What is a "hardcore gamer" and will they be reached?


#1

I believe Warren said not too long ago something to the effect of (and forgive the paraphrasing), 1994 gamers were hardcore gamers but now that we look back at SS1 it’s like what were we thinking???

I get that the context of the comment was aimed at the over-complicated control interface but in general I also sensed a desire to go back to this idea of making games more “accessible” a la Ken Levine. To me that has always meant sacrificing the game to make it easier for what is unfortunately a new breed of gamers from a different generation of younger people who didn’t grow up with DOS like many SS1 players did.

I feel that people who grew up in the old days of computers, who played SS1 when it came out… we are right at home with games that require a bit of enterprise to fully unlock all of its awesome widgets and features. We like to be able to control everything. We like configurability. It’s the same reason old guys like the older versions of windows and young kids don’t understand why we hate Windows 8 and 10. We grew up with the simple, yet extremely powerful ideology of putting power in the hands of the user to do whatever he wants with his software rather than simplifying everything and telling him how to use it instead… with a big bright red f*ckn arrow button thingy.

The important thing to note, is that while gamers are changing and do have different values today, it’s easy to make the mistake of tracking change/growth by looking at the average. You have to remember who you’re making this game for. It’s for people who love System Shock. People who love system shock, by and large, are not 16 year olds who picked it up last week from GOG. They are 30 something year olds who have been obsessing over it for the last 20 odd years. THOSE people haven’t changed their values all that much. They still like “hardcore” games. And hardcore doesn’t mean Dwarf Fortress sort of autistic-requiring patience. It just means designing the game with the same sort of fit/form/function design strategy which was the status quo of the 80s and 90s.

What’s wrong with that? I don’t see a huge loss in commercial value because of making the game appeal to an older crowd, who probably constitute most of the target market anyway.


#2

I think that’s just rose tinted nostalgia. In reality, hardcore PC gamers today are very much into tweaking their custom built PCs, researching the best combinations of hardware and software, installing the right driver updates, overclocking, watercooling, making videos of gameplay and competing online, stats on social media, mods… was that around in 94? PC gaming is as technical and hardcore as ever, I feel moreso. At least, in 1994 the most complicated thing I did was fiddle with CONFIG.SYS or make a boot floppy.

I don’t think accessibility comes at the expense of depth. Compare SS2 to SS1. SS2 was in my opinion much more user-friendly - eg., it kept a checklist of goals telling you what to do, what you had to do next, etc - but it also had more gameplay depth to it. Or compare a Western RPG of the 90’s to a JRPG of the era. I’ll take the JRPG. It’s both accessible and deep enough for my tastes and I think the Western industry learned a lot from Japanese game makers in general. I think there’s a superficial sense of depth that comes from having a fiddly interface.

The funny thing about System Shock is that I never found it or its interface overly complicated, whether at the time or now.


#3

In terms of hardware, yes there are some new ways to tweak your computer experience to your liking that we just couldn’t do before but software is much much more pervasive because it’s what 99% of us are exposed to whether we belong to the niche 1% who know anything about computer hardware or not. For the absolutely massive market of consumer electronics users, the latest explosion has been in phones (mostly Apple), tablets (again with the Apple) and embedded computers in stupid crap that nobody needs like drones that follow you and take selfies. The winning strategy has been and continues to be, make things simple and cool and people will buy them. Simplify the interface, add colors, remove all the buttons, remove all the option menus. Just cram a device full of addictive games and apps and spread it all over the screen like a big mess. Seems the clean elegance of fly-out menus and file folders is obsolete. I don’t have to go into much detail in order to point out the larger Appl’ish trend out there towards simpler, dumber interfaces and apps that do everything for you… and if you don’t like what it does, well there’s 50 other authors offering a similar but slightly different app that probably does what you want.

The point is not to go off on a tangent and rage over classic computers dying to iPhones, as I often do but to point out instead that there is an ever increasing demand for immediate gratification from EVERYTHING and it’s being encouraged by companies like Apple who know how to feed into people’s laziness and lack of resourcefulness and just give them something to stimulate that serotonin in the brain. They don’t even need to make quality products or replaceable batteries anymore because people are so dependent on maintaining that addicting high called “the next best thing”, that they never need to worry about wearing out their old device.

