The age of entitlement
In E266, Nathan Brown argued that gamers feel they are being duped by publishers who release early demo footage that doesn’t represent the quality of the final product. He also says that no company in its right mind would release footage of a game that it never intends to release, lest it lose its credibility and standing in the game industry, and therefore the gamers are wrong (I’m paraphrasing). I beg to differ. We all remember the lemon that was Aliens: Colonial Marines and the multiplayer and online issues that plagued Battlefield 4 and GTAV. Also, yearly instalments of triple-A titles that offer no innovations in gameplay and the inclusion of singleplayer campaigns that seem to be little more than an afterthought is cause for concern. One could even argue that the launch of PS4 and Xbox One were not what gamers could reasonably expect, with overloaded servers making it difficult or even impossible to use their long-awaited prize right away. I think it’s fair for gamers to be disappointed by this and be vocal about it.
The flip side is that publishers could become hesitant to release early footage. Case in point: Watch Dogs. After receiving backlash from the gaming community for delaying the game to make it better (something we should applaud, rather than disapprove of), the community is up in arms about Ubisoft supposedly failing to deliver on its promise with regards to graphical fidelity. The game isn’t even out! Overpromising and under-delivering is worse than under-promising and over-delivering, but that wouldn’t sit well with marketing.
The issue is that, in my opinion, gamers immediately feel entitled to receive everything that was ‘promised’ to them based on footage that was shown in the early stages of development, and that they disregard the most important thing: gameplay. I, for one, would rather play a great, engrossing game with a fluid framerate than a very pretty but crappy one. When I get sucked into a game, graphical fidelity is quickly relegated to second place. I love Borderlands 2 because it’s a great game, not because the graphics are pretty. I even played it on my PC in HD and then in 2560x1440, and all I noticed were some framerate hiccups, so I reset it to HD and it was better! Rein Lohman Precisely his point, Rein: the Internet is quick to react, and react extremely, to the difference between early footage and a stable, playable game. And while target renders and expensive CGI trailers are tools used, often questionably, to market games, no studio gains from wasting money on creating an entirely fake product it will never ship. Ultimately it’s a call for more understanding on both sides, asking developers to promise only what they intend to deliver and consumers to talk with creators and be understanding of the realities of developing games that are great to play, not simply great to look at in screenshots.
“Players misjudge difficulty by having one fixed approach, one idea about how they should play”
Bearer of the curse
I wrote in a few years ago about how I felt that I was ageing, and that my gaming had begun to suffer. I was playing games on easy and it made me feel ashamed. Yet my love for gaming hasn’t waned. If anything, thanks to the glory of Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, it has deepened.
I grew up with a NES, and I remember the moment I beat Mega Man 2, the sense of achievement when the final bubble shot hit home. Having tried for years to do it, I felt a sense of loss when I’d achieved what I believed was impossible. I had the same
sense when I beat the final boss of Dark
Souls II. However, I wasn’t alone this time. Glowing golden were my two aides, my two heroes. Without them, I would have struggled for weeks. But my mute guardians and I bested her together.
A lot of people talked about how voice chat would ruin the experience, but I have yet to come across any person who has spoken to me at all. The respectful bow when they’ve been summoned, the focus to help, and then the friendly wave, the bow, the grovelling prayers when success has been achieved: all the gestures stay with me. I remember the caster who helped me get past those blasted Ruin Sentinels, and the tank who smashed the Mirror Knight with me. I spent countless hours playing, but I still feel like I rushed it. So now I am onto New Game Plus, trying a wholly different style of play. Unlike Mega Man 2, which felt complete, Dark Souls truly is The House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski – it’s this ever-spiralling, groaning monster you can’t comprehend completely. I want to go mete out justice on those who invade others, especially those Bell-abiding gits! I want to camp out there and smash them with my hammer!
I can’t think of many games that have stayed with me as much as Dark Souls. I work in Old Street, near Shoreditch High Street station, and when the overground trains near my office brake, it sounds exactly like the spells cast in the Shrine Of Amana. Every time I hear it, my left finger twitches, bringing up a nonexistent magical shield to parry it. Every time I hear it, I am transported to Drangleic and its horrors, and it makes me smile.
We get reflexive Dark Souls II flashbacks, too, although in our case it’s thanks to a local newsagent who bears an eerie resemblance to Lenigrast, but who is unfortunately incapable of delivering any upgrades to our extensive sword collection.
When I first put a Dark Souls disc into the console, I couldn’t possibly anticipate what to expect. That was around February 2012. After hearing some praise about the game and the pains that it caused players, I was curious to check it out. In spite of all the talk, I wasn’t properly prepared to die. After a brief couple of hours, I dismissed it as impenetrable, overly punishing, frustrating and cheap. I approached it again some months later just to hit the wall of difficulty again and abandon it, presumably forever.
After the recent release of Dark Souls II this year, every day at work I heard my two colleagues doing their daily routine, where the morning “Hello” was quickly changed into, “Dude, yesterday in Dark Souls…” You can fill in the rest with enthusiastic tales of their misadventures that only rarely were silenced with self-restraint due to potential spoiler talk. For the Dark Souls laymen, such as myself, it was both tiring and kind of intriguing. So I decided to give the series one last chance, hoping for the ‘third time’s the charm’ saying to be true. Now it seems that some (or all) of Edge’s editorial staff is still playing Dark Souls, my colleagues are playing Dark Souls and, yes, I am also still playing Dark Souls. I finished the first playthrough after sitting in front of the game for nearly 60 hours and loving every minute of it. Difficult? Impenetrable? Cheap? Oh, how wrong was I.
As it was pointed in the Post Script to the Dark Souls II review in E265, Souls games are actually not that difficult. I’ve played far more difficult games that at first sight look like kiddy stuff – I’m pointing at you, Super Mario 3D World! For me, Dark
Souls is a game that essentially requires some patience and cold blood rather than twitchy reflexes. First and foremost, it challenges your greed rather than your skill: greed to end an opponent prematurely after a lucky opening with an ill-conceived blow, greed to ‘save’ health-replenishing Estus flasks for the next encounter, greed to traverse the fog and assault the boss without resting at a bonfire, which respawns all the nearby enemies. And the biggest sin of all, your greed in carelessly speedrunning through areas you’ve already ventured into to recover dropped souls. The game punishes you for this and that’s why it appears to be difficult, while in truth the player can mostly only blame himself for seeing “You Died”.
Discovering that was like a little revelation that allowed me to sink my teeth deep into the game. But it is a broader issue that comes down to gamers doing the same thing expecting a different result. Some might say that sounds like insanity. In Dark
Souls, it’s OK when you die ten times in a row trying out different tactics. But when you go for the 11th time with the same approach and die, it’s time to take a step back and rethink your actions. Often players misjudge games’ difficulty by having one fixed approach, one idea about how the game should be played. This is only supported by auxiliary systems pointing one direction, such as following the arrow on the HUD. This is not the case with Dark
Souls, which is one of the rare gems that genuinely has faith in thinking players. This is the most forward-thinking design in recent years, because it’s not afraid to empower its players with freedom.
Maybe the myth of Souls games’ difficulty is not based on the lessons that the series wants to teach us, but on the lessons that we’ve already learned but then forgotten throughout years of exposure to videogame tutorials that ask us to “Jump, if you wish to jump”.
Souls games play on how far you’re willing to push your luck, and have little respect for the incautious, which has translated into a reputation for difficulty. But they’re obtuse, and thus demand a thoughtful approach. Talking of thinking, work out which headset suits you best, and it’ll be on its way.