How 'Hades' Made a Genre Known For Being Impossibly Hard Accessible

Hades, the exceptional roguelike from Supergiant Games that recently exited early access, has proven pretty popular—it has sold more than a million copies. That part isn't surprising. What's surprising is how many people seem to be enjoying Hades, despite not being the type of players who would normally sign up for a roguelike. The genre, by nature, is meant to be punishing and repetitive, and that's understandably a turnoff for some people. 


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/889zqa/how-hades-made-a-genre-known-for-being-impossibly-hard-accessible
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The ways in which Hades doles out the story with every death and makes every new encounter with a character feel fresh and like the game is really paying attention to your actual progression is probably the most innovative thing Hades has done. It’s something I would like to see in basically every rouge like/lite game.

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This has been a banner year for me to get quoted on gaming websites.

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I’m one of the folks this article applies to, having never played a roguelike and frankly never had the interest. But I’m having a blast w/ Hades thus far. Made it past the first boss and the way the story unfolds even upon on death feels great. The game has charm for miles and yes, there’s eye candy aplenty.

I think Patrick perhaps oversells the “impossibly hard” reputation of roguelikes and roguelites [and continues to, annoyingly, call Hades the former when it is very clearly the latter].
Even in the “true roguelikes” space, there’s a significant variation in difficulty - coffee break roguelikes are sometimes very completeable, the interest being in the varation between runs, or in an interesting mechanical concept, and more recent roguelikes - from the DoomRLs to Brogue - are usually much easier than their forebears. (Whilst, sure, Nethack and Angband, and that ilk have a reputation for needing a huge time investment for completion, even back then there was a certain negotiation within the community- Nethack has had Explorer Mode (essentially god mode) since pretty early in its existence).

In the wider Roguelite sense, I think part of this reputation has really come about because “roguelite” as a metagenre (it’s clearly not a genre in the same sense that “roguelike” is - roguelite is a modifier on other types of game) turned up as a popular concept around the time that “old school difficulty” was starting to be a thing, and the two are tightly bound in their development. (Indeed, the false reputation for the difficulty of roguelikes probably inspired their borrowing from in the roguelite metagenre.)
Still, “roguelites” can have very variable difficulty - I strongly dislike one of the metagenre stalwarts, Rogue Legacy, for its unfair difficulty curve; whilst I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to win at FTL, Into The Breach or a number of others.

So, it’s not clear to me if Patrick’s central thesis is really justified at all.

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Even the way individual roguelikes are difficult can vary within the genre, as widespread as it has become at this point. The way that Spelunky is difficult is different from Dungeons of Dredmor. Even before getting into the roguelite meta-progression genre addition.

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I understand there is an importance to discerning between rogue like vs lite, especially when there are some essential elements to roguelikes that are not considered as part of what makes a roguelite. But the article does cover this, and I broadly agree with Kasavin’s conclusion, even if I think the example he provides is not very good (or saying “roguelite tends to mean it’s less punishing and more accessible” is not accurate, even as short-hand).

I think of it similarly to discussing metal, it is useful to have terms to describe common distinctions in the broader genre for people knowledgeable on the subject, but if I am discussing it with my mother, I will just say metal - the conversation will not be all too different whether I am talking about metal-core or djent. Part of making the conversation as approachable as possible is the concession that some of the finer details should be put to the side for the time being.

Sorry to reply to one parenthetical in your post with a wall of text, but I think about this a lot, because I do think that distinction is important - just not when discussing the genre in a broader sense as Patrick is in the article.

EDIT: changing use of “accessible” to “approachable” after reading DarthTythus’ post below.

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Totally: but your comparison doesn’t really work for roguelite v roguelike - it’s more like describing “hard rock with metal guitars” as “metal” for accessibility reasons. I’d also argue that Kasavin himself makes one of the fundamental mistakes here in arguing that “roguelites” are a subcategory of roguelikes, when really the converse is a more accurate taxonomic viewpoint.

After all, the space of things described as “roguelite” is much wider than “roguelike” - and if you look at the history of the space, and criticism of it in the literature, as it evolved, “roguelike”'s original meaning (and “pedantic” meaning) has always been the more focused one (whilst “roguelite” / “roguelikelike” etc were applied to very wide genre categories taking only 1 or 2 elements from “roguelike” - a roguelite applies some trappings of “roguelike” to a wider set of base genres, whilst also adding more “metaprogression”).

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Aye. I’m not much of a stickler for genres, but roguelikes are at this point most assuredly a subset of roguelites. Even then, roguelikes have been working to make themselves more accessible. Look at the Mystery Dungeon series (which I started out of with Shiren the Wanderer on the Nintendo DS (a port of the SNES version)). It’s in most ways very old fashioned, with turn based movement and combat, but it already encompasses a world that evolves as you repeat your runs in it. It’s beatable from the first go, but rewards those who fail. Just an incredible game, really.

I haven’t gotten around to Hades itself yet (as fun as it seems!) and I don’t mean to disrespect what it’s doing in the space, but the roguelike (not just -lite) genre has been evolving for decades already. Albeit in mostly niche ways.

