Where There Is Dark Souls Discourse, There Is Waypoint Radio

We've returned from our trip to Boston only to find an olympic swimming pool filled with discourse waiting for us. So, what else could we do but dive right in? Rob, Austin, and Patrick try to untangle their own feelings on difficulty and accessibility in games, pushing at the boundaries of those terms until they find something that feels more representative and less reductive than the shorthand we've all been using in this conversation. They also bring more stories from the PAX East show floor, including more games about resisting Nazis, saving the earth, and... fighting in giant robots.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wjmvw9/where-there-is-dark-souls-discourse-there-is-waypoint-radio

The ad for some Amazon show ends with “despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage” and it’s so good/bad every time

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loving rob being the voice of “the shit around soulsborne shit is ridiculous” on the podcast cuz good lord

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Just FYI if anyone is interested, regarding the pronunciation of “Reichstag”. Rob pronounced the “st” in the middle of it as “sht”. That applies if it’s at the beginning of a word or at the beginning of any given word in a compound-word. While “Reichstag” is a compound-word the “s” is the end of one and “t” is the beginning of the second word. So the “st” in it should still be pronounced as “st”.

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Hey I just want to say that I really appreciated it when you folks mentioned colour-blindness in the difficulty/accesibility context?

I am colourblind and very rarely see it as a disability, but it actually is one and there are a bunch of games that I just can’t play, if they don’t offer a colour-blind mode.

Also, when I released my commercial videogame back in 2017, it took me about a week to implement a menu that offered a handful of difficulty adjustment and most of that time was spend making it look like an Amiga cracker intro. My solution wasn’t perfect by any means, but especially if you plan ahead, I firmly believe that it’s not that hard to give players at least some amount of control over the way your game is played, without spending a very long time.

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That talk about the nonviolent solutions in We Are The Caretakers reminds me of Renowned Explorers, another game that treats verbal exchanges as a part of combat. In this case it’s a rock-paper-scissors system with physical combat being only one of the elements.

THQN really needs to take some more measures over that stupid AMA move because this situation is just untenable. Dunno what exactly they need to do to make amends though.

Regarding The Witness’s color dependent puzzles, I don’t think they could have come up with good alternatives for every puzzle someone might not be able to handle due to disabilities since I expect they’ve already used every good idea they had in the game. I believe you don’t need to do any color or sound puzzles to beat the game (since you only need to finish any 7 out of the 11 areas to open the final area) though of course 100%ing it won’t work if you’re either colorblind or deaf (they’d have to completely delete all sound and color puzzles for that to work plus find a new way to stress you out during the challenge :stuck_out_tongue: ).

I hoped other people were getting served that ad because I feel like that cover might kind of slap, but in the context of that trailer it’s so cliche and awful.

Good discussion! Touched on a lot of angles. Bit concerned about if the accessibility argument’s sometimes edging too much into, hey, adding ‘easy’ modes really isn’t even that hard, just add sliders/infinite respawn/etc! If game devs want to argue that, sure, but the idea should be that it’s worth doing (or considering), not that it’s trivial to do. I don’t think difficulty options to cover all bases is all that straightforward.

Sliders work in something like Civ cuz ppl are more accustomed there, and those are meant to be replayed. Campaign not going well? Just start over! That’s not going to work as well w/the linear story stuff. Don’t think it’s fair to ask the ppl asking for accessibility to play-test their own difficulty balance.

Like, imagine if something like Devil May Cry just gave you a dozen sliders, preset them all to whatever they were in the lowest or highest difficulty, and asked players to figure out what was most fun for them as they played. Would that be a good experience? I recently played Halo 2 in the MCC, found it squirrely to aim, and messed w/the sensitivity settings half-heartedly before just dropping from Heroic down to normal difficulty (or whatever it was called). I didn’t want to fiddle with sliders, I wanted to play!

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I can’t see any downside to this whatsoever. People can still just boot up the game and play with the sliders as they go along. As mentioned in the podcast, just as with the sports games, the community would figure out various setting configurations for the different wants and needs of their players.

