Arkham City Part 4: Dark Souls vs. The Dark Knight

By Shamus
on Feb 16, 2017
Filed under:


Sometimes Dark Souls players will tell you they like the game because it’s “fair”. This has probably caused more misunderstandings and arguments than anything else about the game, because “fair” is a horribly loaded word with contradictory meanings in different contexts and for different players.

Relative Fairness

Technically this is Lady Justice, not Lady Fairness. Neither of which should be confused with My Fair Lady.

Technically this is Lady Justice, not Lady Fairness. Neither of which should be confused with My Fair Lady.

When someone says fair, which one of these ideas are they talking about?

  1. Everyone competes according to the exact same rules and starting conditions.
  2. Everyone is forced to compete in such a way that victory is equally likely for all participants.

Those aren’t just different definitions, they’re opposing definitions. And yet people will often talk about “fairness” in terms of gambling, sports, board games, and videogames without ever clarifying which concept of fairness they’re talking about. Is roulette “fair” because every space has equal chances of winning, the wheel is unbiased, and the rules are clear? Or is it “unfair” because the odds clearly favor the house? If I play golf against Tiger Woods, is the game “fair” before or after we institute a stroke handicap that allows for our vastly different skill levels?

In Dark Souls, there’s a bit where you can get hit with a boulder. Some dudes roll it down the stairs at you, and if you’re not ready for it then it will pulverize you. It’s a small moment near the start of the game but it’s sort of infamous as a moment of confusion, indignation, or dismay for new players that blunder into it unaware. Let’s compare this to some other games.

In Tomb Raider 2014, there’s a cutscene where Lara stupidly blunders into the villain’s lair, loudly announces herself, and then initiates a confrontation using the worst weapon. Naturally she ends up captured for her trouble. This moment sometimes strikes players as unfair, because they feel they could have avoided this setback if they’d been allowed to retain control of their character.

So the Dark Souls boulder is “fair” because the game doesn’t force you to get run over by it in a cutscene. It’s up to you, your memory, and your reflexes. Tomb Raider is “unfair” because no matter how good you get at the game, you still have to accept this setback of being captured by guys you could easily defeat outside of a cutscene.

On the other hand…

This ice looks unstable. I`d better narrate to myself how to cross it safely.

This ice looks unstable. I`d better narrate to myself how to cross it safely.

In Arkham City, there’s a sequence where Batman has to cross a frozen pool. At the start, Batman announces that the ice is unstable and he brings up a little scanner to show the player how close the ice is to breaking. A minute later there’s a five-second cutscene where a shark jumps upJust go with it. and tries to bite our hero. Cutscene-Batman dodges out of the way and control is returned to the player. Now the player understands that the ice is brittle, and they understand that they’ll die if they fall in. The challenge and the stakes are clearly defined. If they player fails, they can’t claim the game didn’t warn them.

So the boulder is “unfair” because Dark Souls doesn’t telegraph the possibility of traps before you encounter them and Batman is “fair” because the rules and the threat were made clear ahead of time.

“But Shamus, the boulder isn’t some random thing. The game is teaching the player to watch out for traps.”

Obviously. The difference is that Batman does the same thing, but it does so before you encounter the danger. Batman doesn’t teach you about the weak ice by letting you jog over it, fall through, die, and then try again armed with that foreknowledge. It telegraphs the danger before you face it, while Dark Souls reveals the danger by having it run over you. Dark Souls teaches through failure and negative experience. (Which is in keeping with the overall tone of the world.) You can argue that you prefer one over the other, but this difference touches on what makes Dark Souls different and why some people call it unfair. People arguing over whether or not the game is fair are usually talking about two different sorts of fairness.

In the case of Dark Souls, “fair” means that all damage is theoretically avoidable. The game is about learning timing, enemy positions, attack patterns, and how to recognize enemy tells. Batman is the same thing. But rather than use the term “fair” I prefer to think of it as “perfectible”, because perfect play is possible and avoiding damage is based entirely on the player’s skill and knowledge. Compare this with a shooter where hits are unavoidable, or to an RPG where hits are controlled by dice rolls.

To the left of Batman is one of the ninja foes. They`re not really a danger to Batman`s LIFE (not much is) but they`re incredibly dangerous to your combo meter because they`re the only foe in the game that can evade your attack, and they sometimes counter-attack. It`s easy to get over-zealous with the attack button and ruin the combo.

To the left of Batman is one of the ninja foes. They`re not really a danger to Batman`s LIFE (not much is) but they`re incredibly dangerous to your combo meter because they`re the only foe in the game that can evade your attack, and they sometimes counter-attack. It`s easy to get over-zealous with the attack button and ruin the combo.

Like Dark Souls, Batman is perfectible. A sufficiently skilled player can get through an entire encounter without ever taking a hit or breaking their combo. The other thing these two games have in common is that they both feature a lot of mastery-type depth. The difference between a new player and an experienced one is obvious and massive, as is the difference between an experienced player and a master.

The difference between the games comes down to strictness and punishment. In Dark Souls, your mistakes stay with you until you reach a bonfire, and the game is only too happy to kill you for making a small number of blunders. In Batman, you can usually make lots of blunders and still muddle through. In Dark Souls, you might find yourself ten minutes away from where you died, with a long harrowing road back. In Batman you’re just reset to the most recent checkpoint, which is usually right at the start of the encounter you just failed.

In Dark Souls, you struggle to reach the next bonfire alive. In Batman, reaching the next checkpoint alive is almost a given. The caped crusader is incredibly durable and outside of boss fights or encounters with firearms, he’s always got the upper hand.

How I came to Love Batman: Arkham Whatever

Here is the results screen after doing one of the challenge rooms. These are great little five-minute games that let you see how well you`ve mastered the Arkham systems.

Here is the results screen after doing one of the challenge rooms. These are great little five-minute games that let you see how well you`ve mastered the Arkham systems.

In the Arkham games there are these optional challenge rooms you can face. They’re not part of the core game and take place completely outside the story. The challenge consists of four rounds of combat against increasingly difficult crowds. At the end, you’re rated on your performance. Keeping your combo climbing is the most important thing, but you also get points based on the variety of moves you use and how many different gadgets you can work into the fight. Your performance is rated in terms of gold / silver / bronze medals.

After my first trip through an Arkham gameI can’t remember where in this process I moved from Arkham Asylum to Arkham City, which is why I’m being vague about it here., I decided to give this thing a try. After some fumbling around, I managed to just barely score a bronze medal in the very first (easiest) challenge room. The score required to get a silver was preposterously high. And the gold medal? That was obviously impossible. I shook my head. This was a task for lunatics. I forgot about the challenge rooms and went back to playing the core game.

After another trip through the story mode I tried again and found that bronze medals were suddenly easy to get. In fact, it was hard to imagine sucking so bad at the game that I couldn’t at least score bronze. After some more practice I was just barely able to get the gold. Then I tried the “extreme” difficulty rooms and found I couldn’t even score bronze. Heck, I could barely survive the challenge. Half the time I’d die during the fight and get no score at all.

So then I played the game some more. I tried playing through the game in hard mode. I tried New Game+ mode. The next time I came back to the challenge rooms the normal rooms were easy to the point of being almost boring. I could score gold every time. Surviving the extreme challenges wasn’t a problem, although gold medals were still out of reach.

Then later gold medals were just barely obtainable. Then they were easily obtainable. Then while doing the play-through for this series I found myself playing through an extreme challenge and discovered that without trying I’d gotten about twice the score needed for a gold medal.

Getting a gold medal in Joker`s Funhouse requires you to go for about four or five minutes against escalating foes without ever taking damage. I`ve nearly done it a handful of times, but "nearly" doesn`t get you the gold.

Getting a gold medal in Joker`s Funhouse requires you to go for about four or five minutes against escalating foes without ever taking damage. I`ve nearly done it a handful of times, but "nearly" doesn`t get you the gold.

And despite the massive increase in skill, there is still a challenge that’s out of my reach and yet trivial for someone else.

Dark Souls has a similar progression. A challenge feels insurmountable, and is then mundane, and eventually trivial. You can feel yourself getting better and it’s exhilarating to see how far you’ve come. The difference is that Dark Souls forces you to to get better before you can proceed, and it punishes you if you fail. Batman usually allows you to muddle through and is happy to let you re-try a boss without making you traverse a bunch of game space and kill a bunch of mooks before you can have another go.

Regardless of whether you prefer Batman or Dark Souls, I think both games are admirable for the high degree of mastery they have to offer. I’d like to see more games focus on their mechanics as a means of entertainment, and not just as filler between the story bits.

Easy to Learn, Hard to Master, and VERY Hard to Replicate

If there`s one gripe I have with the challenge rooms, it`s that there`s too much time between attempts. To retry a challenge you get a loading screen(!?), then an intro screen, then a shot of Batman brooding and repeating a line you`ve heard a hundred times already, and THEN the fight starts. I`d like this SO much better with a Hotline Miami style instant reset.

If there`s one gripe I have with the challenge rooms, it`s that there`s too much time between attempts. To retry a challenge you get a loading screen(!?), then an intro screen, then a shot of Batman brooding and repeating a line you`ve heard a hundred times already, and THEN the fight starts. I`d like this SO much better with a Hotline Miami style instant reset.

Batman’s gameplay is one of those things that looks deceptively simple. A game developer sees the counter-prompts, the different mooks, the huge popularity, and the big pile of money developer Rocksteady makes with these things. And so they start thinking, “Bah. I could do that!”

Shadow of Mordor made this mistake. They copied the controls, but not the pacing of the game. In Arkham, fights are usually deliberately designed encounters with a fixed number of foes. You do the fight, and then you get to the end and see how you did. Shadow of Mordor missed this, and so fights in that game are this endless running melee with no coherent start or end. Sometimes guys will just keep coming. Instead of trying to fight perfectly, you’re just trying to survive. And since that’s really easy, it doesn’t feel like there’s any challenge. You can stumble your way through a fight or do it flawlessly. It doesn’t matter. The game doesn’t recognize or encourage flawless play. It’s like a game of golf where it doesn’t keep track of your strokes and your only goal is to get to the end.

Remember Me is another game that tried for this kind of brawling and managed to miss a lot of the key ingredients. The combat felt vague and floaty, and the animations lacked the kinesthetic punch that makes Batman so viscerally gratifying.

Usually when a game does well I find myself asking “Why doesn’t the industry make more like this?”Half-life 2 comes to mind. But in the case of Batman it’s pretty clear why Arkham is still peerless. This is a hard kind of game to make. It costs a lot, it’s easy to mess up, and the bar has already been set pretty high.

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[1] Just go with it.

[2] I can’t remember where in this process I moved from Arkham Asylum to Arkham City, which is why I’m being vague about it here.

[3] Half-life 2 comes to mind.

A Hundred!A Hundred!202020204There are more than 283 comments. But less than 285

From the Archives:

  1. Daimbert says:

    For video games, I tend towards the idea of fairness being essentially the Arkham one: the game makes it clear to you what you have to do and what you have to look out for and what moves you have to learn before you need to use them, and gives you the chance to learn them before you need them. So from what some people have said about Dark Souls outside of the boulder part it is generally fair: you generally have to practice the moves you’ll need for the boss on the lower level mooks before you get there. The argument is that it doesn’t introduce a completely new system for the boss fight that you’ve never come across before.

    A game that’s fair, though, can still run into problems with difficulty, although a fair game is, at least, FAIR in that. For example, Sakura Wars: So Long My Love teaches you the combination moves in the early tutorial, and you have plenty of opportunities to use them in any combats you participate in. However, when I played it I didn’t need to use them, and so finally hit a combat that I just could not win. I looked up how to beat it, and it turned out that I needed to use those combination things that I had never been using until that battle. So I grumbled and learned how to use them, which helped in later combats as well. But I have to concede that the game was fair and told me about them well in advance; it was just that at least for me the combats were so easy that I didn’t need to try to use them.

    In terms of this sort of unfairness, anything that the game requires but that it doesn’t tell you until you need it is unfair. So, requiring you to use a specific character that you might not have leveled up and so is too underpowered to actually be used counts. Party splits when you’ve only used a couple of characters because you like them count. Making events bounded by skills that you might not have taken counts. If it only makes things more difficult, that’s okay, but if you can’t get past it unless you do what the game assumed you’d do but didn’t tell you you should do — or even presented it as if you really did have a choice — then that’s unfair.

    I’d argue that the boulder in Dark Souls is clearly unfair, at least the first time, but that in the long run it doesn’t matter much as it won’t ruin the game. I’m not sure that the Tomb Raider example is unfair, unless there’s a case where if you had known that the event would happen that way you’d prepare for it (buffs, potions, rest, whatever) which you then can’t because it surprises you. It sounds more like bad game design than unfair game design, because it breaks immersion.

    • Fizban says:

      Dark Souls boulder unfair? Not at all. You can see it coming a mile away. . . if you actually look up the stairs before you run up them. It’s just that no one ever looks (I’ve seen like one person in four? blind LPs actually look up the stairs first, boom trap failed, and yes I ate boulder like everyone else). It’s also unlikely to be lethal unless you’re being nigh-deliberately obtuse enough to ignore the shield/not use the shield (which the game does tell you about), and take a ton of damage from the one enemy between bonfire and boulder. I quite like it.

      People see stairs in video games and just run up them because they expect stairs=scene transition=safety, and Dark Souls takes that moment of expected safety and not only teaches you about traps, but about the expectations of the world in general. Abandon preconceptions about safety and start learning how this world works, pay attention, or get dead.

      Unfair for playing against video game/genre conventions? Eh, I don’t think anyone’s ever complained that survival horror games will kill you for not paying attention.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        People say that I wanna be the guy is unfair,but if you throw all your stupid preconceptions about gravity,youll predict that that apple will fall up.Its just so obvious that that would happen,that Im genuinely surprised how people never anticipate that.

        • Christopher says:

          That unfairness is what makes games like IWTBTG and similar games like the CAT MARIO thing so funny. It’s just constantly subverting your expectations of what’s going to happen. It’s not like Dark Souls is some “Put ’em up” fair fight fisticuffs gentleman, it’s trying to get you. But it’s not out to get you as hard as those punks are out to get you.

          • Kamica says:

            Thing about Dark Souls, is that usually, yes, it tries to get you, but if you’re observant enough, you can almost always see the trap coming, even if it’s your first playthrough (There are exceptions). But it’s a lot harder on your first playthrough, because there’s some sneaky traps in that game. But if you find a trap before it’s sprung, it’s pretty rewarding to diffuse it =P. (As in, oh, would you look at this guy here, hiding behind the corner… Let me prepare, and BOOM, he’s gone haha.)

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Yeah,those two games are unfairly difficult at times,but they are mostly fun and funny.I wanna be the guy is full of references to older games and traps that are meant to make you laugh more than piss you off.Unlike some of the games that it spawned,like I wanna see you suffer,which wants you to only suffer.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Wow, that’s soo cool!

            Yeah, so that’s a reaally really unfair game but I still like it. I guess if you do it right, pretty much anything will work, and “fairness” is really not the crucial point.

        • Cybron says:

          I’m not sure if you’re joking or being deliberately disingenuous. You can see the boulder from the base of the stairs if you bother to look. And if you do so, it does not look natural at all. This is not remotely equivalent to IWTBG’s first room, wherein there are a multitude of apples which fall in varying directions with no real pattern. In IWTBG, you cannot identify ahead of time which parts of the screen are animate simply by observing them. You can attempt a prediction, based on “what would be the most infuriating thing to have happen here” or whatever, but it’s just going to be a prediction, not an identification.

          Traps in dark souls are universally based on the idea that if you are observant, you can spot the danger and avoid it. The boulder trap trains to avoid something similar and much more dangerous in the Undeadburg. Sen’s Fortress has a pressure plate front and center in the first room to teach you what they look like, what they do, and how to avoid or mitigate them.

          • Core says:

            Oh I never even realized it was in a way a setup for the Burg barrel ambush. On my first run I just looked at that thing sitting at the top of the stair, thought to myself ‘hey this is like when you shove an explosive barrel down a ramp in some FPS, except I bet there’s a mean skeleton waiting to do that to me instead’ and blew it up from a distance with a firebomb instead.

            • Christopher says:

              That’s a real cool way to deal with that trap. I think I pretty much just tanked it and ran on.

              Since I’m video mad today, let’s compare that barrel trap to the only ambush I can recall from Batman: Arkham Asylum.


              A big group huddled unusually together, wearing the guards uniform when you haven’t seen any guards in a long time. All in plain sight, well lit. And for the finisher, you can use the detective vision to have it plain tell you that they’re hostile, and have plenty of time to put down your own trap, the explosive gel.

              Batman is above and beyond fair.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            You can see the boulder from the base of the stairs if you bother to look.

            Oh yes,you can totally see the boulder if you bother to look.It just pops up right at you like a sour thumb.Totally:


            How could you ever confuse it for anything else than a boulder that is about to drop on you?100% fair,no question about it.

            • Phantos says:

              A better version of this is in Sen’s Fortress, where a boulder squashes an enemy in front of you. It safely teaches you instead of just being a cheap GOTCHA moment.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                I agree.That is a much better way to show us a dangerous trap before springing it on us.

                • Kylroy says:

                  That screenshot shows that Dark Souls is a big fan of Do It Again Stupid gameplay. How anyone can claim that such a design system is “fair” boggles my mind. “Perfectable” and “High Mastery”, sure, but it’s still cribbing from the Sierra design school of random death.

                  • Cybron says:

                    One, as covered elsewhere, it is really difficult to actually die to that boulder even if it hits you. Two, I have no idea what’s going on with that screenshot. The boulder is way more visible when I play. Might be YouTube compression, might be inappropriate alpha values (they do have a test for setting those before the game starts).

                  • poiumty says:

                    Yo. I just wanna say that the boulder is actually:

                    1. a throwback to Demon’s Souls (there are quite a few)

                    2. not lethal

                    3. put in a very specific place in the tutorial where the only way it can possibly kill you is if you’ve ignored everything the game told you so far

                    4. a one-time encounter

                    5. a mandatory story event

                    6. mostly for the lolz

                    The boulder argument is just a very pointless one. If you really want to get into the thick of things you should bring up the infamous Anor Londo Archers, the failing point of many a playthrough.

                    • Starker says:

                      Even if you do die to the boulder, the bonfire is right there. I guess this is another example of how effective Dark Souls is at making its threats seem a much bigger deal than they really are. A small sliver off health and in the very worst case a dozen or so seconds of backtracking is all that’s ever at a stake, but this becomes “pulverized by the boulder”.

          • FelBlood says:

            Generally assume that Damien is always doing both.

            His mocking Fizban for ignoring the point of the article (avoiding this stupid argument about the definition of fairness) is half the joke.

            The other half is mocking you for taking the bait and making this reply. It’s a pretty stock troll move, but he’s usually pretty sporting about it, so we put up with him.

            The falling up apple and the boulder might seem like a false dichotomy if you don’t have at least some love for both games, but they serve very similar roles in those two games.

            Their purpose in the tutorial zone is to teach players about death, it’s penalties, and how to approach it. “You Died: Game Over 101”

            • Cybron says:

              Yeah, it sure is a funny joke, which is why he keeps using it throughout the entire comments section as an argument. I find myself disagreeing with most of his comments, but I’ve chalked that up to differing opinions. If he is deliberately antagonizing people (which is what trolling is), then I’m surprised Shamus still puts up with that, since he’s drawn a pretty hardline anti-trolling stance in the past (re: his theory of community management).

              • ZekeCool says:

                Yeah Damien is a huge troll. I’m not a big fan of them personally but throwing a fit about it is just playing directly into what troll people want. I am constantly surprised that Shamus allows them to spam the comments section with antagonistic troll posts that are rude and do not contribute to the discussion but it’s not my place to moderate his comments for him.

                • GeoG says:

                  Daemian Lucifer is not a troll. He’s been posting here for years – must be very nearly a decade, if not more, and whilst he can be brusque, if you look beyond the style at the sheer range of subjects he’s able to post knowledgeably about you’d see that he’s a huge asset to the site and its discussions. Literally – he has many many more comments on here than anyone else; I think it might be in the order of magnitude range.

