Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hardcore vs. Casual

I was asked the following question recently during an interview:

(Paraphrasing) "How would your design a system differently if it was for a hardcore audience as opposed to a casual audience?"

I gave what I thought was a good answer, but it didn't seem to be what the interviewer was reaching for. My answer was basically:

"A game system made for a hardcore audience should include high transparency, be number heavy, with numerous buttons and levers for the player to interact with. A system for a more casual audience, on the other hand, would have less transparency and less opportunity for the player to interact."

As thoughts sometimes do, this has been banging around in my head ever since the interview and I need to get it out, thus this post.

Fantasy Combat: Casual

Imagine a fantasy combat simulator where player A has an army of mixed Elvish troops and player B has an army of Troll infantry.

  • Each player has two options: attack and defend. 
  • Each player is provided with only the following information: Player A sees the Troll army as red (meaning they will probably win in a fight), while Player B sees the Elvish army as green (he would likely win in a fight).
This is at the end of the casual spectrum. Players have limited ability to interact, limited information and no transparency into the underlying system. No mention is made of morale, leadership or troop composition. Numbers are there under the hood certainly, but are not made visible to the player. Such a system and presentation is fine if combat is not the focus of the game.

Fantasy Combat: Hardcore

On the hardcore end of the spectrum the same scenario might play out as follows:

  • Each player has numerous attack and defend options, such as probing attack, flanking, frontal assault, organized withdrawal, counter-attack and hold-at-all-costs.
  • Each player is provided with detailed troop data including troop composition (archers, cavalry, etc), leaders, troops veteran status, terrain modification, morale and attrition.
  • Troop data is distilled into a single troop value numeric, however the value of the opposing army is not revealed, though reconnaissance could be performed to glean some data. 
This is rather hardcore: lots of values and variables to consider and lots of opportunities for the player to make decisions.


Has does difficulty play into this? Is the casual system truly easier? Is a hardcore system automatically harder?

(This was the interviewer's next question - I answered no.)

Is the casual example above easier simply because the player has less to consider? Well maybe, but not necessarily. Combat is easy yes: attack if you have a clear advantage, defend if you don't. But one system is not the entire game. How did Player B assemble his army of rampaging Trolls? In even a casual system it might take time and care to balance the resources needed to raise and support such an army.

I suppose my answer should have been, "It depends."

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