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This absolutely matters to nobody but me, but wrt Man of Medan, supermassive games should imo not be able to get away with pronouncing the name of their game incorrectly and encouraging everyone else to do it as well. I watched a talk one of the devs did and he pronounced it the same way as Patrick so I guess that is just how they say it? I probably have a bad attitude towards this because of the dismissive attitude some white people in Indonesia have towards the Indonesian language which absolutely annoys me but… This isn’t their original story, its based on an existing legend of the Ourang Medan, two Indonesian/Malay words, Medan is a city with 2 million people in it and they absolutely should have bothered to learn how to say the name of it properly, it isn’t hard. Different people pronounce things differently sure, but westerners sure don’t put in the effort with names of foreign places even when its in the title of their own game.

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I’m still not sold on the entire “Sekiro should just have an assisted mode” argument.

Who’s to say that the status that those From games have now, does not fully or partly come from that difficulty?
Austin and Patrick mentioned the “base level” of difficulty, and I can’t help but think that’s exactly what made those games the cult hit that they are.

It’s true that now the cult is mainstream (in games), and as such, the next From game could probably have an assisted mode and it would still sell to the core fans, plus a bunch of new people.

But does that mean, that a game seríes “is allowed” to start out ultra hard core, but should loosen up over time - or with popularity?
That’s a strange argument to make I think.

At the risk of sounding too confrontational, but what you’re essentially saying is “I’m not sure, if I’m comfortable with people who might be physically, or mentally unable to play an unmodified version of the game, getting access to means that might enable them to play it.”

Terry Cavanagh (the developer of VVVVV) just did a thread on twitter about how he put a punch of accesibility options into that game and it didn’t do anything to harm its popularity.

What you’re worried about is entirely speculative and all it really does is distract from the actual, legitimate criticism people have about these types of games.

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No, I’m not saying at all.

I haven’t even played Sekiro or any other From game.
I don’t particularly enjoy that type of difficult games.

However I’m saying:
I think it’s too easy (no pun intended), to just claim that adding in difficulty options changes nothing what so ever from any legitimate experience.
(And I don’t think “I can’t enjoy a game when others have an easier time” is a legitimate experience)

Case in point: I think it’s awesome that there is a mod out, that ads the ability to slow down time.
You can ask: well what’s the difference?
And to be honest, I don’t quite know :slight_smile:

i mean if we’re gonna accept the “artistic intent” argument on its face, and i think others have outlined better why this is a bad idea, i’d argue Dark Souls as released is far from a pure expression of “artistic intent.”

like i LOVE it, but this is a game where the back half has significant signs of being, at best, rushed, and at worst straight up unfinished. and thats okay, to a degree, because making games is hard and the world we live in is messy! but the thought of anyone playing Lost Izalith and come out thinking “yes, this right here is the holy grail of Artistic Intent, which cannot be tampered with or something core will be lost” is frankly wild to me.

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That was addressed in Patrick’s piece and in the podcast.

The popularity of From’s games did in part come from their difficulty but that was largely based around a response to a growing distaste with overtutorialization in games at the time and arguably the aspect that made them most popular, more than difficult execution, was that they used repetition and certain enemies to teach players certain skills rather than onscreen tutorials.

Also, part of the issue around this discourse is that “easiness” or what Austin referred to on the pod as “lowercase a” accessibility and accessibility with relation to people with certain disabilities have become conflated.

I’m of the opinion that From games could absolutely have easier difficulties and have actually been getting easier over time. I’ve only played a little bit of Bloodborne myself, but from what I understand Sekiro has more checkpoints than most From games and even in my limited experience I can understand how that can make for a smoother time. Patrick also mentioned that technically, asking friends/the internet for tips and reading messages that people leave behind in the Souls game are also ways of modifying difficulty.

Adding the ability to modify difficulty makes the game more accessible to people who are slightly less masochistic than the average From fan and allows them to enjoy other aspects of the games, like the lore.

Accessibility for people with some kind of disability is something that the industry across the board has to think about and can most often be achieved by allowing people to modify their control schemes and use sliders to tweak certain aspects of the experience.

These options don’t necessarily modify the inherent difficulty of the game (although some might i.e. aim assist in other games) but would allow people to execute maneuvers their body might not otherwise allow.

The fighting game Rising Thunder or something like Divekick did a similar thing for that genre. You don’t have to be able to execute controller motions that can be difficult for some people, but a lot of the other inherent difficulty of fighting games such as reading your opponent and timing your moves are still present.

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I would agree that it changes something as any change would, but I would absolutely argue that it doesn’t fundamentally undermine the entire game, and that the “cost” of the changes is minimal compared to the downside of preventing more people playing/enjoying the game.

