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Narrative Design in Dark Souls
by Tom Battey on 04/25/14 01:49:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

This post doesn't contain any spoilers for any of the Souls games, so rest easy, fellow undead.

I've been meaning to write about the Souls series' unique approach to narrative design for a while, but, well, I've been playing too much Dark Souls II. But as I'm bearing down on what must be the end of a 70-ish-hour playthrough I figure now is as good a time as any to discuss the way these games tell their stories.

I remember first playing through Demon's Souls back in 2009 and thinking to myself 'this game is awesome, but would be way more awesome with a proper story.' It seemed at the time to be a game heavy with atmosphere, but light on storytelling.

By 'proper story' I meant the way most roleplaying games deliver their narrative; via dialogue, cutscenes and text dumps. Wouldn't it be better, stupid, unperceptive 2009 me thought, if Demon's Souls featured lengthy dialogues with its characters, cutscenes depicting their exploits, and Elder Scrolls style text books to expound its lore?

No, 2009 me. It wouldn't be better. It took me a few playthroughs of Dark Souls before I really understood how elegant the story design is in these games, and how much more interesting this approach is than that employed by most other games in the genre.

In the Souls games, the narrative is woven directly into the world of the game. There are three primary ways the player can access narrative information; through the dialogue spoken by non-player characters, in the descriptions of the items found strewn across the world, and from the visual design of the world itself. Only by engaging with all three of these narrative devices can a player begin to get a wider picture of the game's larger story.

Dark Souls Knight
Every enemy, from bosses down to useless zombies, has a place in the story.

The real genius here is that this approach allows the player to interact with the story - or not - as much as they like. The game never breaks its flow to force it's narrative upon you; it instead gives you the choice of whether to delve into the deeper narrative or simply to take the game world at face value.

Most games that identify as story games will frequently break the action to deliver narrative exposition; it's something of a necessity if you intend to tell a traditional linear narrative in a videogame. The Souls games never pull you out of the game world to force story upon you; character dialogue is brief, usually only a few lines, and only expounded upon should the player choose to repeatedly engage a character. The lore of the game is tied primarily into item descriptions on the inventory screen.

This means that a player absorbs the lore of the game whenever they manage their equipment. The story beat about the fallen knight who once wielded a silver shield is encapsulated in the same piece of text that tells you how effectively the shield deflects magic damage. Again, it's entirely up the player whether they choose to engage with these fragments of story or not.

There are few game narrative techniques that I consider as lazy or as pointless than the in-game text book. Now I'm someone who likes rich lore in my games, who actively seeks out narrative details of a virtual world, and even I can't bring myself to read in-game text books. There's nothing more passive, less videogame-y, than sitting down in a game and reading a wall of text. And recording the text and playing it over actual gameplay as an audio log is hardly better - if a player really wants to listen to it they'll still have to find a quiet corner and sit still, as our brains (well, my brain) can't process words and actions at the same time very well.

What's great about the Dark Souls approach is that most players will check the item description page as part of the natural flow of the game - they'll want to find out what a new piece of equipment actually does. When they do, they also encounter a snippet of lore which they can choose to retain or completely ignore as they please.

Dark Souls Item
Item descriptions are far more than flavour text; each offers a tiny glimpse of narrative.

It's not just the description of the items that help tell the game's story; it's also where they are found in the world. A character might mention a legendary archer who was seen wandering into a forest, and later whilst exploring a forest ruin you find an enchanted bow on a corpse - this can either be nothing more than a sweet piece of loot, or a tragic tale of a hero who lost their life exploring the same ruin, depending on how to choose to approach the game.

What's great about this in terms of the wider field of narrative design is that this is a truly interactive narrative; it requires real engagement from the player to appreciate the deeper story of the game. Piecing together the grand narrative of a Souls game plays a bit like detective work, and requires a player to look at the game with an actual intent to find story - uncovering the full story of a Souls game is a game in itself.

It also mean that players who simply don't care about the lore of the game can ignore the story entirely and still experience the atmosphere of the world without feeling like they're missing out. Roleplaying games in particular have struggled with how much story information to push onto their players, and experiments with the genre have turned up narrative disasters like Final Fantasy XIII on one end of the scale and games like Skyrim and Mass Effect that carry their monstrous lore around in the form of entire novels worth of text on the other.

