Every Corner Means Death

When I played Dark Souls for the very first time I felt a sense of anxiety that I hadn’t previously experienced in any other game. I had felt anxious while playing horror games such as Outlast or any of the Resident Evil games, but this was different. I had never played a game that made me work so hard for few (and far between) signs of progression. The smallest misstep or poorly timed attack would almost certainly lead to a black screen with the blood-red words “You Died” being thrown in my face. When entering new areas I would always feel a slight sense of dread because the game itself had instilled within me the understanding that I was entirely at its mercy. Letting my guard down at any moment greatly increased my chances of death.

The simple statement implies that the death was entirely the player’s fault for making a mistake.

As Tom van Nuenen argues in his article, “Dark Souls features post-Panoptical gameplay mechanics of both continuous surveillance and playful exhibitionism and hybrid gameplay experience of both subjectivation and empowerment” (1). As with any video game, the system itself has to keep track of the player to ensure the proper mechanics are triggered at the correct intervals, whether that be enemies being spawned, items being acquired, or boss fights occurring in the proper locations. In this sense, the player understands and accepts that the world they are inhabiting adopts certain roles ascribed to the Panopticon.

They are not, however, prisoners within Lordran. It is true that Dark Souls refuses to help the player learn the rules of the world and punishes them indiscriminately for their lack of understanding, but this is not intended to discourage the player from attempting to empower themselves. This is instead meant to encourage the player to quickly learn the limits of their abilities and methodically plan out their next move. For example, there are two forms that a player can take on, a hollowed and human form. When in the human form, the player can summon NPCs and other online players to help them defeat a particularly challenging boss. This is, however, a double-edged sword because it will also leave the player open to invasions from the online community. When this occurs, the player cannot move on until they either kill the invader or are killed by the invader. The player will once again become the subject of a form of punishment within the game except for this time the punishment is not coming from the game, but other individuals who were once subjected themselves.

 

Nuenen, Tom van. “Playing the Panopticon: Procedural Surveillance in Dark Souls.” Games and Culture, Sage, 2016, journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1555412015570967.

Source: Every Corner Means Death

Earthbound: A Peculiar Case For and Against Emulation

A few weeks ago in class, we discussed the pros and cons of emulation and how emulation can be thought of as preservation. I argued that a pro of emulation is that you are preserving games that otherwise would have been lost in time. On the other hand, I argued that by emulating games, you are only preserving gameplay, not the experience of playing said game. Earthbound, released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), provides an argument for and against emulation that I want to investigate further.

I am currently playing Earthbound on an SNES emulator because it is the easiest way for me to play the game. I do not own the appropriate hardware or software in order to actually play the real game. I realize that I am not getting the full experience of playing the game but I cannot justify spending almost $200 (Price Charting) to play a game that was made over twenty years ago. That crazier fact here is that the majority of that price comes from the game, not the system! Why is Earthbound so expensive? Upon release, Earthbound was not received all too well. When advertising the game, Nintendo decided to mimic the unconventional sense of humor found throughout the gameplay.

Ads like this revolved around the stench of the game. Not a traditional way to advertise.

You have to keep in mind that this was during an era of gaming that warranted “ads with attitude”. Nintendo was in competition with Sega to win over teenagers with more mature games. Needless to say, the advertising was not very effective and the game only sold around 140,000 copies in the US (compare that to Super Mario World, which sold around 20.6 million) (www.gamecubicle.com). Though the game did not sell well, it was welcomed with a small cult following. Fast forward to today, collectors who are looking to complete their collection, or just have a fun game to play, are looking to spend about $150 to buy just the cartridge. Earthbound is not the only game in this situation. Games like Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64) and Little Samson (NES) are perfect examples of games that just did not sell well, but are sought after for their fun and exciting gameplay. Games like these provide perfect arguments for emulation. Emulation makes hard to find games more accessible to the general gaming community. Without emulation, I would have no way to experience the quirkiness and absurdity of Earthbound. But what am I missing by digitally emulating the game instead of playing the physical cartridge?

A complete in box version of the game. It included the cartridge as well as an important guidebook.

When Earthbound was originally marketed and sold, it ran you about $70 ($115 dollars in today’s money) but you also received an important guidebook that not only taught you how to play the game, but included a lot of unique artwork and secrets that you could only find in that guidebook during the time. They even included scratch and sniff stickers that were part of the advertising campaign. The book included lore and other information about the towns you would be visiting and was overall, a helpful companion as you played through your quest. The book also gave the player tips and tricks on how to progress in the game. You have to remember the internet was in its infancy at this time and if you got stuck in a game, you could not just Google your way out. In an RPG like Earthbound, the path towards progress is not always a clear one. You can see that by emulating the game, you are missing out on the experience that the game developers intended you to have while playing Earthbound.  Here in lies the problem with emulation, you are merely replicating the gameplay, not the gaming experience. Of course I could go and spend $200 for a system and game (cartridge only), but I would still be missing the guidebook and would be spending quite the penny on a twenty year old game I could play for free on my computer. Interestingly enough, the developers of Earthbound put some interesting measures in play to combat piracy of the game.