                  Personally I find his comments very funny, and I’ve often thought if more people had his attitude – i.e. strength of belief in oneself without the kind of arrogance that has to put down others – the world would be a better place. People might be taken aback by that, but I mean it: there’s more ad hominem in the comments above me than you’ll ever see from DL. He’ll attack ideas, and he won’t go easy on those, but he doesn’t attack people.

                  The site would be lesser without him. And you all spelled his name wrong.

                  • ZekeCool says:

                    Agree to disagree. As I said, I don’t generally engage in comments with/about them because it’s clear that my opinion is not shared and I while I do find their comments annoying it’s generally not enough to make me wish to avoid the comments section. Someone can be knowledgeable and have been with the site a long time while still contributing little to many conversations.

                    That said, I do apologize for getting their name wrong. Should have checked before I posted.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Shit,you are making me sound like an altruist.I must have done something wrong.

                    But yeah,I have no qualms about attacking ideas from any angle.And people should learn that mocking/praising an idea is not the same as mocking/praising the person.

                    • FelBlood says:

                      Please understand I meant no offense.

                      You play a rough game, but you do it with a sense of honor, decorum and academic rigor that completely separates you from the common College-Freshman-Discovering-Unsupervised-Internet-Access.

                      You never kick a guy while he’s down, but if you seem someone standing on a big red “X” next to a sign that says “Do not stand on the X,” you have no compunctions about dropping a piano on him.

        • Piflik says:

          I don’t think you can compare the boulder in DS with IWBTG. You can see the boulder at the top of the stairs and the guy behind it. You might be trusting enough to not anticipate the guy pushing the boulder, but the premise of DS doesn’t really encourage trust. There is no inconsistency between the player’s expectancy and the game’s behaviour. IWBTG has inconsistency between identical objects on one screen, like apples ‘falling’ down and up. Just because the warning in DS is an environmental cue instead of a UI popup doesn’t make it less valid.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            I was just joking around,but now that Ive examined that picture I made more closely,you know what,I was actually being more correct than I intended to.The apple falling upwards in I wanna be the guy is the equivalent of a dark doorway turning into a boulder in dark souls:


            • FelBlood says:

              It really is very equivalent. While the details make them appear very different, both elements share Form, Function, Message and Theme.

              I’m not entirely sure why so many Souls fans find this so hard to accept, and I start to wonder how many of them don’t really “get” IWBTG. These two fandoms have so much in common, that I wonder sometime what all the fight is about.

              1. Form: unexpected deathtrap. A lethal trap springs on the player early in the game, killing them because they do not yet know how to defend against it.

              2. Function: to teach through death or injury. Both of these traps are intended to hit the player the first time they meet it. (The anecdotal exception is clearly not the intended experience in either case.) Death in these game is not the end; it is the means whereby the players gather the knowledge and skill needed to “git good.” Players need to die early so they understand how the game’s life, death and respawn systems work.

              3. Message: You’re going to die a lot. Get used to it. Embrace it. Use it as a tool. Let it make you stronger. This is a puzzle, and a wrong answer means death. There is a correct answer; find it. Keep trying solutions until you find one that works. The save point is right over there; just go get it.

              4. Theme: Grim, hopeless and paranoid. The player is intended to enjoy these games, once they learn to master their frustration, but The Kid and the Undead do not get to enjoy this. Their stories are about sacrificing everything, plus an ocean of their own blood, for a commitment to a quest of increasingly dubious value, in a world where sudden death can come from anywhere, at any time, at any angle. These pitfalls are supposed to show that side of this world to the player.

              • Starker says:

                It’s more like this though:

                Dark Souls
                Form: expected traps that might kill you if you are not careful, but mostly can be avoided with common sense or by being careful.
                Function: to make the game an adventure. The world has threats, but you are also given tools and hints to overcome these threats.
                Message: you will die if you get careless.
                Theme: danger.

                Form: ridiculous ways of killing the player in ways that often run against common sense and actively try to counter any expectations that the player has.
                Function: parody.
                Message: look at how unreasonable this is, isn’t if funny?
                Theme: whimsy.

                For all its reputation, you are actually not expected to die all that much in Dark Souls, unless you are taking on a challenge that’s bigger than you can handle. And even then you can just run away a lot of the times. In Dark Souls, you generally fight until you run out of healing and then try again a little bit stronger and more experienced after you spend your souls at a shop or a bonfire (which resets the enemies). That’s the basic gameplay loop, not “fight until you die, then try again”.

        • Thank God for your pointless snark, or I would never have realized that simply watching where you are going is equivalent to expecting gravity to reverse.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Yup,simply watching where you are going.And knowing in advance what you should be watching for.And having your gamma way up.But totally just watching where you are going:


            • Core says:

              It makes a pretty noticeable rumbling noise while it’s rolling too, during which you can jam the dodge button.

              IF there were many more traps like that in the game, you’d have a point but it’s literally the tutorial ‘hey, this game has traps in its levels, you better watch out in the future’ rock after getting hit by which IIRC you obtain the healing item.

              Then you get to Sen’s Fortress, filled with far, far more obvious rolling boulder traps, which you can figure out after watching a few pre-placed enemies die to them in an almost ‘scripted’ fashion. It’s basically being as clear as Batman with the shark, just not at the expense of taking controls away from the player for that moment. And then, in DS3, you get to the skeleton boulders, which might even glow a tiny bit, make even more noise, and also feature a small demonstration of their ‘functionality’ on some poor enemy sap or two.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                It makes a pretty noticeable rumbling noise while it’s rolling too, during which you can jam the dodge button.

                Oh yes,the whole half a second of it.

                IF there were many more traps like that in the game

                You mean like that one linked in another video where three enemies drop around you from the ceiling?Where you cant see them before they drop.And one of them is behind you,and starts chomping you while you are facing the other two.Totally fair.

                • tmtvl says:

                  It’s more obvious in-game, where the YouTube encoding doesn’t fuck it up,

                  Haven’t you ever seen Minecraft videos on YouTube? When it gets slightly dark in game the video becomes pure black.

                • Core says:

                  You mean like that one linked in another video where three enemies drop around you from the ceiling?Where you cant see them before they drop.And one of them is behind you,and starts chomping you while you are facing the other two.Totally fair.

                  You have a dodge roll with invincibility frames that makes that, or the whole game really, a very escapable situation. Against enemies slower than in most action games(where group fights are also the norm). And every enemy has some blatant sound cues. And, the very first boss encounter in DS is quite literally a tutorial on running away in the face of overwhelming odds. If you need to die yet another time to apply that sort of thinking…

                  Well, at least it’d give you time to contemplate the unfairness inherent in an ambush.

                  Oh yes,the whole half a second of it.

                  It’s a tutorial trap meant to hurt you so that you can get healed with an Estus flask and realize that’s a thing, the healing and the traps, and even that one you can dodge by some margin. Boulders later on make a huge amount of continuous noise.

                  The basic problem is, I don’t really mind getting hit by some scenario I can’t immediately handle in a game like that, because the times when you do figure something out right on the spot, under pressure in those games feels worth all the prior deaths in the world to me. There’s just as many things you won’t die to as there are those that you will, and those sets will differ from player to player, which makes for interesting conversation. Whereas Batman might be a really entertaining series, but most people will just remember the general ‘muddle’ of play the game encourages, some of the narrative setups and situations solved by the player character and not so much the player himself instead of the very individual room to room experience you get here.
                  And whether you’ve died to something because you couldn’t figure it out fast enough, or got it right practically immediately, either scenario is going to be memorable for different reasons.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    It’s a tutorial trap meant to hurt you so that you can get healed with an Estus flask and realize that’s a thing

                    Thats the point I and many others here are constantly making:You cannot claim that its fair when it was obviously designed in an unfair way to deliberately hurt you.The fact that it doesnt outright kill you or that it can be avoided if you know what to expect does not change that.It was made in such a way that most people will eat a boulder to the face.And thats fine,there are plenty games where the tutorial saps your health in some way just to teach you about healing.It being unfairly made does not mean its not well made.

                    Same for the ambush.Its obviously an ambush meant to at least get a chunk of health from someone who is going there the first time.That does not mean that the ambush is automatically lethal,impossible,bad,or whatever.Just that its not fair in the sense that the fans continuously talk about.

                    And even if those are the only two instances of unfairness in the whole series(which they are not,but lets just go with it),it doesnt change the fact that the series still can be unfair at times when it suited the designers to do so.Is that a bad thing?No.Like Ive mentioned in other comments,unfairness can be used in video games to achieve various goals,many of which are well done.So there really is no need to defend the game as “yeah,but its not bad because of that one instance,that you can totally avoid the second time around”.Because no one is calling these unfair fights/traps bad.

                    • Core says:

                      Thats the point I and many others here are constantly making:You cannot claim that its fair when it was obviously designed in an unfair way to deliberately hurt you.

                      I can claim that that particular boulder is perfectly fair in every possible definition because whether you get hit by it or not, it changes practically nothing, you get the same outcome(full healthbar via estus or because you’ve dodged) and a good setup for the rest of the game(boo! traps!). Give that one a rest because even your ambush example is way, way better.

                      Same for the ambush.Its obviously an ambush meant to at least get a chunk of health from someone who is going there the first time.

                      The problem is that that version of the idea of fairness mostly precludes surprise or tension or the sense of any non-narrative stakes being involved in the way you interact with the game. DS’ fairness as noted is a teacher’s kind of fairness where it explains the basics first and then elaborates upon that, and you can extrapolate towards future scenarios based on your previous experience. And because of the game’s action core and the heft of each of your actions, replaying encounters will provide you with more variety than in most other genres.

                      To me, it’s honestly not even the distinction in the article itself because DS2 is ‘perfectable’ but also features way fewer cues or guessable enemy setups to the point where it almost falls out of any definition of ‘fair’. Sometimes it’s really the B-team just stacking a bunch of enemies in square brick rooms because more is harder, and here’s some poison I guess, and maybe a bridge for you to fall off. Whereas Sen’s literally starts off by showing off its main enemy type, showing off the pressure plates and the way they work, before they give you a few ambushes with those components remixed. It’s pretty “fair” to expect those given the whole game works like that. Then you get a demonstration of the boulder chutes, and again, a bunch of variations on gotchas that you can avoid with basic timing. Then same thing with the swinging pendulums and thin bridges, because Sen’s the designated trap area for the game.

                      The way obstacles are arranged and elaborated upon constitutes the Souls ‘fairness’ and I don’t see why that particular definition isn’t useful. If anything, we should be talking about different levels of ‘handholding’, and how too much of that can hurt the variety of unique personal experiences people have with a game, it’s probably a more way suitable term if you want the dangers to be highlighted by the game itself, and your actions to have little negative consequence even if it’s really the player’s fault.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I can claim that that particular boulder is perfectly fair in every possible definition because whether you get hit by it or not, it changes practically nothing, you get the same outcome(full healthbar via estus or because you’ve dodged) and a good setup for the rest of the game(boo! traps!).

                      True,you can claim that.And that claim would be wrong.Because thats not what “fair in every possible definition” is.I mean,since Ive breached the topic of half life in these comments,I can claim that its perfectly fair because you can always find enough health kits to boost you to 100%,and thus all the damage you receive is not skewed.But that would be ignoring the fact that when you are at 10% health you will receive less damage.

                      The problem is that that version of the idea of fairness mostly precludes surprise or tension or the sense of any non-narrative stakes being involved in the way you interact with the game.

                      Dont blame me,blame other dark souls fans.Because thats precisely the idea that has been floating around since I first encountered them.The “you can always spot the danger if you are observant enough” argument thats proposed as the ultimate proof that the game is “100% fair”.

                      If anything, we should be talking about different levels of ‘handholding’, and how too much of that can hurt the variety of unique personal experiences people have with a game

                      True.But unique is not the same as good.Depending on what story* you are trying to tell,limiting the ways in which it is being told can be a good thing.For dark souls,more hand holding would most likely be a bad idea.For half life,less hand holding would probably be a bad idea.Because while the first is a story about you trying to survive(undie?)alone in a bleak dreary world,the other is a story about you trying to unite a bunch of people in order to fight off alien menace.

                      And to turn this back to batman,batman is a story about a superhero badass doing superhero badass stuff using a bunch of gadgets and people to achieve that.Having him blunder around like a goof because the player wasnt attentive enough would kind of ruin that feeling.Hence why taking control from the player in places where they wouldnt be able to be badass enough is actually a good thing.

                      *Or emotion that you are trying to evoke.Or any effect you are trying to achieve.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      The “you can always spot the danger if you are observant enough” argument thats proposed as the ultimate proof that the game is “100% fair”.

                      Pleas show where anyone has said in this thread that Dark Souls is “100% fair.” When I’m in this discussion, I’m talking about “THIS is what ‘fair’ means; it is the feature the game has but many others lack, which make it fair.” There are plenty of places it is unfair, and I consider those failings in its design.

                    • MrJackSmash says:

                      I believe your arguments of unfairness fall short because regardless whether DS telegraphs it’s traps or challenges, it remains consistent in how it handles the encounters and punishes justly for failure.

                      Take the boulder for example. This is a tutorial. An easy, low stake area of the game where messing up is expected and developed with that in mind. Where you’re never too far away from where you’ve died, if you do make mistaken, that it feels like you’ve been punished for not reading the situation right. Decrying this trap as unfair because they haven’t taught you about traps *cough* what they’re doing now *cough* is a silly notion.

                      When they introduce new mechanics that will hurt players it wont be fatal unless the player hasn’t been following the very explicit and consistently reinforced core idea of the game. That of “Be cautious, for around every corner could be a dragon” is so obviously conveyed even in the early stages and consistently developed upon throughout.

                      It sounds to me that the underlying issue is that the game communicates it ideas in a way that many players aren’t familiar with. It changed a decades worth of gaming rule short hand but it did so consistently and that is what ultimately makes it fair. It hits you with a boulder coming down the stairs then looks over you and says “Well, this will happen again, I guarantee it. So…. ah ……. maybe look around in the future. Cool? Cool!” and then it does follow through with similar traps.

                      Unfair would be if all boulder traps were shown to be triggered by a mook enemy and then you find one without a mook and think “Aha! no mook = no trap!” and then find a stair pressure plate which sets it off, something with the game has only reserved for arrow traps. Now that would be unfair because they have established mechanics then changed them without any indication of change. To contrast, if that same scenario played out but before you reached the new boulder trap 4000 an enemy triggered it or you saw the trap in play that would be fair again because you now know that the mechanics have variables and may be either mook or plate triggered.

                      To deflect potential criticism, I’m not saying that DS as a series is fair because my personal view is that DS3 particularly fails in this, I’m looking at you Ashes of Ariendal and your 1-hit-kill axe giants! What I certainly am saying though is that DS1 does handle its game mechanics fairly and consistently. To possibly come off as an arrogant elitist, I think that the short fall here is due to players who lack the literacy to engage with the game world in the way the developers have expressed it. And that’s not a bad thing, it means the genre is growing and new ideas and mechanics are being worked into games that challenge the traditions that have been created.

                      I look forward to your reply :)

      • Daimbert says:

        People see stairs in video games and just run up them because they expect stairs=scene transition=safety, and Dark Souls takes that moment of expected safety and not only teaches you about traps, but about the expectations of the world in general. Abandon preconceptions about safety and start learning how this world works, pay attention, or get dead.

        While I was starting to think that it might not be unfair — since you can see it coming — if the game doesn’t do anything to teach you to abandon those preconceptions and then mostly relies on you following them to try to teach you that point, then it is unfair. Again, compare it to the Batman case: if the game had even telegraphed it with one that the game auto-avoids, or even with a small cutscene showing that they toss it at you, then you’d know. What’s been used in the Ultimate Alliance games is that they’ll move the camera to show you the situation and then let you try to figure out how to resolve it.

        Now, you might like unfairness at times. But that doesn’t make it fair. And Dark Souls, here, is clearly AIMING to be unfair by relying on you following conventions to subvert them. They clearly think that’s the best way to teach you that lesson, but complaints of it being “unfair” are valid, it seems to me.

        • Echo Tango says:

          The game didn’t need to telegraph the boulder, because it lets you learn from your death. It might be annoying, or not your type of game, but it’s not unfair. The game shows the player the danger, and then lets them work past it. The Souls games let players learn from deaths, instead of showing them the solution to every puzzle.

          • Daimbert says:

            As I said below, it IS unfair and deliberately so, but that doesn’t make it “bad”, “senseless”, “purposeless”, or whatever. We need to stop treating those terms as synonyms. It’s fine to say that Dark Souls, at least here, is totally unfair, but it does it for a reason, and if you think that reason worth it, you’ll like it, and if you don’t, you won’t.

            • Echo Tango says:

              I’m sorry, I still disagree; I think that you and I have different meanings for the word “fair”. The Souls/Bloodborne games are about learning from death, from initially-unexpected but afterwords-predictable things, and so on. The reason those games are fair[1] is because they set up what their rules are, the expectations the player should have, and then follow those expectations and rules themselves.

              [1] I’m including I Wanna Be The Guy here too.

              • Wysinwyg says:

                Its like you guys didn’t even read the UP.

                In some senses, DS is fair. In other senses, not fair.

                You are talking past each other because you are using different senses of the word ” fair”.

                The embarrassing thing is that exactly this was all explained in the first paragraph or so of the OP so you have no excuses for not realizing it

                • GeoG says:

                  There’s nothing embarrassing about it. Shamus clearly delineates the different meanings of the term for his purposes, and you might notice that the folks above aren’t actually arguing with that. I don’t think Shamus intended to set an upper limit on the number of ways to interpret the term – in any event, Daimbert explicitly introduces another definition, and Echo Tango just as clearly says they have yet a different notion in mind. So, pointing out that’s what they’re doing doesn’t really advance the ball.

                  You could perhaps complain that they’re a little offtopic, but given both have been upfront that they’re using different meanings for the term and are hence now discussing something Shamus wasn’t, simply referring them back to the original post doesn’t help much.

                  • Daimbert says:

                    Moreover, I disagree that there isn’t a consistent and reasonable notion of “fair” that everyone can use. I disagree that it all has to be about opinion, and gave the definition that I think is a pretty good notion of “fair”. I believe that a lot of the problem is that people keep dragging in other concepts — “good”, “fun”, “hard” — and then ignore that a game is fair iff it ensures that you always know the rules and could always have known what it was going to do to you before it did it to you.

                    As stated below, a game can be unfair on purpose to set up things it needs to do or present a certain atmosphere. The boulder, on my view, is deliberately unfair to encourage the player to heal during the healing tutorial. This, then, is a purposeful and even good unfairness … but it’s still unfairness.

                    I’d also argue, by that, that if Dark Souls is about you learning things by dying to them, then it seems to be an unfair game because it seems like you couldn’t reasonably have learned what you needed to learn before dying to it. But that doesn’t make it bad. It seems that a lot of people really LIKE that approach, and it’s reasonable to argue that it works really well for Dark Souls. But it being good and even fitting in with the overall theme doesn’t suddenly make it fair. It makes it purposeful. It makes it reasonable. It might even make it GOOD. But it doesn’t make it fair.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Right, and I take your point that it doesn’t necessarily have to incorporate a value judgment (I think many would disagree, but that’s by the by). But just on the number of reasonable definitions we have kicking around – Shamus gives two in the original post. I can’t quite tell whether your definition is intended to be a restatement of one of his, or yet a third. But, anyway, we have at least two.

                      I don’t personally think it’s a problem to have more than one definition – the more the merrier! – as long as people are clear about which one they’re using (as you certainly have been). But I am curious – how do you square Shamus’ two reasonable definitions with the notion that there’s a single consistent one? Do you disagree that one of those is really capturing a notion of ‘fairness,’ and thus needs a different label?

                      Or is it even that both need a different label? – neither of Shamus’ formulations incorporates the requirement of a possibility of prior knowledge, which is central to yours. Or is it that your definition is specifically limited to the context of fairness in a videogame, whilst Shamus’s admit of wider applicability?

