Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Five Minutes Of... Demon's Souls
arrowPress Releases
August 20, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Five Minutes Of... Demon's Souls

November 29, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[Five minutes of... is a series of video game investigations by Margaret Robertson, former Edge magazine editor-in-chief and current development director of social game studio Hide&Seek. Here, she explores what five minutes of play reveals about a particular video game, this time focusing on what the punishing Demon's Souls teaches us about failure.]

Alright then, Demon's Souls. Let's do this.

Sometimes it's hard to pick a game to talk about five minutes of. Sometimes it's easy. Demon's Souls is a game I've only ever played five minutes of, no matter how long I play it for. This is because I play the same five minutes every time I play. I don't mean the same five minutes in a Halo 30-seconds-of-fun kind of way. I mean the same five minutes.

Many of you will have had the same experience with Demon's Souls, or are having the same experience now with the sequel Dark Souls. If you haven't played it, it's that middling-brown hack-n-slashy RPG from From Software -- who you dimly remember were the guys who made Otogi -- and which you are sick of reading web comics about.

I hated those five minutes of Demon's Souls. Hated them the first time, hated them the tenth time. I persevered because I was surrounded by all the hype and reverential masochism: "it's hard, but the good kind of hard". I went back, again and again, with renewed hope each time, but found nothing but frustration and confusion.

As game worlds go these days, it's pretty grim. Gloomy, and murky, and woundingly derivative. There is little time to get your bearings, or to establish any sense of connection with this unlikeable world and this unwieldy avatar. There are corridors and shambling enemies and, after a bit of ungratifying flailing around, you meet your first serious opponent, who kills you. Then you do exactly the same thing again. And then you do it again.

I did not find it to be the good kind of hard. I railed about not understanding what kind of fun I was supposed to be having. Is this an equipment game? A min-maxing, load-out-juggling, inventory-tweaking thing? I like those. But this isn't one of those. So is it a brawler? Is this a nice, meaty, ponderous-but-precise third-person combat game where I need hone combos and rhythms and frame-perfect timing? I don't like those, really, but it turns out that doesn't matter, because this isn't one of those either.

So is it tactical, explorey fun? Is this about being smart about how I navigate maps, how I use space, how I manage resource? Cos those, I really really like. Which would mean I would really really like this, but I don't, and that turns out to be because it isn't one of those either.

And so I abandoned it, not sure if I was smarter than those who'd been transfixed by it, or just weaker. But now Dark Souls is out, and the hype has started anew. Friends I love and strangers I admire tell me of its glories. But it was hard to get excited about the new game when I had my abandonment of the original on my conscience. Before I could go on I would have to go back, and to my enormous surprise, I found that I wanted to.

This is because, in the interval between my first taste of Demon's Souls and my recent reprise, I've had a lot more practice at failure.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

Yoh — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Rendering Engineer Job
Yoh — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Multiplayer Designer Job
Firaxis Games
Firaxis Games — Sparks, Baltimore, Maryland, United States

Senior Visual Effects Artist
Nordeus — Belgrade, Serbia

Senior Game Designer


Matthew Mouras
profile image
As one who played Dark Souls for 20 hours and got nowhere before quitting in disgust, I enjoyed this article very much. You eloquently described the feelings I couldn't comprehend let alone put into words. Thank you! Maybe it's time to try again with a fresh perspective....

Or maybe not. I'm still upset that I got attacked for trying to free that pyromancer from the barrel with my sword instead of "rolling" into him. What kind of counter-intuitive garbage design is that?! I'm helping you!

*sigh* Yes... it's time to try again.

Ted Milker
profile image
This sounds like a nod to the popular phrase 'Do a barrel roll!' from Star Fox 64. Was the pyromancer's name Peppy?

David Holmin
profile image
It's a reoccuring theme in the game. You need to pause and think before doing stuff. I actually did stop, think "I probably shouldn't hit this guy", then rolled into him, without anyone telling me before that's how it should be done. But yes, in most other games, it would be bad design. Here it follows the rest of the game. In general, I loved the fact that you can kill any NPC, and have no chance of getting them back. I killed the shopkeeper in The Undead Burg early on when I wanted to see what happened when you hit him and he started fighting me. Then I couldn't get arrows in any way which gave me some trouble. That's when I knew this game was different. Not saying it's a perfect game, or the best game ever, but I like it a lot.

Nicholas Muise
profile image
This article was hilarious. Thanks!

Harold Myles
profile image
Now perhaps you are ready for real failure and should play Dwarf Fortress.

