

      While I totally agree not every game has to be for everyone, most of this rant is absolute and complete rubbish for one obvious reason: difficulty is not an absolute. As many, many, many other people have said, ‘difficultly’ is not a thing that can be easily measured because it is utterly dependant on the player, their experience, their physical ability, and a dozen other things. Just because you can beat a game does not mean others can, even if they put in 10 times as much time as you did.

      The fact you think that the only reason people can’t beat games because they ‘take the easy way out’ is pretty telling to be honest, and also unbelievably blinkered.

  6. Kitsunin says:

    I think there are a couple good reasons to have an extremely difficult game without any easy mode.

    You’ve got a game like Dark Souls, which isn’t actually as ludicrously difficult as people claim — rather, it’s designed around the assumption that you’ll need more than one try to get patterns down. There are also a plethora of ways to make things easier on yourself via mechanics other than a difficulty slider. Basically, the design of the game’s difficulty is such a large part of the game, that tuning it down without making it less fun would be require such massive changes it’s not really worth doing.

    Then there’s a game like Super Meat Boy or Wings of Vi. In these games, the gameplay simply doesn’t work without the context of difficulty. The mechanics are unsatisfying when they aren’t being used for precision. Thus there isn’t much fun to be had from “easy” levels. Speedrunning aside.

    Haven’t quite gotten to Cuphead yet, but it does seem strange that they decided the experience would work in a Simple mode, yet the entire experience isn’t there. I suppose they’re saying that the gameplay isn’t really fun when it’s not a real challenge, like the second category I suggested. But if you insist then sure, play the game without the challenge. Dummy.

    • mcgiants says:

      But Super Meat Boy DOES have difficulty adjustment even with it’s core gameplay via unlockable characters that makes some stages easier. Also, games like VVVVVV have accessibility options while still being hard experiences with simple gameplay mechanics.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Aside from a few stages you could completely cheese with a double jump, most characters had enough of a downside in SMB that picking them only made things marginally easier. I felt the main reason for their inclusion was as a change in pace if a stage if you got sick of trying with Meat Boy.

        And I think the accessibility options in VVVVVV are a great thing to include, but did they (the invincibility and slowdown) really allow many people to enjoy the game who otherwise wouldn’t have? If the number isn’t zero, by all means they’re a great inclusion, but they’re basically things you can already hack into almost any hard PC game via cheat engine.

    • Zandolar says:

      Well from what I’ve read, in Cuphead, simple mode does things such as remove the last phase, or some particularly tough mechanics.

      In that respect it makes sense. The player now has a shorter fight with which to make their 3-4 HP last as well as some identified mechanics likely to remove that HP being gone.
      This is very similar to how WoW does its multiple raid difficulties. The harder mechanics are added for the harder difficulties, allowing you to learn most of the boss mechanics in a lower difficulty before moving up. Also sometimes a phase is removed.
      Cuohead seems to have taken this approach.

  7. The Lambton Worm says:

    I have no comment on whether the conclusions you’ve come to are correct, but I don’t think you’ve thought the argument through. The kind of design decisions that would cause the aggregate of games as a whole to maximise happiness are not the same as and in many ways counter to the design decisions that would maximise the happiness generated by each game. Indeed, if every developer decided today to try to maximise the appeal of each of their games to the market taken as a whole this would obviously result in both much less aggregate happiness and much less happiness generated by each game, because it would destroy all the games that a small number of people enjoyed hugely but were inaccessible to, boring to, or not to the taste of the largest possible number of people (i.e. most games). The argument you’ve given reads (at least at first glance) as saying that each game should try to maximise the happiness that it creates, and if this was what was intended it’s a bad argument.

    It might be that you think that an easy mode cuphead would increase the total aggregate happiness produced by all games taken together, the argument you’ve given isn’t (at least doesn’t seem to be) an argument for that conclusion. After all, people who give up playing hard mode cuphead will get less enjoyment from cuphead, but you’ve made no argument that these people will get less happiness overall. Just to begin with, they might spend the time they would otherwise have spent playing cuphead playing board games, or getting drunk, or learning to play the violin. So on what basis do you claim that people’s overall happiness will be reduced by their not playing more of cuphead?

    (To sidetrack somewhat but to take your claim that games should provide the largest net total of happiness as literally and as seriously as possible, a game which was played by 1000 people and convinced 1% of those people to give 50p to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative would have created a ton of happiness straight out, plausibly more than is managed by most games played by much larger numbers of people. So why not have all games include microtransactions and DLC purchases, which the game incentivises with every psychological trick possible, with the largest possible proportion of the profits of these microtransations going to the control of preventable diseases in the third world, and say that all critics ought as a matter of principle to lambast all games which don’t include this uniquely effective happiness-maximising feature?)

    • April March says:

      I think you’re reading things that aren’t there. Matt obviously mean a game should try to maximize the happiness provided by the game itself, so if a game inspires people to do things that make them happier or donate money to medical issues are outside the scope of the article.

      • The Lambton Worm says:

        You have missed the first argument I gave. Let’s say there are four developers and four players, and each player likes very different things. Either each developer could make a game specifically to please one player, or each developer could make a game which all ofthe players find mediocre (but not so mediocre as to generate less than 1/4 of the enjoyment generated by playing a game tailored for you). Your position as stated commits you to believing that either a) the developers should all create games that everyone finds mediocre, or b) that the developers creating the tailored games are the ones who are maximising happiness created by their games, in which case the argument of the article does not support the conclusion (because the argument is an argument for ‘flattening’ the happiness curve created by a game, reducing happiness for some who now really love it in order to broaden its appeal to people who will still love it less than the ‘hard core’). My point is that lots of people making games, each one of which pleases only a few people, may result in more happiness than everyone trying to make a game that will please as many people as possible – so the argument that each game should try to please as many people as possible is misguided.

      • The Lambton Worm says:

        Actually, the principle that each game should try to maximise the happiness created by itself leads to even stupider conclusions: for example, a game that prioritised being more addictive with the deliberate aim of preventing the player from doing other more worthwhile things with their life, but still produced a just slightly above-zero amount of happiness while the person was playing it, would maximise the happiness created by itself more effectively than a less addictive but equally enjoyable game.

  8. Risingson says:

    When Monkey 2 did that 25 years ago no one was complaining. Among many other examples.

  9. Risingson says:

    Ok, I will copy paste the response I put in the WOT

    Having said that, and agreeing with the toxic brosculinity in games and that all, there is something you should all know.

    And that’s ok.

    I have never been good at RTS. Never. I collected a lot of them trying to see if any of them clicked. They never did. Yesterday I was able to pass the third level of the first Command and Conquer. Yesterday. After more than 20 years of attempts. And it was hard. And I had to copy the youtube videos. And I thought that it does not matter: let people that enjoy RTS enjoy this, as there are plenty of games.

    Same with Cuphead.

  10. DodoSandvich says:

    Actually, I’m gonna argue that because there IS an easier difficulty setting it is more rewarding to beat a game on a higher one. Because it is a choice to do so. Because you are better than the others who took the low road.

    EDIT: I guess there might be some people where it is about deserving the story and not about being better than others. Wouldn’t apply there.