                    • Daimbert says:


                      I think it conflates two very different notions of fair. It’s reasonable to argue those specific notions of “fairness” wrt both games in general, or with respect to the difficulty. After all, in Dark Souls everyone plays by the same rules, which is fair, and it’s only skill that differentiates the players. And typically we consider that, overall, to be fair, especially for games. But in some instances, we want people to have as close a chance as possible to being able to finish a game no matter what their skill level, especially in a video game. Part of the issue you run into with games is when you go between single and multi-player, as in a single player game giving a less skilled player an advantage isn’t going to be unjust to anyone, but in a multiplayer game it might be. To take the Tiger Woods example, if someone challenged Tiger Woods to a golf game for a million dollar prize but then insisted on a handicap to make it close, we could very much argue that that is being unfair to Tiger Woods. However, if it’s a bunch of people out for some fun then keeping it competitive adds to that.

                      The problem is that when we look at the Batman shark and the Dark Souls boulder, it’s not really that sort of “Same rules” vs “same chance” that we’re talking about, which seems clear in OP as well. Those situations are entirely about the game treating the PLAYER fairly, and ensuring that the rules don’t change without the player being aware of it. Batman is very fair in that sense; you know what might happen before you’re going to get hurt by it. The Dark Souls boulder is unfair in that you don’t know that at all.

                      But let me return to the above example and this one and reiterate my comment from below: unfairness is bad if it is unjust. To use a philosophical example, if someone is deciding how to share cake between a child who eats cake regularly and a child who rarely gets to eat cake, it might be considered “unfair” to give the child who rarely gets to eat it the bigger slice, but it ought not be considered “unjust”. In the Tiger Woods example, it is likely unjust to ask Tiger Woods to accept a handicap when he was challenged by someone who knew going in that Tiger Woods was a better player than they were and when the stakes are so high. But it isn’t unjust to do it when we just want to have a competitive day out where players can feel in the game the whole time, even if arguably it’s always unfair (by the explicit rules of golf). By the same token, a game “cheating” to make things easier for itself is unjust to the player, “cheating” to make things easier for a weaker player at the expense of a stronger player without their consent is unjust to the stronger player, and “cheating” to make things better for the player isn’t unjust to the player.

                      There are many ways to be unfair, and the two parts of the OP reference different ways to be unfair. I think that trying to apply the first two criteria to the second example conflates different ways of being unfair. At the end of the day, however, it seems to me that unfairness is bad when it is unjust, and that’s what we probably need to focus on here.

                    • GeoG says:

                      I see, I get ya now – I thought you were saying something along the lines of ‘there is only one standard of fairness,’ and thus only one truly-acceptable meaning for the word, but I see I had that wrong. Thanks!

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      What you’re saying makes much more sense to me now.

                      I think the disconnect is, that you see the boulder as a mechanic being introduced without warning, and I see the boulder as the message warning the player about the mechanic.

                      It doesn’t do significant damage. It’s not going to set the player back. It’s an alternative to grabbing the player’s camera and saying “See? These asshole undead can roll boulders at you!” and instead it rolls a nerf ball at them so they know to look out in the future.

                      Which brings me to how universal you definition really is. What do you mean by “always know and could always have known what it could do to you?” Does it have to explicitly stop the game and give you exposition about every single mechanic? Does it simply have to present something in front of you, where if you are observant enough you can see any new mechanic incoming? If the game doesn’t explicitly tell you a boulder is going to roll at you, but it gives you all the information you need to know the boulder is going to roll at you if you look for it, how does that differ from the definition of fairness?

                      Since Shamus has been working on Sudoku lately: if a Sudoku puzzle has fewer blanks filled in to start off, does that make it more unfair? How does that differ from the continuum of information parsed out to players in other games?

      • GloatingSwine says:

        That first boulder in Dark Souls is supposed to teach you a lesson.

        No, not the lesson that people will chuck boulders at you.

        It’s to teach you about healing and Estus.

        You walk around the corner, get smacked by the boulder, but it also opens a hole in the wall to meet Oscar who gives you the Estus flask you need to heal the damage you just took and a shortcut back to the bonfire.

        That boulder, and getting smacked by it, is teaching by conveyance.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I think that boulder is a bad example in Dark Souls. It’s the first trap the player encounters, and while it’s theoretically avoidable, it’s largely meant to be a teaching moment, like the first mimic the player encounters (I’m still a little annoyed about the unfairness of mimic #1). The tutorial boulder is unfair, but every boulder after it is fair.

        Shortly before the first boss, there’s an almost identical sequence with a barrel at the top of some stairs, and an enemy who will push it down to roll over you: if you charge blindly you’ll get crushed, but if you’re advancing cautiously you will see it coming and have time to run back down the stairs and out of reach. You’ve learned the lesson of the boulder, and this trap is entirely fair.

        Dark Souls is marginally less fair than Batman, but it’s still pretty fair.

        • Echo Tango says:

          The boulder is only “unfair” if you assume that the player is expected to win every encounter without needing to repeat anything or die. Given that the Souls games take place in worlds of misery and death, the expectation should be that you’ll probably die, and that learning from deaths and mistakes is entirely the point of the games.

          • Daimbert says:

            That’s not why I, and most of the other people in this subthread, consider it unfair. As I said, it’s because you can’t have any idea that it might happen or that you might have to watch out for anything or that the game was subverting the preconceptions of the genre before it happens. You aren’t learning from a death or a mistake because you couldn’t know that you were even at risk of making a mistake until it happens (and, as others have pointed out, it probably won’t even kill you). It’s not about “Well, you don’t have to win every time”, it’s about a game tossing out a thing to hit you that you didn’t know and couldn’t have known existed until they hit you with it. It would be like the Batman example suddenly having the shark jump out of the water without even showing you that anything WAS under the water, or a boss suddenly use an incredibly powerful attack that kills the entire party with no warning that it might do that, and that you could have prepared for if you had known about it in advance.

            That’s the sort of “unfair” I, at least, am talking about. And I repeat that “unfair” doesn’t mean “bad”, or “wrong” or whatever negative term you want to use, and “fair” doesn’t mean “good” or whatever positive term you want to use. A game can be deliberately unfair and use that to good purpose. The boulder being used to damage you so that you can learn healing is a purposeful unfair, and so seems not unreasonable. But it’s still unfair (and can’t fulfill its purpose if it was fair).

            • Abnaxis says:

              I think you’re missing the point.

              The first boulder–the very first one–will likely hit you without you noticing it on your first playthrough 99% of the time. However, that boulder:

              –Can be seen well before it’s rolled at you
              –Does not do enough damage to kill you
              –Is a ten second walk away from a checkpoint.

              Virtually every trap–including that boulder–is visible, and can be avoid on the first try if you are paying attention. And the first boulder specifically is situated in such a place that when it hits you, if it kills you you won’t be set back far. It IS your lesson in “abandon your preconceived notions and pay attention to your surroundings.”

              • Daimbert says:

                Well, my point was that it does it by, in fact, being unfair: you are asked to pay attention in that way to things when the game gave you no reason or indication that you needed to. I agree that it’s your lesson that you have to pay attention. I agree that it isn’t generally problematic and is used to introduce another mechanism. I just say that it does it by, in fact, being totally unfair because until it hits you you couldn’t have known to do that. AND THAT’S OKAY. Again, “unfair” does not mean “bad”.

                • Echo Tango says:

                  I think you have a different definition of the word “fair” than a person who enjoys Dark Souls does. For that person, a game does not get labelled “fair” by expressly telling them every thing that they need to do or pay attention to, or how to win the game. They learn by failure, and don’t expect the game to have a tutorial before every “real” challenge, or to broadly telegraph every challenge to indicate that there is a new skill or piece of knowledge to learn.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    Hi, person who enjoys Dark Souls here. That’s not my definition of “fair”. When I call Dark Souls fair, I mean that it has the Super Meat Boy quality to it where if you die, that was because of an avoidable mistake you made (as opposed to games where you die due to random chance, or to IWBTG/Kaizo-style foreknowledge-required traps). The game occasionally breaks this rule (the bridge dragon, the first mimic, the first time a vine-monster uses its guard-break attack, etc), but broadly Dark Souls is good because you don’t have to die to learn. For each boss, there’s a player who killed that boss on their first attempt and that player could be you if you’re good enough.

                    I think the “Dark Souls is about learning by dying” meme is as pernicious and misleading as the people who say “Dark Souls is good because it’s SUPER hard”. Dark Souls is about learning, and it’s about dying when you make mistakes, but dying is neither the only nor the best way to learn.

                  • Daimbert says:

                    What it means for a game to be fair is that if you die, at least you can see how you COULD have learned what you needed to learn before it and survive it. An unfair game is one where you couldn’t; you had to die to that thing — or at least be a victim of it — before you could learn that.

                    And to be honest I’m getting heartily sick of the fact that Dark Souls fans CAN’T AGREE ON THEIR DEFENSES. For example, some are saying that, yes, you absolutely could have seen the boulder and avoided it. Others are saying, no, you couldn’t have, and that was the point, because it was about learning the healing system. And others — and I include you in this category — are arguing that you couldn’t have but it’s fair because the game is built around you dying to learn things, even though others have pointed out that this situation is very UNLIKELY to kill you. Make up your minds [grin]! If you can’t agree on what the game is trying to do, it makes any argument based on what the game is trying to do … difficult, to say the least.

                    And while you say that the game isn’t built to telegraph every new challenge, as others have pointed out the game explicitly does that for similar challenges later, in the Sen Fortress. So this, considered in the entire context of the game, seems to be violating the expected way the game approaches these things anyway.

                    So I stand by my position: the boulder is unfair, and intentionally so. I further maintain that the main reason you reject that is because you are conflating “fair” with “good”, and so are trying to arguing that it’s “good” or “for a reason” and therefore “fair”. Which I categorically deny; you can be unfair for a purpose — see the “done to teach you the healing system” argument — and that can work out to be good in the context of the game. Which means, then, that you could indeed enjoy the game PRECISELY BECAUSE IT IS UNFAIR, which also renders that argument moot.

                    • Christopher says:

                      We’re not the same person just because we all like Dark Souls, unfortunately. We can’t just gather in our underground lair, debate and present our consensus to the world. Would’ve made these comment sections a lot slimmer.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      And to be honest I’m getting heartily sick of the fact that Dark Souls fans CAN’T AGREE ON THEIR DEFENSES.

                      Just how in the last thread some were saying how “its so fine tuned that changing the difficulty even one iota wouldve ruined it”,some were saying that “it was actually made easier,and thats good”,and some who said that “yes its totally harder than it shouldve been,but they had to endure it”.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Again, can’t blame the game for the quality of its advocacy.

                      it makes any argument based on what the game is trying to do … difficult, to say the least.

                      Ah, but if the argument were made any easier then it’d be an entirely different argument, y’see…

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Again, can’t blame the game for the quality of its advocacy.

                      Sadly,thats not true for things that are linked.Sometimes I wish I tried this game before getting in contact with the fans,but thems the breaks.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      @Daimbert: The problem is, there are two dimensions to this:

                      –The boulder is unfair, because the player hasn’t been trained to look for it yet. A lot of people are arguing about this, because the boulder is the training–you get smacked by a trap you didn’t know to look for and couldn’t be expected to avoid, but you also suffer very little in the way of consequences for that smack, and hopefully learn from the experience while the game has the kid gloves on.

                      –The boulder is fair, because if the player had been trained to look for it, they would have noticed it easily. For my part, this is what I’m talking about, because this discussion is less about the one particular boulder that’s supposed to be training wheels before the real punishing parts start, and more about how Dark Souls is “fair” in the context of the rest of the game.

                      Both are true. That’s the thing about this game–it WILL catch you by surprise sometimes. 99% of the time, when it does so and you return to the point where it caught you, you’ll notice all the tells you overlooked at the time when it caught you. That’s why it’s fair–if you mess up you can easily die, but there’s a clear line of causality between the mistakes you made, the deaths you took, and what you should have done to avoid it. And you can avoid those mistakes on the first try if you are observant enough.

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Dark Souls fans CAN’T AGREE ON THEIR DEFENSES.

                      It’s almost as if different people hold different opinions.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Edit: whoa, this subthread is moving fast! XD This was aimed at Daemian Lucifer, regarding having the games pre-spoiled by some of the fanbase.

                      Have you watched Matthewmatosis’ & Joseph Anderson’s vids on the series? Those are my only direct knowledge of the games; I’ve not played them myself. Both are big fans of the series, but they’re not at all … rabid, you know? Joseph Anderson in particular points out many flaws, but from a clear position of liking the game rather than attacking it.

                      So, if you haven’t watched them then I’d highly recommend them as a potential mental palate cleanser. And even if they don’t work out that way, the vids are certainly entertaining in themselves – as you probably know already; I’m sure you’re aware of their work!

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      –The boulder is fair, because if the player had been trained to look for it, they would have noticed it easily.

                      But,thats the opposite of fair.Im not joking this time,thats exactly what I wanna be the guy does.It shows you that everything can kill you,from all the directions.Stationary spikes,the checkpoint,walls,scenery,everything.And once you expect it,you can predict the next trap simply by timing how much time has passed since the last one.But that does not make it fair.That does not make it fair when the moon unhinges itself from the scenery and starts chasing you.That boulder right there,thats a straight “apple falling upwards” moment.Its deliberately unfair.And like Daimbert keeps pointing out “fair” and “good” should not be equated.Whether the scene does its job well is irrelevant.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:


                      I prefer playing games than watching them.And when I watch a lets play,its usually for a game that Im either stuck on,or have played enough(like heartstone).The only time Ive watched a lets play of something that I didnt like was mass effect 3,because fuck that game.So while I do enjoy some snippets of dark souls(like the pvp duels),Im not watching that one to the end.

                    • Daimbert says:


                      It’s almost as if different people hold different opinions.

                      But the defenses are all “This is what the game is REALLY about!”, and they’re all mutually exclusive. That’s the problem. You can say that you like something about a game without saying that the game is just about that and if you don’t get or don’t like that then the game isn’t for you. For example, I can say that I really like the Persona games for the Social Link parts because it provides an interesting way to roleplay without insisting that that’s what the game is entirely about, and so if someone says that the tactical combat is the best part of the game for them we won’t contradict each other. Few of those I’m referring to here do that and instead insist that the game is JUST about their defense … and, again, those defenses and mutually exclusive.


                      That second one is precisely my definition of unfair. All of the cases where you could have known about it beforehand fit my definition of fair. If we take the “The boulder is there to give you something to heal during the healing tutorial” — which, I think, is likely the more reasonable interpretation, then it’s intended that you won’t see it coming the first time so that it WILL damage — but not kill — you, and with damage that you can immediately heal. I’d call that unfair but purposefully so. That it’s there to teach you to look for traps is contradicted by other areas where they show you traps before you have to look for them, and that it’s there as part of you learning by dying is contradicted by the fact that it is highly unlikely to kill you. Thus, I stand by my “Unfair, and deliberately so” because it doesn’t achieve its goal if it isn’t, for the most part, unfair and mostly unavoidable.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Heh, righto – yes, maybe don’t start with the 6.5 hour long Matthewmatosis commentary, then! It’s not a Let’s Play as such, but it’s not far off when you get down to it.

                      The Joseph Anderson vids definitely aren’t LPs, though, and so I’m just going to link to the first of those here, mainly for two reasons: he does give his own take on the issue of fairness (or at least one of them), and so folks might be interested in that, and secondly because I wonder how this comment thread will handle the embed now that we’re slammed against the right hand margin! :p

                      Oh. Pretty well, it transpires.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      That boulder right there,thats a straight “apple falling upwards” moment.Its deliberately unfair.

                      It’s not.

                      An unfair boulder: as the character walks up the stairs, at an invisible threshold a (previously invisible) boulder falls out of the ceiling (it was triggered how?) and rolls toward the player without warning.

                      A fair boulder: A boulder that’s visible from the bottom of the stairs rolls down at the player while they ascend the stairs. After the boulder has passed, the player can continue up the stairs to pummel the arse-hole who shoved it down at them when he thought he could nab them.

                      An unfair encounter: as the player walks along, a bunch of enemies beam in off-camera and jumps them, as all the doors seal off and prevent egress until the player finishes their mandated brawl.

                      A fair encounter: Player sees and enemy, charges in, and is surprised by six other enemies lurking in blind spots the player didn’t think to check until it was too late. Player says “holy shit, fuck this” and sprints back the way they came from before they get ganked to death

                      Dark Souls doesn’t just pick random parts of the scenery and send it to kill you. It doesn’t unhinge the moon. It doesn’t reverse gravity. It’s harsh, but it follows reason and logic.

                      And like Daimbert keeps pointing out “fair” and “good” should not be equated.

                      How would it ever be good to say a game is “unfair”? That’s like saying you shouldn’t necessarily equate “monotonous” with “bad.” While some games might sacrifice “fairness” for some other desirable property, all other qualities being equal a more “fair” game is better. Heck, the very first sentence of the article is:

                      Sometimes Dark Souls players will tell you they like the game because it’s “fair”.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Daimbert – I think it’s overstating the case to call those three things mutually exclusive. As you’ve pointed out, these views are coming from different people. It’s a bit sneaky to collate them and then suggest they issue from one nonsensical voice.

                      You can see the boulder, dodge, and then you only learn about traps. You can get hit by the boulder, and then you learn about both traps and healing. Different people have placed different emphases on these; there’s no direct inconsistency there. A third view is that the game teaches by failure, which is consistent with getting hit by the boulder. The fact that the boulder can be seen and dodged doesn’t directly contradict this, because it is a general point about the game, and we know other potential failure points exist; there are examples elsewhere on this page.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      A boulder that’s visible from the bottom of the stairs

                      Its not visible from the bottom,its deliberately disguised to look like a dark doorway at the top(unless you increase your screen brightness):


                      as the player walks along, a bunch of enemies beam in off-camera and jumps them,

                      You mean like in that video up there where an enemy appears behind you while the two enemies in front are getting your attention?

                      How would it ever be good to say a game is “unfair”?

                      I wanna be the guy is good.It uses its silly traps for comedy.

                      That’s like saying you shouldn’t necessarily equate “monotonous” with “bad.”

                      Just recently I watched batman standing motionlessly while his dinner is being microwaved for 30 seconds.It was monotonous for comedy.Good comedy.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      That second one is precisely my definition of unfair. All of the cases where you could have known about it beforehand fit my definition of fair.

                      I guess I don’t understand? My second point was that you COULD have known about it beforehand, if you had only looked up, which is your definition of fair? The only thing about this particular “gotcha” is that “check all your blind spots before you proceed” is not a skill that has been stressed to the player yet, so they don’t know that they need to be doing it. After the boulder smacks them in the face (or at least gives them an “oh shit” moment as the barely dodge it) for being oblivious, they should know better to pay attention. If the player was one of those rare specimens that’s looking out for traps without being told to, that player would know about the boulder before it rolled at them.

                      Not trying to be difficult, just trying to understand

                      As an aside, I never really got the “healing training” from the boulder in my own playthrough. I had to replay the game before I realized the hole the boulder makes wasn’t just there to begin with, because I went up the stairs without even noticing the wall behind me.

                    • Syal says:

                      How would it ever be good to say a game is “unfair”? That’s like saying you shouldn’t necessarily equate “monotonous” with “bad.”

                      Critical hits (and damage variance, and percent-based attacks in general) are inherently unfair; the exact same battle with the exact same moves can end in multiple ways depending on the dice. Critical hits are also immensely satisfying, as is winning a battle you really had no right to.

                      And to be honest I’m getting heartily sick of the fact that Dark Souls fans CAN’T AGREE ON THEIR DEFENSES.

                      No, don’t call for that, next we’d have to all agree on our grievances. I would never get the chance to make the claim that I don’t like Dark Souls because it’s too predictable.

                      (But you’re right, Social links are totally the meat of Persona. The time management aspect is the Arkham Asylum of RPG mechanics.)

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      Critical hits (and damage variance, and percent-based attacks in general) are inherently unfair; the exact same battle with the exact same moves can end in multiple ways depending on the dice. Critical hits are also immensely satisfying, as is winning a battle you really had no right to.

                      Using that logic, cutting people up is good (and the deeper the cuts the better) because without slicing people open, how would we ever save lives with open heart surgery? Just because something bad enables something else that’s good, doesn’t mean the bad thing isn’t bad.

                      Critical hits are a great example of this. How much you enjoy games with critical hits depends very much on how much you’re willing to tolerate the bad unfairness versus the good feeling that comes from the “DING” of a crit. Further, if a game designer is doing their job correctly, they’re going to focus on minimizing the unfairness while maximizing the gratification as much as possible.

