One Man's War Against Button Mashing

As a group, gamers are strange. Take the hack and slash genre. Take God of War, take Ninja Gaiden, take Devil May Cry. Place it in our hands. No matter what our experience level, no matter how often we're taught, we all have one base instinct in the beginning. It's like a reflux. We find a button, be it 'A', 'X' or 'Square'. We find that button and we mash the ever loving shit out of it until told otherwise.

But Dave Cox, head of Konami Digital Entertainment, is on a one man war against button mashing. If he has his way you will play his latest game, you will play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. You will button mash... in the beginning. Then you will fail. You'll have a little think. You'll learn quickly. Then you'll come back, you'll try something different, you'll discover that variety works and you'll enjoy the game a helluva lot more.

I ask Dave Cox to describe Castlevania in one word.

"Strategic."

Why the hell do we button mash. It's bad for us, we know this. Button mashing can suck the fun out of any experience, but once we've started we can't stop. It's Pavlovian: if button mashing works and kills enemies in our vicinity we're almost certainly going to go with that technique next time. Then we'll do it again... and again... and again. Even if it strips every fabric of engagement from the game we are playing by God we will button mash. It's in our nature. We simply want to win.

So is it a video game's responsibility to stop us button mashing? Dave Cox seems to think so.

"We wanted to create a thinking man’s hack and slash," explains Dave, chuckling at the idea. "We wanted to create a hack and slash game with a bit more depth to it.

"One of the common problems with hack and slash games is that players always end up just smashing the square button! People play the whole game like that. We wanted to move away from that.

"What I mean by that is we wanted to give people a reason to use their abilities."

A reason to use abilities. The best Hack and Slash games do this: provide enemies that are resistant to certain attacks but vulnerable to others. It's good design. The idea, of course, is to force players to use every weapon in their arsenal — basically pry players out of their button mashing malaise. It seems strange, but in the hack and slash genre, we almost have to be taught how to have fun. We have to be forced to take the engaging route.

According to Dave, the original Lords of Shadow didn't do enough in this regard, and the game suffered for it.

"Each enemy has been designed to have strengths and weaknesses against different combos in the combat tree," he explains. "That’s something we didn’t do in the previous game.

"We've developed the mastery system, a system where the more you use a combo the more it builds up the gauge for that combo. You can use that power to level up your weapons, make them more powerful. You sort of think to yourself, why should I care? But if you don’t use those combos and you don’t level up your weapons you’re not going to get very far. It’s about making players use combos and try different things."

At one point during my hands-on time with Lords of Shadow 2 I come across an early boss. The fight is fairly extensive. It starts simple, then expands throughout a seriously expansive sequence of events that encompasses action, hack and slash, platforming. It's an early showcase; Lords of Shadow 2 encapsulated in one isolated sequence. God of War meets Uncharted meets Dark Souls. It ends with a gruelling one-on-one duel that showcases everything Dave has been discussing: a duel that forces me to use the different weapons at my disposal. Dave Cox wants every battle to feel like that.

"One of my favourite games is Street Fighter 2," explains Dave.

The idea, he says, is to make every encounter feel as though you're fighting with one single combatant. A combatant with his own weaknesses and strengths — a skill set you must adjust to if you want to succeed.

As a crash test dummy for Lords of Shadow 2's combat, I felt the difference. I felt that frustration and the need to adjust. It's been a while. Lords of Shadow 2, very quickly, forces you to use a set of skills most hack and slash games introduce much later. It's a brave decision. It breaks the habit before it has a chance to form. Within an hour I'm parrying, I'm strategically switching weapons. I'm thinking.

I'm not button mashing.

Dave Cox may have succeeded. Lords of Shadow 2 may have succeeded.


Comments

    That's not entirely true, I always look for a fast attack/heavy attack pair of buttons to mash until told otherwise.

    Last edited 05/02/14 11:05 am

    I never could learn combos in fighting games beyond 4 buttons in length so button mashing for me.

