Deep Look: The Souls Series- Fixing The Accessibility Problem

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thatpinguino

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Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

Hey Duders,

Here is the latest Deep Look! Deep Looks are largely gameplay and commentary like a Giantbomb quicklook; however, I try to cover games that have been out for a while and I intend to use the videos to highlight moments and mechanics that I found particularly worthy of highlighting and exploring. Also I aim to keep the videos under 20 minutes.

In this Deep Look I examine the early moments of Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II and suggest different ways that the games could be more accessible to new players. I discuss a few structural changes that the games could make to their character creation process to eliminate some of the early frustration that the Souls series can impose on new players. I then discuss how the Soul series could better implement tutorials to prepare players for the realities of playing one of the more unforgiving and distinct action RPGs in modern gaming. I then discuss a few places where the Souls games could better illustrate their mechanics by example, rather than by forcing new players to trial and error (or FAQ) their way to victory.

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thatpinguino

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#1  Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

I forgot to mention that the souls games should explain summoning to you at some point in the tutorial if you are a new player. Summoning is one of the built in tools that mitigates some of the potential frustrations that the Souls games can produce. Without explaining how to summon and how to participate in the online multiplayer, the games can unintentionally shut off a potential stress relief valve.

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ViciousReiven

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The only 'accessibility problem' is that they're accessible at all, they should of not had any tutorials or niceties and stuck to it's old school roots, maintained the mystery, but instead they get progressively dumbed down with every installment and lose it's very essence, if it wasn't for strong world building and mechanics I'd have been done with them after DS1.

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Ares42

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I feel like you're sorta touching on an important point when you're talking about the branching paths at the start of the game. You talk about how the game implicitly expects you to explore. While it can come off as a forced mentality through the games design philosophy I think it's closer to being a requirement for the game to be enjoyable. It's sort of a chicken/egg thing. Did they make the game obtuse from the start because they wanted to force you into into that playstyle, or did they do it to let you know straight away if it's a game for you or not ?

Unless they actually redesigned the entire game you would run into the same exact issues sooner or later, so pro-longing that test of patience doesn't really serve the player in any way. If you are not willing to explore and experiment when faced against improbable odds how far would you actually get in these games even if the tutorial gave you more guidance ? You talk about giving tips during the first boss encounter, and yes it could help people understand that it's all about learning, but it could also condition people into believing that there will be more help and tips as you get further into the game.

It's a really tough balance with these games. They are trying very hard to not be the linear corridor games filled with constant help tooltips and objective markers we see so many of these days, but at the same time if you don't do that how do you not drive people away through frustration. There are most certainly things that could be drastically improved (some of which you mention), but finding the right spot to set the line is really hard, and it will vary heavily from person to person.

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thatpinguino

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#4 thatpinguino  Staff

@viciousreiven: Do you feel that way now that you already know the conventions of the series or do you honestly feel that the Souls games should never teach players the basics? Because accessibility literally only speaks to a games learnability and its ability to teach a new player how to properly play. The way I see it, the fun of a Souls game isn't figuring out how status effects work and how fucked the game's gotcha moments are. The fun is in knowing that the game is out to get you and succeeding anyway. Teaching a player how the game works doesn't impact the way the game actually plays.

Also if you want these games to grow in popularity, then they will need to have a better on boarding process. Otherwise you end up with an insular series that largely appeals to the same core group of people who have already internalized all of the series' baggage.

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ViciousReiven

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@thatpinguino: I really don't feel they should teach anything at all other than what the buttons on your controller do, back in the day that was usually reserved for the manual along with the basic outline of your quest.

I say this as someone who adored King's Field, From's previous franchise, for this very same sentiment, it didn't teach you anything whatsoever, after the small intro you were tossed into a world with practically nothing, and no idea where to go or what to expect, there weren't any NPCs nearby to learn anything from, there was no central hub to return to, if you didn't have the manual you didn't even know the goal, and once you died you had to restart the game because the first save point is a bout an hour in.

When Demon's Souls was coming out it was one of my most anticipated titles of that year, after hearing about it's weirdness and rumors from people who imported the already fully English Asia version the year before.

At first I was still kinda unhappy about some of the modernization, the autosaving, the ability to 'recover' souls, the central hub of the nexus leading to segmented areas of game, the leave a message system, but for that game it worked, it still had mystery, it still had sensibilities to it from an era gone by, you wouldn't know how to do so much unless you put things together yourself or someone else told you, weather it be items, simple mechanics like types of attacks, bigger integrated mechanics like how to upgrade equipment or obtain magic, it was glorious.

But ever since then they've gotten farther away from that feeling, and it's not just because of expectation, yeah we know there's going to be similarities and that's fine, you may know the basics of how to attack and defend, or a general idea of what some mechanics are going to do, but for the most part you have a new world, with new enemies, a new goal, and thus a new mysetry to unravel...

Except not really, now you have detailed item descriptions, more NPCs to deliver exposition, checkpoint after checkpoint and plenty of shortcuts to get back to them and later the ability to get anywhere you need to go really fast, an infinitely refillable health potion so you don't have to be as careful, you no longer have to make every one count.

Demon's Souls took a chance at bringing back a type of game to a modern market, it was niche and it hit the mark, it was never going to be for everyone and that's OK it never needed to be, but now as the games give the player more and more things to make it less 'frustrating' to the larger and larger growing fan-base the more it takes away from what I feel made me a fan in the first place, and there's little out there to replace that, which is a shame because of how good they are at making those games, at making those mechanics and worlds.

Is it their duty to appease everyone now? Maybe I'm just too stubborn, I don't know.

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thatpinguino

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#6  Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

@ares42:I guess that branching path could mean that, but once I found out where I needed to go from a wiki I found the rest of the game kind of appealing (I don't love the series so much as I am fascinated by how it is successful). The initial frustration sucked, but I never ran into a moment like that again since, from that point on, I had multiple places to warp to at any given time. I never again felt like I had no idea where to go.

As for the boss narration, you could explicitly tell the player that this is the only time they are getting advice. For example, you could have a guide character helping you in the opening and then kill them. Or the tutorial could be a one-off dream sequence with constant narration. I think that making the tutorial section a bit more robust could be done in a way that actually preps new players for the challenges ahead, without setting up false expectations.