                      We can compare two such games according to how “fair” they managed to keep their critical hit systems without sacrificing their game feel, just like we can compare two surgical procedures by how well the surgery elicits desired results in patients while slicing them up as little as possible.

                    • Syal says:

                      Using that logic, cutting people up is good (and the deeper the cuts the better) because without slicing people open, how would we ever save lives with open heart surgery? Just because something bad enables something else that’s good, doesn’t mean the bad thing isn’t bad.

                      …so, apart from it being a hell of a comparison to equate rolling a 6 and ripping out someone’s heart… Dark Souls is pretty much entirely about cutting people up.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I’m a doctor, not an analogy-maker!

                    • Syal says:

                      Well, I’m going to give this a shot, though if we’re separating elements from the whole the definition pretty much prevents unfairness from being good.

                      Just because something bad enables something else that’s good, doesn’t mean the bad thing isn’t bad.

                      There are some ramifications from this. Steel-toed boots let you comfortably rest a piano on your feet, which is super nice, but the steel makes them heavier than normal shoes*, which is bad. So… I guess the steel is bad but the steel-toed boot is good? That’s a confusing approach.

                      With a style of independent assessment, as far as I can tell the Dark Souls boulder is unfair; you can see it ahead of time if you know where to look, but even if you see it you’re still required to trigger it to knock down the wall and get estus. You can avoid the damage but you can’t avoid the trap.

                      *edit: maybe trouble kicking things is a better example, since that’s directly based on the rigidity. Or maybe not.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Ive remembered a much more clear cut example of a game where “unfair” translates into “good”:Half life 2.In it,the more hurt you are,the less damage you get from enemies.This is definitely skewed unfairly towards the player,but its a good way to keep you tense while still keeping you out of actual danger for a long time.

                      And yes,I am ashamed that I didnt think of this earlier,seeing that I am a big fan of the series.Forgive me oh merciful Gaben,blessed be thy creation.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      There are some ramifications from this. Steel-toed boots let you comfortably rest a piano on your feet, which is super nice, but the steel makes them heavier than normal shoes*, which is bad. So… I guess the steel is bad but the steel-toed boot is good? That’s a confusing approach.

                      Steel isn’t bad, weight is bad. High cost is bad. So steel toed boots are good because they (nominally) protect your toes, but the weight is bad. Composite toe boots are demonstrably better in this regard because they also protect your toes without weighing as much, but they cost more. What you really want is the most toe protection with the least cost and the least weight, even though no matter what you do boots with protection are going to weigh more and cost more than normal boots.

                      To me, unfairness is the same way–you want a game that’s engaging to the most people while at the same time being as fair as possible. Making a game that’s 100% fair is both intensely constraining and also bordering on impossible, but ideally if a dev is sacrificing fairness, it should be because that makes the game interesting in some other way.

                      At least, that’s how my engineering brain thinks of it.

                      Ive remembered a much more clear cut example of a game where “unfair” translates into “good”:Half life 2.In it,the more hurt you are,the less damage you get from enemies.This is definitely skewed unfairly towards the player,but its a good way to keep you tense while still keeping you out of actual danger for a long time.

                      Again, unfairness isn’t good. Making the player feel tense without actually killing them is good, and the game itself goes through great lengths to hide how unfair it’s being, because as soon as the player realizes it’s unfair the effect is ruined. Because being unfair is bad.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      and the game itself goes through great lengths to hide how unfair it’s being,

                      How is “it just doesnt outright state it” great lengths?The game never hides any numbers.You can easily see how the damage varies just by observing your health.Which is exactly how people became aware of this.Same with the crates giving you the resource you are least in possession of.The game never hides it,and its easy to check.

                      because as soon as the player realizes it’s unfair the effect is ruined.

                      Except its not.Even when aware of this very thing,people still enjoy the game very much.In fact,they praise it.

                      Unfairness is not bad on its own.

                  • Daimbert says:


                    I don’t mean to say that they’re mutually exclusive in the sense that the game can’t contain all of them or that people might like them because that’s the impression or experience they get from the game. I mean to say that they’re mutually exclusive because the game can’t be ALL ABOUT those things, and really intended for that. Even going back to the other thread, that’s what the argument has generally been, but then you get multiple people saying that the game both makes it very clear what you need to do before you need to do it if you only pay attention AND that you can only really learn it until you die to it or fail to it. And even that isn’t necessarily completely mutually exclusive except that they argue that each are the whole point of the game. As I said in my comments about Persona, there’s a difference between “This is what really appeals to me in the game” and “This is what the game is really all about”


                    The only thing about this particular “gotcha” is that “check all your blind spots before you proceed” is not a skill that has been stressed to the player yet, so they don’t know that they need to be doing it. After the boulder smacks them in the face (or at least gives them an “oh shit” moment as the barely dodge it) for being oblivious, they should know better to pay attention.

                    That’s why I call it unfair: you don’t know that you need to be doing it until you get smacked by it. Fair is when you knew about it and either chose not to do it, forgot to do it, or failed at doing it. Which leads to …

                    How would it ever be good to say a game is “unfair”? That’s like saying you shouldn’t necessarily equate “monotonous” with “bad.” While some games might sacrifice “fairness” for some other desirable property, all other qualities being equal a more “fair” game is better.

                    To put my Philosophy of Gaming hat on, I think many players consider “unfair” to be a negative for two reasons:

                    1) We tend to notice unfairness in games when the game has been entirely fair the whole time and then suddenly drops us into something that we couldn’t have known about beforehand. This is always frustrating and always a bad experience, but I’d argue that it’s the result of it being done badly and without purpose. If the unfairness is done well or for a purpose, we will at least grudgingly concede that it was appropriate and so not “bad”, especially if it is the best way to do what they need to do.

                    2) We bring in the non-gaming notion of “unfair”, which is always negative because we associate it with being “unjust”. But you can indeed have unfair things in games that aren’t unjust. Sure, if the player thinks they’re being treated unjustly, it will have that connotation, but if the player thinks the game is unfair — in the sense that it tosses things at the player that they can’t handle — but that that is in the service of a purpose that the game wants to do, they’ll easily come to forgive it and, if it is done well enough, accept that it is in fact an excellent way to do that and produce that experience in the player.

                    I could easily create a game that is totally unfair but is, in fact, fun precisely BECAUSE OF the unfairness. I’d argue that the Sam & Max games might be examples because the world is so strange that it’s almost impossible to simply GUESS what will work, but that unfairness is the result of what makes those games so much fun. Even in Dark Souls, the idea that generally having to “fail” at each boss at least once before being able to see what you need to learn to beat it can fit neatly into the theme that many people like about the series, even if that can be seen as unfair. A game where every trap kills you the first time because you can’t see them coming would be unfair, but might be totally fun, especially if it’s a humourous game and the deaths are fun to watch. Or the story is about learning to fix the world from experiencing the bad things and then learning to correct them on the next run.

                    Thus, I think that bad unfairness is always really “unjust” unfairness. For a game, it’s the case where the game treats you unfairly just to make things easier for itself, like teleporting enemies in to hide poor level design or to break up tactical thinking or whatever, especially if the game was entirely fair up to that point. But a game that was never fair, or a game that introduces an unfairness because it’s trying to hit a particular theme or plot point with that is instead doing so to enhance the player’s specific experience, and that’s the game treating the player justly, if unfairly. In short, if the game treats the player unfairly because it really believes it will make things better for the player, that’s good unfairness, and if it treats players unfairly for no reason or for a reason that doesn’t make things better for the player, that’s bad unfairness.

                    • GeoG says:

                      Right, but I don’t think anyone is arguing here that their conception is the single truth about the game. And, if they are, that specific person is just flat wrong about that. However, any such wrongness doesn’t seep back into the original points and contaminate them with inconsistency! The points do stand on their own merits, and they’re neither automatically exclusive of each other nor exclusive by fiat.

                    • Daimbert says:


                      My frustration is more with what’s seen as a constant moving target: the game is really all about THIS, deal with that, no, you’re completely wrong, it’s all about THIS, and so on.

                      I did address the points themselves, though (pointing out that the boulder being to teach you about traps is unlikely given Sen Fortress, that it being something you are supposed to see it unlikely given what it opens for you, and thus that it is most likely to enhance the healing tutorial, which then I use to argue that it is deliberately unfair). I’d just like them to all agree on what the thing is actually supposed to do, because again if we can’t agree on why the designers put it there how can we judge ANYTHING about it, including its fairness?

                    • GeoG says:

                      By going through the various possibilities, just as you have done, always recognising that different viewpoints will likely result in differences of emphasis at an absolute minimum. Very little which is interesting admits of a single interpretation! Asking various people to come to a single interpretation so that you can more efficiently demonstrate that they’re wrong is almost exactly as unlikely as this caricature makes it sound.

                      As a practical matter – sure, it’s frustrating to keep having people argue with what you’re saying. But you don’t necessarily have to take each argument which comes along on its own apparent terms. I think the main point you’ve been making is in less disagreement with the points others have been making than it might originally seem. (I haven’t argued with it, just as an aside.)

                      So, if I were in your position I’d just keep making the point about the way I’m using the terminology – which is a little non-standard, even if it’s reasonable – and I’d gloss over the specific challenges unless someone directly takes issue with the way I’m using the words. That way, you can kinda ignore that the criticisms which are coming at you might together seem to have an air of inconsistency. Instead, just keep making your point unless someone thinks they’ve found a direct flaw – sometimes, especially in a forum like this, repetition is the best way to get your point across.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Compare this with a shooter where hits are unavoidable,

    But Shamus,I can go through doom without being hit once.

    or to an RPG where hits are controlled by dice rolls.

    But Shamus,I can finish xcom without being hit once.


    • Christopher says:

      Let’s be real, the type of game difficulty that feels the most unfair are those Dragon Age Origins-like games where you first have to get into position and aim and hit an enemy, and then the game rolls the dice to see if you hit it or not.

      They strike me as a cruel parallell universe version of a Super Mario RPG that’s all about platforming, but after you’ve successfully landed on a new platform, the game throws dice to see if you fall through it or not.

      • Daimbert says:

        I’m willing to accept that because it’s part of the game structure and the game is pretty clear that that’s how it works. You can question whether it makes sense or not, but it is fair.

        I think we need to avoid treating “Fair” and “Good” (or “Sensible” or “Reasonable” or “Fun”) as synonyms.

        • Christopher says:

          I’d be fine with calling it senseless. Normally I don’t have a lot of immersion to ruin, but it turns out that moving around and aiming/attacking in real time combined with dice-based accuracy stuff is what really takes me out of the experience. The Valkyria Chronicles demo was the worst. I rolled one of those tanks so close to a soldier that the barrel rested on his nose, and it still bloody missed when I pulled the trigger. It’s like being the Lucky Luke character who’s so bad at aiming that he misses when he puts the gun against his own temple.

          • Daimbert says:

            I’ve seen that with the machine guns in general in Valkyria, which can be frustrating, but usually those misses are the result of, say, attacking something in cover when you should be hitting them from behind.

            Ah, Valkyria Chronicles. Another of those games that I started and never finished.

          • tmtvl says:

            It’s like Morrowind. Fuck Morrowind, the worst of the Windows-era Elder Scrolls games.

            • Daimbert says:

              I managed to finish Oblivion and started Skyrim a couple of times. In Morrowind, I hopped onto a Silt Strider, ended up in the middle of nowhere with no idea what to do, got bored, attacked a guard, died, uninstalled the game.

    • Decius says:

      I’ve never gotten hit in the X-COM:UFO Defense, TFTD, Apocolypse or XCOM franchise.

      My soldiers and aquanauts, however…

  3. PPX14 says:

    Hmm, I found the combat in Arkham Asylum really rather dull. The animations could be satisfying in terms of impact, but actually going through the game doing it was not. I don’t think I gained much mastery whatsoever and wasn’t too clear on the benefit of the combo system other than being able to flick between enemies immediately, but I can’t imagine that I’d have found mastering that system interesting. I’m tempted to get Arkham City, but Asylum felt almost like one big minigame and a lot of busywork, so I’m put off.

    • Cubic says:

      I never got the hang of the combos of Arkham Asylum, I never even had the idea that they were particularly important (from what I recall, my game was mostly sneaking up on people, figuring things out and using your tools). I ultimately got to the “Joker on the throne” scene. No further though. Maybe I should have practiced my combos.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        City simplifies combat a bit,allowing you to counter whenever you wish,even mid hit.Its what made many people who disliked asylum to get into city.

      • PPX14 says:

        I agree – the combat seemed to be an occasional interlude, a bit of an annoyance really. Although I don’t remember any detective work either. It was mainly wandering around looking for where I was supposed to go, some sneaking, and looking for the Riddler question marks, and doing the waveform minigame to open doors.

        Wow, City simplifies it? It was already so simple. Hmm. I just don’t understand the appeal of Asylum, it was like a generic PS2 copy paste game, to me. (Except one surreal bit where you walk down a seemingly unending corridor.)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          The controls were simple,not the combat itself.Theres a difference.

          • PPX14 says:

            How so? Like I mentioned I didn’t uncover the potential complexity or mastery, I just bounced around punching people and countering when needed. (When I couldn’t just do the stealth or hanging takedowns of course.)

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              That doesnt work later when special enemies come into play.I mean ok,you can plod around through fights with them as well without actually building up your combo very high,but that would make them more difficult and more tedious than quickly dispatching the tougher enemies with advanced techniques.In city this is even more true because it adds more special moves you can do when your combo fills up,and more of the gadgets can be used in combat.And all of those can be achieved with just a few buttons and proper rhythm.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If there`s one gripe I have with the challenge rooms, it`s that there`s too much time between attempts. To retry a challenge you get a loading screen(!?), then an intro screen, then a shot of Batman brooding and repeating a line you`ve heard a hundred times already, and THEN the fight starts. I`d like this SO much better with a Hotline Miami style instant reset.

    You dont get it,the game was fine tuned to do this on purpose,so that you would have time to relax and cool down a bit before you were thrust back into the challenge.Without this masterfully fine tuned cooling off period,you would end up too frustrated to do well in the challenge.And theres nothing you could do at that point to unwind yourself.So the game has to do this for you.Its such a beautiful balancing act of loading and cutscenes,and changing it to be even one second longer or shorter would totaly ruin the whole thing.

    • Sartharina says:

      I disagree. All the cutscene does is make it even more frustrating (Like the 30-second revive from Too Human). The best thing about IWTBTG is the instant restart. If I need to calm down between attempts, I’ll pause the game.

      • Harold says:

        He’s sarcastically repeating an argument made by some Dark Souls fans in a previous thread about how an “Easy Mode” with more checkpoints would ruin the game or something.

    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

      Now that you mention it, when I try the Crystul Skull Challenges in Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, I tend to do worse in each of my successive attempts, being even less able to beat the boss that comes at the end of the challenge. And that game doesn’t have any loading-screens after I die.

      Last time I fought Doku, and won, I took a five minute break involving washing my own hands and turning on the air-conditioner, just so I could calm my nerves down and stop myself from attempting to rambo him.

    • Christopher says:

      He’s just being sarcastic, y’all. The comment subthread on Dark Souls difficulty in the last Batman post got huuge.

    • Fast_Fire says:

      Remember when everybody HATED the less-than-two-second restart time after failing a level in Super Meat Boy?

      Neither do I.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Remember Me is another game

    Its ironic how forgettable that game ended up being.

  6. Christopher says:

    Obligatory video reference of the boulder in question.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Pffft,and people complain that that was unfair.He had a full half a second to react between that bolder appearing and hitting him.And if he only had his brightness at 100% he wouldve seen the top of those stairs from the very bottom.

      • Christopher says:

        The boulder also has a sequel in the first stage after the tutorial, which is what I initially thought Shamus was talking about. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the boulder kill someone. The flaming barrel is a different story!

        It’s also possibly where the fable of differences between Dark Souls and Batman might break down in this example. The boulder isn’t very dangerous. It can kill you if you’re low on health, but it’s not all that likely to do so. Is it fair of them to use a not very dangerous trap to teach you that there are traps in the game, without entering into a cutscene? When there is a single weak enemy between the last checkpoint and the boulder? And the boulder smashes open a wall to reveal the NPC that gives you healing items?

        And is it then fair that they pull the stunt again one whole stage later, but on the side of a sheer cliff with lots of enemies around?

        • Christopher says:

          Either way, whether you decide it’s fair or not, I don’t think it’s a controversial statement to say that Batman tutorializes more directly, or that Dark Souls is a harsher mistress. Dark Souls is constantly trying to keep you on your toes with ambushes, trickery, narrow walkways with snipers, jerks hiding in the darkness, enemies that play dead, bloody firebreathing dragons, poisonous enemies before you have access to a poison antidote and so on. If you play as an invader in Dark Souls 3, you can walk behind enemy lines in the prison level and see how every jailer is waiting five feet behind a door, getting ready to lumber into sight as soon as the host player gets closer to them. Dark Souls is a ghost house. Batman is not. I think both are trying to be fair, but one of them relies on surprise and suspense more than the other, and that’s in addition to requiring more knowledge and skill to just get through(and not explaining its systems very well). Every reviewer in 2011 could finish Batman: Arkham City. Not every reviewer could finish Dark Souls.

          You wouldn’t see this in Arkham City.

        • Syal says:

          Safe to say it’s unfair; the Asylum already has a half dozen developer messages teaching you controls and movesets, they could have put one at the stairwell about being aware of your environment or advancing with caution.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Note that you can see the boulder from the base of the stairs at 24:53, before it’s even become a threat. It’s doesn’t just appear from nowhere, you know…

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          True,you can see it.But lets be honest for a moment,it is deliberately framed so that you confuse it like a dark doorway at the top of the stairs.Anyone who says that you simply have to look and youll spot a boulder is being disingenuous.Unless you know already that its a boulder up there,you will not see that its a boulder.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Usually when a game does well I find myself asking “Why doesn’t the industry make more like this?”

    Sadly,the answer is often “The are trying to”.Youve mentioned the two most well known games that attempted to clone arkhams combat,but there were soooo many more that failed sooo much worse.

    • Christopher says:

      About the Arkham-like combat, I’m having trouble thinking of a game that used it and wasn’t a massive open world game. Shadow of Mordor, Mad Max, Assassin’s Creed to a certain extent, Sleeping Dogs I think. Maybe that Captain America game?

      • Daimbert says:

        There was a Captain America game? I need to keep up on my superhero games, methinks [grin].

        • Christopher says:

          I think the only Marvel movie tie-in games that are remembered are the Iron Man games for being phenomenally bad. I’ve watched videos of Captain America and Thor, and they’re not good, but they don’t exacty look terrible either.

          • galacticplumber says:

            Spiderman 2 based on the movie with doctor octopus, and incredible hulk: ultimate destruction are both considered excellent games that any fan of the respective series should experience. In the case of the hulk one it was not only great but completely overshadowed all hulk movies that existed at the time in quality by a wide margin.

            • Christopher says:

              I didn’t consider Spider-Man 2 because it’s not a part of the MCU, but totally. Incredible Hulk I completely forgot, and that game gets some love too. It’s like a precursor to the Prototype games, isn’t it?

              • galacticplumber says:

                I mean I still count spiderman considering it was, in fact, directly tied to a spiderman movie, and the big multi-franchise continuity movie universe thing didn’t exist at the time. It also had some of the best movement mechanics of any superhero game of all time just for sheer skill ceiling yet workable learning curve. Like, seriously, look up a video of someone going through the mega challenges to see just how tight they were.

                Also yes ultimate destruction came before prototype. On the minus side you don’t have the option of stealthing, or eating people, or flying, or picking up a weapon that was smaller than a car. On the plus side gameplay was much more focused, draw distance and mapping were better, and your core abilities felt so much more effective. Mercer could turn into some ten or so different modes. All good for different stuff. Hulk couldn’t, but didn’t NEED to.

      • GeoG says:

        The Hand of Fate combat was along similar lines, and that was a collectible card game rather than open-world! Kick Ass: The Game also tried it; not sure how open of a world it had. (I’ve played neither.)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          The combat was the worst part of that game.The cards and the narrator were rather fun.And I say that as someone who does not like ccgs and likes the arkham style combat.