  11. Rince says:

    I’m the only one who thinks that the whole issue is stupid?

    Difficulty levels are a thing since forever. And that’s a good thing. No everyone enjoy wasting time dying and dying and dying and the same things again and again.

    And the whole “We’re gonna feel less special”, “Our achievements are degraded” is word by the speech of the Elitist Raiders in WoW. Deja Vu.

    • Risingson says:

      I understand where the issue comes from, and I understand that the DarkSoulisation (that was actually promoted by this very page) has caused a very absurd dick measure contest in players that has the risk of erasing all enjoyment for the sake of telling everyone how difficult it is and recording it in youtube.

      But yes, it’s a bit dumb, I actually agree.

      • Ghostwise says:

        I’ve been playing video games for 35-ish years, and I can assure you that confusing skill at certain video games with one’s penis size far, far precedes Dark Souls.

        Though of course it took some time to solidify, then become a subculture, then get used to impose hierarchy, then become gatekeeping, then largely merge with extreme right wing ideologies.

        • Risingson says:

          I’m a silver fox as well, but I mean in the mainstream. Until a few years ago the only gamers were nerds, you know.

          • Ghostwise says:

            I see your point, but unless you have a particularly demanding notion of “mainstream” I would push it back further than “a few years ago”. :-p

            And nerd subcultures have always been rife with this sort of behaviour, anyway. Depending upon where your from, you might remember the days of contempt of wargames toward role-players, trekkers vs. trekkies, and innumerable examples of one-true-wayism and gatekeeping.

            Frex the most complex, abstruse wargames were touted as the mark of superior, hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool, true blue nerds.

        • batraz says:

          I’m not sure any form of competition should be refered to as “measuring penis size”. Ancient athenians had competitions all the time, besides olympics, tragedy competitions for instance, and that left us Sophocles. I know, dead white male and all that ; still, that’s quite a beautiful penis. The taste for equality has turned to some kind of hate towards any form of natural talent; soon, being good at anything will make you being categorized as “far right”. Not a problem for me though, since I’m such a lame player.

      • GrumpyCatFace says:

        What kind of clown considers all competition to be ‘dick measuring’? Oh, right.. The ones that can’t compete.

  12. fuggles says:

    I have yet to see a counterpoint that gets around why letting other people play it on easy affects your game.

    You could argue design intent, but hey, they rebuilt the whole game after misreading their market with their first design intent.

    Plus are game Devs really that precious about people not enjoying the game their way?

    I love this cake and eat it nonsense. The cake I assume being the game and eating, being me playing it – so unreasonable.

    It’s more like going to a Chinese resteraunt and leaving without eating as you can’t use chopsticks and they only let you eat the first dish with a fork.

    Remove achievements on easy and the braggarts can still brag.

    • GrumpyCatFace says:

      Nobody is against having an “easy mode” for n00bs and children.

      But that’s a very different thing than adding a “skip hard part” button.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Part of the experience of a videogame is the social aspect of talking about it.

      Part of the experience of a difficult videogame is swapping war stories about how hard you found difficult bits of it and sharing the empathy which comes with the shared experience that it was just as hard for everyone else.

      If the response to “I found that bit really hard I was stuck for ages” is “I turned it down to easy for that bit” you don’t have that shared experience. The overall experience you had with the game and being able to share your experiences with it is lessened because you can’t share that bit.

      Challenge is one of the core aesthetics of play. When a game designer chooses to focus on delivery of that aesthetic in their game the response should be to accept their freedom to do so not ask them not to because you don’t like challenge and prefer other aesthetics. Play the games that focus on those instead.

      We don’t see this for any other play aesthetic either. Nobody asks Bethesda to stop putting big open worlds in their games because they don’t like the dull walking about because they don’t value discovery as an aesthetic. It’s only challenge that people want to be able to turn down or off.

  13. fuggles says:

    Equally stuff about games shouldn’t appeal to everyone is wrong. What if it does appeal but you just cannot wait the best will in the world beat a section?

    All this difficulty is gameplay crap too. So subjective. I loved playing games with God mode, sometimes it’s just fun. Equally I used to always play games on hard, but certainly in fps the experience was worse as the gameplay hadn’t changed, just your guns were worse and people took forever to kill.

  14. Chicago Ted says:

    git gud

    or just use cheat engine to give yourself infinite health. That’s one of the wonders of it being on PC — why waste the time making an easy mode when the user can do it themselves with no effort?
    I’ll often use cheat engine to give myself a ton of cash in games to skip grinding.

    • durrbluh says:

      Ayep, kind of made me wonder where the debate even came from. A quick look at the Cheat Engine forums shows there’s already a Cuphead table that unlocks all health bars for those who want the game to be a bit gentler, or infinite health for the truly tourist-y players who just want to admire the view. Simple mode with no content gate.

    • bob27 says:

      > why waste the time making an easy mode when the user can do it themselves with no effort?

      Why don’t you folks read? They DID make the effort to make an easy mode, they went to *extra* effort to make a bad easy mode. People want a good easy mode, that would have required less effort.

      Using cheats engines also isn’t no effort. And misses the point.

  15. tslog says:

    The cult of diffiCULTists are at it again discrediting themselves again telling others how they should play, and by excluding content.

    They’ve created a mindset of exactly how others should play that doesn’t have their hard-core sensibilities at all times for game x that they choose, when just two weeks ago in Dishonered the death of the outsider, they added a whole list of AI and difficulty options that no one ever mentioned and is entirely optional choice driven and is the way of the future.

    If obviously player choice of play style is the future, then cupheads BS exclusion is the opposite of that.

    • Risingson says:

      diffiCULTies, oh my God, that’s BRILLIANT!

      Tell me, were you alive in the 80s?

    • klops says:

      I don’t get the logic.

      “There’s a game. It’s too hard for me. I demand it to be made easier.” seems to be a better demand than: “There’s a game. Its difficulty is fine. I demand it to stay the same.”

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      Why is it so many posts like this seem like projection? Telling someone to ‘git gud’ is not telling them how to play; but advocating for ‘inclusive’ changes to games is not only telling people how to play, but forcing them by giving them no other choice.

      It’s the difference between saying they should ‘have choices, with consequences’ and them saying ‘we should have choice even if it removes yours’.

      • April March says:

        No. At least in theory, no. An easier mode does not change the way you play the game, no force you to play it in that way; it merely allows people unable or unwilling to play at your level of skill to enjoy a game you’ve enjoyed.

        • ChiefOfBeef says:

          I don’t have a problem with there being different modes for difficulty adjustment in most games(in certain games like Dark Souls it’s a no-no though; only in-game choices should affect difficulty). The above article though complains about how it is done in Cuphead: with the removal of certain content, when alternatively that difficult content could be left in but other factors changed to compensate. This is where I disagree.

          There is a broad cultural trend towards inclusivity in games, which I think is a good thing. But in conjunction with that, there is a deliberate semi-organised push by some writers, influencers, developers and publishers to control how this inevitable trend happens; they are pushing an agenda and whether it is for better or worse, it needs to meet some strong resistance or they will mess everything up. Ideas like skippable content for some games or in this case being able to access and see everything through an absurdly easy path laid out from the start, both reduce the amount of game stuff happening in a game and restrict the scope of games.

