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Quest undying: Understanding the appeal of Dark Souls Exclusive
Quest undying: Understanding the appeal of  Dark Souls
February 13, 2014 | By Christian Nutt

Dark Souls is a very interesting game.

One thing that interests me about it is that two years later, as its sequel is about to launch, people are still playing it.

I see them talking about it on Twitter; my husband booted it up this week to play it some more -- he's already played it extensively -- and before long another player joined his session. That seems remarkable, for what's mainly a single player console game, and one that hasn't been promoted much at all of late.

In an era when we constantly hear that the window is smaller and smaller for premium packaged titles to find audiences and that DLC, multiplayer modes, and grind are necessary to keep it jammed open even an inch, that's an achievement. The game has little grind, very idiosyncratic multiplayer, and only one DLC pack, which you need to progress far into the game to even access.

Prepare to Die

Of course, when you talk Dark Souls, you must discuss its notorious difficulty.

I recently had a chance to speak to Brian Hong, director of strategic and digital marketing at Namco Bandai Games, about how the publisher's initial discussions of the game went. "A lot of people said, 'Well, this game's really hard, but you don't want to talk about how hard it is, because it's going to scare people away!' But as we kept going through and stripping everything down, I realized that this is actually the most defining characteristic that puts its first step forward."

Those people, whoever they were, were obviously wrong: Rather than shying away from Dark Souls' difficulty, Namco Bandai highlighted this facet of the game, and it went on to be a great success because of this.

I think they were not simply wrong in the idea that a difficult game would scare players off, though. They were wrong because the game's motto, "prepare to die" -- and the PR, press strategy, and marketing as an extension of this motto -- set expectations for those players before they even booted it up.

The trend this generation was to try and make triple-A games into amusement park rides, where players ever moved onward, seeing new things all the while -- stuck for moments, maybe, but not long. Developers put tremendous effort into creating situations that seemed challenging -- but weren't.

Dark Souls forces you to learn how to deal with its challenges to progress. There is no other option. "Prepare to die" thus communicates not just "it's hard" but also its creative ethos: Try, fail, learn, and try again. Its success reinforces the efficacy of learning as a core principle of game design, of course.

Even grinding doesn't work in Dark Souls. Yes, you can get stronger, but that won't help you understand its challenges or uncover its secrets. You're more likely to survive a tough boss battle by trusting your wits, not your stats.

(If you want to learn more about the game's design, Gamasutra has two excellent pieces from Cthulhu Saves the World creator Robert Boyd: 9 things we can learn about game design from Dark Souls, and Exploring the design of Dark Souls.)

"This game is hard, and we're not going to apologize for it"

Faced with a game like that, says Hong, "I said, 'You know what? I want to go out hard, and say this game is hard, and we're not going to apologize for it. If you're a hardcore gamer, you're going to love this game.'" That strategy helped win it an initial batch of fans that could be converted into evangelists, he says:

"The message that we try to get out to all the folks out there is that if you try this, if you just invest some time into it, you're going to find this pot of gold you could not have imagined before. And there is just legions of folks out there that personally give testimony to that very fact, and all we can say is, 'Listen to your fellow gamer, please.' When they say with utmost earnestness, 'Try this game, please! You're going to love it if you give it a chance,' don't listen to us, listen to your fellow gamer."

An interesting insight from Hong is how the game's difficulty affects community-building, which is something we're seeing in challenging but popular (and somewhat obtuse!) games from DayZ and Rust to Monster Hunter, too. Players help each other -- because they need each other -- and that's how communities form.

This hasn't done much to hurt its longevity.

In fact, this community is what informed Hong's approach, not the other way around. Before Dark Souls came Demon's Souls, a PlayStation 3 exclusive which had a small but passionate fan base. Hong scouted it for clues into how to market Dark Souls to a wider audience. "They said, 'Look, if you can get past the early difficulty, if you can just dig a little bit deeper and invest some time in this, you will find out how ridiculously deep and awesome this game is.' These were the voices telling me how to talk about the challenge of the game..."

Growing in its own way

Another interesting facet of the game is its innovation in player communication and multiplayer. Players can leave messages inside the game world for others to find; this idea has already traveled around the industry (in the form of Nintendo's Miiverse service, and in Ubisoft's ZombiU, among other places.) The perversity of Dark Souls, however, means that these can be hints, or they can be intentionally misleading. Sometimes, they're lifesavers. Sometimes, you'll hurtle off a cliff to your doom at an anonymous suggestion.

