Dark Souls Special Part 3: None Shall Pass

By Shamus Posted Saturday Apr 26, 2014

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 223 comments

Link (YouTube)

George asks, “Doesn’t that feel good?” There’s a really interesting divide here between types of players, and I feel like if we drilled down far enough we’d uncover some fundamental stuff about personalities and the way people cope with frustration. Rutskarn and I generally don’t experience that euphoric rush when we finally overcome a challenge. It’s more a sense of grudging relief, like when the dentist finally puts the drill down. It’s not a reward, it’s just the end of the thing that was making you miserable.

Josh and George are clearly the other sort of person. You can hear it when Josh screams “YEAH!” when he finally nails a challenge. George likewise evidently gets some kind of gratification from the process.

Which makes talking about this game really frustrating for me. Fans keep trying to explain to me that I just need to stick with it long enough to get that sense of accomplishment. But it will never happen because I’m not wired that way and don’t play games for those reasons. They assume that I just need to stick with it long enough to feel the release and I’ll be hooked. They’re selling me on the basis of a high that I will never feel.

Making things more complex is that for the Josh-types of tthe world, it seems like the higher the frustration, the better the payoff. It’s nice to beat the guy who killed you twice, but it’s SUPER AWESOME to finally beat the guy who killed you ten times. This is also not the case for me. It intensifies the misery of playing the game, but when it’s over I don’t get a bigger payoff.

In my case, I’m kind of always getting a payoff while I’m playing a game… until the moment I lose progress. I don’t start having fun again until I reach the point where I can repeat the challenge. So the more frustrating the boss, the less rewarding the game is. For me the reward isn’t finishing the job, it’s in doing (and perhaps optimizing) the job. Josh is gardening so he can grow the biggest squash and wow the townsfolk. I’m gardening because I like to garden, provided my efforts aren’t getting bulldozed every so often.

It doesn’t have anything to do with “getting good”. We experience games in very different ways and it’s not really related to skill level. Getting better would make the game less miserable, but it would never give me the the feeling of “victory”.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this is related to people’s attitude towards PvP. Josh is into PvP. I’m not. I hate losing and I don’t get a lot out of winning.

Anyway. That’s Dark Souls. Next week we’re heading back to Skyrim.

Thanks again to George for Spoilering with us!


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223 thoughts on “Dark Souls Special Part 3: None Shall Pass

  1. CraigM says:

    It’s interesting the way you break this down on why you will never get into Dark Souls. There is certainly some different ways in which challenge and enjoyment interact. The reasons why you dislike punishingly hard games like Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy are much the same why I’ll never enjoy a linear shooter. You hate losing progress, and I hate not having something to analyze. I adore complex strategy games, even exceedingly hard ones, if I always have something to think about. Dark Souls has plenty of meat there to analyze and contemplate, so I do experience that rush. A Crusader King’s, Total War, Unity of Command type game also give me plenty of brain food, so they all rate highly for me.

    I also hate hate hate PVP. I don’t do PVP multiplayer games. The exceptions are where multiplayer is based around strategy, like a board game. A shooter or action game though? Nope.

    Though don’t you occasionally dig into PVP Shamus? If I remember the origins of the Spoiler Warning crew didn’t you meet in Team Fortress 2?

    1. Deadpool says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure if the PvP thing is really that related… I hate PvP as a rule of thumb, with very very few exceptions (Left 4 Dead).

      And, I’m not gonna lie, the conquering the challenges thing is appealing, but it isn’t the main reason.

      I will tell you the exact moment I fell in love with this kind of game, and that was because of Demons’ Souls. The first level was strikingly beautiful. The game kept hinting at this dragon throughout but I caught mostly glimpses. After some serious fighting I get to a bridge. The bridge is a pretty annoying set up, with four guys, two charge me at melee when I’m about a quarter of the way in, two others are shooting arrows.

      As I’m dealing with the enemies, I hear the beating of wings and catch a glimpse of a dragon flying in the background. I think to myself “this must be a gorgeous view! Can’t wait to see it after I kill these guys!”

      But then I notice… The wings are sounding closer– and closer. I stop locking on long enough to pan the camera up and at the other end of the bridge is a dragon. All piss and anger, it breathes fire onto the bridge and flies at me burning all in its path. I turn and BOLT inside fast as I can, dodge rolling inside in time to survive.

      In my living room I exhale deeply. I catch my breath while my character recharges her stamina. I test the bridge a few more times, and notice the dragon comes every time. I decide to explore a different path.

      The end of that path leads to an open area. There I see two dragons. One is lazily napping, sweeping its tail back and forth. The other is randomly breathing fire into an area filled with burnt bodies and items. I make some attempts and pick up a few items, but it looks like the path here is mostly a dead end.

      So I make a few tests. I notice that if I run back here from the bridge quickly enough I can see one of the dragons land. I consider my options and devise a plan.

      I watch the dragon land. Recharge my stamina, wait for it to start breathing fire and I RUN. Managing my stamina as best I can I make a mad dash for the bridge and run across it. I take longer than I think, the dragon makes it to the end of the bridge before I do. I got time. I keep running past him, under its legs and into, what I realize is a room I have NEVER looked into before.

      Stamina is almost nil, I have no idea what this room looks like or anything. Immediately I dodge roll into the room,a split second before the Dragon’s tail comes spearing down where I stood, and get up with my shield and camera panning all around… Empty. No enemies. Just a lever.

      I finally let myself breath again and I knew I was hooked. The part that I enjoy is exactly the joke Shamus made: “If only you can change the very nature of who you are and act completely differently from normal.”

      But that was it. The game made me paranoid. It made me SCARED. Demons’ Souls is scarier than any Resident Evil, or Silent Hill, or any other “horror” game I’ve ever played. Because the concept of monsters and zombies and deformed human bodies doesn’t scare me. Losing all my money, souls and progress because I turned a corner without looking first? THAT is scary.

      Sequilitis mentions how Castlevania forces players into careful, thoughtful moves through its mechanics. And Demons’ Souls did the same to me, in a grander scale. It wasn’t a power fantasy, it was a depowering fantasy. I wasn’t acting like a hero. I wasn’t acting like the sole chosen one, savior of the world, rescuer of children. I wasn’t kicking ass and taking names and flipping demons the bird.

      I wasn’t Dante. I wasn’t Commander Sheppard, or even a Reginald Cuftbert analogue… I was me. Scared and alone in an oppressive and deadly world, sweat dripping down my eyebrows and clutching desperately at my shield and spear while looking around every corner, jumping at every shadow…

      It was a unique experience. I still like Dark Souls I and II but I will never have that again. I am no longer a novice. I’ve conquered the demons, saved the world. The game is still fun, the mechanics are appealing, the paranoia still necessary. But the fear is largely gone. I know I will succeed because I have done it before. It has become largely a co op affair to me now.

    2. Cybron says:

      This pretty much sums up my position. I can’t do PvP at all. But I’m all over a singleplayer experience like this.

    3. Duffy says:

      To throw another view in there, I personally hate do it again mechanics. But I love challenging and complex games. I love competitive games. The important distinction for me is having the information to make the decisions somewhat ahead of time. The problem I have with Dark Souls type games is that you don’t know whats going to happen going in, it’s a trial and error guessing game with a sometimes annoyingly far setback to try again (I heard they lessened this in Dark Souls II).

      Where as a Civ game or even a round of your favorite MOBA/FPS consists of all the information you need to succeed upfront, you just have to piece it together correctly. I can dedicate some game time to trying new strategies or plans, and even if they fail the game style tends to allow me to quickly get back into things. This still allows interesting and sometimes surprising outcomes/combinations, but there’s a lot less ‘wtf just happened’ moments followed by trying to slog through it all again.

      Personally I think I’m slowly starting to fade out Dark Souls, God of War, DMC, etc… style games much like I phased out most FPS games almost a decade ago. I used to like them, but even the ones I’m not struggling with I find myself just kind of not getting into.

  2. General Karthos says:

    Hm, I personally DO get a euphoric high and a sense of accomplishment when I get something done. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t enjoy a large number of the games I do enjoy, and can play through more than once even if they don’t have any real replay value.

    It never occurred to me that there were people who were wired differently; who never do get a sense of accomplishment out of defeating the challenges that a game throws your way. But now that I think about it, that makes perfect sense. I mean, there are people of every taste out here for just about everything else. Why shouldn’t people play games for different reasons?

    Out of curiosity Shamus, how do you feel about puzzle games like Myst or their ilk? Are they frustrating with nothing but grudging relief when you solve a puzzle, or is there a sense of accomplishment there?

    1. ET says:

      I’m kinda like Shamus, in that I don’t really get much out of defeating difficult challenges, as far as some kind of “good” feeling. I do, however, complete stuff like this, because I enjoy the challenge itself, and my OCD makes me want to finish things past the immediate challenge. :)

      1. Trix2000 says:

        I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle, perhaps leaning a bit towards the progression end. I like a good challenge in my games, but not all that great with banging my head against something too many times (though I do feel a bit of that rush when I do succeed).

        What I really like most are games that put me in a situation where it feels like I’m really challenged – like I could lose at any moment – but in actuality isn’t all that likely to game over or similar. I’m not sure what specifically goes into something like that, but the result would be a fight/level that I come out of thinking ‘Oh thank god, I did it’ despite never truly being in danger.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I went back and forth on Dark Souls -though ultimately I ended up in our host’s position and never got past this point.

          I enjoy the challenge -I never got beyond like world 3 of Super Mario Brothers back in the day, but I played it forever. And I liked the visuals of Dark Souls, and I wanted to like the lore and story. And the forever fight against darkness and lighting the bonfires of hope and…

          But at a certain point it’s like reading a really long, really boring novel. Those novels where you find yourself reading several pages, and then you realize absolutely nothing you read stuck, and you have to go back and read it all again to understand what just happened.

          Or maybe if someone took the novel out of my hands, and made me reread the previous chapter before I could I go forward again.

        2. Jakale says:

          I’m probably in that zone, as well. If there are difficult boss fights or tricky navigation levels, I’ll get a good sense of “yeah, did it” when I finally overcome it, more so if it was particularly tricky. Those need to be low punishment for me, though. Put the last save point too far back or worse, never let me save, and I’ll just get too frustrated at losing all the progress I made to go again.

          Fighting the two dragons in Cave Story was like that. It wasn’t the boss that bugged me so much as the trek back from the beginning of the level each time because you need to beat that boss to get the mid-way save point to show up.
          Compare that to an online flash game called “Magnetized” where you’re just navigating a pixel through various mazes and hitting anything kills you. It has enough death that there’s a counter attached to your cursor, but the second you die it immediately starts the level over and you aren’t directly controlling that pixel. It is always flying forward, you just steer it, so any frustration you rack up wars with the fact that the level is actively going and it might be the one you’d succeed on. I played from start to finish over maybe four hours and died a couple thousand times, but the only time I felt frustrated enough to stop was the one level that had no clear path, so I didn’t know where I was supposed to go. Dying because of skill or timing issues on your end is one thing, dying because you’re trying to figure out where the end is is completely different.

    2. silver Harloe says:

      “It never occurred to me that there were people who were wired differently; who never do get a sense of accomplishment out of defeating the challenges that a game throws your way. But now that I think about it, that makes perfect sense. I mean, there are people of every taste out here for just about everything else. Why shouldn't people play games for different reasons?”

      man, if we could that into the minds of everyone on the internets, soooo many fights would just come to a dead stop.

    3. Shamus says:

      It’s hard to compare, because I played those games a long time ago. Long before I was thinking about what makes games fun or why I played them. I played through the Myst series back in the day and generally loved it. Once in a while there would be a time-sink puzzle that kind of got on my nerves. (There was one where you had to set power levels for something, but if you made a mistake and used too much it would throw a breaker and you’d have to go some distance to reset the puzzle. I wasn’t crazy about that.

      1. Rutskarn says:

        I think I can explain this succinctly:

        People like Shamus and myself don’t hate overcoming challenges. We hate overcoming challenges we’ve ALREADY BEATEN.

        If we fail to succeed in Myst, it’s because one challenge is demanding more of our attention than others…but gameplay never stops progressing in a linear fashion.

        If Myst were like Dark Souls, solving a puzzle would start a timer. Failing to solve the next puzzle before the timer ran out would mean redoing the last six puzzles. I know, that’s not actually where Dark Souls’ design philosophy is coming from at all, but that’s exactly how it feels to us.

        I’ve already proven I can beat those six skeletons by the staircase. I’ve done it once. I can do it four more times. If I ever FAIL to kill those skeletons for any fucking reason, it’s going to be because I’m frustrated out of my skull and rushing because god damn I am sick of this hallway and this stupid game and ARRRGGHHH

        To us, an hour spent playing Dark Souls is not an hour spent playing Dark Souls. It’s fifteen minutes play Dark Souls and forty-five minutes of loading screens. That we can fail and have to start over.

        1. John C says:

          If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I agree that this is one of the problems with Dark Souls (especially when you get into the latter half of the game).

          But the Dark Souls developers did try to avoid this problem, a bit–

          1) You can unlock or discover shortcuts to get to the bosses, and the most challenging enemies (like the Black Knight and Havel) don’t respawn after you kill them.

          2) The mooks that are hanging around between the bonfire and the boss are generally not that big of a deal. You can run past them or kill them pretty quickly. I think Josh playing Deprived for this mini-LP kind of obscured that–if he’d been playing another class, then he would have pretty much blown through the enemies before the Taurus Demon.

          3) The Estus Flask is a pretty forgiving game mechanic–you can get up to 10 heals from any bonfire, from the start of the game. So even if you’re making minor mistakes and taking some damage, generally you can keep going through an area.

          4) Most of the stages aren’t too long (especially in the early part of the game). So generally, even if you die, you can get back to the challenge that you died on in a minute or two. It’s frustrating to have to run back, but it’s not like you’re getting set back half an hour, or even fifteen minutes.

          Of course, in the later part of the game, some stages really do get annoying to run back through (ask anyone who’s played Dark Souls what they think of Lost Izalith). So again, I’m not saying you guys should like it. To each his own. I just wanted to say that, in my opinion, the penalty for dying isn’t quite as high as you think.

          1. Humanoid says:

            I don’t really get the argument that a developer can design a way around a problem that exists solely because they intentionally designed the problem in the first place. You don’t stab someone in the gut then offer to drive them to hospital – why not try just not stabbing them?

            Those kind of kludgy solutions are reasonable if you’re a modder coming in to try to fix a problem with limited tools. But the creators have all the tools, why self-limit?

            1. John C says:

              I agree that it’s a problem, and that they could have come up with a better system. But I believe that a lot of people in these comment threads are really overestimating how big a problem it is. (I might be wrong, though, and people might just be exaggerating for the sake of making an argument).

              To me, this problem is a molehill, not a mountain. It’s just a minor flaw with a game that’s very good overall. There are certainly some bigger flaws to Dark Souls than restarting at the bonfires–which, generally, isn’t that big of a deal.

              1. Asimech says:

                They are exaggarating for explanation’s sake. What they’re trying to get across is “this is not for us, here’s why”.

                At no point have they said or implied “this game is bad because of this” or even “this mechanic is horrible for everything” but at several points they have they explicitly said “this is why we don’t want to play this” or “this is what would kill our enjoyment of the game”.

                They’re trying to get people to stop pushing Dark Souls at them, but people keep responding with “this thing that’s a big deal to you can’t be a big deal to you because it’s not a big deal to me so stop being a big baby.”

                1. John C says:

                  The thing is, when you say, “I don’t like to make one minor mistake and get set back 15 minutes,” well, I agree with you.

                  But what we’re talking about with this game, in general, is making a medium or large mistake, and then getting set back three minutes tops, usually much less. I think we can all agree that that’s a very different proposition. And there are far fewer people who would take exception to it.

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Remember that it’s three minutes if you know where the closest campfires are (some of which are hidden) and if you’ve used the optimal one, if you know the shortest route back to the boss (which might be different from the route you took the first time), if you know which foes you can kill and which ones you need to fight and how far they will chase you.

                    Basically, the retry cost is trivial if you’re already aces at the game, and steep when you’re learning.

                    1. Abnaxis says:

                      In some places, yes. Dark Souls wouldn’t be the first game to suffer from some areas being worse designed than others.

                      That isn’t true for the majority of the game though, just the parts everyone complains about. Saying the game has nothing but 20 minute slogs from the last bonfire to where you died because you missed the secret bonfire/didn’t open the shortcut is akin to saying Dragon Age is nothing but boring slogs through Darkspawn in brown caves based on all the complaints about the Deep Roads.

                      A recurring theme here, which is mostly true, is that the majority of the game is not as frustrating as it looks like from the outside. The burrs are just the only thing you ever hear about. Most of the time it really is only a few minutes to get back where you were, even if you haven’t mastered the area yet.

                      Well, for me, at least.

                    2. Starker says:

                      The wonderful thing about Dark Souls is that the world keeps looping back around on itself, so you keep revisiting old areas and get to know the place really well.

                      The level design is really good at giving you a real sense of the game world, and you can often see the places where you have been and where are going in the distance.

            2. poiumty says:

              I disagree that it’s a problem. Dark Souls’ design is psychological. It’s based on an old design philosophy that states you shouldn’t be able to just quicksave all the time and lose virtually nothing if you die. In this game, checkpoints are very much static things, controlled by the game and not you, and the amount of time you lose on death is used as an incentive to do better – to find shortcuts, to find better ways to kill enemies, and to discourage trying to power through an area if the enemies are too strong. As a side-effect, the game gains more impact and memorability as the places become familiar. Without this system in place, it wouldn’t be Dark Souls anymore.

              1. Shirdal says:

                I very strongly agree with this. While I don’t intend to imply that Dark Souls is some unique and flawless gem, the game does try to create a particular kind of experience and tries to appeal to players who want and enjoy such an experience. Trying to change that experience in a fundamental way would turn the game into something it is not trying to be, in order to appeal to someone it is not trying to appeal to in the first place.

                If I would, for instance, save scum in Dark Souls then the way I experienced the game would be fundamentally altered. It might still be a worthwhile game, but it would no longer be the same game. The fact that the game doesn’t appeal to people like Shamus or Rutskarn isn’t a flaw, it’s what the game is trying to do in the first place.

                1. John C says:

                  A save scumming system would also be bad. (In fact, I agree with you, I think it would be worse). And yeah, there were only very few places where I was ever annoyed to start back at the bonfire. But I’m sure that you were frustrated too when you (inevitably) died to the Bed of Chaos and had to go running all the way back through Lost Izalith. Especially if you didn’t find the hidden second bonfire. To say nothing of the Crystal Caves.

