Humans have gazed up at the sky and wondered about their place in the cosmos since the very beginning. Do the same in a game like, say, Breath of the Wild, and you're presented with vivid images of clouds, stars, the sun and the moon. It's an important part of this and many other games that helps to create an illusion of a continuous space that stretches beyond what we actually experience within the confines of the game. The sky implies that Hyrule, despite being a fantasy world, is a part of a cosmos very much like our own, and we accept this even though we cannot fly up and check.
Editor's note: We're delighted to welcome back Gareth, the editor of the fascinating new zine Heterotopias, for another piece exploring the intersection between architecture and video games. You can find his last piece on Resident Evil's mansion here, and find a copy of the second issue of Heterotopias over here.
From Software's Souls series is notorious for its punishing difficulty. Yet just being hard wasn't enough for some people. They needed to make things extra hard. Do things like completing the entire game without ever levelling up or using a shield. Then other people had to come along and put those already impressive tasks to shame by playing these games with cumbersome guitar or bongo controllers, completing a campaign without getting hit, or figuring out buff concoctions that can fell colossal bosses in one hit.
"No matter how tender, how exquisite, a lie will remain a lie." - Lord Aldia
Dark Souls 2 is a strange game, though its weirdness emanates from just how conventional it is - especially given it's part of a series known for forging new boundaries. Over a year ago I wrote about revisiting Demon's Souls and being delighted to find it the freshest, riskiest and most experimental title in From's recent action-RPG line-up. Dark Souls, despite technically being set in a different universe, superficially does the whole sequel thing - it adds more levels, more monsters, more spells, and more varied environments to an already winning template, but joined the dots in one glorious interconnected world.
Souls. Souls have changed. As a colossal fan of From Software's Souls series, I found myself pining for more demon slaughter even after finishing the latest Dark Souls 2 downloadable content. Yet Dark Souls 2 itself was still too recent in my mind, while the first one I replayed a couple of years back when its Artorias of the Abyss DLC came out. So I decided that it was time to revisit the game that started it all: 2009's Demon's Souls.
"I haven't seen anyone make it this far," the Namco rep tells me as I meticulously slice my way through hordes of undead soldiers and soon-to-be-dead insects in an E3 demo build of the upcoming Crown of the Sunken King DLC.
On the steps outside an east London church there's a smiling PR checking names off a list. Next to her, in the early twilight shadow of a late January evening, is a hired hand dressed head to toe in clunking steel armour. He guides us down the steps and through the courtyard, flaming torch held out ahead of us, as we all exchange an awkward smile with the PR on our way into the catacombs. Inside, Peter Serafinowicz - the gravelled voice of Darth Maul, and Spaced's Duane Benzie - tells us how he's played the original Dark Souls for some 1800 hours, how excited he is to be playing the part of mild-mannered Pate in its sequel, and how proud he is to be providing the grunts and groans of the suffering player in From Software's game.
We've had our say already, and typically we were probably well wide of the mark, so it's now your turn to let us know what games you're looking forward to over the next 12 months. Thanks to all who voted (but no thanks to whoever suggested Pong, and to the handful of people who put forward Half-Life 3, well... I'm sorry). The top 10 are presented in reverse order below - and it was incredibly tight out at the front, with the top result beating out the runner-up by only a couple of votes. We've also included some of your comments, although since the submission form was anonymous we can't say exactly who made which point. Sorry about that - if you feel particularly proprietorial about one of your insights that we've highlighted, tell the world in the comments. Onward!
Generally speaking, I don't get excited for games that end in numbers. Sequels, prequels and spin-offs can be good - great even (hi, Uncharted 2!) - but the sense of awe is often dulled the second time around. Dark Souls is the exception. I recall playing through the first one and thinking, "This might be my new favourite game of all time. I could play these forever." Two years later my sentiment hasn't changed.
2014 is upon us, and it promises riches and glory unlike any year before it. With their launches under their belts, the next generation of consoles will, hopefully, show us what they're made of. Virtual reality headsets may make their mark on the mainstream. And with a raft of crowdfunded games due out over the next 12 months, 2014 should tell us whether all that money we pumped into promising projects on Kickstarter was worth it.
I couldn't kill the shopkeeper. I tried everything, from quick knives to slow broadswords, from dull clubs to a bright, ethereal shower of lightning bolts fired from a splayed palm but, regardless of the weapon of choice, she merely laughed her witchy laugh and asked me once again if there was anything in particular I was after. It's this sort of observation that marks video game players out to non-video game players as closet psychopaths and weirdoes. But you can tell an awful lot about a video game from the characters you are forbidden to kill.
Yui Tanimura has a degree in psychology, which, in the context of his childhood dream to become a professional baseball player, could be considered a failure and, in the context of his subsequent career as a video game designer, could be considered irrelevant. And yet, it's training that has served him well in his current task: crafting the sequel to From Software's unlikely 2011 hit, Dark Souls. For one, his background has provided him a few theories on why that curious game, which so forcefully eschewed mainstream fashions with unrelenting challenge, unfashionable style and a mere whisper of a storyline, has sold more than 2.3 million copies to date.
"This is the third time I've been able to beat him," says the Namco rep after defeating a boss at the tail end of a 15-minute E3 demonstration of the forthcoming action-RPG epic Dark Souls 2.
"Uh huh," I think as the presentation concludes. He didn't look that hard. "There were plenty of times you could've hit him," I think, suspecting the demo rep of holding back to make the fight look more intense than it is.
Then I play the same demo. And holy-mother-of-god is it punishing.
"Enjoy your deaths."