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Little does that other guy know, I've been kicking his ass in a staring contest all night
As the game starts we find our character already dead and chained to a wall in a jail cell. The irony of this is as palpable as the smell of despair and sorrow in the prison that I am contained in. A game that tells you to prepare to die, even going so far as to claim that as the URL for the Dark Souls Website, starts you off already dead. Where Demon’s Souls starts you with weapons Dark Souls chooses to start you with nothing but the hilt of a sword. I am immediately paranoid as to what may wait for me as I leave my dank cell.
I am immediately comforted in knowing that the controls are virtually identical to those in Demon’s Souls. It’s like picking up an old RPG and being given a whole new story. I also see the familiar sites of messages strewn on the ground and as I read through one after the other it becomes abundantly clear that this is the tutorial stage. I’m learning how to swing my “weapon” at creatures who aren’t even attacking back. It’s okay though since the souls they give me on death are what I’m after here. After quickly dispatching three easy beings I’m met with a ladder and my first bonfire. Since we know that enemies respawn at bonfires we decide to explore the surrounding area a bit before resting. There is a large wooden door and a smaller metal door. The smaller door we are unable to open and nothing good can come of a large door so we sit and rest. Now comes time for a little grinding. Running from bonfire to starting cell and back we continually respawn enemies just to kill them. A sorrowful life they lead, to be sure, but their death serves a purpose. We don’t know what’s behind the large wooden door. We just know we want to be ready for it.
After twenty minutes of grinding we are ready to press on. As we open the door we’re struck with how well illustrated the weight of it is conveyed to the player. It is in this that Dark Souls does a phenomenal job of depicting the world around us. There is nothing simple and nothing easy. Even opening a door requires effort. Suddenly a large demon appears and slams the door behind us. In the distance we see another door open and messages written on the ground. “Run” they tell us so we do just that. After all we are armed with nothing but the handle of a sword. This is not known for its damage ability. We flee.
After fleeing the door behind us slams shut and we’re met with another bonfire so we rest for good measure. You never know what’s ahead so better safe than sorry. As we look around the room we see a small unassuming door with a message in front of it. Lessons learned in Demon’s Souls tell us to always be cautious of all new areas and don’t go running in.
We peer around the door while nestled safely next to it to find an archer taking aim at us. The message reads “get your shield”. On the ground a short run from us is a dead soldier with a light above him. This means he has something for us. It has to be the shield. We time our run between the arrow shots and as we get closer to the soldier we see a room next to him coming into view in the narrow corridor. Sanctuary. We dive into the room escaping a potentially harmful arrow. Sure enough the soldier has a shield for us. While not the greatest shield in the world, it’s still a shield. As we run back out to face the archer we charge him with our shield up and ready to take whatever he shoots. To our surprise he turns and runs. As we give chase he makes a sharp left and we give chase knowing that rushing headlong into anything is suicide.
And then we just make a tiny cut here, and here, and look! The dragon is now a bunny.
To our surprise this time it wasn’t. It was an easy kill and we backtrack to do some exploring. Through our exploring we find a longsword that is going to come in handy. Once we find all we can we make our way back to where the archer died and find the opening in the wall that was behind him. As we peer down through the drop before us we see the courtyard that contained the first bonfire. We see a very small drop so we take it and come off unscathed. We look at our new surroundings not fully confident that something isn’t about to come out and stab us in a very brutal way. As we stand overlooking the courtyard to our left is a corridor that leads to nothing more than a dead end. While we do not trust this “dead end” to be truly an end we do not know how to open it. To my right is two sets of stairs, one up and one down. Since down surely leads to the previously locked door in the courtyard we look up and begin our slow ascent up the stairs. Lessons learned from Demon’s Souls teach us that no stair case is without potential for peril.
Suddenly a flurry of curse words comes out as we see a boulder bearing down on us. We do not evade it. We also do not die. This boulder is needed however since behind it it has opened up a wall that contained a dying knight. He gives me a handful of Estus Flasks and tells me a tale of a dead man chosen to come back and save the world. We think he means us. We make our way out of this newly opened hole and we are met with the same two staircases. This time we choose down since last time up seemed to hurt. As I rest at the bonfire my health replenishes and my Estus Flasks fill up as well. Thanks Dark Souls for making this easier on us. These Estus Flasks contain health in times of need and the bonfire replenishes them for us. This kindness is unexpected and appreciated. After another 20 minutes of grinding from bonfire to starting cell we decide it’s time to see what’s up the stairs.
