5 Tiny Decisions That Nearly Ruined Your Favorite Games
Even the greatest video games have their flaws. Dark Souls despises the player, Grand Theft Auto despises women, and every Bethesda game despises physics. But sometimes a classic game will sport a flaw so strange and ruinous that it nearly breaks the whole experience. Like how ...
Dark Souls' Punishing "Invasions" Were Based On The Director's Sense Of Communal Charity
Challenge is subjective, but when a game is advertised as the "Prepare to Die Edition," there isn't much room for interpretation. So needless to say, Dark Souls was ball-twistingly difficult, and one of the most diabolical sources of controller warranty uses was the series' multiplayer option, called Invasions. In this mode, other players come into your generally single-player game and just ... ruin the hell out of your day. Imagine struggling your way to a boss fight, only to have weed_lazer_69 put an arrow through your face on the precipice of victory. Fun, right?
So what inspired such an anarchic madhouse of a game mode?
A chance encounter on a snowy road, according to director Hidetaka Miyazaki. See, he meant the whole thing to be a more positive experience. Once upon a time, a car in front of his got stuck on a hill, stalling traffic. So he and the other drivers all worked together to push each other out, and he made it home safe without the chance to say thanks. He had an existential awakening regarding the kindness of strangers, and thought he could put something in his game that would remind him of that feeling. Then gamers, being gamers, used it to torture and murder each other instead. Miyazaki forgot who he was dealing with.
God Of War's Blade Towers Are Impossible Because The Developers Didn't Bother Testing Them
The first God Of War ends with you beating the crap out of the Greek god Ares, and it's somehow the most grounded game in the whole franchise. But before you can go commit gleeful deicide, there's a notoriously difficult section wherein you have to climb a series of tall towers covered in spinning blades. If you get hit even once, you plummet to the bottom and have to start all over.
So why did the developers implement such a frustrating and tedious obstacle for the grand finale of a flagship game? Were they making a statement about the futility of killing a god? The impotence of rage? Just having a go at Sisyphus?
None of the above! They flat-out didn't bother testing it. Nowadays, God Of War is one of Sony's premier franchises, but right up until the day it came out, the developers thought it would flop, so they got lazy with testing. According to one of the level designers, players were only supposed get "knocked down the spikes a little bit," not thrown to the ground. But as series director David Jaffe explained:
"We had focus-tested the shit out of that game, and it's a linear process, so by the time we got to focus-testing [that section] we were just like 'Nah, we got it, we're good.' It was literally the last level of the game so we didn't focus test that one, and that was the one that bit us in the ass."
Old Disney Games Were Insanely Difficult So You Couldn't Beat Them In A Rental
Disney games from the '90s are so notoriously difficult that they drove kids from "Hakuna Matata" to "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" in about three levels. There are grown adults still whining about how difficult The Lion King and Aladdin were, and how impossible it was to finish them without cheating. From bad controls to obnoxious level design, they were brutally punishing from start to finish. Just look at this:
So why was Disney ruining tiny thumbs with such difficult levels in games designed for little kids? In one word: Blockbuster. A former Lion King developer went on record explaining how Disney had a rule that their games needed to be frustratingly difficult, because they wanted people to buy them, rather than rent them. Plenty of gamers would only buy a title if it was far too grueling to finish quickly, because this was a dark and backwards era, and your nostalgia is lying to you.
Spec Ops: The Line Criticised Mindless Shooters, Then Had A Mindless Multiplayer Mode Forced On It
Spec Ops: The Line is a shooting game about why shooting games are a pretty messed up concept. It features heinous war crimes, extensive ruminations on the horrors of conflict, and simulated post-traumatic stress disorder. It's not exactly the popcorn fun of the new Call Of Duty: Minority Hunt, is what we're saying here.
So while it's almost mandatory for shooters to have multiplayer -- especially once the suits figured out that they could sell gun skins to suckers for $4.99 a pop -- the developers of Spec Ops wanted to keep it single player. They were making a story-driven experience, and they figured their "virtual war is hell" message would be somewhat undercut if, right after the downer ending, you could hop online and whip up a sick kill streak.
Publisher 2K Games considered this stance, nodded thoughtfully, then outsourced the multiplayer component to another studio. It's like if the studio feared audiences would find Apocalypse Now boring, so they added a few scenes in which Martin Sheen kills waves of attack gorillas with a rocket launcher.
Spec Ops was well-reviewed and won tons of awards, but critics trashed the multiplayer for detracting from the game's themes. The multiplayer also did nothing to help the poor sales numbers, because in addition to the tonal dissonance, it also just plain sucked. Lead designer Cory Davis lambasted 2K in an interview, saying that the "multiplayer shouldn't exist," and that it "tossed out the creative pillars of the product." Fair enough. Then he went on to say the publisher "raped" the game and compared the multiplayer to cancer, which seems like a bit much. But then, this is the game where you're forced to bomb citizens with white phosphorous to prove war is bad, so maybe subtlety isn't their strong suit.
BioShock Was Going To Have Genuinely Tough Moral Decisions, But The Publisher Wussed Out
BioShock explores some heavy themes, like the importance of choice, the flexibility of morality, and whether or not free will is an illusion -- and all this in between sessions of setting maniacs on fire and beating them to death with a wrench. Here's the most devastating of those choices: In the game, you can power up your abilities by finding Little Sisters (basically possessed first-graders), and then either saving them ... or "harvesting" them. Saving them is great for your conscience, but harvesting them doubles the awarded amount of power goo, aka ADAM. The idea was to give the player a hard choice about how far they would go in order to gain strength for the greater challenges ahead.
Luckily, saving the Little Sisters is objectively the best way to go. You're periodically rewarded for rescuing them, so by the end of the game, you end up with roughly the same amount of ADAM, plus all sorts of bonus goodies.
What was supposed to be a challenging moral decision was instead a superfluous "kill the little girl for no reason" minigame. BioShock's creator, Ken Levine, originally wanted this choice to be much tougher. Doing the right thing would have truly handicapped the player and given them a serious challenge, but the publisher was worried that players would simply follow the logic and figure that it would be best to commit mass child murder. So the developers overcompensated, and the opposite became true -- killing the Little Sisters, and the ending you see from doing so, is all so depressing and grotesque that the whole point of the exercise was defeated. A heady, grey moment of self-reflection turned into a basic black-and-white foregone conclusion, and all to, what? Prevent some child murder? Was it really worth it?
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