An error message appears as you boot up an unofficial PAL version of the game.

On unofficial ROM’s of Earthbound, the game will actually display a warning message at the beginning of the game. Thankfully, the emulation software and ROM I downloaded got past the anti-piracy measures but I found some pictures here.  Along with a harmless error message, the game will actually spawn more enemies for you to fight. This was in an effort to make the game less enjoyable. But the real measure comes in a more permanent form. If you make it all the way to the end boss fight, the game will freeze, reboot, and delete all your data! Obviously, the developers anticipated pirating of their game so these measures were put into place to encourage players to purchase the real game. This is where emulation gets a bit tricky. Since you are technically not playing original software that you purchased, it is illegal to be playing said emulation. Emulation comes with a negative connotation because you are cheating the developers of the game out of their rightfully earned money. So what makes emulation excusable?

Earthbound provides ground for and against emulation. It is one of the few games to do so as well. Emulation has a time and place in the industry, for preservation of older hardware and software that cannot be easily accessed. It is important to keep these relics of gaming history as a way of preserving the culture surrounding these games; almost like a time capsule. But emulation should be used knowing that it is not replicating the experience of playing the game, merely the gameplay itself. Additionally, emulation should be used responsibly and not in an effort to scam developers out of money. I believe my use of emulation is justified because I am a broke college student who does not have a few hundred dollars laying around to spend on “prehistoric” video games 🙂 I would argue however, that if you have the means to do so, to buy an official emulation of Earthbound on the WiiU’s Virtual Console eShop.

 

Source: Earthbound: A Peculiar Case For and Against Emulation

Dark Souls? More like Mod Souls

When starting up Dark Souls for the very first time on a PC, it quickly becomes very apparent that the game was not initially intended to ever be ported over to PC. The control scheme for the mouse and keyboard is exceptionally terrible and seems to have been created with no previous thought. If players did not have an Xbox or PlayStation controller they could connect to their PC, they could kiss their dreams of playing Dark Souls goodbye. Certain areas of the game are so horribly optimized (an issue that consoles also experienced but to a lesser extent) that the framerate is barely able to maintain a constant 30 frames per second and often drops far below that. In short, the base PC port is a terrible experience that many eager PC players were initially disappointed with.

Keyboard layout for PC players

On September 19th, 2012 the PC Dark Souls community rejoiced. An individual that used the name Durante released the father of all Dark Souls mods, DSfix. DSfix allowed players to actually change graphics settings that were causing the game to run poorly. The player was finally given the opportunity to mess around with different settings such as the motion blur, anti-aliasing, rendering width and height, and much more to their individual likings. Unfortunately, for players who are not as savvy, modifying the settings to their liking might seem a little more intimidating because the modifications are presented in the form of a text document. Mistyping just one setting might make the entire game unplayable.

Text document where the modifications take place

Luckily other individuals have made this process easier for players by creating their own modifications that aim to make the base modification’s interface much more user-friendly. User Morten242 created their own mod which they named UI for DSfix which creates an interface that allows the player to modify their version of Dark Souls with clear separations between each section.

Interface that Morten242’s mod creates for the user

The ability to mod Dark Souls is what allowed for the founding of a dedicated fanbase to the series within the PC community as discussed in the Postigo piece. The DSfix mod essentially worked as a massive patch that addressed most of the foundations within the design flaws present in the PC port of the game. They were able to bypass and improve on many of the issues that were present in the base port and in doing so, could finally just enjoy the game itself.

Source: Dark Souls? More like Mod Souls

Convolution and Death: The End and Beginning of Eras in Dark Souls III

As the video game industry continues to evolve, very few games have earned so infamous a reputation as the original Dark Souls game which was released in 2011. What it was infamous for was the intense difficulty through its punishing difficulty,  and convoluted world/plot line. As someone who has invested far too many hours into Dark Souls III on Steam, I can attest to either point. However, it’s easy enough to say how many times I have died or which is the enemy I have died the most to among the many other elements of difficulty that make Dark Souls the cult “hardcore gamer” game. In retrospect, I think the most interesting thing about my first play through of Dark Souls III, I didn’t really care about the plot. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration either to say that I didn’t really know it existed then either. The convolution of the world isn’t mostly shown by the developers in the level design, color palette, or even boss/enemy design; most of the convolution in the Dark Souls series can be derived from both the story and the plot line.

