Diecast #50: Alpha Protocol, Dark Souls, LA Noire

By Shamus
on Mar 26, 2014
Filed under:
Diecast

Chris was at GDC this week. Mumbles couldn’t make it. This means no Spoiler Warning. It also means the Diecast is a little lighter than usual. But! We’ll have a special GDC-focused Diecast later this week. In the meantime, here is your weekly dose of NERD:


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Hosts: Rutskarn, Josh, and Shamus.

Show notes:

0:30 Rutskarn is playing Alpha Protocol.

Of course, no discussion of Alpha Protocol is complete without mentioning the Disclosure Alert LP:


Link (YouTube)

And I’ll repeat my suggestion here: We need a term for the “first ten minutes of Morrowind” problem. The thing where an otherwise engaging title has a horrible and off-putting intro.

26:00 Josh is still playing Dark Souls.

38:00 Rutskarn answers Diecast mailbag question from last week, “What game would you give to a different developer?”

From here we launch into a discussion of LA Noire.

42:00 Shamus is still playing Path of Exile.

45:00 MAILBAG!

1) How do you feel about cheat codes and what are your favorites?

We get into a really interesting conversation about what happens when the player hits a frustration point and how they respond when they overcome it.

2) Roughly: What’s the difference between good DLC and bad DLC?

3) Do you think the relative shortage of female protagonists has anything to do with the additional difficulty of animating hair?

Under no circumstances will we be discussing feminism this week. I know this kind of strayed a tiny bit close to that, but let’s not do it. Nothing could possibly be said this week that wasn’t said last week.

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A Hundred!2020207Many comments. 167, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Muspel says:

    As for “Morrowind Syndrome”, TVTropes gives us the tropes Early Game Hell, Prolonged Prologue, and It Gets Better.

    Personally, I favor the first term, as it’s more evocative than the others.

    • Nyctef says:

      Funnily enough, I have the opposite problem with Morrowind (and also the first Deus Ex, a couple of times). I *really* want to play them, but I’ve never made it past the first hour or two without giving up and playing something else.

      I’ve played the first hour of Morrowind more times than I can count ..

    • ET says:

      Problem is, that those all describe different situations.
      The closest match for Skyrim’s opening is It Gets Better, since it’s basically an infodump.
      Prolonged Prologue is similar, but the game’s intro is directly related to the main plot, so…that trope doesn’t fit.
      Early Game Hell might apply, if you don’t quite get the hang of the game’s mechanics, but honestly, I found most of the game easy, except for the super-zombies at the end of certain dungeons, which hit like freight train, had huge hitpoints, and had regenerating health. :C

      • Thomas says:

        I thought that Rutskarn might have been describing the dealing-1-damage-to-a-rat problem? Where in the really early game you have none of your tactical options available to you and your stats are so gimped it feels impossible to do effective damage, and you have to level up a bit before you can actually deal damage and combat really opens up.

        Because he was talking about how useless the pistol was before it’s levelled up and playing the early game in general before you have any of your abilities

      • Peter H. Coffin says:

        Yup. In order, they’re describing Too Hard, Too Long, and Too Tedious. A work can be any combination of those, but it’s usually only strongly one, with flavorings of the others. Too Long frequently comes with the first save point also being at the end of the prologue, and it coming along after the better part of an hour’s elapsed. (Or, with the Persona games, probably 2-3 hours of cut scenes and can’t-really-lose battles…)

  2. Thearpox says:

    “Nothing could possibly be said this week that wasn’t said last week.”
    Would that mean that should someone debunk this statement, the ban on discussing feminism would be lifted? (Yes, I’m nitpicking. It’s fun.)

    Also, I think that this would be a good time for you to plug the forum, so that the people who still want to discuss feminism could do it there.

    • Ardis Meade says:

      Why would he do that again? If he wanted to moderate a discussion on feminism he wouldn’t be banning the discussion here. Not to speak for the Big Moose here but I get the feeling that while Shamus enjoys big discussions on gaming and pop culture, he’s not a fan of dealing with the hassles that come with the bigger issues.

  3. Tse says:

    Ruts, in that mission, if you side with one group the other attacks and vice versa. So, both groups want to save AND kill the guy!

  4. Tychoxi says:

    Hah, with Alpha Protocol it’s useful to know you are following the three “JBs.” Jack Bauer (aggressive;”renegade”); James Bond (suave); and Jason Bourne (professional) with your dialogue options. That eases up making your choices.

    Otherwise, as noted by Rutskarn, the game has pretty much the best reactivity to your choices and non-linearity in recent memory.

    Also, as an Obsidian fanboy I have to agree on New Vegas being their best overall effort, but I recommend everyone playing Mask of the Betrayer. I have played it recently for the first time and it’s a bit glitchy (nothing serious), but it has awesome companions, a wonderful atmosphere, better mechanics than NWN2 and a cool storyline.

  5. Ciennas says:

    Maybe the lack of female protagonists is more a ‘write what you know’ problem.

    Plus a tiny speck of self fulfilling prophecy.

    (They believe that female protagonists don’t sell, even though they don’t give them nearly the press a male protagonist gets. When the female game fails to sell well, they continue believing it’s because the audience doesn’t want it, rather than lack of telling people it exists.)

    I’m thinking Lara Croft and Samus Aran being able to hold up franchise demonstrate that this isn’t true, but it’s taking the industry FOREVER to realize the possibilities.

    I don’t think it’s hair. I think it’s… they are utterly oblivious, and disbelieving. Like people who insist there is a hungry unicorn in the room who is only visible in the infrared spectrum.

    They know these apples keep vanishing, but have no idea where.

    • Humanoid says:

      Screw TressFX, I absolutely adore short hair. But this is another thing that falls victim to the usual hair options in games as Shamus is wont to point out – there’s probably one short bob option, one pixie cut, and a dozen mohawks.

    • Grampy_bone says:

      There’s a saying in the movie business: “The audience is never wrong.” When a movie bombs everyone likes to point fingers. It’s the marketing! It was the release date! It was the producers messing with the director’s vision!

      In the end, the audience pays to see what it wants to see. If a movie is good, people will find a way to see it.

      There’s lots and lots of sales data which shows games with female protagonists don’t sell. Even the critically-acclaimed Metroid games don’t sell all that well (Super Metroid was a sales disappointment for Nintendo), and Samus’s gender is basically an afterthought to the game. Everyone whines about how these games don’t get enough attention, enough marketing, etc. Then when Mirrors Edge and Remember Me sell poorly despite all kinds of hype it gets blamed on the audience for being too misogynistic. That is some kind of cognitive dissonance right there.

      People buy games they want to play. What is that so hard to understand? People can cry about how everyone only wants to play macho dudebro games, but if female main characters sold, there would be more female main characters. End of discussion.

      • Torsten says:

        I believe this is something that Shamus has mentioned himself before, but many of the games that have female protagonists have several problems that have nothing to do with the gender of the protagonist.

        Mirror’s Edge was Xbox360 early exclusive title that tried a new game play mechanic that was not well received at the time. Also, the game was later pulled into a trademark lawsuit, and it had SecuROM DRM system on PC. Remember Me was a linear 3rd person beat-em-up that had poor combat mechanics and lackluster story. Neither of them are games where you could point to the main character and say that is the reason for poor sales.

      • kanodin says:

        That’s ridiculous, there are plenty of great games or movies or any form of art that aren’t popular, and tons of popular yet terrible works. Further I don’t even know how to respond to the idea that marketing is irrelevant and people just naturally find what they want, I guess all those movie studios are just wasting billions on it for no reason.

  6. Bropocalypse says:

    Overwrought Tutorial Syndrome, perhaps. The worst offender of this is possibly Kingdom Hearts 2- longer then the tutorial stage of the first game, but with a map that takes more time to move around, is less interesting to look at, and features boring characters doing things you don’t care about. Also, constant cutscenes.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Man, that isn’t the tutorial of Kingdom Hearts II. That is Kingdom Hearts II.

    • Retsam says:

      I loved Kingdom Hearts II, including, perhaps especially, the tutorial. I didn’t find the characters boring, I found the concept of a character discovering that the life they’re living is a lie, and both them and the player trying to figure out what’s going on was really interesting.

      I think it’s a really good example of compact storytelling that’s pretty rare in gaming. The decision to have the tutorial be its own, mostly self-contained story was certainly a strange decision, but not a bad one, in my view.

      But then, I mostly play Kingdom Hearts for the story, not the combat, and I played Chain of Memories first; if you are mostly playing for the combat, or missed Chain of Memories; I can see Kingdom Hearts II being annoying. I guess, like Dark Souls, it’s not for everyone.

      • Thomas says:

        I enjoyed the KH2 opening a lot too. I think Rustkarn or Campster commented on one of the Mass Effect series’ that it’s interesting what people consider ‘getting to the actual game’ to be. For some reason the Disney levels are the real game and the Tiny Town stuff is just a prologue. Peragus in KOTOR2 is really interesting the first time through, but after that it becomes a prologue that everyone wants to skip to get to the ‘real’ game and so on

      • newdarkcloud says:

        I liked the characters during the tutorial.

        But I have to admit that the gameplay during said tutorial was VERY boring.

  7. BeamSplashX says:

    “first ten minutes of Morrowind” = Ludo-Introductory Dissonnance?

