Mirror’s Edge #2: Control-ing the Difficulty

I played through the demo a second time.  One day I’ll play through the whole game and see how well this would hold up with no other design changes, but for now I’m not willing to drop $50 on a game that doesn’t look like it has the depth or replay value to be worth more then $30.

I had forgotten about reaction time and the look button (Which is really a bad mechanic to work with for me, since it isn’t a simple camera adjustment and causes you to run in that direction).  Based on the 360 controller, and leaving some room for mechanics that may exist in the full game, I would have liked to see the following:

LB: Jump

RB: Duck

LT: Grab

RT: Generic Action

X: Reaction Time 

Y: Objective Look (See the goal without actually changing direction)

A: 180 Turn

B: Objective Lock

As a result, combat would simply be a standard QTE scheme, which would allow for some pretty awesome fight sequences with the right choreographer and consultant(s).  As in, the real potential for in-game movie-like scenes which would probably have a pretty awesome effect from the first-person view.

Now, this does read like a wish-list of “Make this game to my liking, screw everyone else” and to a certain degree it is.  At a glance, it looks like I just combined the Attack and Disarm/Pickup to be a shoulder button, added a button for Grab, and gave myself another option for looking around.  But, what would a fairly simple change like this mean in the larger context of Mirror’s Edge and how it was presented to the public as a whole?

First off, the runners don’t seem to be presented like Jason Statham-esque Transporters.  Blowing people away just doesn’t seem par for the course.  Secondly the game is about running and jumping, not about shooting and karate.  Dedicating a button for lashing out with a context-appropriate limb is… weird.  But for the areas in the game that require combat (Which I’m aware there seem to be a few forced instances), QTEs get around the “I’m completely unable to defend myself” problem and emphasize combat only when necessary.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, you can control the difficulty in easily controllable ways to accommodate gamers of lower proficiencies than at the moment.  In doing so, you might be able to say “Hey grandma/girlfriend/non-gamer, I have a really cool game to show you that is bright (and…maybe colorful?  It seems somewhat limited there, I’m just glad it isn’t dark and grimy colored), contains no over-the-top violence, and is simple to control and play”.  The Wii is a system built on this concept.  Doing this on a 360 or PS3 would be an absolute dream.  In order to do so, the controls would have to be pruned down to become less of a knowledge of the button layout while maintaining fluid control.  For new players, this limits your controls to around 3-4 buttons.  Like an NES controller with shoulder buttons.


Beginning gamers need to have access to as much control as possible without being forced to do finger gymnastics or gamepad hide-and-seek.  Remember, they haven’t developed the sense to navigate the pad without sight yet.  So, at best, they have two index fingers and a thumb to work with.  This is the reason the 180 has been moved to the A button: Access without motion.

Beginning gamers are also the main reason to keep around reaction time (which is presented as useful only for combat in the demo), because wall-jumping requires some fairly quick inputs to do correctly.  This is even more important in the case of navigating dynamic events, where the sequence of required buttons would not be a simple repetition that they may have gotten used to after a few hours of play.

A lot of the mechanics would be modified or removed completely to compensate (No RT for doors, balancing difficulty adjusted, etc.) so that the use of the triggers would be almost non-existent. 

One thing to note is the addition of “Grab”.  This comes about from my personal desire to see environmentally-based 180-degree turns without the use of the button (How cool would it be to jump over a pipe and control whether you springboard off of it or grab it with a hand and follow up with a hop over/slide under to change direction) and my frustration at being required to nail long-distance jumps almost perfectly without being able to reach out to the left or right if I’m slightly off of hitting that narrow pipe.  It would also be used for a harder difficulty setting where the player would have to manually decide to hold on to something in the environment.


Since all of the direct combat would take place in QTEs, the button sequences would simply change as a function of difficulty.  To make it as friendly as possible for beginners, frustration would be minimized by a use of only LB, RB, and A with ample time to respond before “failing”.  Higher difficulties would add more buttons with higher frequency.  Novel idea, isn’t it?

Like hell it is.  It would be like playing Rock Band or Guitar Hero.  Example would be in order.

