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Tag Archives: Dark Souls

 

 

Pass.

 

 

The living room is dark.

My mother sitting in her work clothes, staring at a paper.

My brother and I know we’re in trouble.

We don’t know why.

My mother looks up at us. I don’t look at her.

I keep my eyes on the slats of afternoon light beaming onto the carpet.

“Do you know…what this is?”

She shakes the paper.

We shake our heads.

An accelerating silence.

“This is a phone bill…”

I nod. I see where this is going.

“The phone company is charging me five hundred dollars…”

Mid-90’s. We just got the internet.

“What the hell have you guys been doing?!”

Dial-up was our only choice.

We lived in Appleton, WI.

We had to dial-in through Green Bay.

The connection was garbage.

We went through Madison instead.

It was further away. It was stable.

It was long-distance.

“I can’t believe this…”

My mother looks at the bill again.

“Can I know what it is you’re doing?”

I shrug.

“I don’t know…looking at stuff…”

She looks at me.

“What stuff, Wasim?…”

We just got a Playstation.

I was discovering games. Finding people.

Getting lost in the strange quiet.

She wouldn’t understand.

“Stuff! I don’t know…”

She starts shouting at us in Arabic.

My brother and I sit on the couch and cower.

In the end, my mother declares no more unsupervised internet time.

We nod.

I know she won’t follow through.

She has too many things on her mind.

I won’t connect through Madison anymore.

I’ll accept Green Bay’s instability.

I’ll pass through it.

And I’ll push deeper into this glowing wasteland:

Sifting through its silence.

Wondering alone.

 

Pipe.

 

Middle School.

We are the first class to have a computer course.

They teach us about the internet.

Our final project: Create our own website.

It can be anything.

I get weird.

I pack my site with Diablo and Doom GIFs.

Black and white pictures of deformed farm animals.

Dilbert comics I don’t understand.

I write a long, conspiratorial rant against the government.

It makes little sense.

This is the internet as I knew it.

Games. Pieces of games.

Lo-fi visual strangeness.

Underdeveloped ideology.

An opportunity to dissolve in front of anyone.

At home I jump between chatrooms.

I talk to people I don’t know.

I try to uncover who they are.

Men become women.

Women become men.

Children become adults.

Multiplayer, text-based, non-linear fantasy.

There is no precedent.

We talk games. Politics. Relationships.

I try to keep up.

I am a Communist. An Anarchist.

I help someone through Metal Gear.

A person claiming to be transgender assists me with fake relationship problems.

I am a Paleontologist.

A doctor.

A writer.

I am the grand experiment:

Watching the chat-streams collapse and break on the shores of sense and language.

Endless reams of text and symbols.

No homogeneity. No fluency.

A million insular, erotic, fluid worlds hovering over the largest stage mankind has ever constructed.

A million people cutting themselves into a million pieces.

A million deaf-mutes screaming through themselves in a place with no echo, in a world of alleys.

In a world devoured.

A world constructed.

A world hegemonized.

A world swallowed whole into a factory of suns.

 

Stick.

 

The quiet is over now.

The internet is a loud, unified place.

A tyrannical megalopolis with no dirt in the corners.

With no place to hide from the eyes and the noise.

Surveillance. Streaming video. Google. Podcasts. Internet radio. Social networks. Marketing algorithms.

A person must be what the world says they are.

I miss the old ways.

The old place.

I miss the curtains. The smoke. The masks.

I miss floating in the imaginations of the world.

I try to find that space again.

In college I meet a girl.

She is from Lebanon. A doctoral student in Comparative Literature.

I enjoy her company. I enjoy walking with her through the city at night.

She smells like the old country, like my childhood.

Like growing up in the mountains.

Our friendship doesn’t last.

We grow distant. We fall out.

She says I am not ‘pure’ Lebanese.

I feel more ‘American’ to her.

She claims my dislike of the Middle Eastern aesthetic and love of Medieval/Victorian/Gothic Europe is a form of ideological colonization.

I become silent.

I don’t expect that from someone who understands the fragile, flexible nature of identity.

It cuts deep. The sting lingers.

The world is a force of labels.

Technology is the disruptor and the accelerant.

As the internet unifies, I try to find holes in other fictions.

Books. Film. Music.

Games.

After the Playstation, games become a fixture of my life.

I try to find a space to relive that original quiet.

That original unsettling.

In 2009, From Software release Demon’s Souls.

It is medieval, slow, and archaic.

Its world is broken and shrouded in fog.

The player is tasked with exploring it. Uncovering it.

Eliminating the source of the horror consuming the land of Boletaria.

The characters residing in this fracturing are themselves broken.

They hide. Their identities change.