          As I argued in the other thread: if crucial features are attached to something like boss battles and it is decided boss battles are no longer crucial and can be skipped, then the crucial features from that boss battle whether they be dialogue, plot points, mini-tutorials, world-building, experience gain etc, have to be removed from boss battles even for those who choose to play them. Sometimes those features can be put in the game elsewhere, sometimes they can’t, but even when they can the scope of what can be done in that game has been reduced. By giving players these choices and then making these choices free of consequences within the game, they have consequences outside of the game at the point where the player interacts with them. Those who want and only play these ultra-easy modes will not notice them beyond their own experience that they can now play a game where they didn’t have the motivation to improve enough to play normally, but those who do will notice games having more unskippable cutscenes and less interesting difficult encounters.

          Games should be lowering the barriers to entry, but only as encouragement for players to improve rather than fueling a race to the bottom.

    • Zandolar says:

      So would you agree then, that walking simulators should add mechanics and put in a hard mode for people that like a challenge? Otherwise, that’s just people that like walking simulators telling me that games shouldn’t have challenge or mechanics.
      It works exactly the same both ways.

  16. Chentzilla says:

    >So, on the one hand we have the argument, in its most absolute form, that no content should be gated away from players because of difficulty. John recently wrote about just that, praising Ubisoft’s decision to add a ‘Discovery Tour’ mode that removes all challenge from Assassin’s Creed Origins.

    So missions and combat suddenly aren’t content?

  17. ChiefOfBeef says:

    This is a better article than John’s, namely because it does not transform into a pre-emptive attack on other people in order to make its case. But I still think Matt is wrong.

    Matt is making the Utilitarian argument: the priority is to maximise happiness across all people, even if some unhappiness is created in some people. The least kind reflection of this reasoning is ‘The end justifies the means’. It does, if you are not one of those who are made unhappy. Arguments like this are divisive without being vindictive; ‘I have nothing against you, but this is just the way it should be’. Very rare is it to see anyone on the losing side maintain this position.

    The Utilitarian dilemma though is that the losers are not one static group which can reliably be marginalised, nor does everyone get to take it in turns to be the loser to balance it all out fairly in accordance with a rule-based or obligation-based ethical code: all that matters is the outcome, whoever is worse off from it, as long as it’s not themselves usually. Those at the bottom when marginalised eventually by some means stop participating, then who ever was second-to-last becomes the new marginalised, who upon being excluded create a third new group of losers. Utilitarianism far from maximising happiness, never stops creating losers, angry losers and then suddenly there’s more of them than there are of you.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      More to the point specific to Cuphead and game difficulty: the developer if they wish to maintain goodwill with their playerbase must NOT marginalise anyone by design. The choice facing them is to create a design that affects the enjoyment of the game for the committed players, or be safe in the knowledge that their design does not have a flaw just because less-committed players can not overcome some of the challenges. The first choice pro-actively hurts the experience of one group, maybe a few, maybe a lot, whilst the second simply lets the other group experience the natural consequences of whatever it is about them that means they are not able to willing to do what it takes to progress, even when offered a limited but easier mode to encourage them.

      It’s the trolley-problem; which of course has an obvious solution, until you have to explain to the loser(s) why you made that choice.

      • ChiefOfBeef says:

        Last one- the features being removed in Cuphead’s simple mode reflect what I said in the other article: in order to cater to the tastes of people who don’t really like playing games or certain games but insist on a special ‘inclusiveness’, features have to be moved or removed. It’s just in the case of Cuphead the devs had the sense to separate completely the different modes.

        • April March says:

          the developer if they wish to maintain goodwill with their playerbase must NOT marginalise anyone by design.

          This is impossible, and you are an example of why. If the devs had decided to add an inclusive easier mode, then it is you who would have felt marginalised. But, by not doing so (or by not including an easy mode at all), they marginalise those who want it. What to do?

          Well, a smart dev will try to figure out what their true target audience is, and cater to them primarily; catering to others only if it doesn’t dilute their goodwill from their primary audience. That’s basic marketing; the question, then, becomes whether it is good for the industry as a whole.

          • ChiefOfBeef says:

            Please don’t skim-read my posts: I address that.

          • Zandolar says:

            This is what they have done though.
            Rather than trivialise the easy mode by lazily tweaking numbers, they decided that better design for their easy mode was simply to remove some mechanics, some phases and a few encounters.

            They haven’t sacrificed design of the challenging difficulty whilst still providing most of it to players who are struggling.
            Apparently this is not good enough for the article writer. Everything in every game must be perfectly tailored to his desire for lack of difficulty. Therefore this is not good enough. He’s suggesting they compromise their design because the game does not suit him.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I’d say we don’t even need to go this far to discredit that argument. Games should, without a doubt, be entirely focused on providing the maximum amount of enjoyment possible among a limited amount of people. There are so, so many games which exist, and nobody could play all of them if they wanted. Therefore, those who choose to play a certain game because it’s closest in line with their desires, should be catered to to the utmost, without the slightest care for how it would impact a player without the same level of interest.

      Of course, there are also choices which don’t subtract from anyone’s enjoyment. No reason not to use those. And there are cases where individuals don’t have games which cater to them. But that’d be a failing due to the industry not making games which cater to them, not specific games failing to take away from their target in order to also cater to those people.

      • ChiefOfBeef says:

        I’m broadly in agreement with this: individual games should not be trying to make everyone happy. There should be enough games that everyone has something they really enjoy. It’s one reason why I despise efforts by companies trying to ‘broaden the audience’ of a franchise by effectively diluting what they are, making them more generalist.

  18. CheeseFarts says:

    On easy mode it wouldnt be Souls-like.

  19. ToXXicG4mer says:

    I don’t understand how the two articles in question can be reconciled. The “skip boss button” argument says that games should not gate content behind unskippable bosses, and that devs should be including more such options. Then the Cuphead devs do precisely this with their ‘simple’ mode, albeit partially, by creating a means of skipping the worst offending parts of their bossfights. Now the rallying cry seems to be that they’ve unfairly deprived players of content by including this partial boss skip. This is a tacit admission that the bosses themselves are legitimate content of a game that can’t be removed without fundamentally altering the work. This shows that, were the “skip boss button” actually implemented on a large scale, you’d still have the same complaint about there being some exclusive or elitist community of insiders that want to keep game content away from the lesser-skilled.

    • ChiefOfBeef says:

      I will give them the credit of being two separate people with slightly different views. There’s also the matter of some games being unsuitable for boss fights yet still having them(IMO, the Arkham series) and games where the boss fights are a core feature. I’d speculate that broadly speaking the ‘inclusive’ view will reach a consensus that games that need boss fights should have an easy mode whilst games where they are not crucial should make them skippable. The internal contradiction though will keep cropping up in the form of arguments about which games are ‘must-have-bosses’ or not and what makes this so.

    • teije says:

      I don’t see why the two articles need to be reconciled. They are by 2 different writers with different outlooks. It’s not like RPS has an “official stance” on anything. (Besides never pre-ordering and to always call it Plunkbat, of course).