  8. Christopher says:

    Disregard this if you’re planning on answering this in a column, but I’m still wondering what in particular made the Arkham combat stand out to you rather than the Bayonettas, Devil May Crys, God of Wars, God Hands or Metal Gear Risings of the world. It’s not like the Arkham combat came from nowhere, and you mentioned in a recent Diecast that brawlers are a genre you love one game in, but dislike the genre in general. While some of those are more punishing than others, I don’t think there’s a huge gulf between say, Bayonetta and Arkham City in terms of difficulty, neither in terms of punishment or strictness. Super Easy to Super Rough Difficulty slider aside, it’s even got mid-bossfight checkpoints.

    It did have quick-time events, though >:(

    • Daimbert says:

      Quicktime events can be well-done, though. I liked the Legends/Ultimate Alliance versions where failing the event just means that you have to stay alive a bit longer and didn’t get a chance to reduce the HPs dramatically. So, it’s not strict pass/fail, allows for cool animations and attacks that you couldn’t get the main game, and breaks up the monotony of the gameplay.

      Most quicktime events are not of that quality …

      • Christopher says:

        I’m fine with QTEs as special attacks that you can’t do in normal gameplay, and there are lots of those in this game too. It’s the part where lava instantly kills you if you fail that’s a bummer.

  9. PPX14 says:

    I disagree on Remember Me – I found the combat to feel more impactful, the animations more satisfying, and combat more involved – choosing which combo to pull off depending on the circumstance: time available due to the number and position of enemies; their ability to interrupt my attacks; which meter I wanted to fill up – depending on how I had constructed each combo to deliver different effects / be different lengths.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Remember Me’s combat superficially resembles Arkham’s but really isn’t. It’s a dial-a-combo system where specific combos are better against specific targets and you want to match up what you’re doing to defeat specific enemies.

      Once I grokked what it was actually asking me to do I quite liked it.

  10. Shen says:

    Christ on a cracker, is this whole series going to be comparing it to Dark Souls, or just these early bits? As a big ol’ Dark Souls fan, it’s getting pretty grating knowing that any attempt to talk about it or argue a point will result in people dogpiling me to stuff me full of straw.

    But whatever, I’m clearly a masochist so let’s talk boulders:

    The boulder you’re talking about is in the Undead Asylum at the beginning correct? Yeah, it comes out of nowhere (though if you’re patient and observant, you can clearly see it as it is framed by light, but apparently pointing that out is being unfair) and leaves you with what seems to be unavoidable damage. Great, what happens next? Easy to kill enemy if you go up the stairs with a locked door behind him. There’s another door that shortcuts you to your bonfire which refills your health and there’s the big hole the boulder makes, leading you to the NPC who gives to you and explains the health potion system – which also refills your health. It’s not a “watch out for boulders” tutorial – it’s a healing system tutorial. They know the boulder is almost certainly going to hit newbies and therefore make sure they have a practical reason to test the potions as soon as they get it.

    I bring this up because, a little bit into the game, there IS a place where you need to watch out for boulders, and the game gives a perfectly good tutorial. You walk up to a door but before you get there, an enemy walks into frame on the other side and gets immediately splattered by a giant boulder. No cutscene but a nearly impossible to miss demonstration of the major mechanic for the area.

    Shamus, either sit yourself down and play Dark Souls, watch a good LP of it (Dan’s from Extra Credits is wonderful, particularly with James talking about game design at the beginning and Geop’s is very amusing) or simply stop drawing the comparisons. I have no problem with you tearing down something I love (example: I love Fallout 3) but it’s just better when you’re informed.

    • Daimbert says:

      So I’ll reiterate my statement: unfair, but purposefully so. It’d be like forcing you to get hit by an attack so that one of your characters then gains the “healing” ability. Unfair, but we now know why they did it.

      Maybe one of the issues is that the link isn’t as clear to most people? I don’t know; I never touch the stuff myself [grin].

    • GeoG says:

      I think he has played it, you know. Anyway, here’s some straw: what was the dragon which torches you on the bridge a tutorial for?

      • Shen says:

        “Think fast and don’t mess with dragons.” Here comes the typical Dark Souls strawman paragraph about how it’s all fine and therefore you must be dumb!

        You’re past the tutorial area at this point, so the “lessons” are less clear cut and more open-ended – more like live-fire practicals. The game has been giving you little prods on how to use your environment all the way up to now and the drake is the game being a lot less subtle about it. If the dragon torches you the first time, one can clearly see where the safe zones are. So you know your gameplan the second time round and you just need to hold your nerve – this is an important lesson for the entire game and up until now players have been free to just luck their way through in panic. That being said, the fire has a good chance of not killing you anyway and you can make it to the safe zone. Either way, the game is just funneling you to an alternative route, leading to a shortcut to safety as well as progress, rewarding you for your observational skills, explorative instinct and nerves of steel.

        It also reinforces the theme of the player being an insignificant speck in a world built for larger, grander things, but I guess that’s hard to appreciate while you’re on fire.

      • Fylix says:

        As a Dark Souls fan, I’ll gladly say that the dragon (technically drake, but whatever) on the brudge is unfair. It’s also one of the very few moments in the game that is unfair. The boulder is genuinely surprising, but it is possible to see ahead of time, is possible to dodge if you only see it once it starts rolling, does relatively little damage and is immediately followed by the healing tutorial, which means it essentially has zero consequences. Surprising and difficult but has few consequences is not unfair in my eyes, plus it teaches you that the game is going to specifically try to be throwing surprising and difficult situations at you in the future, but if you are careful and decisive it is almost always possible to handle these challenges.

        I saw almost always because the game does have a few unfair moments, but they are really the exception tot he rule. The drake (for whatever people may say about scorch marks) is not possible to see, is not really possible to dodge because even once you do hear it you don’t have any clue what it is going to do the first time, will kill you outright, and does so far away from the previous bonfire so their are significant consequences. (at least in the context of the game, I think there is a pretty significant, but seperate, argument to be made that all of dark souls actually has VERY little consequence for death.) Once you’ve been killed and know exactly what is gonig to happen it’s possible to consistantly dodge the drake, but their isn’t a way to really respond appropriately the first time because it is a rare instance of the game not making sufficient information or options available.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I only just started playing DS after putting it off forever. It is very different from the games I usually play (I am an easy mode, savescumming scrub) and I’m not sure I’ll make it through the whole of it but for now I think I’m kinda at a point where I’m starting to get the loop and the appeal of the game (again, not sure it’ll be enough to carry me through). But I’m still making mistakes from being used to playing more forgiving games. It took me… a while to get through the bull demon and when I did I actually did fairly well with a lot of estus charges left so like a fool I proceeded onward assuming there’d be a fireplace nearby. I got to the bridge, the drake came in from behind scorching everything… survived with literally 1 hit point. So yeah, that’s a mistake I’m not making again.

        • ZekeCool says:

          Yeah, even as someone who loves the Dark Souls series and feels they are incredibly “fair” (for a certain arguable variable of fair) that’s one of the few moments that is absolute horse pucky. There’s no surviving your first time and it actually plays against the instincts built up before that point (going slow to watch means you won’t get across in time, pulling the enemies one by one means you won’t get to the shortcut in time). It literally just forces you to die unless you know how to get by.

    • Orillion says:

      As a big ol’ Dark Souls fan, it’s getting pretty grating knowing that any attempt to talk about it or argue a point will result in people dogpiling me to stuff me full of straw.

      But it’s fair because it’s a consistent outcome and you can clearly avoid it.

    • Shamus says:

      “Shamus, either sit yourself down and play Dark Souls, watch a good LP of it (Dan’s from Extra Credits is wonderful, particularly with James talking about game design at the beginning and Geop’s is very amusing) or simply stop drawing the comparisons.”

      I’ve played Dark Souls. Also, it’s my site. You don’t get to tell me how to run it.

      No, the series is not going to be DS comparisons. That was just these two entries. And I did that in the hopes that we could escape the same loop these conversations we always get caught in.

      You can argue that the boulder is fair or reasonable or whatever. I don’t care. The entire point was the contrast with Batman. You see how the ice and the boulder are different, yes? They both teach the player about gameplay systems, but they do so in different ways. Are you really trying to argue that Dark Souls is like Batman? Of course not. So why do you feel the need to argue when I highlight differences between the two?

      • GeoG says:

        I guess it can be difficult to listen to something you think is wrong about something you care about, even when you can see what’s being said is essentially tangential to the actual point being made.

      • Shen says:

        I do see how the ice and boulder are different, that’s why I commented. I thought it odd to compare two tutorials teaching really different things. The boulder is part of teaching a fundamental gameplay mechanic (“this is how you heal”) and the ice is teaching a level’s gameplay gimmick (“sharks hunt under ice”). Surely it would make more sense to compare level gimmick tutorials, of which both series do similar things (direct and to the point, “here’s the danger, don’t be an idiot”).
        So uh, yeah, guess I’m arguing that Dark Souls is like Batman. I mean, they’re both broody and involve falling off of high places, kind of inevitable.

        • GeoG says:

          That’s not the difference Shamus is highlighting, though. As others have said, if you look up you can see the boulder. So, some will see it, and some won’t*. In contrast, everyone has to see the shark.

          So, whilst I’m not disagreeing with what you’ve said, Shamus’ emphasis is elsewhere, so he can perhaps be accorded a degree of fuzziness on the exact details where they fall outside that emphasis. The exact kind of thing being taught, for example, falls outside the intended emphasis.

          *And those who do look up will learn a different lesson than those who get hit and learn about healing, interestingly! Although I should add: interesting but still not exactly relevant to the article’s original point.

      • Darren says:

        It feels like they’re different mostly because they play very differently and have different objectives. Dark Souls has very few cutscenes and wants to communicate its mechanics through gameplay as much as possible. The Arkham games have strong narrative focuses and are more interested in conveying the feeling of being Batman than anything else.

        The boulder you cite is essentially a tutorial for something for which Arkham City has no analogy (a healing system), and I think a lot of people are getting thrown off because they know Dark Souls well enough that, though they understand the point you are trying to make, they see that the comparison is simply incorrect.

        Better examples can be found throughout the Souls franchise, like the giant who fires lance-sized arrows in Dark Souls III. In fact, that’s a pretty similar scenario to the Arkham City one, as just like in Arkham City the player has to make it from one end of the section to the other without getting killed by the invincible* off-screen creature.

        *The Dark Souls giant is not invincible, but we can pretend he his for purposes of the comparison.

        • GeoG says:

          They see it as incorrect because they aren’t correct about what is being compared. Shamus’ point is that some will see the boulder and some won’t, because it isn’t telegraphed, whereas everyone gets the shark.

          That’s it – doesn’t matter what the boulder was trying to teach, only that not everyone gets the same lesson.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Personally, my problem with your article is that it doesn’t highlight the differences, and doesn’t get at what makes Dark Souls ‘fair.’

        Yes, the boulder is most likely going to smack you without you having the chance to dodge it, because it’s the place where the game is teaching to watch out for shenanigans like that. If you analyze how the boulder smacked you, and/or you replay the boulder after healing up at the bonfire that’s right next to it, you should also notice that it’s not only arbitrarily easy to dodge the boulder once you know it’s there, you could have dodged it the first time around if you weren’t a dolt and were paying attention to where you going.

        Where I take issue, is that you’re characterizing the entire game like absolutely everything that hits you comes out of left field, with no chance to avoid it until you know where the traps are. That’s not how it works, and that’s not even remotely fair. You then characterize the Arkham games as more “fair” because they give you some tutorial prompts and cut-scenes to make sure you know the world around you is dangerous.

        All of this together is completely missing the point of what “fair” means. Yes, as a newbie you’re going to get smacked by the boulder (which isn’t that much damage, by the way) and you’re going to go through a period of confusion because you didn’t see it coming. But you can look back at that boulder smack and see what you did wrong. The boulder didn’t drop out of hammer space, it was right there at the top of the stairs, where you could see it, with a guy behind it ready to push it.

        For a further discussion on fairness, let’s consider two similar encounters, between Arkham and DS. Let’s say I’m making my way through a building, and I see an exit in front of me, with an enemy just outside. If I’m smart (I’m usually not, but sometimes I surprise myself) I’ll notice that:

        – There are blindspots to either side of the door where another enemy might be hiding
        – The area is a balcony, with extra reinforcements hanging off the edge by their fingers
        – There are areas overlooking the balcony, which are prime spots for archers to harass me while I fight their friends.
        – There’s a bottle-neck just past the doorway which would be a prime spot for a trap

        Now, if I don’t notice all of this information in front of me, I will probably walk right into my death, because I think I’m just fighting the one guy I immediately see and I get my ass handed to me as I get ambushed. Or, I can try to fight the enemies on my terms instead of theirs. Shoot the reinforcements off the balcony. Try to draw in the melee fighters so I don’t have to deal with ranged harassers. See if there’s an alternative path that doesn’t leave me so exposed. Etc.

        Compare that to an encounter in Arkham. Detective vision tells me to go into an area that’s obviously a set-piece for a brawl. It’s the only way forward, so I oblige the game. As I walk in, SURPRISE! The door locks behind me because Joker, and enemies start dropping from the hammer space in the ceiling, climbing up onto the arena platform, and generally entering the fight from off-screen somewhere. Where did the mooks come from? How did the door lock? Doesn’t matter it’s time to fight.

        I would agree that Dark Souls and Arkham definitely work differently–Arkham dutifully informs you of all the special little mechanics and hoops that you have to jump through, so you know exactly what manner of cheating its ass off the game is going to pull and you can react accordingly. Dark Souls, on the other hand, gives every enemy, every trap, and every ambush a physical presence in the game world, all of which you can notice–even on a first play-through–if you are paranoid enough.

        What Dark Souls does NOT do, is just keep killing you with no chance of avoiding those deaths until you’ve learned its tricks. It tests your observation–not just your memory and reflexes–because it doesn’t do hammerspace, it doesn’t have mook clown cars, and it doesn’t have traps with invisible mechanisms. THAT’S why it’s fair.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Yup,just how in I wanna be the guy once you realize that the apple fell upward,you not only know how to avoid it,but know that you had time to avoid it even the first time,if you only didnt think like a total dolt that things fall only down.Completely fair.

          • Abnaxis says:

            I don’t know much about IWTBTG, but from what you’re saying and what I read from others’, it seems like you’re being deliberately obtuse.

            There’s a boulder. At the top of some stairs. In a death-trap ruin where everything is trying to kill you. The game isn’t defying the laws of physics or spawning threats from the aether.

            There’s no memorization involved. No reversal of gravity. No way in which the game is changing the rules on you. You just have to be paying attention enough to see the trap before it’s sprung.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Yup,just pay attention.And know that something that is deliberately made to look like a doorway at the top of the stairs is actually a trap.Thats totally fair:


            • Ninety-Three says:

              There’s a boulder. At the top of some stairs. In a death-trap ruin where everything is trying to kill you.

              The boulder is the third thing in the game that attacks the player. At that point, you have encountered three things, and one of them is the cowering hollow which doesn’t try to kill you.

              • Abnaxis says:

                Erm, don’t you have to run past the Asylum Demon before you get to the boulder?

                I’m pretty sure the threatening nature of the starting area is pretty well established by that point.

                Regardless, the point isn’t that you’re bad if you overlooked the boulder. It’s that there is virtually no point in this game where everyone isn’t trying to kill you in the most creative ways possible. If you;re engaging the game from this level, what the hell do you think a boulder at the top of some stairs is there for? Dark Souls is not randomly changing the rules of the game so you can only win by memorization. It’s setting traps and hoping you don’t notice.

                • Ninety-Three says:

                  Your point was that everything is trying to kill you, my point is that the boulder occurs less than five minutes into the tutorial, at a point where the player has encountered one cowering hollow, one Asylum demon, one archer hollow, and zero traps. It is far from established that this is a trap-filled world where everything is trying to kill you. Your argument that the tutorial is fair depends on having knowledge from beyond that stage of the tutorial.

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    The Asylum demon is no small encounter. I’m pretty sure that I was still shaken by it when I ran into the boulder in my first play through.

                    My point was that if by some miracle you’re aware enough to see the boulder at the top of the stairs on your first run, it’s not an outstanding leap of logic to conclude that the boulder is going to roll down at you if you start going up the stairs. That was in contrast to what Daemien Lucifer was saying, which is (I think) that the boulder coming down at you is effectively equivalent to the game going bugnuts screwy and randomly changing which way gravity works for no other reason than to screw with the player.

        • Jokerman says:

          The fact every trap and ambush is set up in game is something i really love about the Dark Souls series, i didn’t even really notice how fair they were until i watched the Dark Souls 3 Errant Signal video, where Chris compares it to haunted houses in the way it sets up it’s encounters.

        • Shamus says:

          Me: “Here is the misunderstanding that causes people to have pointless arguments regarding fairness in Dark Souls.”

          You: I want to have an argument about fairness in Dark Souls!

          You have missed the point in spectacular fashion.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            To be fair,not arguing about dark souls is the dark souls of self control.

          • Abnaxis says:

            You: “Here is the misunderstanding that causes people to have pointless arguments regarding fairness in Dark Souls.”

            Me: “That’s not even tangentially related to what people mean when they talk about fairness in Dark Souls, get your sources right.”

            Respectfully, if you didn’t want people to talk about perceptions of fairness and how Batman and Dark Souls can be perceived as “fair” in different ways, why is there an entire section dedicated to it in the article, with fifteen paragraphs in it?

            • Shamus says:

              I wrote those paragraphs specifically to try and move the conversation out of the ditch it’s been stuck in since 2011. Apparently some people love this stupid ditch and would rather just read the same stupid argument again and again forever.

              • GeoG says:

                I was a little surprised that the argument started with fairness after the last post, as I think what you were say and do say about punishment is totally on the right track, and moreover stands up fine on its own outside the fairness discussion.

                I’ve seen you synthesise these sorts of arguments brilliantly before – for example when talking about phrases like ‘rape culture.’ With those, one reason you’ve managed to pull off what is an extremely difficult trick so well is that you’ve sorta been on both sides of the discussion yourself, so you can see exactly where both sides are coming from, and bring them together. (One reason, I should stress – you are naturally good at both empathy and explanation, and those are two more.)

                However I don’t know that you knocked this one out of the park, and I think one reason for that is that you haven’t previously been on both sides of this one. (It sounds like another might be that you’ve not been at your best! Sorry to hear that, and I hope you & the whole family are truly on the mend, now.) I do think there’s more substance to what the soulers say than some of the non-soulers who’ve been arguing here give credit. You’ve given it plenty of credit, of course, but I think this particular synthesis might have needed a bit more personal experience of both sides to really land it, and really show why it’s a silly argument which wastes everyone’s time, if that’s what it is.

                As I say, I think the fairness aspect potentially detracted from that as the goal, and perhaps needed a longer discussion on its own away from the punishment section (which, again, works as intended, I believe), so as not to muddy the punishment waters. (There’s more to the punishment side of things than just punishment – people like the risk/reward aspect and the resource management, but the reason those are in play are because of the punishment, so ‘punishment’ is a good shorthand.)

                Anyway, I’m sorry if this has been a bit of a rough ride. I’m somewhere in the middle of things, and if it’s any consolation I’ve enjoyed the discussions here including the contributions from all sides. I do think those discussions have been substantive rather than silly, so from my selfish point of view good things did come from this, even if those things were counter to your aim.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  I think GeoG is much more diplomatically and clearly making the point I am trying to make, which is that if you aren’t properly identifying where the differences are, there’s little point in dedicating a substantial part of your article to it.

                  I get it, people enjoy different things for different reasons, and a lot of times the things people like are in direct conflict with each other and they spend all their time talking across each other because they have fundamentally different underlying assumptions . But you didn’t leave it at a general sense, you went into specifics to better convey your point, and those specifics are wrong. If the specifics don’t actually do the work of getting your point across–and only really serve to show that you don’t really understand the other side of the debate–what’s the point of spending words on them?

                  • Shamus says:

                    Batman has the danger clearly explained before you face it. Dark Souls does not. Despite all the incessant quibbles with which words I use, or how “hard” things are, or how visible the boulder is to some people, my point stands.

