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The Men Who Made Dark Souls Whole

Where FromSoftware didn't dare tread, fans stepped up and made Dark Souls for PC the mythical port it should have been.

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Dark Souls would not be a franchise without the rabid fans that embraced and championed Demon’s Souls, and Dark Souls for PC would not be the game it's become without the same dedicated fans.

When FromSoftware finally announced a PC version of Dark Souls, the world cheered. When FromSoftware started talking about the PC version of Dark Souls, the world was not quite as happy. A newcomer to PC development, FromSoftware was unusually (and refreshingly) forthcoming about its own lowered expectations for the upcoming port, and cautioned players from getting too excited.

The PC version also includes new content that's coming to consoles separately as DLC.
The PC version also includes new content that's coming to consoles separately as DLC.

"To be completely honest, we're having a tough time doing it due to our lack of experience and knowledge in terms of porting to PC,” said producer Daisuke Uchiyama in a Eurogamer interview earlier this year. “First we thought it would be a breeze, but it's turned out not to be the case.”

If nothing else, players were hoping for a more technically proficient version of Dark Souls. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have infamous frame rate issues, but those were not addressed in the PC version, seemingly out of a fear of possibly breaking it.

The game released in August, and one big issue was a resolution restriction that wouldn’t allow the game to display higher than 720p (1280x720). Peter “Durante” Thoman made this a non-issue within 30 minutes of the game’s release, when he released a patch to nullify that, and he became a hero.

“I had made some claims in a public forum prior to the release,” said Thoman, “basically stating that it shouldn't take a single decent programmer more than a day or so to implement setting the rendering resolution for a 3D game on PC. I wanted to prove that.”

It’s not a hack he came up with 30 minutes after downloading it, though, an important detail lost in the celebratory cheers. He had been working on it for days. Thoman assumed the port would use Direct X 9, and created an “interceptor.” This would forcibly change the resolution of the game, even if the game didn't have an option for it.

The first version didn’t have many settings, and was understandably buggy, but was quickly coined “DSfix.” The modification is now at version 1.7, and includes multiple resolution options, the ability to modify the game’s depth-of-field, a screen shot toggle, and other welcomed options coming from Thoman's work and a collaboration with others.

When implemented, the difference it makes is rather staggering:

Gallery image 1Gallery image 2

It’s hardly a surprise Thoman would target the game’s visual fidelity. His other work includes PtBi, a way of improving the visual quality of console games through a PC using post-processing. In the weeks since his name was enshrined in Dark Souls lore, he’s spent time mucking around with its code. He’s become pretty familiar with it, and I wondered whether he agreed with the popular notion that FromSoftware hadn't crafted a very good port.

“The best thing that can be said about the port is that it seems to be completely bug-free,” he said. “This is not often the case with RPGs, and needs to be recognized. Beyond that though, it is obvious that due to external or internal constraints, they went with the most easy to develop and test port possible."

The other huge problem was the game’s frame rate, which was locked at 30 frames-per-second. Clement “Nwks” Barnier became the second hero to the Dark Souls community with his own fix. Thoman was a huge Demon’s Souls fan who patiently waited for the petitioned PC version of the sequel. Barnier hadn’t touched the series before. He became interested after the petition worked, curious as to why so many people had rallied behind these games.

By nature, Barnier hates playing games at 30 frames-per-second. This bugged him about Dark Souls, but a running theory surmised FromSoftware had locked it for legitimate reasons. The idea was Dark Souls may have been designed like a fighting game, where the game logic and frame rendering are completely interwoven, and modifying the frame rate would be disastrous. As it turns out, that doesn't appear to be true.

As our consoles age, expectations for PC versions have risen. Those that aren't up to the task, like the original Borderlands, are often criticized.
As our consoles age, expectations for PC versions have risen. Those that aren't up to the task, like the original Borderlands, are often criticized.

“As I have some skills in assembly-language debugging,” he said, “I decided quite naturally to take a look in the guts of the game to find out if this lock was indeed justified.”

There were issues early on. If the game dropped below 60 frames-per-second, it immediately swapped to 30 frames-per-second, which is jarring. Tweaks have made this modification more usable, and is fully integrated with DSfix. There is an ethical quandary though. DSfix doesn't interfere with the code, but the frame rate fix does, which violates the terms of Games For Windows Live.

At first, Thoman was wary about the potential consequences.

“The ‘potential consequences’ I'm talking about are mostly players being banned from GFWL,” he said. “Of course, sadly, there are already very direct ways to cheat out there, so I'm not sure if holding back on releasing the fix helps. Releasing it including source would also mean that MS could very easily break it if they wanted to.”

Rumors of users being banned for using the hack have been floated, but it doesn't appear to have become a huge problem. Thoman eventually relented, and the frame rate fix is now integrated into DSfix with a disclaimer.

Both Thoman and Barnier continue to iterate on their respective tweaks to FromSoftware’s release. Both cautioned that it’s unlikely Dark Souls will become a haven for mods, ala Grand Theft Auto IV. The prospect of creating new levels for the game from users, for example, seems radically difficult, and therefore pretty unlikely.

(Then again, who would have suspected Just Cause 2 would be modded to have 1000 players at once?)

Like Thoman, Barnier can appreciate what FromSoftware did accomplish with the port, lacking as it may be.

“The context of this port is very special: it was made in answer to a petition and, furthermore, by a company with no experience in PC games,” he said. “I suspect that it would not have been done without the similarities between the Xbox360 and PCs, including the common network architecture for XBL and GFWL. The fact that it even exists, all things considered, makes it a ‘good’ port for me.”

If you're looking to install these modifications and follow their development, Nexus has you covered.

Patrick Klepek on Google+