      • ToXXicG4mer says:

        I understand that different people have different opinions. I’m talking about the general arguments being presented here, both by the staff and in the comments. The point is to adjudicate which position is better.

        What the response to Cuphead shows is that clearly the statement “games should be delighted to include modes that remove all their difficulty and challenge, and players should cheer when they hear about it” from the Walker article is wrong. It has to be so severely modulated and qualified to be a reasonable suggestion that the original sensationalist formulation (and subsequent blame shifting) falls away completely. The correct, non-flamebait version is, “Some developers may feel that an alternative zero-difficulty mode is appropriate for their game, and you should leave them alone.” Anything beyond that just flops to the opposite extreme. Both the toxic elitists and the inclusivists are pretending as though the developer’s idea of an appropriate level of challenge has no weight whatsoever, attempting to play the censor via internet outrage.

        • MrUnimport says:

          Entirely without irony, I’m deeply enjoying the quasijudicial element to this discussion. Is Chief Justice Walker’s decision compatible with Justice Cox’s dissent? Is it binding, or is it to be distinguished?

    • Kitsunin says:

      Well, Cuphead is very different, in that it’s a game in which the boss fights are a key part of the game. Cuphead is its boss fights, in a sense.

      But I’ve played many games which were great, but their boss fights suddenly spiked in difficulty well above the rest of the game, and made you bang your head against a wall for a few minutes.

    • Ragnar says:

      There are two different arguments by two different people.

      One is that bosses should be skippable, like so much other game content that is already skippable.

      The other is that content shouldn’t be locked away behind a difficulty level, that someone playing on easy should be able to see as much of the game as someone playing on hard.

      These are not mutually exclusive.

  20. jcarrier90 says:

    I think the thing that makes it hard to compare to other mediums is how video games are modular. The Great Gatsby is a novel. It has a certain amount of pages, with a certain amount of words, in a certain order. You could skip a chapter, but the book assumes you read them all in a certain order, for the intended cumulative effect. Die Hard is a movie, it is a 132 minutes, and it stars a man named Bruce Willis. You cannot go to the option menu and mod in another actor, you cannot make the movie 150 minutes long if you want, or take out Michael Kamen’s score and replace it with the Splinter Cell Chaos Theory soundtrack. The experience is what it is, take it or leave it.

    But with video games, they ARE modular. They’re interactive. They require player involvement. Thats what seperates them from all the other art forms. They are essentialy incomplete until a player enacts their will on it. And because we can mod anything we want, and put in fancy lights, change the framerate, the sound, the controls, everything…we think “why cant we just skip this part of the experience” as well. This is my game now, I should be able to do whatever I want with it.

    I think there needs to be some honesty about that kind of entitlement. Easy mode is a watered down version of the intended experience. Straight up. There’s no argument against that. Its entire purpose is to remove requirements of interactivity the developers asked from you on the standard difficulty that entire game was made around. Its purpose is to make a “lite”, Readers Digest version of the actual thing. And you should be aware that this is not the way the game was intended to be. And the developers are under NO OBLIGATION to provide a watered down, worse version of the experience just so you can say you reached the end. We dont ask that from any other art form, to purposefully take away the very things that make it unique, just so people can see the end.

    And if you do use an easy mode, you should be honest about that in any review. You willingly chose to play a worse version of the game, that required less understanding of the mechanics, the themes, the ideas on display, and so your opinion of the game is gonna be quite different from the expected experience of playing it on Normal/Standard/Regular.

    • Kitsunin says:

      As you say. In most cases, difficult games are difficult for good reason. Dark Souls might have a pretty interesting world, but that world is interesting because it’s bleak and nasty and it feels bleak and nasty because of the gameplay. Some feel Dark Souls would be more fun if they could skip the boss battles or make the game easier, but then the question becomes: Do you really even want to play Dark Souls? There are other games with worlds that are much more interesting sans the difficulty.

      They could add an easy mode so more people could get some enjoyment out of the game. But why, when those people would have far more fun just playing something else even so? And if they really think Dark Souls sounds fun, well, it’ll be there waiting for them to “git gud”…ugh sorry, I do hate that phrase, but really, it’s not like it’s a game which is exclusionary, anybody can beat it if the experience sounds great to them, in slightly varying amounts of time (disabilities aside, which does make things tough).

      • Yellow Jack says:

        Speaking for myself, I have a limited patience for extreme difficulty games and I am decidedly not “gud” at them. However, I would (presumably) enjoy easier gameplay without locked content because I enjoy uniqueness in games, such as the art style, the music, and the zany bosses in Cuphead.

        Others have pointed out that I could get all of this from YouTube, but in that case I am watching someone else experience this content and I find the prospect far less appealing to experiencing it myself.

        • Kitsunin says:

          Cuphead might have a very unique aesthetic, however, as a game, it’s fun because of the “overcoming a challenge” aspect. The gameplay isn’t inherently fun for the sake of fun, it’s fun because it fits challenge well. Compare to a Sonic game, in which there’s fun to be had from simple traversal, while challenge comes mostly from mastery and speedrunning. Without challenge, the gameplay would be boring.

          Compare to Mass Effect, which would work as a game without the story, but there’d be no real reason to play without the story, and nobody would buy it for that. The same is true here with difficulty.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      I think the reader’s digest analogy for novels is quiet a useful analogy.
      A game is supposed to be played with a certain skill and has an amount of sweating and frustration as part of the composed experience. After all they could have programmed a walking simulator but decided against it.
      You can cheat around or lower the difficulty and you can complain on about the dev not catering to your lack of skill or motivation or low frustration tolerance but you’re not playing the intended game.

    • April March says:

      But with video games, they ARE modular. They’re interactive. They require player involvement. Thats what seperates them from all the other art forms. They are essentialy incomplete until a player enacts their will on it.

      No, not really. I mean, we’re really stepping into *lighting flashes* Art Theory territory here, but: ALL art is interactive. A book that is unread is not art. A sculpture no one looks at is not art. A building no one lives or works in is not art. Art comes from the interplay between the artist, the medium and the viewer, so all art is interactive. What separates videogames is that interactive is their strong suit, in the way that melody and rhythm are music’s; a reader’s interaction with a novel is limited to their understanding and interpretation of the plot, while a game’s player can effect chances on a game that are immediately noticeable even from an outside perspective.

      Likewise, with a whole lot of work, a bunch of raw files, and perhaps a little CGI, I could make a version of Die Hard that starred Jet Li, was 150 minutes long and had the Splinter Cell soundtrack. It isn’t as easy as going to the menu – but neither is the mod-heavy installation of Skyrim most people will have. Someone made those mods, and made it possible for other people to use them easily; just like making that version of Die Hard would be very hard, if I sent you a file with it you’d be able to watch it by pressing a button.

      I don’t actually want to argue your actual point, because I’m not even entirely sure I disagree with you. I just didn’t like your premises.

    • Zandolar says:

      Yep and those last couple of sentences propose the real stumbling block.