The Souls series elegantly embraces this issue and presents an approach that allows a game to have an incredibly deep lore - here's a video of a man talking for 30 straight minutes about one specific part of Dark Souls' lore if you don't believe me - without ever having to force this lore onto the player. From Software have created a narrative that is driven by the player, rather than one that tries to drive the player, and I find this approach suits an interactive medium far better than constant text dumps and reams of static dialogue.

The one issue, perhaps, is that players used to having a game's story fed to them in obvious chunks won't realise that they have to actively pursue the story and simply assume the game doesn't have one - that's the issue 2009 me had with Demon's Souls. I do hope, however, that more games embrace this gameworld-encompassing approach to storytelling, and that as they do, our expectations will change. We'll get used to having to actively engage with story in games, and our gaming experiences will be richer for it.

Tom Battey is an author and person who sometimes writes about videogames. He writes at tombattey.com and does the Twitter thing @tombattey.


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Comments


Michael DeFazio
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1000 times this... I feel like sometimes I'm a cheerleader for dark souls story, (not just the story, but HOW it's "told") there is so much there (and what they leave out or make ambiguous is as interesting as what they leave in...as it leads to discussion and speculation).

It's all the little things you don't see the first time around...

90% of people don't notice that when you meet Artorias, he is without his shield, and his shield arm is flopping around (broken)
http://youtu.be/pqxk80rZYmE

...Digging into the lore, you piece together that (he used his shields' power to protect Sif and his arm was broken during a fight with Manus or Kalameet).

They certainly didn't need to do this, (animate his floppy arm) but its so great that the game ties the story together this way and sweats the small details so someone willing to do their homework will get rewarded.

Tom Battey
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See, I'd never realised that about Artorias - that's another really cool detail, and the games are full of things like that.

There's another whole article's worth of writing about how their leaving things ambiguous allows for really interesting speculation and discussion. It's like the game's story becomes a sort of folklore, with everyone sharing their interpretation of events on message boards and comments threads.

Nick McKergow
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And here's another example of why this style of storytelling is so engaging. SPOILERS: You speculated that his arm was broken during a fight, but I would speculate (and probably argue with you about it) that it was broken during the act of shielding Sif. Specifically, that the extreme force Artorias was defending against, broke both the shield and his left arm. I might also speculate that the force was specifically the AOE magic attacks from Manus, and are also caused Artorias to be consumed by Dark.

This type of discussion occurs with almost every little bit of lore in the game, since there are so many contributing factors that exist in the game world to stimulate speculation and theory-crafting. It's also the reason that video posted in the article has almost 400k views.

Michael DeFazio
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:) Yes, Nick, it's precisely why I'd enjoy arguing one side or the other... they don't have this flashback cutscene where they give it to you on a silver platter...instead they let you figure it out if you wanna.

Miyasaki has always been careful about divulging too much interpretation from the lore so there isn't a particular "right" or "wrong" interpretation, it's the player's interpretation)

In the end is it up to the player to (not only) make the actions they take throughout the game and make them their own, it's also up to the player to decide "What happened? What is going on? Why are things this way? Is what I am doing Noble? Evil? or Selfish or Altruistic (Self Sacrificial)? Am I being manipulated?" it's all the gray and hazy areas that let you fill things in with your imagination and interpretation, and each scrap of information, from each dialog or description fills in the picture more clearly.

Lore Spoilers: (original Dark Souls)
So I can remember when the light came on for me with Dark Souls...
Early in the game I found the secret area under the elevator in Firelink Shrine, the items in the chests:
(4)Homeward Bones,
Morning Star,
(4)Lloyds Talisman
(4)Cracked Red Eye Orb,
Talisman

it all seemed really random...to me I couldn't understand how these things fit together. Later in the game, when Petrus is still around after Reah and her knights go to the catacombs i noticed that Petrus ALSO had a morning star, and he is also the guy who uses (miracles) talismans, and it occurred to me that finding these items was foreshadowing/evidence that Petrus was the one who rigged the elevator to not go to the Undead Parish, but also premeditated/planned his attack on Reah and her knights when they entered the catacombs (using Lloyds Talismans so they couldn't heal and invading them with Cracked Red Eye Orbs).