    Was it fun? Where does it rate on a scale of 1 to Dark Souls?

      dark souls being 2?

        Dark Souls being, in my opinion, one of the best current examples on the market of a strategic, non button mashing hack and slash game, I am genuinely curious for the direct comparison. Dark Souls encompasses a lot of the stated goals that they want to design into this game (and I'm not just using it for the sake of mentioning Dark Souls).
        So on a scale of 1 to a concept, a number will indicate progress but not quite reaching that, and a worded answer can cover anything past it.

          Ah right, thought you were asking on a fun scale, not being a player myself but fun is one of the last words to describe it haha. did you play the first Lord of Shadows?

            'Fun' probably wasn't the best term. Maybe entertaining or engaging would be better.
            Can't say I've played the first one, but it sounds like they're aiming to build a lot on what they've done there (makes me think it might be a similar pattern as darksiders 1 and 2)

              I loved the first one, being on 360 and not having God of War to play it was a nice replacement, I definately prefered Darksiders 1 to Darksiders 2 though.

    Man I want this, might have to get my old 360 back for it.

    I like button mashing. I'm not really a fan of games that want you to remember a dozen different combos in order to get anything done in combat. The only time I like combos is when I can do them without thinking about them. Chaining together light and heavy attacks for example; maybe adding a jump into the mix at some point.

      Yeah I totally agree with this.
      My first console was the PS3 slim.
      So I have only been into console gaming for a few years.
      I find it really difficult at times to even use a controller.
      It often takes me a second to remember what button I need to press which of course can be problematic in a console game. So remembering a whole bunch of different combos majorly ramps up the difficulty level.
      Not to mention I don't get a chance to game that often these days so when I do I have to remember the controls all over again.

    What are you talking about. I button mash every game ESPECIALLY RPGs. Spamming A/X while they keep talking to make the text move faster ( I know it won't). Mash them all the wayyyyy.

    I like how ACIV Blackflag does it now. You can mash the attack button, but sometimes it doesn't work on a dude so you have to counter or break their defense. Means you get a good flow and have to think about it once in a while.

    Button mashing in Ryse would get you nowhere unless your just facing the grunts, each character has a different way you have to fight them, tricky at first but now quite easy to go through the game as a god, it definately helped on hardest difficulty.

    "It’s like a reflux." Can someone explain why it is like reflux? "Reflux is the regurgitation of stomach contents back into the oesophagus, and is the cause of heartburn". I don't understand.

      I was also trying to figure out if it was a typo or some carefully chosen play on words...

        I think it's a typo. "Reflex" makes more sense.

    Being a huge God of War fan and only recently picking up the original Lords of Shadow (nice timing, I can play it fresh going into the second game), I don't like it when people pass off Lords of Shadow as simply a "God of War clone".

    There are some very obvious mechanical similarities, but it's all about the design of the game around it and the context that makes these games vastly different.

    God of War is all about empowerment, making you feel, well, like a God. It pits you against unsurmountable odds, giving Kratos the AoE abilities he needs to easily cleave through swaths of mythical beats. Lords of Shadow is a much more intimate affair, more often than not you'll find yourself not against masses of enemies, but against a small group of tougher enemies. This means the combat does take a slightly more intense focus on pacing and strategy, rather than God of War's "just do the spin attack, that'll kill 'em fine".

    Knowing that Lords of Shadow 2 is taking the metroidvania structure and applying it to the mechanics of the first game is making me very happy, I'm loving the first at the moment (I'm only 5 chapters into it) and the only thing that would really make it better in my opinion is that open world.

    Remember Me did this well, by adding the recharge and health replenishing buttons into the ends of combos made you work to achieve those bonuses mid fight.

      And really nice how it let you customise them so you could rig up what was basically a medical combo for emergency uses

    I'd say God of war I did a little less button mashing then say, DMC, but Bayonetta, I dunno kinda had to die a lot at first and time those evades and combo's really well. Loved it.

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