The multiplayer is also worth discussing: If you open up your single-player game, hostile players (who gain a big resource bonus for killing you) can invade (fair's fair: you get a big bonus if you repel them.) There's also more traditional co-op, but there is no method to pick and choose who you play with. It's whoever's available, and it's all but impossible to arrange multiplayer sessions with friends. This is both thrilling and enlivening of the single player game in a very original way, and frustrating for players who want a more traditional co-op experience.

Further on from that, this approach is both indicative of how innovation can come out of developers treading their own path and ignoring trends and best practices, and it also shows how an isolationist mentality can keep features that would enhance the play experience from being included.

I've heard time and again from the publisher, both on the Japan and U.S. side, that developer From Software is mainly left to its own devices. Namco Bandai has a surprising amount of trust in the studio. It's based on esteem. Says Hong, "From Software, I find them to be an incredibly passionate and earnest group of individuals... So you can see what they put into this game, and the outcome of it is nothing but their desire to realize a vision."

This means, however, that they are not as open to feedback as many studios reflexively are in this age of uncertainty. "The From Software guys are truly artists, in the sense that when we talk about the success of Dark Souls, they say, 'You know what? We're not going to hear really too much about what you're saying. Just let us make the game.' And you can actually really appreciate that," says Hong.

Is it better to get out of the way, or to enforce industry standards?

The road to understanding

"We're not going to hear really too much about what you're saying. Just let us make the game." That's scary for any publisher to hear, but amazingly, Namco Bandai seems to give the studio a lot of leeway. That's because it has paid off, so far.

Hong honestly feels it's necessary -- or otherwise the franchise could lose its identity, and its fans. Publisher machinations could only harm the game, he says: "You try to stay as much true to the vision and the heart of the game, because ultimately the gamers are very sophisticated, some of the smartest consumers out there. You try to do a cash grab by watering something down, making it easier -- whatever you think that they want -- they will instantly pick up on that and just kick you to the curb."

That hands-off approach, and Dark Souls' growth as a Japanese game that is unconcerned with many of the tropes and conventional wisdom of the Western triple-A space, has actually allowed it to thrive, and carve out its own niche.

Hong is leery about the idea that you can even easily measure the success of Dark Souls against other games: "Well, it is a unique type of property. And it is not the type of game where we can treat or apply the typical market forces and say whether or not it's a success. For us, the business stuff aside, we know that this a game you pick up and you try, and you may put it down and not try it again -- sometimes for a long time, sometimes ever."

That uncertainty, baked into Dark Souls' very design, seems to have given the publisher a unique view of the title's potential, its developer, and gameplay. It's not just the players who strive to understand Dark Souls, then, but everyone who encounters it. If you have to work to understand something, you'll respect it once you do.

In fact, the key to the success of Dark Souls is understanding: The developers understood the game they were making, and didn't waver. The publisher first understood to trust the developer and then that being honest about the game would connect it to an audience. And finally, players understood what they were getting into, and then as they slowly came to understand the game itself, they loved it all the more.

If Dark Souls has taught Hong any lessons, he says, it's to trust in the community to help build the success of the games he works on. "Well, the lineup of properties we have, whether they be Naruto, Dragon Ball, Tales, or even Armored Core -- I've worked on many, many franchises here, they all have their own personality and group, and that's the most interesting thing of all. We reach out and seek out the community leaders for all of these different groups, and they're all different people, but the one thing they share is crazy passion for this stuff."

In essence, then, his job is to learn from them, enable them -- and to let the developers make the games they want to make.

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Filip Lizanna
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Love the game. Perfectly designed in my eyes pretty much.

Nathan Mates
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It may be too early to draw full parallels, but I'd note a little parallel between the "games must be harder!" crowd and the "simulations need to be more realistic!" crowd of the 90s. In the 90s, the simulation (especially wargames, like flight, ship, etc) market demanded more and more realistic games that became more and more complex. Budgets expanded to go for this, and games got more complex, buggy (e.g. Falcon 4), and then the bottom dropped out of the market as those demanding "harder!" were a constant minority, and they didn't actually speak for the majority. As a result, Origin, Microprose, and some other studios folded.