                  I think that if there were more time, the developers would have done something to manage this–like adding better shortcuts in those areas, etc.

                  1. Shirdal says:

                    Yeah, I will not deny that dying to the Bed of Chaos and having to go all the way back was quite frustrating. Same with the Crystal Caves. It’s not a perfect system, and there are instances of it that could do with improvements, like the two you mentioned, but overall I would say this system does a good job at serving the design philosophy of the game. Death needs to have an impact in this game, or else the nature of the experience changes in a fundamental way.

              2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                That design philosophy of “you should be able to play only the way we intended and no other way!” actually is a bad philosophy.Most of the time.If you focus on that element of checkpoints,and integrate them in the game,it has a chance of working.It works for this game.But its still not a good design philosophy.

        2. Bropocalypse says:

          It’s like dying in GTA, then dying again because you got t-boned by a random semi truck on the way back to the mission you originally died in.

          1. Adam says:

            Which, incidentally, is a thing I’ve had happen to me in those games and one of the many, many things Saint’s Row started doing better than the series of games that inspired it is making it harder for that to happen.

        3. Peter H. Coffin says:

          And, I’m guessing, if the mooks you’d killed before the last time you died would stay dead for 10 minutes, that’d address a lot of the issue.

      2. Decius says:

        Can you internalize that the tasks are larger than “Kill these six skeletons”?

        Do you get frustrated in chess if you lose and have to do the part where you do the opening again? I wonder if viewing those six skeletons as pawns of the king, and beating the indivisible action of the game is checkmating the king rather than capturing the pawn.

        1. Rutskarn says:

          Let’s get this premise out of the way: none of this is a criticism of Dark Souls’ game design. Just a reflection on how it fails to spark pleasurably against the contours of my soul. I think you probably get that, but I just wanted to make it explicit.

          Next: the thing about chess games is that every chess game is basically different. You never face the same opponent twice; you’re either playing against a totally different human being or one who’s learned a little bit since the last game.

          The skeletons in Dark Souls don’t learn. They don’t experiment. They don’t try something new or unexpected just for the hell of it. The IDEAL way to defeat them each run-through is not to find the rhythm of the situation, but to repeat the same perfect mechanical processes, exactly the same each time, in each specific environment. All faffing about or experimenting is a matter of finding that perfect gymnastics routine that dispatches the skeletons. I don’t like choreographing that routine. I get bored with it.

          While the basic unchanging AI of the skeletons is not fundamentally different from, say, the hundreds of identical combine soldiers in Half-Life 2, the addition and subtraction of environmental and contextual elements provides both different behaviors to counter and a sense of progress. Both are key to my having fun with the video game more than mastering the discrete mechanics are.

          1. poiumty says:

            Actually, the fastest way to get through most enemies is to just run past them. Now, knowing how far they’ll run after you and how to dispatch them once you reach the point you were at is a learning experience onto itself.

            1. Asimech says:

              The problem for them is that they can’t re-try a challenge right after failing said challenge but have to waste time getting back to the point where they can try it.

              You’re doing the equivalent of telling someone who’s allergic to tomato to “just eat around the biggest lumps” when they’re trying to refuse an offer of chili con carne.

              The problem to them isn’t the flavour and they’re not telling you you’re a bad cook. It’s just that they’re different, and for them it’s better if they don’t eat chili con carne.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            I am confused, because if I understand correctly, you seem to be drawing a distinction between the level layout and environmental/contextual elements of HL2, versus the lack of those elements in Dark Souls. Are you saying that in the case of Half Life, it is less of a “gymnastics routine” whereas in Dark Souls it’s nothing but doing the same tricks to the same enemies?

            If so, I feel like I have to differ there somewhat. It isn’t obvious from watching someone play, but Dark Souls relies very heavily on environmental factors to add variety to their encounters.

            For example, let me walk through a path straight from the start of the Undead Burg to the boss (without any side-tracks for items or secrets or mini-bosses) from the player’s perspective. It’ll be long, but I’m going to put it in a box so you can skip it.

            You begin the level with a straight-forward fight against a two hollows–one axe-wielding and one swordsman–in a fairly open space. Straight forward and easy-breezy.

            Then, the level funnels you to a small bridge, on the other side of which is a hollow pitching fire bombs at you, which do significant damage you can’t effectively block with any shield you should have by this point in the game. Rushing the bad-guy is a valid option, but in the room just to left of him there’s another hollow hidden in ambush, so if you don’t dispatch the bomb-thrower quickly and don’t remain aware of your surroundings, you will quickly find yourself in a compromising position between two enemies–one of which will likely tag you with another firebomb if you try to turn-tail and run.

            You proceed to your right and up some stairs, to a path with a dragon–which I’ve heard can step on you if your enter at a dead sprint but this never happened to me. The path opens up to a rooftop, with a small outhouse on the other side that has a cheeky undead bastard shooting crossbow bolts at you. If you stand there, a pair of enemies will come down and you’ll have to deal with them while under fire from above. If you run across, A third enemy will burst out from behind the boards he was using as cover to make your day even worse.

            Dealing with all of those threats gets you to the first bonfire-checkpoint. Grats! Now, you need to make your way across to the next guardhouse. If you’re particularly observant, you’ll see the undead soldier by the door on the other side of the guardhouse, and be ready for him. In contrast, you don’t have to be observant at all to notice the three enemies in over-watch throwing bombs at as you approach across the thin approach.

            Sprinting is about the only option here, but what you can’t see from the beginning, are the two axe mooks camping in the guard-house, forcing you into a three-way confrontation against two slow-but-powerful squishy enemies and one fast-but-powerful armored enemy, where once again retreat will end up with you being cooked by fire bombs.

            So you deal with the bastards in the guard-house, next you’ll see a door to your right. It’s kind of a side-path, but if you don’t clear the room inside of enemies, you’re probably going to wind up with an enemy at your back right when you go up the stairs just past the door, to be greeted by even three more enemies–two melee guys in a formation that blocks you from going after the fire-throwing bastard behind them.

            You win the fight, you’re almost there! For the last tee up, there are a couple of tough undead soldiers at the bottom of a set of stairs. These guys are the toughest non-boss enemy you’ve fought so far (assuming no side-tracking) and there are TWO of them. Now, if you’ve not picked up on the pattern by now, the game will absolutely WRECK you if you charge in. There’s a third, tough spear guy halfway-hidden to the right, PLUS there’s a tower you walk past that if you don’t clear out before coming down, holds a crossbow soldier who will shoot you in the back while you are fighting.

            And now, after all that grueling, difficult combat, you climb the stairs to the boss tower. Except as one final “F-you!” there’s a soldier at the top of the stairs who kicks a burning barrel at you–it won’t do enough to kill at full health, but if you’re on you last leg and you don’t see it coming you’ll get hosed by it.

            After that you kill this last aggressor you get to go fight the boss

            Wow, that took a lot of typing, for five small encounters. However, I hope it gets the point across–there’s only three mandatory encounters between you and the boss if you start from the checkpoint, and they are hard not because of the enemies (those guys are generally pushovers by themselves), but rather due to the compromising tactical position the game pushes your character into, especially if you proceed recklessly.

            None of these enemies are the peak of AI programming, neither are they all that varied individually, but they are arranged in a way to catch the player with their pants down and force the use of tacitcs to negate their superior positioning.

            This sounds like what you are talking about in Half-Life 2–samey enemies, arranged environmentally and contextually to create variety. Or is there another factor I am missing? Is it because in one game you use a gun, while in the other you swing a stick?

            1. Shamus says:

              Suggestion: You guys trying to “clarify” Dark Souls for us need to get your story straight before to try and set us straight. One person is telling me that when you’re defeated by a boss it’s basically fast and trivial to get back where you left off, and another says, “No! It’s totally interesting and challenging and the game puts you into a difficult position.” One person says they’re mooks to be easily dispatched, and another says they’re never trivial.

              Going by what I’ve seen in gameplay, it looks frustrating as hell. I was getting annoyed just watching Josh play.

              1. Starker says:

                All of these things are true. You can get back to most bosses relatively easily, although it might require finding a shortcut or a closer bonfire. The mooks are generally easy one-on-one, but you can’t underestimate them — they’ll make short work of you in groups.

                The thing is, I used to think the same way. The way it was described to me and the way it felt when I first played it, it seemed like a gauntlet that you had to retry over and over again until you “got it right”. Combined with the fact that the game is really bad at explaining its mechanics, it was really frustrating and I only gave it another chance because people kept telling me how good it was.

                Yahtzee had a position very similar and far more extreme. Here’s what he wrote a couple of years ago:

                “I found Dark Souls to be an immensely irritating game in which I would have to play the same section over and over and over again – because the slightest mistake while fighting any single enemy could leave me dead in two hits – only to find that I was supposed to be going another way all along.”

                Yet Yahtzee gave the game another chance and he ended up changing his mind and giving it a glowing review. And like Yahtzee said, the game can be good from the beginning, if you know what you’re doing.

                The game really isn’t as punishing as it seems and it really is as good as people are saying. I would liken it to great classic games like System Shock 2 and Silent Hill 2 and it would be a shame to not give it a chance just because of a misunderstanding.

              2. Abnaxis says:

                Our stories are straight. As someone else said above, it’s trivial to get back to the boss, once you’ve worked out the proper tactics. Once you know what challenges you’re facing, and figure out the best way to deal with them, it becomes trivial to beat or skip the enemies. However, on the path to coming up with proper tactics, you will probably die to at least one formation of enemies you did not expect–which are almost always telegraphed if you pay attention, but I’m pretty oblivious so I personally die a lot. I’m thick like that

                For example, that damned guard-house with the fire-bombers in front and three zombies inside just past the bonfire. It’s trivial to run past the enemies–the swords-zombie ambushes from the left, so what you need to do is dash across the bridge, then cut right and follow the periphery of the room so he doesn’t block the door for you.

                Alternatively, if you’re more like me, and can’t stand leaving enemies alive, the fastest approach I came up with was very similar, running in and cutting right, using the two easy-to kill enemies to block the shots of the hard enemy, dispatching those two squishy enemies in short order with a wall at your back so you can clobber the tougher guy mano-a-mano.

                The enemies have a tactical advantage on you from the outset, which you have to nullify somehow–I personally did it by putting my back to a wall so I wouldn’t get surrounded, and using their numbers against them. You can also draw the enemies out. Or snipe one or two of them from a safe distance. Or something I didn’t think of. But whatever you figure out, it will generally cut the time taken up in the encounter by an order of magnitude, so you can get to the next challenge that much faster.

                Incidentally, Josh’s playthrough is not a good yardstick. I’ve only seen the first video, but if he continues the pattern for the second and third he’s playing like a maniac, using the starting class that expressly exists as a challenge start for experienced players, with no armor, stats, or weapons to speak of. He’s doing the hardest thing possible, with four people in his ear and no regard for caution. Of course he’s going to die a lot.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Then we’re talking in circles.

                  “This game is too punishing. I don’t like having to re-play the last 15 minutes just to reach the boss.”

                  Oh, it’s not 15 minutes. It’s only like 3. Just run right through.

                  “If it’s just a quick run, why do I have to do it at all? That’s boring.”

                  It’s not boring! It’s really challenging and you’ll die a lot until you learn how!

                  “Yeah, like I said. This game is too punishing. I don’t like having to re-play the last 15 minutes just to reach the boss.”


                  The fact that someday I’ll be able to breeze by doesn’t make it any less miserable when I botch a dodge and get blasted back to the last bonfire. In fact, I’ll probably figure out how to beat the boss before I master the mooks.

                  Also, the delay in re-attempt hinders learning for me. If I botch some fiddly bit of timing, I want to try again RIGHT AWAY, because I know what I did and I know what I want to do differently. Ten minutes from now I’ll have changed contexts and I’m more likely to make the same mistake again. So the game is:

                  1) Really demanding. (Batman can take half a dozen hits from the boss before I get a game over, while Dark Souls is perfectly happy to kill you for two mistakes.)
                  2) Really punishing. (Batman fights the boss again. In Dark Souls I have to traverse a bunch of game space and do something ELSE besides fighting the boss.)
                  3) Really obtuse. (Batman games make sure to teach you a skill before you’re put in a situation where you need it to survive. Dark Souls is happy to let you die a half dozen times while you guess at what the game expects of you.)

                  And all three of these problems exacerbate each other. Being obtuse means I need to retry more. Being punishing means it takes longer to do so. Being demanding means there more I need to learn. This is a magic recipe for pissing me off and making me miserable. Like: I would seriously rather pay my bills or take out the garbage rather than go through that wringer.

                  None of this thread makes any sense to me. You’re trying to defend the game by pointing out that sometimes I’ll die in four hits instead of two, or that in some places the retry penalty is 3 minutes instead of ten, or that the whole game is “fair”. None of this does anything to change the core of the experience, which is learning through repetition borne of failure. This is no way of “thinking of it differently” that will make me NOT experience jaw-clenching frustration and anger.

                  1. Starker says:

                    All we’re saying is that the game is not really as punishing or demanding as it seems. There are lots of little things (like leveling up) and some big things (equipment, blacksmiths, shortcuts) that make the game easier than it appears to be.

                  2. Abnaxis says:

                    Oh yeah, completely talking in circles.

                    The problem with talking about this game is that, it doesn’t really tell you anything explicitly, but it does still communicate with you through interaction. It kind of takes a page from Valve’s book, guiding where you look and steering you toward where the developers want you to go.

                    The difference is, while in Half Life this unseen hand is helping you toward your goal and you don’t even realize it’s there, in DkS the hand is trying to draw your eye away from the real threat that should be obvious so it can stab you in the back. For example, in multiple instances I faced an annoying enemy taking potshots at me from across a gap of some sort and I would rush at him, only to realize there was a second enemy on the other side of the doorway I breezed past on the way without checking.

                    This makes it really hard to describe exactly what’s going on, and it doesn’t really come through in video either. When you see someone die to an enemy ambush, it just looks like a bullshit death, like the game just keeps throwing enemies at you until you fall down. To the person actually playing, however, the mistake was clear–they got too focused on the annoying little guy and let the big guy sneak up on them.

                    This is why people say it’s hard but fair, and why they say it’s trivial after you figure it out. There are only so many times an ambush can take you by surprise, and when they do it’s pretty obvious what you did wrong and possible ways to correct it if you’re the one sitting behind the controller, even if the game doesn’t explicitly tell you your mistake.

                2. Shamus says:

                  If people keep this up, I’ll play the stupid thing. We’ll see how fun it is once I’m all pissed off and I write a long tirade cursing the devs for wasting my precious time. If you close your eyes I’ll bet you can imagine exactly how that thread will look:

                  “Oh, you’re just bad at enjoying it.”

                  “This game is bullshit.”

                  “Learn to play.”

                  “I’m not having fun.”

                  “You’re just in the wrong mindset.”

                  It will be the exact same discussion we’re having now, except I’ll be incredibly pissed off and be meticulously picking apart individual fights while fans offer me pages of contradictory advice, which probably won’t enhance my mood. Eventually it will boil down to “This is infuriating and I hate it,” at which point some jackass will jump in with, “Sounds like the game isn’t for you. Why did you play it if you knew you weren’t going to like it?”

                  Sound like fun? I dunno. That’s where this is headed. The game looks like a pain in the ass, but maybe it’s easier than convincing people I won’t like it and they won’t enjoy what I have to say about it.

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    I completely understand where you’re coming from, and it sucks that there’s no real winning move here.

                    However, as I said below, I think the discussion we’ve been having is a valuable one, and any hypothetical possible future discussion will have good points as well. Yes, there will always be people saying “git gud,” but at its core, I feel like this is a discussion about how people play games and how they react to difficulty.

                    It is clearly possible for a game to be hard, yet be fun at the same time. It’s an interesting discussion to have.

                    However, at the same time, I would feel amiss if you felt obligated to try the game in part because you felt I was niggling you to. For my part, I’m cool if you don’t bother with it, but if you’re going to bring the topic up I will probably pester you and anyone else until I figure out exactly what you think about it and why you don’t like it.

                    1. Sougo says:

                      “…I will probably pester you and anyone else until I figure out exactly what you think about it and why you don't like it.”

                      Are you being deliberately obtuse? Tons of people here have repeated times and times again the reason why they wouldn’t get into Dark Souls and how they are not wired the same way as those who do. I’m not sure how such a simple point have to be reiterated to the point of frustration and you STILL refused to accept it.

                      As someone who spent over 10 hours into Dark Souls, I still share Shamus and Rutskarn’s sentiment. I don’t enjoy killing the mook, I find even the 2/3 mins walk back to the boss tedius and I would rather be playing something else. Some people just don’t get the same experience of Dark Souls as you do.

                    2. Shamus says:

                      That’s totally fair.

                    3. Abnaxis says:

                      Busy! Busy, busy, busy busy!

                      Well, it’s days after the fact, but I still want to answer Sougo (footnotes in block at bottom):

                      Are you being deliberately obtuse? Tons of people here have repeated times and times again the reason why they wouldn't get into Dark Souls and how they are not wired the same way as those who do. I'm not sure how such a simple point have to be reiterated to the point of frustration and you STILL refused to accept it.

                      I do refuse to accept the argument, but it’s not because I’m being deliberately obtuse, or that I’m not listening, or because I want to force you to think the same way I do. I have a couple of fundamental problems with the very premise of “some of us are just wired differently”:

                      First, it’s complete nonsense. The central conceit of the argument is that there are two classes of people in play here–those that embrace frustration because it results in greater exhilaration upon success, versus those that abhor frustration, and only grudgingly put up with it to get to the parts they actually like. I call BS, because virtually every single game presents the player with some sort of challenge—-even the often-used-as-contrast sandbox games a la Minecraft, where the challenge is an implicit “make something cool out of the tools we give you”. Every single person in this discussion has dealt with some form of frustration in a game, yet still managed to have fun in spite–or because–of it.*

                      That brings me to my second problem, which is even if I accept the premise that we are just so fundamentally different, that does not contribute in any way, shape, or form to the conversation. Yes, people are different. We’re going to disagree about stuff sometimes. We are going to like different things, and from a philosophical standpoint neither of us is wrong for doing.

                      So what? Just because people disagree on things, doesn’t mean you can’t find a common ground. Okay, so we disagree about Dark Souls. What would it take to make us both like the game? What flaws would need corrected? What flaws did the developers try to correct, but failed in your eyes? Of the features that exist in games you like, which are shared with Dark Souls, and do they help? **

                      Somewhere within the sample space of “anything you could possibly implement in a game,” there is a way to modify Dark Souls so that you can enjoy it. It might change the game beyond recognition, but it merits discussion anyway, because I like understanding which game design features work and which don’t, and this blog is a good place for talking about game design.