As we climb the stairs we see an enemy waiting for us with a sword in hand. Time to see if we can still parry and riposte. By waiting for the right moment we are able to deflect his attack with L2 and respond with a normal attack with R1. The enemy falls dead. It’s nice to know we can still pull that move off. As we press forward we see a message overlooking a view. Sure to know that it says something to the effect of “nice view” we see it as a trap but still move toward it regardless. Sure enough behind us we can hear the stringing of a bow. We dodge as quickly as possible fearing an arrow in the back. Two enemies with swords come charging at me. As we engage them real life steps in. My dog Maddox has taken my wife’s shoe and is now hitting me with it asking me to give chase. Since I can’t pause Dark Souls I do a dance between melee on the screen and commanding the dog to leave it. Maddox is an asshole. He doesn’t listen. He just wags his tail and looks at me lovingly. He’s lucky I love him so much. As we finish off the two sword wielding enemies and the archer we run back quickly to a point on the level where we know we won’t be hurt. I can then take on Maddox.
We’ve lost a little health so we take hit from an Estus Flask and press on to where we killed the Archer. As we overlook his corpse we read a few of the messages. One tells us that we can have a big hit on someone if we hit attack while falling. We can also do a jumping strong attack. Interesting. To our left is a layer of white fog while before us is an open room. We peer into the room to see a lone knight in the corner. As he approaches we attempt the parry and riposte move again only meet with total failure. He deals a heavy blow, but one we can recover from. After a close battle we dispatch him. We know that our path back to the bonfire is open so we take it and replenish health. We can only guess we are not going to like what’s about to happen through the foggy door so we grind for another 20 minutes. All this grinding is being done yet we have no way to actually level up. This is becoming increasingly frustrating. The pressing need to level up is becoming apparent however the lack of ability to actually do so is rather irritating. Since we can’t level up we now grind to work on timing and combat maneuvers. It’s never too soon to start getting better.
Fancy meeting you here.
Finally it’s time to go through the foggy door. As we push through below we see that large demon that we ran from earlier. Only this time all exits are sealed. We do our strong leaping attack off of the overlooking balcony on which we stand and it connects perfectly. Half of his health is now gone. The fight is going to be manageable. That is until he swings his club. It’s about this time that dodging and rolling becoming a necessary tactic. The moves on the screen are actually being translated to movements in my own physical body. My dogs are watching me. They seem to be judging me. I don’t care. I’ve come this far without dying and I don’t intend to start now.
After working our way behind the demon and dealing a few hits he spins and swings his club. Once more dodging and rolling must be done until we can work our way behind him once more and attack. This battle isn’t as hard as I felt it should be. Once he is dead we collect a key and return to the courtyard bonfire to heal.
Underneath the balcony where we launched our initial attack is another large door for us to move through. Once pressing through here we see a wide open world before us. We however are on a very narrow cliff. Messages tell us to keep moving. Atop the first hill and to the right is a baby bird asking us for “warm and soft”. Duly noted young feathered friend. With some exploring we’re able to find some souls and move toward the very top of the cliff on which we stand. Suddenly a giant raven appears and tells us we’ve been chosen. We’re taken away from this world and onto the next. With the prologue concluded I’m left to wonder just what the hell we were supposed to give that baby bird. I know we missed something but there’s no turning back. I’m fully engrossed in Dark Souls at this point.
We are dropped at a new Bonfire that finally allows us to level up. All the grinding has payed off for us. We’re now ready to kick ass and take names. But since the dogs need to play that shall have to wait until tomorrow.
Seems like every time I get online over the last few weeks, I see more controversy over “always online” DRM (digital rights management) restrictions. Penny Arcade did a comic on the subject, and forums are aflame on gaming news sites from Gamasutra to Rock, Paper, Shotgun. The ire most recently stems from controversy over Blizzard’s announcement that Diablo III will require require a persistent Internet connection to play…even in single-player campaign mode. Does this irritate me? Absolutely. Just as it irritated me last year to hear that Ubisoft was doing that very thing with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and sure, it irritated me more when sure enough, within a month, said DRM requirement backfired on the players.