I agree its a hard balance to strike, but I think providing the player with a prompt at the beginning of the game (have you played a souls game -- yes or no?) would solve a lot of the onboarding issues without hurting the experience for series veterans. At this point the issue is teaching new players how these games even work, not changing the game on a fundamental level. You can teach a kid to play basketball by having him/her just jump into a game of 5 on 5 and then whistle them every time they break the rules. It isn't the most elegant way, but he/she will learn through mistakes how the game works. Alternatively you can explain the rules and run some drills before throwing them into a live game. Both methods can result in a person who knows how to play basketball, but the first option is going to lead to a lot more people getting frustrated and quitting (it will also lead to someone playing inefficiently without knowing it).

@viciousreiven:So for you the value of mystery is worth more than a basic understanding of what items do and how they work? I mean that is a fine opinion to have, but teaching new players about what the game is about is worth while. If you didn't have a previous set of expectations based on playing King's Field, you wouldn't have the necessary context to appreciate these games. So sure you love these games because they are obtuse and intentionally mysterious, but I don't see how teaching new players basic functionality should impact you. Other players play the Souls games for other reasons, whether its a power fantasy, a customization game, or an exploration game. However, when the Souls games do a bad job of teaching basic mechanics they loose people who could appreciate things beyond the mystery in service of players who want 100% obtuseness. The series doesn't have to appeal to everyone, but for it to grow and stay healthy it needs to attract and keep new players.

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Ares42

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@ares42:I guess that branching path could mean that, but once I found out where I needed to go from a wiki I found the rest of the game kind of appealing (I don't love the series so much as I am fascinated by how it is successful). The initial frustration sucked, but I never ran into a moment like that again since, from that point on, I had multiple places to warp to at any given time. I never again felt like I had no idea where to go.

That's sorta the point though, as soon as you got past the first encounter that forced you to either figure out what's wrong or give up on the game you "got it", so every time you ran into another obstacle or couldn't find your way you were already ready to figure it out and not get frustrated anymore. I'm not saying you necessarily have to love the games for their obtuseness, but if you can't deal with it the games will just be one annoying encounter after another after another.

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ViciousReiven

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Excuse me if I sound bitter at this, I kind of am but I don't mean this to be mean spirited I'm actually enjoying this dialog, so let me break it down the way I feel about it.

I think you're idea of a basic understanding and mine may differ, I see it as a player should probably know a sword is a weapon, an antidote (if they call it that) is to heal poison and stuff along those lines, even the most basic of older RPGs had item descriptions, but I don't think that level of understanding should apply to mechanics or unique items, that's where the obtuseness should be.

The learning part to me should be either through complete experimentation or a fan knowledge base, like a forum or wiki dedicated to figuring that stuff out, not by the game itself telling you.

As for expectations, you have it kinda backwards there, the problem is I didn't appreciate it at first because of my experience with KF, it was an initial level of excitement that quickly drained due to how much more open and player friendly Demon's Souls was compared to KF, I soon found myself able to bring it back when I realized it wasn't all that far removed and did have a level of mystery underneath the surface, not the same but good, I didn't get the same thing I got from KF, being thrust into the unknown, which is still what I'm looking for and wish this series would be, but instead each game dulls that part more, except for Bloodborne which is an odd mish-mash of thing's from each of the games instead of a distillation the rest of the games had from entry to entry.

If you don't see how things could impact different types of players then I guess it depends on what you're really asking to add/change, if it's just pure tutorials then yeah the only thing that'd really change is returning players having to go through it if it isn't optional, but to me it changes the spirit of the game, which I admit isn't something that's easily quantified you just know it when you see it, and maybe you disagree with what that spirit is.

In the end I'm frustrated with the idea that other's frustrations of the games are some of the parts that I find fascinating and engaging, and that their frustrations are addressed while my specific ideals don't get manifested in modern games very often, and when they do they're quick to disappear.

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TheBlue

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You spend a lot of time considering what new players to the series could see as frustrating starting one of these games, but a lot of your solutions seem geared to coddle the player in a game that is designed to not coddle you. The messages for example, the developer messages typically only display controls while player messages are able to be rated and have phrases instead of controls. There's a clear difference that I think a reasonably intelligent player could realize.

The class system is something I don't think is that big of an issue either. Out of the 10 or so classes that you can pick from, 7 or 8 of them are melee classes and a few are magic. The way these games are designed is that the classes are largely irrelevant and only serve as an idea for where you might want to go. It's typically never to late to change what kinds of weapons and magic you want to use. Giving players the option to try classes is really only useful for weapons vs. spells, melee combat is largely the same for every class. While I agree having all of those classes is confusing and overwhelming, I think a new player can figure out what they personally want to play with.

The same kind of thing applies to all of the stats. Yeah, there are a lot of stats on those stat screens, and you look at it and wonder how the hell to comprehend all of it. That may turn players away from the game, but I've seen a lot of new players simply ignore all of the FireDefs and ThrustAtks and PoisonRes, and still play the game effectively and enjoy it. Like most RPGs, those stats are there if you choose to engage with them, but you can also just grab a big weapon, throw on the heaviest armor, and just plow your way through the game. You don't need to know what enemies are weak to blunt damage or thrust damage, you can do okay without even knowing. So honestly, the best thing they could do for new players is not show that info in one screen listed for you to figure out. There should be sub menus with that stuff so people that want to dive deep into each stat can and newer players don't feel like they need to watch every stat.

I guess what it comes down to is what each player finds frustrating. This games are designed to test your patience and give you free reign of the world from the get go. You're given some basic control tips and a means to hit things and that's it, the game is what you make of it. That what makes it unique and what I enjoy about it. What one person may see as frustrating another might see as challenging. If I wanted waypoints and arrows pointing me in the right direction and disembodied voices telling me how to play, I'd play something else. I'm not discounting your points, you've made a lot of valid criticisms and suggestions, I just think these solutions are against what these games were designed to be. You're meant to feel like you're in a strange world that you don't understand and everything is against your success, which makes it all the sweeter when you emerge victorious.

Honestly though, if you really want to fix the accessibility problem? Go back in time and stop the people on the internet that claimed that Demon's and Dark Souls are impossibly hard and gave it the reputation it has today.