  8. Thomas says:

    I liked the dialogue system in Alpha Protocol, at least once I realised I could choose the options with the keyboard (although I can totally understand why people might not. Also you’re utterly right about the first set of missions). The game never asks you to make a decisions based on the contents of the words, you’re only ever making a call on the tone that you think that person would like to hear in the situation and then you get to watch what that particular action is like.

    It’s odd because it’s so different from other systems. You’re not making (necessarily) a choice about your personality and other games train us to be a lot more fact/detailed based. But it is fun to judge that someone respects snark and then also get to hear the snark fresh. With the timer it felt like a really different way of talking

    • Humanoid says:

      The last game I remember that had a system like Alpha Protocol’s is, erm, Return to Zork.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Yeah, AP’s dialogue system is really obtuse, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for being frustrated by it. But I began to enjoy it a lot more when I realized that, regardless of the actual text, right always means ‘professional’, left always means ‘jokey and casual’ and top always means ‘angry and aggressive’. The dialogue system is about figuring out what sort of tone a character responds best to and then adopting it (or figuring out what to a character responds worst to and adopting it). Once I accepted this, I found the conversation system to be pretty consistent and manageable.

      But the ‘Proposal’ option with Surkov was still pretty dumb, and it caught me off guard even after multiple playthroughs. They should have worded it better. Actually, they should have done a better job at explaining the dynamic of the whole conversation system.

  9. Thomas says:

    My favourite cheat code was the one that turned Indiana Jones into a Pirate who shoots Parrots out of a Bazooka.

  10. imtoolazy says:

    Did Rutskarn call Taiwan ‘China’? :/

    Whole can of political worms has been opened up, here!

    Thought we were trying to avoid controversy!!

    • guy says:

      Actually, Taiwan is under the control of the Republic of China and claimed by the People’s Republic of China, both of which consider themselves the legitimate government of China.

      Funnily enough, it’s an important plot point in Alpha Protocol that the Taiwanese president wants Taiwan to stop being considered part of China, probably because that would allow the UN to recognize them (since China has a Security Council permanent seat, the UN can only recognize one China).

      • imtoolazy says:

        I know, and that’s my point: by calling Taiwan ‘China’, he can be interpreted as saying that he recognizes the ROC’s claim of being the legitimate government of all China!

        Hence why things can get very messy around here unless he speaks up, rescinds his remarks, reasserts that he only recognizes the PROC’s claim, but then secretly/not-so-secretly supports the ROC economically/militarily.

        • Ardis Meade says:

          If anything the opposite is true. The PROC considers Taiwan part of China and tends to upset at refering to it as anything else. Referring to a “rebellious province” as though it was its own country might be seen as supporting it.

  11. Greg says:

    Fallout: New Vegas is definitely the most fun, gameplay-wise, Obsidian game out there, but in terms of a layered, effective story, NwN2: Mask of the Betrayer remains pretty much my favorite RPG of all time, approached only by Planescape: Torment (also by Black Isle, but I don’t know whether the same people worked on that; I think Chris Avellone was involved in both). Every time I replay it, I find something new that throws other parts of the story in a different light. It’s really the most epic feeling campaign I’ve ever seen.

    For those who are interested, there is an awesome Let’s Play of it that really digs into what separates it from the occasionally brilliant but mostly meh NwN2.

    • Humanoid says:

      MoTB was primarily George Ziets, who didn’t join Obsidian until around NWN2’s original development, so no personnel link there as such. MCA’s contribution was essentially just the character of Kaelyn the Dove – he wasn’t working on the project as such and just lent a hand during what could be called his spare time.

      • krellen says:

        As I heard it, he basically saved Kaelyn from the cutting room floor which, considering her central role in the story’s meta-tale, is a pretty serious contribution.

        To Greg: MCA was the writer of Planescape: Torment, yes.

        • Thomas says:

          He even wrote something like 75% of the game, which is shocking considering just how much text there is. Questlines, characters, overarcing plot, small little events. All Avellone

        • Greg says:

          Ah, thanks. I’ve always been rather shocked that Kaelyn was almost cut, since she’s pretty much the main source of the epic backstory and has the most personal stake in the endgame. If anyone was going to be cut I would’ve figured it was Gann or Okku, as they seem less relevant to the overarching plot (still awesome and still with great story bits, just not nearly as central as Safiya or Kaelyn).

  12. kanodin says:

    Dark souls 2 fixed the twinked out level 1 super murderers problem. Now your level is still a factor in who can invade but soul memory is far more important. Soul memory refers to how many souls, the currency of the game, you have. So it’s no longer possible to fool the game into thinking you’re a low level who should fight beginners when you’ve been putting all of your money into weapons and armor.

    Note this only applies to the original runthrough and if you go into new game+ soul memory ceases to matter, though at that point everyone has good items. In general the developers seem to have tried to shift most invasion stuff into new game+, outside a few areas that are built around getting invaded as part of the challenge. It can still happen but in the first playthrough it’s generally quite rare.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Which is a good thing, as that’s what most people waited for to do proper PvP anyway, seeing as the community-decided general level range for PvP was 100-150.

  13. I think I said it in another thread, but there’s one other facet to DLC: Mods.

    A lot of us here enjoy Bethesda games so much more with mods. Let’s say you absolutely detest the DLC available for a game. Chances are you’ll still want it because someone might make a really great mod that uses the DLC assets. I’d never buy Operation Anchorage it increase any enjoyment I’d get out of actually playing it, but just on the off chance someone did something fun with the Chimera Tank, I’d want to have it handy.

    Edit: Regarding DLC as a microtransaction, yeah. I always wait for the GOTY editions and Steam sales to get DLC.

    • Humanoid says:

      But then, such as in the case of the discussed Borderlands 2, you don’t get everything with the GOTY edition anyway.

      • And I think Skyrim still doesn’t have one… yet? Ever?

        • Humanoid says:

          As far as I know, the Skyrim Legendary edition is complete – Dawnguard, Hearthfire and Dragonborn? (Might have to download the free HD texture pack separately still, not sure) As far as I know there’s no minor horse-armour type DLC to add to that.

          I must also praise them for not calling that release the always tacky “GOTY” edition. Hate that practice.

          • Since I already own Skyrim, I can buy each DLC separately for about $45, which saves me $15 from buying the legendary version.

            That seems a bit dickish to me.

            • Humanoid says:

              Heh, Skyrim LE is one of those odd titles where it’s inexplicably cheaper in Australia than other major regions, despite all the components being more individually.

              Regular price for LE/Standard/Dawnguard/Hearthfire/Dragonborn respectively:
              US: 60 / 30 / 20 / 5 / 20
              AU: 50 / 35 / 25 / 6.50 / 25

              But yeah, steamprices.com shows it hasn’t been on sale since the new year period, at which point it was $20.39 in the US (and $16.99 in Oz). And since historically, the LE was 66% off and the DLC only 50% off, that makes the LE the better deal by a couple bucks.

              That said, I only own Hearthfire and have yet to experience any of what it offers yet. (And I bought it from Amazon to get the discounted US price too, which is the same as the US Steam price, screw Steam)

      • Ringwraith says:

        Except the things you don’t get are actually very good anyway.
        You get the season pass stuff, the first level cap increase, the Psycho, and the Mechromancer (who was free for pre-orders and only came out post-release, by the way).
        You also get the pre-order arenas, but they’re kinda meh too. But contained in that season pass are the four big DLCs and the first level cap increase, so it’s well worth the money as it stands anyway, and they’re continuing to sell that too, so you could’ve just held out until all the DLCs came out and bought them bundled at a discount.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Incidentally, I’m thinking about getting the DLC for Skyrim because I want to write a mod, and I don’t want to be able to test it with the DLC.

  14. Ilseroth says:

    Ahoy, just so you know Josh, they fixed that issue with “upgrading without leveling” thing in Dark Souls 2. they implemented “Soul Memory” which is a running ticker of how many souls you have acquired. So, if they spend hours grinding out getting good equipment and progressing in the game, they will have earned more souls, and won’t be able to connect to someone just playing the game normally.

    The downside of the system? If you are a grinder and your friend isn’t you may have trouble connecting if you gather more souls then your buddy; though they did add a ring to help find people who are your friends. (Essentially, you put on the ring it asks you to choose 1 in 9 gods, and based on that, more likely to be connected)

    For the record, on New Game + (2nd playthrough) the soul memory goes away and its back to just level variations (to allow for more PvP).

    So essentially, if you want to grief a low level player, you have to do a lot of work, and you’ll likely be invading them worse equipped then they are.

  15. IFS says:

    I can’t speak for PC having only played it on console but Dark Souls 1’s invasions only really happen with great frequency in a few places (Anor Londo and part of Darkroot Garden mostly), and while it is pretty fitting of how Josh described it those few moments when you do manage to pull off a win are very satisfying. And if you want to play offline then there are still NPC summons for a number of the boss fights if you need help, and most even manage to be pretty useful.