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The thing is, legitimate experiences are already widely varied based on individual ability, background and focus. Even discounting the fact that Dark Souls has a wide variety of playstyles available in terms of weapon choice, magic, and so on, messages left by other players which will be different depending on recent activity by other people (if you play online, which you don’t have to), availability of summons, and all the other ways experiences will obviously diverge, the field of play will be different for people with different degrees of dexterity, with different visual abilities, with different prior knowledge of other FromSoft titles. The very same game does not “change nothing whatsoever from any legitimate experience”, because it’s being played by a variety of people, and the experience is filtered through them.

This was brought up in the podcast as well, but player experience goals are “goals” for a reason: it’s possible to miss. Different people will always have different experiences based on the same stimuli from the game, a developer can only try to create stimuli which will have the desired effect on the desired audience as often as possible. Which audiences they prioritise, and which they discard, is worth discussing and challenging. Dark Souls ignoring people who aren’t into dark Western fantasy is probably justifiable, a matter of taste (although one can still have discussions about that - who that vein of fantasy lionises and who it erases or villainises, what that fantasy says about the people who want to experience it). Is it as core to the piece of art that Dark Souls is, though, that it exclude some people on the basis of physical dexterity, or familiarity with a game controller, or access to the internet? (Dark Souls is being used for specificity, not because the same line of thought doesn’t apply to basically any game ever - with relevant substitutions.)

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In addition to the reasons you gave, there were two major patches that made the game much easier based on player feedback a couple of months after it came out. So by definition a lot of people that got into Dark Souls 1 when the DLC came out and it was re-released across everything (and ironically subtitled the Prepare to Die Edition on PC) only even ever played the easiest version of the game. :smiley: Whelp, guess the entire series was compromised from the get go, total trash games.

I’m still sad the patched the Dragon Head glitch though that let you continuously use an item so you could say fuck it and give yourself a million souls or cheese a situation with an endless stream of projectile items or whatever. I mean obviously I get disabling that for multiplayer but they should have kept it for playing offline because it was a great way to fuck around with stuff and also make the game way easier if you needed to.

Accessibility is one thing all devs strive to be as inclusive as possible with. But as far as actual game action “difficulty” goes one way or the other, I kind of wish games just continued to have cheat codes again so you could just play around with that as needed on the fly. Those were always easier to play with than having to hit a bunch of sliders on a menu. I know why they’re not really needed anymore but from a messing around with the difficulty standpoint they were the best way to implement that, and of course they were, their original purpose was so devs could quickly jump around and test stuff out. Plus it’s an objective fact that video games became worse with the end of Big Head Mode being a thing.

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Sports/racing are like Civ: replayable scenarios, easier to test settings. I’m not saying adding sliders wouldn’t be good, I’m asking if they’re good enough, because I think more options/granularity might put some ppl off/be overwhelming. Are players all universally good at/interested in playtesting? I don’t think I’d enjoy setting enemy health sliders/parry windows as I went along, but that’s sort of what this’d be asking the ppl asking for more options to do, right? The dev throws 20 sliders in, and it’s up to the player to figure it out? Or they have to look to the community, which doesn’t seem like an approachable option for everyone?

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Here’s a very minor point of disagreement that I feel compelled to shout from the rooftops: Patrick says that if a player asks a friend for help, they are undermining developer intent. But with the FromSoft games, I think this is completely wrong. It’s probably accurate if you’re talking about King’s Field. It might even still be accurate for Demon’s Souls. But from Dark Souls onwards, player collaboration is pretty clearly an intended part of the experience.

From has been making these obtuse, hard action RPGs since their inception, and they never really caught on until DeS introduced messages/co-op. So while they may not have intended for players to warn each other about how much of an asshole Yurt is, I’m fairly certain they want the community to work together to figure out stuff like the requirements for saving Solaire, or how to beat Lucatiel’s weird quest, or how to get the tier-3 moon rune in Bloodborne. Even in Sekiro, where the online components have been removed, I find it hard to believe From made things like Purification ending or mechanics like using the spear on the headless ape without intending some degree of external player collaboration.

If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if From’s unwillingness to add difficulty options so far is related to this community aspect. If your company has failed to find commercial success with your games for a decade and a half, then suddenly starts selling millions of copies after you encourage players to work together, doing anything that might fragment that community probably seems like a risky business decision.