“In Celeste, we try to gently push the player to do things that they thought was impossible for them,” said Thorsen during a recent email exchange. “We also accept that every player is different, and that people come into the game at many different skill levels. So systems like the strawberries, b-sides, and assist mode are all there to help players find the challenge level that's right for them. We want people to come out of this game feeling capable and powerful, so that means we have to teach them, challenge them, and support them through the failures along the way.”In a sense, Celeste does give players control over the difficulty, but in one direction: harder. The game’s collectibles, strawberries, are tucked behind optional platforming tasks, and each world has “b-side” levels that up the ante. And if you think those are bad, good luck with the secret “heart” stages. They’re meant to break your spirit.Assist Mode wasn’t always part of Celeste. The release of Cuphead changed things. One of the big conversations around Cuphead, another difficult game, was what to do about people who wanted to play the game (and appreciate the art), but were put off by the challenge. Cuphead's “simple” mode tried to serve that purpose, but instead of tweaking the player's health or making the enemies easier to take down, it stripped out mechanics from bosses, or deleted stages from the game entirely. It wasn’t great.
“Celeste was designed to be a challenging, but accessible game. We believe that its difficulty is essential to the experience. We recommend playing without Assist Mode your first time. However, we understand that every player is different.”
The question is intent. What does the designer intend for you to experience, to feel, to do? What say does the player have in that process? How much can they change? Does the fact that Celeste allows players to unlock all the achievements, even if they use the game’s Assist Mode, matter? Are you earning these achievements for yourself?Thorson isn’t sure if Assist Mode will show up in his future games—it may have been uniquely suited to Celeste—but doesn’t believe it ruins authorial intent.“The goal is a fluid experience where players are safe to float around between loosely-defined difficulty levels as suits them,” said Thorson, “without judgement or implication that they aren't playing the game ‘as intended.’ Hopefully players feel safe enough to experiment, connect with the story, and express themselves through the game systems.”Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Have thoughts? Swing by Waypoints forums to share them!
"We want people to come out of this game feeling capable and powerful, so that means we have to teach them, challenge them, and support them through the failures along the way."