A short while back I was having a discussion (or actually, I had two discussions with different people on different occasions, but with a similar topic) on convenience in game design. This runs close to both accessibility and difficulty, but I think it’s a slightly different matter. The question more or less is: Is a convenient design somthing to be strived for, and is it always the better/best option? Or to put it more bluntly: Is inconvenience bad game design?
I honestly believe that in certain cases, inconvenience can help a game have more impact. I’ll illustrate with a few examples from personal favourite games of mine.
Persona 3’s battle system:
Unlike in Persona 4, the battle system in P3 let the players command their teammates only with general courses of action, and not with direct actions. This left a lot of the battles up to the interpretation of the AI, which was frustrating to many players. It must have been a deliberate design choice though, because in both P4 and P2 you were in controll of the entire party. Personally, I loved this choice. While I had to get used to it at first, playing the game just after P4, it made me think of my teammates as actual companions, in stead of more attack turns. I could choose the role they were going to play, and see how they would fill that role to their abilities. I wasn’t picking their responses in social links, so why should I be picking their exact course of action in battle? I was unsatisfied with the performance of the more support-oriented characters, so I ended up filling that role myself. I changed my playstyle to best benefit the entire team. And I loved that.
Now P4 also has that option of course, but ‘choosing’ an inconvenient way of playing is hardly an option. When the game designs inconvenience however, it leaves room for interesting development.
Resident Evil’s save system:
In the early installments of the Resident Evil games, you had to save using ink ribbons at typewriters. Having to lug an actual item around which on top of that is a finite recourse, in a game where both inventory space and items are scarce is heavily inconvenient. And again, at first, I did not like it at all. And as evidenced by the internet, many people didn’t. But as I stuck with the game, I quickly grew to love the decision. The game shouldn’t be convenient, it’s not fun. The game is a powerful experience, and all the inconvenience is highly designed to be so.
Of course, there are examples too where inconvenience doesn’t really add to the experience, like Earthbound’s inventory system which is mainly just archaic game design, where it’s more a lack of design than an actual purposefully designed inconvenience.
Maybe that’s just me though, I’m interested in what other people think about this. Or maybe anyone else has examples of where an inconvenience helped in the actual overall enjoyment of a game.