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