DIS­PATCHES JULY

EDGE - - KNOWLEDGE THIS MONTH -

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.

Anand Modha

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.

Seek souls

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”.

Kamil Bazy­dło

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.

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