The Maiden in Black both assists the player through the game and is revealed later to be partially responsible for the land’s bleak state.

After being rescued by the player, Yurt, The Silent Chief begins killing other characters whenever he is left alone.

Online, Demon’s Souls allows others to leave messages anywhere in the world.

There is little direct interaction.

These messages can be encouraging, enlightening, deceitful.

Only with experience can the truth be known.

These mechanisms coupled with an inconsistent, shifting ‘World Tendency’ which fundamentally determines what the player experiences and Demon’s Souls is a game that plays the player.

It is complex. Genuine. Liquid.

A game about identity draped in a dynamic ruined world.

A place reminiscent of the early internet.

A broken place always in flux.

2009: My final year in college.

Bored. Lost. Confused.

No job lined up. No idea what I am doing.

I spend my nights exploring Demon’s Souls. Churning deep into Boletaria.

I find a remnant of the strange quiet the world left behind.

I find a place to disappear.

A space to revisit a dead era.

From Software continue to develop the Souls formula.

Dark Souls. Dark Souls II. Bloodborne.

Each iteration: A new exploration of silence.

New kinds of fluidity.

New layers of faces.

New branches of Miyazaki’s deliberate, crafted, mistranslation of Western literature.

The early internet is trampled.

Wiped clean.

But the Souls games capture most of what it was.

They are memorials to hiding, to the inconsistent self.

To that dead space where anyone could be anything:

 

Alone.

Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold.

 

 

I walk through Yharnam.

I try to filter the disease from the city.

I imagine what this place has been.

Bodies hanged and crucified.

Coffins chained shut.

Statues weeping.

What was Yharnam in its best days?

How did its economy function?

Was there ever joy here?

The city is dense.

The city is decadent.

It is unhinged Baudelairean ecstasy.

Blood. Beasts. Coffins. Ash.

A setting sun.

A dying religion.

A long night.

It’s quiet.

Everyone hides from the hunt.

All locked away:

They mock, weep, laugh like ghosts:

The chemical byproducts of this nightmare.

They torched Old Yharnam to stop the plague.

They let the heretics revel in their obsession.

It still burns.

And the plague accelerates.

Citizens in stages of sickness.

How many families have been torn apart?

How many times has the story of Gascoigne and Viola repeated?

They all blame me.

There is a profound loss in their noises.

I cannot forget the Vicar‘s howl.

I cannot forget how she held her pendant.

I cannot forget the deer-wolf she became in the empty bowels of the Grand Cathedral.

Soft and violent.

Faith has lost here:

A false whisper drowned in an ocean of moans and screams.

Of roars and tears.

Yharnam is being left to die.

To suffocate.

To purge itself.

Yharnam is being allowed to forget.

To be forgotten.

I am a part of its unraveling.

I am the fantasy of its sorrow.

I am the luxury of power.

 

Hair.

 

Yharnam is a rejection of the Open World.

It is the rich failure of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto.

It values intricacy.

It values intimacy.

Tight roads. Closed alleys.

A stagnant darkness.

It deconstructs the promise of its origin:

Anor Londo given a world.

It is the hollow dread of Boletaria and Lordran made visceral.

Yharnam and Bloodborne are inseparable.

Intertwined. Fused.

The mechanics of the game are an extension of the city.

The combat is close.

Intimate.

Flourishes and theatrical complexity:

A death ritual.

Yharnam is the seething blood pulsing through the game.

Always present.

Miyazaki‘s Souls are dispossessive.

Slow. Foggy. Stilted. Surreal.

Lynchian.

Broken worlds in passive decay.

They are violently quiet.

The Souls are about being frozen in dream.

About the end of the fairy tale.

Bloodborne is a deconstruction of life, of what it is to be alive.

It is the most literary game Miyazaki has made.

It is the bleak loneliness of Poe.

The biological alienation of Rappaccini’s Daughter.

The aggression of Melville.

The cosmic indifference of Lovecraft.

It is the most human game Miyazaki has made.

It explores our institutions, our bodies, our fear through the loss of form and ego.

It explores the fragility of our perception.

Is the Hunter’s Dream real?

Is it mine?

Or is it the Platonic Dream of The Hunt?

Or is Yharnam the true dream of the hunter?

The barren desire of the killer.

Bloodborne is the humanist response to Arbo’s Wild Hunt:

One mortal hunting the many.

One body stalking the ruins alone.

 

Fantasy.

 

Kafka wrote The Castle near the end of his life.

About a land surveyor attempting to navigate the bureaucracy of a strange village.

The locals don’t understand their own system of governance, but consider it sacred nonetheless.

Each villager the surveyor speaks with has a different myth for what their government is.

There is no consensus.