                    Yes, there are probably better examples of [un]fairness in Dark Souls. But the boulder is far more well-known and far more easy to illustrate. I don’t have to describe room layouts, enemy behaviors, or anything else. I just mention the boulder and lots of people know right away what I’m talking about.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      (though if you’re patient and observant, you can clearly see it as it is framed by light, but apparently pointing that out is being unfair)

      Ive said this above,but Ill repeat it a 100 times if I need to.No,its not enough to be patient and observant.The boulder is deliberately framed to look like a dark doorway at the top of the stairs:

      If you recognize it as a boulder,you either knew about this before you approached the stairs,or you had your gamma way up.So whenever someone says that “dark souls is totally fair if you are simply patient and observant”,I am going to bring this up with a healthy dose of “not true”.

      • Christopher says:

        I appreciate your point, but besides it kinda being the point(or at least not distinctly harmful) to be hit by it and then use the healing items you immediately receive, it’s not the case that it always looks like a doorway. At different points in the video I linked you can see reflections in it, and it moves out of sync with the doorframe depending on where he moves. It’s trickery, yes. But it also isn’t at all impossible to notice. When the hazard actually matters in the next stage, it’s a big, flaming barrel.

        I had to check, and sure enough. The other blind playthrough of it I watched totally had a player that noticed, just from walking a bit past and looking up. Granted, he had played a couple of hours of Demon’s Souls, so maybe that disqualifies him.

        • GeoG says:

          Shamus’ point is that some will see the boulder and some won’t, because it isn’t telegraphed, whereas everyone gets the shark. Thus, arguments over whether or not the boulder can be viewed if conditions are right are essentially QED to that original point.

          • Shen says:

            Y’know most of us talking about the boulder scene AREN’T trying to tear down Shamus’s point about telegraphing, right? We’re nitpicking a poorly chosen example – and I would hope if nitpicking is appreciated anywhere on the ‘net, it’s here. For clarity’s sake, HERE’S the bit I, at least, am complaining about:


            “So the boulder is “unfair” because Dark Souls doesn’t telegraph the possibility of traps before you encounter them and Batman is “fair” because the rules and the threat were made clear ahead of time.

            “But Shamus, the boulder isn’t some random thing. The game is teaching the player to watch out for traps.”

            Obviously. The difference is that Batman does the same thing, but it does so before you encounter the danger.”


            Basically, he’s been listening to the wrong defence. It’s not about teaching players to avoid traps, that just happens tangentially. The boulder didn’t need to be telegraphed because getting hit was the intended path – it enhances the healing tutorial by allowing an immediate practical demonstration. You get the tutorial either way – you can’t proceed without it – it just gives you a controlled scenario to test it. We call it fair because on repeat playthroughs, we can SEE the damn thing right there and kick ourselves for missing it the first time. Being able to avoid it is more of an Easter egg than an expected part of the experience.
            Let me frame the tutorial in the brush of a generic other game:

            “Nice job shooting those pinned down crabmen, rookie! Let’s move on to the next- OH NO, a hole has appeared beneath our feet and now we’ve fallen into the Convenient Medical Room. Notice how your screen flashed red, Rookie? That means you’ve been hurt! Press [X] to use the medkit in front of you to heal up!”

            You’ve seen this scenario played out hundreds of times but you’ve never bothered to call the forced damage “unfair” or a different kind of fairness and with good reason. You recognise it is part of the set piece tutorial. The Asylum boulder is literally just that – it’s just thematically better and doesn’t break gameplay to do it. As such, it’s weird to compare it to the Batman Shark as a measure of fairness.

            To be more helpful, I should point out that there ARE good examples in Dark Souls of what Shamus wants to convey. Take Mimic chests for example – nearly indistinguishable from regular chests, never hinted at (unless online) and as soon as you trigger it, it kills you. You learn your lesson, but only AFTER it has screwed you over. Or slimes dropping on your head in the Depths. Or thieves bursting out of doors so you’re surrounded. Or ghosts being invincible unless you’re cursed. Hell, freaking curses would be the killer example. Bar fills up, you immediately die and you lose half your max health. Lesson learned: don’t get cursed. Thanks for the heads up Dark Souls.

            • GeoG says:

              I’m not sure what most people are doing, but I still think your points – which I find interesting and entertaining; don’t get me wrong – are missing the point, which is that the information is being differentially delivered. Whether it’s a good example or a bad one, and whether the lesson of the boulder is about traps, or about healing, the point is that not everyone will get the same lesson from it.

              This is the contrast being made – that everyone does get the same lesson from the shark. Don’t forget the way the post started – this was important enough to kick things off with:

              When someone says fair, which one of these ideas are they talking about?

              1. Everyone competes according to the exact same rules and starting conditions.
              2. Everyone is forced to compete in such a way that victory is equally likely for all participants.

        • poiumty says:

          Funny how he doesn’t respond to arguably the best reply to his low-quality, cherry-picked image.

  11. Darren says:

    As others have said, the boulder is a poor example because it is a one-time trap that, to my knowledge, has never killed a player and is obviously designed to introduce players to the game’s healing mechanics. I’m not sure how many games I’ve played where the player is unavoidably damaged just so the game can run them through the healing tutorial, but it’s definitely not unique to Dark Souls.

    A better Souls example to analyze would be the skeleton boulders of Dark Souls 3, which are an ongoing threat in the area in which they appear.

    • Cybron says:

      I’m sure someone somewhere has managed it, but it’s pretty hard to die before you get through the door behind the boulder.

      • galacticplumber says:

        You don’t even need to do that. The boulder staircase is literally right next to another leading directly down to a door that can only be opened from the side you’re on that leads to the first bonfire. As the door stays open, and the boulder does piddly crap for damage, I actually pity you if you manage to die to it. Are there hard things in this game? Yeah totally. That is not one of them. It’s literally less threatening than the first goomba in the first mario.

  12. Ilseroth says:

    You mentioned golf and in dark souls, deaths are your strokes. The key is, *you* set the par to whatever you feel is adequate. Some people take this to the logical extreme and beat the whole game without dying, others just take finishing the course as a victory even though it is pretty much going to happen at some point.

    I recognize I can’t possibly have the view of an outsider to the series at this point. hell I went into the game with thousands of hours into Monster Hunter which has a even more strict dodge mechanic and slower committed attacks (two things a lot of newcomers struggle with dark souls), so my view is entirely biased. And I am not even going to try to say it is for everyone. If you get frustrated at dying, as opposed to seeing it as an opportunity to just play more video game and develop mastery at said game, then it isn’t for you, simple as that.

    And as other people have said, it isn’t hard to see that boulder before it comes down the stairs, in fact you have to go up the stairs about 1/3rd of the way before it starts rolling at all. I don’t inherently disagree with the assessment that *showing* a boulder rolling down stairs first would have been a bit better, and in fact they do this in a later section of the game. Sen’s Fortress has several traps and demarcates them one at a time, showing them in situations where you’d have to intentionally run into them to actually cause damage (Boulder runs over a snake guy in front of you, floor panel shoots darts out of a wall way in front of you and above you which also usually hits an enemy)

    That isn’t to say dark souls is above petty traps, but most of them can be avoided once you adopt the mindset they expect you to take on a first playthrough, slow and methodical… which ironically can make the souls games harder then when you just run past the enemies. (Pro tip: The game is actually easier if you don’t care about deaths and just run past all the enemies, the only ones that matter are boss fights… I don’t do it on a first playthrough because I like the challenge but the normal enemies generally don’t know what to do if you decide not to fight them.)

    • Cybron says:

      Slightly off topic, as someone who has played MH, how similar would you say it is to Dark Souls? I’ve got a friend who’s a big MH fan and claims the two are exactly the same (without having played DS). Is there any basis to that?

      • Ilseroth says:

        The core mechanics are similar when it comes to combat, and it also has a very similar focus on bosses, in fact it is so focused on bosses it tosses out everything else pretty much. Your only goal is to kill monsters to get better equipment which may help in the killing of bigger monsters.

        However a lot of Dark Souls ideas, if you played Monster Hunter beforehand (or vice verse at this point) come real similar. The amount of health items you have are limited, and using them takes a considerable time investment (when in the middle of a fight with an enemy that kills you in only a few hits), Enemies are generally big and hit very hard, punishing rash actions. Weapons are pretty slow for the most part, and all actions take a set amount of time meaning you can’t do things without measuring the outcome.

        As opposed to other action games where you can cancel attacks with dodges or dodges with blocks or healing animations with whatever. You tell it to do something you better mean to do it.

        That being said it is arguably more forgiving, you have a higher total healing item count (well ,excepting for the specialty healing items in dark souls but usually you won’t have a lot of those when learning the game) and dying does’t lose the fight, you can die twice without losing the quest. Also it is a team based game, most of the time, as opposed to dark souls where co-op is kinda seen as an alternative way of playing.

        So gameplay wise, mechanically, pretty similar; just different pacing and focus.

  13. Cybron says:

    This article is interesting because it gives me some idea of where you’re coming from in regards to what you want out of video game tutorials. I understand but I don’t think I could disagree more. I much prefer “immersive instruction” to an instructive cutscene. The classic megaman games are a good example of this. They always introduce new mechanics in a safe environment where you can figure them out before making you navigate them for real. I like that way more than taking control away from the player.

    Just a difference of opinion, I suppose.

    • Daimbert says:

      I don’t think that’s really his point. I think Shamus would have been perfectly happy with a mechanism where you organically learn the elements. In fact, that’s pretty much how he’s learning to be better at the challenge mechanisms. What I think he’s opposed to is a game that teaches you the mechanics in unsafe areas and in unsafe ways by hitting you with the mechanism and punishing you for not already knowing it even though you couldn’t have learned it before it hit you.

    • Shamus says:

      I wasn’t even condemning the DS way of doing things. The entire point was “Here is why people end up arguing about fairness.”

      • galacticplumber says:

        On the point you actually intended to bring up, I think, the fairness definition isn’t actually even comparing players to players. It’s comparing players to enemies. For the most part enemies in dark souls operate on the same general mechanics you do, and when they have some advantage you can’t it usually comes with some crippling downside that you’ll never have to deal with. Most enemies are humanoids with either a weapon and a shield or a big weapon. They can’t attack constantly just like you can’t. They’re left horribly open if their attacks are blocked just like you are. They can heal, but are left helpless while doing it just like you. Pretty much the only thing most enemies in this game have that you don’t is that their attacks don’t rebound uselessly off walls, and I’m pretty sure the only reason they don’t is because that would probably be really difficult to implement. Further still most of them never use ranged attacks or magic which you totally can. Note how some of the hardest parts of the game are enemies doing things most souls fans consider to be easy mode tricks like sniping, or victory through numbers.

        • Abnaxis says:

          I think that’s my main beef with this article. It starts off talking about fairness, but then veers off in a direction that isn’t really about what fans mean when they say “hard but fair”. And then on top of that, as the article talks about how threats are communicated to the player through both games, it mis-characterizes how that actually works in the Souls games.

          If the Batman games were “fair” in the sense Souls is “fair,” Batman could pick up the shields mooks drop and be immune to damage as he carries out his combo unless he gets stunned. He could grab a baton and get a free counter if he’s attacked from the front. By the same token, bad guys could flip all over the place and counter and stun and dodge and do all the same things Batman does, instead of every odd mook having one of a few abilities Batman enjoys.

          Obviously, Batman games don’t work that way, which to me makes them less fair. Even if the game dutifully gives you all the tutorial prompts in the world so you’re 100% clear on how this world works, it’s unfair. The enemies you are fighting operate under a markedly different set of rules versus your avatar.

          • Captainbooshi says:

            What I think is really funny is that the entire article is saying “Arguments arise because people have different definitions of what fair is”, and you just keep saying “Shamus is clearly wrong because he’s not using my specific definition of what fair is.”

            • Abnaxis says:

              Maybe I’m taking it too literally, but I don’t see the article as saying “everyone has their own definition of fairness, so we can’t agree on anything,” it’s saying “there are these two, conflicting gauges that both measure how ‘fair’ something is, and that leads to conflict between what X people say is ‘fair’ and what Y people say is ‘fair’.” It then contextualizes this conflict as being a driving issue between how Souls fans can see their game as fair while Shamus sees it as ‘unfair,’ without either party being wrong, because they are using different heuristics to measure ‘fairness.’

              My point of contention, is that the heuristic Shamus has put forth is a load of bunk. It’s a red herring. A bad way to approach the discussion. I’m making my point by showing what I think he’s missing–that the idea of ‘fairness’ has nothing to do with the relationship from player to player, but rather it has more to do with the relationship between the the and the game system itself.

              I might not be making the connection between my topic and the OP topic super clear in my comments, but I don’t think I’m missing the point of the article.

              • Shamus says:

                “My point of contention, is that the heuristic Shamus has put forth is a load of bunk.”

                Shit, did you read the article? I don’t need you to AGREE with any particular definition of fairness, just accept that this is a source of misunderstandings. As in, “Ah! I get why people THINK this is unfair now!” The fact that you want to ARGUE with one definition that doesn’t work for you is almost a parody of obstinate, single-minded, relentlessly argumentative Dark Souls players.


                Someday I will get ONE fucking Dark Souls player to understand they cannot harangue people into liking this obnoxious chore of a game.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Wow.You must have been really sick when the first thing you do when you recover is jump head first into a dark souls argument.

                  • Shamus says:

                    I just read like 3 days of backlogged arguing (Dark Souls, plus the GoT post is pretty argumentative) in a single sitting. Took just over an hour. I think that was a bad choice. I was already in a lousy mood on account of feeling awful, and this was probably not the best way to ease back into the job.

                    • galacticplumber says:

                      And the thing that just happened is precisely why I endeavored to only correct what is generally meant as fair by dark souls players when they say fair as opposed to throwing aside your whole premise. In the sense of player/enemy equivalence dark souls is one of the fairest games ever made most of the time. The other definition of fair you brought up is best applied to traps, and while there are many memorable ones they’re hardly the bulk of the experience. All this said? I don’t intend to harangue you on this. I know full well that souls is an acquired taste, and one whose core ideals of design philosophy run almost perfectly counter to yours where the ideal amount of adversity is. I consider dark souls a horror game with action and RPG elements. I say that because of how the game pretty clearly intends the player to feel in a majority of situations especially if they’re new.

                      This game wants you to tip-toe around areas, scout around every corner with your camera before taking them, pay close attention to the environment for traps and ambushes while holding up your shield (if you have one) like some kind of combination teddy bear/holy ward against the terrors of the world, and depending on playstyle get scared of completely different scenarios. A dex archer loves to see big open areas with lots individually spaced levels because that’s sniper paradise. He’s almost certainly wetting himself in a tighter hallway because he’s wearing tissue paper and has less room to dodge. These are almost perfectly reversed for the walking mountain with a hammer you can totally build. The best part of this horror? It almost never relies on the gross body horror, or making you unable to fight. You aren’t afraid because you can’t fight. You’re afraid because you have to.

                    • Syal says:

                      …apologies for the Game of Thrones post.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  So it’s like this. I get that you’ve been harangued into playing Dark Souls. I get that this is a thing that Dark Souls fans (and joggers, and “sitting is worse than smoking” people, and anti vaxxers, and…) do. I get that it’s and asshole thing to do to someone when they say they don’t like or disagree with a thing, to tell them that they’re wrong for their opinion. I personally even remember a time before you tried Dark Souls, when you were saying “this doesn’t look like something I would enjoy, but people keep asking me to try it,” I even put suggestions into the comments also suggesting you should try it, because I’m very much a “never know until you try” sort of person.

                  However, by and large most of the last two threads HAVE NOT BEEN HARANGUING ANYONE TO PLAY DARK SOULS. Yet, despite this, there have been comments on comments on comment about how Dark Souls fans are such assholes that will pester you endlessly and call you all kinds of bad insults because you don’t like their game. This is how the last two threads seem to have gone:

                  Shamus: “Here is how punishment is doled out in Dark Souls, and why that does not appeal to many people”

                  DS Fan: “I can see what you mean, and your experience does indeed sound not fun. But this is my experience, and how my own brain chemistry managed to avoid the pitfalls you ran into.”


                  Like I said, I get that these threads don’t exists in a vacuum. And there’s plenty of enthusiasts on the internet (including and maybe even especially Dark Souls enthusiasts) that are complete assholes to other people, and that Shamus especially has to put up with 100x more assholes as an internet personality.

                  However, at some point it would be nice if someone would actually read the words on the page without imputing (or outright overwriting) the posts people are making with something some asshole did to them on the internet before now.

                  • Shamus says:

                    “But this is my experience, and how my own brain chemistry managed to avoid the pitfalls you ran into.”

                    That was the conversation I was HOPING to have here. That’s exactly what I was after. I’m seeing very little of that.

                    Instead I get, “My point of contention, is that the heuristic Shamus has put forth is a load of bunk.” Your words. I guess you’ve decided that you can speak for everyone on both sides, if you’re able to declare this contrast a load of bunk for everyone.

                    And beyond that, I’m getting more stupid arguments about fairness, even though I was very clearly trying to move us past that. You’re not trying to tell me why you enjoy Dark Souls, you’re telling me I used the wrong words to describe the wrong part of the game to illustrate a point that – even now – I can’t tell if you agree with.

                    Even after we’ve burned out the thread and maxed out the thread depth, I still don’t see what you’re trying to prove. It really feels like you’re reflexively arguing with things that aren’t even germane to the discussion.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      So, after a few weeks of time to cool off and think about this, this thread still bugs me. It seems like it’s going to go down in the annals as “Dark Souls fans arguing for the sake of arguing,” and I think that’s an unfair characterization.

                      The problem, as I see it, is that the first section of the article set up expectations that weren’t met. It starts off talking about how there are different, conflicting definitions of “fairness,” specifically that “everyone operates under the same rules” or “everyone has an equal chance of victory.”

                      Between that introduction, and the title of the article, my expectation as the audience was that the following sections would provide evidence to support that initial assertion. Specifically, I expected Arkham and Souls to be contrasted in a way that showed both could be considered both “fair” or “unfair”, depending on which of the two above definitions you adhere to for “fairness.”

                      The following sections failed to accomplish this in two ways. First, it was extremely unclear what either example had to do with “everyone plays be the same rules” or “everyone has equal opportunity for success.” After discussing it at length in the thread, I can kind of see the connection (though I still say it’s tenuous) but that connection was definitely not clear from the original post.

                      Second–and worse–the article doesn’t present an example from both games that could be considered both “fair” or “unfair” depending on your definition. Instead, it presents an example from Arkham that is (according to the article) unambiguously fair, contrasted with an example from Souls that is only “fair” according to a fairness standard that nobody agrees with (which is where my “bunk” comment came from).

                      You might have been trying to move past the argument about fairness, but the way you went about it doesn’t work because you haven’t actually demonstrated the inherent conflict between definitions of fairness and how they apply to the two games. You haven’t shown how Arkham-esque tutorial prompts would conflict with a Souls fan’s perception of “fairness,” you haven’t you shown how “fair because all damage is avoidable” doesn’t apply to Arkham, and even if you had done the latter “fair because all damage is avoidable” is a red herring that has nothing to do with fairness perception in Souls.

                      I think this thread turned out the way it did, at least in part because Souls fans keep trying to fill in the missing parts for you. Also in part because there’s this simmering animosity between Souls fans and non-Souls fans that adds fuel to the conflict.

                      The devil of it all is, I *do* agree with the base point. Arkham “fairness” boils down to creating a strict set of constraints on what Batman is capable of in order to create challenges for the player to master. In Arkham, you can’t do a “no cape” run or a “no batarang” run because every challenge has a prescribed set of tools that must be used to overcome it–so it’s “unfair” in the same way that a Plot Driven Door is unfair, but it is “fair” because those formulaic steps can be clearly conveyed to the player so you know what you’re getting into. I haven’t played the shark area you brought up, but I assume you can’t kill the sharks. Or throw a mook in the water to distract them. Heck, I’m betting the sharks themselves don’t even exists as an object in the game world unless you fall in the water. The sharks are a gameplay driven contrivance, which exist solely to force the player to steer Batman through a predetermined gameplay sequence.