    Also Shamus, I remember you pointing to Hotline Miami as a game that did hard difficulty right in your opinion, which I find interesting considering that (while I did enjoy it) it frustrated me far more frequently and to a greater extent than Dark Souls (1 or 2) ever did. As Josh says the time it takes you to get back what you lost is pretty small and unlike Hotline Miami you often still make some gain even when you lose (whether it be personal experience, an item, etc.), and also unlike hotline miami there are a number of options on hitting a rough spot from go try somewhere else to upgrade or try a different set of equipment or summon help. Hotline Miami gave me a lot more of a ‘smash against this wall until you hit on the right solution, which even then might only work some of the time because those guards have a strangely variable line of sight’ than Dark Souls, which was if nothing else very consistent in the challenges it presented you with and the rules everything followed. I suppose it breaks down mostly to a difference of opinions/preferences but from what I remember of why you said you liked hotline miami’s difficulty I don’t think Dark Souls would be as awful for you as you seem to think it would be.

    I kind of want to see you guys try Dark Souls for Spoiler warning now though, I’m not sure how well the atmosphere would hold up to everyone talking over it but I think it could be good for maybe a special episode, or possibly even an infrequently updating thing like the Half Life 2 playthrough was.

    • Abnaxis says:

      There are plenty, plenty of times when you get invaded by a twinked PvP-er, and it sucks, but it does feel pretty great when you get a fair fight, and even better when you win.

      Of the times I was invaded, I felt like maybe 40% of them were fair in terms of gear-level, though I got schooled through lack of skill. The maybe 5% I actually won were nail-biting duels, and I was euphoric by the time I landed that last hit.

      • IFS says:

        Oh yeah I still remember the time I got invaded on my first game shortly after entering Undead Burg, was not very fun but it did teach me not to go human unless I had to. I think my first PVP victory came in Anor Londo, though I forget the details of the fight I remember how awesome it felt to win. Probably my favorite PVP moment though was when I got invaded in the Catacombs and proceeded to flip the switch Patches uses to dump the invader off a bridge to his death. Same guy invaded again and actually proved to be one of the few honorable invaders I’ve seen in the game, and I managed to win that fight too. I’ve also had bizarre cases of helpful invaders, my first run through of the game one of them opened up the gates in the parish for me, and another in blighttown tossed me some Black Iron armor right before the Quelaag fight. All in all I’d say invaders add an interesting, if not always fair, element to the game.

    • Gilfareth says:

      I’m fully onboard with the recommendation to Shamus, though I’d personally suggest Dark Souls 2 if there’s a good sale/someone wants to donate to him when it gets to PC. The thing about the game is that while you do have setbacks resulting from things you can’t always control/come at you when you’re trying to do something else (mainly the invasions), DS2 has taken a few steps towards making those invasions properly fair fights as much as possible.

      Plus, going over to your mention of difficulty in Hotline: Miami, in DS 1 and 2 there is almost always a sense of actual progression even when you fail. Part of the fun for me is getting in there and getting an idea of the area I’m tackling. What enemies are where, what their range of aggro is, what attack patterns and range they have available to them, whether or not your current weapons can stagger them for an easy kill. What kind of environmental traps there are, what items you can get and which ones of those will be useful to your particular style this run. There’s a lot of engagement with the environment that comes from running through it multiple times and looking at things from various angles if obvious approaches aren’t working for you.

      Plus, there’s always the fact that your inventory is permanent. I have had multiple times where I ran, naked and screaming, past guys that would all aggro and very quickly kick my ass but make a jump or sprint past them to an item I really, really wanted and then homeward bone away/get smashed trying to do so. Those kinds of runs are hilarious and even if you die you still got something out of it.

      • Vipermagi says:

        I, for one, would actually suggest Dark Souls 1 over 2. As someone who put well over 950 hours into the first game, in my experience DaS 2 is way tougher than the first game.

        Enemies in the first few areas hit a bit harder, are notably faster, move more intelligently (ex. hang back to pull you into allies’ range), and sometimes you’d swear their swords are homing in on you. Enemies turn between and even during swings a whole lot more. You start with 1 Estus as opposed to 10 in Firelink, and you can easily get enough Humanity just killing enemies in the Burg to get 10 there as well. Lifegems are nice and all, but consumable and far less potent. DaS 2 doesn’t even start you off with a Shield unless you opt in for a broken sword (you can get a Dagger soon though; that’s neat?). Shields are also slower, and in general you can block slightly less because enemies hit harder. The tutorial already has multiple dangerous traps, as opposed to one weak trap. Backstabs are harder to pull off and can flat-out miss. Archers are huge jerks. Rolling is weaker until you invest souls (levels) into it. Getting smeared means temporarily losing Max Life.

        Invasions might be more fair, but damn near everything else wants you to shape up right quick. Invaders are always going to pulp you anyways because they’re better at the game than you are, so whatever. Now they take four hits instead of one :)

        (Shame: I’m still up for playing Dark Souls 1 tourguide should you want to see the game on easy mode *wink nudge* )

  16. Grats on Diecast number 50 folks, cheers and let’s hope for 50 more.

  17. Janus says:

    Dark Souls and high retry costs, Shamus? What?
    Death is extremely cheap in the game. The only thing you can lose is souls/humanity & both of them are infinite resources(and you only lose them if you die again before retrieving your fallen body). Also, there are one-use Rings in the game (that you can find or just buy at a vendor) that prevent any loss at death.
    And Savepoints are never further than 2-3 minutes away, ever. Especially if you know the level & can just run through.

    Everyone dies a bloody hell of a lot in this game, but death is cheaper than anywhere else.
    Repeatingly dying is essential to the narrative & the atmosphere of the game (being an marked undead, cursed to die over and over again) but it doesn’t cost you much.
    Death in Dark Souls is better understood as a weird form of money-sink. Even if it takes some time to wrap ones mind around that, it is not a “fail-state”, it’s park of the nomal gameplay.

    And I hated the forced PvP too, after trying it – so I played the game offline & was fine.
    The game is sometimes quite unforgiving & it can be quite frustrating. But the above compaints don’t make much sense to me. If they are the main points stopping you from trying it out – it might be worth a second look.

    • venatus says:

      exactly, in dark souls you die all the time but you never have to grind for twenty minuets to try a boss again. the only real resources I’ve ever used in boss battles (the etsu flask and spells) are replenished every time I rest at a fire. if I fail at a boss, I’m never more then a few minuets away from his room and I’m ready to try again. losing humanity might be a bit tough if your trying to get help with a boss but humanity is really easy to hoard.

      normally I’d be in Shamus’s camp, I’ve put a lot of games on easy cause I was tired of repeating the same section or I was just getting board with combat, but dark soul’s isn’t like that. For one I’ve never had to repeat a boss in dark souls has much as say, the brood mother from dragon age, and the way the mechanics work in dark souls it’s always clear what I’m doing wrong (or at the least what I’m doing isn’t going to work).

      sorry if that got a little ranty but I feel that this notion that dark souls is legendarily difficult has given the game an undeserved reputation. not because it’s easy, but because what we think of as difficult in video games isn’t really what makes dark souls difficult. the game isn’t for everyone but it is very fair and has a very low penalty for death.

    • Thomas says:

      That’s not really cheap death at all compared to other games. The penalty for dying in a normal game is retrying that section from almost immediately before you die.

      The penalty for dying in Dark Souls is having to run through the entire level again to get to a boss, losing any consumables you used trying to defeat the boss and potentially any souls you kept around.

      Sure they’re not rebooting you to the start of the game but there’s is no friggin’ way that’s cheaper than most games. Having to repeat the same 5 minute stretch of difficult enemies again and again just to get to a boss fight I expect is exactly the definition of ‘punishing’ that Shamus was thinking of.

      Heck Rutskarn was complaining about the deaths in Alpha Protocol reverting you to the previous checkpoint. And those checkpoints are a lot closer and contain less challenging enemies to get back to where you were than in Dark Souls.

      It’s cool to like the game and like the death system. But saying death is ‘cheap’ is the same as that group of Dark Souls plays who insist on going around talking about how easy the game is. You need to think of it from someone else’s perspective.

      • Janus says:

        It’s definitively not the same as saying the game is easy, because it’s not. And I’m not boasting here, or at least I don’t intend to do so in any way. Don’t strawman this.

        Of course having a quicksave/-load is simpler/less punishing. I was primarily thinking of games who are similar gameplay/mechanics-wise, i.e. who don’t use a quicksave-like mechanic but rely on respawning you or checkpoints.
        Yes, I should’ve made that clear, sorry. Now I do.
        Games like Don’t Starve, Binding of Isaac, Legend of Grimrock, Alice: Madness returns, etc., even mount and blade on “realistic” mode could count, There are a lot of games like that, and in many of these games it’s essential to their “feel”, atmosphere, and so on.
        In Alpha Protocol, it’s less about the Checkpoints, in themselves, as it’s about them being at the worst possible places. And they don’t add anything interesting to the game, like the death-mechanic in Dark Souls does.

        Compared to a lot of these games, games of a similar type/design-philosophy (in this regard at least), death in Dark Souls is indeed very cheap.

        Comparing games on a abstract, general level outside of their niche doesn’t really lead to much worth discussing.
        Like comparing Skyrim to Call of Duty, or a Flight Simulator to an 4x-game. It doesn’t go anywhere.

        Edit: Again, I’m not saying the game is easy. I’m not saying I’m particulary good at it (I’m definitively not). I’m not saying you have to try it/like it/whatever.
        I’m saying/did say: If the above two reasons are your main and only reasons not to try it out, then you should think about trying it out.