All that from piecing together the location of items, their descriptions, dialog, and noticing small things about NPCs players. (this hasn't been 100% confirmed in the dialog (and the unused dialog that has been uncovered, but generally accepted by the lore buffs) to me this is an amazing level of detail, and yet chances are, most people wont even notice unless they are REALLY paying attention.

Theresa Catalano
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I mean, I basically agree with you, I love the way Dark Souls presents it's lore, and I would love more games to do the same thing.

But there's one little problem... calling it "narrative." Dark Souls has very little narrative, that's what makes it different. What it has is a ton of backstory, and very little actual story. And that's a great approach, but I don't necessarily think that all games should follow suit. Narrative in games can be amazing when done well, even in the form of cutscenes. Persona 4, for example, has a brilliant story. Anyone reading this I'm sure can think of 5 other examples off the top of their head.

Not to trivialize your point, because I do love the type of storytelling Dark Souls uses, it is perfect for a gameplay focused game like Dark Souls. It's just not necessarily the best approach for all games.

Michael DeFazio
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"Anyone reading this I'm sure can think of 5 other examples off the top of their head."

Not to sound flippant, (I've not played Persona 4/5) but I honestly cant think of a single "amazing" game narrative (using your definition of Narrative). I find most of the games people talk about narrative to be ham-fisted, over the top, and generally disjointed with the actions you are taking in the game.

Examples:
Uncharted 2 is considered great from a dialog and character development perspective, and yet I found it laughable... I mean Drake is murdering people left and right and yet has time to play "Marco Polo" in the pool...? It's like what he does in the game (shoot and beat up trained soldiers by the truck load) and the personality he has (given his dialog) are way too disjointed.

Another example is Spec Ops the line... which really tried to make a point (war is bad?) though narrative... Having been in the military it seemed completely unrealistic. 1/3 the way through just ask yourself, "why am I doing this?... then leading by the nose and forcing me to kill people for no reason.

I could go on and on:
Mass Effect - with "Jedi" Shepard and laughable character "relationships" (exhast their dialog and then hit the sheets)
GTAIV, Red Dead, ...

It's like the game is one thing, (all the games I mentioned above had fun gameplay moments) yet the "narrative" for all these experiences is something completely disjointed to "who you are supposed to be based on how the character presents him/herself in the narrative".

TL;DR imho narrative games try too hard to be like movies, and limit a character's freedom (to set up some beautifully rendered cutscenes) and leave nothing to the imagination. I particularly hate it when I am playing MY character and yet am presented with options/dialog/narrative that I would never choose for the sake of ham fisted narrative.

Theresa Catalano
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I agree with you on all your examples. Uncharted 2, Spec Ops the Line, Mass Effect, none of them have very good narratives. IMO, some better examples of narrative in games, off the top of my head, are: Persona 4, Phoenix Wright, Ghost Trick, Virtue's Last Reward, Steinsgate, Dangan Ronpa, The Longest Journey.

You're right that the narrative parts in games tend to feel disconnected from the gameplay. But there's also games where they line up extremely well, like Ghost Trick.

The thing to keep in mind is that, when it comes to narrative, there is no "My character." You don't have a character. Rather, you are following along with the author's character. Because in a narrative, the main character is written by the author. If it's important to you to role-play your character how you want, then you probably don't really want a narrative in your game.

Michael DeFazio
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Fair enough, haven't played any of those games you've listed... I'll try Ghost Trick, it looks amazing from an animation perspective.

I suspect part of my "rant" relates to my tastes in story (I like cohesiveness, where I can step into the shoes of someone that acts believable based on the context of the situation).

To draw you a parallel (of what I mean outside of games) think about "Walking Dead" (TV Show)... I want to like the show but find almost all of the dialog and characters unrealistic, unlikeable and petty whiners...

They are in a fight for their lives at the end of the world and carry on like they are in an episode of "The Real World", and not "Saving Private Ryan".

...Maybe I'll try the Walking Dead game, I've heard great things.

Tom Battey
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I disagree that Dark Souls doesn't have a narrative - it's just not a narrative that your character is particularly central to. It has its cast of heroes and villains, and the fact that most of the key narrative beats happened long before the player arrives doesn't make it less of a narrative than, say, Persona, it's just a different sort of narrative.

And I'm not suggesting that all games should try and emulate Dark Souls when it comes to narrative design. I love a tightly-scripted game like Persona 4, but I also think that Persona 4 is the absolute best example of presenting story in a relatively linear role-playing game; I certainly haven't seen anything that does it better, and I struggle to see how anyone could really improve on it in terms of interactive narrative.