      Cuphead is a great example. Its pacing and reward is designed around challenging boss fights that will take multiple attempts and give the player the payoff when they finally beat the challenge.
      An easy mode removes all of this. It removes the combined sense of achievement/relief/exhilaration. It removes the increased heart rate and tension during the fight. It removes one of the primary designs of the game.

      Now while this isn’t a bad thing in itself, because people can play as they please, the developer is entitled to make the decision that the easy mode just leaves an underwhelming experience that doesn’t achieve what the game is designed to and is over very quickly. If they think this would have a negative impact on their game through either reviews or through people simply choosing the wrong mode and leaving the game feeling underwhelmed, then they aren’t compelled to include it.

  21. Terrakitty343 says:

    How about just don’t suck at video games?
    Maybe git gud?

  22. leett says:

    I’m pro-difficulty sliders and pro-cheat codes and pro-any optional features that allow more people access to and enjoyment of a video game. I just won’t necessarily use those options, and it’s fine. But I wonder:

    If you’re playing a game, and it’s really hard, and you don’t like that it’s really hard, and you wish there was a way to skip entire sections of the game, then it sounds to me like you don’t really like the game. If, e.g., Dark Souls is too hard, and hard in such a way that it’s not enjoyable for you, the solution might be to play a game you actually like, instead of asking for Dark Souls to become different.

    Is it possible that numerical rating scales have something to do with this? “Dark Souls got a 9/10, so I must play it so as not to miss out on that 9/10 content, even though I hate every moment of playing it.” The game is clearly not a 9/10 for everyone. A number-less review that praised the game while driving home the point that it is incredibly difficult might disabuse people who are put off by extreme difficulty of the notion that they need to play this particular game, instead of a game they’d actually enjoy playing.

    • ElkiLG says:

      But there are way more things to enjoy in dark souls than difficulty, fights and stuff, otherwise it wouldn’t have been praised that much! I wish I could enjoy the dark soul series, I wish I could be good enough to not be completely stopped at every point of the game but I can’t. I can’t enjoy every other aspect of the game because that one is stopping me. Dark souls isn’t just about dying in one hit from the littlest thing, it looks like it’s about many more things.

      • Thirith says:

        You’re right that Dark Souls is not *only* about its difficulty, but I think that a case can be made that difficulty is an integral part of what makes Dark Souls.

        That’s not true for all games IMO, but it is true for some – and it goes both ways. Dark Souls is made what it is by means of combining various things, one of them being its difficulty. I’d say the same is true for Super Meat Boy. On the other end of the spectrum, games such as Journey or Gone Home (both of which I liked a lot) are in part defined by their lack of challenge in the form of difficulty. Difficulty isn’t an extrinsic element (at least for some games). I understand the motivation to add more options, and I think that in most if not all cases it’s great if it’s offered, but I also think that both this article and John’s are too easily dismissive of how difficulty can be used as an integral tool on a developer’s palette and that its use can be meaningful rather than just a case of developers being thoughtless, dickish or elitist.

        • Thirith says:

          Quick addendum: Which is why I have no problem with mods, trainers or god modes that serve this need, but I would take issue with any general demand that developers *design* for this want.

          • Zandolar says:

            Because developers don’t have endless resources.
            If they spend time implementing an easy mode its realistic to expect that those man hours are detracting from something else about the game.

            Some third party making a trainer does not do this.

  23. GrumpyCatFace says:




  24. RichUncleSkeleton says:

    Since we’re going full utilitarian here, maybe the developers should include a variety of different art styles for people who don’t like 30’s cartoons. Maybe instead of a cup, you could also have the option to play as a gruff Navy SEAL too. If we’re going to demand that games accommodate literally everyone, why stop at difficulty settings?

    • GrumpyCatFace says:

      I expect a free update to change the cup’s color, or I’m suing them.

  25. left1000 says:

    What’s this? I mean…. if you want to make each boss easier, isn’t removing their most difficult attack pattern an excellent way to do that? Each boss has a lot of phases and alternate attack patterns. How do you propose they ensure worse players can beat a boss on simple mode if the simple mode doesn’t remove the most unfair and difficult attack pattern of the boss?

    furthermore the boss phases and transitions are based on hp. At some point if the boss has vastly reduced hp there won’t be time for the boss to perform all of it’s transformations and attack patterns before it’s dead.

    This is like saying that a game with 2+2=4 difficulty that adds an easy mode can’t just make that mode 2+0=2 difficulty.

    If you start whining about exactly how a developer thinks up ways to make their games easier, they’re going stop having multiple modes! This was the best idea they could come up with in order to have an easy mode a normal mode and an expert mode. It fits. I doubt you could do better.

    Now I suppose they could’ve just given cuphead infinite hp in simple mode, that would’ve been an easy and quick fix, that let every player see every boss animation and transformation, but would that have been fun? It’s much better imo to still let the player die on easy mode, but just make well the actual gameplay itself easier! Cuphead relies on learning and repeated attempts to flesh out the experience, infinite hp would’ve destroyed that aspect of gameplay. Much better to remove a few unique animations but keep the spirit of the game alive.

  26. mitrovarr says:

    I definitely think the difficulty settings are handled poorly. It isn’t obvious you’re missing anything on simple. My fiancee was originally playing the bosses on easy, and had no idea she was missing anything until I jumped in halfway through the game for some coop, we tried one on regular, and found out that not only was it withholding part of the boss fight, but victory wasn’t actually counting fully. That should really be more obvious. Or, honestly, difficulty settings that cut you out of the ending should never be included at all. Nobody likes them.

    But also, why should it unnecessarily limit the audience? It feels like this game is designed around the art, which might interest a lot of people besides the hardcore platforming crowd. Cutting them out just feels elitist. And yeah, you can watch a let’s play, but as mentioned above everyone loses there (dev gets no money, player doesn’t get to actually play the game).

    Here, since the developer doesn’t know how to make real difficulty settings, I’ll help. Starting health: 6 (easy), 3 (normal), 1 (hard). See how easy that was?

    • Relenzo says:

      While the debate here is interesting, this is the best response to the actual article. This article exists because the difficulty levels in Cuphead were poorly implemented. This solution is obvious.

    • subprogram32 says:

      Yeah of all the comments here I think yours nails it down the most. Upping the health for ‘simple’ might be seen as a ‘lazy’ difficulty change, but I might have considered buying the game myself instead of watching an LP if it was there.

  27. orbit_l says:

    I kinda liked the way this was handled in Guacamelee: there were some incredibly hard platforming sections in this game, but they were optional. The only reward was a different cutscene at the end, while you could still finish the game normally if you skipped these bits. Those normal bits (and especially the bosses) could still be pretty tricky, but still better than the “arenas all the way down” part.

    • mitrovarr says:

      For whatever it’s worth, I hated that. I didn’t want to do the challenge sections but felt obligated to because they held the good ending hostage. And having to fight the very difficult last boss with an added disadvantage was just annoying, especially since it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the story.

      I did it all, but I didn’t like doing it, and it tainted my final opinion of the game somewhat.

  28. Fersken says:

    For everyone making the designers intent argument, I expect you also to be against mods.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      You mean unless the designers intended to support them (or passively accept them)? As many do?

