Dark Souls’ appeal

I posted yesterday about some much-needed progress I made in From Software’s Dark Souls, which I’ve recently fired up again.

A lot has been written about this game, which is seen as a “spiritual successor” to Demon’s Souls — another brutally difficult game that features a dark, gothic setting in which to die over and over again.

It’s odd that a game that bucks today’s console-driven trends of heavy tutorialization, gradual learning curves, and checkpoint-style autosaving should attract such a devoted following — at least on paper. But the fact is, Dark Souls is a lot of fun. It’s also the most frightening game I’ve ever played, and one of the most rewarding.

If you’re unfamiliar with the unique mechanics, here’s Dark Souls in a nutshell: You’re undead, and your job is to (I think) bring “light” back to a blighted world. You can rest at the bonfires scattered around the vast world, which restore your supply of healing flasks and provide a revive point for when you die. And in case I haven’t quite gotten this point across yet, you will die. A lot. Every corner of the gloomy world holds new perils: Even the lowliest of enemies must be taken seriously, traps spring, and gigantic bosses lurk beyond eerie fog-clouded doors. Each time you die, you’ll wake up at the bonfire you rested at last, and all the enemies you had littered your path with are back.

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Dota 2 – The game that changed my mind about multiplayer

I’ve never been much for online multiplayer. I remember the heady old days of the original Quake, and the IRC chatrooms full of hardcore players who talked about the pros and cons of “rocket jumping” and favored arenas. First person shooter deathmatch just never rang my bell — not when Goldeneye was glued into every Nintendo 64 console, or when fellow soldiers were wearing grooves into their original Halo discs.

But Dota 2 — now in a semi-open beta state as developer Valve continues to add features and tweak gameplay — may change my mind.

Crystal Maiden (me, in blue, near the bottom of the screen), Skeleton King, and Druid’s bear take down one of the Dire’s tier one towers.

Dota 2 (itself short for “Defense of the Ancients,” but more on that later) is what is now referred to as a “MOBA,” short for Multiplayer Online Battle Area.” These games, all taking their cues from the original DotA, follow a certain format:

  • Players compete as members of teams
  • Teams defend a base while attacking their opponents’
  • Players choose from a stable of unique heroes, each with a different set of abilities
  • “Killing” enemy heroes results in experience and money bonuses for your team, which can be used to enhance hero abilities
  • The maps or arenas on which the games are played have their own hazards, including defensive “towers” that attack invading heroes automatically
  • Team bases create “waves” of “creeps” – relatively weak squads of computer-controlled monsters (or robots, in the case of Awesomenauts) that travel toward the enemy base on pre-determined tracks (or “lanes”)

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. In Dota 2, there are currently 108 heroes available to choose from each time a game starts, and each of these heroes has a unique set of skills that can be brought to bear against the enemy or used to help out your team. Each hero also has an optimal “build,” or order in which skills should be upgraded when she’s gained enough experience. On top of that, there are also optimal “item builds” for each hero — with hundreds of items to choose from that can be purchased from in-game shops, consumed for battlefield effects, and combined to create more powerful items.

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Dark Souls’ Bell Gargoyles are dicks

I’ve been playing the brutally-difficult Dark Souls, and I cannot for the life of me beat these damned Bell Gargoyles.

Update: Just after posting this, I decided to give the gargoyles another go. Using the game’s “humanity” system, I was able to “summon” a spirit to help out, and we managed to take out the bastards.

It’s a butterfly with frikkin’ lasers on its head.

Update 2: Following my success in finally killing the gargoyles, I ventured into the Darkroot Garden, which is populated with thorny tree dryads and humongous stone knights. There’s also a thing called the Moonlight Butterfly, which took me several attempts to kill.

Launch

So here’s my little gaming blog. I’d like to use this to discuss the gaming-related stuff that doesn’t necessarily fit in my normal blogging digs.

Video games are now part of culture. Not just American culture, mind you. They’re shaping culture around the world. Almost ten years ago, I was stationed in South Korea with the U.S. Army, and there were two television channels devoted to Starcraft.

Here in the states, if you’re under the age of forty, you grew up knowing words like “Mario Brothers” and “Zelda” and “Asteroids” and “ColecoVision.”

If you were born after 1980, video games are – even if you didn’t play them – part of the tapestry of your youth, and they’ve only gotten more significant since the heady days of Commander Keen.

Games, I think, can tell us something about what’s important to us. Good games can help us learn and grow, and bad games remind us of what sucks about modernity. There are lessons to be learned here, and what I hope to do with this blog is to chronicle my own ongoing journey within that sphere.

So, without further ado, here are the games I’m playing now:

I have others, of course, and I’ll be adding to this list. But I’d like to use this blog to talk about my experiences with what I feel are important games, and how those experiences are shaped by, and shape, my own understanding of culture.

Stay tuned.