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Shindig

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Demon's Souls did the branching path thing well enough by restricting you to the game's distinctive first level. Its a foothold which the other games don't exactly give you. Dark Souls kind implies the right direction but doesn't explicitly tell you the way up to the first bell. Dark Souls II is a mess but the size of the guys in Heide should warn new players enough. The path to the first area of Souls II is actually lit and kinda smacks you in the face once you hit the Majula bonfire.

I do wish they'd explain stamina to new players, though. None of the games go into that and its arguably the most important mechanic of the whole series.

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dudeglove

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I would like to request star wipe transitions for your next video.

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thatpinguino

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#12 thatpinguino  Staff

@dudeglove: It shall be done.

@shindig: I didn't see the entrance to the Forest of Giants because of the camera angle I was using to look at the cliff-side. From my perspective it looked like a sheer cliff. I knew that the giants were too big to be the first enemies, but I couldn't find another entrance so I gave them a try. I also didn't find the bonfire at the tower of flame until I died like 7 times (it took about 2 deaths to find the bonfire in the forest).

I agree with the stamina explanation as well. I thought it was too self explanatory to mention in the video, but the relationship between armor, stamina regen, and dodging is pretty key to how you play that game.

@theblue: I had a bad experience picking a thief in Demon's Souls because I assumed that thief rules from other game would apply. It tuned out that the thief class had few of the upsides that I expected and a ton of downside in the form of the starting dagger. If I had been given an option to test out classes I would have selected a barbarian because it had the hit and run style I prefer, but because I couldn't I found out that I hated my character and quit the game after a few hours. This was before I had any idea of the wikis and communities that have sprung up around the Souls games.

I think hiding the stats is another viable option, but just educating the player would be the better approach from an accessibility perspective. You don't have to walk players through every single stat, but I think teaching the player about the 2-3 status effects and damage types in the game would be useful.

I think you can have the world still be just as hostile, but it seems to me that giving new players the tools to process these games would help them get to the point where they could appreciate the challenge and the nuance.

@viciousreiven: All of my suggestions are specifically targeted at people who have not played these games before. I firmly believe that the increased tutorialization and accessibility options should be opt-in considering the nature of these games. I just think that asking people to go outside of the game to even understand basic systems is an exit point that eliminates players. It might be in the spirit of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but in all honesty most people I know who play these games consult forums, wikis, let's plays, and streams to learn what to do when they are stuck or to learn how to approach the game in the first place. I think moving some of those basic pieces of information into the game proper would help players who need help the most, without impacting players who don't want it.

I understand why you want a game you perceive as a last bastion of old-school sensibilities to stay as uninviting as possible. The games you seem to like just aren't made very often because they appeal to a small niche and they deliberately reject years of game design theory. However, I think increased, opt-in tutorialization helps everyone involved and I'll go back to my basketball analogy to explain why. Imagine an elementary school basketball team where in order to join the team you had to hit a three-point shot. Now the kids shooting might not have even played basketball before and very few of them are going to know how to shoot any kind of shot. Some of those kids would go home and study how to shoot a three pointer. Some would ask friends to teach them. Some would just figure it out on their own. And a few of them might already have the skill required, and as such they are completely unimpacted by the shooting requirement. However, some kids would just leave and join another team without that high barrier of entry. Basketball has a ton of facets and skills that are necessary and there are other elements of the game that are enjoyable and skillful. However, by gating the whole experience behind a high barrier of entry that school has cut out potential talent before it has a chance to really develop. That will hurt the team by driving away kids with different skillsets and if the basketball team gets a reputation for being uninviting, then it could prevent people from even attempting to get into the sport. I think this is the position the Souls series is in right now (as @theblue mentioned). It is scaring away people who could enjoy it before they even have an idea about why they would.

@ares42:But I didn't "get it," I looked up the answer on another site and talked to people about the game. I had to go outside of the game to get the help I needed. And from GB's coverage of the Souls series that seems like a pretty normal experience for new players of the series. Almost the whole GB staff (with Vinny being the exception) needed a person to either guide them or give them tips before they appreciated the Souls series to the extent they now do. I just think that weeding people out of the game in the first 20-30 minutes before they have any positive experiences to spur them on seems like a poor accessibility decision. It might be pragmatic, but I think it is ultimately harmful.

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TheBlue

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@thatpinguino: Yeah, I definitely agree that certain things about stats could be explained better. For example, knowing that armored enemies are weak to blunt damage is pretty huge for players that struggle with the Old Knights in Heide's or the Ruin Sentinels. While I don't think some sort of narration or sequence where you learn these things is very apropos for the series, being able to hover over BluntAtk and having it say armored foes are weak to it would be useful.

I am curious to know how intentional the lack of information is. There is a sense of satisfying discovery that comes with that level of confusion and mystery. If you go back to the Dark Souls 2 Quick look and listen to how excitedly Brad and Vinny bounce ideas off each other and theorize what items do, there's a sense of fun to be had with that discovery together with other players. While new players obviously won't have that experience right off the bat, I think the developers actively encourage the sense of community working together to figure out how things work. Unfortunately, new players that don't necessarily have people to talk with won't have that same experience. I don't know, I could go both ways on it.

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Ares42

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#14  Edited By Ares42

@thatpinguino said:

@ares42:But I didn't "get it," I looked up the answer on another site and talked to people about the game. I had to go outside of the game to get the help I needed. And from GB's coverage of the Souls series that seems like a pretty normal experience for new players of the series. Almost the whole GB staff (with Vinny being the exception) needed a person to either guide them or give them tips before they appreciated the Souls series to the extent they now do. I just think that weeding people out of the game in the first 20-30 minutes before they have any positive experiences to spur them on seems like a poor accessibility decision. It might be pragmatic, but I think it is ultimately harmful.

I would argue you did. You didn't quit the game in frustration, you went out and you found the answers you needed. Sure, you might not have found them inside the game, but you started to explore.

When Demon's Souls first came out over here (EU) it came with a full walkthrough to help new players. So when I first played the game I did the whole "Royal, magic, fire on Phalanx" routine, and I quit the game shortly after beating Phalanx. There was nothing interesting going on with the game and whenever I encountered something that wasn't explained in the guide it was just a source of frustration. Ofc that's very much on the opposite side of the spectrum, but it very clearly ruined the game for me. I didn't "get it" at all.