      • Fersken says:

        Many games don’t. And even when they do, you think Skyrims developers intended it to have Thomas the tank engine in it? If they wanted Skyrim to have a decent UI they would have made it (meaning no SkyUI for you).

        • RichUncleSkeleton says:

          Although your analogy is specious, I’ll answer this question anyway: yes. They intended for Skyrim to be highly customizable and limited only by the imagination of modders. Even if they didn’t and it was never meant to be moddable, it still wouldn’t require extra effort or a change in directorial vision from its developers for end users to tinker with it in some unintended or unauthorized way. Unlike requesting a game that’s built around its high level of difficulty to accommodate people who can’t or won’t play it in that manner.

          • Fersken says:

            I don’t disagree that adding more options to difficulty would be added work for the developer. But you wouldn’t manage to make be believe that the additional work wont be compensated many times over by reaching more customers. Besides, in Cuphead they already have done that work and more by adding a simple mode that seems more complicated than a more common easy mode (more health and damage for player, less for enemies etc).

            And I actually agree that my analogy was specious, though less so than the argument over design intent as a way to shut up different opinions (the previous time ‘designers intent’ was thrown about was when the discussion about diversity in game characters was the hot topic).

    • Relenzo says:

      Respectfully, no. Just because I’m against telling developers how to make their game, that doesn’t mean I have to be against derivative work.

      Mods are a completely different proposition from telling a developer that they’re ethically bankrupt (not attributing this to Walker, by the way, he was far more mild than his comments section) for not including specific features.

      Mods are derivative work–another person’s take on a game.

      That being said, I think we’ve established than an ‘easy mode’ which cuts content without telling you is borderline timeout-worthy. And sure. If most games were ‘nintendo hard’ it would be a problem. But most games aren’t.

      • MrUnimport says:

        >That being said, I think we’ve established than an ‘easy mode’ which cuts content without telling you is borderline timeout-worthy.

        Not meant belligerently, but it’s still okay if ‘hard mode’ has harder, bonus content included, right?

      • Fersken says:

        I see, so you’re against me telling the developer of Cuphead that I wont be buying their game because it is too difficult for me to enjoy. That I would buy it (I really the graphical design like Cuphead) if there was an easier option.

    • Emeraude says:

      How so? Does thinking authors shouldn’t be forced to change their manuscripts to accommodate their readers makes one against the very existence of fan-fiction?

      • Fersken says:

        You got me, anyone who wants an easier mode or the option to skip content want to force it on every game.

        • Emeraude says:

          Is that what I said?
          I’m just addressing what I think is a logical fallacy, or a poorly thought out comparison.
          You can be for the prevalence of authorial intent (game, author manuscript) without being against derivative work (mods, fan fiction).
          That’s it.

          In fact I am very much both in favor of authorial intent, AND for alternative ways of promoting greater access to play as long as it does not contradict the former.

          • Fersken says:

            And very few are saying anyone should be forced to change their game. I didn’t, and neither did the author of this article nor did John Walker in his.

            But many are saying we should ‘Git Gud’ in various ways, saying we are making demands of developers, we are children, noobs, and skilless. That we should just watch the game on youtube.

            Besides, who gives a shit whether someone enjoys something that is not in the artists vision or design intent? Many people obviously by these articles comments. Fuck me for skipping the songs and poems in Lord of the Rings trilogy books. And for enjoying the non-specialised editions of Star Wars.

          • Emeraude says:

            But many are saying…

            Did I though? Lash out at those other people.

            Besides, who gives a shit whether someone enjoys something that is not in the artists vision or design intent?

            No one. But then, to go with your example, you’re not asking the Tolkien estate for a special edition that gets rid of the poems when you chose to skip them. (“There was a poem here. It’s gone.”)

            Was thinking, am I entitled to dedicated modes for games when I find them completely non-engaging and boring? Given I’m less interested in good content as in good playing, is it fair that I demand from games that don’t cater to my player profile that they give me that option too?

            There’s something funny when you think a few years back RPS published a piece that was saying I quote If you want to rush around with a gun, shooting anything that moves, don’t buy Dishonored.. You know, don’t play the game if you’re playing it the “wrong” way.

          • Fersken says:

            No, I’m not asking for a special edition of LotR just for me. But this is where games differ from movies and books. I can watch a movie or read a book and not really understand it. I can misunderstand something, miss important plotpoints or just not get many words (not a native English speaker, I guess it is obvious). And I still get to watch or read to the end.

            In many games I can’t. I thoroughly enjoyed Owlboy, bought it shortly after release. Except the bossfights, which where far more frequent than I expected. I never finished it, I got to a boss I couldn’t beat, after quite a few tries it just wasn’t any fun any more.

            If you play a game which you find boring because it’s to easy for you, you are perfectly entitled to ask the developer to include a harder option (there is that word again; demand. See, I’m lashing out at you :)). You bring up Dishonored, many found it too easy, even on the hardest difficulty. The developer listened, and included many more options in the sequel.

            Regarding that quote on Dishonored on RPS, I don’t think it means that you shouldn’t play it the wrong way. It may be a FPS game, but that doesn’t mean you should expect it to play like Serious Sam. Both of these games I very much enjoyed btw. Also, I don’t think there is a “wrong” way to play a game, at least a single player one.

            All this said however, I don’t think all games should cater to everyone. One example for me is Guacamelee. I think I got in a bundle, and it’s a highly regarded game by many so I tried it. But it seems to make use of combos a lot, something I just can’t manage, even after gaming for 35 years or so. I got stuck during a tutorial :) I think there where chickens involved. Also why I don’t play fighting games (the combos, not chickens).

            But for fighting games (and Guacamelee) to accommodate me they would have to fundamentally change the gameplay, and I’m certainly not expecting that. Making an easier option in many games doesn’t require the developer to make such large changes.

  29. mitrovarr says:

    Also, mandatory obnoxious difficulty can completely ruin games. I finished and enjoyed chapter 1 and 2 of Crypt of the Necrodancer, and took one look at chapter 3 (where you play as the ridiculous challenge character with 1 hp who dies if you ever miss a beat and is limited to the worst weapon in the game). I looked at it for a bit and… closed the game. It completely ruined the game for me and made my opinion flip 180 degrees from very positive to very negative. I’ve barely gone back to it to this day. I don’t like pointless grindy difficulty and I suspect a great many people are with me.

  30. ChezDispenser says:

    I have to wonder if anyone’s considered, in this march of inclusivity (which I am very much bang alongside, most of the time) the impact on people who use games as escapism or to deal with mental health issues. Accessibility is lovely to a degree, but myself, having dealt with bipolar disorder accentuated with a brilliant tinge of intense anxiety, I love digging into something that shuts my brain up for a while.

    There are those of us for whom a complex system and challenging bosses provide a respite – and Skyrim, being on the whole easier than Morrowind and less involved, did not provide the digital Xanax that its predecessors did. FO3 and FO4, being much simpler in their storylines and execution than earlier FO titles and New Vegas, did not scratch the itch and ease my mind.

    • mitrovarr says:

      But accessibility isn’t opposed to difficulty. You can still have hard mode, or even have normal be difficult if there’s an easy option.