My phone is 8-9 years old by the way… no cracked screen, original battery and the thing makes decent phone calls!!! Isn’t that novel? A phone that makes phone calls. It also does internet but I have a $4000 laptop for that and a $2000 desktop that I use for real work and stimulating hobbies (and games). I’m one of those crazy dinosaur people I guess.

Anyway, with this sort of mentality (and I must apologize because by now I’m laying on a thick layer of stereotype that does not apply to everybody), it just makes perfect sense to make a “pick-up” video game that will immediately satisfy most people as opposed to something that requires any sort of work at all on the part of the user. I fully realize Otherside is not going to do that to us. They won’t feed us garbage but on the other hand, they need to try to make some money off of this at the very least and that means appealing to more than just a handful of people.

Widgets and sliders in a game don’t make a good game, you’re right. That’s not really what I meant but SS1 certainly didn’t disappoint with the plethora of features in the game and the richness of content. I didn’t find the controls hard to use but lots of people hated it. So be it. We have modern UI now anyway so it’s pointless to use dated methods today. But as you pointed out, SS2 was streamlined compared to SS1. Did the game suffer? No. It was a fantastic game but I think that’s because the developers did a fantastic job despite simplifying the game somewhat. It wasn’t as complex as SS1 was and I still like SS1 a little bit more. Just 1 man’s opinion. I just don’t want SS3 turning into a bioshock with no inventory, no menus, no options, no configurability… no fun. System Shock has always been about augmented reality, humans that are not quite human, machines that are not quite machine. Change, growth, sane becoming insane, environments that come to life… lots of cool stuff. This does not lend itself to something as jarring as a player interface resembling unreal tournament. I should think it lends itself to something more like what UnderRail has.


#4

As a casual gamer who plays games for fun and entertainment, I like the streamlined SS2 more than the first game. Sorry, but I simply don’t see the value in having two different layers of crouch or being able to fine-tune leaning down to a pixel or being able to have a rear-view mode when I can just turn on a dime with mouselook. And Thief, for example, had a very streamlined interface even compared to SS2.

So I don’t really think being hardcore old school is necessarily where good game design lies. I started gaming seriously at early 90s and I don’t really miss the old school interfaces. When I play X-Com, for example, I much prefer the modern conveniences of OpenXcom to the vanilla interface.

Oh, and as far as depth is concerned, it doesn’t have to come at the expense of accessibility: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG8LVpuzYls Not to mention that SS1 had difficulty settings that made the game basically into a walking simulator.


#5

As a point of clarification, my idea of hardcore gaming has nothing to do with all that wank going on in other threads regarding prone and leaning, etc. I acknowledged earlier that using modern player movement is perfectly fine. You might be confusing my opinion with “cumbersome = cool” somehow. That’s not the case.

That video link, while having general applicability to most games in some sense, really doesn’t demonstrate how to achieve layers of accessibility with SS3 since it’s an entirely different genre of game altogether. In the beginning of the video it talks about the “risk” of your game becoming niche if you can’t cater to noob players and that’s exactly what I’m concerned about. I don’t believe you can have your cake and eat it too… at least THAT is risky. Far riskier than alienating a group of people from buying the game because they can’t just jump right into it. I’d rather have a game that continues to be absolutely awesome for the fans who really care than be generally blase to everyone because it tried too hard to adapt to the player’s gaming credentials. I mean if they manage to pull it off, great but that’s a huge if. The fans who really care, won’t have a problem playing a game that was anywhere as sophisticated (or choose your own adjective) as SS1 was for example, because they played and liked that game. As long as you bring modern development tools to the table, there should be no usability issues. Even the noob players will be able to play the game. They may get bored and give up but they should be able to learn the mechanics with no trouble… so if they get bored with it, oh well.

