Roguelikes have an inherent identity crisis, and it’s one that Hades developer Supergiant Games may have solved.
“The part where roguelikes can be brutally difficult is, ironically, directly at odds with the part where they're so replayable,” Hades Creative Director Greg Kasavin tells Inverse.
In roguelikes, your venture through procedurally generated levels or dungeons on repeated runs. With each new attempt, your character gets a little bit stronger and your skills get a little bit sharper. In Hades, your goal is breaking out of hell.
There are two standout features that made Hades one of the most acclaimed games of last year: its focus on story and a unique accessibility option called God Mode.
“Our big focus from the start with Hades was how to take the sting of failure and reduce that as much as possible, knowing that it inherently feels bad to die in a game,” Kasavin says. “Even the narrative perspective of the game exists in service of that goal.”
God Mode grants a special Boon called Deus Ex Machina, which immediately makes the player take 20 percent less damage from attacks. That increases by two percent after each death, ultimately capping off at 80 percent resistance.
It’s a unique and bold system that makes Hades remarkably more accessible without sacrificing any of its fun story or gameplay. Ahead of Hades’ PS4 and Xbox release on August 13, Kasavin walked Inverse through the origins of this unique mechanic, and revealed that adding difficulty options to video games is much more complicated than you might think.
Going God Mode
Contrary to popular belief, Kasavin doesn’t think roguelikes are appealing simply because they’re hard.
“The part that's interesting about roguelikes is that it's different every time you play,” he says. “To experience that, they’ve got to kill you. If you’re playing for five hours before restarting, then you’re not experiencing the cool part.”
Many roguelikes get caught up in finding ways to kill the player. In turn, it can be pretty hard to get into this genre. Even Hades can be tricky, especially during boss battles, Hell Mode, or when Pact of Punishment modifiers actively make specific aspects more challenging. While Hades does embrace those difficult situations, Supergiant Games also wanted a feature that made the game a smoother experience for struggling players.
There was just one issue: a regular easy mode wouldn’t cut it.
“If you could just blow through it, what's interesting about the game goes away because dying in this game and looping through it over and over is a really important part of the experience,” Kasavin says. “That got us talking, and that's where God Mode emerged. What if we just make you a little bit tougher?”
Supergiant Games didn’t want to make enemies weaker, it wanted a system where players could learn from their mistakes and improve over time. God Mode lets players take an extra couple of hits in each subsequent run so they can learn the patterns of whatever defeated them and eventually overcome the challenge.
Of course, the team then had to determine the most satisfying progression for God Mode. It starts with an “immediately palpable” 20 percent damage resistance boost that doesn’t break the game. While the 2 percent buffs from each subsequent death aren’t as noticeable, they give players the time and confidence needed to improve.
The feeling of having a super successful run in Hades is unmatched, and God Mode makes it easier for struggling players to experience that. God Mode is named after that feeling.
“The name felt right with the theme of the game where you're playing as a character who's powerful and capable,” Kasavin says. “If you want to experience more of that godlike might, here is the mode for you.”
Supergiant first implemented this feature in a December 2019 early access update. Players warmly received the addition, so Kasavin says not much about the mode was changed after that. Instead, the team is looking forward and thinking about what God Mode means for the future of difficulty options in all video games.
God Mode’s Legacy
Because Hades’ God Mode is one of the most innovative difficulty features in years, it’s easy to say that developers should implement similar systems elsewhere. That said, Kasavin doesn’t think God Mode will transition well to most other video games.
“God Mode reinforces our belief that the way to approach difficulty settings may need to be proprietary to the game. It's not a one size fits all solution,” he says. “I don't know that God Mode is transferable to other games because it's designed so specifically around the structure of Hades.”
Buffing the player after each death would make sense in a roguelike such as Returnal. A God Mode system wouldn't be as meaningful in a more linear game like Uncharted, where players only experience each level once and don’t die as much. While Kasavin thinks that developers should find unique ways to tailor the difficulty to their games, he also understands that this isn’t an easy task.
“As a game developer, I don't underestimate the extraordinary amount of work it takes to implement an easy mode of some sort, much less to implement a thoughtfully created easy mode,” Kasavin says. “I think what sometimes is lost in the conversation around difficulty is that it's not easy to tune a video game.”
Making video games is hard, and as accessibility becomes a greater concern for players, developers will need to find unique ways to tailor their game’s difficulty. If every video game could have helpful options like Hades’ God Mode, even more people would play them. And in the end, Kasavin thinks that’s what game developers want.
“If we could all make our games beloved by all players, we would do just that,” Kasavin admits. “It’s just not the same solution for all games.”
Hades will be released on PS4 and Xbox One on August 13, 2021.