I think almost everyone that has played these games has gone through their own tribulation, but most have also gotten through it somehow. The theoretical person that goes out and buys one of them completely by their own impetus without anyone or anywhere to turn for guidance is fairly rare. The games are deliberately designed to be "community" games where you share your own discoveries with other people, and in return they share with you. The fact that you sought out other people for guidance wasn't necessarily a failure of the games design.

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thatpinguino

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#15 thatpinguino  Staff

@theblue: I actually wrote a bit about why I thought the Souls games are so beloved for their obtuseness last year, though I think my perspective on that topic has changed a little since then. I think that Demon's Souls had a poor translation and some of its mystery came from the localization not telling you things properly. That lead to people trial and erroring item functions and uses. Then the later games in the series kept right on chugging with that design ethos, but with a little more intention. I think the games were always meant to be solved by people talking and sharing info, that's the whole point of the messages after all, but some of the early stuff was also accidental.

I think the best way to play these games right now is in an environment with multiple friends who are also playing the game for the first time (which is why so many game writers love it so much; they have the perfect setup to get maximum enjoyment). However, since that is not a given I think that the game's developers could do a little more to bring new people in. Once you get someone to appreciate the Souls series they tend to evangelize the series like crazy, so bringing new players into the fold should be a top priority.

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gamefreak9

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I mostly disagree on almost every point. You want to basically destroy uncertainty which is one of the main elements which makes DS unique and interesting. That very first boss in DS, without being directed to run, I decided on my own to do so because I accepted defeat, this is a very big and rare deal in games.

1) Starting item barely make a difference(ring of life won't increase the number of hits you can take for 90% of cases). I think the lack of transparency on what stats to boost is a good thing, instead of giving you generalities you first have to choose the weopon you want(which gives you its requirements) and then once you make the choice, lock in and keep building it.

2) Training you to use messages and then making you take the rest of them with a grain of salt is absolutely awesome. I am sorry but if a message tells you to fall down a cliff and you listen to it(except in that one case in Dark Souls where its supposed to happen), then you deserve to be punished. Think for yourself. Don't force anything on anybody, they should be playing a game curiously and discovering things, don't force them to explore, that makes it less game like.

3) Telling players about a feature creates expectations and those expectations make discovery less exciting. Whenever I found a key, I was wondering... hm what is this for and I started trying to figure out what it

4) Not knowing if you are in the right area is part of the fun of the game. The first bosses I beat in DS2 was that dragon knight and the guy from the first DS. Having that at the back of your head "am I going the right way?" is great, it makes players anxious. If you aren't exploring properly(and missing bonfires then you should be punished)

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thatpinguino

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#17 thatpinguino  Staff

@gamefreak9: Teaching new players how to play is not destroying uncertainty and I prefaced all of my suggestions by saying that the tutorial should be opt-in.

@ares42:I think there is a happy medium between a complete walkthrough and no help at all. Honestly I would love to know how the Souls games are playtested. It seems like it would be so hard to do well.

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Chillicothe

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#18  Edited By Chillicothe

What I find most interesting about these is it is in the face of an accellerating amount of FAQs, wikis, LPs, walkthroughs, and on-tap assistance from the helpful community.

Miyazaki knows that we will push each others' cars up those snowy hills, don't seek to take that heart of gold from us.

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bceagles128

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@viciousreiven: If you want these games to grow in popularity ...

I don't care whether they grow in popularity. I want the games to stay true to what they are. No handholding. The prompts are the beginning of each game and the item descriptions are sufficient, and if they aren't, new players are free to go online to the wikis to get as much detail as they want.

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Shindig

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#20  Edited By Shindig

I think we've seen with these games they grow in popularity through other means. Youtube's a powerful tool for that.

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ajamafalous

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I will just echo most of the responses and say that I think most (all?) of your suggestions work directly against the spirit and uniqueness of the series.

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thatpinguino

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#22  Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

@bceagles128: @ajamafalous: @shindig: @chillicothe: My suggestions are deliberately for helping people who might not have the network of gaming tips that people who are super plugged into the industry have. Remember that almost the entirety of the GB staff played and dismissed the Souls series when it first came out because the games seemed unfun and innaccessible. They aresome of the most plugged in players in the industry and they didn't put up with the opening hurdles. Now literally every member of the staff has an appreciation for the Souls games because they have been carried through the early BS by friends and colleagues who played the games first and vetted them (and most of those colleagues were in the odd position of needing to finish the Souls games for review).

I don't understand why a better tutorial that is literally only targeted at first timers is an affront to the game's soul. There are literally entire columns dedicated to explaining how to enjoy a Souls game (google dark souls primer if you don't believe me). Wouldn't it be better for these games if that primer were actually in the game? My suggestions are literally only for the beginning of the game and for the most basic systems. You don't have to explain the later stuff or remove the difficulty, just teach players how the game actually freaking works and then let them decide if they want to continue.

Also people already claim that the games are being dumbed down just due to basic gameplay style changes. The style changes that are apparent in something like Bloodborne actually doesn't help new players at all.But it does still piss off people who claim that the spirit of the original souls games is being destroyed. People are going to be pissed by any and all changes and the people most comfortable in the current system will be pissed when changes are made to accommodate an audience that isn't them. However, I think getting new blood into the fanbase is worth mildly upsetting the core fans who think that these games should never change to accommodate anyone.

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IVDAMKE

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I find this whole discussion about the Souls series and it's perceived accessibilty problem just bizarre. My first point would be why does every single video game have to be accessible to everyone ever? This is a very specific product for a very specific audience and that is totally ok. Why is there a demand for games to change or remove what makes them special to a specific audience so that the other audience can enjoy it and thus making it a less special product to the original fans? If someone doesn't enjoy what the Souls games bring to the table they can simply not play it. The only real reason I can think that this is needed is from a business perspective to earn more money.

The other point that every "new player" seems to be forgetting is every "souls veteran" was once a new player too. Do you know what they did? They worked it out themselves they read item descriptions they experimented with the mechanics and controls. Why can't these late to the party new players do the same?