I tried to play thief and got bored with it. It wasn’t because thief was a bad game. It was because it wasn’t a game for me. Not my type. But I’m not a thief fan. I don’t complain that thief should have been more accessible to me. I don’t blame the game for having a certain characteristic play style or identity. Similarly I would resent outside gamers impinging on my game experience with SS because they want this game to cater to them specifically. Every game can’t and shouldn’t be made for every gamer. That’s incorrect thinking. Trying to make a game that everybody should be able to enjoy is a losing strategy because it necessarily requires concessions and compromise where none ought to exist. Imploring game designers to be skilled enough to pull this off may be a noble aspiration but it’s asking too much IMO. We already got 2 amazing shock games. I feel we’re really pushing our luck with all the expectations for the third as it is.


#6

My main point is that a game doesn’t have to artificially limit its playerbase by trying to be “hardcore” in order to be good. There’s a world of difference between making a game for everybody and keeping a game accessible to a wide audience. Due to all the options the player could select at the beginning, SS1 was accessible for basically everyone, but I don’t think one can argue that SS1 was made for everybody or that it made it a worse game.

Also, while I understand the desire to have a game made explicitly for you, a lot of the times the developers don’t make a game for anyone in particular but themselves, putting in things that they themselves enjoy or designing mechanics that they think make for good gameplay or aiming for a particular experience rather that for a type of player.


#7

Correct, it doesn’t have to be hardcore to be good. I just think that SS has historically been very empowering for the player, allowing him to do such things as customizing implant power levels, setting time limits on grenades, doing research (even if that’s just a gimmick called press this button), managing inventory and even playing mini-games. Add to that all the info (contextual annotation of world objects, different views for the map, ship’s status, etc.) and it’s just so cool because the game has this cockpit feel where you’ve got all this instrumentation in front of you and you can actually play with some of it. Not all of these are/were novel concepts at the time but having everything all bundled into the game made the player feel more immersed because he could do more with what he was given than most games allow. I don’t even know if all of this really qualifies as hardcore rather that just feature rich but it might carry a hardcore overtone because some people wouldn’t discover all the capabilities of the game and might not know how to use them anyway. That takes a degree of curiosity and tenacity perhaps but it’s really not that hard to learn on the fly just by playing around with it.

Just wondering, have you played X3: Reunion? After playing X-BTF the first thing I noticed about X3 was that it really WAS hardcore… and rightttt on the cusp of what would turn me off of the game. Fortunately I love the space freelancer genre and stuck with it. That is probably the definition of making a game hardcore. It was, needless to say, difficult to figure out at first. It had a high level of player control and an equally steep learning curve but once you learned it, it was very powerful and fun. I’m not suggesting SS go that route. That would be too big of a step up in aggravation even for SS fans. But it does demonstrate something… that for gamers who are invested in a franchise, a feature-rich game (albeit requiring some investment of time to figure it out) can pay dividends by empowering the player to make their game experience unique and to become far more immersed in the game world. SS has never tried deliberately to be hardcore but simply was a bit, because that’s what the vision of the game looked like in the dev’s heads. Perhaps they regret that now because people whined about it. It’s unfortunate because I think they nailed it dead on.

Totally agree on your second point. The devs make the game for themselves based on the vision they have. It just happens to be the case that that vision was my vision (even though I didn’t know it until I played it). After I played it I was like “YES! This is what my perfect game looks like”. They didn’t cater to me intentionally but it turned out that way. It also turned out that way for a group of like-minded gamers as well because, in fact, the developers were not from Mars or anything. Their idea of an awesome game was shared by many. If they stick with their vision, they’re sure to please the same group of people no matter what they come up with. It’s when they start changing that vision because of external factors like “we need to make this game playable for a different group of people”, that the not only compromise their own goals but those of every like-minded person who became tuned to their signature game type.


#8

I have not played 3X: Reunion. I actually thought it was a 4X game for some reason. The most “hardcore” game that I’ve played relatively recently is probably Wizardry 8. And if Wizardry hadn’t been a good game, I definitely would not have had the patience to put up with it. But on the other hand, I never got into the original Wizardry because it was so relentlessly hardcore. Instead, I played more “casual” games like Might and Magic and Ultima 7 and Dungeon Master clones.