I've never seen actual sales numbers for these "games must be harder!" titles to see if it's a dedicated vocal minority demanding their niche be satisfied -- and good on companies for scratching that niche -- is representative of the larger market as a whole.

Christian Nutt
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I can't speak to the comparison or to the 1990s crowd, but obviously there are multiple directions games can go. The big difference between now and the 1990s is that there's a huge breadth of platforms and a much bigger general audience for games, so it's more possible to be successful with a smaller slice of that huge audience.

I don't think that other developers should copy Dark Souls by making their games mindlessly difficult. I didn't get too deep into the design of the game here, but the point is not that the game is unfairly or punitively difficult (and anybody who tells you it is really doesn't "get" it -- which is okay, because it's not for everybody.)

Ricardo Hernandez
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Anybody thinking that the reason Dark Souls is a success just because "it's hard" is entirely and completely missing a big chunk of its brilliant design. There are many ideas here worth checking. The "hard" part is about respect to the player on the experience of the challenges, and make the gameplay design work towards motivating the player to achieve mastery (like when you have to go back and pick up those souls you dropped, making dying matter).

I say play the game and get past the first two bosses. You will see what I mean.

This game is simply *crafted* with superb mood and level design, excellent ideas on anonymous multiplayer and it does not give away its art for free, but to the players that are willing to push themselves against the challenges.

And I am glad for it because what we have had a lot of is "content tourism."

Lihim Sidhe
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Any realistic horror movie would be over in 10 minutes. "Hey you see that ghost?" "Yeah let's get out of here." (Roll Credits)

Dark Souls design isn't ingenious - it's brave. It's design screams, "If this world actually existed this is how it would actually be." with a minimum of video game troupes. To successfully execute a brave and unique design is genius so maybe I'm splitting hairs.

When game design is successfully skewed towards 'actually is' design it gives room for a lot of fun, emergent, nonsense. When the magic happens is when that nonsense makes the game seem like a slice of another world and not the craft of an artisan (which I might add can be just as fun *unchartedcoughcough*)

If anything I would love to see the world and it's lore explored through other mediums like comics, novels, and books. Instead of challenging my gamer aspects, I would be just has happy if they made me fought to gain understanding OR have the exact same crew behind the 'Game of Thrones' do their take on Dark Souls.

I mean... people in that show get Dark Souled all the time. Now I'm just rambling. ;)

Lihim Sidhe
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There is a similar article on Polygon titled, "Henchmen in games don't need a story, but they need a purpose"

After making my comment here I went to Polygon and that was the first article I read. Serendipity!

Read it here:

jin choung
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""If this world actually existed this is how it would actually be.""

i think you overstate it a tad. note that the designers created a game and a situation that is in fact winnable. this does not reflect reality or realism.

there are lots of situations in real life where no amount of ingenuity or determination will surmount. or that your level ability will never equal. that's not something most americans (in particular) like to admit is true but it is.

so yes... it's perhaps a bit more real than other games. but in the end, it is a game with game like tropes, not the least of which is - you can in fact win.

Ricardo Hernandez
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I wanted to add- it's not that the game is real but that it creates a visual and consistent experience where the players are left to decide what to do, think, reflect, throw themselves against a challenge, push themselves and are rewarded with their own learned mastery.

The game design has many situations to do this and it doesn't give away its art for free.

George Blott
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I think there's much to be said about how Demon's Souls set the table for Dark's success, but I'm not equipped to say it myself. :)

Ricardo Hernandez
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It's pretty easy- they are basically the same game with unique twists each. It's next gen King's Field.

Wylie Garvin
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I probably play Dark Souls more than any other console game. I try other AAA games for a while, but I always end up going back to Dark Souls, because it offers something that very few other AAA games offer: it is designed so that *player skill* is the biggest factor in whether you can overcome the game's challenges or not.

Its a game that forces you to pay attention to its mechanics. It forces you to watch the animations of the enemies, learn how to predict their behavior and defend yourself appropriately. Dark Souls is indeed a difficult game, but through its great design, it teaches you the skills you need to survive in its world. Player mastery of the mechanics makes a huge difference, and just from practicing, exploring and experimenting you can go from being totally overwhelmed to being able to breeze through that same content on a re-play (even with a similarly-equipped character). As a player, this is supremely satisfying. It keeps me coming back for more.