The novel explores themes of alienation, blind ignorance, and the unquestioned nature of systems of power.

Kafka died of tuberculosis before The Castle was completed.

Eras later and Bloodborne is its conclusion.

It is the expansion of The Castle and Kafka’s illness.

It doesn’t just absorb The Castle’s themes of bureaucracy and institutional power in its examination of the Healing Church.

It is Kafka’s Social alienation. Political alienation. Biological alienation in a new medium.

Bloodborne is Kafka’s end and his final creative act wrapped around Killzone‘s synthetic verticality, filtered through Beksinski‘s quiet, organic abyss.

It is a machinery of themes.

A cohesive, living game.

Its systems, stories, environment inform each other.

There is no space between them.

They are perpetually linked:

The dendrites of Yharnam.

They twist and loom over each other.

Seep into each other.

Miyazaki and his team aren’t game makers.

They are craftsmen.

They have fashioned something thick, linear, vertical, complex, broken.

Something like a person built with poems.

Something like a doll drowned in calligraphy.

 

Something like Pinocchio discovering the horror of being human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stand.

 

 

Born to immigrants.

I understood nothing.

My parents came to the United States in the 70’s to escape the war.

They navigated American culture by way of the small Lebanese communities they found here.

They figured out some of it.

My mother loved 80’s pop music.

My father loved his .38 revolver with armor-piercing bullets.

But the ties didn’t loosen.

Driving around southern California:

Fairouz. Umm Kalthoum. Warda. Sabah.

I couldn’t understand their songs.

I could speak the gutter Arabic of the old country.

I couldn’t read or write it. I couldn’t decipher its classical form.

When I was old enough to have a Walkman, I stepped outside that world.

Michael Jackson. MC Hammer. Kriss Kross.

I felt the surface of America, but it never poured into my bones.

Something always felt off.

Something always felt lost.

1991: Not Without My Daughter released in theaters.

It bombed. Critics ripped it apart.

A story about an American woman going with her Iranian husband to Iran.

Once there, he becomes abusive and threatening.

He decides not to go back to the U.S.

It was Orientalist trash.

I made my parents rent it multiple times.

I didn’t understand the story.

I didn’t understand what the film was trying to say.

I didn’t understand the difference between Iran and the Arab worlds.

But I was happy watching it.

I saw people who looked like me. I saw a religion I recognized.

I saw symbols I could interpret.

It seemed important: Something that resembled a piece of my world coming out of Hollywood.

I felt a part of my identity was validated.

America saw that I existed.

The Middle East existed.

Not Without My Daughter was cultural dead space.

Linear and closed. The narrative didn’t matter.

The signifier mattered.

I celebrated the act of recognition.

In a racist propaganda film:

I celebrated my self.

 

Walk.

 

My grandmother came to California.

She left Lebanon to spend time with us.

We were close.

I didn’t view her understanding as separate from my parents’.

I assumed she knew how to work a television.

I assumed she knew how to help with my homework.

I assumed she could help me translate Dragon Warrior.

She couldn’t. I couldn’t grasp why.

The weekend my mother surprised me with the game we worked through the beginning together.

We made it out of town and stopped.

Everything was foreign.

World map. Items. Equipment. Towns. Plot. Text. Random battles. Quests. Saving.

Without my mother, I couldn’t make it out of the first town.

I’d ask my grandmother for help.

She didn’t understand any of it.

I called my mother at work. She guided me over the phone.

I could hear the pulp mill grinding in the background.

I replayed the opening sequence over and over again.

It wasn’t frustrating. I enjoyed it.

Dragon Warrior had a dense atmosphere.

It was confident.

The music felt harmonious and foreboding.

The box art glimmered with dread:

 

 

I obsessed over the art.

How was the knight going to defeat the dragon?

He had no ground left to stand on. The dragon was enormous.

I couldn’t see how the knight could win.

I imagined every possible strategy.

I admired his bravery.

I felt like a coward.

I viewed Dragon Warrior through the same lens as Not Without My Daughter:

I didn’t understand it as a whole.

I didn’t understand it as a narrative.

I understood it as a wasteland.

I understood it through the dark, closed monuments I crawled into:

The art outside the game and the music within.

Confronted with a game I couldn’t interpret, I sat with it.

I sat with my imagination.

Finding out who I was.

Studying my cowardice.

Dissecting my fear.

 

Crawl.

 

2003: Abu Ghraib leaks.

A nightmare told in photographs.

A decade later and all the rhetoric leads here.

I look through the photos.

The smiling doesn’t frighten me.

It’s the indifference:

 

 

Lynndie England’s indifferent face.

The nothingness of it.

The void heart of the universe opening.

It stuck.