Dark Souls merely presents a fresh way of doing story in an RPG, one I happen to find the most interesting direction at this point in time.

Theresa Catalano
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@Micheal

The Walking Dead (the game) is pretty good, even if a tad overrated. I don't like the TV show either, but the game is fairly solid and has a good ending. Definitely try out Ghost Trick, it's a criminally underrated game, and the narrative is so amazingly well crafted that I can't imagine anyone not loving it.

@Tom

Right, it's a narrative that your character isn't central to, which therefore means it is not part of the game's narrative. It's backstory, not story. This is an important distinction, because when people talk about enjoying stories in games they are probably not talking about what Dark Souls does. And I love Dark Souls' approach, don't get me wrong... minimalistic storytelling backed up with very deep backstory is a great choice for a gameplay-focused game like Dark Souls. But it won't please people who are looking for story-focused games.

Yeah, I am in total agreement that Persona 4 is one of the very best examples. But I think there have been some recent games that are just as good... Dangan Ronpa and Virtue's Last Reward to name a few. The thing about that type of narrative design is that it doesn't really need "improvement"... good stories are good stories. Video games aren't reinventing the wheel, they are just combining classic storytelling techniques with gameplay. And that works for a very simple reason: many people who play games also like a good story. So as long as there are good storytellers out there, we can have more games like Persona 4.

But I do agree with you that Dark Souls' approach feels very fresh, and I enjoy it as well. Despite my nitpicks I agree with your basic sentiment wholeheartedly.

Tom Battey
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I do want to play Virtue's Last Reward, and some of those other DS games I've missed. Interesting how most of the examples you've listed are Japanese...Japanese developers seem to be much more comfortable with 'telling' a narrative than Western developers.

The only Western examples I can think of tend to feature a heavier roleplaying element, which always seems to interfere with constructing an effective narrative. Bioware and Bethesda come to mind, and their games, whilst excellently written, always seem to be reaching an uncomfortable compromise between storytelling and player agency.

And I totally agree that not every game needs revolutionary narrative design...I mean I still write novels where all the words stay in the same order all the time, so that's hardly progressive. A good story told well is the backbone of narrative design whatever medium you use to tell that story.

I just find emergent narrative mediums very interesting, and the Souls games present a form that seems extremely fresh, and often, I feel, goes unnoticed by players.

Theresa Catalano
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Right, it does seem like Japanese are more comfortable with that. Some of the best narratives I've experienced in games come from the Japanese, in the form of straightforward stories that don't try to hard to fuse in roleplaying elements. That allows them to get a lot more creative and intricate with the plots / characters.

Western developers often cater more towards role-playing, which sacrifces some important storytelling tools for the sake of allowing the player to "immerse" themselves in role-playing their character. On the other hand, there are also western games that tell a story straightforwardly. I'm not a fan of most of the recent ones (I don't like the trend of imitating Micheal Bay style movies) but if you dig deep you can find some great ones. My absolute favorite is The Longest Journey / Dreamfall. Some incredible writing in those games.

Judging by the popularity of Dark Souls lore videos, and by how many people I hear talk about it, I'd say there's quite a few who've noticed the Souls games' storytelling. So I wouldn't worry.

Jennis Kartens
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I disliked the way DS "told" it's story. It baits with mystery, but in the end it offers too little, too seldom. I barely followed any of it, since the gameplay overshadows it so much.

I'd wished for more. A tighter web of information and a better inclusion of the world, which is equally strong in it's presence as the gameplay.

I found the DS2 approach a bit better (sadly not really good executed)

Especially if one starts a game with an outstanding CGI sequence (or great Intro, like FEAR back in 2005) it weights double when there is almost no follow up to that.

While I agree that, though comfortable for quick entertainment, the way of "movie storytelling" is not the only or best way, but additional information for players is something I strongly miss in Dark Souls.

Compare for example to Outcast: It has a very strange world with weird aliens which are constantly drifting to use their own language. So the game provides you even with a small dictionary to dive into the world. I think the entire absence of ANY kind of information in Dark Souls really doesn't show great game/story design. If I have to read up everything on external websites, the games narrative has failed.