  31. Danda says:

    This is a game that should be perfect for kids… but it’s too hard, even in that “simple” mode. Yes, I tried. To enjoy this game you don’t have to love cartoons or platformers, you have to love tough games.

    Honestly, I wonder if they decided on this hard difficulty at the beginning of the project when the game was going to be *very* short. Yes, hard difficulty to mask brevity, that classic.

    • Emeraude says:

      Why “mask”? More intense experiences can gain tremendously from a shorter form that prevents them from overstaying their welcome, especially when they’re pretty simple at their core. If the game has exhausted the options of what its base design had to offer, why prolonge length artificially?

    • Frosty Grin says:

      It’s not a problem when the game actually fills up the time you spend trying over and over again. Dark Souls games surely do – and that’s why they’re celebrated.

  32. bob27 says:

    I think where people struggle is understanding that difficulty is different for everyone.

    Saying ‘its supposed to be hard you need to be better’ only makes sense on a level playing field. But what you find difficult I might find impossible.

    Difficulty levels allow a user to taylor the game to their skill level, not make the game ‘easier’. I might find a game just as difficult on easy as you do on hard. So we’re both still playing a hard game.

  33. The Velour Fog says:

    So many self-appointed defenders of artistic vision

    Whatever happened to fun?

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Difficult games can be fun. And the idea that a game must be fun for everyone is ridiculous.

  34. robot_deodorant says:

    “Normal” is the way to play the game. That’s how it’s intended. “Simple” is there for children, so that you can let your little brother/sister play without crying. This game isn’t THAT hard, it’s just not as dumbed down as most modern games. And for that, I give the devs credit.. The fact that average “gamers” are wanting the whole game’s content on simple mode is kinda sad. Push yourselves, people!

  35. Ragnar says:

    Hi Matt, welcome to RPS.

    I really like, and agree, with the points you brought up.

    With regard to the last point, it assumes that the developers know the players better than they know themselves. Surely I am better able to select the difficulty that best suits me and my enjoyment than a developer that doesn’t know me or my ability. Who is the “intended experience” even intended for? Gamers are so unique, that I think any “intended experience” is purely hypothetical.

    For example, when playing Guacamelee, I got stuck on the first boss, but easily breezed through the Jaguar boss that everyone else seemed to get stuck on. So who had the “intended” experience?

    It took me hours and a dozen deaths to get to and beat the first boss in Demon’s Souls. When I showed it to a friend who mostly plays strategy games, and is complete rubbish at FPS, he cleared to and killed the boss on his first try, without a single death, in only 45 minutes. Which of us had the intended experience? Did either?

    Unless the game is actively tracking my performance and adjusting values behind the scenes, then the likelihood of me getting the “intended experience” is close to nil even if there are no difficulty options to choose from. I think difficulty options could actually increase the likelihood of getting the intended experience, since I could tailor the game to my ability.

    And on the subject of intended experiences, I recently helped test for an indie studio that released a game that they designed to be difficult and challenging. Their creative vision, their intended experience, was for the player to have a harrowing experience, to fail repeatedly, and to gradually get better each time until they finally succeeded.

    They released the game, and immediately received a lot of negative reviews from people who were unhappy with how difficult the game was. Maybe it was a problem of expectations, or of not having a sufficiently vocal fan base to champion the game’s difficulty, but players were upset.

    So the developers changed the default difficulty for new players to the previously easy one, and added an even easier difficulty available below that. They still had their recommended difficulty included, and it was listed in the game as the intended difficulty, but they accommodated all the players finding it too hard. The players liked the changes, the reviews improved, and the developers were happy that more people were enjoying their game. The developers cared more about getting as many people as possible to enjoy their game than they did about sticking to, or enforcing, their creative vision and intended experience.

    • The Velour Fog says:

      “their intended experience, was for the player to have a harrowing experience, to fail repeatedly, and to gradually get better each time until they finally succeeded.”

      and if that doesn’t happen? Many would simply give up long before that point. What tools did they provide for the player to “get better”?

      • Jack Mcslay says:

        If that doesn’t happen, they you just play something else. It’s not the developer’s fault if you don’t like the game.

  36. TheBetterStory says:

    I think the controversy could have been avoided entirely if the creators had chosen *not* to include different difficulty options. If you choose to make an easy mode, make a proper one that acknowledges the players’ desire to fully experience the game without screaming in frustration. If you think that’s a compromise to your artistic vision, simply don’t have an easy mode.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      I don’t think controversy could have been avoided with a game that looks like Cuphead. If it didn’t have difficulty levels, people would have expected it to be easier.

  37. cyanbreak says:

    instead of looking at it like you’re punished for playing the easier difficulty, look at it the opposite: rewarding players for playing the harder difficulty. if you still don’t like the idea of that, then i’m not really sure what to tell you. rewarding players who have mastered the game mechanics to their fullest and not rewarding players who haven’t is something games have been doing since their advent. if “simple” had been called “normal” and the standard game had been called “hard”, nobody would be arguing against this.

    keep in mind games like undertale, which have been almost universally lauded, also did similar things by locking many of its endings behind what are essentially self-imposed difficulty levels. nobody complained that beating undertale under pacifist or genocide conditions was too difficult and was locking content away from incapable gamers.

  38. Vinraith says:

    The sheer, staggering level of entitlement in saying “this game isn’t what I want, the developer should make me a version that is” belies all belief.

    Personally, I don’t enjoy hard platformers and I don’t enjoy boss fights, consequently I don’t play those games. This isn’t exactly hard, we’re in a golden era of gaming and there’s no way I can even keep up with the games that do interest me. Is this “everything must be made for me” thing a symptom of playing games for a living, I wonder?

    • Jack Mcslay says:

      Seems likely. Can’t blaze trough games to write some crap about it if when it takes real effort to beat them, and you also can’t dick around while talking nonsense to a twitch or youtube audience if you need concentration to play the game at hand

  39. Foosnark says:

    :shakes head:

    My first reaction: oh, Cuphead has an easy mode? Maybe I’ll pick it up after all, because it looks charming.

    After reading a bit further: Jesus F. Christ, people, you’ve swayed me back toward not getting the game out of some bizarre notion that my possibly enjoying it might make other people not enjoy it or vice versa. And also convinced me I probably shouldn’t read commentary on games for a while. Or anything else. Putting on my blindfold now.

    • pauselaugh says:

      Well if reviews can do that to you, I guess that’s, like, your opinion, man.

      Cuphead is fine. The easy mode addition will help anyone get through the game at the harder parts, and gives a good sense of accomplishment when you finally make it through the harder parts. Without “time sink” or whatever.

  40. CountryGolden says:

    This entire conversation is such a great example of how much of a struggle shmup & run n’ gun devs have had in reaching a larger audience over the last 10+ years. For its genre Cuphead is incredibly accessible. it’s pretty impressive that between its presentation and difficulty curve it’s gotten so much attention from the general gaming public. But at the same time because of that it’s the target of so much questionable criticism. yes, it’s difficult. This isn’t unusual for a game, especially this kind of game. It has difficulty locked content, for better or worse this has been a normal practice for over a decade. A proper easy mode, that anyone could finish, and see the full game might be nice. But then people would complain that they went though all the content in 30 minutes (like they always do with arcade games). Long story short, not all games are for everyone and that’s ok.