  18. Magnus says:

    I don’t get why you always make such a big deal about there being talk about feminism on the podcast, like it’s some scary thing. Those podcasts are some of my favorite ones and we sorely need people talking sensibly about the subject.

    And it’s not like you guys ever stray very far from actual gaming since that is always the context for the discussion.

    So please stop writing feminism in all caps like it is something that doesn’t belong on the podcast. It very much does and I hope you talk more about it on future episodes.

    • Humanoid says:

      I don’t think the issue was with discussing it in the podcast, but the resultant, sometimes ill-tempered debate it sparked the subsequent comments section. Last week’s edition got pretty messy with a lot of apparent moderation required – as a reader it was almost physically painful trying to ignore it as it overwhelmed the rest of the topics, for an administrator I can only imagine it would be magnitudes worse. For a place with a pretty light-handed moderation policy, the stark contrast in the nature of the discourse when certain topics come up can be rather unpleasant.

      Yeah, there’s the notion of healthy debate and all that, but the comment format seemed patently unsuited for that.

    • guy says:

      Twenty Sided has a generally pretty strict “No Politics” rule. Also, we’ve had debates on Objectivism and Religion that went better than last week’s feminism debate.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Because its a political topic,and Shamoose rarely allows politics and religion to seep into the blog.Which is a good thing.

  19. Naota says:

    I’ve got a question regarding Spoiler Warning: with Twitch having gone the way of the dodo for any content producer with intentions to interact with their audience, what do you guys use now to see Josh’s gameplay as it happens? I’ve switched to hitbox.tv myself, but there’s still a notable stream delay on that, while from the looks of things SW’s has all but disappeared this season. Is Josh just streaming to you guys directly now through some software like a group-video-Skype, without an intermediary service?

    Anyways, thanks for your time. My clone from the future and his improved recording quality thanks your future selves.

  20. TouToTheHouYo says:

    “We need a term for the “first ten minutes of Morrowind” problem.”

    Morrowing: Similar to harrowing, obviously based off of the game’s name, meaning a title that has a terrible and often prolonged introduction.

    “Man, Alpha Protocol is down right morrowing in the beginning.”

    That’s my best shot.

  21. You know, you guys forgot to mention South Park: The Stick of Truth
    this is potentially the best “cartoon-to-game” adaption I’ve ever seen.
    And it’s a Obsidian game.

    • krellen says:

      It’s been out for two weeks; I doubt any of them have played it.

      • Greg says:

        I thought Josh had mentioned something about playing it in a previous Diecast, but I may be misremembering.

        It’s pretty fun and definitely captures the feel of the show, but it’s a bit too short and has virtually no replay value. I kinda regret buying it at full price. Hopefully once I forget all the jokes it’ll be more entertaining on a second playthrough.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Weeeelllll….It is a decent game,and certainly a good season of south park buuuuttt….It is still south park,and many people dont like south park.

      However,its still not well balanced,and some of class/companion combos can breeze you through everything,on the highest difficulty.

  22. abs1nth says:

    A while ago I watched a 30+ minute video on why Dark Souls 2 shouldn’t have an easy difficulty setting before I had played the game. And the point the guy was making was that there shouldn’t be such an easily accessible way to circumvent challenge in the game. Having now finished Dark Souls 1, I would have definitely preferred a difficulty setting although not because I want the game to be easier but because I want the game’s difficulty to be more consistent.

    The game has plenty of cop out’s baked into it’s design to cheese through areas and bosses. I wish it didn’t have those and that summoning a player would be balanced instead of a cop out and that the amount of Estus flasks that you can get be limited to 10 (on medium for instance) instead of being able to increase them infinitely with an item you get very early on. This completely removes the point which I so admired about the Estus flask design: It’s to limit healing and in turn create consequences for failure while still giving the player some slack for messing up. Having basically unlimited flasks removes all consequence of making non-fatal mistakes which is the entire reason why they changed it from farm-able grass to limited flasks. LAME.

    I actually think that there is way more resistance in a player to admit defeat and lower the difficulty than to use CORE MECHANICS to circumvent challenge.

    I doubt they’ll ever do it but having to choose a difficulty setting after the introductory section that you can’t change without restarting imo would be optimal for the game. Another interesting approach may be to allow the player to lower the difficulty but not increase it afterwards. So if you want easy mode you can’t use it just for this section or as I said I think lowering difficulty provides sufficient shame that I think the game would be fine with allowing at will changing.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I think the primary issue with Dark Souls difficulty sliders is multiplayer. Since the game is built to integrate the single-player and multi-player experiences, it would give people playing PvP a mechanical advantage to turn the slider down, which in turn would only multiply the amount of twinking that goes on at low levels. There are a few games that allow single player and multi-player on the same character (Diablo, for example), and they all (effectively) have no difficulty settings, probably for this exact reason.

      I would rather not add a difficulty slider because I find the way Dark Souls does multi-player to be unique and interesting, and I would rather not break that.

    • poiumty says:

      Dude, Estus Flasks only go up to 20. And you don’t exactly get that item that allows you to do it “very early on”.

      Dark Souls is mostly about figuring it out. On that note, it’s not as much a traditional action RPG as it is a puzzle game.

      • Cybron says:

        Seriously, most people don’t even get that item until after Anor Londo. Which is why Pinwheel is regarded as such a joke – he’s actually designed as a boss you fight before Anor Londo, but most people don’t fight him until they get the Lord Vessel. Oops!)

  23. RCN says:

    On the early game hell, this year there was Might and Magic X. The game’s actually pretty good and quite a valiant effort at recovering the earlier games feel, despite it’s ridiculously slim budget for an Ubisoft title.

    But the first act is so lacking. It is ridiculously linear (while the rest of the game is very open), the first town has very little flavor, the enemies out of town aren’t very interesting (just assorted bandits and a few wolves), and you have no access to the really neat stuff the skills give you access to. Once you get through act 1, the game is much better, but the start of the game sure as hell sold the game short to any newcomers, obfuscating all the game’s high points.

    • Humanoid says:

      Yeah, if they had just moved the gating in Act 1 to include Seahaven (and its all-important expert trainers) as being initially accessible, I’d have much less cause for complaint.

      Topical, by the way, because the first DLC for it is releasing today, and it’s free for Deluxe edition owners. (Bafflingly the same price as the normal edition, so I don’t know who wouldn’t have the Deluxe edition)

  24. slipshod says:

    Speaking of DLCs, anyone care to comment on BioShock’s Burial At Sea second episode? Stealth, lock-picking mini games, NPC alertness levels, non-lethal takedowns, and a female protagonist?

    …in BioShock?

    • Greg says:

      It suffers from the typical Bioshock problem of having an ending that is … lame, for lack of a better word.

      ENDING SPOILERS: It’s basically Elizabeth committing suicide in an extremely roundabout manner over guilt from having sold the child in order to lure RaptureStock to his death by drill. Said suicide is dressed up as being necessary for Atlas to call Jack and thus invite his own karmic death and save all the little sisters, but it absolutely is not given what we know about Elizabeth’s (former) powers, which she appears to have removed voluntarily, although I’m not quite clear on that. Oh, and she’s DEAD ALL ALONG! somehow, which also did not make sense to me. And last complaint: the entire ending sequence is triggered by Elizabeth being an absolute moron while she’s using the MacGuffin and getting knocked out in a cutscene.

      It smacks far too much of trying to tie up every loose end and justify Columbia’s existence in the same story as Rapture, and in the process really detracts from both.

      Gameplay-wise, I enjoyed being able to stealth, but once you get the upgrades to the stealth plasmid it becomes absolute child’s play, to the point of other plasmids/vigors being completely pointless. I think they went a little overboard, but it was still a fun change from the normal Bioshock “charge down a hallway blasting everything in sight” model. And with Elizabeth as the protagonist, puzzles essentially don’t exist (not that they were ever a huge part of Bioshock) because Elizabeth is so smart she figures them out on her own, which was simultaneously impressive and frustrating. As for her female-hood, it really didn’t affect … pretty much anything, which is as it should be. It does create some unfortunate implications if you view certain events in light of her sex, but I feel she’s treated about the same as any Bioshock protagonist, which is the ideal.

  25. poiumty says:

    Friendly neighbourhood Dark Souls fact checker here: the only thing being human does is activate the online features of co-op and pvp, as well as allowing you to kindle a bonfire (a one-time deal that doesn’t require you to participate in any online features or even be human after you’ve done it).

    The whole extra defense and item find increase is something you get by having more of the resource called humanity in the counter in the upper left, and that’s regardless of whether you’re human or a zombie.

    Shamus, I think you’re being a bit harsh on the game – pvp isn’t forced, for one. It’s just a drawback of being able to play co-op. If you fancy this as a single-player game, there’s ways that you can make it so you never see another player. And the whole twinking business mostly happens at low levels. Later on, your stats will be high enough to mitigate the advantage the enemy has with his specialized pvp build.

    Having to go back to a checkpoint and get back all the xp you lost since you last visited it might sound off-putting, but it’s a mentality issue. If you go through the game thinking “alright, the goal is to never lose anything and die as few times as possible” you’re gonna have a really bad time. But if you embrace the concept of character death not as a lose-state but as a learning experience, you’ll find that everything the game throws at you can be circumvented by being aware of it. About the harshness of losing souls when you die: souls gained increase almost exponentially as you go through the game, so those 5 thousand souls you lost now will be pocket change 5 hours from now. I think everyone can learn something from playing Dark Souls, especially in an era where we’ve embraced streamlining and accessibility to such a huge degree. Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone can have amazing results.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Agree regarding comfort zones, but here it’s not like (for example) suggesting someone should try a new food which they are vaguely wary of. It’s more like suggesting someone try a new food which they already know they have an allergy to. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is one thing, but this would be specifically getting into one’s personal discomfort zone.