The game who's tag line says it all: Losing is Fun.

james sadler
profile image
I really enjoyed this article. I think we put too much focus on winning in our lives. Winning doesn't mean anything unless one has to work for it, and Demon's Souls really makes you work for it. I was much like you when I picked the game up. A lot of my friends talked about how amazing it was, I read a ton of reviews, but I still didn't really have an interest in the game. It wasn't until about six months later that when I saw it on sale for $20 that I picked it up. I was super excited to play it. I put it in the system and played for maybe an hour or two before I shut the system off (muttering a few dozen curses at the game). I didn't pick the game back up until this last September. I was able to sit back and play the game with a lot more understanding and calmness. I can't say that it hasn't been shut off with more curses thrown it's way, but I have played it here and there as the months have gone by.

I did rent Dark Souls after it was released to see how I might feel about it and I did actually like it a little more than Demon's Souls. It is harder in some aspects, but seems a little easier in others. I still haven't finished Demon's Souls and I have a feeling Dark Souls will be waiting for me under the Christmas Tree this year, so I will be spending the next few weeks honing my expletives and anger management skills.

Gregory Kinneman
profile image
This is the experience I have every time I go into an arcade, fish out $0.50 and play a game of Pac Man. Sometimes I beat level one by the end of my 3 lives, sometimes I don't. I don't really feel the need to play a 2nd game, but it's satisfying in its own way.

Pedro Mancheno
profile image
What I love about Demon's and Dark Souls is how I find myself setting up these tiny challenges as I push through the game: "Ok, now I have to nail this jump" or "Now that I'm past this group of mobs, I have to figure out how to take these on".

It reminds me of old-school games where there was no tutorial or in-game help of any sort. It was all about exploration, adventure, wonder and frustration, but most importantly, it was about perseverance.

DS is all about crushing you down and forcing you to approach it in a humble manner to be able to conquer it by raw wit, skill and patience. To me, that is one cathartic experience which is not common in games nowadays.

James Sutherland
profile image
Having played Dark Souls recently it made me realise what exactly I was missing from the current crop of games, it was failure and death and most importantly fear. The game I have put more time into than any other is Angband and its many variants(yes the old roguelike with perma death).

The sense of trepidation when you enter a new area knowing that you could literally lose everything raises the level of the experience so far beyond the games being designed for the market of the "WoW generation" where getting rewarded, regardless of actual input is the expectation.

As a game developer I`m always second guessing whether i`m too hardcore in my thinking but as a father I really wish my kids could better appreciate the risk vs reward philosophy from games like DS and Angband and apply them in life

Dedan Anderson
profile image
games ARE about losing everything else is just an activity.

Carlo Delallana
profile image
Failure can be fun, just look at the Burnout series and Angry Birds. It's fun watching people fail at Angry Birds because they would double down on their efforts instead of quitting the game.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
profile image
I was thinking the the other day that Angry Bird is the proof that growth-minded games (games where you fail often) can have mass-appeal. A lot of people live under the illusion that difficulty is opposed to accessibility. As long as it is clear to the player that its his fault that he failed...

Andrew Brown
profile image
Very funny article, but I wouldn't use the argument to create a sales pitch for the general public... Unless you really REALLY like failure. :)

David Holmin
profile image
I haven't played Demon's Souls, but I thoroughly enjoy Dark Souls. It has some dips, and I would've liked it more without the grind aspect I think (experience system), but overall it's a very compelling game to me. What I don't understand is that almost all attention it gets concerns its difficulty. It's challenging, yes, but not more so than older games we play and love (Mega Man, Castlevania). It's got great atmopshere, tight gameplay, interesting levels (with well-designed secrets, haven't seen that since '96). And really, the location design is ridiculously cool. Compare those complex, multi-layered places with anything out of, I don't know, most other games today. It's a very different and interesting game, that reintroduces many forgotten game elements, as well as introduces some new ones. It's a rough diamond, and all people talk about is its difficulty?

EDIT: The article is good, by the way. I didn't mean to decry it in any way, if that's what it sounded like.

Robert Hewson
profile image
Brilliant! Love this article... it's so true. It's actually picked me up and made me relish the beginning of yet another day of doing things badly... bring it on!

David Serrano
profile image
Anyone working in the AAA industry on any level who thinks Demon Souls / Dark Souls are examples to be followed or praised should have their head examined. Honestly, wake the f**k up. If you'd like to set the progress core gaming has made as a form of primary mainstream entertainment back 20 years, make more abominations like Demon Souls and Dark Souls and market them to the core audience.

Let's drop the pretense that Demon Souls / Dark Souls are games designed to challenge, because they are not. They are gamified masochism simulators designed to appeal to the .01 percent of the people in the world with Self-Defeating Personality Disorders a.k.a. masochistic personality disorder. Which shouldn't surprise or shock anyone since Kei Hirono, the producer of Dark Souls freely admits the games are masochistic:

I mean, my god... what the hell is going on within the industry? Stop pandering to less than 1 percent of the audience and stop throwing flowers at the feet of a development team the entire industry and the gaming press should condemn.