Let me explain exactly what I mean by both story and plot line, an essential theme in all of the Souls games is that the world you live in, or the ideological paradigm headed by the Gods of the world, is dying. You, born of the dark, are to rise above your human caste and choose either to continue the God’s paradigm or start a new one, that of the humans. From that incredibly brief, overly simplified description of the plot, it would be easy to think this some incredibly basic archetype filled plot where choices and outcomes are clear. Hardly so, even though these are the few endings that can be arrived at by the player, the choices that lead them there are not so clear. This is where the story comes in, unfortunately for the player the story behind each NPC which invariably would lead to a different approach by the player is only made clear after the fact. Perhaps now it is a good time to repurpose our definition of convoluted, while in its essence it means a complicated story in this case it is not too hard to think of it meaning something twisted and folded. Both the story and plot overlap and twist into each other over and over again, until ultimately you the player start the games thematic cycle again in bringing your character into the next iteration of the same world.

Source: Convolution and Death: The End and Beginning of Eras in Dark Souls III

Nothing warms my soul quite like Dark Souls:

Every time I decide to start another playthrough of Dark Souls I have to watch the opening cinematic. The imagery, music, and voice over that are used fit together in such a way that gives the player a clear understanding of the world they are about to experience. It is also the only portion of continuous narrative information that the player will not have to seek out and piece together themselves throughout the entire game. All other bits of world-building narrative information will have to be obtained from conversations held with non-player characters (NPCs) and reading item descriptions.

While there is a general sequence of events that would be ideal to follow, the game does not tell the player what that sequence is. Neither does it limit the player to one specific order to follow. Dark Souls takes full advantage of spatial storytelling as discussed in the Jenkins article because it relies almost entirely on the player’s motivation to explore and persevere in the face of extreme adversity. If the player does not interact with every room, check for false walls in different areas, or talk to NPCs they come across they are potentially missing out on important items or bonfires that give them a chance to level up.

When other games are branded as being difficult they will without a doubt be compared to Dark Souls. While there is some validity to the comparisons – the learning curve in Dark Souls is a lot steeper than most, and there aren’t many games that punish you for attacking an enemy one too many times – I feel like most individuals will misunderstand the developer’s intentions. Dark Souls is not difficult simply for the sake of being difficult.

In the world that Dark Souls creates there are certain individuals who have the Undead Curse (as the name implies, if they die they are simply reanimated) and are marked with the Darksign.

Unfortunately for the Undead, they slowly begin to lose their sanity as time goes on and they can eventually become Hollow (complete loss of purpose and sanity). To most Undead, it is the worst imaginable fate to have and they actively try to avoid going Hollow. The game is intentionally difficult to see if the player truly is the “Chosen Undead”. If it is too difficult and the player gives up, we can consider them to have “gone hollow” and unfit to fulfill the prophecy.

Source: Nothing warms my soul quite like Dark Souls:

FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?

The world is chaos.  Violence and rape are rampant, politicians are corrupt, and civilians feel helpless and hopeless.  Is this real life?  No, but it is Persona 5’s game creators’ reflection of the current state of the real world. Persona 5 opens with a gameplay scene where the player, a masked teenage boy, intrudes on a grand party in a casino, and is guided through simple mechanics like “jump” and “hide” to (unsuccessfully) escape the police.  It cuts to the police interrogating the boy, but he is unable to remember why he was arrested.  There is a mysterious voice that speaks in between cuts scenes that says, “For the sake of your world’s future, as well as your own, you must remember.” This voice seems to foreshadow one of the goals of the game – save the world by discovering why you were arrested.

In the tutorial, the player is dropped into a neighborhood in Tokyo and tasked with finding his way to his new residence with Sojiro Sakura. It is a helpful level to learn the game mechanics, as well as to orient yourself in the context of the game’s story.  The left joy stick moves the player, while the right joy stick changes your point of view of the player.  Additionally, although you can only see a part of the game space in one view, a small grid-like map with icons indicating important markers makes it easy to navigate in and out of the game space.

By exploring the tutorial’s neighborhood, you can overhear other characters’ conversations.  These embedded conversations do not seem necessary (so far) to success in the game, but they do provide important information to understand the state of chaos and corruption that is the game’s world.  Some couples speak pessimistically about the economy being down and the aging population, or how “things won’t get better because of politics,” while another old man reads the newspaper and says, “Another string of rampage accidents.  I just hope none of them happen around here.”

So far, though I have played little of the game, but I am intrigued by its story and very curious how it will unfold.  Lastly, as an inexperienced gamer, I appreciate that Persona 5 gives the option of how difficult you want to make the game (safe, easy, normal, or hard), each not affecting the course of the story itself.

Source: FMS 321 Blog Post 1: Violence, murder, rape, political corruption – Is this real life or a videogame?