Michael DeFazio
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I totally respect your opinion, but I wanted to comment on this statement:

"If I have to read up everything on external websites, the games narrative has failed."

Seems like what you dislike about the game is the very thing I love about the game... You do not need to know anything about the story to beat the game and enjoy the experience...(I completely beat the game without thinking about any of it) the key here is that the Souls games are a dark mystery...it is open ended and I think it's a major reason why people want to go through the experience more than once (NG+,...). (Maybe the "Link the Fire" ending is the "good" ending?... maybe the "Dark Lord" ending is the good ending?)

I realize you might want "more" delivered to you from a narrative perspective, but, for me, the commentary and discussions about the mysteries in the game is hugely compelling, and why there are hours and hours of lore videos from many different perspectives...with millions of hits/likes. (I can't say the same for narratives in other games that I'm aware of). Again this is a personal preference thing, so I don't mind that you consider it lacking. (different strokes for different folks)

FWIW
I went and looked up Outcast and found the kickstarter after reading this, and watching the gameplay videos of the reboot... Initially I was wowed by the concept, and even in the early stages it holds alot of promise... however when it gets to dialog my interest waned... to be frank, I the idea of being in an alien world exploring the surroundings and encountering new and interesting creatures does appeal to me, but interacting with Jar Jar Binks does not (I like the more Metroid all alone figure it out for yourself idea the swapper comes to mind http://store.steampowered.com/app/231160/).

Jennis Kartens
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Michael,

I can very much understand your point from a perspective, that DS creates such a strong atmosphere, that you start wanting to know what the hell is going on :) So in this particular case I can relate to your opinion, even though mine is different.

PS: Outcast came out before that horrible Star Wars prequel :( May not be the best example here, but it was just from the top of my mind.

Tom/Theresa

You're not wrong here, there is plenty information provided.

The thing is, that since no information is kept (and a lot of it burried deep) you have to remember every tiny bit of it and it's location etc. I personally would have to sit down with a notebook and write everything down to keep it in mind. I think 2014 may be a time where this shouldn't be the case. Too retro, for my taste (been there, many years, many games :-))

I tend to play a lot of games parallel and some of them have to pause for a week or so. In cases of DS, which can take a month to "complete" depending on the playstyle, informations like these tend to be forgotten.

I neither have a problem with "minimalistic" and "mystery" way of DS telling it's story, I simply wish it would keep that information for me because I loose track of most of these things.

Another example here I still love very much: Gothic 2 (1 too I think).

When you got a quest or someone told you something related to quests, you got a diary entry. BUT instead of giving away everything or just repeating the dialogue, each entry was a personal description in their own words. It almost never gave away the unknown, but it provided a strong web for all the information you gathered.

For my personal taste, thats the very best way to do it. Providing informations somewhere to read, but make it in a way that you still need to put the pieces together on your own. That is essentially what I miss in DS 1/2.

Tom Battey
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I can understand wanting something a bit more concrete to the storyline - but I think the fact that you don't HAVE to look up anything on external websites to get the story is actually one of Dark Souls' strong points. All the information - well, as much as it's willing to give away - is available in the game, but it's up to you whether you want to search for it or not.

If you don't want to search for these things yourself, then other people have you covered - there are hours of YouTube videos dedicated to both analysis and speculation. But you don't have to use them to get an understanding of the story.

Theresa Catalano
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I just want to echo the above sentiments. All those external websites are doing are pointing out things within the actual game. These are all things you could have noticed yourself, if you took the time to read item descriptions, pay attention to dialogue, and think about how various situations play out.

But the great thing about Dark Souls is not just how it tells a story, but how it takes advantage of that. It is purposefully minimalistic so that the focus is on the gameplay and the personal journey if your character. This is what gives Dark Souls it's incredible atmosphere. So it's not just that the type of storytelling is good, but also that it is a perfect marriage with the other elements of the game!

Pedro Fonseca
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I agree with everything said so far, both in favor and against DkS's narrative style.

For starters, I think it is actually great that more than a single style exists, if every single game started telling its story DkS style, it would get annoying and lose appeal fast.

The thing that wows everyone about DkS narrative is that it actually makes use of internet culture to strengthen it due to half-explained pseudofacts and does a great job in making the character onscreen "be" the player.