And Margaret Robertson, no joke... if you're not already, get yourself into therapy before you hurt yourself or someone else.

Gerald Belman
profile image
LOL. You are a little nutty. Margaret is not the one who needs therapy.

If I remember correctly, beating Super Mario Brothers is extremely difficult. That was about 20 years ago.

Why do we even have difficulty levels in the first place? - To you it seems there should be one difficulty level. David Serrano mode.

Michael Joseph
profile image
Baby food for everyone!

Harold Myles
profile image
Thankfully not everyone is trying to produce AAA titles that, due to large budgets, must have mass market appeal. AAA doesn't mean 'Cream of the Crop', it just means big budget.

Games remain relevant and interesting largely due to games like Demon's Souls, Geometry Wars, Dwarf Fortress, Minecraft, Portal, etc...

Joakim Hagdahl
profile image
As many games, good or bad, there are a lot of elements in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls that are worth taking notice of. This article may not point them out as clearly as others but it's certainly a worthwhile article.

The 'industry' as a whole needs to take inspiration from more games and from outside the industry. The first DS had unique multiplayer elements that stood out uniquely against a mass of games that all try to improve on the simplification of matchmaking and so on.

Matthew Calderaz
profile image
Nonsense. You are not the target demographic for either DS game.

Go play Uncharted, Gears of War, God Of War or a plethora of other ego-boosting titles where difficulty is watered down and the protagonists are all super-humans. (Fine games, all, but the appeal is different than that of the DS games).

It's unquestionably true that many folks don't find value in overcoming adversity for it's own sake in their games; and on the extreme end of that scale you have the folks that 'game shark', cheat codes and trainers are made for. (Or the more recent 'give me an edge' type DLC).

Those of us that feel differently will happily continue supporting From Software and other developers that don't care to cave to 'mass market appeal'.

Now, that's not to say that *every* game should be this hard; just as not every game should be an 'interactive drama' like Heavy Rain.

David Holmin
profile image
At least they are not boring as shit like most other modern games in the genre (God of War, anyone?). They have complex level design with interesting secrets, incredible location design and art direction, and wonderful atmosphere. It also features a tight, skill-based fighting system. If you could look past it's (vastly exaggerated) difficulty which draws all the attention, and still not see the qualities, that's a shame.

But don't worry, I have a feeling the industry won't change because of those games. If you're content with the AAA games we get today, you won't be disappointed in the future. Won't you let the occasional game like Dark Souls be a light of hope to me, in what I call The Death of Games?

Kevin Patterson
profile image
As someone that works a normal job, game time is a relaxing have fun time.

Dark Souls/Demon Souls sounds like the Ninja Gaiden on the xbox kind of fun, where you reload and reload and have to fight the same fights over to you beat it. If I had a ton of game time, that would be ok, but since I dont ill be ignoring this game and playing Skyrim instead...........

David Holmin
profile image
You don't load in Dark Souls. You just respawn. But fine, play Skyrim, but let us who enjoy Dark Souls enjoy it in peace. I have a feeling you get more modern games you like than I do.

Craig Jensen
profile image
Fun article.

I have to admit that I liked Demon's Souls because it reminded me of King's Field I. It had a minimalistic art style that felt so barren and lonely. So whenever you do meet someone there is this added poignancy. It just feels so chilling and crystalline and I find the art direction really impressive.

I heard about difficulty with Demon's Souls but didn't really find it to matter much. You learn how to survive and then get to a point where you can repeat to level yourself as high as you need to be, and you are good. It is not much more difficult than many games out there.

I remember when I got Demon's Souls for Christmas a couple (?) years ago, I played it almost every second that I didn't have to take care of the kids or go to work or whatever. I definitely did not have to force myself to play it. So I am not sure where people are coming from when they say this...If you really aren't enjoying it just go play something else. There are TONS of games that I have bought where I don't enjoy them and they just get pitched away and that's that...I have too much going on to waste my time playing games I don't enjoy.

profile image
It's not the difficulty that finally defeated me in Dark Souls, it was the tedium, specifically the level ending in the Gaping Dragon boss fight. Until then I'd probably spent 20-30 hours getting more or less competent at combat; not enough to riposte with any regularity, but OK, I thought.

The first time I got killed by the Gaping Dragon, it was expected. As was the second, third and fourth time. What was unexpected was the 15-20 minute walk required to have the privilege of getting killed by the Gaping Dragon repeatedly.

I like wasting my time as much as the next person, but this is a genital-piercing model of "gaming".