Watching a culture watch itself go blind.

The proto-VR experience.

The knell of the anchors.

Abu Ghraib wasn’t a narrative.

It was a symbol of breaking.

It was a living dead space:

The chasm. The dragon.

The dread.

My broken understanding of Not Without My Daughter unspooled and stretched to face its own logic:

Anyone that looks like me is an animal and an enemy.

A diverse race seen as an extension of video game power fantasies and brutal consumerism.

Virtually real:

A race of screaming Amiibos.

 

Dissolve.

 

I don’t know where I’m supposed to land.

I never knew.

I am uncomfortable inside myself.

I am at peace in the margins.

Wandering the liminal space.

I don’t enjoy games as much as pieces of games.

Midgar’s Dense Linearity:

 

 

Out Run Pillars:

 

 

Altered Beast Cemetary:

 

 

The Painted World of Ariamis:

 

 

Shin Megami Tensei IV Screen:

 

 

Bloodborne Statues:

 

 

I find quiet in these places.

I imagine interacting with them.

I imagine their histories.

I identify with them.

I once told a professor I’m not certain where I belong.

In America, I’m the Arab.

In Lebanon, I’m the American.

She suggested I might need a third space.

Escape the duality.

I thought of Europe. I thought of vanishing in Asia.

I almost accepted a job teaching English in Japan.

But changing location didn’t feel like enough.

Priscilla carved her own world to be forgotten.

It wasn’t enough.

Still found. Murdered by millions.

Hiding can’t be enough.

I needed an internal physicality.

A spatial dialogue.

Pieces of games became my third space.

I found solace in the warmth of their parts.

 

Float.

 

After I escaped the 2006 war, I wrote a poem.

It wasn’t good, but it told the story.

I went to open mics at cafes anywhere I could and read.

The final reading, I went with a friend.

He was experimenting with grey market drugs.

2C-E was still legal.

I step outside after.

The sun setting. The sky going dark.

I lay back against the brick facade.

Some of the audience walk up to me.

They enjoyed it. Said I wrote like Kerouac.

I hate Kerouac.

I thank them.

I feel like a fraud.

I’ve reinforced my identity as an Arab.

Reinforced my otherness.

I fall into myself.

‘Hey…’

I look at my friend.

‘Yeah?’

‘Did you notice that spiderweb in the corner by the window?’

‘No.’

He nods.

‘It was really intricate…lots of shifting geometry…’

I listen to the traffic.

I look down at the sidewalk.

I see a small clover and moss growing between the concrete.

‘The way it caught the light…’

I don’t say anything.

I look across the road at the overgrown lot.

A warm wind.

I watch a tree scratch at the frozen sky.

I remember the indifference of the world.

I am terrified.

I remember pride. I feel like a fool.

I rip the poem up and throw it away.

I walk to my car.

I lean on it. I watch the air go black.

I was born in the wrong place.

The wrong time.

But here I am:

The post-modern dynasty.

The failure of multiculture at a loss for self.

 

But here I am:

Inheritor and occupier of pieces.

Drowning in mirrors and dead flags.

 

The garbage king on his throne of cracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construct.

 

 

“We are more free than ever before to look around in all directions; nowhere, do we perceive any limits. We have the advantage of feeling an immense space around us – but also an immense void.” – Nietzsche

 

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I remember Destiny.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

Mario is desolate: Why is the Kingdom so empty? Where did everyone go? Whose footsteps wrap around the mountains?

Where were they going? And why did they leave?

Games suggest so much more than they are, but the space always cracks and no amount of environmental density can cover the silent, screaming vacuum behind their blind walls.

There are those that celebrate this wasteland: the Souls series, but their understanding never lasts.

Art emerges from the medium and implies texture and flesh. Warmth and dirt. But this is never translatable.

The system loses the context and renders an approximation of an open heart: trash tumbling in the light of a cold wind.

A problem of translation of place.

In Dark Souls, the player enters a painting: The Painted World of Ariamis. The painting hangs in a large cathedral in the middle of the domain of dead Gods.

The painted world was more tangible than the game’s reality. It distilled the lingering misery, focused it.

Warmth made of glass.

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I wonder about the people. I wonder about their fear.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

And what of the actual World?

It is also wrapped in an incomprehensible emptiness.

Is all our art and culture just a means to focus our anxieties of the void? To manufacture space and meaning?

To focus our misery?

The world as an engine of art and anxiety.

I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare one year after being stuck in a war zone.

The ‘attack helicopter’ killstreak gave me nightmares.

Games are somewhere between our subjective real and waking dream.

They have an influence of vision, they manufacture questions of perception and alter the gaze.

