Bioshock Infinite: Can Creative Hard Modes Make a Game?

Bioshock Infinite recently announced the inclusion of a 1999 Mode. This mode was named after the year System Shock 2 was released. For those of you who didn’t know, the original Bioshock is widely considered to be the spiritual successor of the System Shock games. The mode is, allegedly, based on feedback from fans who wanted decisions made in the game to be permanent. Therefore, it is set up to make your decisions matter significantly more than in the main game. It has been likened to a class system by developers; although, the exact details on why are still unanswered. Also promised are  reworked health, power, and weapon systems, and enemies that provide a significantly larger challenge. What is stressed in reports is how much effort the developers are putting into this mode in order to make it a very different experience from the main game. I read an article the other day which talked about this mode as being nothing more than a marketing ploy to appeal to “hardcore” gamers and their unquenchable egos. So the question is whether creative hard modes, such as the 1999 mode, add a lot to games, or if they are just a waste of programming space designed to cater to egos of a minority of gamers.

There’s nothing about egos in THIS game, right? 

The most recent example, I can think of, of an excellently done creative hard mode can be found in Fallout: New Vegas’ Hardcore Mode. In this mode, the player’s character gained three new gauges: one for food, one for hydration, and one for sleep. If you let one of these gauges fill up too much, you start losing stats, and if it filled completely, you died. This forces the player to scavenge for food and water throughout the ruins of Las Vegas and it’s surrounding areas. On top of this, healing items no longer worked instantly, and you could only heal damaged limbs with a doctor’s bag instead of by any regular healing item, or simply sleeping. Ammunition was given weight, so the player couldn’t just carry around 10,000 rockets with them at all time, leading to proper inventory management. Finally, if a companion died, they would be dead forever, so there is a significant advantage to looking out for your companions, and not letting them run into horde of Super Mutants. Basically, Hardcore Mode made Fallout: New Vegas one of the most realistic post-apocalyptic games ever made. Adding a huge emphasis on inventory management, and making a large amount of otherwise useless items (Water, food) critical, made this mode the only way I will play the game. Truthfully, because of the brilliance of this mode, I can’t play Fallout 3 anymore, with all of it’s redundant items (Among other reasons).

Above: One of the most realistic post-apocalyptic games.

Secondly, I thought I would look at the game, which I felt had the best collection of hard modes in any game I’ve ever played: Parasite Eve 2. After beating the game there were several modes available to you. There is Replay Mode, which is an easy mode, which allows you to play around with all of the goodies you unlock by obtaining ranks in the other modes. Bounty Mode is unlocked simply by beating the game, and that mode puts end game monsters throughout the entire game, as well as making them stronger, adding significantly to the challenge. Then there is Scavenger Mode, unlocked by getting a specific rank (Usually from beating Bounty Mode, but it’s possible if you’re good in Normal Mode). This mode takes away almost every item in the stores, makes the enemies significantly stronger, and you significantly weaker than Bounty Mode, but doesn’t bring in any stronger versions of enemies. Finally there is Nightmare Mode, which is unlocked by beating Scavenger mode. It is a combination of Bounty and Scavenger. Basically, your character is as weak as possible, with access to very few items, and end game monsters stalk the hallways of even the earliest locations. There are many more changes to these modes, but they are too specific. These modes completely alter how the game is played. A useless item or weapon in Normal Mode may be found to be critical in Bounty or Scavenger. Challenge is good, but the real value of these modes is that they allow the same game to feel fresh and new for a very, very long time.

Laser swords, and rocket launchers, the perfect way to start any day!

So, back to the question of is whether creative hard modes can add a lot to games, or if they are simply designed to cater to egos of a minority of gamers. I can answer this question very strongly on the side that creative hard modes add to games. Not only do they add to them, but, in my opinion, creative hard modes can be what makes a game special. Is this because I have an volatile ego that has to be constantly reinforced by beating hard modes in order to show that I’m better than the average gamer? No. The reason they are so excellent is that they deal with the fundamental failing of singleplayer games: replayability. When a gamer finishes a singleplayer game, there is often very little reason for a him or her to go back and replay it. Some games, notably RPGs, fight this with interesting leveling systems that allow you to build characters differently in each playthrough. Some games, like Mario or Resident Evil, lend themselves to speed running, which heavily opens up on replayability. Others rely on these creative hard modes to bring gamers back into their world in order to experience something different than their first playthrough. Regular hard modes are lazy and rarely address this issue. Simply making enemies harder doesn’t change the fact they all spawn in the same location, you get the same items and weapons, and your tactics will be almost exactly the same. Creative hard modes, like the 1999 Mode, add significantly to singleplayer games because of the versatility they bring to them.

Disapproving sea turtle, disapproves of your ego stroking argument.

Will Bioshock Infinite’s 1999 mode be a hit? I cannot say. It’s far too early to say whether the mode will actually be fun or not, and that is the fundamental feature of these modes. What I can say is that attempting to put in a unique mode, is most certainly a good thing. The idea that they are marketing this mode to cater to gamer’s egos is ridiculous for one simple fact: hardcore gamers make up the smallest market in gaming. I’m using hardcore differently here than I usually do. In this case I’m referring to the hardest of core gamers. The gamer who will finish a game on any hard mode, no less the most difficult mode is in the minority. Most will simply enjoy the normal mode, or even easy mode, experience and be happy with that. If they are not marketing towards these gamers, then what are they doing? The obvious answer is that they legitimately think that the 1999 Mode will be a fun new addition that people will legitimately enjoy, and there shouldn’t be articles attacking them for this.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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