As much as I'd like more people to be able to enjoy the Souls series I don't think it should be done at the expense of what makes the series unique. It's not hard to pick up the controller and just press buttons to see what they do there seems to be some sort've innate fear that people have with video games that prevents them from just experimenting and learning under their own accord. They seem to want to be told every little detail so they can't make any mistakes or work things out for themselves.

I relished in what Demons Souls brought back in 2009. It was a game that I couldn't just pick up the controller and immediatly know exactly how everything would play out it gave me things to learn and challenges to overcome which resulted in an experience with video games I hadn't quite had in a long time. Don't take that away from the audience who enjoys that experience so that the audience who doesn't can play the franchise.

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thatpinguino

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#24 thatpinguino  Staff

@baronsamedi: Because having a handful of teaching tools for new players isn't ruining what makes these games special or making the game accessible for everyone. It is just making the game a bit more approachable for people who don't have a person or a site to help them.

Keeping the barrier of entry where it currently is literally only punishing new players. The people who have already bought in clearly don't care at all how unintuative these games are. They literally want the game to be more obscure.

The other point that every "new player" seems to be forgetting is every "souls veteran" was once a new player too. Do you know what they did? They worked it out themselves they read item descriptions they experimented with the mechanics and controls. Why can't these late to the party new players do the same?

How about because the Souls games have other ways of playing and other appealing aspects beyond the ability to figure out the basic mechanics? Saying "it was shitty for me so they should grapple with the same shit that I did" is not a great way to get more people and different people to share in this series. These games can appeal to people in ways beyond a callback to "hardcore gaming roots." I didn't have that context and I enjoyed the games for their different playstyles and their worlds. My early confusion kept me from playing this series for years, as it has a bunch of other people (though apparently not anyone who cares enough about the Souls series to post about it on a forum). Cutting off people at the entrance so that you can feel that the game is spiritually pure, when you would never see any of the changes I proposed, seems unnecessarily exclusionary.

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ajamafalous

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#25  Edited By ajamafalous

However, I think getting new blood into the fanbase is worth mildly upsetting the core fans who think that these games should never change to accommodate anyone.

I hope I don't have to explain how completely ridiculous this statement is. This is exactly the kind of logic that publishers use to ruin franchises.

There are literally dozens of 'accessible' RPGs that exist, which is one of the reasons many Souls fans find the series so refreshing in the first place. Your suggestions go against the very thing that made the games popular and created that hardcore audience in the first place. Not all games are, or need to be, for all people.

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thatpinguino

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#26 thatpinguino  Staff

@ajamafalous: These games already have a tutorial, its just bad! The game already have resources to help that a ton of people use and that game sites publish, it just isn't in the game. I'm arguing to combine the two for people who opt in to see it. You are arguing this is a slippery slope when I literally explain the extent of the changes I would advise and I explicitly say that you can opt out. What is the problem? Is making the entry point a little lower for new players that offensive to you? You would never feel the impact of the changes that I suggested.

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shiftymagician

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@ajamafalous: These games already have a tutorial, its just bad! The game already have resources to help that a ton of people use and that game sites publish, it just isn't in the game. I'm arguing to combine the two for people who opt in to see it. You are arguing this is a slippery slope when I literally explain the extent of the changes I would advise and I explicitly say that you can opt out. What is the problem? Is making the entry point a little lower for new players that offensive to you? You would never feel the impact of the changes that I suggested.

The tutorial was good enough for me and many others to properly beat the game and mess with other builds without a FAQ. It's not the tutorial that sucks so much as it is certain players that can't grasp it.

This reminds me a lot of when Dan was complaining about how confusing Monster Hunter 4 was and having the others claiming 3 was more confusing. I have Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on New 3DS and didn't find that confusing at all and found it a ton of fun. All I did was two things that newcomers simply have to learn the hard way - be observant and pay attention. It's actually kind of depressing how many people I see locally around me play games and are completely unable to do either of these things.

My love for the souls series is that it demands your attention or it will punish you for not being alert at any tidbit of information that is either shown or hinted at via the messages, environment, item descriptions or the enemies themselves through their tells. Once you decide to comply with how the game plays, the starting offline messages and community online messages tell you all you need to know and more about how the game works. It's up to the player to use their mind and determine truth from lie, then learn from it all.

Even if your hypothetical tutorial is completely optional, you inherently divide the community up to a hardcore purist demographic and casual spoon-fed demographic that may lose the minutia of how to actually play the game as originally intended. Sure a straight up tutorial that gets made to tell you how to attack, parry, dodge, skill up etc may seem great to bring in new guys, but then that solidifies an expectation as to how the mechanics should work. In the reality of the souls series, a static tutorial can never prepare someone how to read frames, explore builds naturally, make decisions on a whim without worrying about making a specific build the first time through. This will very likely ruin (or at least degrade) the dark souls community as it currently is, which is a tight-knit community of people learning and discovering every nook and cranny of each game through their wits alone and/or the collective wit of the online community as a whole.

I think a great example of why your suggestions will do a disservice is with my just recent experience with Dark Souls 2. I'm at a part where I was told via a message not to kill a guy with a torch. Turned out he was friendly and thought 'Neat. The guy can illuminate my path for me as I get through this dark crypt of sorts'. However as I approached a new area, several messages appear, warning me that I should not use a torch. Then a person's voice warned me not to bring the light here. Then I knew that I was almost setup by the previous messages and killed the torch-wielder. I met a new npc guarded by guards that would have tried to kill me if I brightened that area with a torch. There are many types of scenarios in the souls series where you are baited into doing the wrong thing but in no way is it going to ruin your game if you make either choice. However you will make the right choice if you stay alert and heed all hints that you can find. No amount of tutorials will prepare any newcomer or veteran for events like this unless you straight up tell them in a tutorial that it will happen. If I was told through a tutorial that I may experience stuff like this ahead of time, the mystery and discovery is gone. I don't have to guess anything because the game told me this is how it is and the magic of the game is lessened because you had to make sure some beginner without a clue could also make the right choice. The game will be lesser for it I guarantee you.