“Feature rich” sounds definitely better than the somewhat nebulous “hardcore” label. I’d also add “systemic” to this. Interacting systems that fit into the game world and strengthen each other is a big part of the appeal for me. The research in SS2 wasn’t anything fancy on its own, but it tied into the exploration aspects of the game and served as a sort of a gating mechanism on upgrades.

And I think that’s also the biggest downfall of Bioshock – not that it’s not hardcore enough, but that it’s systems don’t work well with each other and that there are few meaningful choices to be made. The research in BS, instead of tying into exploration, now conflicts with combat. And the hacking seems like an afterthought, because you don’t really need the resources that it gives while in SS2 it could mean missing out on some great equipment.


#9

What is a hardcore gamer? Someone that plays a lot of games, often deep ones with a steep learning curve and/or notable difficulty level, and cares about the intricate details such as prone/lean “and all that wank”. Alternatively, just someone really big into games; a gamerphile. Convoluted controls has little to do with it (complex controls do though), and a steep learning curve should be assisted with in design where sensible to do so, and often is through intuitive design. Those things are not widely liked standalone, but they are a price to pay to some extent as more features requires more learning and control by default.

Will they be reached? That only the devs know. Most important factor is whether or not they are still “hardcore” themselves, but age seems to drain that from a lot of people. Hardcore gamers partially funded the game, but a “hardcore” experience was never specifically promised in their pitch. The closest indication of a hardcore promise was their “the underworld is trying to kill me!” update.
Kickstarter is a gamble with the odds stacked heavily against the backer, but Looking Glass devs have a respectable track record. Likewise, history determines making “hardcore” games is a gamble with the odds heavily stacked against the developer.
All in all not the best situation, but kickstarter was meant to be a way to reverse those odds. Again, history often says otherwise. I think it could go either way based on my mere observations of the whole situation, but I’m not too hopeful. There hasn’t been a “hardcore” Immersive Sim since Arx Fatalis in my book, and all these others simply aren’t meeting their grand potential as a result.

Also, while I understand the desire to have a game made explicitly for you, a lot of the times the developers don't make a game for anyone in particular but themselves, putting in things that they themselves enjoy or designing mechanics that they think make for good gameplay or aiming for a particular experience rather that for a type of player.

This was widely true more than 12 years ago (approximately). Not so much anymore.


#10

If a dev here is losing sight of the value and passion in being dedicated to the medium as you once were, I implore you to load up an old favored game’s soundtrack from the good ol’ days, and listen to it. Nothing fuels hardcore passion for me more, beyond playing good game after good game of course…more commonly old ones, so many old classics to discover, or bolt on some mods and rediscover in a new light.

Looking Glass and many other old devs (and some new) solidified this medium as the one with the most potential. Potential that is yet to be fulfilled. It has restrictions, like the need to be “gamey” which can conflict with realism and storytelling, but that’s never a bad thing, for me. Plus you can work with these restrictions firmly in mind as LG did very effectively.


#11

It was too complex for Joe Public to get into. The games that do well are the ones that are simple to pick up and tough to master, your Super Marios and Dooms and Tetrises. SS was not simple to pick up, especially in 94, so it was consigned to a niche audience and cult following. This is how it is from videogames, from the start when Space War was released in arcades people were like “huh?” but give them Pong and they can figure that out. Joe Public can appreciate greater complexity over time, but if you’re ahead of the time then no. It’s the same thing in other fields like music or film. For example progressive rock has a following, but Rush wouldn’t ever have the same appeal as a band like AC/DC because they do complex songs with weird time signatures and lyrics about objectivist philosophy instead of 4/4 sex booze and rocknroll. There’s a baseline; if you miss it, you’re for the hardcore only. System Shock is Rush; Doom is AC/DC. Which is OK.


#12

It’s not OK. Games need insanely large budgets, and pushing the medium again today requires exponentially larger budgets than LG had back then. Nobody is going to invest in you if there is not good odds of financial return in most cases. Plus games like System Shock simply require more effort and skill to make than pong, so should be rewarded appropriately.
Kickstarter helped solved these problems to some degree, but it wasn’t enough to lift them anywhere close to the so-called “AAA” financial status they deserve.


