Barriers to Entry

I must be a glutton for punishment.

When Dark Souls first came out, I spent hours dedicated to trial and error deaths, all while trying to understand the game’s deeper systems. I found myself in a similar boat when I recently picked up Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, a series that I am somewhat familiar with. New systems added within the past few iterations were not explained at all. These types of games have a history of getting a bad rap because of how obtuse they are. Is there a way to lower this barrier to entry, or would that take away too much of the game’s appeal, as many die-hard fans have claimed?

You can’t go wrong with a well thought out tutorial. The Monster Hunter series starts out with a few hours of menial tasks. Gather this, fish for that. All of this does well in helping you learn how to collect materials for survival against big monsters, but it fails to explain the most important part: the monster hunting mechanics. When tasked with capturing a monster, Capcom trusts you to read one small line of text to understand the system. If you miss out on this short sentence and don’t know how to tell when a monster is ready to be captured, you may kill the monster or run out of resources before you even know that you did anything wrong.

That is just one example of a poorly explained mechanic in the game. Tons of questions you may start to ask during the first five hours of the game will never be answered unless you go online and find another player who has figured it out himself. Monster Hunter as a series would benefit greatly from a series of practice hunts that take new players through the motions. Many people, myself included, have learned how to play the game from a mentor. Sitting down with a friend and having him help me kill a mountain sized dragon while letting me know why I’m doing what I’m doing was the small push I needed to fall deep into the series.

Dark Souls is a problem a bit trickier to solve, due to the difficulty inherent to its appeal. When Dark Souls director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, said that he would like to implement an easy mode into the sequel, fan outcry was enormous. While I understand that the Souls games are built around severe challenge, I was surprised to see so many people angry at the possibility of a game they love getting out to more people. Some people were worried that the inclusion of an easy mode would disrupt the balance of the games multiplayer, but sectioning off different players based on skill level is nothing new to the gaming industry.

Almost 30 hours in and I still have no idea what getting pinned actually does.

Since then, Yui Tanimura, director of Dark Souls II, has stated that there are no plans for the game to have an easy mode. It’s true that he tutorial in Dark Souls explains the game’s combat well enough, and the pacing lets the player experiment with the best ways to approach different combat scenarios, but when taken at face value, the game can still be extremely off-putting to a novice. A more thorough explanation of the humanity and invasion systems would be helpful in making the multiplayer interactions less jarring to players who are not expecting it.

When talking about tutorials in games, people will often bring up the fact that older games had little to no tutorials and we still made it through. Some games, like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, may be a little overbearing with their hints and tutorials (I KNOW THAT MY HEALTH IS LOW FI, JUST SHUT UP), but titles such as Monster Hunter and Dark Souls have so many systems and challenges that there needs to be a slower, more complete introduction. I don’t think that these games need to be easier for new players, but taking extra steps to involve them in the world and train them on the game’s mechanics could do a lot for accessibility.

Monster Hunter and the Souls series are just a few examples. There’s a wide variety of games and communities with even steeper barriers, from the e-sports scene to competitive fighting game tournaments. Those are more complex beasts that I may talk about in future editorials, but they’re a much different breed. While those games (MOBAs, fighting games, RTSs and the like) often demand much of the player, they generally have fewer issues explaining systems. The dedicated may know things a newcomer couldn’t, but not everyone wants to spend that much time, or become that adept. The games I’ve listed above have steep barriers from the word go, where even poor play is hard to grasp.

Hopefully the future games in these series will fix these problems, but as of right now, all I can advise is for you to seek out a mentor. And if you are a potential mentor, lend a hand to someone who may be struggling to grasp the concepts of the game you love.