                      *:To give evidence of my claim of “every game is frustrating,” I’ll relate my own experience with Minecraft, and other games like it:

                      I don’t enjoy games like Minecraft despite trying them, because when I play, I always think up some grand project I want to accomplish. I plot, I plan, I spend hours collecting resources and painstakingly counting out what blocks go where in my head.

                      Problem is, the final construction rarely turns out the way I had imagined it. If I’m lucky, the setback occurs because I miscounted some measurement, and I just need to spend more hours collecting resources, tearing my work down and rebuilding it. More often, it’s because I’m trying to do something the original system designer didn’t account for, and all the time I spent on it was for nothing. It’s frustrating, and I don’t like being frustrated.

                      **:Continuing my earlier example, I could make the exact same claims about Minecraft that you are making about Dark Souls–that people who enjoy Minecraft are just “wired differently” than me, willing to accept hours of setbacks and redesigns just so they can get that euphoric rush when they finish a construction exactly as they envisioned (which in my experience feels a lot like beating a boss). Clearly the game is designed for people who harness their frustration so they can feel good when they succeed, and I’m just not that kind of person.

                      Except…there are a lot of things that can alleviate my own frustration, that may or may not destroy the rush. The gathering and or crafting could be modified to be more compelling. There could be a preview interface, that would let me see if a design is going to work without spending hours building it one block at a time. Or an undo button, to save time on re-builds. Or an object creator, so I can create the components I need that aren’t there by default. There might be a map editor, that just lets me skip most of the whole ordeal and just make my creation directly….etc, etc.

                      In the end, it might just be a minor change, like changing the distribution of underground resources to uncommon materials more common, that makes it all better for me. There’s no way to know without understanding the problem better.

                    4. Shamus says:

                      “I have a couple of fundamental problems with the very premise of “some of us are just wired differently: […] First, it's complete nonsense.”

                      So… your plan, after having me patiently explain why I don’t like the game and even go so far as to explain the exact way that it makes me EXTREMELY UNHAPPY, is to throw it back in my face and tell me I’m… wrong? About how I feel? You’re literally arguing with me about what is going on in my head. Remember what I said at the start: I don’t get the feeling of exhilaration when I beat a boss that’s been troubling me. That’s a pretty important difference right there. Am I lying?

                      “willing to accept hours of setbacks and redesigns just so they can get that euphoric rush when they finish a construction exactly as they envisioned (which in my experience feels a lot like beating a boss). Clearly the game is designed for people who harness their frustration so they can feel good when they succeed, and I'm just not that kind of person.”

                      Uh. There’s no “rush”. That’s the difference I keep trying to explain. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. When I finish some massive building project I don’t get a rush. I feel disappointed because I’m done. I’m not playing because I want a castle. I’m playing because I enjoy building castles.

                      Getting back to Dark Souls:

                      “What would it take to make us both like the game?”

                      I don’t even know how to answer that. The thing I hate is woven into the design of the game, and to fix it I’d have to turn it into something else. Checkpoints would be goofy in a game this non-linear. Having the foes do less damage (to make the game less demanding and unforgiving) would turn it into a Batman-style beat-em-up. The game could train the player instead of letting them learn through failure (note how Half-Life makes SURE you know how to use a mechanic in a stress-free situation before it asks you to do it under pressure, and it makes sure you can do it under pressure before combining it with other mechanics) but that would completely change the atmosphere of cold indifference that’s so important to the game.

                      Do you really think I’ll like Dark Souls if I just have a different mindset? Or if you could just explain it in enough detail? Where are you going with this?

                    5. Abnaxis says:

                      I suck at being concise. Believe it or not, I tried making the above post in as few words as possible. It still wound up over-long and I still didn’t communicate effectively.

                      What I’m calling “nonsense,” is this idea that some people hate being frustrated, while others seek it out. Every game is frustrating. The difference between “frustration” and “challenge” is whether you’re enjoying yourself or not.

                      In the original post, you’re not just talking about how you feel, you’re talking about how you feel, versus how you think people who enjoy the game feel, and setting up a contrast. It’s not an apt comparison. I wasn’t trying to question your own personal metacognition, I was questioning your assertion that there’s such a huge gulf between you and the others you were comparing yourself to.

                      Uh. There's no “rush”. That's the difference I keep trying to explain. It's not the destination, it's the journey. When I finish some massive building project I don't get a rush. I feel disappointed because I'm done. I'm not playing because I want a castle. I'm playing because I enjoy building castles.

                      Wait, so at no point, do you ever just walk around in your castles and admire them? You never feel good when you see something you’ve planned for and worked at come together? Not trying to be contentious, I really would find that interesting if it were true.

                      I’m not saying that you play only because you want to have castles, I’m saying you get positive feedback when you finish a castle, just like I get positive feedback when I beat a boss. I guess “euphoric” is the wrong word for that, but that’s the idea.

                      As a side note, similarly to you not playing to finish castle, but rather to build them, I don’t play Dark Souls to win against bosses, I play because I like sword-fight-adventuring. Death isn’t so much a punishment for me, because I still get back to beating up zombies while dodging traps in seconds.

                      Do you really think I'll like Dark Souls if I just have a different mindset? Or if you could just explain it in enough detail? Where are you going with this?

                      I’m not trying to change the way you think. I would be lying if I said I don’t want as many people to like the same things I do (for the sake of camaraderie and so more games I like will be made) but I don’t expect that from anyone.

                      However, given that I don’t think we’re all that different, what is it that’s woven into the game that makes it so different than (say) Super Hexagon, which makes it enjoyable to me but not you? Or same question, but compared to any other game with penalties for death? If Dark Souls didn’t make you backtrack, but took away a resource that took the same amount of time to acquire, would it be different?

                      Is there a way to make backtracking more palatable? I mean, Path of Exile makes you backtrack constantly, restarting a level every time you relaunch the game or stand in town for more than ten minutes–does the randomly generated content make that easier to handle? Or is it because there’s longer time between repetitions? Or is it because backtracking is never caused by death?

                      Does it make a difference if there are multiple paths to the same destination?

                      You’ve mentioned the way the Dark Souls doesn’t give you a chance to master skills before it complicates them, butit does. There are a few places where I would run at an enemy, fight them, kill myself if they didn’t kill me, then run at them again for practice–does that count? Or is it better to have a dedicated tutorial area, rather than forcing the player to make their own practice spot?

                      These and more are all questions I want to ask, but any time I do I get a “hush, Shamus is a vampire and Dark Souls is garlic, stop trying to convince him he will like the game.” I don’t know if you’ll like the game. It’s distinctly possible, given what I’ve seen you praise and what I’ve seen you condemn here, but I’m not you. That goes double for anyone else on the other side of the “argument.”

                      I really, REALLY wish this discussion could be had in a way that’s less inflammatory, but I don’t think it’s avoidable due to the subject matter. I honestly am not trying to be overbearing here, I’m just trying to tease out the intangible details along with the tangible ones. (Film Crit Hulk reference)

                    6. Sougo says:

                      Shamus: I must say that I am sorry for continue this discussion when it was smarter to leave it alone. I get the feeling that you’re sick of the subject and would rather drop it and my post does nothing to help the matter. I know that I am not a regular poster on the blog and I hate that the few times that I do had indirectly contributed to your frustration.

                    7. Shamus says:

                      I’m not really angry or anything. I’m just sort of dismayed and wondering what I could have done differently. Usually I can see “Ah, I should have headed of this point before I made the post”.

                      It’s not that I didn’t want to have this discussion. In fact this is what I was aiming for when I made the post. I just can’t get over how unproductive it’s been.

                    8. Sougo says:

                      Since Shamus said he doesn’t mind the discussion, I’m going to give this another try. Abnaxis, I’m sorry that my tone have been confrontational to you because from my point of view, you were really trying very hard to ‘sell’ Dark Souls. However, since there seems to be some confusions, I’m hoping to clarify things:

                      To recap, Shamus said that he wouldn’t like the game due to it’s punishing nature. He listed the reasons above in great details above and that’s the same problem many of us face.

                      You and other posters then suggest ways to mitigate the punishment e.g ‘learn to run past the enemies’, ‘get better prepare’, ‘think of the mooks as a full package for the level,’ Yet none of these will work since the fundamental problem will remain: every time I die, I will be restart at the last bonfire and face the same enemies that I’ve beaten before. This is what I will always return to: ‘Oh, why the hell am I doing this again?’ Nothing will get rid of that lingering thought in our head and after the 10th time, I will start cursing the developers for wasting my time. This is why I said that we are wired differently.

                      This is why talks about making Dark Soul better for us feels… unproductive. For example, to make me actually enjoy Dark Souls, you would have to remove the death penalty completely: More bonfires placements next to the boss entrance/near power enemies. Mooks will not re-spawn until you interact with bonfire. No soul/humanities lost etc.. Many Souls fans would rightfully cry foul at that since it would change the fundamental design of the game, design which they enjoy. For me, there will be no compromise, no middle ground, it’s either that or play something else and I ended up playing something else. (Fun fact, I was actually looking for a mod on the Dark Soul Nexus to remove the penalties but found nothing)


                      These and more are all questions I want to ask, but any time I do I get a “hush, Shamus is a vampire and Dark Souls is garlic, stop trying to convince him he will like the game.” I don't know if you'll like the game. It's distinctly possible, given what I've seen you praise and what I've seen you condemn here, but I'm not you. That goes double for anyone else on the other side of the “argument.”

                      No one here is trying to speak for Shamus. Many of us were drawn in by praises of Dark Souls: it’s atmosphere, setting and storytelling. I’m pretty sure Shamus is aware of them too. However, he had made his points abundantly clear in this thread why he felt Dark Souls’ mechanics will highly likely cause him to become extremely frustrated with the game. These concerns are not unfounded and those who share his frustration knows that he would probably not get very far. I mean, why do you think I spent over 10 hours in Dark Souls? I was desperately trying to get into it for all the praises that it gets. It just didn’t work out.

                    9. Abnaxis says:

                      I completely misread some of the above, got mad, left for the weekend, came back, and realized I misread it.

                      So yeah, sorry for taking so long to get back.

                      It's not that I didn't want to have this discussion. In fact this is what I was aiming for when I made the post. I just can't get over how unproductive it's been.

                      The thesis I was getting from the original article was “there is absolutely no way I could ever like this game, and anybody who does like it is a completely different breed of gamer than me.” While you were clear that you don’t feel either side is “superior,” you’re still splitting people into two camps, with a clear “us” and “them.” That’s going to breed conflict.

                      Not that I have any idea how to avoid the problem. I still contend that the whole “players like Josh/players like Shamus,” dichotomoy doesn’t really exist (more on that below), but no matter what you’re still separating Dark Souls fans from detractors, and they’re going to rally for and against each other.

                      No one here is trying to speak for Shamus. Many of us were drawn in by praises of Dark Souls: it's atmosphere, setting and storytelling. I'm pretty sure Shamus is aware of them too. However, he had made his points abundantly clear in this thread why he felt Dark Souls' mechanics will highly likely cause him to become extremely frustrated with the game. These concerns are not unfounded and those who share his frustration knows that he would probably not get very far

                      I’m not saying the concerns are unfounded, nor am I trying to “sell” Dark Souls (though I think you got that from your replay). However, the points that are so abundantly clear to you, aren’t to me.

                      Specifically, that point (as I understand it) is that repeating already-finished content is a frustrating waste of time, and that frustration mounts until you aren’t playing for enjoyment anymore, you’re playing just to get it over with.

                      I don’t see how that differentiates Dark Souls from any other game you aren’t enjoying.

                      My problem comes in, that I have no idea how to express this disconnect in general terms without relying on some sort of shared example. My general sense is that most of the people on the other side are Minecraft fans, so I’ve tried to make the point that you repeat content in Minecraft all the time–at least I do–as you try stuff, it doesn work, you tear it down and try it again, only slightly modified to make it work better. For every castle I’ve ever made, there’s at least ten I’ve started and torn down because I messed something up. That’s frustrating, repeated content for me.

                      In Shamus’s specific case, I’ve been following this site long enough to know much easier relatable examples of games that also commit this same sin of forced repetition which he nonetheless enjoyed. Every Final Fantasy I’ve ever played, including Final Fantasy X, uses periodic save points. Left 4 Dead expert mode is an explicit exception to the rule. Super Hexagon and Hotline Miami are also both apparently on the good side of “OK.” And those are just off the top of my head.

                      I’m not bringing this up as some sort of proof, like “AHA! See, you’re totally going to like Dark Souls!” I’m fully willing to accept that you guys don’t like it. I’m a big boy.

                      However, there is more nuance to this than “I can’t stand repetition.” You practically can’t avoid it if you play video games. Rather, there is something the other games do right where Dark Souls Fails, or something Dark Souls does wrong that the others don’t, which has nothing to do with repetition.

                      Note again, that I’m not saying you are wrong in your opinion, just that your reasoning isn’t really telling me much about why you don’t like the game.

                      From my perspective, as I said above, the difference between whether the repetition is rage-quit-inducing frustration or bracing challenge is whether you’re having fun or not at that point in time. I completely believe that you could only stomach 10 hours of Dark Souls before you’d had enough, but I think the game failed you in some way long before you had to repeat the same fight the umpteenth time, the repetition just made it apparent to you that you were bored. That underlying failure is what I’m trying to feel out from you.

                      Incidentally, I think this is related to how so many people here keep talking about the fairness of Dark Souls, and the time it takes to recover from failure, and all the other good bits they see in Dark Souls. They’re trying to show that the fundamentals–the bits underneath that REALLY make you hate repetition if they’re off–are solid.

        2. Shamus says:

          Except, they’re not really related. The opening of chess has a massive impact on how the rest of the game played out. If I’m trying to get the hang of the bosses’ attack patterns and tells, then the skeletons are really just extremely unwelcome filler. It’s not like trying a different approach with the skeletons is going to change the fight with the boss.

          Imagine if you’re learning to play the piano. You fluff a note. Instead of playing that section over again right away you go and vacuum for five minutes. It’s not just that you’re wasting your time, it’s that it’s interfering with the learning process.

          EDIT: And I’m ninja’d by Professor Rutskarn. Great. Now I have to go all the way back and try the entire comment thread over again.

          1. ET says:

            Hmm. I know the devs didn’t want you to just save-scum your way through the game, but I also sympathize with Rutskarn and Shamus, in not wanting to re-do (sub-)sections which I’ve already finished several times. I can’t say how this would affect a game like Dark Souls, but there is a mechanic which I think does a good job to satisfy both not redoing stuff and not save-scumming — the checkpointing system from They Bleed Pixels. Basically, when you stop moving your character for a couple seconds (3?), she drops a checkpoint, so that when you die, the game reverts to that part of the level, with your position, and all the items, enemies and so-on reset, to that point in time. So, it’s basically like a quick-save/quick-load thing, but automatic, and with a small delay on it so that you can’t, for example, checkpoint in the middle of a series of difficult jumps. Combat with enemies also interrupts it.

            1. Tizzy says:

              That’s a pretty cool concept. I like that; it’s the save that makes the most sense, actually, if coupled with a more permanent ” beginning of the area” save.

            2. Peter H. Coffin says:

              Nope. Make stuff you already killed stay dead ten minutes or however minutes times a couple of tries at the thing that’s likely to be stopping the character is gonna take to go down. That’s enough. If you can’t get past the thing in ten (or whatever) minutes and the mooks respawn, okay. It’s annoying, but you’re clearing it for another ten minutes of peace, not just until the next time you die. The thing is that THESE THINGS have nothing to teach anymore, and that’s why “just run past them” isn’t an answer either. The only point to their existence is to hinder me. Not to stop me. Not to challenge me. Not to teach me anything anymore. Not to be interesting, and we’re even past the point where they’re atmospheric anymore. They’re ONLY any annoyance. Why play a thing that’s annoying?

              1. syal says:

                The only time they’re guaranteed to not be teaching you anything anymore is if you can get past them consistently without using any estus. Removing them for ten minutes would remove the incentive to get past them flawlessly, in favor of chugging all your estus and rushing them down so they’ll still be gone when you die and respawn, and you’ll get to walk to the boss with full estus. It encourages sloppiness.

          2. Decius says:

            So, you want to practice your endgame without going through the act of reaching the endgame every time you iterate.

            That’s a good way to practice, but you can’t say that you won a game of chess if you repeated it from move 25 until you figured out the endgame. Of course, there are many games other than chess that can be played by moving chess pieces on the board according to the rules of chess.

            As an aside, I don’t play chess with my computer because I always lose and never learn why or how to do better from it. If I were practicing with a friend and lost regularly, we could set up and discuss possible endgame situations without repeating the openings over and over again.

            1. Asimech says:

              The chess analogy doesn’t fit here at all. It’s not “like practicing end-game” it’s nothing like playing chess. In Dark Souls, or most other games for that matter, those first few rounds do not meaningfully influence the actual test of skill, which is separate and doesn’t change based on how you did in earlier sections.

              Finishing all of the “end-games” without having to re-play segments leading to them when you fail counts as “finishing the whole game” because they’re separate parts of the video game that the player already got through once. If it didn’t, then loading up an earlier save or even re-spawning once would result in an invalid playthrough. After all, you didn’t play-through leading up to get to the problem on a single run.

              Like you do in a full game of chess.

              Shamus and Rutskarn want to re-try the thing that they failed straight off after failing it. Dark Souls goes out of its way to not provide this. This doesn’t make it a bad game, and neither of them have been suggesting it is so. What they have done is try to explain is why they, personally, would not enjoy the game.
              And that would people please stop telling them they’re wrong about their own tastes and being pushy about playing the game. Seriously.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                The chess analogy doesn't fit here at all. It's not “like practicing end-game” it's nothing like playing chess. In Dark Souls, or most other games for that matter, those first few rounds do not meaningfully influence the actual test of skill, which is separate and doesn't change based on how you did in earlier sections.

                While the chess analogy is a bit of a stretch, what you’re saying isn’t not true either. You have resources that are renewed every time you restart. You have spells, and healing charges that are limited for each run. These can potentially help against the boss if you don’t waste them on mooks, and are the sacrificial “pawns,” as it were.

                At the same time, these things don’t have nearly the same effect on the boss fight as the opening moves in chess, but there’s still a little bit left for the metaphor at least :)

                And that would people please stop telling them they're wrong about their own tastes and being pushy about playing the game. Seriously.

                I really wish this thread didn’t start off as personally as it did. I think the way Shamus and Rutskarn react to the game says something about how people consume games, what problems this creates for game design, and possible ways of dealing with the ramifications, but the personal nature of the discussion makes it sound like “you’re having fun wrong” any time someone wants to point out the ways the Dark Souls series mitigates the issues Shamus/Rutskarn have with it.