      This post from way back in 2006 gives the general idea, I think!:

      DIAS

      PS I don’t think the criticisms in that post or on the Diecast are intended to be objective – it’s not ‘this game is terrible’ but ‘this game and I would (or do) get along terribly.’

      • poiumty says:

        I understand everything you’re saying. But I wouldn’t have recommended the game anyway if I thought it didn’t have a chance to change his mind on the matter. Dark Souls isn’t “do it again, stupid”. Every trap in the game that is unfair without prior knowledge of it isn’t fatal.

        He might end up hating the game, like Spoony. Or he might end up like Yahtzee. Seeing the outcome is enough for me.

        ‘sides, you can get Dark Souls for like 5 bucks nowadays.

        • MichaelGC says:

          I see – thanks for elaborating. Good point re: Yahtzee! And an even better point regarding seeing the outcome, which would pretty much be guaranteed to be entertaining. For us, at least! :)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “pvp isn’t forced, for one. ”

      From what Ive heard,it is forced in 1 on pc(but not on consoles),and 2 is still not out for pc(the only platform any game is worth playing on),so we dont know if they will repeat the same blunderfeature.

      • poiumty says:

        No, the PC version is more or less the same as the console version. Nothing changes in regard to gameplay.

        It’s sorta-forced in Dark Souls 2, but the prerequisites are very different and it’s designed to be far less frequent.

      • Abnaxis says:

        It’s not forced on PC. You have to be in human form to multiplayer.

        Now, it’s not 100% up front to say you miss absolutely nothing if you never take human form. There are a couple easter-egg npc bosses that only attack you if you are human, but even then, it”s a pretty small portion of the content.

        • InternetMan says:

          You can play Dark Souls offline, too. As an offline player, while in human form you get to fight enemy phantoms and summon friendly NPCs.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Yes, but there are NPC “invaders” that only invade if you’re in human form. I think it’s supposed to be a way for you to get the Dark Souls invasion experience even if you don’t have an internet connection that’s compatible with GFWL nonsense. You miss out on those PvE fights if not in human form.

            It’s not a huge deal–something like 3-4 fights, and if you do all of them you eventually find the body of one of the NPC invaders and can loot his armor–but it’s an area of the game that is locked if you never take human form.

            • InternetMan says:

              I don’t disagree. That was my point: if you play offline, you can stay in human form all the time, never meet another player and never miss out on any part of the PvE experience.

    • Cybron says:

      I was trying to think of a way to talk about how Dark Souls is about how you don’t ACTUALLY lose stuff. But this does it wonderfully. Excellent post, agree with all of it.

      Now that I think about it, Dark Souls reminds me of Spec Ops in that in manipulates player perception to its own ends. Spec Ops did it best to create an illusion of linearity while in fact allowing out of the box solutions (shooting in the air, shooting down the guy getting hanged, etc). Dark Souls does it best to create the illusion of unfairness and overwhelming difficulty, when in fact it is studiously fair and helps players in a lot of subtle ways.

      Dark Souls is really difficult in two ways: one, it expects a lot of environmental awareness from you, and it gives enemies a lot of power (depending on how you go through it, as much or even more than you!). In everything else, it tries to help you in numerous ways. It rarely/never expects you to do a thing without first exposing you to the concept in ‘safer’ circumstances.

    • Sougo says:

      I’m trying to get into the Souls series for the third time now and the only problem I have with the game is it put up artificial barrier between you and the thing that killed you most of the time. I have spent 3 hours trying to kill the first boss of the game, chipping away at it’s health with 2 measly damage per hit and I enjoyed every minute of it because there’s a checkpoint right outside the room so I can just jump back into the action straight away whenever I died (and I died a lot). Outside of that though, every time I died, I have to be re-spawn all the way back at my last bonfire as well as having to through all these generic mooks that I killed a dozen times already to get to the thing that killed me. Even without the loss of soul/humanity, it’s a waste of my time.

      • InternetMan says:

        Not being able to respawn right in front of the boss makes each death much more punishing, each decision much more important, each fight much more intense. I can’t brute force my way through the whole thing with no penalty, cycling through all possible options until I find what is objectively best; instead, I am forced to play conservatively, keep my distance with the boss, observe his movement and patterns, devise a strategy carefully weighting risk and reward, and then, of course, execute it.

        Games that let me win by banging my head against the wall over and over until I get lucky bore me. The entire experience is a waste of my time. Sometimes a timewaster is just what I need, but if I’m not challenged in any way, I can’t get invested.

        Note I am not making a value judgment, we like different things and that’s cool. However, please understand if the game worked like you wanted it to, it’d ruin the experience for many of those who enjoy the series. Just about every other game allows for quick brute force problem solving; let us have this one.

      • TMTVL says:

        You do know you can just run past him and go get your weapon, right? That is the only part in which Dark Souls isn’t the best at telling you what your options are and unfortunately it’s in the tutorial.

        • Sougo says:

          Yeah… I wasn’t trying to get the weapon/item, I was trying to kill him. I was trying to find any suppose challenge that the game gives me because Dark Soul isn’t particularly difficult with enemies telegraphing their attacks from miles away. It’s just terribly punishing when you happens to screw up.

          @Internetman, that’s fair enough and I have no problem with what you value. It’s just a shame to me since I like every other part of the game but that one little thing.

  26. Mr Compassionate says:

    The very worst vague Alpha Protocol dialogue option for me was when I was talking to both my female allies and I saw the option “Suave” during a fairly light-hearted conversation. Thornton decided that meant proposing they all have a threesome. I am gonna let you guess how well that went down.

  27. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The best cheat code is Power overwhelming.

  28. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Bah,dark souls.If you really want to play a tough game with tight mechanics,play I wanna be the guy.You can start it in seconds,play for 10 minutes,quit,and return tomorrow.Plus its free.And it wont take hours to install.

    • Cybron says:

      IWBTG is a stellar example of unfair difficulty. Dark Souls is an extremely well designed game, and I can’t say the same about IWBTG.

      I actually like both games, but they are very, very different. And I would not recommend IWBTG to ANYONE unless I already knew they were masochist/wanted to get angry at a game.

    • Muspel says:

      IWBTG tends to be punishing rather than challenging. The things that it asks you to do aren’t easy, but they’re not particularly hard, either. Instead, it uses cheap “gotchas” to kill you in ways that are impossible to see coming.

      It’s really just a terrible game.

  29. Groboclown says:

    I’m personally very happy that everyone on the show avoided recognizing Rut’s pun on “mailbag”. I’m even more happy that no one went along with his suggestion.

  30. Cybron says:

    Josh, we should sunbro it up sometime. I haven’t done any PvE multiplayer yet, but I’d love to give it a spin.

    One thing that helps lessen the issue of invasion is covenants. Covenants are classified as PvP or PvE. A player is only connected to so many players at once (I think max 3 other players?). Being in a PvE covenant promotes connections with ‘friendly’ players. The easiest covenant to find/join is the Way of White (which is right in the starting area). It doesn’t actually do anything except flag you as PvE and give you access to a merchant.

    I will also note that the game doesn’t kill you ‘for no reason’. It’s pretty much always your fault. The only real exception is when you get invaded by someone who’s cheating, which is admittedly an issue with the PC version.

    • Abnaxis says:

      The way connections work in Dark Souls is weird.

      What happens is, your game has a lobby. First, it will seek out other people in your immediate area, and add them to your lobby. Once it’s established those connections and decided who gets in and ewho doesn’t, it branches out to all the people connected to the first hop group. It continues this way until it gets like 15-20 people in the lobby. Also, while at first there was no way to connect with a friend other than keep restarting the game and hope they got added to you lobby, players from friends list automatically get their runes shown.

      I live in a fairly large city, so I’ve never had problems finding others, but I always wonder what happens to players in remote areas.

      Being in a PvE covenant does indeed grant higher priority to other player trying to join PvE by prioritizing their addition to the lobby, but the pool is big enough that it is still possible (likely, even in certain areas) to be invaded.

      • Cybron says:

        I’ve heard DSCFix makes connecting with friends easier, though I haven’t tried it myself.

      • Josh says:

        Fortunately, on the PC, there’s a mod called DSCFix (which confusingly has nothing to do with DSFix or DSMFix, but evidently mod authors are the only people that are actually less inventive at naming things than historians). This circumvents the limitations of the Dark Souls lobby system by forcing the game to scan your friends list for lobby connections first. As long as you both have DSCFix, you can see your friends’ summon signs almost instantaneously, which makes getting together for co-op a lot less of an exercise in “Will I get invaded before the game finally connects to my friends?”

        Edit: Damn you Cybron-ninja!

    • Josh says:

      I am totally down for some sunbro-ing. My gamertag is FFJoshV (because someone took FFJosh like forever ago apparently). This goes for anyone else that’s up for co-op too, just throw me a friend request and mention the Shame-site somewhere.