But here’s the thing that really gets me. When I saw the quote from Blizzard’s VP that he was “actually kind of surprised” over the backlash, at first I thought, how clueless can this guy be? But reading the comments attached to the article, I see the problem…the fans lining up on either side of the fence are merely arguing the conveniences of the issue. The argument of choice for those not offended by this seems to boil down to several variations on “It’s 2011. If you don’t have 24/7 access to the internet, it’s time to crawl out of your cave, mmmkay?” Those defending their outrage are actually responding on this level, going into great detail about rural connectivity, monthly data caps on some plans, the reliability of game servers, and whether they can Play On A Plane.
You wouldn't pass around an advertisement from Commander Shepard on the Citadel...
Folks…forget those arguments. They’re valid points, but spending your time arguing about them diminished the reason you should be mad, in my humble opinion. That reason is, and I want you to say it with me:
“IT’S MY GORRAM PROPERTY AND I WILL DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT.”
I realize my opinion is probably coming from an old-fashioned perception of ownership, and that my outlook is colored by having grown up pre-Internet, buying games on floppy disks and CD-ROM, books made from real trees, music on vinyl records, cassette tapes, and compact discs. And I am not naive – I recognize the difference between my ownership of a disc and the author’s ownership of the work it contains. I would not presume to believe that purchasing a CD gives me the right to use it for commercial purposes, or to reproduce and distribute its content to all my buddies. But that CD – that one, specific CD – that is my property, which I happen to believe I should be able to listen to where and when I like, make copies for my personal use, or install on as many machines as I can cram into my house.
The increasingly intrusive DRM push is based on a lot of fallacies. I’ve seen these issues raised online before, so I’m not exactly saying anything earth-shattering here, but hey, my soapbox, my prerogative:
1. Increasingly draconian DRMs stop pirating and don’t punish paying customers.
2. Piracy is some dread new crisis that will bring the entertainment industry to its knees.
3. Nobody will pay for art if they can get away with pirating.
Progressively more stringent and frustrating DRM, much like the TSA, reminds me of the saying “closing the barn door after the cows have run off”. Pirates find a way to hack the copy protection, so technology comes up with a new way to copy protect. Which – surprise! – pirates are going to find a way to hack. There is no such thing as copy protection that can’t be cracked. There is only copy protection that hasn’t been cracked…yet. And when it is, it is the pirates who have a quality, unrestricted copy of the game, while honest customers are being punished for paying for it.
Damn it. We missed "Talk Like a Pirate Day".
Is piracy a new threat? My parents were rather prolific pirates; you tell me (and while you’re at it, get off my lawn. And turn that noise down!) Oh, I didn’t think anything of it at the time…but looking back to the ‘80s, the dozens of games I had for my C64 were largely packed onto floppies with handwritten labels, several games to a disk, with phrases like “Cracked by SuperCoolGuy” on the title screens. Our sizeable collection of VHS movies consisted of 2 movies to a tape, their titles neatly scripted in my mother’s handwriting, some recorded from TV but many copied over from video store rentals, as VHS was still fairly new and often unprotected. My folks aren’t bad people…frankly, I think it was pretty common back then because people simply didn’t think too much about it. Sure, I saw the FBI warning at the beginnings of movies, but my parents never copied and sold any movies or showed them publicly, and it just seemed harmless. These days, however, every album/movie/game they have is bought and paid for, and I seriously doubt it’s because they don’t know how to make copies anymore; they simply do the right thing, as the vast majority of us do. And you know what? Despite the prevalence of pirating I saw in the ‘80s of VHS movies/games/cassettes before copy-protection became standard, the movie/game/music industries still flourished. Moreso nowadays.
People will pay for what they like. People can be outright antsy to give their money for what they like. People will even pay money for something they already got for free – because they know that a dollar is a vote, and because when you’ve really wowed them, they want to say ‘thank you’ with their dollar. When Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog was released freely on the internet, I fell so ardently in love with it that when it finally became available for sale, I bought it on iTunes…less because I wanted an iTunes copy of it and more because I’d been dying to pay them for what they had created. And then I also bought a DVD copy as a gift for someone else. It is also worth noting, however, that this was my first iTunes purchase and will be my last…because I had repeated issues with the “authorizing” the video, first when attempting to put it on my iPod, and again when I got a new laptop and got rid of my old one. Yes, I managed to fix the issues eventually, but that’s not the point. The point is that the hassle offended me on basic principle, as it became increasingly clear that I had not ‘bought’ the movie at all, but rather bought the right to borrow it indefinitely, just so long as I checked in with them any time I chose to do anything with it. And yet we’re supposed to pay $50-60 for a disc we’re not allowed to use when and how we choose. By requiring the persistent Internet connection, companies are essentially taking your money for a product, but insisting they ‘hold on to it for you’, so they can keep checking your receipt, over and over and over again.