                For my part, I want them to try it just to satisfy my inner mad scientist, but there are some ethical issues to approaching them from this angle ;-)

                1. Asimech says:

                  The chess analogy isn’t stretched, it is broken. You’re using it as part of an argument for why skipping the route to a boss, for example, when retrying that boss would mean the player “can’t really say they’ve defeated the boss”. But there’s no parallel or conceptual connection between video games and chess in that regard.

                  It’s an invalid comparison and it undermines the argument.

                  If you had just said “but those segments are a part of Dark Souls’ experience” you would have cut to the chase. Not that it would be relevant, as their point still stands: Dark Souls is not for them so they don’t want to play it.

                  I have seen nothing here that fixes the problems brought up by Shamus and Rutskarn for them. They don’t really even circle around a fix. The problem is with a core gameplay decision, and that decision was made in a manner that means it can’t be mitigated for either of them.

                  Sprinkling curry on mayonnaise doesn’t make it stop being mayonnaise, and when the problem is that you hate mayonnaise having people insist you should just sprinkle curry on it isn’t helpful. Frankly, after a while it’s disrespectful, as it implies that they don’t trust you to able to make decisions for yourself.

                  1. Decius says:

                    Suppose that I used my chess program’s features to take back an arbitrary number of moves. If by using that feature I was able to reach a situation where I put the program’s king into checkmate, did I ‘beat’ the program?

                    When playing Rock Band, should you be able to get the maximum possible score simply for getting each note correct on at least one out of many attempts? Or should you have to hit each note perfectly on the same attempt? Dark Souls seems isomorphic to Rock Band in that regard: Doing poorly can make you fail and have to repeat something that you did right a moment earlier.

                    1. Sleepyfoo says:

                      Why yes, Yes you did beat that chess program. Does it mean that you are ready for the nest level of chess? probably not, but you probably learned something if you were paying attention. This is one of the things pros do all the time, and what at least half of the chess books suggest, as it lets you get a feel for why, from a given situation, one move results in a disadvantage and a separate move from the same start gives you an advantage. With Dark souls it’s even more likely that you are ready for the next level, as the iterations on the boss polished at least some of your skills. I bet it would be a lot better if it gave you the option to restart at the bonfire with bonfire rest effects or a checkpoint just before the boss with exactly what you had estus wise before the fight started.

                      In Rock Band (and other rhythm games) you have to play the song again to get a better score, but you still beat the song and can move on to the next unlocked song. Or you can play it again just to practice more. Dark Souls, on the other hand, says “you’ve unlocked these 4 songs, go through them in order and you aren’t allowed to practice them individually, and you need a score at least this high to unlock more songs. BTW the last song is a Extra Hard”. If you flub one of the first 3 songs for whatever reason, you’re out your retrieval, a fair amount of time, and you still didn’t get to practice that last damn song. That’s not something I would consider fun.

                      Peace : )

                    2. Abnaxis says:

                      You’re missing the point–that point being, that the enitire level is one song, not four, with a difficult solo at the end (the boss)

                      Incidentally, a lot of Rock Band songs are actually structured like that.

                    3. Asimech says:

                      @Abnaxis: The devs can set up the “level” any way they like, the way it’s set in Dark Souls isn’t suited for Shamus or Rutskarn. Nothing anyone is saying here affects that.

                  2. Abnaxis says:

                    The chess analogy isn't stretched, it is broken. You're using it as part of an argument for why skipping the route to a boss, for example, when retrying that boss would mean the player “can't really say they've defeated the boss”. But there's no parallel or conceptual connection between video games and chess in that regard.

                    More like it’s saying the player hasn’t really beaten the “level” not so much that they haven’t beaten the “boss”.

                    The idea is that, how well you perform against the mooks sets you up for success when you make it to the boss. If you burn through all your resources, and arrive with half health, that boss is going to be a lot harder.

                    I haven’t watched the video yet, but just from what I know of the level–you know those undead soldiers right before the tower to the boss? When I played, it was a conscious decision for me to not fight them close range–I would stand back and plink at them with spells or arrows, because my HP was a much more important resource for me against the boss than my ranged attacks were. The bridge restricts movement too much for those resources to be useful. That decision had a measurable impact on my success against the Taurus Demon.

                    Starting right at the boss door with full resources is akin to starting a game of chess where you have all your important pieces, but your opponent has no knights or queens, and starts in check. You can definitely say you beat the other player when you win, but you can’t really say you’ve won a full game of chess. That’s the metaphor.

          3. Paul Spooner says:

            I would LOL if you put a “comments assassinated” counter in the post, and delete the entire comment section every time someone gets comment ninja-ed & Counter ++

            The piano analogy is apt. You want to practice as focused and as efficiently as possible. Many beginners will start a song over from the beginning instead of practicing the difficult section. Experts, though, just practice a few difficult notes at a time until they have it down.

            Same thing with rehearsing a play, or a dance routine, or any other execution challenge. You don’t start over from the top every time! That would take forever! Video games that include an execution element (such as DS) must embrace this freedom!

            Far from being a matter of taste, I consider the rehearsal inflexibility of most video games to be an insult. To deny the ability of focused practice is an affront to the time and energy of focused individuals seeking to master the game. We (as a gaming community) will never attract the levels of dedication afforded to sports by talented athletes until our game designers are willing to give us the freedom to train efficiently.

            1. Shirdal says:

              What if a game isn’t interested in giving that kind of competitive experience that is entirely skill-based? Not every game has to be solely about the learning and mastery of skills, or to use Shamus’ analogy: not every game has to be about playing a piano.

              There can be more to games than just an execution element, and that is the case with Dark Souls which incorporates a psychological and atmospheric element to its experience. If that rubs some people the wrong way, I think that’s a perfectly legitimate preference, but so are other, different preferences.

              Dark Souls would be an entirely different experience for me if it incorporated elements that allow for quick and convenient rehearsal of specific challenges. I am not sure I would have liked that experience as much as I like the current one.

              1. Paul Spooner says:

                Yeah, “that include an execution element” is the key part. I don’t mind execution challenges. But if a game is asking me to execute something specific, I expect to be able to practice it.
                I totally admit it’s a meta-game expectation… though one could see how that expectation might arise from the internal world of the character you are playing. By excluding all practice elements, the game is essentially saying that your character has no foresight or imagination. If your character did have such faculties, he could easily imagine a giant with a club, and practice dodging out of the way. Or he could imagine a fire breathing dragon, or all manner of other foes, and practice against their attacks, as well as taking advantage of their weaknesses.
                These practice foes need not exactly mimic real enemies in the game, thus maintaining the illusion of suspense. But this is literally stuff that little kids can do. It’s absurd to play a character who has the physical skills of an athlete, but lacks the mental faculties of a grade-school-er. The game is literally telling me that I’m playing as a brainless jock… a fantasy I hope you will forgive me for not being eager to participate in, as well as taking umbrage at the suggestion that anyone would wish to do so.

                1. syal says:

                  But this is literally stuff that little kids can do.

                  With exactly the same effectiveness the player will have by running around an empty part of the map, trying to mimic the boss’s attacks.

          4. Peter H. Coffin says:

            Sometime, man, I really wish your site had a “like button”. (:

        3. silver Harloe says:

          Two ideas come to mind:

          1) you can respawn at the boss, but can’t progress from beating the boss there – you have to go back to the bonfire and then beat the boss to open the next bit of content. Think of it like practicing the hard solo separately from practicing the other five minutes of the song. No one is impressed until you can do the whole thing on stage, but when you’re practicing at home, you don’t need to redo the whole song every time when the solo is the hard part.


          2) if you kill *all* the mooks on a level (not counting optional challenge bosses like the Dark Knight) without taking damage, it spawns a new bonfire next to the boss (you could then optionally make an ‘easy’ mode where you can use up to N estus before during the mooks before it moves the bonfire)

          Of course, either of these options are just if the devs wanted to try to appeal to people who approach challenges differently. If they’re fine with losing those people from their market, as they seem to be, then nothing needs changing. Though it would be nice if they told their fans about that, so their fans stopped insulting people who just have a different idea about fun.

          1. poiumty says:

            Restarting at the boss is actually not as much of a big deal as you’d expect. Most bosses have a relatively easy path between them and the bonfire that in 90% of cases can just be run through. Ignore the enemies, run past them, and it’ll take about 15-30 seconds to get to the boss. Explore the level, and you WILL find closer bonfires and/or open up shortcuts that will get you to him sooner.

            This is another learning thing. If they just spawned you right next to the boss when you died on him, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to notice this.

            1. Steve C says:

              Then the challenge ends being running through the enemies. And then that is the unfun part that has to be repeated. It could be a 30sec elevator ride. Or a 15sec cutscene. If you can’t skip it in a fraction of a second then it’s a chore with as much enjoyment as getting your teeth filled.

              It doesn’t matter how long it is, if it’s not instant it’s unwelcome and no fun. Doing it quicker, or getting to the goal sooner doesn’t solve the issue. The fact that it exists and you’re subject to it is enough to piss you off. It is Tyler Durden inserting a big fat cock into a movie. It doesn’t matter if it’s there for 10 sec or 5mins. It’s completely unwelcome and detracting from an otherwise enjoyable experience.

              1. Humanoid says:

                Yeah, have to say I get mixed messages from the design as stated. It’s not a big deal, just run past it in 30 seconds, and there, easy job done. But if it’s not a big deal, why is it an integral part of the game such that “It wouldn’t be Dark Souls anymore if you remove it”?

                (Note: Not a specific response to this particular sub-pyramid, but this comment pyramid has grown out of hand)

                1. syal says:

                  Because the game is trying to create a feel of plodding through a task you don’t know how to do but need to do regardless. Setbacks, however minor, are vital to that mood. Take them away and the game becomes just another fantasy game.

                2. poiumty says:

                  Everything in Dark Souls needs to be taken as a whole. You can’t single something out and make it go poof and not have to deal with huge repercussions on how the game works.

                  The levels are big, and not a linear path to the boss. There are lots of side-paths, secrets, alternate routes, shortcuts that need to be unlocked, items that can be picked up that can and will help you with the boss. Respawning right before the boss fight WILL de-incentivize you to explore the level further if you’re having trouble, as well as removing the bits of downtime that the game thinks you need.

                  Running past enemies is a gradual process that requires practice. To run past, you need to know the route. And the route can be very precise. This isn’t something you do if you’ve died once to the boss and need to go back; but on your 10th death, if you ever get there, you’ll notice you’re optimizing things by yourself.

              2. poiumty says:

                “if it's not instant it's unwelcome and no fun”

                It’s really not about fun. It’s about getting some time to think and reflect on your mistakes. Have you watched the SuperBunnyHop video on quiet time? It’s related to this: having a bit of cool-down period after an intense boss fight serves to relieve the tension.

                It’s some very elaborate game design. You can’t just hand-wave it off as “nope, not good”.

                1. Steve C says:

                  I absolutely can just hand-wave it off as “nope, not good” because we are talking about the enjoyment of specific individuals here- namely Shamus and Rutskarn.

                  I can see both sides of this. I’ve been exalted at overcoming a challenge that included lots of filler I’d already beaten. I beat Super Ghosts & Ghouls on a single playthrough. I know the autopilot feeling of doing content you’ve mastered. I was in the #2 raiding guild on my WoW server for years. I get what Dark Souls is going for and how the repetitiveness creates peaks and valleys in the tension and how that is a valid design decision. There’s times I like it, times I do not.

                  I also completely understand what Shamus and Rutskarn are saying too. They don’t enjoy that style and I get that and why. People in this thread argue “oh it’s not that bad because…” or offer suggestions and solutions that simply aren’t valid. It doesn’t work that way. It’s just not their thing.

                  I dislike music rhythm games like Rock Band. I can’t stand them. It would become very tiresome if someone kept suggesting different games, different music, different peripherals etc. It would be trying to fix a problem that isn’t a problem. It’s just a matter of personal preference and taste, not a problem to be solved.

                  1. Abnaxis says:

                    There are a ton of place I’ve wanted to say this in the thread, but I’m putting it here.

                    Just because an idea is “opinion” or “personal preference” does not de-facto make it unassailable to criticism, nor does it make the idea unconditionally correct. You can’t just “hand wave” anything off and expect any sort of credibility when you base your assertions solely on “well, that’s my preference,” at least not if you want to have anything resembling a constructive conversation (which I assume everyone is here for).

                    I feel this needs said for all the people who keep saying “that’s just Shamus’s/Rutskarn’s/my opinion stop trying to change his mind.” While I understand many people ARE sometimes overbearing in trying to get others to try the game when they don’t want to (which is kind of a fall-out from opening the conversation with “there’s no way I could ever like this game so I’m giving it a pass”), responding with “no it’s our opinion so you can’t argue with us” strikes me as tantamount to saying “I don’t agree with you so I’m not even going to bother engaging with you.”

                    Which is sad, because a lot of this discussion centers around game design theory, and the proper place for difficulty within a video game’s framework. To follow your rhythm game example, when people keep suggesting alternatives, they’re not trying to force you to their way of thinking, they’re trying to understand why you think the way you do, and find a way to make something you don’t find enjoyable into something you like, so you’ll join them in fandom.

                    I don’t want that discussion silenced.

          2. Naota says:

            You can respawn at the boss, but can't progress from beating the boss there ““ you have to go back to the bonfire and then beat the boss to open the next bit of content.

            But you can already do this, at least more or less.

            By reaching the boss door and putting down your sign, especially in Dark Souls 2 with its miles-superior Steam integration replacing GFWL, you can basically fight any boss, free of repercussions, as a phantom summoned for another player’s attempt. You can do this for as long as you want until you’re confident in trying it out “for real”, and it works for most other parts of the game as well.

            Hell, I tackle most bosses this way first so I know what I’m getting into before I put my character’s life on the line. Of course, while this provides endless opportunities to practice, it doesn’t solve Shamus’s central issue of an ironclad “repetition != fun” brain wiring.

      3. Thanatos Crows says:

        And here’s the big difference -atleast for me- concerning the Souls games. I rarely get frustated playing them. I don’t get enjoyment out of finally beating a frustrating boss that keeps killing me over and over again. I also get the relief of not having to deal with it again, whereas in souls I simply enjoy the challenge the boss presents – atleast in Demon’s and Dark 1, the sequel didn’t really do bosses and pacing well. The thing Josh does with the mooks is something he chooses to do, as they don’t really chase after you that long. Atleast I never felt any obligation to kill them. Sometimes I would to accumulate souls or to get to know them, but it’s completely reliant on if I enjoy the downtime. I don’t think you should invest in the game, but if you ever get the chance to just try it out as it’s the little details that really seem to affect the level of enjoyment. But playing to finish it? Nope. That way there be frustration.
        Also, giving up is just okay narratively, like in Spec Ops; your character simply goes hollow.

        1. Klay F. says:

          Interesting how you mention Spec Ops, because to me, Spec Ops’ use of mechanics and gameplay and reinforce the narrative was a HUGE reason I loved (or rather, was enthralled by) that game. Similarly, Dark Souls’ uses difficulty as just another tool to reinforce the overall design. This is why I get mad when so many people only ever want to talk about the difficulty in a vacuum, because when they do so, it automatically sells everything else short. You should never talk about the difficulty in DS without also talking about how it affects the atmosphere, art design, mechanics, and story, and how they all interrelate and affect each other. Its no mystery why these types of games are analyzed into the ground.

  3. spades says:

    For me a challenge in a video game never gets frustrating if I’m given a chance and alternate ways to complete said challenge. If I keep dying to a boss and its clearly my mistakes that are getting me killed than I just never get frustrated especially if there are multiple ways to fight the boss. This is completely unlike any, for example, CoD game on the hardest difficulty where they shove you into a linear corridor with like 50 dudes who all have godlike aim and only want to shoot and throw grenades at you and only you. Level design like that is like continously running into a brick wall until it you’re able to break through it. That stuff sucks.

    1. Doomcat says:

      Agree with this whole-heartedly. This is why Dark Souls works for me where some other “super hard” games don’t, the challenge feels fair, the enemies are bound to the exact same ruleset as you are, and this only very VERY rarely changes. A game that throws a boss at you that goes against gameplay mechanics I’d been using up to that point? It…makes me want to quit…or throw my controller…etc.

      Not to say verity is a BAD thing, quite the opposite, but if you are designing a boss, it needs to be relevant to something you’ve had to deal with in the game.

      As an aside: I can totally relate to the way you approach challenges too Shamus, I’ve experienced that in other games where I’m playing more for the narrative elements then the gameplay ones. Best example I can think of is a JRPG like Final Fantasy.

      1. Janus says:

        I’d second that point.

        I’m put off by a lot of arcady hard games – I never got far in say, Super Meat Boy & Don’t Starve survived only about one day on my hard drive.
        But Dark Souls works for me.
        I think that’s mostly because
        1) it’s almost always fair, and when you die you understand why & what you did wrong – dying is a learning experience, not a complete fail state, as in Don’t Starve.
        2)the difficulty is tied very effectively to the atmosphere, the narrative, etc. The difficulty has a purpose, it actually makes the game better.

        So hard is not the same as hard. But I like Shamus’ explanation – makes sense to me (as much as a “there are two kinds of people”-explanation can make sense :) ). If it’s not working for you, it’s not working, discussion done.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          speaketh for thyself. It was not until now that I saw how to kill that Taurus demon. I kept trying to roll between his legs and get behind him, and could never swing it.

          1. Janus says:

            Well, yes. You do have to go at it with the will to experiment, try different things and approaches. If your strategy isn’t working, you should try something else – not just in Dark Souls ;).

            There is this “hurdle” (steep cliffside, really) in everyone’s first playthrough. Like Josh said in the video – the first time through that area you may die dozens of times until you’ve picked up the basics. After that it gets progressively better.
            It’s very likely one of the main reasons, why the already tough & unvorgiving difficulty gets frequently overstated – the first few steps are the hardest.
            I’m saying it’s fair – but it still forces you to learn its rules& to play by them first.
            Though there are exceptions, sometimes they just fuck with you (Tomb of Giants comes to my mind). It’s not perfect, obviously and as always: ymmv :)

          2. poiumty says:

            There’s about 3-4 ways to kill the Taurus Demon. Haven’t watched the video yet, but a lot of the bosses have alternate ways (some of which are really surprising).

            And this is aside from the actual playstyles you can employ. Avoid damage by dodging, avoid damage by blocking, kill them from far away, from melee etc.

    2. Trix2000 says:

      I’d agree up to a point – knowing that you have the tools and opportunity to overcome the challenge goes a long way towards motivating me to keep trying.

