It's easy to underestimate the humble door. You open it, you go through. Sometimes, you must find the key first, and for many games, that's the whole extent of the player's interactions with doors. They're something to get past, something that cordons off one bit from the next bit. A simple structural element, of special interest to level designers, but not the ones who turn the knobs.
Ask a young adult today what a floppy disk is and you'll likely earn puzzled silence. To them, they are ancient artefacts. Demonstrate an "old" game (say, from around 2000) to a kid today, and they might look at it with disbelieving curiosity. Did games really look like that, once upon a time, in the unfathomable recesses of antiquity? Similarly, to me, 30 years old, games of the early 90s (and the machines that run them) already exude a certain alien primitivity. Revisiting them several decades after their prime with a historian's curiosity is as fascinating as it is frustrating: it's easy to bounce off old games and their archaic workings.
The first games I played were games of memory. My English grandfather was full of them. Parlour games, mainly. There was one in which each chair in his living room became a station and his family became trains. He would stand in the middle of the room and direct the trains between the stations, and you had to remember which train you were and where the station you were headed to could be found. At five or six, I found it overwhelming, but also intoxicating. (At 39, I now look back and suspect my grandfather wished he hadn't spent his life as clerk of the local magistrate's court.) Then there was another game - I've since learned that it's called Kim's Game, but as a kid I assumed my grandfather had invented it - in which he arranged a tray with bits and pieces from around the house, gave us a minute to study them all and then covered the tray with a cloth and quietly removed one item. When he uncovered the tray again we all had to spot what was missing.
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.
Mention the city in the middle ages, and you likely either conjure images of streets awash in faeces and offal, or of a cosy collection of quaint houses reminding people of gallant knights and ladies. Even though cities harking back to medieval times have been a staple of fantasy games ever since the inception of the genre, they usually do little to challenge the clichés presented by Renaissance fairs or grimdark pseudo-realism. To make things worse, those sterile spaces function primarily as pit stops for the player, a place to get new quests, to rest, or to trade. It's difficult to imagine everyday life in those places once the hero is out of town. They're little more than cardboard cut-outs (I'm looking at you, Skyrim).
Archaeology doesn't get a very good treatment in popular media, and games are no different. The public image of archaeologists is dominated by pulp fantasy heroes, swinging and scrambling their way through trap-infested ancient ruins, one hand clutching a priceless treasure, the other punching a Nazi in the face. Of course, pulp heroics make for much more entertaining movies and games than Indiana Jones and the Afternoon of Context Sheets or Newly-Qualified Archaeology Student Lara Croft Spends Four Years Trying to Get a Stable Job. Even archaeologists grasp this, for all our protestations. Like lapsed Catholics who can't quite give up their patron saint, many of the archaeologists I've known would admit to Indiana Jones being a bit of a guilty role model. While writing this piece I tried to find a photo of my hard hat from my days as a field archaeologist, a promotional sticker from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull emblazoned across the back, but sadly, all record of this sartorial triumph seems lost.
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.
Shortly after I started playing Dark Souls this spring, I discovered a tiny chunk of Lordran in Brighton, where I live. The Madeira Lift - which even sounds like Dark Souls - is a 19th century elevator, originally operated by a hydraulic pump, that links Marine Parade on the seafront with Madeira Drive below it. A cliff with its own lift! It looks like Dark Souls: it's accessed at the Marine Parade end via a little building done up in the Oriental style, complete with dragon finials, and when you travel down, you're in a rickety box that offers a view of sooty, cobweb-scribbled piping chugging past. Sure, you end up in the concert venue in which I once saw Elastica, but it's still dark and dingy and illicit-feeling down there. The lift is not well known. It has a full-time operator, and yet it feels like a local secret. I've started using it all the time. It's brilliant. It's a brilliant secret lift.
"No matter how tender, how exquisite, a lie will remain a lie." - Lord Aldia
Few games leave you with as much unfinished business as Dark Souls. A single playthrough is only ever a paltry slice out of an array of delicious possibilities, and you can never walk away with the sense of contented closure that most games would. Sure, you may have defeated Gywn, Lord Of Cinder and seen the end credits, but there's always the lingering knowledge that there is so much more to come, or that you could have done things completely differently.
