Dead Rising games have always been difficult, but gamers haven't always been happy about that. What's a fair way to make a game tough, and what isn't? With each new Dead Rising release, the game creators at Capcom have been tweaking their answer and reconsidering what players want.
With Dead Rising 2: Off The Record, a remake of the last Dead Rising game sporting a new lead character, they're tweaking their series' difficulty again.
"The game definitely is a demanding game," Jason Leigh, executive producer of Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 2: Off The Record studio Capcom Vancouver told me after unveiling the game last week in Miami.
He promises a game that features "a tougher Frank West and a deadlier Fortune City", a faux Las Vegas filled with more aggressive zombies than those featured in the same city in Dead Rising 2.
"People expect an experience, whereas in the past they expected challenge."
Leigh's team and their colleagues at Capcom in Japan aren't simply intensifying the difficulty in an already-tricky series. They're having mercy on players in other areas, allowing gamers to use multiple save slots - a feature from Dead Rising 2 that wasn't included in Dead Rising 1 - and by finally check-pointing the player's progress after loading a new area or right before the start of a new boss battle. Compare the tension from the first Dead Rising vs. that of this Off The Record re-make: in the former, you'd walk through the game world perpetually worried that if you died, you'd be bounced back to the last save point in the game; in the new one you can rely on checkpoints to catch you. In the original, if you didn't like where you'd gotten your character stuck, you couldn't load an older save file. You'd have to bring your hero back to the beginning of the game (though he'd be more powerful, mercifully.) Even aggravations of the second game, like having to re-play the parts before a boss battle, will be gone in Off The Record.
Leigh knows that many players today aren't looking for murderously difficult games, so these features may please them. "People expect an experience, whereas in the past they expected challenge," he told me. "I think one of the reasons a lot of modern games do well is that they deliver an incredibly well-executed experience and put you in [a]setting. Because of that, perhaps, players are more forgiving about difficulty and, even if they sail through, they'll go, 'Well, it wasn't that hard, but did I ever enjoy the ride along the way!'
"In the past, it was more hardcore: 'Did I ever get challenged?' And now it's more of a: 'Did you impress me with the visuals, the voice-acting and the story? Did I feel like I lived a cool experience along the way?'"
When I heard Leigh put it that way, I took him for a man who is building his house against the wind. He hears the howls for easier games or at least detects the breezy acceptance of painless pleasures. Yet here he is helping to lead the development of another Dead Rising. The series may not be as sadistic in difficulty as a Super Meat Boy, but it's more of a hair-puller than most. The easier systems in Off The Record may meet modern gamers' expectations, but I pointed out to Leigh that his team is in a prime position to push gamers to toughen up, if they want to.
"One of the great things about the sandbox with the zombies," he said, referring to the open world, go-anywhere design of Dead Rising games, "is you can choose to barrel through [the zombies]or you can choose to skirt them. You still have to fight them eventually. There's no one path where you can't fight them, but it almost a choose-your-own-difficulty kind of game, depending on how you play it."
Choose your own difficulty, Dead Rising gamers. What'll it be?