Devlog: Permission to cheat

[Note: This is a repost of a post that I wrote few weeks ago, but I thought I might as well put something here, just to try out this feature.]


First of all, before you start to read my aimless rambling about the topic of cheating in videogames, please go and read Amr Al-Aaser's and Kate R's pieces about the same subject. Because unlike me, those people are actually good writers and they're much more adept at getting to the root of what cheating in games can be.

Now if you've finished reading those pieces (and if you haven't, what is wrong with you?), please feel free to hear a little bit about my past as a videogame cheater and why I decided to let you cheat as much as you want in my own videogame.

As many kids in the late 80s and early 90s in Europe, my first experience with videogames didn't came via a classic gaming console, it came through playing games on a home computer. For me it was the Amiga 500. We had a lot of games for the Amiga, though only a very few of them were actually bought. Most of the games we had, we got through "other sources"(meaning they were all pirated).

Probably one of my favourite games on the Amiga was Rick Dangerous 2. A game that, as I later found out was generally considered to be quite awful. However I never really encountered said awfulness, mostly because our copy of Rick Dangerous 2 came with a build-in trainer. In that trainer, which was put in by the nice people who originally cracked the game, you had the option to switch on things like unlimited lives and ammunition. This way the game was still incredibly unfair and hard, but it took away enough of said unfairness, to make it enjoyable.

With the years, I started playing games on different platforms, but I kept cheating where I could. To this day, I never finished a playthrough of Baldur's Gate 2, without extensive cheating. Yet I still consider it to be among my favourite games of all time. Cheating in Baldur's Gate didn't take away any of the enjoyment I had out of the game. All I did was remove some of the tedium, by giving myself good equipment and boosting my levels.

If you cheat in a (singleplayer) videogame, you're not really hurting anyone, aren't you? You're confronted with a goal (finish the game), but the regular means to achieve that goal involve an investment that you're currently not willing to take. So your options are either to stop pursuing that goal, or find an alternative route.

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(One recent game that does an incredible job of letting you customize your experience is Even The Ocean, you should check it out!)

Obviously I can only speak for myself here, but when I'm working on Splinter Zone, I'm constantly concerned about the players actually being able to enjoy the game the way I would like them to. I'm always thinking "maybe it's too short? I should build more levels that are harder, because what I currently have is too easy! What if people get through it within ten minutes and everything falls apart?" These concerns lead to the game being way too hard, especially at the beginning.

In my worry that people would plow through the game too quickly, I made it alienating for those, who are not me.

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So I tried to make it easier, I gave people more opportunities to heal, I reduced some of the damage they take and instead of adding a set of ultra-hard levels, I'll probably make a set of one's that are really easy. The game will still get hard, but I try to build it in such a way, that you'll actually have to be familiar with it, before you encounter those elements.

But it still might not be easy enough for everyone. After all, part of the enjoyment in this game is learning to overcome its challenges. However not everyone starts out at the same level. So how can I make the game more accessible, without having to re-build most of what I already made?

By allowing them to cheat, of course.

I added a menu to Splinter Zone, where you can adjust not only the damage you take from enemies (up to the point, where you don't take any damage at all), you can also adjust the damage you deal, enable autofire (which means you don't have to button mash anymore) and give yourself unlimited ammunition.

These options don't remove all of the challenges, for example you can still die by falling into a pit. However, it should now be possible for way more people to play this game, than it was before. I also tried to make sure, that they are granular enough so that people can customize their experience. Not everyone wants to be invincible, but maybe the default damage is too high? Just set the enemy damage to 50% and you're good to go!

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To be honest, there is no real downside to including cheats in your singleplayer game. Stuff like Achievements and Leaderboards don't really count. You can still come up with challenges that work, even though people use cheats. Leaderboards tend to be populated with cheaters fairly quickly anyway (not mentioning the fact that you can also try and come up with a different approach to score attack games than just a simple leaderboard). And also: Who cares? What's so terrible about someone getting a virtual badge through slightly different means than you? It doesn't take anything away from you, but not letting this other person find ways to enjoy the same game, takes something away from them.

So give your players the permission to cheat and be it only to give you an excuse to make a silly menu with wavy text and floating gradients.

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Comments

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I like the way you think. I'll check you game ASAP. ¡Good work!