    • Josef says:

      The way I understand it is that you are not supposed to play with your friends. Some of the themes in Dark Souls is loneliness and the way people react to strangers. There is no in-game (voice)chat, just gestures, carvings and writing on the floor, kinda like in Journey. To be able to coop/PvP with fiends all the time would go against those themes.

      Again, it is an example of Dark Souls knowing, what it wanted to do and doing it, even though it stands against conventional wisdom…

  31. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I never got very far into Dark Souls.

    The game’s reputation for being difficult isn’t terribly accurate. Compared to even normal mode on Ninja Gaiden the enemies aren’t very challening at all.

    The game is mostly just obtuse and demanding. While I like the idea that the game is going for, I just found it to be a really, really unrewarding experience. You need to read outside sources, because the game doesn’t tell you much about itself. It expects you to have a lot of patience for it without offering you anything in exchange to motivate you to put up with its learning curve. The game presents you with a very dull face then wants you to be interested enought to dig deeper.

    The combat, in particular, killed the game for me. Block, attack while they’re open. Rinse, repeat. The game is not freindly at all to trying to mix things up and exploring the combat mechanics. You’ll mostly just get killed. You either do things the *right* way, or you get murdered.

    The reason that the game isn’t for everyone is less that it has elements that will turn off a lot of players and more that it just lacks things that will engage most players. The reason people notice the game’s “difficutly” so much is mostly because there isn’t much else to it.

    • Cybron says:

      “The reason people notice the game’s “difficutly” so much is mostly because there isn’t much else to it.”
      Except for, you know, the cool lore, the impressive environmental storytelling, the frequent new challenges introduced in the form of environmental hazards, the various new kinds of enemies which exploit bad habits you may have already formed – try sitting and blocking in front of the darkroot shrubs, see what happens! – and the intense boss fights (note: not difficult, necessarily; I’m talking about the presentation here).

      “Block, attack while they’re open. Rinse, repeat. The game is not freindly at all to trying to mix things up and exploring the combat mechanics. You’ll mostly just get killed. You either do things the *right* way, or you get murdered.”
      This is just not true. There are many different strategies you can use. I beat the game without using block almost ever. Shielding is certainly a bit easier than some of the other strategies, but it’s by no means the only one.

      I will agree the game could be more accessible, and I wish it told you a little more with regards to its mechanics. I also agree that the game is not nearly as difficult as it reputation would have you believe. But the rest of what you said is pretty inaccurate.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        >Except for, you know, the cool lore,

        Such as?

        >the impressive environmental storytelling,

        The first thing DS does is dump you in a very standard video game dungeon with standard video game enemies. The next area isn’t any better. Easter eggs and item descriptions are nice and all, but “impressive environmental storytelling” needs to start with basic level design, an area which Dark Souls did not impress me in at all. It’s barely on par with most shooters I’ve played, and it certainly has nothing on the first minute of Amnesia: Dark Descent or Bioshock.

        A game that really knew what it was doing would start off with something that made we want to pay attention- with something that put me in the mindset that this was a real place that has a story behind it if I look close. Where am I when I exit the asylum? What tells me about the history of the place I’m in? Why is the city I’m going to accessible only by rooftop?

        The game has a lot of intention there, but not a lot of artistry.

        >the frequent new challenges introduced in the form of environmental hazards,

        I’ve been dealing with environmental hazards since Super Mario Bros. It’s hardly a grand feature to be selling the game on.

        >the various new kinds of enemies which exploit bad habits you may have already formed – try sitting and blocking in front of the darkroot shrubs, see what happens!

        Most video games would have presented me with enemies that required new tactics long before the time when I quit Dark Souls. The game is pretty behind the curve there.

        >and the intense boss fights (note: not difficult, necessarily; I’m talking about the presentation here).

        Big monster, hit it with sword. Not something I haven’t done before.

        >This is just not true. There are many different strategies you can use. I beat the game without using block almost ever. Shielding is certainly a bit easier than some of the other strategies, but it’s by no means the only one.

        Yes, you can *dodge* the attack, the counterattack! Or block the attack and counterattack with the other attack button!

        Dark Souls has a very limited move set and very heavy timings. It really does massively limit your options. I’m struggling to think of a game to compare it to that doesn’t offer you a lot more.

        • Cybron says:

          “such as?”
          Maybe you’d know if you actually played the game? But there’s tons of guides on youtube. They’re common because the lore is mostly contained through item descriptions and the environmental storytelling you seem so sure the game has none of. Here’s a two parter that has a lot of general information about the main course of the game, but I doubt you’ll get the most of it having just watched it without playing the game or being familiar with the characters/environments at hand. If you want to know more, just search for dark souls lore on youtube.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcGS3O27XYY

          Your entire post basically consists of opinions based off the game’s tutorial area. I’m not even going to bother with the rest of it. I’m sorry the first part of the game put you off, but making conclusive statements about a game you have from all appearances barely advanced beyond the tutorial of is presumptive and foolish.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            >making conclusive statements about a game you have from all experiences barely advanced beyond the tutorial of is presumptive and foolish.

            I’ve played the game enough to know why I’m not playing it anymore, and I’ve seen plenty enough to make decisive statements about it. The “You can’t criticise my favorite thing until you’ve spent as much time with it as I have” defense neither impresses nor intimidates me.

            If I have to play a game for 40 hours before I expereince any lore or mechanics of note, then the problem isn’t that I haven’t played the game long enough. The problem is that the game wants too much of my time for too little of those things.

            • Cybron says:

              “The “You can’t criticise my favorite thing until you’ve spent as much time with it as I have” defense neither impresses nor intimidates me.”
              And straight ignorance doesn’t impress anyone.

              Not liking the game is something you’re quite welcome to do. Your opinion is your own. And no one can control your impression of the parts of the game you did in fact play.

              But you’re making ridiculous pronouncement about artistry in environments you haven’t seen and a story you haven’t even experienced. You’ve read the first page of the book, tossed it in the air, and gone “THIS BOOK SUCKS AND THE WRITER IS TERRIBLE.” And when someone disagrees with you about it, you point to the first paragraph and go “Well, this isn’t very impressive”, when the book hasn’t had the slightest bit of time to establish themes or atmosphere, let alone for you to notice such things.

              Forty hours? You didn’t play this game for twenty hours. I’d be surprised if you played it for more than five. And you know what? If that’s enough for you to conclude you don’t want to play the game, fine, that’s your opinion. But pretending like you’re an expert on the game from what little time you’ve spent with it makes you look just stupid.

              • Shamus says:

                No need to make this personal., and there’s no call to suggest the other person sounds “stupid”. This kind of thing happens all the time. And letting it slide when someone criticizes from imperfect information is just as important as giving a game a chance at the outset.

                • Cybron says:

                  I personally feel there’s a difference between criticizing from imperfect information and statements like “The reason people notice the game’s “difficutly” so much is mostly because there isn’t much else to it.” One is stating your opinion, one borders on disrespect to the community that’s put out countless hours of content, much of it completely unrelated to the gameplay mechanics. It’s trivializing opposing opinions for the sake of self-aggrandizement and obviously rubs me the wrong way. Arguing you understand other people’s opinions better than they do, from a position of ignorance no less, is the sort of thing I really cannot stand.

                  But you’re right, I’m getting too worked up about this. I’ll step away from the conversation now.

              • Bloodsquirrel says:

                >And straight ignorance doesn’t impress anyone.

                I think you need to step back for a little while and re-evaluate the level of anger you have over somebody criticising a video game you like. No amount of misguided vitriol is going to convince me that I was actually totally impressed by the enviroments of the game or that there were tons of combat mechanics that I was using that I just didn’t notice.

                Five hours? Are you even thinking about how much time that actually is? If I still don’t know anything about a game after five hours then the game has a very, very serious problem. Giving a game one hour to do *something* to hook the player is generous. First page of a book? Any author or publisher will tell you that the first sentence of a book should hook the reader.

        • InternetMan says:

          I remember the first minute of Amnesia Dark Descent as slowly walking around in an extremely linear and cramped Oblivion style castle. Then the next three hours were also the exact same castle. Then my boredom reached “never touch the game again” levels.

          If you think the above and also feel Dark Souls is uninteresting on that front, we are so diametrically opposed in artistic tastes there is no possible discussion. Perhaps there’s a point to be made; people come in all shapes and sizes, why try to shoehorn a “standard” set of features and design ideals into every game when you can make different games for different people?

    • Humanoid says:

      I think at this rate, we’re going to have to start bleeping out any mention of Dark Souls in the Diecast too…

  32. Abnaxis says:

    Incidentally, how many people are moving on to Dark Souls 2?

    I actually consciously quit playing Dark Souls when the GFWL death knell started ringing. I figured I didn’t want to get tired of the game before the multiplayer got better. Assuming it still works post-GFWL, I’m going to keep playing the first one and wait ’til DkS2 gets cheaper.

    • Josh says:

      Well the PC community hasn’t dropped notably that I’ve noticed since DS2 came out, but it’s not out on the PC yet so that’s probably part of it.

      I think it’ll still work without GFWL – you don’t have to be signed in to play. But you do need to sign in at least once to activate the game, which may mean you won’t be able to buy it after GFWL goes kaput.