  41. Stevostin says:

    Totally agree and totally appreciate you took the time to write that post. To be clear : I am amazed at the art and I am 100% I can beat that game. BUT BEATING A GAME HAS NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER IN MY LIFE. I’ve been an elite multiplayer gamer. I know I can be in the 1% if needed (as most can, really). You game designer aren’t a god given gold standar by which we have to live. You do your job of creating a difficulty the 90% can beat with time spend and it’s good. Doesn’t mean the 90% have to live by that. Respect your artists, respect the animation legacy they’re building upon, let them work be discovered reasonably easily not only by me but kids. And by all means, keep the hard mode. If you did your job right, it WILL be interesting for ppl into that. If it’s not, then you didn’t do as good a job as your artist and preventing ppl to see the best of your game bc ego is a disservice both to your art team and your buyers.

  42. Niko says:

    Okay, so… different difficulty levels have been an option for quite a while – it’s just good business. And it doesn’t take away from people who like challenge! You can do a Ultra Hardcore Brutal Difficulty run and people who are into it will still appreciate it, despite the game having a “I Only Have An Hour To Play A Day” difficulty level.

    And yeah I don’t get how somebody would be bothered by the way other people play a single player game. How petty do you need to be?

    • pauselaugh says:

      The part you’re omitting is where the author believes the best design yields the most net happiness which would mean “not cutting out content” for those who aren’t playing at the normal difficulty.

      Nobody is arguing there shouldn’t be difficulty levels (though many people appreciate, say, the Souls series for not having that).

      What the author is neglecting to mention is that there is happiness to be gained by getting better at a game over time which then rewards you with more content.

      That accomplishment is an addition to the game.

      And in Cuphead specifically, I had to put a few of the bosses on easy just to move the game forward, but did many of them on normal. So the inclusion of easy was appreciated by me for that fact alone.

      If you’re at the gaming level that you can only play on easy and win, practicing until you can do normal (which ranges from fairly challenging to hair pulling difficult) is fair.

      And time has something to do with it, but not “MMO” levels of dedication like you’re speaking of. Skill games like Cuphead consider an aggregate amount of time. If you’re breezing through other roguelikes and platformers, etc.

  43. Kamikaze-X says:

    I really don’t understand the whole ‘games should be accessible’ meme. You, as a gaming consumer, have no right to demand ANYTHING from a game unless you have bought it, and even then the rights you have only extend to it being functional and not liable to cause damage to your property. No one has the ‘right’ to play a game. Its this kind of argument that leads to shoddy PC ports and copy protection. If a dev decides that their next title is only available in black in white and on floppy disks no one should expect that they port it to CD and put it in colour. What next? Demanding that your copy of SpeedRunnerGuyDude64 for the SnestationUltra should also run on the GameBox720?

    • cniinc says:

      I wonder, did you complain about the ending to Mass Effect 3, or the design of loot boxes in Destiny or Shadows of Mordor? If so, I mean, points on consistency, but if not, I hope you can understand why I have a hard time taking that argument seriously.

  44. lmh98 says:

    Although I understand people saying that they don’t like missing out on content and like the idea of more hits for an easy mode, you really have to understand that not every game has to appeal to everyone and missing out on content isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    10 years ago when I was still a little kid (9 years old) I played a Spongebob game on my PS2, “Battle for Bikini Bottom” was the name I think. Somehow I couldn’t figure out how to get a certain special ability (still think my game was bugged xD and it wasn’t my fault) and couldn’t beat the final boss and end the game properly. Still absolutely loved it. Also played Yoshi’s Island on Nintendo DS and couldn’t finish it, same goes for Dinosaur King, some Pokémon games that I finished later and many more. The developers didn’t implement a super easy mode for stupid kids like me. But god did it feel good when I managed to defeat the final boss in sonic chronicles, Yu-Gi-Oh GX Tag Team or other games. Back then the developers knew their games were hard for certain groups of people and didn’t care but were still successful.

    So if you’re eager to see the missing content “git gud” (I hate this phrase so much but it’s true) or it seems like you’re just lazy. I probably needed like 20 hours or more before I finally grasped the possibilities in The Binding of Isaac simply because it was too hard for me before. But then I loved it even more. If you don’t like the game don’t be afraid not to play it, if you love it play it until you’re better. There are plenty of casual games out there without any difficulty if you want to relax.

  45. JasonofArgo says:

    Simple mode removes some of the content because the difficulty is part of the content. You absolutely cannot get the same experience if you remove the difficulty. How would you fight later stage bosses? Make them insanely slow? Remove their attacks so you just whale on their face? Give you a hundred hit points so you can just tank their attacks? It absolutely is not the same game if you do that.

    It’s why cheat codes provide patently absurd effects like ten thousand monies or big heads: you break the game if you use them. You can still use them but you’re no longer playing the game the designers “want” you to play.

    • JasonofArgo says:

      And while we’re on the subject, think about the reverse argument: “Why don’t people put MORE shooting and action and difficulty into a game like What Remains of Edith Finch?” Uhhh, because it’s not that kind of game, so it doesn’t appeal to everyone, and never will.

      Heck, I think there’s even an article somewhere on here that describes why Sunless Sea would actually be less of an experience if it just let your trips be a happy little jaunt round the cliffs of Dover instead of a hellish descent into a certain “game over” screen.

  46. Jamus says:

    Hey look, RPS complaining about difficulty in a game again. Just like they did with Hyper Light Drifter. This is why I stopped coming to this site. Saw it on a steam feed so I had to come give my two cents.

  47. Parovoz_NFF says:

    >Why Cuphead’s simple mode shouldn’t cut content

    Cuphead’s simple mode isn’t cutting any content. Actually, it is the other way around: harder difficulties introduce new content to reward more skilled players.

    Now, you should really consider gitting gud.

  48. machin666ma says:

    Well, I came here to nom popcorn at the responses, but i think i’ll humor this article with a response from another article.

    link to kotaku.com

  49. cniinc says:

    I’m a medical school student, and I get maybe 5 hours a week to chill out. I bought cuphead on the first day, thinking “I’m a decent gamer, I can figure this out!” …And spent hours trying to beat, like, 2 bosses and a platforming section.

    I’d likely have to devote the rest of the year to finishing Cuphead, and I would barely enjoy it, seeing something new once every 2 hours (read: week) or so. No thanks. I got a refund, and spent it on another game that has a similarly fun aesthetic but isn’t a crazy difficult game. It’s not like there aren’t thousands of games in the market to choose from.

    Another thing, what’s with all the strawmen arguments all of a sudden? “It shouldn’t be unreasonably difficult” doesn’t mean that we all suddenly want “press E to beat game,” and it doesn’t mean that we want the developers to abandon any sense of tase or challenge design. How the hell did you people get to the point where you honestly thought that was the right reaction?

  50. PlinyTheWelder says:

    I just did a video on this exact topic arriving at the same conclusion.

    I compare cuphead to Soulsboune and examine how they handle difficulty and accessibility.

    link to youtu.be