                      DS, on the other hand, gives both the player and the AI a universal set of tools, and any trick the player figures out to come out on top is fair game. There are multiple methods to overcome virtually any obstacle, but that inherently precludes giving the player explicit tutorial messages since there are so many valid solutions to any particular challenge. Even the boulder–you can dodge it or block it. If you’re the type of paranoid player who keeps their shield up all the time (most are), you don’t even need to see the boulder coming. And future traps give even more freedom than that. But that means you don’t get a “here’s how to dodge the traps” tutorial, because you don’t have to dodge traps.

                      All of this is to say: after all this discussion, I can see now what you were trying to say and how you were trying to say it, but I don’t think you made your point adequately in the OP. I was trying to explain this before, but I was annoyed and frustrated at the time and probably came off as over-combative. This wall of text is me trying to constructively explain where I think you went wrong, and why this thread wound up so long and arduous, in defense of all the “arguing for the sake of it” Souls fans.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I put a post here, but it got eaten by the spam filter when I tried to edit it. Did it actually get through?

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            If the Batman games were “fair” in the sense Souls is “fair,” Batman could pick up the shields mooks drop and be immune to damage as he carries out his combo unless he gets stunned. He could grab a baton and get a free counter if he’s attacked from the front. By the same token, bad guys could flip all over the place and counter and stun and dodge and do all the same things Batman does, instead of every odd mook having one of a few abilities Batman enjoys.

            Really?Thats the fairness of dark souls?Well why the hell didnt you say so earlier?I always wanted to play a giant drake who flies around scorching their enemies into a crisp!And you say that dark souls allows me exactly that?Game,here I come!

            • Abnaxis says:

              I’m not saying Souls is 100% fair. I’m saying “this is what fair means to Dark Souls.”

              Also, there are various sorts of breath spells, and flying sections in the game, so as long as you’re not to attached to the scales and wings you should be golden ;p

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Well thats disappointing.But then,how does the souls “enemies can be monsters with teeth and fangs” differ from batmans “mooks have different moves and weapons than batman”?

                • galacticplumber says:

                  Percentage of enemies. Look at the dark souls enemy roster and remove all humanoids. Now remove all enemies that aren’t strictly worse than the player like rats and slimes. Take what’s left and compare to the number of enemies with mechanics you can’t use as batman.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    And how would dark souls be more unfair if you fought way more non-humanoids(proportionally to their strengths,of course),without changing the mechanics,ai or levels in any other way.

                    • galacticplumber says:

                      Simple. Decoupling enemies from player mechanics entirely loses you one very key feature of play. Namely the ability to think about what will commonly ruin your day and realize that you can totally do that to your enemies. It also loses an important bit of story significance. The game loses the thread about how you’re not fundamentally different from most any other entity in this save perhaps having some gumption. We don’t need more chosen one bullshit.

            • Starker says:

              You can’t fly at will while doing it, but you actually can turn into a half-dragon and breathe fire on enemies.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yeah,it wouldve been better if he compared half life 2 to dark souls.In how half life 2 introduces its mechanics without the need to damage you,while still giving you full control all the time.

      But this is a series about arkham games,not half lives.

      • Kylroy says:

        Also, Half Life has a famously silent protagonist (who thus remains largely a cipher), whereas the Arkham games have you play as the Goddamn Batman. Briefly taking away player control to deliver something with more narrative punch makes sense when one of your game’s main selling points is playing a famous superhero.

        If anything, the tutorials comparison is better made between HL2 and Dark Souls – both have silent/cipher protagonists, and are committed to giving the player as much control as possible.

  14. DeathbyDysentery says:

    One thing to consider is that while the systems mastery component of the Arkham games is accommodating and forgiving, it is also easy to accidentally overlook entirely. I think a lot of people play through these games without ever realizing how deep the systems are. Personally, I played through the entirety of Arkham city, and by the end I thought it was just a mediocre Assassin’s Creed-esque game. It wasn’t until I read/heard some of your stuff, Shamus, (probably during the Arkham Asylum SW season, although I don’t remember exactly) where you talked about the game that I realized what I had missed. It’s not just the combat either; Arkham City let me get through to the end credits without really understanding the ‘predator’ sections, the movement system, or the side content either. I’m actually pretty glad that I follow this site, because otherwise I would’ve missed out on a lot of great challenges. I find it interesting that Arkham games are just so accessible in the extreme that you can get to the end without realizing that you’ve been playing ‘wrong’. Contrast Dark Souls, where if you don’t ‘get’ the game, you’re not going to be able to make any progress at all.

    I suspect this is part of the reason why Shadow of Mordor’s combat system felt so out of place. They obviously lifted it straight out of the Arkham series, but I doubt the team in charge of integrating it in their new game actually understood Arkham’s combat. They had surface level knowledge of it and just assumed that it was just another generic fight system like they have in Assassin’s Creed. So they transposed it into their Assassin’s Creed-esque game with none of the focus on systems mastery that they needed for it to work.

    • lethal_guitar says:

      This!!! I had the exact same experience, I only learned to appreciate the Arkham combat in all its depth after reading about it here. I can only assume that that’s gonna be the case for many players.

  15. PPX14 says:

    “Fairness is relative depending on definition and expectation, here are some analogies…”

    “These analogies are wrong!”

    “Analogies are relative, depending … ”


  16. Hector says:

    The issue of fariness in Batman and Dark SOuls is a bit more complex than I think most here will admit. TO be blunt, Dark SOuls is horribly unfair and only makes up for it partly by making the game one you literally can’t lose. You can actually lose a fight in Batman. Technically, nobody and nothing in Dark Souls can actually defeat you, just delay you.

    This doesn’t make it entirely fair, and there are actually some big design flaws in DS1 that most people don’t recognize. Whether it’s an issue of fairness or not, it’s defnitely lacking.

    One big difference is that most bosses in Dark Souls need to be fought in an entirely different way than regular enemies, even the tough and dangerous ones. Now, depending on your build and the exact way you like fighting, this may be a much easier or harder adjustment. Some players learned, or just landed on, the right combinations..

    Others, like myself, had a terrible time with this. To explain, I went through the early game learning to rely on positioning and dodge rather than shielding or countering. I only had a terrible shield, and wasn’t sure even how to judge the alternatives because the stat system made no sense to me. Then I ran into Taurus Demon, whom I charitibly describe as a nightmare. Sure, now he’s a pushover, but that first time through he was demolishing me in a single blow, but I couldn’t even tell how to get close enough to fight back. The problem was that I was relying too much on baiting attacks instead of circling to the correct side. But that wasn’t clear, and it took way too many deaths to even know what I was doing wrong. Bosses usually have a weak angle, which is fair enough, but it’s often completely unclear where that is because their moveset isn’t symmetrical. Stand one the left side (just a hypothetical, not relevant to Taurus), and the boss will one-shot you. Stand on the right side, and the boss can maybe get in a 33% health attack that you can absorb, shield, or dodge readily. I am firmly of the opinion the game would have been much better had they toned down the damage for the early bosses, but maybe scaled them up with the number of player allies. This could have let players experiment much more to learn the boss movesets without being sent back to the bonfire just for not having it all memorized yet.

    Even if you explore well, for example, you may get absolutely hammered by the Twin Gargoyles. This is because you’re supposed to go find one of the blacksmiths and upgrade your gear, or get an ally, or something. Trying to do this without un-upgraded gear is possible but agonizing, as I discovered my first time through. In fact, I knew I could upgrade my gear, but it wasn’t obvious if I should be doing so. I had no idea how limited the resources were, whether I should save them for better gear later, or if I really just had a skill gap and needed to improve there. I like this boss – in fact, I LOVED the massive Gargoyle pile fight in DS2 that everyone apparently hated – but new players just don’t knwo what they are doing wrong.

    These are major gaps where the game really fails to communicate what you’re doing wrong, and is one of its major flaws. Yes, they want to the obnoxious “mysterious NPC” thing, but it could have been done a little better. In my opinion, DS2 was by far the superior game, simply because the new team knew their limitations much mroe and didn’t shove ahead. if you know what you’re doing, the giant monster bosses in DS1 are great, but too many of them rely on weird hitboxes or strange movesets that baffle players until they get killed by that move several times, learning exactly where the attack extends to.

    Like many games that start a new trend, I find Dark Souls better more for being the first than for necessarily being the best. There’s no shame in that – doing something new involves a lot of testing and exploriong the design space. But it also means that successors polish it more.

    Now, how does this relate to Batman. For starters, the Batman games do have some lame bosses. These are mostly because the fights that either completely break the gameplay, or just don’t have enough cool stuff to differentiate them. However, none of them rely on super-lethal attacks to make you start the fight again. The damage is there, not to stop the gameplay, but to make you realize you made a mistake. Additionally, because the combat system is more focused, it can also be more robust and handles 1v1 or 1v50 fights qith equal aplomb, allowing a much more varied boss design space.

    Also, the Boulder is totally fair… as long as you have an HD monitor. While it was no more than a brief annoyance the firs time, not everyone could afford the latest tech for every game. DS1 was utter garbage without HD, and people were still in the process of moving to the new screen technology at the time of its release.

    • ehlijen says:

      Dark souls can delay you but not defeat you? I’m not sure I understand what that means. Are you referring to the fact that you respawn and get to try again?

      If so, I think any game with savegames can make the same claim. Is reloading/respawning somehow different in dark souls? I thought the monsters do all reset when you do?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        You can get to your corpse and get your lost souls back.But again,you can lose them if you die on your corpse run,so technically it can defeat you more than a game that allows saves.

      • Hector says:

        Let me explain it this way:

        When you die in Batman… Batman is dead. You get a cutscene of how your lost fight led to Batman’s last moments as one of the villains takes him out permanently. When you load the last save, that just never happened. But you were defeated and then just backed up before that happened.

        When you die in Dark Souls, you reappear at the nearest bonfire minus any carried souls. Your character didn’t die – you were dead already. One more won’t make a difference. Your real enemies, by and large, are not so immortal. The demons and dragons and gods don’t respawn. You may be a gnat, but you’re a gnat with a lightning sword who cannot be stopped.

        Additionally, one aspect of Dark Souls I really respect is how this is integrated with the story. Aside for being a major background element, with several mentions of how different nations handle undead, the story directly references that the only way to stop the undead is to destroy them mentally or emotionally. Of course, the only way to “lose” the game is to be beaten by it is to give up. Similarly, I liked the Duke’s Archive, specifically because Seithe uses magic to trap you instead of letting you return to beat his face in time after time.

        • ehlijen says:

          I still don’t get the difference. In both games your character can die. In both games you can respawn and try again. In both games the only way to lose for good is to stop playing.

          Ok, one game weaves it into the story, the other treats it as metagame process. But that doesn’t mean that one game can’t defeat you but the other can. In both games the player is only limited by their own patience.

          • Cybron says:

            Yeah, the only difference is one death is “in-narrative” and the other isn’t.

            • lethal_guitar says:

              That’s not true, there is a crucial difference which hasn’t been mentioned yet. When you die in DS:

              1. You keep any items (e.g weapons, armor, consumables) you’ve collected before you died.
              2. Any doors/elevators etc. that you activated stay open/active etc.

              While in most games you just reset back to an earlier point in time, death in DS doesn’t do that. It takes away your souls and respawns most enemies, but all other aspects of the world retain their changes.

              Levels in DS often have shortcuts that let you skip a large part of the level and get to the boss quicker. Once you open one of them, it stays open even if you die the instant after you’ve pulled the switch. This means you still made progress despite dieing, since you can now skip part of the level.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                It also means that you lost weapon durability and consumables that you cannot recharge.Also,the progress you made does not mean a thing if you cannot reach that place once more,meaning you lost additional time as well.

                • lethal_guitar says:

                  Fair enough, although you can usually go for quite a while before you need to repair. And once you buy the repair kit, you can repair at any bonfire.

                  I don’t quite understand your point about not being able to reach a place again, though. The shortcuts that I’m thinking of usually take the form of a door that’s locked from one side, with the locked side being close to a bonfire and the other side (where you can open the door) being further away. So once you manage to open the door, you don’t have to deal with the difficult route which leads to the other side anymore. And you would likely want to open the shortcut anyway at some later point, so why would you have lost time if you’ve managed to open it?

                  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to argue that this aspect of the death mechanic makes the game suddenly “easy” or “fair” for a novice to the series. It is something you first need to learn about, and learn how to take advantage of. But it is clearly a differentiating factor. Death in DS is not the same as in most other games, and there is more to it than just being “in-narrative”.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    I mean that for example you reach the shortcut,but die just before you get to activate it.All that treking would be lost.There are positives to the way dark souls does it,but there are clear negatives as well.

                    • galacticplumber says:

                      Except the fact that over half of them are either literally feet away from a bonfire or have a route from a bonfire with like three or four trash mobs in the way. Shortcuts are time savers. No question.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      Thanks for explaining, I think I understand a bit better now.

                      On the shortcuts: It’s great that they stay open, but it’s still more of a hassle than a savegame just before the spot you died.

    • acronix says:

      I agree with most of this. Dark Souls 1 and 3 are pretty bad at telling you what you did wrong in any given scenario, making the games into a series of “Try it again, stupid!” moments that vary a lot depending on your build and prior experience with previous entries (and previous deaths in the game).

  17. Whole Note says:

    When it comes to Dark Souls, the “fairness” being described is an adherence to the rules for all entities. The only times anything breaks the rules are times when you would have to do the same for it to have a noticeable effect. For example: Kingseeker Frampt is unkillable, but you would never know because he retreats into nothing before you have the chance to find out.

    • acronix says:

      Some might mean it that way, but I don’t think that’s technically true. Rules for mobs, bosses and the player overlap but are not always the same (which is fine).
      For example, the stamina system. An enemy can go out into a 4-hit combo with a heavy, really stamina hungry weapon, and begin blocking right afterwards. If you, as a player, do that, the first hit to the shield will break your guard. Mobs don’t have that problem and instead seem to be able to whitstand a certain ammount of attacks depending on the weapon damage, but which is independent of their actual stamina.

      To be honest, I’m not sure what anyone means when they say that Dark Souls is ‘fair’. I certainly accept that it is sometimes fair, but there are a whole lot of instances of enemies where the fairness can only be described as “once you have the foreknowledge on how those enemies work, it’s fair!”. I’m looking at you, every enemy with a grab-charge in DS3!

  18. Tse says:

    A better comparison to the shark in Batman would be the drake after the Taurus Demon in Dark Souls (they also did it in DS3). In both games, it’s a mechanic in a single part of a level that is not relevant to other parts of the game.
    In Batman you get a cut-scene, in DS3, you get drenched in fire, but survive if you have full hp.

  19. Cilvre says:

    I like reading some of these posts, but jeez the comment sections can get so polarizing. Games are games, and while it’s interesting to point out what you like and don’t like about a game, it’s not necessary for everyone to put down others likes or ideas about a game. I’m a Dark Souls fan, and not a Batman fan, but I have no opinion to offer about Batman and won’t assume I can be informative about it either way. It’d be nice if we can all just come together about having games we are passionate about without trying to shove it down in front of each other. :(

    • GeoG says:

      Very mild, well mannered disagreements on display for the most part, if you ask me, particularly given the state of much of the online discourse concerning Dark Souls. No one’s screaming at anyone to ‘git gud’ or calling anyone a scrub, etc. If you think this comment section is too feisty, don’t go into the Game of Thrones one! Daggers & dictionaries are out, in there…

      • ehlijen says:

        Maybe this comment came before many of the above, but I think I saw some of those mild manners fray above. :(

        I find it a little frustrating that Shamus is trying to talk about Arkham Noun, trying to make himself understood with comparisons to another popular game and even taking care to explain his definitions of the terms he’s using. And yet, the comments are full of claims that he doesn’t get dark souls.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Same like any other time someone dares to mentions dark souls.And then they wonder why people are so soured to the game.

        • GeoG says:

          No, I mean, folks are disagreeing, sure, and that means this page isn’t a cuddly love-in, but no one’s getting personal or bringing out the ad hominems. No one’s come within lightyears of anything banworthy, for example. (Unless they did and Shamus deleted it.) The worst is people calling Daemian Lucifer ‘obtuse’ and ‘snarky,’ and if I know anything about Daemian Lucifer it’s that DL can handle that.

          The second point is slightly different and I agree there’s perhaps still too much focus on Dark Souls rather than the point Shamus is actually making. You’d have thought the previous post was enough to get some of that out of our systems, but I guess not!

  20. lethal_guitar says:

    Regardless of whether you prefer Batman or Dark Souls

    Why would I prefer one over the other? :) It would never occur to me to try and compare them in that way. While I do think this comparison is very interesting, I never saw the games as “rivals” for my appreciation. I love both the Arkham and the Souls series, and I have dumped a great many hours into both of them. Granted, more of those hours went into Souls, but that’s also because of multiplayer, which Arkham doesn’t have.

    • ehlijen says:

      Batman, thematically, is empowering. Dark Souls, thematically, is bleak.

      I can absolutely see why some people would prefer one over the other. They are both popular games, but some don’t like bleak stories while others find power fantasies boring.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Some like both,depending on their mood,or as a balance,or just cuz.

      • galacticplumber says:

        Point is this isn’t grading apples against apples. You can make a case that they should both be called fruit due to having melee combat as a central focus. I wouldn’t call them the same type of fruit by a wide margin though. It’s like apples and lemons.

      • ehlijen says:

        I was offering an answer to ‘Why would I prefer one game over the other?’

      • Fizban says:

        A few days old now, but I want to link this to what Hector already said above: Dark Souls is actually one of the most empowering games. In Batman, and many other games, death means a reset. The game says you failed and that reality has ended, you as the player must roll back to a previous save (by hand or automatically) in order to continue playing.

        In Dark Souls, there are no saves. When you screw up, your game does not end. Your character, fully in-universe, stands right back up again. The only way you can fail is if you choose to stop playing, otherwise your character is fundamentally unstoppable. They can suffer setbacks but their continuity never stops, and even if you drop the game and don’t come back for a year it’s still the same character at the same point in time, the same story, the same life.

        Dark Souls is the ultimate empowerment fantasy. Your character doesn’t fail, you don’t fail, unless you give up, because that’s the story here: the world doesn’t end until you say it does. And the chosen undead says it ain’t over yet.

        • ehlijen says:

          That’s how you see the game, sure.

          As far as I can see, I fail in dark souls all the time, and then have to trudge back from a bonfire, which for me, simply functions as a more annoying save system.

          I was also speaking more in theme and story, than gameplay. In dark souls you’re dead and explore a world constantly trying to kill/frustrate you. In Batman, you’re the CrimePuncher(tm). You punch crime in the face and save the city. Sure, it’s bleak and grim by superhero standards, but it still has the baseline heroic assumptions of the genre that I was just not getting from dark souls.

        • Shamus says:

          Dark Souls is “Empowering”?

          Shit. Now we have ANOTHER word with opposing, irreconcilable definitions.

          • galacticplumber says:

            In many ways Dark souls is built around being pretty much literally opposite many common design tropes and taking strength in it. The level of fragility you have and the ease of dying are disempowering yes. To many not being the chosen one (despite about a third of the NPCs you meet handing out that tripe title like candy to get SOMEONE to link the fire) is too. To others that just means that all things accomplished happened on their own initiative rather than any of this fate or writer control.

            • ehlijen says:

              And to me, personally, that last part is weird. Difficult or not, fair or not, frustrating or not, dark souls is still a game. The story you experience is still set by the writer. As a computer program, every outcome was anticipated and deemed possible by someone.

              Even the most open sandbox games I’ve seen don’t quite let the player decide their fate beyond what the parameters of the program allow.

              I think I don’t quite get dark souls in just the right meta/in character mix that it needs to work.

              • Christopher says:

                Hm. In Dark Souls 1 specifically, there are in-game “writers” in the sense that there are conspirators that are making a huge scam to get people to act as they want them to, utilizing false prophecies, false idols and presumably a fake church to get human sacrifices to prolong the state of the world. The game never goes out of its way to say that it is fake, either. You have to discover it yourself, and with the right set of moves you can get a secret boss, meet a secret NPC and choose a different ending. But it’s not clear if the alternative is any better, or if one of the conspirators isn’t playing both sides. The important part is that the discovery is all up to you, as well as what you wanna do about it. You’re not shutting off the game in a dumb indie game meta way, but you get to choose organically how you wanna deal with the conspiracy and leave your mark on the world. That is, in a sense, empowering.