      The issue I think comes from either A) I reach a point where I don’t feel like I’m improving anymore or B) I’ve done it like a billion times and am starting to get fatigue (physically or mentally). Obviously, some people will have much better thresholds on both of those than I.

  4. ET says:

    OK, so this game looks cool, and the combat and challenge of the game looks like it could totally be my style.* The one thing that makes me want to barf, is the pseudo-realistic graphics. Like, high-res stuff like this** just looks cluttered to me, and it also makes, my laptop choke. Is there a game like this, but with maybe like a cartoony art style, like Wind Waker or something? Hmm…Dark Souls + cartoon art style, would maybe be like the perfect 3D Ghosts n’ Goblins game ever. :)

    * I played the heck out of Super Meat Boy, even getting the I Wanna Be The Guy guy, who I think is the hardest guy to unlock. :P

    ** Skyrim too, is barf-tastic, for me. :S

    1. Kristoffer says:

      There was a game on Kickstarter a while ago with pretty much this pitch, so I guess you might get exactly what you want in a year or two.

      1. ET says:

        But I want it now! :P

  5. Torsten says:

    Thanks for the Spoiler Warning crew for taking a look on the franchise, now with this and the hang out on DS2. I dont think this is a game I would enjoy in the end, but I do see its appeal. That combat system looks like it could be great fun in other games too, and I wouldn’t mind it being used in Skyrim for example. I wonder if there is a mod for that.

    Have a little more upbeat setting, keep the combat system, remove the punishment for player death and make an easier to use co-op system, and there would be a great game for a more casual experience.

    1. IFS says:

      Dark Souls 2 does about half of those things :P

      The coop mechanics are improved via a ring that makes it easy to set up games with a friend, and the setting is overall a lot brighter and upbeat (which does sort of run counter to the games overall tone which damages the atmosphere imo), but then it also makes the punishment for death more severe which is rather annoying.

      1. HeroOfHyla says:

        The beautiful thing that punishment for death does is encourage co-op. A successful run as someone’s summoned ally grants you full health, restores your humanity, restores all your (not completely broken) weapons, and refills your estus. You can just drop your small summon sign, help someone mop up a few enemies, and after the time runs out (the small sign summon works on some kind of timer instead of ending when the boss is defeated) it’ll register success and give you the benefits. And death is no big deal while you’re co-oping with someone, you just reappear where you were when you were summoned (instead of back at the bonfire like in DaS1) with your health the way it was when you got called in.

        1. IFS says:

          That is definitely true, and I do love me some Dark Souls coop. While I don’t like the lowered health on death very much I do like that humanity has a greater value and there is a reason to want to be human this time around, and I do like the various mechanics they worked into the gradual hollowing process (dark pyromancy flame for instance) and they have a number of measures (ring of binding) that make hollowing manageable, so its something I have mixed opinions on.

        2. Bubble181 says:

          Yet another way of trying to force me into co-op? If I needed a reason more to stay away from the game…Gah.

          Why always try and force other people into my escapistic endevours? I don’t want them there and certainly don’t like feeling forced or manipulated into allowing them in on my time.

          1. Abnaxis says:

            To be fair, it doesn’t “force” anything–there’s also a Covenant that completely cuts off all co-op and ups the difficulty a little, or you can just not summon anyone to your world, and you can always choose not to summon anyone if you don’t want company (though it’s going to be harder).

            What they’re talking about here is a way to get practice on challenges, by requesting other people to summon you into their world so you can help them out. There’s nothing saying you have to do it, the option is just there.

        3. Destrustor says:

          Uh, if I’m not mistaken, that’s pretty much a bug. When you get summoned, no matter how hollow you are, you become fully human while in the other player’s world (presumably to prevent players being stuck summoning half-health buddies who would be much less useful). Sometimes this ‘being human’ doesn’t revert properly when you return to your world, same thing with the items being re-filled; the game simply fails to keep track of what you’re supposed to have.
          I can tell from experience that this is far from a guaranteed outcome of being summoned, and it’s in fact completely random, relatively unlikely, and probably not an intentional choice from the developers.

          (for example, I’ve once been summoned, fell off a cliff, and came back human despite my total failure; likewise, I’ve often spent three or four successful runs of cooperation with absolutely no effect on my hollowing. It’s pure luck.)

          1. IFS says:

            Its not a bug, being summoned does make you human while you’re a summon but on successful coop it gives you back humanity. That said it used to be bugged such that you sometimes didn’t get humanity and sometimes you got it from an unsuccessful venture, but they fixed that with one of the first updates.

            1. Destrustor says:

              Oh, so that’s very recent then.
              I didn’t know, thanks.

      2. Torsten says:

        I still think that setting co-op or multiplayer play should be separated from in-game system. Needing an in-game item – and buying it using in-game currency – that still does not let me choose a partner, feels like an artificial solution to a problem that should not exist.

        It is a nice idea to integrate the co-op system into the game world though.

  6. TheAngryMongoose says:

    For me the relief at overcoming a hard challenge isn’t how many times it took or the level of frustration, but how close to the extent of my ability I felt I was when I managed it. If I beat a boss or manage a level the first time, but feel on edge all the way through, I feel awesome. If it took me 50 tries but I felt I lucked through, or wasn’t playing at my best when I managed it, I only feel the frustration.
    Both cases could be described as harder, but only one of them makes me feel better for managing it.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      Agreed. Feeling challenged even when technically I’m not goes a long way towards making me enjoy games.

    2. Eathanu says:

      This is me.

      Though, I honestly wouldn’t mind the difficulty of Dark Souls (barring a few obnoxiously difficult places) if it weren’t for the fact that every death ALSO feels the need to take something from you. You always more or less lose your humanity after the first death, and you can never just leave and do something else unless you also want to lose all of your stocked humanity and souls.

      DS2 is even worse in this regard, with humanity being an even more limited resource, and souls being something you can all but run out of opportunities to get.

      All either of those games need to hook me is a mod to make deaths not take away your souls (lost progress is enough, thanks) and it’d hook me completely. Good thing they didn’t want to bother with any sort of official mod support on DS2.

  7. Spammy says:

    I feel like the Neo-Chris of the comment thread of this series, spending my time badmouthing and being critical of a popular game despite enjoying it. Maybe it’s just a sacred cow thing, being told how perfect and wonderful this cow is, and after I come to meet it after hearing praise for so long I find it crapping in the street and being too dumb to move out of the way of traffic.

    On a less Chris-y note, I think that maybe it’s my having come to Dark Souls after Monster Hunter that’s influenced my playstyle the most. I’ve approached things very conservatively. I bought Monster Hunter 3, was so terrible at it that I set it down for months before trying again, then suddenly it clicked. The monsters had so much health and did so much damage that the hunts were battles of attrition, wearing the beast down. So I’m just fine with taking my time when it comes to fighting special enemies and bosses.

    But remember, Dark Souls is a perfect game, and if ever have anything negative to say about it, then you’re just a scrub and a babby who can’t appreciate a real game with real difficulty and should go back to playing a babby game that hold’s your hand and spoon feeds you everything.

    Which is really funny, because it seems like Dark Souls fans are so defensive about their game being better than Skyrim and that’s what Spoiler Warning’s going back to.

    1. Raygereio says:

      But remember, Dark Souls is a perfect game, and if ever have anything negative to say about it, then you're just a scrub and a babby who can't appreciate a real game with real difficulty and should go back to playing a babby game that hold's your hand and spoon feeds you everything.

      Ugh. I enjoy Dark Souls. Heck, I have 800 hours (o_O?! Good lord, really?) logged according to Steam.
      But Dark Souls’ fanbase is one of the more unpleasant ones I have had the misfortune of interacting with. And one of the bigger contributors to said unpleasantness are the people who have put this game up on a pedastal, worship it as being perfect and cannot tolerate even the tiniest bit of criticism.

      1. IFS says:

        The Dark Souls fanbase is really wide and varied, so it is a shame that a lot of the more unpleasant sorts tend to get seen more. There are a lot of interesting and funny things the fanbase has done, especially in regards to exploring the lore, its just that the elitists who like to brag about how hard a game it is tend to be the ones who are more exposed.

        Personally I love the game and consider it high up on my list of favorites, but I won’t deny its got some significant flaws such as how the game loses momentum after Anor Londo, and there are some areas that were clearly rushed (looking at you Bed of Chaos).

        1. StashAugustine says:

          Lost Izalith/Demon Ruins are some of my least favorite areas in any video game ever.

          1. IFS says:

            They are cool to look at (though the bloom from the lava does hurt the visuals), and I like how a game finally recognized that lava is dense enough that you wouldn’t sink through it like water (although DS2 apparently decided to reverse their stance on that), but other than that those areas are not very good. Especially Lost Izalith with its field of bounding demons followed by the worst boss in the game. Its a bit of a shame, those areas have some really cool lore, but its really easy to tell that its the part of the game where they were running out of time and just threw in lots of enemies instead of crafting interesting encounters.

          2. Janus says:

            Oh, yes… Almost all my favourite parts are in the early & mid game. Laurel & Hardy are at the Zenith and then…
            It’s really sad, but some parts of the late game just don’t hold up to the earlier standards (Tomb of Giants and Izalith primarily).
            And there are many other flaws, of course. It still manages to be amazing :)

            And the elitist “pro”-crowd is a rather unavoidable side effect of the game’s reputation as “the hardest hard thing anyone has ever done ever”. Also there are a lot of possibilities for challenge runs and the like (the speedrun record is at 25 minutes, I believe).
            Fortunately, they are mostly just a loud minority within the community…

            1. Humanoid says:

              I’ve had minimal interaction with the Dark Souls’ fanbase other than that present on this site, but it very much does remind me of the type of elitism present in WoW hardcore raiding.

              It’s a natural consequence, of course, of the games attracting the same sort of people Shamus describes. The game itself would be analogous to the most unfriendly parts of vanilla WoW, such as the infamous AQ40 graveyard run where due to sheer distances involved, 15 minutes between death and the next attempt was doing well.

      2. Deadpool says:

        Like with most groups of people, the loudest voices are the ones most heard. And the loudest voices are almost invariably the most extreme.

        I do think the large majority of the fan base are reasonable people.

        1. Raygereio says:

          I do think the large majority of the fan base are reasonable people.

          Definitely. The problem with these types of fanbases is as you said: the loudest voices set the tone.

      3. poiumty says:

        The Dark Souls community (on Reddit, at least) is insanely helpful and nice to newcomers. There’s this feeling you get when you see someone new to the game who doesn’t understand the mechanics and you just want to be their personal walkthrough. I know I’ve been guilty of it.

        The problem with criticism of this game is that so much of it centers on arguments like “artificial difficulty” which everyone’s bored to death with (and has been refuted numerous times, the trap-laden nature of the game is there to encourage careful play, not to kill you in cheap ways) and people who take a shallow look at the game’s mechanics and declare them bad, or boring.

        The game has actual, significant flaws: it’s hard to get into (first one at least), the interface is clunky and hard to navigate, the difficulty curve is slightly distorted (the first few levels can be harder than the last, because of inexperience and the level of ambushes and challenges present), online twinks can ruin your experience early, magic lacks diversity early on, and a few areas are rushed due to development issues. But people who point at these flaws are few and far between.

    2. Robyrt says:

      Dark Souls definitely has its flaws (no advanced tutorial, Lost Izalith, broken multiplayer systems, too much content wiki-locked, etc.) but it really captures my imagination. The online community is full of chest-beating alpha males, but the actual player base is mostly co-op or single-player focused (based on From Software’s official metrics). Because a game with such consistency between all elements of design is so rare, and games with good slow combat systems or intricate levels are so rare, fans of either tend to wax rhapsodic about them out of all proportion to their actual achievement, in the same way that you would hear a Nintendo fan talk reverently about Zelda or Metroid games.

      In Shamus’ defense, the Spoiler Warning system of “clown around between cutscenes, comment on the game’s pluses and minuses, make silly puns” is really best suited to a linear, narrative-based structure. Dark Souls is not a good fit for that, any more than System Shock 2 would be, even though both are phenomenal games.

  8. Tse says:

    Ways to kill Havel:
    1. Parry like a pro
    2. Roll and backstab
    3. Block with a tower shield and backstab
    4. Get him to the door of the tower and start shooting spells at him when he turns around
    There may be more, I’ve personally done 3 and 4.

    1. Lovecrafter says:

      The poison pyromancy also works. That’s how I did it, continuing a proud tradition set in Demon’s Souls.

      1. Tse says:

        Yeah, but you get the better soul arrow variants sooner than poison mist. Also, I think it’s possible to kill him with just the starting pyromancy.

        1. Abnaxis says:

          I personally did head-shot bleed damage with LOTS of arrows the one time I faced him without a posse to flank with and I didn’t have a decent weapon for backstabs.

    2. StashAugustine says:

      Havel was where I learned how to play the game. Dodge, parry, backstab, avoid damage, manage stamina, don’t get greedy.

  9. Sougo says:

    In regard to what Shamus said, I think I’m in a weird position in regarding to the Souls Series: I DO get that high when you finally defeat a boss after 30 tries but I also recognises that it bullshit for me to have to re-fight everything up to that boss every time I die. I see it as a fairness issues. If I die to the boss due to being reckless/stupid then that’s totally on me but I didn’t die to these mooks along the way and I see no reason for me to be wasting my time – I would rather be fighting the thing that kill me not the mooks that I have shown to be able to kill over and over again.

    Though I do see that others are seeing this differently/ don’t seem to mind it at all and that’s fine too. It’s just that for me, it’s one of the major hurdle to enjoying a Souls game.

    1. Kana says:

      I find myself to be the opposite. I love going through the levels and soaking up the atmosphere and learning my way through weapon sets or what spells work on this or that mob, instead of fighting the bosses.

      Bosses are this strange mix, maybe from too much Dark Souls. I don’t really feel anything for the vast majority. When I was playing anything that killed me often was a grind (go the hell, Manus). About the only bosses that give me a real high are Artorias and Gwyn. Both have fantastic battle spaces and music (imo).

      Strangely, I had at least six Pyromancy characters where I’d get all the way up to Gwyn and the Bed of Chaos, and then just quit playing and make a new character. It was really odd in hindsight at how I just wandered through a world I’d long sense memorized.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        I’m the same. I enjoyed the mooks WAY more than the bosses, because it actually feels like sword-fighting instead of pattern-recognition-boss-tropes. Dying to a boss wasn’t so much a grind since it let me replay the stuff I actually enjoyed.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I might have liked this game if not for one tiny tiny flaw:Im not buying a controller just so I could play a single game.

    1. Raygereio says:

      A controller isn’t necesary. With the DSFix & DS Mouse Fix mods the KBaM controls work.

      1. StashAugustine says:

        And DaS2 needs a autohotkey script (you can find it on the forums.) I played through 90% of the game with KBM and it was passable.

      2. Tse says:

        Maybe I should get the DS1 mouse fix… even though I’ve finished the game twice now…

    2. poiumty says:

      I’ve finished it around 12 times – one of these was without levelling up a single time – with keyboard and mouse. DSMfix and a few minutes of screwing around with the ini and options, and a few hours of getting used to the negative acceleration (i.e. move the mouse slowly if you want to move the camera fast) and you’ll be okay.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Thanks,but no thanks.I have to be really invested in a game(read:it has to be a civilization game)in order to attempt anything like that.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So,shall we have a vote on should this turn into a full season of spoiler warning?My vote is yes.

    1. Eric says:

      Motion seconded, with the addendum that George should return.

    2. TMTVL says:

      It’s never gonna happen, but would be the best thing since sliced bread.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        Indeed :\

    3. Tse says:

      Yeah, the adventures of Reginald Cuft are much more interesting than those of Reginald Catbert.

    4. IFS says:

      My vote is also yes, maybe this could be the new half-life style season where they do it when they can’t get everyone together for an episode of whatever game they’re doing normally?

      1. Doomcat says:

        Yes, Do this, please.

    5. Shirdal says:

      I have doubts that a Dark Souls spoiler warning would work, because Shamus and Rutskarn would probably have little to say about it, considering how much the game is designed against their particular mindset.

      I also don’t expect that the format of Spoiler Warning would suit the try-and-fail gameplay of Dark Souls since their conversation dynamic which seems to require a new stream of content to talk about or else the conversation derails into random off-topic conversations and a critical mass of puns.

      1. Humanoid says:

        Yeah, I’m with this. Dark Souls has room for some occasional silliness, but I fear a longer form playthrough of the game would end up like the worst parts of yesterday’s stream (and, in my opinion, the Bioshock and Metro seasons, or Dead Money).

        I mean if we’re going to be covering a game that Shamus doesn’t want to play, then The Witcher (2) as discussed in the Diecast would be a better game to get over that hurdle anyway. Plus Dark Souls fans get a lighter version of roll-roll-roll-stab. :P

        1. Michael says:

          Josh, Chris, and George could carry a series. I mean spoiler warning was a three man thing until Bioshock.

    6. Klay F. says:

      I would love this so much, but sadly I have to say no. It obvious Shamus and Rutz are never going to play it, so that basically means there will be no discussion to be had about what REALLY makes this game excellent: the near psychotic devotion to the unity of gameplay and story. The difficulty of Dark Souls is only ever discussed in a vacuum, separating it from everything else, and to be honest, its kind of tiring.

  12. Michael R. says:

    Hmm, that reminds me of how I play RPGs and 4X games. I’m constantly starting over because I get the most joy out of creating a unique character, optimizing its stats, and seeing it play out in-game, instead of beating the big boss or getting through a tough level.

  13. StashAugustine says:

    I guess I’m kinda weird in that I don’t like PVP for its competitiveness (in fact I get really frustrated at games where I’m really bad, ie the Wargame series) but I do like PVP because it’s fun to play against something smarter than an AI. I like Dark Souls PVP because it’s really fun to have a match against someone with a similar moveset whose capable of thinking on his own.
    When it comes to single player in Dark Souls I’m not strictly driven by progression but rather I like the combat in a vaccum. I could play the Knight Artorias fight all day because it’s really really fun regardless of whether or not you win. I get frustrated when I’m stuck against a boss which is both hard and not fun (Lost Izalith :argh:) but when you do get a good fight it’s amazing.

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Something more unpredictable than an A.I at least. I’m not sure ‘smarter’ is always the best way to describe online players.

    2. Shirdal says:

      I’m a very competitive player due to the fact that I really hate losing (I also love winning, but who doesn’t), which is why I don’t look to PvP as a medium for competition and challenge on those merits alone. I do like PvP as a social experience, or when it serves some other purpose.