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Also, like accessibility isn’t simply “it’s easy”. Like hades isn’t super tough imo, but is it accessible? Does it have a good colorblind mode and other visual options? Does it have good options for people hard of hearing? For people with a wide variety of Physical and motor control related needs? I don’t know. It might, I am very privileged and don’t need to dip into such options much, so it might be extremely accessible, I’m not sure. But framing accessibility as simply, well it’s not dark souls hard, is very narrow.

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That’s a different kind of “accessibility”. While accessibility for disabilities is great, it is not the subject of the article.

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Maybe we should start using “accessible” for specific disability-related things and “approachable” for what Patrick is talking about in the article.

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Ironically, there was someone in the Hades discord talking about red-green colour blindness making one of the bosses harder for him - because the red ‘warning areas’ didn’t pop for him against the background without the colour sensitivity.

Playing Hades for more than one run gives me RSI flare ups that prevent me from playing games for like a week, so yeah. It’s not really accesible in any real way other than for people who get frustrated by virtual failure.

It’s a great game though! The two or three runs I get in a week rule!

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i’m surprised that you find it to be worth the pain!

playing sekiro caused some sort of injury to one of my index fingers (whichever one was on the parry trigger). i quit the game and my finger hurt for months. it sucks to suffer physical pain from playing games.

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I feel like I should apologize up front, because this is going to come off harsh, but to be completely frank the headline is sloppily written and Waypoint should know better. Saying that it’s “not the subject of the article” is giving them a pass. The headline is misusing a specific word (accessible/accessibility) which means something in the world of technology beyond games. The “games discourse” has (infuriatingly) confused these two concepts in conversations about difficulty modes and so on but the word still has specific meaning that is important. I clicked this story expecting something very different and was disappointed but not surprised that it was another boring piece about difficulty.

@DarthTythus is absolutely right in that games and tech writers need to educate themselves and do a better job with their thesaurus.

edited to change and say the headline is the real is the real issue

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I think you’re being really pedantic to be honest. The word “accessible” is not a word that intrinsically applies to disabilities, even if it is one of the common definitions. There’s nothing wrong with using it in this context.

If you’re just here to champion more conversations about “accessibility” in the context of disabilities then I fully support you. But if you’re merely trying to take umbrage with the fact that a word was used outside of the specific context you were expecting I can’t and don’t agree.

We’ll have to agree to disagree.

But fwiw I’m not “just here” for anything… I think the way some games discussions conflates accessibility (as it is commonly used in the context of broader technology) with difficulty borders on actively harmful because it dilutes the word. And that dilution acts to keep any discussion of accessibility issues on the fringes.

And yes I fully admit that I’m being pedantic. But it’s because a game like Hades is effectively impossible for me to play (without pain) that I found the headline misleading and disappointing.

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Replying to myself because actually, rereading Kasavin’s comments [or maybe just Patrick’s gloss on them] is just making me more angry and upset every time.
It’s very easy to be dismissive about the “evolution of genre definitions” if you’re on the side that’s winning/absorbing. It’s ironic that, given Waypoint’s generally leftist, community-respecting positions, they’re happy to see smaller communities in video game development effectively slowly erased/absorbed by more “widely marketable” things inspired by their work.

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I think the distinction between approachable vs accessible games is important in this instance because the natural question if we’re claiming Hades is a more approachable or accessible game is, “For whom?” For some people, Hades will be a much more difficult game than a game like NetHack because Hades is a real-time action game, but NetHack is turn-based. Meanwhile Hades will be a more approachable game for someone like Patrick who is a parent with real time-constraint on his hands because Hades relies on a lot of game conventions that means he will understand certain concepts and ideas right away, whereas with NetHack you have to look up and internalize all the different keys on the keyboard do, and you will have to understand what the meta key is. Will someone that has only ever used a Windows PC understand what a meta key is? They’ll almost certainly have to look it up! On the other hand, NetHack can be configured so that it can be played by people that are blind and rely on speech or Braille technologies.

Anyway, I definitely disagree with the idea that roguelites are more accessible than their ASCII-forebears or less punishing. As I’ve said in other places, one of the problems with games that have these meta-progression systems is it means that you have to die in order to progress because there are two separate power levels involved. That means sometimes you die through no fault of your own, you just need to grind more! This is in stark contrast with old school roguelikes where you have systems like hunger clocks that exist in large part to discourage grinding, and keep you moving along.

So I agree, the overall frame of this article is kind of a bummer. It treats traditional roguelike gameplay elements like they are just designed to be cruel to players rather than reflecting different sensibilities from what is considered cutting edge game design practices from successful studios. By contrast traditional roguelikes are games that can be made by a single player that understands how to use the ncurses library to create a terminal interface. Therefore they have a much more DIY/hobbyist sensibility to how these games are made. It feels like this is kind of getting denigrated a bit, and it seems unfortunate. I think Hades is a wonderful game, but I wish people could talk about what they like about the game without knocking a whole slew of games that really only have a very tenuous connection to Hades (I keep saying comparing Hades to a game like Diablo makes a lot more sense).

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