Most AAA games have an adjustable difficulty level. Dark Souls has one difficulty setting (lets call it "Brutal"). A typical AAA game's progression features a player character who grows in strength from a puny weakling to an invincible god. Dark Souls lets you make your character stronger, or equip it with better gear (experienced players can make a very strong character in 20-30 minutes or less). But it can also be played from beginning to end with a level 1 character, relying entirely on the player's learned skill and learned mastery of the mechanics.

There is immense satisfaction in beating a really difficult boss with a deliberately weak character. Or sequence-breaking and exploring very dangerous areas with a weak character very early in the game. Or fighting through an entire level without being damaged by an enemy, when just a week ago you couldn't get half way through it without being killed.

If you play through its content in the 'intended' order, Dark Souls has a finely balanced difficulty curve. It has a large variety of melee weapons, which each feel very different because of their different move sets (animation, range, timing, etc.) When you try a new type of weapon you need to practice and get good at it. Not your character--he doesn't improve at all from using a weapon--its the *player* whose skill needs to be honed.

Anyone who likes a challenge and hasn't played Dark Souls before: buy this game immediately!

Ian Richard
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I agree completely. One my own "How good is a game?" requirements is how I feel later on when the addiction has worn off...

It's been over a year since I've played Dark Souls and I still think about it and smile... and maybe cry a bit too.

- I remember seeing a massive crowd rushing toward me and leading them through a narrow hallway to win 300 style.
- I remember my five minute swordfight with a duelist skeleton. He blocks my attacks, I block his, we both jump back and chug a potion only to rush in again. I've NEVER been so satisfied in a fight with a normal enemy.

I own 600+ games and Dark Souls is one of very few that I feel that strongly about. It's not for everyone... but it was a perfect fit for my own needs. It feels like the developers actually understood me and made me my perfect game.

jin choung
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i definitely fall in to the camp of people for whom this game is not for.

but given all the brouhaha, i did indeed play it until i understood the appeal. basically, it's a modern game with modern graphics with super mario or contra mechanics... the game doesn't bend to you. you're either good enough to get past this stage or you're not. and if you're good enough, the sense of accomplishment is tremendous.

and inasmuch as people are looking for a challenge, this definitely scratches that itch. so my satisfaction in my personal quest has be accomplished simply by getting to the point where i can say, "ah... i get why people like this". and never have to boot it up again!

for me, it demands more of me than i am willing to give. as an adult with responsibilities, i simply don't have the time to invest in acquiring skills that begin and end in this particular game. i've got other shit to do. i do NOT want to play 10 minutes in to to try to get past the boss that killed me the last 15 times.

so not for me. and that's totally ok.

but yeah, i did

Christian Nutt
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Well, first of all equating Super Mario and Contra kinda implies you don't get those games, either.

Contra is a twitch game, and the options are have amazing reflexes or learn the stage layout. Mario is a lot more about finesse and technique, generally, with multiple "right" paths through the stage depending on your proficiency. And Dark Souls is neither; it's a large connected world. Dark Souls is about learning techniques and strategies in the macro level (i.e. learning how to use your weapons, what equipment and skills will help you) and the micro level (understanding enemy behaviors.)

As for "it killed me a bunch of times and I can't deal with that because I am an adult," that kind of misses the point dramatically, too. It implies a consumption view of game design ("content tourism") which is currently rather in vogue (most major triple-A games, particularly on easy difficulties.) Dark Souls is a learning game -- it's a totally different approach. You're not "wasting time" by repeating its content, unless you look at games as museums of art assets and cutscenes.

The point is not that other players who are WAY better at action games than you run through the game without problems (which is what I think you're implying?) but rather that one plays it to learn how to play it and gradually progresses. That is how it is designed.

I probably sound rather judgmental. My point is not that you are wrongheaded or that you suck at games. I don't think everybody has to enjoy the same games or enjoy them in the same ways. As as I said above, the game isn't for everyone. But I don't think you really came to understand it after all, at least based on the evidence of this comment.

Benjamin Foxworthy
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I dunno, speaking as a huge Dark Souls fan, I think his comparison has merit. Dark Souls and Mario (e.g. Super Mario Bros 3) are similar in that you have to keep learning and increasing your skill to progress, even though the specific mechanics are obviously totally different. I think maybe you missed his point.

To put it in your own terms, I believe Jin was just saying that he personally prefers a "content tourism"-type experience, and isn't willing or interested in learning the skills needed to progress through the game.