I lay down on the grass. I watch the light drip through the shaking silhouette of leaves. I think of Crysis.

The bigger a game tries to pretend to be, the less interesting it is.

The bigger a game tries to be, the more brittle the walls and the vacuum becomes intolerable and loud.

Open-world games try to keep their promise. Worlds where the player can mold their own narrative: An assumed simulation of living.

But this world itself is not open, none of us can go where we want.

We are stuck with our anxieties, our hate, our love, our need.

We are rooted and our imagination is crumbling.

What made FFVII so successful is that it understood the minute scale on which a world operates. It understood the sequence of place and the fragility of people.

And similar to Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, every character was colored by the tragedy of existing in that world.

Square never captured that feeling again. No one has.

In college, I would experiment with noise. I listened to a lot of Merzbow, Bomb 20, and MITB.

Other genres of music, when pushed to their natural ends, often failed to capture the absurd notion of creating meaning in a life of constant fear and a notion of the inevitable end of all things.

Eazy-E almost got it.

He wrangled his own understanding out of the bowels of cosmic indifference and died.

 

Bearing.

 

“Why do you like games so much?”

We were sitting at a Mediterranean cafe downtown. The light was dim. There was a lot of noise.

It was raining outside. We were drinking mint tea.

I looked at her.

I shrug.

I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t.

And I don’t think anyone does.

I barrel through the darkness. I listen to Chipzel. I feel remorse.

Her music emerges from the ancient dead. It isn’t about reminiscing, it’s about digging through potential.

Games are barren. They wrap their creators’ hands in dust and bone and call it love.

An existential war between iterations of conflict and empty memorial: This is the current state of things.

“Why do you like games so much?”

Maybe because I like the promise of their parts: Games as reverse-Gestalt objects.

The parts are more than the whole.

Engines of art, music, philosophy, narratives, experience. Everything that emerges from that space is more exhilarating than the space itself.

Factories.

I sit on a hill. I stare through the heart of the city. I watch the sunset. I listen.

How many times has the world cracked open to bear itself to the distant, dying stars?

How many times have we accepted the mess we are and the mess we are in?

Are games attractive because they give us a controlled space to act? But the finality is there and the player is actively driving that world to its own end.

No matter where we go, we devour worlds and drink space.

Always running from ourselves and into each other.

I was watching G4. It was a live broadcast of E3. They asked for viewer feedback about a game with ‘choice.’

They aired the response of a stereotype.

An obese, white male discussing how he always makes the ‘moral’ choices. That mattered to him.

He wanted to be the classic hero.

I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for how much pain he must be in to imagine that his choices and his feedback mattered.

The greatest fraud: That the worlds of games care about what we think or feel.

It’s all fish eyes and limbs. Gasping and clawing. Remembrance and money.

 

Dancing.

 

We made MMOs because we couldn’t handle the end.

We decided we needed persistence. We needed more time in the wasteland between dream and abyss.

A wasteland with no virtual end: A depraved mimicry of our reflections.

I look up at the sun. I remember the canvas, the page, the brick, breathing, waking.

Games are barren. They are made and call themselves ‘World.’

And we run into them with a love and expectation that is always broken.

Why do you like games so much?

I stayed up all night and read ‘I, The Divine‘ once.

A novel written by a man from the perspective of a Lebanese woman trying to write her life story.

A novel of first chapters.

Where do our lives begin?

I walked to the lake at 4 am. I sat by the shore.

It was snowing. I lit a cigar.

I stared into the black.

And I accepted in that moment, there was no one to embrace.

And I accepted, once and for all, that I have no answers.

 

I am become boredom, the cancer of worlds.

 

“…It can only persist…as long as it’s possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.” – Noam Chomsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flower.

 

 

In 2007, I came back to video games.

It has always been a dynamic relationship.

After the release of the SNES in 1991, I stopped following or caring about games until a friend of mine showed me the PlayStation in 1996.

My brother convinced my parents to get us a PS1 for his birthday. We stuck with Sony consoles through the PlayStation 2.

My interest in games waned again just before the generational switch (PS2 – PS3).

Having witnessed the July War in 2006, I was full of anger, resentment, rage.

I wrote a lot in that period. I read a lot. I listened to music and drove around the Midwestern back country alone.

I had no place for games then.

But I got tired. I burnt myself out.

I collapsed in and found nothing.

A friend of mine had managed to purchase a PlayStation 3 near launch in fall 2006.

I would go over to his place some nights and we would play Call of Duty 4 together.

It was strange to me even then that I could find some comfort in playing a war game considering I had just lived it.

But I was tired and it was fun.

I bought a PlayStation 3 in 2007.

The PS3 was more than just a console to me, it was a companion.

A friend to pull me back into myself.