      In Dark Souls, the PvP system maintains the general atmosphere of the game and the direction of its design: the world is filled with dangers, and by opening yourself to the multiplayer world you get both the positive potential for co-op and invasions to other worlds but also the negative potential of being invaded by other worlds and dying.

      Unfortunately, my experience with PvP in the game was more often than not a negative one. Overpowered characters and lag (for which I blame GFWL because I played the PC version) made most PvP battles very one-sided and frustrating for me. While I don’t expect the lag to be a common problem, at least outside of the GFWL version, being thrown into one-sided battles against overpowered characters does feel like a major flaw in the game’s PvP system.

      1. IFS says:

        Its not just GFWL on PC, the PS3 has similar lag issues. Fortunately DS2 has much much fewer lag issues, I can probably count on one hand the number of fights I’ve had where lag factored into the outcome. The overpowered builds thing is similarly fixed (or at least the OP builds have yet to be uncovered) so that just about any build can be viable in PVP.

    3. Humanoid says:

      I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. Multiplayer for me is co-op or nothing, and has been as far as I can remember, which is to say, probably to the original Mario Bros where playing ‘friendly’ defeated the whole point of the game, but which I played that way regardless.

      1. Kana says:

        This may have changed, but the covenant ‘Way of the White’ reducing your chance to be invaded and increasing the number of summon signs My friend and I did our entire first run co-op. We only had a handful of invasions over the whole thing, some of them hilarious (say hello to Toxic Mist buddy!)

        It may help you out, if you want to ever try the game. It will not remove invasions, but it’ll lesson the chance of them. May help you, may not.

  14. Obv says:

    I’m assuming you meant “Josh-types of the world”, not “tthe world”.

  15. Nidokoenig says:

    I think one of the important things about difficulty is that it feels a lot better when it’s “natural”. Shamus made a post years ago comparing missions in GTA to missions in Saints Row, and the basic difference is that missions in GTA are made difficult because you’re a stuntman without the script and any deviation is going to result in failure until you learn the script, whereas in Saints Row 2 the difficulty is a result of how the systems interact and it feels much better.
    You still benefit from memorisation, but when you make a mistake against an enemy you’re more likely to think to yourself “Ah, didn’t know they could do that, I’ve learnt something new and made progress”, whereas in a game centred around setpieces you’re just puzzling out the script and the lessons don’t generalise all that gracefully.

    For example, I’ve recently played Wet and Vanquish on the 360. They’re both third person shooters with time slowing mechanics, but Wet feels much more frustrating. There’s linear parkour segments where the only real way to learn how to time a jump is to fall down and realise that wasn’t it, and there are arena segments where the challenge is working out the optimum route through that particular level to shut off the spawn points that minimises incoming damage and maximises outgoing damage to fuel your ego meter and thus health regen. It’s fun, but honestly it feels a bit mindless after a while and I felt like I was consistently dying about the same number of times to each challenge.
    On the other hand, Vanquish sets much simpler goals like “Go here” or “Kill everything in this room” or “Take down this one target”, and the difficulty comes from the combination of enemies they put in and it feels very natural and systemic. I can die over and over again in one segment, but when I do I’m taking away valuable lessons about how to deal with whatever killed me. Today I got into a battle with an Argus robot, which has two forms, a quadrepedal tank form, and a bipedal form. You can shoot the quadruped’s joints out and expose its core to destroy it, or you can shoot the core out while it’s charging weapons and it’ll change into its bipedal form. You can then shoot out the more powerful bipedal form’s core, at which point it’ll die and blast the area with a powerful laser. I got blasted and killed, but now I know how it changes form and to run away very fast when I kill it, so I’ve made definite progress even if I got punted back to the checkpoint.
    One of these robots is the first boss, but the one I fought today was the fourth or fifth, so I can take these lessons away and reuse them, and at several bosses and hazards since they’ve been introduced have used the “Stun it, then shoot the core” mechanic. I’m dying consistently less to enemies generally as I progress through the campaign, even though the challenges are steadily ramping up, because the challenges feel systemic and natural rather than being based on trial and error and working out what to do in the current area.
    There’s also flavour differences, like the enemies in Vanquish that take three shotgun blasts to the face at close range are robots and it’s the elites that are that resistant, whereas in Wet it’s squishy humans and every mook seems to take four or five shotgun blasts to kill. That gives a significantly different feeling to battles.

  16. Ilseroth says:

    I actually found your writeup here kind of interesting. It’s kinda funny because I tend to play non-competitive games. but in the case of Dark Souls I rock PvP.

    Also, I tend to be the person to try to enjoy the process as opposed to the completion. I *hate* MMOs that attempt to delay gratification till some kind of end game. Yet I love the challenge in Dark Souls. It is less, for me, about killing that guy that killed me ten times and more about my progression of technique.

    As I get better with a particular system I do get gratification with getting better. It is less about any individual challenge (one particular boss) for me and more about progressing myself as a player overall.

    That being said, while I hate when people make a jump reaction to a game; it more when they say the games concepts are invalid (Ugh this game sucks.) If the person says that they don’t like it fine, but when they attempt to say that the game system itself is wrong, they may need to rethink it.

    1. IFS says:

      I’m the same way, most PVP frustrates me to no end but I don’t mind it so much in Dark Souls and with the improvements in DS2 I’ve actually been actively seeking it out. While the challenge does factor into my enjoyment of Dark Souls the biggest selling point to me is the atmosphere and lore, its basically the antithesis of modern hand holding in games like say Modern Warfare and I love it for that.

      I also find the comparison to Hotline Miami interesting because (as I think I’ve said before on this site) Hotline Miami was much MUCH more frustrating to me than Dark Souls, and I was awful at Dark Souls when I first started playing. I think it was mostly how easily you died, and how frequently it felt that it wasn’t any mistake of mine that caused my death, just sometimes the game would decide ‘oh that dog spots you from offscreen and rushes you, even though in the previous fifteen tries it did no such thing’ and I would die, and have to start all over. Dark Souls always felt like it was teaching me, very few deaths were the result of unfairness and the constant improvements I was making both to my character and my playstyle/understanding was very enjoyable.

      1. StashAugustine says:

        Hotline Miami didn’t really feel ‘unfair’ but there was much less margin of error.

        1. IFS says:

          Speak for yourself, when the enemies in an area do not behave consistently in any manner, and frequently that means that I will get killed by something previously offscreen, that does not feel fair in the slightest to me. The fact that the game is scoring me only makes it worse, because I’m trying to pull off awesome combos and such but sometimes the enemies just react completely differently from every previous approach and I get screwed over and have to start again.

          That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Hotline Miami, but there were plenty of spots where I just had to set the game aside and cool off for a while because it was frustrating me too much. A feeling I never had with Dark Souls.

  17. Shirdal says:

    I can understand how the game can be frustrating to people who do not get gratification from overcoming difficult challenges through repeated attempts. While I can and do derive enjoyment from challenge-based play myself, I also have a threshold beyond which a challenge can be too difficult and frustrating for me to enjoy. But I can also derive enjoyment from non-competitive and non-challenging play, and I expect that this kind of middle ground that I stand it is the more common one. This is why I find your mindset very interesting when it comes to game design, Shamus.

    Assuming that failure is a necessary element of challenge (can a challenge exist without the possibility of failing it?), do you dislike challenge and competition in general? Do you favour experiential and narrative-driven play over challenging and competitive play?

    How do you feel about games like Tomb Raider or Mass Effect that offer both challenge-driven play (the combat) as well as story-driven and other experience-driven play (like interactive conversations and world exploration)? Do you see the challenge as something to suffer through to get the rest of the experience and derive no enjoyment from overcoming it at all? And on that note, how do you feel about games like Gone Home that offer no challenge-driven play at all (where the challenge can either be described as absent or very low)?

    I realise that I’ve just asked a lot of nosy and perhaps seemingly pointless questions about personal preferences, but it comes from a personal interest in these aspects of game/interactive design. The questions are directed both at Shamus specifically but also at any other like-minded people.

    Note that I really don’t want or intend to get into an argument about what people think games should or shouldn’t do or what a “game” is or isn’t in the first place. Hopefully I’ve not opened that can of worms by pointing out that it exists.

    1. Shamus says:

      Mass Effect and Tomb Raider are both fine for me because they’re pretty generous with the checkpoints. When I fail, I’m not going to be repeating fifteen minutes of stuff I’ve already mastered to get to the one thing I haven’t.

      1. Shirdal says:

        Are you engaged in the process of mastery at all, so long as the challenge level isn’t too high by your standards to cause frustration? Or is it just something you feel you have to suffer through to get to the other types of content?

        I’m fighting the urge to apologise for all these questions, and I am losing. Sorry again if I’m being too nosy.

        1. Shamus says:

          Depends on the game and how fun the combat is. (Which is another topic entirely.) Batman is crazy fun. Tomb Raider is okay. Mass Effect combat is mostly boring. Lots of other games (straight-up military shooters) are dull beyond redemption.

          In Batman I put off advancing the story to crawl around looking for secrets and punching bad guys. In Mass Effect the combat was fine in small doses, but more than a few minutes and I’d start to get restless for the next story point.

          1. Shirdal says:

            So the impression I’m getting is that you are fine with the idea of being challenged, and your aversion is more specifically to failure and repetition.

            I don’t really have a point I’m going for here other than academic curiousity about games and how different people experience and think about them. So thanks for indulging me, Shamus.

            The odd thing is that while I can sympathize with aversion to failure and repetition, and in some games it can drive me absolutely mad and furious, there are games which contain those elements that I absolutely love, like Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy and the Binding of Isaac. Maybe I have a higher threshold for this, or maybe there are nuances to how these games deal with failure that I haven’t pinpointed yet, which apply to me but not to you.

          2. Vermander says:

            In games like Mass Effect I’m almost completely uninterested in the combat/mechanical elements of the game and just rush through it as fast as I can to get to the narrative elements. The part I enjoy is where I get to make choices and see how they impact the narrative, I could care less about what kind of “cryo grenade” or whatever is best for damaging a certain kind of enemy.

            I think I fall into the same category as you. The two kinds of games I generally like are:

            1)Games with a narrative (or at least characters) that I feel invested in and want to see more of


            2) Games that function more like a toolset or sandbox, where I can experiment with different aspects of the game and see how it impacts the world without necessarily working towards any particular goal

            I’ve never viewed gaming as something like chess or tennis, where I want to work to develop my skills so I can get “better”.

          3. Wide And Nerdy says:

            This. So much this. I only got back into gaming a few years ago. I tended to play story oriented where the gameplay wasn’t terribly interesting (no matter how complex the mechanics a typical Bioware rpg breaks down to dps and avoiding dps, with Vanguard in ME3 being one of the very few things to subvert that dynamic).

            In those games challenge felt meaningless. It was just frustration for frustrations sake and beating the challenge is just a relief like with Rutskarn and Shamus. Thus I tended to play games on easy or even cheat at times because I just thought I didn’t like “challenging” games. And I thought the hardcores were screaming at developers “MAKE MY GAME MORE PEDANTIC.” (I also found that whenever I thought a power was cool, they thought it was “broken”).

            Contrast real life where when I’m working a developer problem, its frustrating and I have to do a lot of work sometimes to figure it out but when it works I feel a true surge of joy. That’s because the challenge in the latter case is a meaningful one. I have improved in a real way, learned a real skill and accomplished something real that I can build on. I figured I just couldn’t trick myself into seeing game challenges as meaningful. So I tended to enjoy them for content and skipped the boredom.

            It was the Batman series (really Batman Arkham City) that changed my mind. That game was the first one I played that I felt gave me a real freedom in terms of the mechanics to do what I wanted. Plus, even in the hands of a novice player, Batman is pretty badass which makes it fun for long enough to get better. And you get to do fun stuff like swooping, sneaking, hooking badguys together, manipulating the playing field to your advantage (the way Batman does). As much as I enjoy a good Bioware game, there is not nearly as much you can do to set a fight to your advantage unless they scripted something in special for an encounter. You use your standard strategy that you’ve refined in wave after wave of baddies.

            I think what really makes it work for Batman is that just doing the Batman stuff itself is fun whether you overcome the challenge or not. Maybe that’s heresy among the hardcores but I call it good game design and its this kind of game design that made me start enjoying some challenge in my game.

    2. Humanoid says:

      You can have challenge without immediate failure (repetition) in something like XCOM Ironman mode. Failure is dynamic and non-binary. I very much enjoy that type of challenge. In the typical RPG, I’m not interested in challenge. I might motor along on the default setting until I die a couple times at the same encounter, and if that happens, I’ll bump down the difficulty permanently.

      The original Wing Commander had an interesting approach where failure would lead the plot down an altogether different, but just as interesting path, complete with missions that you’d never otherwise see if you ‘won’ every mission. Sadly that kind of design never really took off, and developers reverted to the age old DIAS gameplay.

      How would a designer implement something like that in Dark Souls though? Nothing immediately comes to mind besides opening up the game a fair bit to allow the indefinite postponement of tackling the challenge and pursuing something else in the meantime.

      1. IFS says:

        You can often postpone going one direction in Dark Souls and pursue a different challenge though, especially if you start with the master key like Josh did. Right at the start there are at least three (4 with the key) areas you can go to, each with varying difficulty (one is actually an endgame area) and each of those areas connect to other areas. If you’re ever stuck in one place there are usually two or three other things you could go do.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The problem,however,is that each of those different areas has the same fail states.If you die against any of those bosses,there will be a trek through easily defeatable mooks that you already passed,and is not fun to go through.

          Compare that with I wanna be the guy,which also has checkpoints,multiple paths,huge difficulty,and process of relearning the patterns through failure.However,in that game if the boss kills you,the last checkpoint is “just outside” of the boss room,and you can try it again almost immediately.

          Or,like Rutskarn brought up,hotline miami.There you die pretty quickly.But once you die,you get to repeat maybe 10 seconds of the same content,not 5 minutes.Thats what is irking Shamoose,those 5 minutes of useless grind to get back to the thing you failed the last time.

          1. poiumty says:

            Death in this game isn’t a “fail state” like in regular games. In fact it’s more in line with Diablo 2’s deaths than a GAME OVER screen.

            I don’t know why everyone keeps saying “If I kill these guys once, I’ll kill them all the time no problem”. It’s happened to me in both games that I stop paying attention and get killed by some trap/mook on the second run-through. In fact, it happens all the time. Seems to be a misunderstanding that started taking root here.

            If you die to the boss, you can reconsider your options. Go somewhere else. Attempt to explore more of the level. Attempt to run through to the fog door. Sit down and do some co-op. Turn human and invade. Go back to the vendors and grab some new stuff. Or best of all, turn human and attempt to summon someone. The bosses are much easier with a summon.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              “Death in this game isn't a “fail state” like in regular games. In fact it's more in line with Diablo 2″²s deaths than a GAME OVER screen.”

              You go back to the last check point with a loss(more significant in 2 than 1),and have to go back to where you died to undo your mistake.Thats a fail state.

              “I don't know why everyone keeps saying “If I kill these guys once, I'll kill them all the time no problem”. It's happened to me in both games that I stop paying attention and get killed by some trap/mook on the second run-through. In fact, it happens all the time. Seems to be a misunderstanding that started taking root here.”

              Shamus already covered that when he said “The only reason why I would die to these mooks that Ive already killed with ease is because I got frustrated and stopped paying attention”.Which is exactly the way you have described as the only way to die to these mooks that youve already killed with ease a bunch of times before.

              “If you die to the boss, you can reconsider your options. Go somewhere else. Attempt to explore more of the level. Attempt to run through to the fog door.”

              And run into another boss that presents precisely the same problem.

              “Sit down and do some co-op. Turn human and invade. Go back to the vendors and grab some new stuff. Or best of all, turn human and attempt to summon someone. The bosses are much easier with a summon.”

              Its better with friends does not make the problem nonexistent.I enjoyed counter strike with friends,yet alone I never ever got the urge to play it,because I never liked the game.I enjoyed team fortress 2,but I would never ever want to play it against bots(which is also the reason I never tried mann vs machine).So if the only way for you to enjoy a (not exclusively multiplayer) game is to play it with friends,you would never have liked the core (single player portion) of the game anyways.

              1. poiumty says:

                If you keep thinking of death as a fail state, you won’t get very far in the game. That’s the truth of the matter. It’s about mentality, not semantics.

                Mooks generally aren’t killed “with ease”. Shamus hasn’t played the game, there’s a world of difference between casually watching a stream and panicking because there’s 3 enemies on you and you’re not in a good position. Unless you’ve played through the game multiple times, you will be *engaged* in what you’re doing precisely because of the cost of screwing up. You don’t have time to be bored.

                “And run into another boss that presents precisely the same problem.”
                The only problem is mentality. If you just can’t see yourself being able to change it, then sure, don’t play the game. But I’d still have people try it out; this is one of the best games this generation, and missing out on it because of some silly preconceptions is just a shame.

                1. krellen says:

                  “If you keep thinking of death as a fail state, you won't get very far in the game.”

                  Death is always a fail state for some of us. And this message doesn’t seem to be getting delivered effectively to certain Dark Souls fans. We know we won’t get very far in this game. That’s why we’ve chosen not to try.

                  For us, this isn’t something we can just turn off, and it would be kind of nice if people stopped insisting we do.

                  1. Blake says:

                    Comment thread over?

      2. ET says:

        Man, I don’t remember playing Wing Commander*, but now I wish I had – that sounds really cool, that they have a branching campaign, based on how well you did, or if you won/lost missions. Unfortunately, having stuff branch like that would increase the cost of making all the missions, and games nowadays have to spend so much money on pixels… :C

        * I think maybe I briefly played #3 on my brother’s computer?

        1. Humanoid says:

          Wing Commander 1 had a sort of web-like mission structure, so generally speaking almost all situations were recoverable, save for the very last system on the losing path. A system was a set of about three missions that take part in a given star system. There were 13 systems in the game, and if you won every mission, you’d only ever see six systems, i.e. less than half of the game’s content. Not that that tended to happen, some missions were notoriously difficult (Kurasawa 2: Save the Ralari!) so you tended to get different combinations of systems each time. This is what it looked like. You can fail just about everything and still have just as long a game as winning everything.

          Wing Commander 2 was a bit less variable, but still had the success/fail branching, you just got different missions sets within the same star system instead. In this case there were early fail states for failing consecutive sets, but even then a conclusion is drawn for you showing the consequences.

          Wing Commander 3 similar, which was somewhat impressive in itself because it was by nature more limited in possible scope because of the heavy requirements for FMV. Interestingly it let you play out your doom: the war could be lost but you’d still play out the hopeless defense of Earth to the bitter end – it’s interesting to see at least once as the Kilrathi conquer Earth itself. It’s a cool feature because most games would just cut and force you to reload the moment the core storyline became unwinnable.