I completely see where you are coming from when thinking 'how can this awesome game be made next time so even more people can have fun with it' but honestly that's an impossible task for this particular franchise without diluting the reputation it gained from being what it currently is now. This kind of advice would be better served on a brand new series that isn't trying to exactly copy the Souls series, but provide an easier alternative to those that basically want to be told how to play a game and not be given the free will to try things out themselves, with no other driving force but their own curiosity. I am not saying here that I find the latter kind of gamer to be inferior in any way (that would be a dick move), but that the kind of gamer you want to facilitate with these suggestions probably aren't meant to play this particular series in the first place. The good thing about games in this day and age is there's surely going to be another game that takes inspiration from the Souls series, but does basically what you are looking for.

Opinions yo! The Souls series is fine as it is aside from some hitboxes and technical issues that I wish From Software could get better at. Also get off my lawn!! :P

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thatpinguino

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#28  Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

@shiftymagician: I would say that no tutorial should include stuff like the situation you described. It should cover stuff like "what is poison" or "how do I level up". My suggestions are just to make the basics of the basics a bit more intuitive, not the whole game. You could even couch it in a dream sequence or something so people know the main game will not offer this help.

I don't think that people who have a friend teach them the game are "casual spoon-fed" players and they get way better help than what I'm proposing. I don't see how this is different other than people fearing any change that might take away their beloved bastion of hardcore old schoolness. Or as you say, "get off my lawn."

Also Dan's critique was basically, "why can't this game play like another game." Mine is that this game should explain the basics so people can get to the more interesting questions faster.

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IVDAMKE

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#29  Edited By IVDAMKE

@baronsamedi: Because having a handful of teaching tools for new players isn't ruining what makes these games special or making the game accessible for everyone. It is just making the game a bit more approachable for people who don't have a person or a site to help them.

I think it does ruin a part of what makes them so special and I also don't think they're necessary. The first major suggestion you make is the training room with very basic enemies, this kind've perplexes me as this exists in all of the Souls games and is only absent in Bloodborne. Demons first drops you into a tutorial zone slowly introduces you through several different enemy types all of which have specific behaviours relevant to the most recent tutorial message the player would have read. The first enemy comes after a tutorial message telling you how to attack, that first enemy actually never even attacks you and lets you just kill it. Later on there's a tutorial message that tells you how to two hand a weapon and guard break enemies blocking with shields. Straight after that message is an enemy that does nothing but block and very very rarely attacks. This is essentially what you suggested and I fail to see how adding another version of this ontop would help.

Other things you suggest like removing the deprived or magic classes because they may be harder to use will also definetly ruin the experience for both old and new players. This also goes for the same suggestion made for the starting items. The mystery of those starting items is there for a reason because some of them have totally different uses that don't come into play until much later in the game and that is most definetly a major part of the fun of these games.

Now you may say that you suggest the "I have/haven't played a Souls game before" option would mean that these options are totally fine because they won't ruin it for the experienced player. I'd argue they could also turn new players away from the franchise too. What if someone wanted to play a magic caster from the get go? What if a new player wanted to experience the mystery of the master key or the petrified something. It's clear you weren't apart of the fun with the mysterious Pendant. It's not like choosing the items here will fundamently gimp your ability to play the game. You say the Life Ring is "endlessly useful" and makes the game a lot simpler, it really doesn't all it does is add 5% more health which is negligable with how low the players healthpool is at the beginning of the game.

How about because the Souls games have other ways of playing and other appealing aspects beyond the ability to figure out the basic mechanics?

They do have plenty of appealing factors outside of their obscurity you are correct. But contrary to your belief things like stat scaling, animation sets and blunt/slash/piercing damage are not apart of the "basic" mechanics. This game has an incredibly basic combat system this is not Devil May Cry or Street Fighter, it boils down to attacking when enemies are vunerable and dodging or blocking when they are attacking you. This is so easy to grasp and is the core basic mechanics you're referring too. Things like animation sets and damage types are not compulsory to understand to complete the game all you need to know is that when enemies attack you you need to defend and when enemies are vunerable you need to attack.

You seem to have this notion that you must know everything about the game before stepping into it. You refer to things like status effects all being displayed to you at the beginning of the game so you don't learn about them mid game. If you get exposed to poison, petrification or curse before it becomes threatening then when they do come around it's not a new experience you've already seen it and there's no shock factor. Areas like Harvest Valley or Blighttown would have a far lessened initial impact on the player because they've already experienced what those zones have to offer, and you certainly wouldn't have had the same "oh shit" feeling when you dropped into the depths and the Basilisks started building a mysterious skull meter up on your screen. Things like this remove the mystery of progression in this game like I said in my previous post Demons was "a game that I couldn't just pick up the controller and immediatly know exactly how everything would play out" because it had new systems and game elements around every corner whether it be from the environment to the enemies even npcs and items.

Saying "it was shitty for me so they should grapple with the same shit that I did" is not a great way to get more people and different people to share in this series.

I never said it was shitty, I said I relished in it. I enjoyed every moment of it. That's why I'm saying if you don't enjoy these things these games aren't for you and maybe you should either find external ways to make them for you or simply don't play them. Not every game has to be reaching for new people at all times, this game has new people reaching for it and for damn good reason. There's nothing else like it.

Cutting off people at the entrance so that you can feel that the game is spiritually pure, when you would never see any of the changes I proposed, seems unnecessarily exclusionary.

It's not exclusionary at all. As I said the game is there you can play it, it's not closing on you because you're bad, you're imposing that on yourself. What's exclusionary is coming into a franchise finding things you don't like that others do and telling those people that their wrong and what brought them into the franchise should be changed so that you can be included and they can be discarded on the wayside.

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#30 thatpinguino  Staff

@baronsamedi:

I think it does ruin a part of what makes them so special and I also don't think they're necessary. The first major suggestion you make is the training room with very basic enemies, this kind've perplexes me as this exists in all of the Souls games and is only absent in Bloodborne. Demons first drops you into a tutorial zone slowly introduces you through several different enemy types all of which have specific behaviours relevant to the most recent tutorial message the player would have read. The first enemy comes after a tutorial message telling you how to attack, that first enemy actually never even attacks you and lets you just kill it. Later on there's a tutorial message that tells you how to two hand a weapon and guard break enemies blocking with shields. Straight after that message is an enemy that does nothing but block and very very rarely attacks. This is essentially what you suggested and I fail to see how adding another version of this ontop would help.