I still had my PS2 and used it to play fighting games and old JRPGs, but the PS3 was about potential, it was about looking forward.

I chose PlayStation over Xbox because Microsoft was taking themselves too seriously at that time. It felt as though MS was trying to turn the 360 into a war simulator (Gears of War, Halo 3) and I couldn’t deal with it.

Assassin’s Creed was the first game I bought.

I bought it because it looked like Thief.

I bought it because the hero was an Arab. I needed that. I needed to see that.

After I completed AC, I bought CoD4. I loved the crispness of its action and the quick pacing.

It was a grand piano of a game.

I was back into games now. I was having a great time.

And in Christmas 2008 I discovered something I thought had died in the medium:

Joy.

 

River.

 

I still don’t understand what compelled me to consider buying Prince of Persia.

It was getting a lot of attention. The sentiments were mixed.

I had tried to enjoy the franchise before, somewhere in the Sands of Time trilogy on PS2.

I didn’t like it.

Coming off of God of War, PoP lacked the visceral, flashy combat I had become used to.

Prince of Persia was all about the fluidity of motion and in the mid-2000s, that wasn’t something I was looking for.

When the new PoP released in December of 2008, I had already begun to think about games differently.

I had begun to see them less as virtual gauntlets and more as products of interlocking systems. I made the switch from playing games to analyzing them.

As I looked through the screenshots of the new Prince of Persia, I fell in with the art.

The colors were vivid, bright. The lines were bold. It reminded me of Okami, but more fluid.

I bought the game based on art alone.

I went home for Christmas.

Sitting in my old bedroom in the middle of a heavy winter: I spent a lot of time in Prince of Persia’s world.

The movement was bubbly, the levels had charisma. It was a beautiful game.

Much of the talk around this new interpretation of the PoP series involved not being able to die.

Many in the gaming community felt that not being punished for failing a jump made the game too easy, too simplistic, and less rewarding.

They got this one wrong though.

The punishment in Prince of Persia is that you lose the fluidity of movement.

You lose the ability of fluid expression, of pure motion.

This subtlety was lost on many.

The amount of negative feedback has stalled the series.

 

Soil.

 

Prior to the 3DS, the last Nintendo console I owned was the Game Boy Advance SP.

I never bought a DS.

When Nintendo announced the DS, they said it wasn’t meant to replace the Game Boy.

I held onto my SP waiting for a new Game Boy announcement. I loved and still love everything about the SP.

But that announcement never came.

I bought the 3DS out of frustration, out of having been tricked by Nintendo into waiting, into missing an entire portable generation of content.

I bought the 3DS when the media and the community at large was saying it was going to fail.

I always have a tendency to get involved at the ends of things and I believed them.

At one point, I hadn’t touched my 3DS for months. I thought it really was over.

Then I read Tim Rogers’ review about Super Mario 3D Land.

I bought the game immediately.

I loved it.

SM3DL was the first Mario Game I played since Super Mario World.

It had the same core, emotive design as PoP in 2008: A platforming game designed around joy, around really inhabiting and exploring a world of bright colors, excellent movement, and charismatic levels.

Super Mario 3D Land made me smile.

While critically acclaimed, again the game was considered too easy by many.

The point was missed again.

The player can still die in 3D Land. However, death isn’t the punishment for bad play.

The actual punishment is being kicked out of that world for a brief moment.

The punishment is the extraction from a joyous place.

Death is only the conveyor.

 

Rustle.

 

3D Land has stuck with me.

I go back and think about it.

Super Mario 3D World is also a good game, but it has more problems.

3D World lacks some of the joy, the lightness of 3D Land.

It takes itself a little more seriously.

3D World is a little more messy.

This probably has to do with it being a console game and therefore having to be full of content.

It’s no surprise then that the next joyous platformer would appear on the 3DS.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe is the first Kirby game I have played since Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992.

Triple Deluxe is wonderful.

The game is always playing with and manipulating player expectations through clever level design.

It is bursting with joy.

It is the true companion to 3D Land.

The most impressive element in Triple Deluxe is the use of 3D.

Levels are two planes: Front and Rear.

The Front plane is where the player operates most of the time.

The player can still see what’s happening in the Rear.

The player is also transported in and out of the Rear plane throughout the levels.

With the player operating in one plane, while being able to see what’s happening in the other, Kirby: Triple Deluxe wastes nothing.

It is a tight game driven by Chekhov’s Gun and joy.

Triple Deluxe is stunningly beautiful.

Bright, thick, and layered: Triple Deluxe is a rainbow ice cream cake of art.

Dying in K:TD is difficult.

It sits somewhere between PoP and 3D Land, between not dying and dying as a conveyance.

