The best way to empathize with complete newcomers to the MMO genre who are not so much concerned with high level concepts like ‘levels’ and ‘xp’ but are struggling with the more immediate concerns of “how do I move” and “how do I look around” and “why can’t I hit this thing that is hitting me, halp” is to put yourself into a similar situation.
Like trying a sports game, for example, only to find out that each NPC is separately modeled to have different areas of strengths and weaknesses.
I guess that’s why my attempt at one of the Madden games when I was in a mild fascination with American football phase failed rather miserably.
Mind you, I live in that majority of the world where football means kicking a round ball into a net at one end of the field. I did always find ‘soccer’ rather boring and individualistic, where the art of falling down and making it look like you’ve been fouled horribly was generally more exercised than teamwork. Watching the goalkeepers was the most interesting thing of the interminably long match of running up and down a field after a ball for hours as they at least had a role different from the other men on the field (Stop the ball, not kick the ball.)
So it was much more fascinating to discover that American football had teams with an intricate breakdown of many different roles – people who caught the ball, ran the ball, threw the ball, kicked the ball and those that didn’t even have the primary role of doing anything with the ball but blocked and interfered with people trying to do stuff with the ball.
It did, however, take some homework of reading the highly intricate rules online, slowly deciphering out scoring and everything else, before I could turn on the TV and not have a match be complete gobbledygook. I did eventually puzzle out enough to develop a casual fan’s appreciation of the game.
The PC game, though… Well.
Plays defeated me.
I could manage controlling one player on the easiest setting and bullrush my clumsy way through ten yards, more or less. Then all these complicated pages of the playbook would pop up with no explanations, Xs and Os and dotted lines and there would be a time limit to select one of them. Randomly picking plays and going ahead with whatever the hell I decided to do in the moment worked about as well as you might expect.
This month’s infuriating difficult game attempt is another go at Dark Souls.
I’m not much of a console player. A long time ago, my ISP had a free PS3 promotion if you contracted with them for 2 years, and well, one was -already- paying for internet monthly anyway. It was a well-timed promotion because Heavy Rain was a PS3 exclusive, and god, did I want to play that game badly. While haunting the local games store for a copy of Heavy Rain, I saw a decently priced copy of Dark Souls and decided, what the hell, let’s see what the difficulty hype was all about.
That very first attempt was pretty much a disaster.
First, there was the encounter with the Abyss Demon, armed only with a broken sword hilt. Yes, I am aware in retrospect that it is meant as a lesson in running away being the better part of valor. I can see the design now, what with the brightly illuminated doorway and all that.
At the time, I had bought into the hype that you could defeat anything, as long as you reacted properly. A dozen deaths feeling out its patterns later, I had indeed found the exit door, but dammit, I didn’t WANT to run away.
I’m doing 4 damage to this thing each hit! If I keep behind him, he doesn’t hurt me! Surely there must be some kind of masochistic achievement award for actually defeating this thing earlier!
Several more dozen deaths later, rubbing in the fact that I didn’t have much skill with the controls and that it was damned difficult to consistently stay behind this boss without getting clubbed into nonexistence, I was getting motion sick and very tired of stone textures.
With the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth, I finally ran away to continue the rest of the tutorial. Except that didn’t get very much further besides killing a few skeletons, and then running in circles, completely lost and unable to figure out how to get past a bunch of locked doors. I couldn’t even go back to play with the Abyss Demon again because a locked gate had slammed down behind me.
After the better part of half an hour or more, I may have finally googled for help, only to realize that I’d missed a new hole in the wall that had been knocked open by a round boulder rolling down some stairs. Good grief, was this a game I was going to have to play with a walkthrough constantly in hand?
Talked to NPC, unlocked door, killed more skeletons, killed Abyss Demon at properly intended time, zoned to next zone.
Where one was promptly greeted with arrows and flaming projectiles and proceeded to plummet to my death trying to dodge them.
I stopped that play session there, having had enough motion sickness and repeated deaths for the day. And never quite felt compelled enough to power up the PS3 specifically just to play it again.
Cycle forward in time to now.
I like to think that playing GW2 has given me a new appreciation for watching mob animation tells, trying to understand their combat patterns and practicing getting the timing right on appropriate button responses (like dodging or parrying, etc.)
I do also own a copy of Dark Souls on the PC, having picked it up for cheap during one Steam or bundle sale or another.
Perhaps it was time to give it another go.
The PC port of Dark Souls has received some criticism for being a rather lazy port. The default screen resolution isn’t great, all the in-game tutorial messages are hardcoded to still show you Xbox buttons rather than whatever controls you’re really using (which makes everything a fun guessing game of hmm, which key represents the green B or the yellow Y?) and the default mouselook camera is alarmingly wonky.
Best played with a gamepad, say the majority of forum commenters.
No problem, I have a very functional Logitech Dual Action gamepad that has stood me in good stead playing PC ports like Indigo Prophecy and various Japanese RPGs.
I gamely chop, run, spin, block my way through the first zone, slowly dredging up from the recesses of my memory all the moments I remembered from my first playthrough. I notice with some pleasure that my GW2 experience has given me better observational skills with regards to combat animations, but this increased observational prowess also applies to myself… and my failure to appropriately press the buttons my brain is telling me to tactically press.