For buttons:

  • Beginners: LB, RB, A
  • Normal: X,Y,A,B
  • Advanced: X,Y,A,B, LB,RB

Scene: Simple hand-to-hand combat (Familiar to anyone with a grappling martial arts background).  Bad Guy #412 throws a left jab and a right roundhouse with a club.  Faith responds by with a series of parries, catching the second strike at the arm, and bringing the guy to the ground.

Beginner: A (Self-defense), A (Take-down)

Normal: B, X (left-right defense), A (Take-down)

Advanced: B, X (left-right defense), Y (the “catch” to control the arm), A (Take-down)

Overall Difficulty

At the moment, I believe the only thing that controls difficulty is the activation of Runner Vision.  Adding adjustable controller difficulty and combat difficulty pretty much changes how you experience the game completely.  Runner Vision and “Easy” settings allow a non-gamer to pick up a game, experience a decent challenge and still get some enjoyment out of it.  Platforming enthusiasts could disable the complications of combat but keep the complexities of advanced controls.  Combat enthusiasts (Although why they would play this game is beyond me) could do the opposite.  And the truly masochistic can pump it all to the max.


So is Mirror’s Edge a bad game?  No, not by a long shot.  Would these changes make it the “perfect game” for me? No, because there’s still things about the game that prevent it from being a completely polished jewel (For example, the camera could be better utilized for wall jumping and I’m undecided about the story since the demo has nearly nothing).  But its still an incredibly fun game with a some really innovative ways of looking at how to actually achieve a sort of “delusional immersion” in a video game instead of “Let’s simply throw it in FPS and OMG I’M THE GUY!!!”.  Between Mirror’s Edge, Metroid Prime, and Bioshock, I personally think Mirror’s Edge delivers the best first-person experience.  Putting it at the same price-point, however, makes me less inclined to buy it.

2 Responses to “Mirror’s Edge #2: Control-ing the Difficulty”

  1. While I agree that having LB/LT be the two most important buttons in your game throws people for a loop, and that Mirror’s Edge has a bunch of useless combat-related clutter, I don’t think throwing out the manual combat entirely is the way to go. In a game which demands so much of the player during platforming, reducing combat to QTE sequences would be disappointing, and remove the ability to fine-tune it for better time trial scores. I know I was forced to think outside the box and use all my martial arts moves in my quest for the “Complete the game without shooting anyone” achievement.

    Much of the learning-based difficulty is tied to the Xbox/PS3 controller, which has several critical buttons in non-intuitive places – LB,RB,L3, R3 and the D-Pad are all located at wacky points compared to previous console iterations. New Prince of Persia actually maps the shoulder buttons and triggers to the same function by default! I don’t have the trouble you mentioned with the 360 controller, but I use my left index finger for both LB and LT. (It DOES cause physical discomfort to use your method in Devil May Cry, though.)

  2. zolthanite Says:

    I did the double-finger LB/LT thing on my second playthrough, but it’s only because I actively decided to figure something out since it was so uncomfortable to do otherwise.

    Part of our difference of opinion is that I don’t think there should be guns at all, because the game wasn’t presented in such a way, and in my opinion their very presence feels wrong in context of what parkour is, how the game was marketed up to release, and the “Run as much as you can from enemies, but blow them all away if you want to” train of thought that the demo provides. I’d prefer if the game was solely about the parkour, and the “combat” serving as the type of conflict required to feel a sense of actual danger.

    I don’t think there’s a “reduction” in combat by doing QTEs except for people who regularly play games. Part of what I’m (haphazardly I’ll admit) talking about it that certain mechanics about Mirror’s Edge in a game that could be easily marketed towards new gamers are fairly restrictive. One of those is real-time combat, which is nothing for long-time gamers to deal with, but problematic if it’s your first game. If you’ve ever watched people play Guitar Hero/Rock Band/DDR for the first time, you know what I’m talking about.

    With regards to the time trial scores, you would be losing a degree of freedom, yes. But I view it as a difference between trying to complete a time requirement in Goldeneye isn’t the same thing as completing a gold medal in Gran Turismo License school. If the combat was QTEs, a level designed for Time Trial would be more focused on level design and being forced between alternative paths rather than how quickly you can dispatch/avoid enemies.

    My only issue with the PS3 controller is the squishy L2/R2. I had a lot of issues in GTA IV with aim control and MGS4 with the weapon and item toggles because of it.

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