This again has led many to suggest it is too simple.

And again, the subtlety is lost.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe doesn’t really want to punish the player. It encourages the player to inhabit the world as much as they want.

Where in PoP the player loses movement and momentum and in Mario the player’s time in the world is dictated, Kirby wants the player to lounge around in its world.

It wants the player to hang out and poke around.

This is very rare for a 2D platformer.

Kirby: Triple Deluxe is a game that should be sipped at, like Dark Souls.

The gaming media and community need to stop judging games simply by the merits of their difficulty.

Not every game is designed within the spectrum of ‘simple-difficult’.

The metrics of analysis must be greatly expanded.

The medium needs more games designed around joy, designed around the idea of wanting to inhabit a place.

Since 2008, I’ve played a lot of games and the only ones that have managed to stick with me are the ones that make me feel welcome:

 

The games with warmth in their bones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nocturnal.

 

 

Demon’s Souls defined the PS3 for me.

In 2009, it was becoming evident that the Playstation 3 had lost the ‘console wars’. Microsoft had the better digital store, better online play, better versions of cross-platform releases, and better exclusives.

Demon’s Souls brought something serious and innovative to the PS3.

It was explosive.

Demon’s Souls sold out everywhere shortly after release. The game tapped into a part of the collective gaming mind that was under-served.

Many often cite Call of Duty as having ruined games today.

After CoD became a phenomenon with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007, many other game publishers and developers tried to follow suit by making linear, cinematic games with enormous budgets, little single player challenge, and customizable multiplayer.

What Demon’s Souls did was the exact opposite.

The game presented an alternative that had been forgotten.

Demon’s Souls was the antithesis to what CoD had accomplished: A third-person, dark fantasy game set in a world with a medieval European aesthetic. Little was explained to the player.

Everything from the plot to the leveling system to the global mechanics were left for the player to decipher. There was no exposition here, it expected you to puzzle everything out.

After playing DS for a while, I said to my brother, “Its like playing Dragon Warrior on Saturday afternoons as a kid.”, it captured that lack of noise, the volume of space, and the confusion of trying to figure out what an ‘RPG’ was.

DS was the first game in a long while to not treat the player like an idiot.

By all accounts, Demon’s Souls should not have been successful in a post-CoD market and if not for its asymmetrical multiplayer, I don’t believe it would have been noticed to the same extent.

For a little over a decade the developers of Demon’s Souls, From Software, mainly worked on polishing their flagship Armored Core series which only ever achieved a niche gaming audience.

Prior to Demon’s Souls, From Software also released King’s Field, often considered a spiritual predecessor to DS, which also never really captured a large gaming audience.

Demon’s Souls was arguably From Software’s first big success. A success achieved by filling the void left by Call of Duty.

DS is a game about dread. The player is never at peace with the quiet, at any point nearly any enemy could kill you.

The game expected you to just barely get by. The little help you were granted came in the form of small messages written on the ground left by other players. This was the most substantial interaction you had, this was one of the few and only ways players could communicate.

The writing only amplified the dread and loneliness of the world, the feeling of having just missed someone repeatedly was jarring.

DS also allowed you to view how other players in the area had died. It allowed you to witness their final moments, their final acts.

Demon’s Souls was a love letter to loss, forever being lost.

 

Other.

 

When my mother bought Dragon Warrior for me, she had to coach me through it as I had no conception of how to play that game. I had come off of Mario and Duck Hunt and I had no reference for what Dragon Warrior was.

I didn’t understand how to save, I inevitably replayed the first few hours over and over again. I would ask my grandmother for help when my mother was at work, but she didn’t know English.

I read an interview once with Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the Souls series, where he explained the influence behind Demon’s Souls.

As a child, he had attempted to read English fairy tales to the best of his ability. However, he was never able to understand everything that occurred and was forced to imagine what happened in the gaps of his understanding.

This experience was the fuel that drove the broken, dark fantasy narrative of Demon’s Souls.

He was forcing players to confront and explore the emptiness of understanding.

When Dark Souls released in 2011, it wasn’t as much a shock to the gaming landscape as Demon’s Souls was. At that point, the medium had two years to digest what Demon’s presented.

What Dark Souls did was hone further everything presented in Demon’s Souls: A larger environment, more weapons, more subtlety, a stronger plot, more NPCs, more interconnectedness.

Where Demon’s Souls was an exploration of dread, Dark Souls was an exploration of tragedy, morality, and sanity. It was an archaeology of what makes us human.

In Dark Souls, the world is progressing through its own Götterdämmerung. The power of the Gods is waning and because of this no one can die, they are constantly reborn as ‘hollow’ (undead). The more hollow one becomes, the more they lose all sense of self.

