No Fail Mode

I advocated using Tunic’s No Fail Mode in ”My Favorite Things of 2022”. Here’s some neat detail about the feature from Wired’s “How Indie Studios Are Pioneering Accessible Game Design” by Grant Stoner:

Accessibility may seem daunting, but by listening to experts in the field and the lived experiences of players, it affords disabled individuals the opportunity to play some of this year’s best games, and by proxy, makes games better for everyone. In March, developer Andrew Shouldice launched Tunic, a game about an adorable little fox trying to solve a grand mystery. With exploration and puzzle mechanics harkening back to the original Legend of Zelda, mixed with Soulslike combat, Tunic offered quite the challenge, more so for those with disabilities. But rather than expect and force people to overcome potentially inaccessible barriers, Shouldice wanted everyone to play his game.

“It’s true that challenging combat is a core part of Tunic. However, including options like No Fail Mode does not ‘compromise the integrity’ of the game or anything like that,” Shouldice says. “Really early on, I thought it would be a challenge to incorporate that sort of setting into a game that uses difficulty to gate progress, but in the end, it was a very straightforward decision. The truth is that people who enjoy the combat challenges are just not going to use the option, and those who don’t want to engage with the combat will. In the end, the core of Tunic isn’t about exclusion based on whether you can press the buttons at the right time. It’s about being curious and willing to explore a world you don’t understand. Adding some options to let more people experience that part of the game was absolutely worth it.”

The creation of No Fail Mode did not detract from a central mechanic of Tunic: exploration. Players are actively encouraged to seek out the unknown and regularly return to visited areas with new items. Discovering alternate pathways and searching every nook and cranny of zones is what makes Tunic so enticing to play. Despite the success of No Fail Mode, the feature still needed fine tuning, and proved that accessibility is a continuous process, one that does not stop when a game is released.

“A few months before launch we set up a Discord for press folks to collaborate on puzzles prelaunch,” Shouldice says. “One reviewer got to the credits, having defeated the final boss using No Fail Mode. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they missed out on a big part of the game—you’re supposed to fail that fight in order to unlock the game’s next act. As a result, we added a special case, where even if you’re using No Fail Mode, you can die in that fight. Our rationale was that if someone turned on that option because they preferred the puzzlier aspects of the game, it made no sense to penalize them and lock off some of Tunic more intriguing late-game riddles.”

This is essentially the curb cut effect:

…the phenomenon of disability-friendly features being used and appreciated by a larger group than the people they were designed for.

I learned about the curb cut effect from The Besties episode ”Accessible Gaming with Steven Spohn”. I’ll likely post the excerpt of Spohn’s description of curb cutting and it’s effect on gaming soon, but it’s a must listen episode. And I recommend having a box of tissues handy.