Maybe I’m spitting into the wind arguing about it. Concepts of ownership when it comes to digital material seem to be changing rapidly whether I like it or not. But let’s not go quietly. Don’t let them tell you it’s necessary, it’s inevitable, or that it’s just to ‘enhance’ gameplay. If buying something does not give you the right to use and enjoy that something, be dissatisfied. Tell them you’re dissatisfied. And make it for the right reasons.
Okay, okay. So we all know how incredibly excited I am for The Elder Scrolls: Skryim to come out. I literally cried a little when I watched those developer gameplay videos. So yes, I am ecstatic for Skryim.
You know what? I’m also a little afraid. Aside from the obvious ‘My social life is going down the drain for a month or so after Skyrim drops’, there’s another issue here. Sometimes, I feel like an overwhelmed video gamer.
Over the river, through the woods... Damn, must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.
What exactly is an overwhelmed video gamer? Well, since we’re talking Elder Scrolls, let’s take Oblivion, for example. Oblivion, I’m sure, is a great game. I own it, in fact. I just never played very much of it. Sometimes, when I’m playing a game with a massively open world, I get overwhelmed with the amount of sidequests and optional content there is available. I get distracted. I get overencumbered faster than you can accuse my character of stealing. I feel… almost lost. Directionless. With no major push towards the main quest, I can look at the game as a whole and go, “Wow, I can’t see actually finishing this”. So I don’t. With Oblivion, you don’t necessarily have to immediately begin doing the main quest. In fact, it’s very open ended. Bethesda is adamant about not forcing you into doing the main quest. But to me, in a way, that can be harder to deal with.
Okay, sooooo... where to next... ?
Bethesda is known for making their games open ended. In Fallout 3, once you escape Vault 101, you don’t have to follow the main mission you were given. In fact, you could walk out into that deserted wasteland and immediately being exploring the opposite direction of where you’re vaguely pointed to check out in the main quest. And this would be perfectly acceptable, welcomed, in fact, by Bethesda. But to me, a “I’ve gotta finish every single side quest” type of gamer, this is actually overwhelming. I think it’s easier for me to be pushed in some way towards a main goal, and then side quests and additional content seems more manageable. In Fallout 3, I can get easily distracted by a new quest that pops up. Continually starting a new quest and finishing (maybe) 1 in 5 can be frustrating.
On the flip side, I feel that a game like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 balances the amount of drive you’re given towards your main goal in the game and still gives you freedom to go where you want, to complete optional side quests. Despite the epic proportions of those games, I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities of where to go next, or of how many side quests I was receiving.
This logo strikes both awe and fear in my heart.
I’m like this in real life as well. I have a tendency to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed by the whole thing, rather than take it and break it down into manageable chunks. It can be enough to turn me off from large projects. I would never make a good project manager. A college report, for example, could be incredibly stressful for me, because all I could think was, “I need to write HOW many pages?!”. (By the way, let it be known that I am not currently in college; the example is simply that – an example.)
With Bethesda stating that Skyrim will be loaded with additional content, packed into approximately the same size map as Oblivion, I’m scared of getting that overwhelmed, disoriented feeling. I don’t want to end up frustrated with how many open quests I’ve started and how few I’ve completed. Hopefully I can push through and keep playing, because Skyrim is definitely going to be incredible.
Anyone else ever feel like this?
Recently a rather interesting conversation broke out at Polish the Console about video games and relationships. While Kat has a less than secret crush on BioWare (and by crush I mean stalking) I have found myself with a wanting for something more. Maybe it was playing a video game with the adult themes of Catherine that got me thinking about this but isn’t it time our relationships in video games grew up?
When I say “the adult themes” I don’t mean the sexual nature of the relationship. What I mean is the importance placed on the relationship and the value that it possesses and the effects that these relationships have on the outcome of the game. As a video gamer I want my game to have real consequences to my actions. In BioWare video games the only real consequence to a relationship is “I don’t get to see the sex scene with that other character” and anymore let’s be honest what are we really missing?