    • Gilfareth says:

      If I can get myself a computer that runs it, I’m grabbing it on PC as soon as that happens. My current computer doesn’t have the memory to work with it and I’m too scared at my own ineptitude to attempt swapping in more memory (or even figuring out how that’s done and if I can find some that’s compatible or if my computer can take anymore or aaaargh), but I’ve been playing the console version on a rented copy for two weeks. I’ve pushed through the vast majority of the game, with the only stuff remaining being whatever comes after the Undead Crypt.

      But yeah, we need to get a forum post going when the PC version is out and available so d20 sunbroing can happen. :D

      • Humanoid says:

        Something like CPU-Z will tell you what kind of memory you have installed currently in the Memory tab. The SPD tab will tell you the specifics of each stick you have in each memory (DIMM) slot.

  33. MichaelGC says:

    I am also reckoning it’s time for a bit of Dragon Age! I’ve been playing a ton of Skyrim and am juuust getting to the point where that’s enough Skyrim for now.* Skyraturation.

    I can barely remember DA, though, which is ideal. The only thing I can vaguely remember is an area called the Dark Road, or something like that. That must have been a fun bit if it has stuck in my head.

    *Spoiler Warning aside, of course!

    • TMTVL says:

      Deep roads… Deep roads… Deep roads…

      Gods, DA is such a horrible slog.

    • abs1nth says:

      I’d love to replay Dragon Age Origins if it weren’t for its combat system. Anything but the mage I think is very poorly designed. You get a TON of abilities for rogue and warrior but stamina is limited which means you can only use a few of them at a time but they aren’t designed in a way to have specific situational uses also most of them are just plain bad. Even the useful ones aren’t impressive at all. And even with a mage after 60 hours I didn’t change up my strategy at all for the last 30 HOURS! After Awakening I really feel like I got every enjoyment out of that combat system that I possibly could.

      I feel like I’m the only one that criticizes a game for being too long, Dragon Age Origins was imo 20-30 hours too long. Dark Souls 1 same thing also too long. While they keep showing new areas and different enemies (visually different not gameplay-wise). Combat simply doesn’t change like at all after the half-way point. It’s the same thing over and over again and don’t get me wrong I like the combat but not 50 hours of it. I think 35-40 would have worked more in its favor.

  34. Congrats on 50!
    You guys (and friendly neighborhood cannibal) have been providing me with informative, entertaining, and occasionally laugh-making content for years now, & I’d just like to say, from the bottom of my heart….
    THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    I’ve been going through a very rough patch, and I can always count on Spoiler Warning and the Diecast to brighten my day. If it’s a very bad day, well, that’s what Cahmet in Morrowind or Oblivion and DM of the Rings are for. (Sorry, Josh, Chris, and Mumbles, I heart you guys too, really)

    Also, how has no one mentioned the rabid chickens cheat code? Best code ever! I guess no one remembers the joy of invading Beregost with an army of chickens except me.

  35. Starker says:

    The problem with Dark Souls is that it does a very poor job at teaching people how to play the game or even its core concepts.

    However, it really is as good as people say it is. If you put the effort into overcoming the wobbly learning curve, it will all pay off. I’d go so far as to say that Dark Souls is to action RPGs what Silent Hill 2 is to survival horror. It’s that good.

    Unfortunately, new players willing to give it a try are often met with smug condescension and helpful advice such as git gud. To improve the situation a little, I’ve put together a few tips for people who are new to Dark Souls.

    Starting out

    First of all, if you play on PC and only see a small window with a black border around the lower and right part of the screen, disable AA in the options menu. Also, Dsfix is a must for higher resolutions. Also, use a controller, if at all possible.

    Don’t be afraid to play offline. You won’t be missing out much. In fact, in my opinion online play will take away from the lonely feel of the game world and the unique sense of desolation about it. Seeing the messages left by other players, having player phantoms visit your world and catching glimpses of player ghosts makes it feel a bit more like an MMO. And, while you’ll miss out on helpful (and not so helpful) player messages and the opportunity to engage in jolly co-operation with human players, you’ll also be able to use humanity without assholes ruining your game. I’ll get to explaining humanity later on.

    The starting class and starting gift don’t matter much. Your class only determines your starting equipment and the initial stat distribution. It’s effectively a classless system. As for the starting gift, for a beginner who’s on their first playthrough, they are pretty much equally useless.

    On difficulty

    The difficulty of the game is vastly exaggerated by the fans. Don’t get me wrong, it is a game that requires skill, but it’s far more forgiving that many fans would have you believe. It’s not even Nintendo hard. When you die, you’ll usually respawn pretty close to the spot you died and if you make it back there without dying again, you can retrieve all your souls (xp/currency) and humanity. Also, you don’t lose any items upon dying, so you can actually make suicide runs to grab items from dangerous areas.

    That said, though, the game will punish careless play. There are some enemies and places in the game that will take multiple tries, but it’s far more often than not your own carelessness that will get you killed. Don’t rush into things, take your time to explore and don’t get fresh with groups of enemies — try to pull them to you one by one. Also, the game doesn’t pause when you go to the menu, so it’s generally not a good idea to equip things in the heat of combat. Try to have the necessary items/spells/weapons equipped beforehand.

    Learning the controls

    You can switch between your equipped items/spells/weapons/shields with the d-pad. Down cycles through your 5 item slots, up cycles through the spells you have prepared, left switches between your two shield slots, and right switches between your two weapon slots.

    All the attack moves are done with shoulder buttons, you’ll have to get used to that. You’ll likely get the buttons mixed up for a while and occasionally quaff a potion instead of attacking or something like that. Don’t worry about it, it happens to everyone.

    The two buttons that you need to worry about in the beginning:
    R1/RB attack — this will be your main attack button.
    L1/LB block — holding the button down while having a shield equipped will raise your shield and you automatically block/absorb enemy attacks while it’s raised.

    (The other two buttons are for more advanced players:
    R2/RT is a secondary weapon attack that’s more powerful, but also much slower and takes more stamina.
    L2/LT is a parrying move that you’ll need to follow up with R1/RT. It can take a lot of practice as you’ll need to learn the timing for the various attacks.

    For the more adventurous, there’s also a backstab move that you execute with the regular R1/RB attack button, but it has a few requirements to execute successfully — you need to be close to the enemy, right behind them and your shield must be lowered)

    As a beginner, you’ll want to hold your shield up pretty much constantly, but your stamina will regenerate slower while your shield is up, so you’ll have to learn when to release it at some point in the game. At first, don’t worry much about it, though. Keeping your shield up is a good habit to learn.

    Stamina management is something you’ll have learn eventually. Stamina covers every action that requires any effort. Sprinting, dodging, attacking, blocking — it all uses stamina and if an enemy attacks you and you don’t have enough stamina to block it, your defence will be blown wide open, leaving you vulnerable to subsequent attacks. This means that you can’t get greedy with your attacks. Get a couple hits in and retreat to get the stamina back.

    Targeting happens with the right analog stick. Clicking it again will release the target lock. You’ll want to get into the habit of targeting an enemy as soon as possible for your attacks to connect. Otherwise, it’s more often than not too easy to miss. There are exceptions where you don’t want to target enemies for better mobility and camera control, but these are few and far between.

    You can jump in this game. It doesn’t come up often, but it’s required to get to some places. It’s done with the B/circle button. The trouble is that the B/circle button is used for multiple things — pressing it while standing still makes you jump backwards, pressing it while moving in a direction makes you do a dodge roll, holding it and pressing the left analog stick forward makes you sprint, and, finally, tapping it while sprinting (you have to briefly release it and press it again) makes you do a running jump.

    Finally, there is a kick move that you do when you simultaneously press the R1/RB attack button and move the left analog stick forward. It’s a finicky move that can sometimes happen accidentally, but it’s useful for kicking away enemy shields.

    Equipment

    For armour, the main thing to pay attention to is your encumbrance — when your equipment load exceeds 50% of the maximum limit, you’ll move slower and lose the ability to dodge attacks. Therefore you’ll generally want to wear the heaviest armour that fits within this limit, because, as a rule, heavier is better. There’s a similar loss of speed at the 25% threshold, but for a new player, sacrificing a little mobility in order to be able to take more hits is not a bad trade.

    For shields, the two most important stats are stability and its ability to block physical damage. You’ll want a shield with a 100% physical resistance and as high stability as possible. Stability helps you block more efficiently while shields with less than 100% physical resistance will let enemies chip away at your health with regular attacks. There will be enemies later in the game that can bypass the shield with a different type of damage (lightning, magic, fire), so keep these resistances in mind for later.

    For weapons, you’ll want to find something you’re comfortable with. Try out different weapons to see what suits your playstyle. Personally, I’d recommend spears — they have a nice reach and you can attack while holding up your shield. You may have to raise some stats to meet the stat requirements for the chosen weapon, but those are generally not very steep. Also, some weapons scale with stats, so you may want to take that into account when leveling up.

    Resources

    Souls are the currency/xp of this game that’s used for upgrading items, leveling up and buying things. You occasionally pick them up in the form of an item that gives you some amount of souls when used. The advantage of items is that you don’t lose them when you die, so you might want to save them until you’re at a place where you can spend them. The souls of bigger bosses can also be used to make unique weapons later in the game and the souls of fire keepers can be used to upgrade your healing item (called an Estus Flask), so it’s advised to save them for that purpose.

