Monday, March 10, 2014

Impossible mission

Last week I sent Chance a Mission Impossible email: convince me to give Dark Souls 2 a shot even though I hated Demons' Souls and intentionally skipped Dark Souls. He took a few days to get back to me, presumably because he was having too much fun with The Stick of Truth to set aside time for my pretty blatant trolling. It really was not a winnable contest. My mind had long ago been made up about the series. Much to his credit, Chance recognized this, but instead of punting or calling me an ass he laid out plainly why he loved it so much and could not wait for the sequel.

My opinion has not changed but I better understand why the very same things that caused me to drop the game in disgust have so enthralled others. I have a very knee jerk reaction to repeating parts of a game. This extends out to almost never playing a game through more than once: I just don't have time for it and even if I did, why bother, I have already played it. The second (or third, or fourth) viewings do nothing for me. Demons' Souls was built entirely around this concept. Every scenario begins with the player dying, losing all his stuff, and being sent back to the beginning. All progress is lost. It felt like I was going in circles and it drove me mad. 

Chance points out that this trial by failure is not the point and that not all progress is lost. The player retains whatever was learned even if his character does not. Demons' Souls taught the player via torment and death which fostered greater ownership of success when it finally came. The monster was slain not because of the bigger, better sword but because the player learned what needed to be done while walking past a mountain of his own corpses.

I never got to the success part. There was no difficulty curve, it was a brick wall, and I did not have enough patience to build a ladder out of severed limbs. Demons' Souls was lumped into the same category as insanely difficult retro-PC games and I never looked back.

Consequently I never got to experience any of the other reason Chance gave for loving Dark Souls, its unique and pure version of boring fantasy tropes. It sounds like it painted a beautiful picture, I just couldn't force myself to wait in the long line to see it.

'It's not about fun,' said Chance, 'but it is about pleasure.' Looking back at my own criteria for a good action game I understand what he means. I have said before that if you are not having fun right now in an action game start the clock. If it five minutes you are still not having fun there is a problem. Coming from someone who plays terrible games on purpose this sounds a little hypocritical, but it does explain how I can make time for Ride to Hell: Retribution but turn my nose up at Dark Souls 2. Ride to Hell was funny or terrible at regular intervals. Demons' Souls frustrated me by killing me at regular intervals. The decision was a simple one.

What is good and what is not good is not the issue. I am well aware that Dark Souls was an excellent game and that, for example, Earth Defense Force 2025 is not. Put them next to each other and I will choose shooting giant ants with big guns because that provides more regular positive feedback and because, on top of hating to repeat myself, I don't like to loose. I can't see what Chance sees, that the death was just a way of teaching. I see it as poor design and a way to pad game length because there are ways to teach the player without taking away their precious progress.

Thanks to Chance for taking up the gauntlet. I am not going to play it but I understand why you, and anyone else, will.

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