          P.S. If it was the FMV greenscreen one, then it was Wing Commander 3, yes.

          1. ET says:

            Yeah, so that diagram clearly shows how quickly the game space balloons, when you allow branching. I guess it’s better than 2^N, because they have some fail states go into the win states of other missions, but it’s still pretty huge. Like, that graph has a traversal length between 6 and 8, depending on how well you’re doing. A modern game would just have 6-8 missions, depending on their budget. It’s also nice to see that some missions are impossible to win or fail, based on how well you’ve been doing. Gives a real sense that you’re steamrolling the enemy, or vise versa. :)

            Also, it was definitely #3 – I remember at the time, “Holy crap, Luke Freaking Skywalker is in this game? OMG OMG OMG!” :P

      3. Shirdal says:

        I don’t mean to equate failure and repetition as being the same thing. Rather, I consider repetition as how systems often deals with failure. Fail the challenge? Just try again until you succeed. Systems like the one you describe used by Wing Commander are another way to deal with failure that isn’t based on repeating the challenge. Being able to skip a failed challenge altogether is another.

        However, I do believe all challenges need some explicit or implicit fail state for them to be considered a challenge. Explicit fail states can be stuff like dying in combat. Implicit fail states can be stuff like giving up on finding an optional secret on the map.

  18. Neko says:

    Watching the HD version of this on my computer,… that depth of field effect was really distracting. Any time Josh backs up against a wall, I found myself thinking “That texture quality is REALLY bad!”, but it’s just because of the DoF making near things blurry.

    I can’t stand DoF in games. In movies or cinematic cutscenes it makes sense. Games may have a ‘camera’ but it’s used differently. A movie director can control the camera focus to make sure the important parts of a scene are sharp. A game just kind of applies the shader blindly to keep whatever is directly in front of the player character’s vision sharp, even though we don’t keep our eyeballs locked in our skull dead ahead.

    1. ET says:

      Yeah, I don’t think depth of field really has a place in games, except in cutscenes, and maybe horror games or something, so that the monsters get hidden more. Similarly, if your character is stressed out or taking drugs, to penalize you.

  19. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I seem to be very much in the “not enjoying the challenge” camp. In most cases after a few attempts at banging my head against some wall I will either put the game away (sometimes for that day, sometimes for a few weeks… and sometimes I’ll keep it in the “ehh, I’ll fire it up another day” seemingly indefinitely), look for guides/strategies/builds or simply cheat my way through. This mostly applies to games with some kind of story, I think I play them mostly to experience of progression through the narrative and encountering a head-to-wall spot really breaks the flow of that.

    The one place where I have experienced the rush after beating some obstacle after a lot of attempts is in MMO raiding. It may be because the challenge is put in a social context of the rest of the party/guild/whatever.

  20. Raygereio says:

    You guys frequently called Dark Souls level-based. I’m kinda curious why as your equipment and how far you’ve upgraded it is far more important for determining your build’s effectiveness then your level.

    As for the whole checkpoint debate:
    I despise checkpoints. It doesn’t make a game more difficult or challenging, the only thing it does is introduce tedium and promote crap game design along the lines of “do-it-again-stupid”. I understand the technical reason why designers still prefer checkpoints over save systems, but that doesn’t make checkpoints any less bad.

    And yet when I died to a boss in Dark Souls yet again and had to fight the same enemies in the same hallways in the exact same way I did the time before and the time before that, I only rarely felt myself getting annoyed or bored. I had too much fun with the gameplay to get annoyed.

    Also it helps that on the PC you can jurry-rig a save system by making a back-up of the save file.

    1. poiumty says:

      Both your equipment and your level contribute. Your equipment most of all, but levelling is the primary factor to getting more gear, equipping more armor, and having a lot more hp. It may not have an absolutely critical effect, but it does make the game easier if you level up.

  21. poiumty says:

    I’m a huge fan and veteran of this game, but I can’t call myself a PvPer. Sure, I used to play a lot of online shooters and ladder in Starcraft 2, but only in a team, and only in Team Deathmatch (or 2v2/3v3 in SC2). I can’t play single ladder in SC2 because it intimidates me too much.

    But I’m fine with challenges in single-player games, as long as they are possible and intended.

    And yes, I get frustrated too – sometimes just as Shamus describes, in my last Dark Souls playthrough I got killed by Havel a few times (hadn’t played in a while) and started running past all the enemies because I was running out of patience. In my earlier playthroughs I got severely frustrated at repeated deaths to bosses, up to where I was punching the keyboard in anger. The immediate solution would be to calm down and come back later.

    But no matter how frustrated I get, the idea that I was SO CLOSE to finishing a challenge spurs me on so much that I get dead set on completing it. If something is hard, I will stubbornly do it over and over until I win at it. Letting go and coming back later, or even trying new ways to do it, feels like I’ve given up – it’s not a great feeling. Fortunately, I’m starting to get out of these habits with DS2.
    So yes, there is frustration, but frustration is not the end. If your only feeling after beating a boss is relief and not satisfaction, then I think the problem is one of mentality – you’re focusing too much on the future, and not enough on the present. You want to see what happens next so much that you don’t care what happens now. And this, like I’ve said before, is a very dangerous mentality that will have you absolutely hate this game. Because this game will punish you over and over mercilessly until you learn.

  22. Steve C says:

    Grammar error: Josh is gardening so her

    1. Humanoid says:

      Or is Josh actually short for Josie?

      1. Starker says:


  23. Starker says:

    For me, Dark Souls is less about challenge and more about the beauty of play. It’s about great level design, fantastic atmosphere and fun combat mechanics. The enemies have just enough unpredictability for the combat not to get stale and the game just has so much to offer that I didn’t even think about going through the areas again as punishment. I really enjoyed the exploration and lore aspects of it.

    The way Josh played it, rushing into enemies, would not be have been fun to me on my first playthrough, though. I played very carefully, keeping my health up and pulling enemies one by one. I always made sure I had the best equipment and leveled up ASAP. I would liken this to playing Thief. That game also required a different mindset for me to enjoy it — playing it patiently made it much more enjoyable for me than trying to rush through.

    I really think that the reputation the series has for being punishing and difficult is vastly exaggerated. Sure, it requires skill, but it’s far more forgiving than people give it credit to and it’s very fair in its difficulty.

  24. Kalil says:

    I /do/ get the rush from overcoming a challenge, but where I seem to be ‘different’ is the extreme way I’m bothered by failure. Losing/dying in a game can be almost physically painful (in fact, after one particularly bad PvP experience in Dark Souls, I nearly vomited). This not-fun more than cancels out the rush of victory in some games.

    I think my reaction is directly proportional to how ‘unfair’ I feel the loss is – hence the extreme negativity of my reaction to Dark Soul’s non-consensual PvP. Currently I’m bashing my head against FTL:AE, and the new and ‘improved’ ASB is such an unfair, gimmicky nearly guaranteed loss that I’m pretty close to rage-quitting.

    1. Kalil says:

      Thinking about it more, it’s not so much that losing bothers me – it does, but I’ll persevere past it – as that losing /unfairly/ bothers me. Much of Dark Souls felt fair. The major exceptions were the non-con PvP and the DarkWraiths in New Anor Londo. These were situations where I simply could not win. I was so far from being able to win that I couldn’t even identify an avenue for self-improvement. It felt like I was simply being murdered by fiat. And that made me sick.

  25. Will Riker says:

    Shamus, have you played VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy? I’m like you, in that having to go through lots of stuff I already did annoys the hell out of me, including with Dark Souls. But both VVVVVV and SMB are games that are really brutally difficult, but there’s never any punishment for losing. V has checkpoints absolutely everywhere, so you never have to redo anything. SMB is really interesting too–each level is really difficult, but the levels are all really short. In every world there are 20 levels that are all open from the beginning, and you unlock the boss by beating any 17 of them.

    The upshot with both of those games was that they were cleverly designed in a way that they could be extremely challenging without ever punishing you for failure, and I absolutely loved them.

    1. Shamus says:

      I briefly tried both games. They didn’t really do anything for me. I’ve never been much of a fan of 2D platformers. I’d rather watch someone play than play them myself.

  26. Akri says:

    Out of curiosity, Shamus, how do you feel about games like Nethack? Is it just frustrating for you since one mistake can (and often will) mean erasing everything you’ve done for the entire game, or does the random generation of levels (and thus the fact that you usually won’t be banging up against the same challenge every time) mitigate the feeling of “great, now I have to do this AGAIN”?

    As for the whole “two types of players” thing, I think that I can fall into the Josh category IF overcoming the challenge involves me either learning something or using my wits to get through it. If it’s “hey, I’m finally understanding how this combat works” or “awesome, my plan to bottleneck the enemies and then pick them off one-by-one succeeded” then I get that rush, and it’s more of a rush the more times I failed. And now that I think about it, it’s similar to how I feel about crafting. It might take two dozen itirations to get a pattern right, but the success at the end feels meaningful because I actually achieved something, I didn’t just luck my way through it.

    …and now I’m wondering where my Good Robot plush pattern got to. It still needs some tweaking…

    1. Shamus says:

      Nethack: Played it while I was younger. Lost interest over time. Kind of dabbled in it years later when I started using backups. (So, cheating.) Haven’t thought about it for year.

      1. Michael says:

        I wonder if there’s a correlation between people who enjoy rogue likes and Dark Souls fans.

        1. Eschatos says:

          I know I love both, for pretty much the same reasons.

        2. PhoenixUltima says:

          I actually can’t stand most rogue-likes, while I love me some Dark Souls. The main difference between the two – for me, at least – is fairness.

          In nethack and its like, it’s entirely possible to be playing well, and still lose just because the game randomly decided to sabotage you. There weren’t enough shops. The shops in minetown didn’t have anything worth a damn. Sokoban had a bag of holding and you never found a silver dragon (or you did but it didn’t drop its scales). You didn’t find any scrolls of enchant weapon or magic markers. The game spawns in a horde of killer ants (go team a!) while you still have no armor and a crappy weapon. You’re a wizard and you didn’t find any good spellbooks. And so on. Basically, the game itself sometimes up and decides “nope, you can’t win this time around, too bad”.

          Dark Souls, by contrast, always gives you the weapons and tools you need to survive and conquer, you just have to find them and learn how to use them. Every time you die, you can think “oh, the enemy has this attack I didn’t know about, I can counter it by doing this”, or “I died because I got too greedy and kept attacking when I should have stepped/rolled back, I’ll be more cautious next time”, or “this enemy is too fast for my slow but powerful weapon, maybe I should try this lighter one that swings quicker and allows me to recover more quickly”. Whenever you die, it’s totally your fault, and you can figure out how to do better.

          Now, nethack does have a few ways to mitigate the randomness somewhat (wishing, random drops, abusing black puddings, and others). And Dark Souls’ AI does have a bit of RNG to it, especially for certain bosses. But in general, nethack is a game where you play over and over until the game decides it’s going to give you even a fleeting chance of actually winning the game, while Dark Souls is a game where you’re (almost) always able to win, as long as you have the necessary knowledge and skill.

          And so nethack pisses me off because I can do everything right and still lose because the game just decided not to give me what I needed to even have a chance (Dungeons of Dredmore is also really bad for this), while Dark Souls is incredibly engaging because, no matter how hard it gets, victory is always within my grasp, I just have to learn how to grab it.

          1. Akri says:

            “But in general, nethack is a game where you play over and over until the game decides it's going to give you even a fleeting chance of actually winning the game”

            If it’s only a ‘fleeting chance’ then you’re probably playing wrong (which is not in any way a condemnation–learning to play Nethack well is a feat). Yes, there are some random moments where the game screws you, but more often death is a result of the player’s choices. For instance, your killer ants scenario is 100% survivable if you know about ‘Elbereth’. Engrave it, the ants back off, you can chuck things at them/wait for your pet/read a spellbook to try and teleport away/make a ring of ‘Elbereth’ squares around the ants to box them in/lead them to a room and close them in/etc. It’s similar with most of the other things on your list–whether you survive or not depends on how you respond to those situations.

            1. PhoenixUltima says:

              Engraving the E-word isn’t always an option, though. Sure, it is if you have something that can burn it in or quickly semi-permanently engrave it (like a wand of fire or lightning for the former, or an athame or wand of digging for the latter). But just writing it in the dust isn’t good enough, since your attacks or movement can erode it (and there’s a chance you’ll fail to write it properly anyway), and engraving with a weapon takes too long – the ants would kill you way before you finished. And of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have any of those wands, or an athame (which are super rare anyways), or a magic marker. And if you don’t have any of those, and the ants are blocking the only exit out of a room, well then you’re just screwed. And that’s if you even know about Elbereth in the first place – fortune cookies only ever hint at it (and again, you don’t always find those), and only rarely at that. And the oracle costs a bundle, and it’s still not 100% certain she’ll tell you about elbereth. Yeah, you can just look it up online, but not everyone wants to do that.

              Now yes, that specific scenario is admittedly unlikely – by the time you start seeing killer ants you’re likely to have at least a wand of digging, if nothing else – but the fact that it’s even possible frustrates me to no end. And that’s not even the worst of it. That example of getting a bag from sokoban and never finding magic resistance or reflection items has happened to me more than I care to recall. Sure, you can wish for one – but the things that grant you wishes are (understandably) rare, and trying to get a wish from a fountain usually just ends with me being killed by a water demon, if the fountain doesn’t just dry up first. And yes, there’s a guaranteed wand of wishing at the castle – but if I don’t have magic resistance or reflection and encounter, say, a lich before I get there, again, the chance that you’ll die without being able to meaningfully do anything about it is fairly high.

              Bottom line, yes, it’s likely almost always remotely possible to win any given game of nethack, provided you’re incredibly experienced and knowledgeable about the game (though I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s possible for dungeons to be generated as straight up unwinnable). But it’s still quite possible to be thrown into a dungeon where anything short of complete and total mastery of the game will result in your death. And despite the reputation Dark Souls gets as being incredibly hard, it’s always fair about when and how it challenges you (outside of a few hilarious “GOTCHA!” moments like the drake on the bridge). You always have access to the weapons and armor and tools you need, when you need them (and often enough, long before then, provided you know where they are and how to get to them without dying).

              Of course, none of this is a condemnation of nethack or other roguelikes. I can see the appeal of a game where it’s randomly decided whether or not you’ll even have a chance of winning (if nothing else, it probably appeals to people who like to gamble – “maybe THIS dungeon will be a winner!”). And I even liked the game and got good at it for a while myself, before the sheer randomness factor drove me off. The last game I remember playing was one where everything went right up until I got killed by Rodney because I wasn’t as well-prepared as I thought I was (which was admittedly 100% my fault). I then realized that, in order to even get another crack at him, I was going to have to go through a whole ton of other random dungeons, hoping for the one where the right stuff finally fell into my lap so I could survive just getting to him again. I decided to just not play, instead. Don’t really regret it, either.

              1. Akri says:

                “But it's still quite possible to be thrown into a dungeon where anything short of complete and total mastery of the game will result in your death.”

                “Dark Souls is a game where you're (almost) always able to win, as long as you have the necessary knowledge and skill.”

                I find these two statements very interesting, as they amount to basically the same thing. If winning Nethack takes “complete and total mastery of the game”, then such mastery is the “necessary knowledge and skill” required.

                The level of mastery needed for Nethack may be higher/harder to achieve than what is needed for Dark Souls, but the concept is the same. It’s not that one is unfair and the other isn’t, or that one is largely luck-based while the other is largely skill-based. It’s that one is within your personal threshold of how much mastery is needed to beat the game, while the other is outside that threshold.

                Which is, of course, totally ok. I’m not trying to tell you to enjoy Nethack, I’m just finding it interesting how your view of Nethack seems similar to how some people appear to view Dark Souls. It seems that if the amount of mastery needed for a game is far enough outside a person’s threshold, then they will view that game as unfair/a gamble/unwinnable/etc. Meanwhile, if a game falls within someone’s threshold then they might see it as “tough but fair”. The exact same game will elicit both reactions from different people, depending on what they’re tolerance is.

                1. PhoenixUltima says:

                  I find these two statements very interesting, as they amount to basically the same thing. If winning Nethack takes “complete and total mastery of the game”, then such mastery is the “necessary knowledge and skill” required.

                  Yeah, I had a similar thought after I typed all that out. And it’s true that Dark Souls, for all its hyped-up toughness, requires a lot, and I mean a lot less mastery of its systems than nethack does. The other part of what drove me off from nethack was all the arcane crap you had to master and memorize in order to give yourself a fighting chance. When I occasionally remember that nethack is a game that I have because it’s free and think of firing it up again, if the sheer difficulty doesn’t turn me off then the thought of having to price identify things and go on poly-piling sprees with a wiki open at all times again does. I only have so much time to spend on our Earth, after all.

                  Still, I just can’t get over the random factor, I really really can’t. How difficult a given game of nethack is partly depends on your mastery of its systems, sure, but it also depends on whether or not the RNG wants to screw you over (and it usually does, in my experience). Dark Souls’ difficulty depends solely on your mastery of its systems – the world is pre-made, so everything is guaranteed to be available. It’s not possible to, say, lose against the gargoyles because the game never gave you a decent weapon and you couldn’t find a blacksmith to upgrade your gear. It’s only possible to lose to the gargoyles because you weren’t thorough enough to find the myriad weapons the game has lying around, waiting for the adventurous explorer to take for themselves. Or you were too impatient to grind up the souls needed to upgrade that weapon to +5. Or because you were dumb enough to think attacking the blacksmith was a good idea. Or because, even with a +5 weapon and a full set of +3 elite knight armor, you still have to fight them intelligently, and you just weren’t knowledgeable enough of their attacks and their tells to do that yet.

                  If it helps, try imagining a version of nethack that doesn’t randomly generate its dungeons and loot. The same items are always available to you, though getting to them through all the monsters is up to you. Of course I suspect such a version of nethack would be incredibly boring, since a lot of the appeal is in searching the dungeons for random loot. But it would also be a lot less frustratingly random.

                  EDIT: I have to deduct a point from you for using “they’re” in place of “their”. Sorry, them’s the rules.

                  1. Akri says:

                    I think we pretty much understand each other at this point.

                    A big part of why I enjoy Nethack is that I don’t really care if I win or not (because I won’t–I’m nowhere near good enough), instead the focus for me is on seeing what kind of situations I CAN get through. If I get surrounded by a dozen monsters and I just barely survive by the skin of my teeth, then that feels like winning to me. Even if I eat a poisoned corpse and die immediately after. (I sorta forgot that kobold had been a mummy, and….yeah.)