Dodge now! Strike now! No, not -that- strike, the other one! Block. BLOCK! Not parry! Oi, what buttons are your fingers pressing?!
The struggle extends to navigating menus. Firstly, the default controller keybinds are not mapped intuitively to my particular gamepad. The instructions on screen say ‘press start’ or ‘press select’ to bring up some menu or other. I hammer away at my start and select keys, button 9 and 10, and nothing happens. Trial and error reveals that I have to press down on my right thumbstick to bring up the menu.
I’m used to PS3 controls where pressing the bottommost button selects and the rightmost button cancels. Except here, the rightmost button selects, and trial and error again reveals a different button cancels.
I flip open the keybind settings to see everything is mapped onto keyboard keys and doesn’t apply to the gamepad. Aaaargh.
Now, of course, I could slowly and patiently use the Logitech provided profiler to remap all my gamepad buttons to match whatever twisted configuration Dark Souls is using, and then tweak it again so that it feels more intuitive for me.
But it also occurs to me that I’m not that in tune with a controller either. While I can coordinate movements using the left thumbstick while controlling camera with the right thumbstick, they’re not as smooth as they could be with WASD and mouselook. Surely some of that lurching causes accidental hits that might be avoided, not to mention increases my motion sickness queasiness when the camera isn’t acting like I expect it to.
So I put down the gamepad and try it with mouse and keyboard.
Which actually has potential. I move better and more confidently.
Except the mouselook is jittery and I’d like to block with -this- mouse button but the in-game keybinds don’t seem to support that, and a dozen other key binding niggles interfere with any more enjoyment of the game and desire to progress.
On the bright side, players have come up with unofficial fixes for this poor PC port.
Except now I have to stop the game, figure out which fixes I want/need, download the fixes, apply them, test and troubleshoot problems and so on.
One fix, DSfix, fixes the poor screen resolution.
But oh, remember to turn off AA first or you’ll get a black screen. So I start the game, turn off AA, then stop the game. Then apply the fix.
Another fix, DSmfix, fixes the mouse camera issues for those who like to use mouse/keyboard controls. Note the M for mouse. Small, but crucial difference.
I start the game to test again, and while the screen resolution fix is working beautifully, the mouse fix doesn’t seem to have kicked in. Stop the game. More forums and readme.txts later, it turns out I have to edit an .ini file to have it included as well.
Start the game. Ahh, now the camera is moving at a more suitable speed for mouse look. And the mouse fix has also provided a nice customizable GUI for mouse keybinds and an intuitive default setting.
Except… I run dual monitors and my mouse is escaping from the Dark Souls full screen window when I look to the right. When I left click to attack, I end up alt-tabbing out to desktop, with rather fatal results in the now minimized window.
Wut. I try windowed mode, but the cursor still runs off and I have to keep moving it back to the left again. It’s almost playable already, but for this last little niggling detail! I gamely try to progress a little further in the game this way, but it’s distracting and throws me off. *sigh* Stop the game.
More forums searching and reading later, I finally find a fix that involves editing the dsfix.ini and enabling a ‘capture cursor’ setting.
Now I can finally start PLAYing the game, right?
I’m putzing around in the Undead Burg, finally feeling like all my deaths are at least fairly earned mistakes and experimenting with various tactics to deal with differently armed skeletons.
An invader has arrived in your realm!
Wut?!! Okay, I sort of had the impression that PvP was possible in this game if you were connected online (and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to shut off Dark Souls’ connection either) but I also had the impression that it would be LATER, not when one was in the second zone armed with starter gear.
I knew that I had one item of some kind in my inventory that had text along the lines of send an invader back to their realm, but it was the only one I had and hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to use.
So I just waited.
In strolls some burly guy outlined in red with the LARGEST FUCKING hammer I have ever seen, and probably all kitted out in ‘finished the game’ gear.
I just hold down block and wait for inevitable death.
It’s not like I really have anything to lose. I’d already been dying twice in a row repeatedly to second zone skeletons.
Guy gestures a few times, tries to say Hello.
I haven’t the heart to tell him that I don’t even know how to use the gesture menu. Just kill the noob and get it over with, eh?
He circles me, probably wondering if this is some kind of elaborate trap. Or maybe just laughing too hard to fight. Or taking pity on me. Whatever.
Eventually, he hits me twice with the hammer (hey, holding block prevented me from getting one shot!) and then casts some kind of massively pyroclastic spell that fills the whole screen in flames.
Well, it’s a change from getting stabbed to death by skeletons, I guess.
After getting shot in the back by various archers, then getting gibbed by the Taurus Demon, which solidifies the suspicion that I’m really going to have to play this game with heavy reference to a walkthrough, it occurs to me that I don’t even have the faintest clue what the enigmatic words “Reverse Hollowing” and “Kindle” mean when I sit down at a bonfire, and what does Humanity do anyway?
I quit and save the game, then start googling for a Dark Souls manual. I find some player tips and a wiki instead, which are likely more helpful.
It is then I actually learn that I managed to invite the invader in by having experimented with Reverse Hollowing once, which had the effect of making myself look human. Well, that was totally obvious.
I’ll be playing Dark Souls again. But not until I read several website’s worth of information, tips, advice and walkthroughs, I suspect.
I was really just expecting execution and reaction sort of difficulty, rather than all this homework.