#13

Ascendant’s budget is about the same as System Shock 2. You don’t need huge money to do good, interesting games that look and sound fine.


#14

I agree 100%.


#15

This is the problem with money (I will qualify that statement). It ruins everything. Nothing would make me happier than to pay these people for making a fantastic game. I’d pay $500… seriously… for the perfect SS3 game but unfortunately that’s not enough because it’s just $500 bucks. You need everybody’s money and there are all these investors breathing down your neck and sh1t like that. All it does is interfere in the creative vision and get people thinking about making sure the game can be enjoyed by this guy or that guy. Going back to what was mentioned before, the devs should make their own game that attracts its own crowd. System Shock is niche but it’s not that niche. It’s good enough that all sorts of people want to play it. Let those people flock to the game. Don’t try to bring the game to the gamer. If you do a good job and you have a decent marketing department and the climate is right, the money will come in. I hate when money is the reason for anything being different about a game. It probably doesn’t help that the cost of making a game has gone up over the years. I don’t pretend to know anything about that but I’m sure it’s more of a rip off now than it was 20 years ago to use industry standard development tools and other overhead resources.


#16

You do if you are to push further than System Shock 2. Plus everyone expects the game to look much better than Shock 2. Shock 2 didn’t even have proper animations for reloading, just sine interpolation lowering it off the screen.

I would be happy with another Shock 2/Im Sim of that era dated graphics and all, those games are still some of the best gaming experiences to have, but that’s settling for less than what we could have, which wouldn’t be very LG-spirited.

Edit: another thing, Shock 2 must have saved a lot by not featuring any friendly interactive NPCs complete with all the complicated work that entails (dialogue system, human-like AI behavior and reactivity, loads more voice acting, detailed animations such as facial, and the player expectation of every human NPC looking distinctive).
Not to mention there’s only like 10 enemy types too, while in Underworld the intention is to have loads.


#17

You get more for your money these days though. For example, Amnesia’s budget was $350k and the development team was I think 5 guys, but it looks and sounds modern as they obviously didn’t have to worry about the hardware limitations or inefficient antiquated tools of the 1990s. I was listening to a podcast on the sound design on the original Shock recently, and they were talking about how they had to manually do all this stuff to get SHODAN’s voice effects which took hours while today you can get plugins that will do all the work for you. System Shock also benefits from its setting - isolation on a space station - it’s not an epic along the lines of Skyrim or Fallout 4 requiring a ton of NPCs, which reiterates your point. Although speaking of epic, No Man’s Sky is also low budget and they’re doing interesting stuff with procedeural generation to save having to craft everything by hand. That seems to me to suggest, say for your typical spaceship zombie, you can now make it so they don’t all look identical without needing to do a lot more work by hand. That’s one of the things that annoyed about the original games, all the monsters looked the same despite them in the storyline supposed to be based around different characters, eg the midwives all looked like nurse bloome.


#18

Yeah. I crave more diversity in terms of enemies. Bipeds get boring.


#19

“You get more for your money these days though.”

In some respects. Artists are very expensive (among the highest paid in the industry) and seemingly needed by the truckload, compared to the old methods of slapping textures on simplistic geometry. But yeah, the software is better and the methods more well established and documented.

As for procedural generation of level design, if Underworld and Shock’s world/level design is made of any substantial degree of procedural generation then that’s my interest dropped significantly. An algorithm cannot match the craft and creativity of the human mind. At best it can be used to create very baseline geometry to then be modified and built on top of extensively.


#20

Besides that, procedural generation is meant for things that have arbitrary geometry to begin with, like mountains, grass, sand, ice, things with fractal patterns, stuff like that. If you’ve got a game set in a space station, how is procedural generation going to help you with 4 walls and a desk with lab equipment on it? This is the sort of thing that really needs to be intelligently designed by a human, with consideration given to the specific arrangement of props in the environment.