                One of the disappointing aspects of Dark Souls 2 lore is that the choice doesn’t matter at all. It’s all a cycle, all reincarnation, everything that happened happens again. It’s all a MEME and a GENE, like Kojima likes to say. It’s very convenient for sequels, but I loathed it, and at the end of Dark Souls 2 you are given no choices. Bloodborne and Demon’s Souls both have great lore, so I think the best idea is to change the SCENE for each game based on what new gameplay mechanics they want to use. The setting of Bloodborne was chosen entirely because they wanted to have guns as parries, I believe, and then they fitted a good story on top of it.

  21. Tever says:

    Wow, I learned something today. Like, I kind of realized this before, but I never put it together until I read this post. I prefer Dark Souls to Batman because Dark Souls lets me slam face first into the flaming barrel. I’ve been playing games for about 25 years or more, and the only thing that drags me out of an experience faster than being told to watch out for something is being told about it again and again whenever I start a new game.

    Nintendo these days- I fucking love Ocarina of Time, but fucking Navi, man. I see the vine wall, Navi. You don’t need to yank control away from me to tell me about it. And it’s not just Nintendo that does this. They’re the worst about it, I think, because they think they have to explain things to kids. But it seems like every new generation of games gets a little more talky, a little more explainy.

    So I think Dark Souls is my favorite game because they just shut up and let me play.

    I wonder if this is why so many older gamers complain that games are too easy, now. Like, I realize elitism is a big factor there, too, but it really does feel like games are too scared to let players figure things out on their own. It’s like the beginning of Undertale, and Toriel literally holding your hand to cross the trap. I never really thought of that moment as being a parody before now.

    • Cilvre says:

      I have to say I prefer this as well, it’s just nice to be able to get in and go whenever I feel like replaying and don’t need to sit through any cutscenes or tutorials.

    • Tizzy says:

      I don’t know about easy vs hard, but what I enjoyed about the first Dark Souls (it’s the only one I’ve played) is that it wasn’t afraid to let the player tackle its challenges on their own terms. So many modern games are control freaks in the way that all players must have an almost uniform experience. It’s great for quality control and to iron out bugs, but it’s kinda boring to play.

    • Cybron says:

      Yeah, that’s basically how I feel.

  22. Alrenous says:

    You’ve put your finger on exactly why I like a Dark Souls style game and don’t like Arkham City style games. In the latter, it doesn’t feel to me like I can fail at all, which means it feels like I don’t need to learn anything. I have mastered the game by opening the box.

    Score? Big whoop. Arbitrary nonsense and the feature of FF13 that most sticks in my craw. If you’re going to pull me out of the game world, then I’m going to start metagaming, and my metagaming strategy is going to be ‘ignore the score,’ because it’s irrelevant to in-world goals. In which case there’s hardly any game left. I won’t list all the other ways scoring hits my berserk buttons.

    You on the hand represent the kind of player that really likes mastering these scoring systems, and these systems mesh well with your learning style. For me, adding a scoring system to Dark Souls, even without altering a single other aspect, would almost totally ruin the game. Whereas for you, I imagine, adding maximum health (no one-hit kills) and guaranteed 20 estus to Dark Souls, but scoring you on how few estus you used, would be right up your alley.

    By the way it’s not impossible to combine fast boss replay and unspammed checkpoints, which is emulator-style savestates. Let the player create a sterile copy of the save just before a boss. They can replay that boss as many times as they like, but cannot continue through the game from the savestate. The player must master the combination of boss+level, but can practice them separately.

    One of my major frustrations with Dark Souls is not being able to easily go back to a boss I’ve already beaten. I often felt like I won through luck and I don’t like that. I also want to try different strategies out of pure curiosity. Save states would have let me refight bosses as many times as I like.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The score is not irrelevant in the main game,because it translates into xp which translates into better gadgets.Its irrelevant in the side game where you can practice your moves until you become a better fighter.Its just a measure for how you improved on those side challenges.

      • Alrenous says:

        Except those gadgets are unnecessary. It’s making an already easy challenge even easier.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Depends on the difficulty actually.I mean sure,you can finish the game without ever taking a hit so you dont really need the armor upgrades,but for most players it just makes it easier.You dont need the smoke bomb for huge brawls,but it sure makes it easier for most people.And you can finish all the predator missions without using a single gadget,but for most players having access to all some key abilities makes it easier

    • Christopher says:

      Do you prefer going at it alone? I tend to co-op a lot, so I usually try to beat a fun boss several times in other people’s games before I move on.

      • Alrenous says:

        I can’t test whether I can deal with the dogs+slash opening of Capra in multiplayer.

        For O&S, I generally shield bully Ornstein into a corner and keep him there until Smough is dead, because otherwise nine times out of ten the host will get ganked.

  23. Cubic says:

    GTA was on the DS side of things, especially the first games. Many missions had some hidden oh-shit moment of surprise and unfairness, sometimes without a clear path forward and you just had to solve that sucker. Then when you died, you lost your stuff and had to redo the mission from the start, usually including a lot of driving. (Or restarted from the last save, but you could only save between missions.)

    For example, one mission has you ambushed in a parking lot by crazed suicide bomber SPANK addicts running at you from all directions. I died so many times there. There was a similar scene in another game, a cargo ship with chainsaws, also a bastard …

    Or another mission, where you have to pick up dropped leaflets following a van, ungenerously timed of course, and it goes on forever sometimes with random cars and pedestrians killing off your great run, until the van finally stops and the gangsters in it step out and start shooting at you. If you die there and then, you might start to cry. Then you have to do it again.

    Or the San Andreas driving school final mission, where a badly placed random car appearing in the wrong place can spoil your run and you have to do it again.

    I don’t really mind dying a few times while figuring out a mission. The randomness can add an extra layer of annoyance though.

    Worst here might be Nethack, which I played many hundreds of times and never finished. It was never clear if this particular game even gave you the items needed to complete it. The main artifacts were always there, but you also needed numerous found items, wands, armor, etc to have a reasonable shot at going the full distance. Sometimes you found yourself at the bottom of the dungeon with weak equipment at no real fault of your own. Sorry buddy, you won’t make it back.

  24. Genericide says:

    One thing I’d like to chime in on that makes Dark Souls discussion difficult (and apologies if this has been mentioned elsewhere amidst one of the sprawling comment chains): Dark Souls is like riding a bicycle. It’s very much a learned skill, and once you’ve played enough it will never be quite so difficult or frustrating again.

    And I’m not talking on an individual, memorizing level layouts kinda way. When I played other games in the Souls series they immediately clicked. New mechanics alter the premise, but the base game is still there underneath. You know to check corners, to listen for sound cues, the type of things to look for in attack telegraphs, etc. And you know these instinctively, without needing to stop and think about them. It’s just a mode you slip into when you play.

    The most important part of this isn’t that it gets easier or that you die less, but that you’re more comfortable. You still feel the that excellent atmosphere, or the intimidation (and eventual joy) of overwhelming challenge. But the less immersive parts of the difficulty, like frustration and anger, pop up much less. Because ultimately, you’ve seen this song and dance before. You may feel underpowered or unprepared, but you still feel like you’re in control of the situation.

    It’s quite possible some people would never feel like that, even after playing for eons. But I think trying to push people to that point of comfort is what makes a lot of veterans annoyingly pushy/adamant about their position on the game. Because once you’re there, it’s a lot easier to appreciate all the things Dark Souls does well that have nothing to do with the difficulty (level design, world-building, character customization, etc).

    I can’t think of many games that are this hard to discuss, but on the flipside it’s also pretty fascinating to think about.

  25. Blake says:

    Your description of the Arkham challenges reminds me so much of the early Tony Hawks games in terms of skills and scoring. They were definitely games that took time to get good, but once you did you’d struggle to do bad.

    New players would be struggling to get 10,000 points in 2 minutes, competent players might be getting 100,000 in 2 minutes, good players maybe going for 1,000,000, and really good players could be aiming for 1,000,000 points in a single combo.

    Really high skill ceiling in those games, and I guess BATMAN is the same way.

    Edit: I think it goes even further, with both games being about getting longer and longer combos without a single mistake.
    Although I imagine Tony Hawks is the Dark Souls of Batman combo systems as making a mistake means getting 0 points (very punishing) where I assume the Batman combos give you points the moment the combo is broken by a mistake.

  26. Joey245 says:

    As an ardent Remember Me apologist, I’ll just say that you’re absolutely right about the combat not being the same as the Arkham series, because that’s not really what it was trying to emulate. Rather, it was more about move management and keeping a rhythm alive, and less about connecting solid hits and straight-up punching.

    I don’t know how far you got into the game, but it gets pretty wild and varied later on. As you go through the game, you unlock different punches and kicks with varying effects – some of them do more damage, some of them heal you, some reduce the cooldown on special powers, and some amplify the effects of what came before. You can chain them together in the combo lab to set up different combos that suited your needs – you could set up a combo for healing, one for recharging your power, and one for just dealing straight-up damage to tougher enemies. The challenge in combat then came from employing the combos you had set up at the right time, dodging enemies to keep the chain of blows and beneficial effects alive, and using them in conjunction with the other systems to bend each battle to your will.

    Sure, it’s possible to just blunder your way through (barely). But the reward for doing well comes from the soundtrack. As you deal more damage without being hit, the music escalates and keeps building on itself. It’s electronic-y and trap-like, and it gives a feedback loop of “Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere!” It’s almost like a rhythm game in that regard.

    It’s a very different beast to the Arkham series, is what I’m trying to say. I love both combat systems equally, but Remember Me just does not get enough love. After this is over, I really encourage you to give the game another try. You won’t regret it.

  27. Dreadjaws says:

    Ah, Joker’s Carnival. Easily the callenge had the most trouble with. It usually goes that I make three dozen attempts failing spectacularly at random points (by either letting myself be hit or “cashing in” at the wrong time), then I get sick and rage quit the game. I get a bit calmer, try again and after two dozen attempts like the same I perfectly and utterly breeze through the last time, getting all the medals.

    The trouble with this challenge is that it’s the only one of its kind, so you’re bound to make a mistake or two because of muscle memory. There are other challenges in which getting hit even once means instant loss. There are other challenges in which enemy difficulty rises exponentially. There are other challenges which require an extra step that’s not needed in regular gameplay. But all of those things put together is quite a lot of things you need to keep in mind at all times, and you’re bound to forget.

    The thing is that the “cashing in” mechanic means that being good at the game isn’t enough, you need to be at all times keeping it in memory, so as not to misuse it.

  28. Zak McKracken says:

    I think the fundamental difference between DS and the Arkham games, and the people who like each, is simply whether the player is motivated by setbacks or by rewards.

    Some people try a thing, fail, think “this is stupid” and leave it. Some others will keep trying until they master it. Both are actually valid strategies of dealing with problems.

    Some others will try a thing, manage it, think “that’s done” and leave, while others will try to do it even better next time. Both are also equally valid strategies of dealing with problems.

    It really just comes down to carrot vs. stick.

  29. Jay Allman says:

    I’m just going to raise my hand in the midst of this Dark Knight of the Carnival Soul carnage, wave a red handkerchief in Shamus’s direction, and say:

    I had the same experience with the Arkham Challenge Rooms that you did. It was really cool going from “It’s almost impossible to get a Bronze!” to “Pfft, if I don’t score at least double-gold on this Extreme map, then I’m a failure.” It was a great feeling.

    I think I did it the other way, though. I used the Challenge Rooms to train, then returned to the game to do better in the brawls and predator sections.

    No, I don’t have anything substantive to add. Just wanted to say that part of the article totally matched up with my experience too.

  30. Sleepy the Bear says:

    I’m probably commenting down at the bottom where only spammers (and maybe Shamus) reads. Hi Spambots, randos from the future, and maybe Shamus!
    One thing I’m appreciating about this series is Shamus articulating what he appreciated about Batman’s gentle encouragement to excellence, and analyzing how Dark Souls turns him off by demanding the same excellence to progress. It’s made me appreciate more what other people get from games, and how negative feedback can really turn people off from certain games.

    As someone who likes Dark Souls, I mostly enjoy the sense that the world and enemies largely play by the same rules that I do: enemies swinging big swords take a while to recover, they can be staggered if hit hard enough, or they can tank damage behind a shield. I find my fun in fighting mooks as I advance, bosses less so. Other times I find I enjoy the sense of exploration: I still remember the sense of relief of returning to sunlight after tromping all the way down to the lower bell, and then working my way back up through the sewers- which takes around 10 minutes if you don’t screw up.

    Dark Souls also has plenty of stupid bullshit, such as the barrels/boulders, which is mostly indefensible, but something that I can ignore and irrelevant to my enjoyment. However, my most hated enemies in Dark Souls 2, are the Drake-keepers who are these enormous guys who swing huge maces and hammers as if they weighed nothing, and have infinite stamina. I hate them because the game has broken it’s own rules, and broken the illusion that I am even remotely on the same footing as the NPC enemies.

    Over many playthroughs I’ve learned to develop a zen-like detachment in order to handle Dark Souls repeated slapdowns. And that zen-like calm can make a huge difference to finding the focus for the play required to defeat a boss or sequence of enemies. I don’t know that I find a great deal of enjoyment in beating bosses anymore, but I’ll be damned if I let some game defeat me. (I also hate how beating Dark Souls has become a shorthand for achievement – it’s not. It was designed to be beaten. Solving an open problem or writing a cogent essay is an achievement. Solving a hard homework problem or game is not the same variety of challenge, since it was meant to be solved or beaten.)

    One feature I’ve found from playing games on their highest difficulty is that it forces me to master my abilities within the game to even progress, in a way that lower difficulties do not require. I don’t know if Halo has been discussed here, but I found Legendary in Halo 2 impossible until someone told me about the Noob-combo: A fully charged plasma bolt to strip shields, and then a battle-rifle shot to the head. That combo will get you most of the way through that game. Playing on Heroic or Legendary generally requires a focused and aggressive style, and mastery over the weapons in order to kill enemies and make progress – alongside a great deal of luck. Understanding the interplay of when to push forward, what weapons to use, is something higher difficulty forces upon me, and I thus extract the most from the combat part of the game. The fast load-times help a great deal in keeping my frustration down.

    Some games screw that balance up – I’m currently replaying Mass Effect 2 on insanity (for the second or third time), and that game kills the fun by giving every enemy protection from Biotics. I have to hide behind cover, methodically strip defences, and then after 3/4 of the work of killing an enemy is done, I can finally use my powers and throw droids around like the mooks they are. This has removed much of the fun of playing the game – something I’m pretty sure Mass effect 3 fixed (for all it’s other sins). In addition, I loathe the pulsing synth music that plays when you die in Mass Effect. It feels like the designers are sneering at me – and yet somehow Dark Souls doesn’t trigger the same response.

    In relation to Batman, I’ve played Arkham Asylum and City, but I never really mastered the combat in terms of mixing up ability combos and keeping up a good flow. I muddled my way through, with the nagging sense I should be doing more. In contrast, muddling through Dark Souls still feels good since I finally beat an encounter against heavy odds. ( I just wish we kept the scale of that accomplishment in context: its a game that was meant to be beaten).

    For what it’s worth, I adored how the music escalated in Remember Me the longer you kept fighting without error, but glitched out when you were hit. It mirrored the feeling of soaring through mastery in combat, and hitting the earth with a thud when you screwed up.

    • GeoG says:

      I mean, we’re all randos from the future when you get right down to it. Maybe not the far flung future, but still.

      Except me: I’m, er, I’m a spambot. Buy nice hanbdags for great jusstice!

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Hi Spambots, randos from the future, and maybe Shamus!

      HE-LO HU-MAN

      Some games screw that balance up – I’m currently replaying Mass Effect 2 on insanity (for the second or third time), and that game kills the fun by giving every enemy protection from Biotics.

      I liked it on insanity because it required me to use all of my team instead of simply soloing everything.

      • Sleepy the Bear says:

        I do like the teamwork aspect – that ties into my comment about higher difficulty forcing me to master more of the games mechanics. I think ME3 spoiled me with biotic explosions, and they have different mechanics in ME2 which make them less universally useful.
        Playing as a Vanguard for the first time on Insanity might not have been wise, but I’m now powerful enough to dare using Charge regularly, which is making it fun again.

    • Syal says:

      Solving an open problem or writing a cogent essay is an achievement. Solving a hard homework problem or game is not the same variety of challenge, since it was meant to be solved or beaten.)

      Obviously it’s not in the same league as doing something that’s never been done before, but hard problems are meant to only be solved by applying certain lessons, and understanding and solving one can be a big improvement in the condition of the solver. It’s not an achievement on a community scale, but ‘personal achievement’ is a fine description.

      Hi Spambots, randos from the future, and maybe Shamus!

      Hey, I’m all three of those things!

  31. I bought Shadow of Mordor from Steam as it was on sale and I was curious about a game with these fighting mechanics and it was so easy I asked a refund because it was boring as hell, just smashing the attack button. The hard thing was to get killed!

    Eventually I got Arkham City, which is waiting to be repicked (way too many games unfinished) and it was much better. Yes, I can still make it through the combat without much skill, but at least I could tell before reading this there was some form of challenge to get flowing attacks.

    Maybe it’s because it’s directed to that kind of player that makes up the Football Manager whiners and FPS crybabies that don’t want challenges, but easy gratification in which the game lets them win and then they pat themselves and brag about how they know more football than Ancelotti. It’s just meant to give them a super easy action movie choreography scene maker, how cool you are. You could kill dragons so easy, that’s how you rock, take this dagger go kill that orc, splat.

  32. GeoG says:

    So all this talk of Arkham City and difficulty has inspired me to have a go through on Hard for the first time, and I’m just getting my ass handed to me! It was all going mostly OK until I went back to the Steel Mill for the second time, to find that the Joker is ironically no longer fooling around. It did feel like I was never going to get past Mr. Freeze and I’m pretty sure I only did ‘cos he got bored and thus sloppy. Good fun, though, and I have to take my cowl off to Shamus if he normally just breezes through this stuff en route to New Game Plus.

    Oh, and just as an aside, the shark cutscene lasts maybe two seconds if you ask me! Less, I’d say: it probably feels longer if you’re used to it, but it’s all in-engine and even from-normal-PoV, so when it came as a surprise it was over before I knew it. I didn’t feel it was immersion-breaking at all, although I’ll admit that I’m never very deeply immersed anyway.

  33. ArOne says:

    I honestly hate the AAA combat model that you see popularized by Batman and Assassins Creed. I prefer to have complete control of my character instead of the near automatic playstyle you see in these games. These games are more about making the fighting look good instead of asking the player to control the character. Due to this, the animations from one button press can vary wildly depending on distance and placement of the target so it makes it hard to plan how you’re next button press plays out. These games always feel like playing chess where a piece’s movement is changed after every move. In a broad strokes way it feels like trying to turn a good combat game into simon says.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You have complete control of batman.Just because you dont need 300 buttons for every variation of moves he does does not mean you can just sit back and watch while he does everything.The fact that there is rhythm in the combat does not make it mindless.

      • Christopher says:

        It’s not like other beat ’em ups use a ton of buttons. For most, you combine one light and one heavy attack button in different ways. Batman has a single punch button that you can’t control what does except for him launching himself at an enemy in some way. It’s not skill-less, but choosing different attacks and performing specific moves plays zero part in it. Rather, you’re choosing between a handful of manouvers, and “attack” is one of them(The others being cape stun, dodge and counter. The only attack moves you specifically choose are the button combinations moves that perform a special attack, like the ground finisher).

        While you certainly control Batman, you do not control him as directly as any other beat ’em up character. The Arkham games probably have the best version of this combat, while the Shadow of Mordor combat seems as mindless as that video where he hits the dodge button forever shows(The one Shamus linked in the last paragraph).

        • Christopher says:

          Having said that, I think most of the games that use this sort of combat struggle to have realistic-looking combat in plausible sandbox settings, like Sleeping Dogs or Assassin’s Creed. It wouldn’t be a traditional beat ’em up if you removed it, it would be whatever GTA or Saints Row has. One button for a melee attack or two, I think? I don’t think we’re losing traditional brawlers to Batman brawlers, we’re losing no combat at all worth mentioning to an actual system of combat.

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