Demon Souls and Dark Souls did a better job of tutorializing the basic buttons than DS2 and Bloodborne since the tutorial is skippable in DS2 and Bloodborne lacks any kind of tutorial. It seems that From Software doesn't find that part of the game significant enough to standardize. So I think that the criticism still stands. Explaining things beyond the button presses is important too.

You seem to have this notion that you must know everything about the game before stepping into it. You refer to things like status effects all being displayed to you at the beginning of the game so you don't learn about them mid game. If you get exposed to poison, petrification or curse before it becomes threatening then when they do come around it's not a new experience you've already seen it and there's no shock factor. Areas like Harvest Valley or Blighttown would have a far lessened initial impact on the player because they've already experienced what those zones have to offer, and you certainly wouldn't have had the same "oh shit" feeling when you dropped into the depths and the Basilisks started building a mysterious skull meter up on your screen. Things like this remove the mystery of progression in this game like I said in my previous post Demons was "a game that I couldn't just pick up the controller and immediatly know exactly how everything would play out" because it had new systems and game elements around every corner whether it be from the environment to the enemies even npcs and items.

So you think that having a mystery insta kill in the depths was tenser than knowing that you were petrifying, but not why? Or that getting mystery poisoned was tenser than knowing that poison exists and you should watch out? I am not saying that you need to explain how to counter these attacks or cure them. Just let people know what these symbols mean.

It's not exclusionary at all. As I said the game is there you can play it, it's not closing on you because you're bad, you're imposing that on yourself. What's exclusionary is coming into a franchise finding things you don't like that others do and telling those people that their wrong and what brought them into the franchise should be changed so that you can be included and they can be discarded on the wayside.

Most of the GB staff ignored these games for years because they couldn't grasp them. They are as plugged in to games as anyone and they have multiple people they can lean on. They had no interest because their first impressions were so negative and these games have an exclusionary reputation. It took help to get them where they are now. As far as discarding people, if you think an increased tutorial is enough to drive you out of this series forever, then maybe that's a problem. I played DS2 the first few weeks with a naked character on my first run. I'm not terrible at these games and I don't feel unincluded anymore. I just acknowledge that these games could do a better job of getting people to where I am.

This conversation reminds me of a similar situation with Magic: The Gathering. In the last few years MTG reworked how creature combat functions and they simplified it. They completely removed some of the tricks that I used to enjoy and exploit in the name of accessibility. At first I was a bit upset because it felt like a dumbing down and it felt like a move that just catered to new players at the expense of a nuance I enjoyed. This was literally a complete mechanical shift that has changed the way I play the game to this day. However, I found that creature combat is much simpler now and the change added a lot of new choices to the game. It also meant that I didn't need to explain some of the unintuative BS that I used to use to beat players who didn't understand the rules like I did. That change has cost me games, but it has helped people get on my level faster and it has reduced confusion. In related news MTG is more popular than it has ever been. Accessibility matters when you want to share your hobbies with as many people as possible.

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IVDAMKE

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@thatpinguino said:

Demon Souls and Dark Souls did a better job of tutorializing the basic buttons than DS2 and Bloodborne since the tutorial is skippable in DS2 and Bloodborne lacks any kind of tutorial. It seems that From Software doesn't find that part of the game significant enough to standardize. So I think that the criticism still stands. Explaining things beyond the button presses is important too.

I think you only really have a solid point when it comes to Bloodborne, even Dark Souls 2 has a very explicit tutorial zone that's very obvious if you skip it. If you do accidently skip it that means you're a player who isn't paying attention to anything and not exploring/searching the environment at all. That's not the games fault that's the players fault for ignoring a whole area before they continue on. I thought Dark Souls 2 did quite a good job of designing a comprimise between having a tutorial area for new players that is also quick for the experienced/replay players to skip. Bloodborne however has you killed almost instantly (unless you manage to be really patient first try or run away) and sent to a hub world. That hubworld does have all the button prompts however unlike the previous games there are no introductory enemies to allow the player to grasp the very basic controls. This I can understand as an issue.

So you think that having a mystery insta kill in the depths was tenser than knowing that you were petrifying, but not why? Or that getting mystery poisoned was tenser than knowing that poison exists and you should watch out? I am not saying that you need to explain how to counter these attacks or cure them. Just let people know what these symbols mean.

Those symbols are very clearly defined on the stats page so I don't know what you're talking about. The mystery comes from which enemies use them and what enviormental hazards you have to avoid etc. Also the Basilisks are far from instakill you can see the meter building up for quite some time before you get killed.

Most of the GB staff ignored these games for years because they couldn't grasp them. They are as plugged in to games as anyone and they have multiple people they can lean on. They had no interest because their first impressions were so negative and these games have an exclusionary reputation. It took help to get them where they are now. As far as discarding people, if you think an increased tutorial is enough to drive you out of this series forever, then maybe that's a problem. I played DS2 the first few weeks with a naked character on my first run. I'm not terrible at these games and I don't feel unincluded anymore. I just acknowledge that these games could do a better job of getting people to where I am.

I think the GB staff are a terrible example to help your argument. As much as I like the guys and enjoy their content, I've seen a lot of it and I'm very well aware of how much attention they don't pay to the games they're playing and how many times they blame the game when it is in fact their fault. On top of that they all have incredible bias's which make them almost instantly disregard things because it's different or not what they're used to. As to me dropping a series because of simplified tutorials I would not, if the game was still sound I would continue playing the series. However the suggestions you made would definetly tarnish my opinion on the game some and make it a lesser experience because of that.

This conversation reminds me of a similar situation with Magic: The Gathering. In the last few years MTG reworked how creature combat functions and they simplified it. They completely removed some of the tricks that I used to enjoy and exploit in the name of accessibility. At first I was a bit upset because it felt like a dumbing down and it felt like a move that just catered to new players at the expense of a nuance I enjoyed. This was literally a complete mechanical shift that has changed the way I play the game to this day. However, I found that creature combat is much simpler now and the change added a lot of new choices to the game. It also meant that I didn't need to explain some of the unintuative BS that I used to use to beat players who didn't understand the rules like I did. That change has cost me games, but it has helped people get on my level faster and it has reduced confusion. In related news MTG is more popular than it has ever been. Accessibility matters when you want to share your hobbies with as many people as possible.