Think about it, the undead onscreen is as confused and scared as the player, going forward by what NPCs tell him, without truly considering whether he's being told the truth or is being a mere cog in someone else's agenda.

Furthermore, you cannot stay dead, which is the in-universe explanation of the infinite continues the player has and then there's the hollowing, constant loss of souls and drive to continue your journey, which sounds a lot like losing interest in the game and ceasing to play it.

Still, there is no perfect tomato sauce, so it is not a narrative style nor explanation of facts that goes with any sort of game. Hell, most games would be absolutely nonsensical if they dared to explain in-universe continue mechanics or loss of interest.

Let alone that DkS's style doesn't really do much in the sense of a main character with a proper story to tell, as opposed to DkS's "make your own legend" standpoint (and both are perfectly fine and ejoyable, really).

And to sum it up, I seriously hope not every game does it DkS way, because if everyone starts doing it, then no one is truly doing it.

Andreas Ahlborn
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While I agree with most of what your article states, I still feel there`s a lot that can be improved.

Its one thing to give the player the freedom to uncover layer for layer of the story on his own and another to obfuscate it willingly to make it seem more "deep" than it actually is.

Then there is this huge dissonance of the imo great visual vs. the often second rate audio design that is a major distractor for me personally to take the "lore" serious, most of the npcs and their dialogues are ridiculous at best, and the decision to have almost no ambient music might emphasize the "bleakness" of the world but makes it also "empty".

Compared to a "rich" fantasy world of say Tolkien or GOT Dark Souls feels very shallow and some of the videos from ENB (wjich you linked to in your article) are nothing more than your typical overexcitement about the most nerdy aspects of a franchise which has now gone full mainstream but hasn`t actually (imo) the qualities you are kind of "summoning" in your article.

Don`t get me wrong: I like this interwoven/uncoverable story-paradigm a lot, but i find the details in Dark souls very poorly executed.

Tom Battey
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See, I disagree; I'm of the opinion that the ambiguity of the storytelling is part of its strength. It encourages conversation, encourages players to interact with the story outside of the game. Sure, 30-minute speculation videos on YouTube might be nerdy as all hell, but that's part of the fun. It's closer to traditional roleplaying in that sense; everyone's experience and interpretation of the story is a little different, and for an interactive medium I think that's impressive.

The trouble with trying to implement a 'rich' Tolkien-esque story in a videogame is that the 'richness' of such a text comes from reams and reams of static lore, which is difficult to implement in an interactive way. The result is the Elder Scrolls, which has a very deep lore, but one you can only really appreciate by reading a ton of in-game text.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a completely valid way of telling a story in a game, and I do love me an Elder Scrolls game, but it does seem like an awkwardly static way of telling a story in an interactive medium. Dark Souls' solution may not be perfect, and certainly isn't to everyone's taste, but it's a lot more elegant and, importantly, genuinely interactive.

Tom-Olivier Martin
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The methods you pointed out are excellent ways of providing backstory without breaking the flow of the game. However, Dark Souls isn't trying to tell you a story and narrative is not its primary focus: it's primarily a combat game that rewards players that take the time to engage with its narrative elements (and who are willing to overlook the poorly-delivered dialogue -- I had trouble with that).

Are there any narrative elements of Dark Souls you think they could have done better, or that you thought were poorly executed?

Tom Battey
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Quite a few, actually. Now I actually love the voice acting and dialogue delivery, because it's hilarious, but yes, if they wanted to be really serious about storytelling, they need to hire better voice actors and proper editor (a role which I would be happy to fill, should anyone from From Software's HR department happen across this...)

They could also benefit of deciding exactly what sort of agency the player has over the game's narrative arc - you start off with a very vague goal (escape the Undead Asylum? Try to fix the curse?) which is fine, only you end up becoming the King of the World for reasons that are never entirely clear. Now I like the general opaque nature of the plot, but I think the player's active part in it is the one thing that would benefit from being put front and centre. Essentially, I'd like it if I developed a greyer sense of purpose over the course of the game, rather than feeling like I'm ambling towards a goal that's been decided for me by someone else, be it Kingseeker Frampt or the Emerald Herald.

And they need to sort their endings out. Again, I appreciate they're deliberately leaving things vague, but I do want some sort of payoff after my 60+ hours of graft. Some sort of interactive epilogue would suit these games fantastically.