Erik Hu
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The time wasting factor put me off too. I think you are wasting time by repeating content you have already near-mastered on a way to a boss fight. If there is nothing left to learn from fighting the enemies they just become trash like before a wow raid boss.

I mean the solution here if you don't want to waste time is to just cheat and watch a youtube video to memorize a boss pattern/animations or his "trick", but that kind of defeats the point in playing the "hard" game at all.

Ricardo Hernandez
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At some level I can sympathize with you, and I am glad you pushed yourself to understand why some people who aren't you don't like it. And I also think its' fine if you don't like it.

I don't have to trash Grand Turismo or Forzaa just because I don't like those games, and can still appreciate the effort put in them.

But to compare the gameplay to Super Mario or Contra? No. This is way different than those games. If you said 3D Zelda you start to get closer and yet it's still vastly different.

jin choung
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yeah, the only way DS (or mario and contra these days) would be tolerable to me would be "save anywhere". let me save before the boss fight so i don't have to play 20 mins just to get killed again at the boss fight!

Ricky Bankemper
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@Jin Choung

I apologize as this is a pet peeve of mine, but what games do you have time for?

It is in my opinion that having time for gaming means you have time for any game. You either have time to play a game(s) or you don't.

When I see this type of comment, it always seems to be an excuse for the player to not put effort into their gaming. Nothing is wrong with that, but time isn't what is holding you back. You don't want to put the effort forward and I would prefer you admit that, rather than implying the rest of us don't have responsibilities.

"I would love to play a game like that, but I just don't have the time." - even though they have platinum on all 3 uncharted.

50 hours gaming in a month will progress you the same as 50 hours in a week.

Sorry, as I said a pet peeve.

Anton Knyazyev
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well obviously playing a new game is more interesting than re-playing the same half an hour section (and learning nothing new from it) just to get to the point where you were one-shot due to a mistimed dodge. i don't see why anyone would even argue that time commitment is a big stopping factor in ds.

Michael DeFazio
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Having just read the interview in Dark Souls Design Works (with Miyasaki and his team), many things became clear about the design of the game. First off, Miyasaki has a vision of what he wants, and secondly, he gives other designers on his team the autonomy of surprising him and putting their own touches in the game.

Some choice Miyasaki quotes:
"Providing the designers with keywords we brainstormed during the early stages of product development and allowing them to design freely"...

"I am the one who hands out the orders and I work directly with each designer instead of having a middleman between us"

"...I still decided to give our designers as much freedom as possible. As the one who makes the final call on everything"."

"I always ask each designer to take the key points I set out and add their own ideas to it."

"I think if I provided very specific orders, the resulting product would be limited by the boundaries of my design skills and imagination. My hope is that the designer will be able to surpass my own imagination or that we'll get some kind of byproduct that I could never have come up with on my own"

Anyways, having read the interview I was happy to hear about the working relationship the team has...It certainly sounds like we heap praise on Miyasaki, but we should also consider that this work is really a close knit collaboration, Miyasaki providing the vision and direction and other designers filling in the details.

Robert Marney
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That certainly helps explain the game's wide variety of concepts. Dark Souls is widely praised for having bizarre but memorable enemies, locations, and characters, with the level of weirdness steadily increasing as you explore the nooks and crannies of the world instead of being introduced to evil clams in the tutorial. This kind of arc is very important for an exploration-based game, particularly one where the early game is so difficult. Being introduced to a strange new location, or acquiring some obscure historical weapon, feels better when you've been fighting through dingy medieval villages for an hour to get there.

Robert Crouch
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Thanks for the article.

I think that fun comes from learning. Improving to overcome a challenge. A game like Dark Souls is about learning, in the same way that a game like Mario or Contra is. You learn what to expect, you learn when to push the right buttons. You have a window in which you can push the right buttons based on visual cues or situational cues that you learn to recognize. Then you succeed where it seemed impossible before.

Games have limited ways of being "hard". You can either make an inherent failure chance (30% of the time you die a completely unavoidable death), you can make a small margin for error, (like flappy bird), or you can make misleading cues (like flappy bird, or various NES games with bad hit boxes, or gotcha mechanics like I wanna be the guy! or Cat Mario.), or you can make complex systems to understand (like an RTS) But once the player recognizes that, they can practice and overcome it.

