Accessibility in hard games: How Dark Souls got it right – Part 1. 60 in 60 day 5.

Quick note about me, again, before we begin proper. I may live in the Eastern Time Zone, but because of my second shift schedule, you can assume I live closer to Great Britain based on what “Midnight” is to me. So while this is going up after midnight, It is still my day 5. Moving right along.

Last time we discussed how two “Zelda” games did accessibility right, and bagged on the “Hardcore” crowd for a bit, but here comes the twist. I am also a hardcore gamer. I don’t lose my mind when a game is made accessible to a wider audience, but I do expect the difficulty to ramp up at some point. My default difficulty setting is hard, I have left gaming sessions with a bleeding lip from chewing it in frustration, and I typically don’t recommend games to friends that I found to be too easy. I have crunched the numbers to create custom character builds, and, need I mention, I started watching the news around this industry like a hawk to try to determine why the industry was producing so few games I considered challenging, and what, if anything, could be done. I was very excited about the original “Dark Souls”, a game which I was told by everyone I knew, as well as every piece of marketing that told me to “Prepare to Die”, contained the challenge I seek out. While I was in no way disappointed by the difficulty, several of the game’s mechanics stuck out to me and got me thinking why From Software made the choices it did. Recently, I sat down and ran through the first few bosses in the game, paying special attention to the mechanics and reward systems. I came to the conclusion that the game was designed from the ground up to be accessible to players almost from the word “go”, and that anyone who is sufficiently determined can and will beat the game. Spoiler alert for the original “Dark Souls” from this point on, and if you really haven’t played the game already, you really need to get on that.

“Dark Souls” begins in an area sectioned off from the rest of Lordran, the Undead Asylum. This is the place where the Undead are brought in when they are caught. Here they can be separated from the rest of the world, and await the end of the world. As the player heads down the narrow, dark corridor, notes from the developers about the controls are scattered all over the floor. The darkness contrasts with the bright orange, glowing messages, both revealing the controls to the player, and introducing them to the concept of helpful information from short notes on the ground. The corridor is lined with weak, nonaggressive enemies for the player to immediately practice in game the controls they just learned. At the end of this tunnel, the player climbs up a ladder, which comes up inside an alcove facing a huge room. This immediately shows the player the scope of the world they now inhabit. After heading into the courtyard, the player encounters their first bonfire. They will naturally light it and rest at it, just to test out what it does. Next, those huge double doors catch the player’s curiosity. They open them, and suddenly, a huge, ugly demon jumps from the roof, and likely quickly dispatches the player. This teaches the player to never get complacent, and to approach each new area knowing that some new horror could lurk behind each corner, and they will have to deal with it. It also introduces two of the central mechanics to the game: soul loss and returning to the last bonfire rested at. With the short distance between this bonfire and the boss, the iteration cycle, or the cycle between respawn and respawn, is greatly diminished, and given that the player was already in the weakened Hollow state, and only could have a handful of souls at this point, there is no consequence to dying at this point. The player will experiment with the environment, sometimes trying to take the boss on, learning attack patterns and dodging in the process, or will run away smashing pots with the dodge roll, and by doing this discover the escape door, continuing the level. Immediately after the player goes through the door, a gate slams shut and they immediately encounter another bonfire, where they will likely rest and heal. As they move down the next corridor, they acquire their starting weapons, gaining a significant power boost. The player will naturally search for something to test their new power on, which has a 50/50 chance of immediately revealing the shortcut back to the courtyard, showing the player that shortcuts can be unlocked by completing content. It also has equally good odds of having the player wander into one of the game’s many booby traps, and when trying to get away from it, the player will likely notice the hole knocked through the wall, containing Oscar of Astora, a dying NPC who gives the player the game’s main healing items, Estus Flasks. Having just taken a healthy chunk of damage from the booby trap, the player will be restored to full health. Up the stairs where the booby trap was are finally some enemies to slay with the player’s new weapons, and they die easily. More messages from the developers guide the player to a fog wall, but not before telling them how to execute a plunge attack. Upon crossing the wall, the demon boss from before sits below you, in perfect position for a plunging attack. Upon doing so, it becomes immediately apparent that this boss is no longer the invincible pile of flab from a few minutes ago, and set to dispatching it. This reinforces the most important part to the player: Every boss, no matter how tough they seem when encountered for the first time, has a weakness and can be beaten. After the player kills the demon, they exit the Undead Asylum, armed with the knowledge needed to experience “Dark Souls”

While this was to be a stand alone article, it becomes clear that this will take one more. Expect to see it later today.

About Jake Moses

I was lucky enough to have parents who raised me with and around video games, and as such have been playing video games since before I can remember. Long obsessed with the process of making games, and the industry around them, I feel prepared to tackle talking about games and the industry and offer my unique opinion on both. Discussion is encouraged, I read any and all comments. Twitter: @sisypheangaming Patreon
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