Michael DeFazio
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I'd agree with Tom about the ending for Dark Souls (I)... seemed rushed (not much of a payoff for the challenge)... I'm fine with the ambiguity, but the execution seemed wanting...

The Epilogue Idea sounds great...

(SPOILER)
you CAN go the extra mile to save Solaire, (But you have to do things in a specific way that I won't describe) ...and it'd be nice at the end to get a special nod for saving him and teaming up with him for he last fight against Gwyn if he survives.

I'm not saying they have to go all cutscene crazy, but I still absolutely loved how From handled the Penetrator Boss fight if you summoned Biorr...
that sound byte "One more Demon Down..."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPwg47SXSsc&feature=youtu.be&t=2m

...still gives me chills.

Glenn Sturgeon
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The souls games are similar to the way they delt with the stories in the king's field games. Theres alot more there than first meets the eye. They don't just spell it all out for you, they design great games with and around the stories.

Tom Battey
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I never played the King's Field games, but I understand the Souls series is something of a spiritual successor to them, so it makes sense that the narrative design is similar.

Daniel Ferrer
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I also really liked the way Dark Souls told its story. However, I'm the kind of player that sometimes will read the lore, and sometimes won't, depending on my mood. I'm also the kind of player that doesn't have the time to play every single day, and sometimes I spend months between play sessions.

So in games with huge cutscenes like Assassin's Creed, if I stop playing for some time and then return, I remember exactly at what point in the story I am. In Dark Souls? I've completely forgotten about the small pieces of dialogue that vague NPC told me, and even though I know where I am headed, when I eventually reached one of the game's endings, I had no idea what I had just seen, and had to watch a couple of Lore videos on Youtube.

Also, at the beginning of the game, because the objectives are set to vaguely (ring a bell in the north and another one in the south) I ended up walking into one of the most advanced zones in the game (and because this was Dark Souls, I thought maybe that was the difficulty everyone was going on about).

What I'm trying to get at is... I understand how great this way of telling a story is, but a little bit of extra narrative would've been appreciated. Perhaps aim the camera for a couple of seconds towards the recommended beginning area, perhaps a little reminder of what you are trying to do every now and again.

After completing Dark Souls, I've started playing Demon's Souls, and for now the story and your objectives seem pretty clear, with only a little more exposition.

Tom Battey
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Demon's Souls did make it a lot clearer what you were supposed to be doing, but then Demon's Souls all happened from a central hub, so you couldn't really go wrong.

I also ended up wandering into the wrong place in Dark Souls - twice, actually. I found this a great - and terrifying - part of the experience, but can absolutely understand how this would be frustrating, especially with no prior Souls experience.

I agree a little extra signposting would go a long way - nothing blatant, just a subtle shove in the right direction. Dark Souls 2 is even worse for this; there were a couple of points where I had literally no clue where to go next, and not in a particularly fun way.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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You mean stopping gameplay to deliver lengthy and oftentimes unneeded exposition isn't the best way to deliver story?! I think often times players confuse the need for story with the need for respite or a break in gameplay to let the player relax, Darksouls has its grinding and backtracking mechanics for that though. I think the modern era of technology can afford more in the atmosphere department, its something that has a different aesthetic to it than most mediums and allows games to depart from the more stop and go storytelling. I also think if you want to do some light exposition its great to do it during more routine gameplay scenarios like seen in bastion. Its not uncommon for people to play games while watching television or something, I think thats to the credit of people being able to multitask and the fact that most of the things on television are recognizable as an archetypical set of situations that people find comforting to relate to not so much as a dramatic exploration of the human condition demanding their constant attention, I don't think i could play games and watch something as indepth as game of thrones lets say. Stop and go narrative is already starting to become a thing of the past, bioshock infinite delivers heavy exposition at the end of the game during a small movement section.

The only suggestion i'd have for darksouls is to maybe make the characters feel more alive and less like set pieces, the engine can even support them as active set pieces i'm surprised they don't take more advantage of that, i guess they wanted to avoid the potential for clunky AI breaking immersion. Fortunately thewriting gave them more character this time around, and made it more obvious that their lives also suffer from the same tragedy yours does.

I think the lesson darksouls continues to teach everyone is that there's an elegance to simplicity, and the old overambitious style of ps1 gaming was mostly marred by hardware and development/cost constraints, not a lack of ideology or vision.


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