The end of Dark Souls presents a question to the player: Do you sacrifice yourself and prolong the rule of the Gods? Or do you turn your back and begin the age of darkness (the rule of man)?

The road to this final question is paved with tragedy: The killing of Sif, the story of Knight Artorias, the treachery and madness of Seath, the self-isolation of Priscilla, the downfall of Solaire.

Dark Souls isn’t just an archaeology of place, it is an archaeology of the self. Just as the player digs into the world of Lordran, Lordran forces the player to delve into the heart of the self.

Like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls is a quiet game set in an enormous world where anything can kill. The developer evened the odds by having more weapons and armor available to the player.

I often tell people that Dark Souls is the simpler game when compared to Demon’s Souls, but only because it presents things more cleanly while maintaining the narrative and mechanical darkness that made Demon’s Souls so enthralling.

Dark Souls is a literary epic that has been ripped apart. The player mainly gathers information while sifting through the world.

The short object descriptions are a fundamental part of the narrative: The more items you manage to find, the more of the story you understand.

Many often complain that the combat and movement in the Souls’ series is unsatisfying. The character movements are floppy and slow, but this only adds to the feeling of being dispossessed and lost in some decaying surreal spectacle: A lack of coordination.

Dark Souls was a proper evolution, everything that made Demon’s Souls great was expanded.

In Dark Souls II there is only back-tracking and contraction.

 

Young.

 

I spent two years playing Dark Souls, the game was that important.

Sometimes I would simply exist in the world without doing anything, just watching the clouds.

As the release date for Dark Souls II neared, I became excited. Dark Souls meant something to me.

From the second I put DSII in, everything felt off.

The character was quicker than in DSI, the game began with one of the most awful, poorly integrated tutorials I had ever experienced, and there was more plot exposition: exactly what I had feared.

There was controversy during Dark Souls II’s development. Miyazaki was moved to work on other projects in From, and the series was handed over to Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura.

The controversy mainly had to do with comments made from the Dark Souls II dev team about how to make the game more understandable and easier in order to increase accessibility.

These comments then set-off a chain reaction of anxiety from embedded Dark Souls fans. They became concerned that everything that made Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls grand and unique were going to be gutted.

The broken narrative of the first two Souls games is poetry. Poetry is a broken narrative of an experience or a thought. No one asks poets to make their poetry more understandable, I couldn’t see why anyone wanted to do that with a series that had proven itself twice.

In the first 30 minutes of playing, I could tell that Dark Souls II was not going to be as engrossing or as challenging, narratively or mechanically.

After managing to burn through the first five bosses, I had to take a break and think about what happened.

The item descriptions had become twice as long. The world was not layered at all, the different locations didn’t fit together in any compelling way, and the enemies were unbalanced.

One of Dark Souls II’s major problems is the difficulty does not scale properly. One minute the player will have control of an area only to be hit with a very difficult enemy type out of nowhere.

Dark Souls’ genius was that it was a constant uphill battle, but the challenge never felt ‘vertical’, it never threw up barriers out of nowhere, the difficulty ramped up meticulously: DSII had none of that subtlety.

The battle with the Ruin Sentinels was a poorly conceived pyramid scheme of fun.

This lack of subtlety in Dark Souls II’s design would not have been an issue had they allowed the player to grind for experience in the same manner as the previous two iterations. Now, the player could no longer go to areas with respawning, high-experience enemies and grind, after a certain amount of time, the enemies stop coming back, and when that happens not only is it frustrating for the player, but the area feels barren and boring.

Couple this ‘wasteland’ mechanic with the ability to travel between checkpoints outright at will, and you have a game that asks so much less of the player than its predecessors while hollowing out its own world.

It’s almost as if Dark Souls II deeply misunderstands everything that made the first two Souls games relevant. It is by far the worst entry in the series.

This is not to say that Dark Souls II itself is a bad game, it isn’t, it just isn’t the game it could have been.

Dark Souls II is a cheap experience that only tries to grasp at the mechanical and narrative shadows cast by its siblings.

What defined Demon’s Souls was its exploration of dread and triumph.

What defined Dark Souls was its exploration of tragedy and loss.

What defines Dark Souls II is cheapness and a failed attempt at ease.

From Software should not be proud of Dark Souls II, regardless of sales. Dark Souls II’s inevitable financial success will only be based on the high quality of its predecessors, not on its own merits. It offers nothing to the series while taking so much away.

From can do better than this and until we begin to see what the next installment in the Souls series holds, Dark Souls I is still the pinnacle of what they can accomplish.

 

Vivisect.

 

Demon’s Souls:

 

Dark Souls:

 

Dark Souls II: