It’s ter­ri­ble! And in­cred­i­ble! And ev­ery­thing in be­tween

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In the re­cently pub­lished Dark Souls II: De­sign Works, FromSoft­ware art di­rec­tor Daisuke Satake talks of how play­ers re­sponded to cer­tain aspects of the game’s shim­mer­ing Look­ing Glass Knight boss. “I heard a lot of peo­ple say that they loved [the char­ac­ter’s] wings,” he says, “though my per­sonal favourite as­pect was the head. You never know ex­actly what peo­ple are go­ing to like.” It’s a good il­lus­tra­tion of how the land­scape has changed for videogame de­sign­ers and artists, un­bound by the power of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and given the free­dom to ex­press them­selves in ways that were once un­think­able. Many years ago, we could be more ob­jec­tive: a chunky, su­per-low-res­o­lu­tion piece of art ei­ther looked like what it was sup­posed to rep­re­sent – a shield, a post­box, a ta­ble lamp – or it did not, leav­ing lit­tle room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. To­day, a game’s value, from the con­struc­tion of its en­vi­ron­ments to its lead char­ac­ters’ out­fits and even the way they wear their hair, ex­ists much more in the eyes of the be­holder – and nat­u­rally the world of videogames is a more tex­tured place for it.

It can put game de­vel­op­ers in some awk­ward po­si­tions, how­ever. “I’m re­ally ex­cited for this game,” one fo­rum user posted hav­ing watched Dark Souls III’s in­tro trailer in early Fe­bru­ary, “but that was a dis­ap­point­ing open­ing…” The appraisal was fol­lowed 27 min­utes later by a con­trast­ing view from an­other con­trib­u­tor: “Way to blow my fuck­ing socks off. I am so ready for April 12th.” Where do you go when faced with feed­back such as this? (Other than straight to the lo­cal pub, pre­sum­ably.)

It’s es­pe­cially rough for FromSoft­ware, which in Dark Souls has cre­ated a game se­ries ca­pa­ble of stir­ring up fan emo­tions like few oth­ers, en­sur­ing that its work is scru­ti­nised to an ex­tra­or­di­nary de­gree. But there is irony here in that th­ese games have al­ways en­cour­aged play­ers to con­sume them in their own dis­tinct ways, of­fer­ing no sin­gle route or method­ol­ogy for suc­cess, and grey ar­eas aplenty. On p62 we look at what we’ll be fac­ing as we try to work out our own ap­proach to Dark Souls III.

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