I don't know much about MTG but I can bring that back to the Souls franchise with Bloodborne. Bloodborne did a lot of simplification and content reduction in order to streamline a lot of it's mechanics. Whether this was done to bring new players or not is unknown but that's besides the point. With Bloodborne being a lot simpler and consisting of a lot less content I was sorely disappointed with the game after being such a big fan of the Souls games. I found there was almost no compelling reason to replay or remake characters after my third playthrough. Almost all of it's systems were stripped down to the core and that made it what I've heard to be referred to by a lot of people as the most accessible Souls game yet and in turn you know what Bloodborne is to me? The worst Souls game yet because it's too simple, it doesn't have the breadth and depth of the previous games and I got nowhere near the amount of time out of it as I had hoped.

I've said it already and I'll say it again, not every game has to be for everyone almost all games now are chasing the "wider audience" goal. Please just let us have at least one franchise that sticks to its unsupressed guns.

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One thing Dark Souls did for me was provide a combat base which I could get into so, even if I was struggling to get to grips with the rest of it, the combat was interesting enough to draw me back. For a game to what Souls does, it needs to have that kind of hook to at least keep the curious onboard.

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#33  Edited By thatpinguino  Staff

I think the GB staff are a terrible example to help your argument. As much as I like the guys and enjoy their content, I've seen a lot of it and I'm very well aware of how much attention they don't pay to the games they're playing and how many times they blame the game when it is in fact their fault. On top of that they all have incredible bias's which make them almost instantly disregard things because it's different or not what they're used to.

But they all ended up liking the Souls games. They ended up enjoying the experience when the game was actually properly taught to them. You can blame the players as much as you want, but if enough players are turned away at the door, then the game is playing a part in that. If I see someone put down a game initially and then appreciate it later, I tend to ask why that happened. How could the game have helped them find their appreciation sooner or kept them engaged longer? Games don't have to be for everyone. But when one of the dominant narratives around a series is people disliking them at first, then coming to appreciate them later when someone really teaches them, you need to examine the series and ask what could be done better.

@baronsamedi:With Bloodborne being a lot simpler and consisting of a lot less content I was sorely disappointed with the game after being such a big fan of the Souls games. I found there was almost no compelling reason to replay or remake characters after my third playthrough. Almost all of it's systems were stripped down to the core and that made it what I've heard to be referred to by a lot of people as the most accessible Souls game yet and in turn you know what Bloodborne is to me? The worst Souls game yet because it's too simple, it doesn't have the breadth and depth of the previous games and I got nowhere near the amount of time out of it as I had hoped.

So for you the most disappointing Souls experience you've ever had resulted in an instant buy and three playthroughs. By your own admission you will buy and replay these games even if you perceive them as being "simplified" or "dumbed down." In simple business terms, you are already in the core market and are already satisfied with the product. You will play these games regardless of how uninviting they are for people just starting out.

Please just let us have at least one franchise that sticks to its unsupressed guns.

I don't control this series, I am just critiquing a problem I had and I've seen other people have. If you're asking me to not critique some pretty basic stuff, then I'm not sure how this series can be critiqued. No one got up in arms about @yummylee critiquing Bloodborne about the most in depth issues with that game's systems, but when I point out some basic barrier to entry issues that I see I need to shut up and accept that this series shouldn't change. I think that's a ridiculous double standard. I guess its because he is "hardcore" enough to have played the game the "right way" and see the "real problems." Not teaching new players the basics in as effective a way as possible: not a problem. Not having diverse enough playstyles to support dozens of playthroughs: the canary in the coal mine.

@shindig: I agree with you on the combat being worth seeing. If it didn't have that early hook I wouldn't have kept playing. That's why I quit on my thief in Demon's Souls. I didn't like how he played and I didn't want to sink more time into a game that played like my thief did.

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Chillicothe

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#34  Edited By Chillicothe

@thatpinguino said:

@bceagles128: @ajamafalous: @shindig: @chillicothe: My suggestions are deliberately for helping people who might not have the network of gaming tips that people who are super plugged into the industry have. Remember that almost the entirety of the GB staff played and dismissed the Souls series when it first came out because the games seemed unfun and innaccessible. They aresome of the most plugged in players in the industry and they didn't put up with the opening hurdles. Now literally every member of the staff has an appreciation for the Souls games because they have been carried through the early BS by friends and colleagues who played the games first and vetted them (and most of those colleagues were in the odd position of needing to finish the Souls games for review).

I don't understand why a better tutorial that is literally only targeted at first timers is an affront to the game's soul. There are literally entire columns dedicated to explaining how to enjoy a Souls game (google dark souls primer if you don't believe me). Wouldn't it be better for these games if that primer were actually in the game? My suggestions are literally only for the beginning of the game and for the most basic systems. You don't have to explain the later stuff or remove the difficulty, just teach players how the game actually freaking works and then let them decide if they want to continue.

Also people already claim that the games are being dumbed down just due to basic gameplay style changes. The style changes that are apparent in something like Bloodborne actually doesn't help new players at all.But it does still piss off people who claim that the spirit of the original souls games is being destroyed. People are going to be pissed by any and all changes and the people most comfortable in the current system will be pissed when changes are made to accommodate an audience that isn't them. However, I think getting new blood into the fanbase is worth mildly upsetting the core fans who think that these games should never change to accommodate anyone.

Then it is another facet of difficulty, then, their cluelessness, their asociability, as imposing as any Maneater or O&S or Father G fight. Some work real hard to learn as much as they can, practice to get as good as they can, and others work real hard to be as ignorant as they can be, and stay at the same level as they can. We're in the internet age, been in the internet age. It's in our homes, our pockets, our lives.

We went down this exact road last generation. It didn't work as it was advertised it would, this "All-Difficulty" and forgetting the bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (mainly as this ain't some $50m title they're peddling day one DLC and season passes in the anouncement trailer, so they don't have to either).

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thatpinguino

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#35 thatpinguino  Staff

@chillicothe: I would love to know how the Souls games sell in areas where internet availability isn't a given. Like some countries in South America have big install bases of 360 era consoles, but not a ton of internet connectivity. I feel like these games are extra visible because they are so perfect for the way online communities are currently structured and for how game sites currently cover games. But in an environment where neither is a given I don't see how these games could take root.

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