There are games, I'm thinking specifically of some JRPGs, where the player is presented with a boss that has the potential to instantly defeat them. Circumstances will line up to defeat the player and there is no trick that can let the player avoid the death, no planning they could have done. The only thing to be done is to reload and do it again. This is still something that can be overcome by recognizing that it exists and retrying until you are successful.

There's also something satisfying about learning to recognize those sorts of scenarios. Reaching towards mastery.

A game doesn't need to be hard to let you learn something. But a game that is hard, will have you learn something by the time you have completed it. The first time I played Risk of Rain I thought it ridiculously hard. But after practice and exposure to enemies and learning attack animations and what to avoid and what to challenge, it is actually a very forgiving game (in terms of not having to make any frame perfect decisions), it is a challenge to learn in terms of the interactions of the monsters and learning their cues.

But so many times recently games are not hard, and they don't have you learn anything. Maybe they try to teach you, but by explicit teaching they rob you of the ability to learn for yourself and feel that pride in learning.

The game is not for everyone, but its appeal is directly tied to its "difficulty" because it forces you to learn.

Nathan Mates
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Memorizing a pattern through trial and error was the basis for shmup (shoot-em-up) games too, e.g. Ikaruga. I'd be curious to see the overlap between fans of that genre and this game.

Personally, jumping through some hoops over and over again like a trained seal is not appealing. I'm a programmer by trade and hobby. If I want difficulty in my life, I'll come home from work, and *re*open DevStudio and work on my pet projects -- still patching Battlezone II on my spare time, 15 years later. That's a unique, personal challenge with its own difficulties, but at the end of the day, I've created something new or at least better. As opposed to going where thousands of other players have gone before just to get a skinner box reward.

Addendum: Wasn't there some recent successful movie about being creative and original rather than just following someone else's template?

Ian Richard
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As a fan of both... I simply state that you are looking at it wrong. Neither is about memorization or trial and error... but skilled execution.

I play new bullet hell's monthly and I'm skilled at most of them immediately. I've developed the mindset to stop and think even when there is a wall of bullets flying towards me. I don't panic or hurry my actions... I identify an opening and stay in control.
I don't memorize ANYTHING... but I've adapted my playstyle to be instinctive.

Dark Souls rarely cheap killed me. I was hurrying and didn't see the traps. I was too aggressive or maybe should have just run away. When I die, I know that it was my fault for sucking.

Surprisingly... these lessons carry over into my real life. Don't panic, think and plan quickly, execute. I failed? Big whoop. I'm able to embrace the chance to learn and try again with a new plan.

This style of gaming isn't for everyone. Personally, I don't see how anyone can play most modern "Interactive Movies". The idea of a game that goes out of it's way to let me win so I can "See the story" bores me to tears.

If I don't have to earn the victory, I don't want it.

Ricardo Hernandez
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I wouldn't say Dark Souls is about learning and memorizing as much as becoming skilled. While you can get set on a pattern to discover some way to defeat some monsters, there are many, many strategies to do it differently- some better some worse and some independently of better or worse may appeal to you more or less as a player.

And if someone invades you.... surprise!

This is a big part why the game has so much longevity- so much to discover, so many different ways to win.

Bernardo Del Castillo
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I feel too much is placed in the concept that the souls games are very hard.
The media surely presents it that way, and they clearly present themselves in such a way too. But i almost find that a bit disingenuous.
Sure, they are challenging, but I hardly feel that is the gist of the charm, and people assuming that don't quite get the core of it.
Combat in DSs is a puzzle, moreso than in other games, it requires actual understanding. Everything seems tied to a risk/reward mechanic that as a player you can take advantage or be taken advantage of.

For me the appeal of ther Souls games, beyond their skill or challenge, comes from how every component of their design enhances the world building, there is subtlety and mystery within every mechanic, every snippet of narrative, every environment. Everything hints without quite saying. There is no proper way to play them, and if you get into the lore, there is only grey.

I believe the most important aspect of the design, is that it actively enables players to be smart and resourseful. They are Enticing and mysterious, and that's not something games are currently interested in doing.

Ricky Bankemper
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I would agree. I would compare the difficulty of Dark Souls to that of the average NES/SNES game.

Talking with friends and finding they beat bosses very differently is extremely refreshing in this market. Too many AAA games attempt to lock you into a single path. The freedom to be creative is part of what is so appealing to me.