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.
Over the course of last week and this one, we're bringing you our pick of the games of the generation. Today it's Dark Souls.
Every Sunday, we dust off one of our favourite articles from the archive for you to enjoy again or maybe read for the first time. With Dark Souls 2 just weeks away, we thought it would be nice to revisit Rich Stanton's story from October 2012 of tracking down Dark Souls' most elusive and complex Achievement...
In true Dark Souls spirit, two bells were ominously tolled before the game's much-anticipated PC release. The first came via a Famitsu interview with series director Hidetaka Miyazaki, where it was inferred that the game would not be supporting the higher resolutions available on PC, and that there was absolutely no ambition within the team to improve on the visual quality seen in the console versions. Naturally, fans hoped the point on resolution in particular to be a translation mishap - a miswording, maybe - being as unlikely as it was for a high-profile PC game to ship with a fixed resolution.
Since its debut on consoles last year, it's the parts unknown about Dark Souls' grim, ethereal world that have made it so compelling to explore and discuss. The decaying medieval castles, the foggy woodland acres and the webbed catacombs that form its underbelly are woven together by a network of pathways the mesmerising extent of which is only truly revealed by the end of the game. It remains an astonishing looker in places too - and a real challenge, in true series spirit, for those that have the mettle to play by its firm-but-fair rules.
So with the announcement of Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition for PC, series fans appear to have achieved a rare coup d'état in the name of online petitions, and the game's doors have finally opened up to a whole new audience. It offers the same core game seen on consoles, but also throws in brand new content in the form of areas, weapons and enemies to make up for the year-long delay. For those looking to play through these areas with their characters on PS3 or 360, they're scheduled for release via the "Artorias of the Abyss" DLC, though at an as-yet unannounced date. For the time being then, this new PC version will be the only way to experience this new content.
During our hands-on with this edition at Namco's offices, we're given free rein to explore any levels that comprise the main campaign and up to 15 minutes of the extra areas. The gut reaction is to start with the new stuff, which will be immediately accessible to players via a portal hidden on the perimeter of Ash Lake. Accessing this cues a short transitory cut-scene, and then you're thrown straight into an area filled with mossy temple ruins named Sanctuary Garden.
Nothing you are about to read is real. All of this is simply an idea, planted, left to grow.
My name is Robert Florence, and we are going to have a fight.
A hazy myth, an elegant contraption, an eccentric vision, an unforgiving mistress: Dark Souls has many sides. All bear the fingerprints of creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, who in 2011 established himself as the most interesting designer working in blockbuster games today. Not that this, sequel to Sony-born Demon's Souls, has much aside from giant sales figures to identify it as a big hitter. In all other ways it eschews the churning mainstream, taking design decisions that are both unfashionable and, prior to its chart-dominating success, seemingly commercially unworkable.
Every Sunday we dust off an article in our archive that you might have missed at the time or we think you'll enjoy again. On the eve of Dark Souls 2's PC release, here's Rich Stanton's take on the differing styles of storytelling at work in the original game and another great RPG of the year it came out, Skyrim. This article was originally published in December 2011.
There's a brilliant tension that runs through much of this industry's output, as an endless thirst for the new is met with a desire to return to some magical - and quite possibly imagined - past.
I love bosses. I always have. I love their blend of spectacle and challenge, and I love their screen-shaking scale or - if it's Treasure - their luminously stupid names. Fatman, Bowser, Pinky Roader - who wouldn't want to hang out with people like that?
Dark Souls is the work of a creator willing to press responsibility into the player's hands: someone who understands that with freedom comes agency, and that the very best video games are the ones that treat us as adults even as they allow us to believe in their worlds like children.
It's a common complaint: Demon's Souls was just a little too easy. Its levels were too short. Its combat was insufficiently brutal. And those endless corpse runs? They were ludicrously forgiving.
Hidetaka Miyazaki has good news for those who loved Demon's Souls. Specifically, for those who loved the game's unashamedly hardcore tone and rock-hard difficulty level.