Behold! The awesome rewards of a relationship...
Now to preface this let me just say that http://jessmoskaluke.com/?options=As-To-Earn-Money-For-Forex-Without-Investment-In-Switzerland As To Earn Money For Forex Without Investment In Switzerland this does not have anything to do with writing or emotional attachments to NPCs. One thing I will never criticize or bemoan in any way is the writers ability to genuinely make me care about my party members. Who among us hasn’t agonized over one stupid little decision in a game that, in reality, had no real bearing on the outcome of the game? What I mean is that in games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect the relationships you enter into make little real and meaningful difference to the outcome of the game. You can still have a 98% identical experience in the game without a relationship; all you miss out on is a little smooching and a few dialogue options that will still give you the same ending anyways. While you may personally feel more passionately towards the outcome based on your emotional connection with the characters, you could still arrive at that outcome without being in that relationship. In Dragon Age: Origins being in a relationship with Morrigan or Alistair does not mean you will live or die. It does not mean anything other than a small chunk of text at the end of the game.
In my life I am a 31 year old married man. I have a wife, two dogs, house, and no picket fence. I genuinely enjoy my life. However I look at my companions: my college friends, work friends, people I meet. I see my wife and my dogs and the life I have chosen. If this were Mass Effect 2 I could very easily flirt with my companions who were willing and suffer no real ill effects. If this were Dragon Age II then I could literally flirt with everyone I shared more than a passing conversation with regardless of sexual orientation and it would be okay.
In my real life I can almost certainly promise you that if I were to flirt with the girl at the local GameStop my wife would not be at all happy with me. In fact I would think that what would ensue would be a 4 hour impassioned apology from me and a well deserved lifetime of distrust from her.
But there’s more than just my ability (okay let’s be honest I have no ability I got lucky) to flirt with people. I have chosen a companion that I will put before all others. In my relationship I have said “I choose your missions before anyone else’s.” I looked my wife dead in the eyes and said “I voluntarily choose to miss out on a cornucopia of potential companion missions with friends and acquaintances to forge life with you and do your missions.” She then gave me a sword. Dead serious. She had a custom forged katana made for me. I’m that lucky. She also had my wedding ring made from sword. Again I’m very serious. She knows me.
She's not even shooting something because for me.
In Mass Effect 2 when you choose to be with Miranda Lawson all you miss out on is a sexy video with another crew member and bit of “I want to be with you” dialogue. You still get to do all of their deep companion missions. You still get to fully complete the game. Hell Miranda doesn’t even give you anything that helps you. Come to think of it when you gain her allegiance SHE’S the one that gets something. They all do. Why didn’t we get a fancy new suit? We’re the ones risking out asses to help your families. Where’s my fancy pants?
But more than this nobody seems to care that you’re potentially in a relationship. In Dragon Age: Origins when Morrigan gives you a ring or Alistair and you become Ferelden Royalty what really changes? Do you miss out on any part of the game because you’re in a relationship?
This is what I mean by adult themes. It is the decisions that have significant weight in the world. It is saying “Yes I want this. This is my decision and there is no going back, there is no middle ground, and I have to stick through this.” In Catherine it was the seemingly inane questions that created a very black or white picture of the world. Ultimately you decided between Catherine or Katherine. That was your decision, it sucked, it was difficult, and it was one of the most gratifying and real experiences that I have had in gaming all year, because of the consequences.
This is what other games need to bring in. Make a relationship mean that in return you get some real and deep companion mission. Make a relationship mean that you are not, in fact, running around with everyone doing whatever you want. You have consequences for your decisions that will carry through the entire game based on who you choose to be in a relationship with.
The additional benefit to this is a terrific increase in replayability. In all likelihood I’m probably never going to replay Dragon Age II. With two play throughs I was able to do almost everything I wanted to. There is no more story to surprise me or grab my attention. However uncovering more about Isabela or Merrill would absolutely bring me back for another go-round if the stipulation was that I had to be in a relationship with them.
While this would certainly rub a lot of gamers the wrong way it’s something that would both intrigue and beguile provided it’s done correctly. Video gamers are growing up. Isn’t it time our in game relationships do the same?