                    Not sure if I would be able to approach Dark Souls the same way, or if I would feel that drive to actually “win” in the conventional sense.

                    “EDIT: I have to deduct a point from you for using “they're” in place of “their”. Sorry, them's the rules.”

                    I’ll just go hang my head in shame now.

                    1. harborpirate says:

                      Interesting. I was just thinking about how “Dark Souls is the new Nethack” the other day.

                      Just the way that experienced players talk about the Souls series of games, it evokes a lot of memories of Nethack; both in the way you have to play as well as the inscrutability to outsiders when perusing online discussions laden with lore.

                    2. Starker says:

                      As someone who has played Nethack and ascended legitimately, to me Dark Souls feels more like Super Metroid. It starts out fairly linear and opens up a lot later, especially with the ability to warp between bonfires.

                      Also, there’s permanence in Dark Souls that Nethack simply doesn’t have. You will get powerful spells, better armor and better weapons that will never go away. Many item drops are guaranteed, so you are less reliant on RNG and your starting equipment can become as good as the most powerful equipment in the game.

                      In a way, though, there are some similarities in how you deal with situations — with enough knowledge you can find all kinds of ways to push the odds in your favour, such as getting a bow and sniping the enemy from a safe spot or making use of the obstacles in the environment. It’s not all that different from kiting enemies in Nethack or having your pet kill them.

        3. krellen says:

          As a single data point, I enjoy a good rogue-like and really don’t see any appeal in Dark Souls (for me, I can see why others like it.)

        4. Abnaxis says:

          I like both, but for completely different reasons.

          Any time I play a game with customizable PCs, I go crazy creating and re-creating characters. I probably made two dozen characters in DkS2 last weekend.

          If a rogue-like has good character customization with depth, I enjoy it a lot because permadeath gives me an excuse to constantly re-roll, instead of me just randomly deciding to delete my character and make a new one. I got a ton of fun out Dungeons of Dredmoor, but not as much fun out of Don’t Starve.

  27. acronix says:

    Sometimes I wish developers hadn’t forsaken the use of difficulty levels (and by that I mean they forget the ‘easy’ mode to go directly to ‘normal’) and cheat codes. Sometimes rampant, unchanging difficulty only gets in the way of fun, instead of making it better.

    I enjoyed Dark Souls, and what killed it for me was the cheap design of certain areas. Like the invisible platforms in the Archives and the lack of contextual placement of monsters in the demon zone (3 or 4 goat demons in a row, one behind the other in a perfect line).

    1. Raygereio says:

      What did you feel was cheap about the crystal cave platforms?
      All of them – except one completely optional one that leads to a blue slab – are straight lines. Their outline is clearly visible thanks to the snow that falls on them. And if you’re online there are almost always messages that point you in the right direction.
      And From even gave you some prism stones just before entering the caves you can use to find out in what direction the walkways goes.
      As far as gimmicks goes, it’s a pretty painless one.

      The Demon Ruins and the area after that – Lost Izalith – are the crappiest ones in the game. I’m fairly certain that was the point where From ran out of time. They have that “Oh dear. It’s friday afternoon and this project has to be finished on monday”-feel to them.

      1. acronix says:

        I never noticed the snowfall! I guess I’ll blame my videocard.

      2. Cybron says:

        You don’t even have to be online, if you’re offline there’s a developer message pointing at least one of the pathways.

        Lost Izalith is pretty indefensible all around.

  28. sofawall says:

    In Josh’s defense, at around the 7:00-7:30 mark I can clearly hear him pressing a button through his mic, but his character doesn’t respond for a full second.

  29. Abnaxis says:

    Damnit, stop making posts I want to reply to on the weekend. I never get a chance to join the interesting discussions. Because my contribution is the one that matters :p

    Didn’t the SW crew have a brief stint with Super Hexagon?

    I ask, because it’s one of those brutally hard games, that gets around the problem you describe by having very short down-times. You die, then you hit a button and you’re back up.

    To me, Dark Souls is comparable to that. There’s no such thing as a trash mob in Dark Souls–yes, you can beat the skeletons once, but you will probably be a limping, bleeding mess the first time. The second time, maybe you’ll only lose a third of your life. The third time, maybe you’ll only lose a little, and you won’t use up so many expendables…

    The upside of this is, there is very little downtime. You die doing something hard, and a few seconds later, you’re back to doing something hard that you’ve already technically beaten once, but with the gradient of success you want to beat it BETTER this time so you have a better chance to beat the tough part ahead–on the upside, it’s not rote memorization like a bastard-hard platformer, so there’s numerous approaches to killing those skeletons so you can reach the “boss” in a better position.

    You criticize Dark souls for making you not-play, forcing redoing rote challenges for a few long time to get to the part where you can play. The point everyone is trying to make is that you’re never not-playing.

    It’s like Super Hexagon, you fail and 2 seconds later you’re back in the fray. If all you like is dodging line segments, Super Hexagon will give you endless semi-randomly-generated line segments to dodge as you increase your time, with little downtime for death. Dark Souls with similarly give you endless semi-random challenges to overcome (the fights never seem to play out exactly the same for me, at least), with very little wait in-between.

    1. krellen says:

      Chris gifted a bunch of people Super Hexagon in a competitive fit so he could show off his scores. Most of those he gifted didn’t progress very far in the game (but did give it a fair shake, at least).

    2. Asimech says:

      They’re not criticising Dark Souls, they’re trying to explain why they, personally, wouldn’t find playing it enjoyable. They’re trying to explain how they’re different from the people who enjoy it, because just saying “this is not our type of game” hasn’t gotten people off their case.

      And the problem for them isn’t “how long am I not in the fray” it’s “how long does it take to re-try the specific challenge that I failed”.

      Again: They are saying why Dark Souls wouldn’t be fun for them.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        “Fun for some people, but not for me” is a criticism.

        Criticism is not a bad word. It is talking about the strengths and weaknesses of a work. Weaknesses which, incidentally will always be present–every choice made while creating sacrifices countless other paths.

        What I am doing, is contextualizing the criticism and showing what aspects of the game specifically address the criticism. Yes, you have to replay some material to get back to where you were, but that isn’t the same problem in this game as it is in (say) GTA, because the high difficulty gives a large ceiling for how well you can succeed on any particular challenge, and there is virtually no “down” time–you see the odd ten-second cut-scene ONCE and the death scenes are short–in between dying and playing.

        1. Asimech says:

          Dealing with the same enemies and/or environments they’ve already dealt with before is down-time to them.

          Nothing you’re saying changes that.

          Changing from white beans to brown beans isn’t going to matter to a person who’s allergic to beans, you get me?

          1. Abnaxis says:

            It is presumably down-time for them. Whether it is actually down-time or not depends on how engaging you find the regular combat, which is so dependent on individual tastes and inclinication that there is no way to know for sure whether it’s “down time” without sampling it (DISCLAIMER: I’m not expecting Shamus et al to commit tens of dollars and hours of free-time to a game they don’t think they’ll like just for the sake of talking about it online. I just want to point out that pretty much everyone here is talking in hypothetical terms)

            I think the primary factor that’s getting everyone riled up, is that Dark Souls is being lumped in with the likes of GTA, Too Human, an FTL. I’ve played all four of those games, and Dark Souls has a much better tuned respawn mechanic than anything it’s being compared to. To me, it’s much more like Super Hexagon (or probably even more like Hotline Miami, though I haven’t played HLM), which are specific examples of difficulty done right, according to Shamus himself. You die, some text pops up, and you’re ready to fight again at the checkpoint in three to four seconds. There’s no lengthy “carried off to Valhalla” cut-scene, there’s no cinematic dialogue to sit through again, you don’t go all the way back to square one. In seconds, you’re back to fencing with zombies, which is where all the depth in combat lies (the boss fights are more about memorizing attack sequences).

            All these metaphors about allergies or simply black/white “I don’t like beans, even with salt” are not at all getting at the underlying issue. Shamus’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t like beans, it that he doesn’t like drowning everything with beans but he can appreciate them in dishes where it makes sense to add beans. By the man’s own words, difficulty done right is OK, and Dark Souls is–hypothetically–difficulty done right, as long as you enjoy the swordplay.

            I have an exceptionally low threshold for frustration (I can hardly play a card game without getting too frustrated). The third time I have to re-watch a pre-rendered cut-scene is usually the last time I play a title. I’m not some mutant masochist who will suffer through endless frustration just so I can give the developer the finger in the end. And yet, I still got through Dark Souls and am making my way through the sequel, because I find the gameplay darned fun even when I have to repeat it.

            1. Asimech says:

              Someone who doesn’t like whiskey isn’t going to appriecate the differences between Jameson and Tullamore DEW and being repeatedly told about them isn’t going to get them to warm up to the idea of trying either.

  30. Abnaxis says:

    I just discovered something. There’s actually a way to play DS2 for someone who just wants to focus on the problem-parts exclusively (I.E. only replay the part you have trouble with).

    I just started doing this last night–put a white symbol down right in front of the challenge.

    What that does, is it lets other players summon you. Then, succeed or fail, you reappear in the same spot you started from. If you succeed, you reappear with all used spells and HP restored–so you are all ready to go to knock you the challenge. If you fail, your magic/items are still used up, but the penalties are significantly less than failing by yourself.

    This was painful in the first Dark Souls, where it would take 10-20 minutes to be summoned any time you put your symbol down. In DS2 I’ve yet to wait a full minute. Any more, the first thing I do when I get to an area is slap my sign down so I can scout it out as a phantom, then gradually make my way forward through problem areas. It kind of takes on a Left4Dead vibe when played this way–more and more, I’ll frequently sacrifice myself to protect the host since the penalties are shallower for me than for them.

    1. Robyrt says:

      Yeah, multiplayer is a great risk-free way to scout out an area or get a feel for the boss. As a rapier user this time around, I use the soapstone primarily to repair my weapons before a tough fight.

  31. *nods at Shamus*

    I have a similar view of games too. Adversity is something I do not enjoy in game, I’d rather have emersiveness.

    By that I mean, I’m not immersed if all I do is hacking and slashing, if I where a character in the game I might just want to ignore enemies, unless I had a vested interest in nuking anything living in sight.

    I guess once you die/fail and have to retry the same thing again that loading screen ruins it for those who like to roleplay.

    Sure, Dark Souls does include dying as part of the game, but it really is just plainly masked checkpoint reload.

    The issue is possibly the way most games are made.

    In almost all games YOU are the hero, against all impossible odds you defeat this or that and win, or so the game is pretending, while in reality you died/lost numerous times on your way to the game’s end.

    Ideally loosing a fight or challenge or failing a puzzle should allow you to fail it or escape it or retry it again later but in a way that fit with the story.

    Dark Souls is experimenting a little, but that’s just a little.

    I want to see more games where failing a task does not mean game over but subtly change the story and maybe influence the way the end is told or even provide a alternative end. (KoTOR has a alternative end, Mass Effect provide variations on how the end is told).

    If I kill some mooks and then zone (move from one game area to another) by entering a building and then exiting again later then I expect the mooks to not have respawned. I want them to lie there dead on the ground.

    If possible those mooks should remain on the ground for the rest of the game as long as that area can still be visited (if I’ll never return then no point in keeping those bodies around).

    Some RPers may say “Hey, won’t that look weird if the story takes place over months or even years?”
    Some developers may say “Hey, won’t hat gobble up a lot of memory and make huge savefiles?”
    Yeah to both so here is how to do that:
    Have the bodies decompose over time, this allows two things…

    It will look “normal” and depending on the way it’s done one might re-spawn the dead body rather than save it’s orientation/look etc.
    The older the body gets the more liberal one might be in position and looks.

    Eventually it will be just a bunch of bones and dirt strewn about and maybe pieces of metal strewn about, the less frequently the player passes the area the less need there is to store details about it.

    In some cases (like mentioned in the Skyrim Spoiler Warning recently), it would make sense if in a populated town that a body would be removed in a day or even in-game hours, and if you did not strip them down (with odd looks from nearby NPCs) then it would not be odd if the body was looted over time as it lay there.

    Also, once you kill stuff it’s dead, things do not magically breed, so it should be possible to wipe out all life in an area, kill all bunnies (and with the reaction that it might permanently hurt the local ecosystem in some way throughout the game)

    I can not recall any game doing any of this (if anybody know of a game that does this I’m all ears and would love to play it).

    Heck bodies laying around could even serve as plot points, anything from investigate a body to retrieving one before it is looted and so on. Too many bodies due to your murderous ways could cause increased number of guards in some areas.

    In the past I’ve modded a few games I played to force bodies to stick around forever.

    RPGs are perfect for this kind of thing (more so than any simulators).

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Nethack and Dwarf Fortress boh have corpse aging. Nethack has the ability to drive a species to extinction manually or genocide them through magic, and individual Dwarf Fortress embarks have a set number of each species that can spawn, meaning the map can be depleted.

      As for non-death fail states, roguelikes often have escape options. FTL has hunkering down until your engines recharge, or picking the “Yeah, nah, not going near it” option when a scenario has one. Others will let you use a, usually rare and/or unreliable and/or risky, item or spell to escape, or you can use an item to kill/remove from your vicinity a monster that’s about to kill you, at the cost of not having that item for a more considered and efficient use and whatever ill effects that monster has, e.g. genociding a weak monster that killed you at a bad time means you don’t have the tool to genocide something more dangerous and you have to do without the drops from the rare creature.

      Although arguably anything that doesn’t actually render the game unwinnable and thus cause the program to kick you to the game over screen or give you a do-over isn’t a true failure, just a setback like using more rare ammo than you’d like in a shooter.

  32. mwchase says:

    The whole “different reasons to play a game” thing reminded me of where one argument I had, mostly on the forums, ended up. A big impasse was, there’s more than one way to enjoy and consume entertainment, and when that’s not on the table to start with, things go… nowhere.

    A: “I couldn’t enjoy this because it doesn’t hold up under analysis. Like, at all.”
    B: “Well, it’s just dumb entertainment. You won’t like it if you go looking for flaws.”
    A: “I’m not looking for flaws. I’m trying to salvage the narrative, and the writers aren’t making it easy on me.”

    C: “You’re asking questions that get answered halfway in. You have NO RIGHT to ask those questions after only seeing two episodes!”
    A: “If the writers think these questions shouldn’t occur to me after they specifically call them out, they must think I’m a drooling moron.”
    B: “You’re just criticizing them for not explaining everything in excruciating detail.”

    A: “This is dumb and the characters are disconnected from human behavior and responses, and as such, I can’t see any way to enjoy it.”
    B: “This is standard fare. If you go into this expecting an unsophisticated action series, you’ll get exactly that, and that’s not nothing.”
    C: “This show is a flawless treatise on the psychology of humanity in extreme conditions. Any other opinion is too wrong to engage with.”

    (… Would’ve been a lot more interesting if B and C had engaged with each other, since beyond the common ground of “I liked it”, they had vastly different opinions. Materially, A mostly agreed with B, but had heard a lot from C’s ilk, and, well, sacred cow, crapping in the street.)

    Anyway, yeah, at minimum, you’ve got people who use analysis as a tool, people who distrust it for quashing their enjoyment of something, people who expect revealed truth from… I can’t come up with any way to complete that phrase without being somehow at least a little insulting…

    And this is something that can get reinforced. Like, you might be following along with something and go “Something doesn’t add up here”, and if you’re lucky, the writer was setting up a reveal, and if you’re not… people complain that you’re nitpicking.

    … Not sure why I anonymized all of them if I’m going to make it so dang obvious which one was me.

  33. mwchase says:

    I was trying to work out where I fall on the “progression” vs “triumph” spectrum, and I think for me, and probably a lot of other people, it varies.

    When I’m in an open-ended game, I tend to drift toward progression (my Minecraft farms can get, um, a little nuts), but I really enjoy rhythm games, which, let’s face it, basically amount to a collection of unconnected challenges that you can throw yourself against over and over until you have to play on “ultra hardcore death extreme turbo meltdown” difficulty to feel any challenge at all.

    In other words, while I can get in the frame of mind to enjoy either style of gameplay, the appearance of potential to focus on progression acts as an attractor; it draws me away from triumph-based gameplay, I think because progression does not directly inhibit triumph, but failing to triumph can directly inhibit progression.

    Some time again, Shamus was talking about self-balancing difficulty in RPGs without level scaling: you can keep on grinding in low-level zones if, for whatever reason, you can’t progress through the difficulty gates. In my case, the presence of an explicit difficulty gate can get me to stay in an area and mess with the progression-based mechanics it provides until I’ve had my fill.

    Surprising thing I found out when I was trying to lay down some theoretical limits on thirst for challenge: lots of people actually liked P0rtal: Prelude. I did not know that. The thought is actually ill-fitting in my mind. But there it is: even that level of challenge is tolerable to a large number of people.

    Let’s see if I can turn that sniping into a jumping-off point… Ah. I think in either case, I’m viewing whatever gates or mechanisms exist as a promise from the developer that I’m going to be explicitly told what I’m going to be tested against, or at least have it made obvious. VVVVVV, for example, tests your ability to move sideways and invert gravity. Mastery of a physical space. P0rtal: Prelude feels to me like it tests your mastery of the Source engine itself, and your own low-level mental state, and the portals just kind of exist to make things more complicated.

    So, we further get that different people have different ideas about what kind of challenge is appropriate in a game.

  34. Heather says:

    I call strawman on the claim that the Dark Souls community is full of jerks. It’s one of the most welcoming, friendly fandoms I’ve had the pleasure of being apart of. Souls fans love the game and love helping other players get into it, because most of us went through that “ugh, I’ll never beat this game, this sucks!” phase when playing for the first time, but stuck with it and were rewarded with an engrossing gaming experience. Not to mention, the lore practically requires collaboration between players to get the full picture of what is going on.

    Dark Souls players have an undeserved reputation for being elitist challenge gamers who look down on others which has been constructed almost completely out of thin air.

  35. Galad says:

    So, in my foolishness, I bought DS2 on the PC and hoped for a hard, but fair adventure of RPG darkness. Instead I got a few hours of being up against controls, obviously, and hatefully, made for the console crowd. I can’t even figure out how to parry with 2 swords out, instead of a sword and a shield. And I can’t possibly hope to not parry ever in DS2, even against bosses. Help? :(

    1. Alrenous says:

      Parrying is unnecessary. Most bosses can’t be parried and regardless (I think) none of them can be riposted. Abusing dodge invincibility frames is necessary, though.

      To parry with two swords you need a sword with a parry instead of a strong attack, such as a rapier or scimitar.

  36. allfreight says:

    Are you going to do a Dark Souls 3 Spoiler Warning short? Will you invite the cute Mister George Weidman Bunneyhop?

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