    Then there’s humanity. Like with souls, there are two forms of humanity — hard humanity in the form of items that you pick up from corpses or get for defeating bosses and “soft” or “liquid” humanity that you can spend on things. Using a “hard” humanity item gives you “soft” humanity which has a counter in the upper right corner of the screen. You can spend your humanity at a bonfire to restore your human form and while you are in human form, you can spend humanity to kindle bonfires. You can start kindling bonfires after you get out of the tutorial area (the first one in the hub area you arrive at is already kindled, though) and it basically upgrades a bonfire so that resting at it refills your Estus Flask with more charges. Typically you get five flasks, but after kindling you get ten flasks. In human form, you can also summon NPCs and other players to help you with bosses, but on the downside you can also be invaded by other players. When playing offline, you can still summon NPCs, though, and there are boss fights a few hours into the game where summoning some help is very much recommended for new players.

    Finally, there are upgrade materials that you can use to upgrade your weapons, shields, and armour. Titanite shards are the most basic upgrade item, so don’t be shy using them to upgrade the weapons, armour and shields that you use. By the time more rare upgrade items become available, you’ll probably have some favourites that you’ll want to focus on. You might want to spend some time farming souls to get your equipment upgraded to a decent level. This is the biggest rise in power you’ll get, even more important than leveling.

    Leveling

    You should level up whenever you are at a bonfire and have enough souls to do it. Each level raises your defence and resistances and you also get to raise a stat. Stats are actually not all that important — they all have a soft cap at around 40 and you generally can’t go very wrong in putting points in any one of them. Except resistance, which is fairly useless.

    Endurance, on the other hand, is a pretty safe bet for a new player. Endurance raises your equipment load, allowing you to don better armour, and it determines your stamina, helping you block attacks better and giving you more attack opportunities.

    In conclusion

    Obviously there’s a lot more to it (I didn’t even mention spells), but it’s a lot to take in and I tried to keep it to a bare minimum to get people started on the important aspects that I would have wanted explained to me when I played it. Also, this is based on my own very subjective experience with the game and you’ll may want to check some guides for a different take on this. For example, Yahtzee had an article with his own selection of tips just recently.

    As an alternative, you can still experience the game vicariously by watching a playthrough. For example, here’s a blind one where a new player does surpisingly well, even beating some bosses on the first try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTcKa5wedNM&list=PL1iwwMmsVqKOMes-ZAoWaS0iQKDcGk7Ln

    • poiumty says:

      That’s a pretty big write-up, and a lot of overinformation. Hints are best when they’re concise and get the point across, not when they go into backseat-gaming territory.

      I wouldn’t expect anyone to have to read up on that before they go into the game. Dark Souls is a game you discover, not prepare for. Too much preparation sucks out the fun.

      • Starker says:

        That’s a fair point. I tried to keep it short, but I obviously failed. Unfortunately, the game itself does a very bad job at teaching you these things, so it’s less a case of discovering it for yourself and more a case of looking it up on the wiki or having someone coach you.

  36. TMTVL says:

    In Oni (by Bungie) there’s a code that allows you to play as different characters. It’s so much fun beating up mooks as the endboss.

    • poiumty says:

      I remember that. One wonders why they didn’t make it a straight-up feature, some of the enemies (bosses especially) had full unique movesets available to them.

      Being a ninja is a lot more exciting when you’re a teleporting ninja.

      • Naota says:

        It’s not just ninjas, either. With a little bit of tweaking you can even play a robotic magical girl!

        Despite all appearances, it’s actually much harder to be Shinatama than most of the other characters because of those tiny, adorable little arms and legs. While you’re smaller than normal and a few attacks will occasionally go over your head, hitting enemies before they bowl you over is pretty darn challenging.

  37. Retsam says:

    Age of Empires II cheat codes will always have a special place in my heart. The names were pretty funny, like: “irwinner”, “howdoyouturnthison”, “cheesesteakjimmies”, etc, and some of the effects were hilarious, like the “how do you turn this on” one spawned a sports car that shot machine guns from the doors.

    “aegis” was a really interesting one too; it made all construction, recruitment, and resource gathering instant (minus the time it took to transport), not only for you but for all players, including AI. It was still a pretty big cheat against the AI, since they could never take advantage of it properly, but it basically turned the game into a completely different game.

  38. Shamus kind of mis-represented my question. I don’t blame him, there was no real short-hand way to approach what I was asking and while his response tells me he understood what I was getting at, the way he told it to Josh ‘n Ruts clearly gave the wrong impression.

    To clarify:

    I wasn’t asking ‘do games not have girls because long hair is hard to make’, but in a more broad sense, is it possible that there are technical hurdles in accurately representing traditionally feminine traits that COULD contribute to the lack of female representation. The long hair was really just an example, since they made such a large focus of it in more than one Tomb Raider game…and to make a dated reference to Jesus Christ Superstar in my subject line.

    • Shamus says:

      Thanks for the clarification.

      Thinking more on this later, I don’t know. I can’t think of anything, but these new mo-capped, bump-mapped, high-def, 30k poly characters are so astoundingly complex that I hate to make sweeping statements about what sorts of problems they face.

    • That makes way more sense. I was very confused about hair being an issue, since there’s a plethora of ponytails, braids, up-dos, and buns that could give a wide range of hair styles without ever having to model loose long hair (of course I might be more aware of this than the average male programmer since I am a female with long hair).

      Maybe boob physics? But that’s a poor excuse, really. On the other hand, I suspect realistic (aka not anime and not big bouncing unsupported which hurts like a mofo) breast physics research and modeling could be the greatest job ever for a segment of the population.

      I can also see arguments being made for sticking to the white European hero, since getting different kinds of hair and different skin tones right could also be a (very) minor tech challenge, but in the end these are all incredibly minor challenges (if they’re challenges at all) and should not be any sort of excuse.

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I think if it was gonna be anything it would just be the sheer preponderance of technical challenges. If its voice acted, you need a second voice actor. You have to write and record extra dialog in some cases to make sure your scene works (or you have to write dialog that would work either way). Extra clothes, extra animations, balancing hitboxes for different sized bodies (or offering a compensating advantage to male characters, unless you just want it to be lopsided). And once you start accommodating choice where do you stop? Do you provide multiple love interests? Do you have a male and female who are both bi or do you introduce romance interests of all sexualities.

        Of course, all that is really more of an argument for not offering character customization, it doesn’t really apply to having more female protagonists in general (and I support more female protagonists just to be clear. Count me as one who thought he always wanted to play as a big ripped burly guy, but the latest Tomb Raider proved me wrong.) And its not going to be a big deal in every game (A Chibi style art design for example, would make most of the above issues irrelevant and if your game is not a shooter, hitboxes aren’t really an issue, or you could just put the woman in similarly bulky armor as I understand COD did, etc).

  39. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Well, its interesting you brought up how Dragon Age was an example of DLC gone wrong when I thought it was DLC gone right. But I forgot about Levy Dryden (the Warden’s Keep guy). I was thinking more of Awakening. I’d have bought five more expansions like that one.

    I bought the ultimate edition so that DLC was always a part of my game but I did have an experience with this problem on my first playthrough due to a bug that kept the DLC from activating.

  40. SlothfulCobra says:

    You should still really experience Dark Souls even if you don’t want to deal with it firsthand. Watch through an LP of it, just to take in the atmosphere of it all and appreciate the design. There’s a pretty good LP of it here.

    Dark Souls is really a game to be talked about and shared with others. That’s the whole reason for the summoning, invading, phantoms, bloodstains, and soapstone messages. It’s sort of reminiscent of old, old, games where things were unintuitive as hell and there were easter eggs all over the place, and you basically had to be told by a friend or read a faq about things, and then From gave the players as many tools as possible to tell each other. It’s a really well put together game, even if the difficulty can get out of hand.

  41. LazerBlade says:

    I had Rustkarn’s exact experience in the original Mass Effect. It was so aggravatingly broken that I wrote about it awhile back.

    shameless plug for writing in question

  42. River Birch says:

    Hey.
    Quick Question.
    I just got Alpha Protocol, and I was wondering if you all would like to suggest what I should be for my first time to see it.

    I wanna see if I could get through the game with suggestions and not get f-ed over by the game itself in having fun with the build.

    • Ringwraith says:

      If you’re leaning towards not killing everything in sight, take some points in pistols.
      They also make the game’s forced boss fights a cakewalk.
      You probably want to go for easy difficulty too, mostly for the aforementioned boss fights. You die surprisingly quickly in this game.

      However, at the end of the day the game is best experienced by bumbling through it at least once. Although one thing to keep in mind is although specialising in pretty much any single skill breaks the game in some way (most high-tier skills are kinda broken), you’re meant to be an all-rounder. So taking points in various disciplines is a good idea. Sometimes they are times you really want to sneak around as well as sometimes shoot everything in sight.

  43. Phantos says:

    Someone I know from Tumblr is just starting to get into Dragon Age 1.

    The poor thing. She doesn’t know…

  44. RTbones says:

    Late to the party with this, but my $0.02…

    that early part of the game? Morrowgrind. Once you get through the Morrowgrind, you are fine. Or, once you are through Morrowgrinding, you’ll really like the game.

    Of course, the term for someone who stops playing briefly after working through the Morrowgrind? Morrowinded. As in, I’d like to keep playing Alpha Protocol, but I am a bit Morrowinded at the minute.

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