Let’s Play Dark Souls Directory

A while ago I started a project doing a Let’s Play of Dark Souls, demonstrating a path through the game for inexperienced players, or players who might be put off by the difficulty. Here is a directory of the individual parts, so you can jump straight in where you want.

 

Part 1: In which our hero finds himself in the Northern Undead Asylum and has to gather his equipment and fight his way out. Without being jammed into the Asylum Demon’s butt.

Link:  Here

Part 2: In which our hero begins his journey to ring the Bells of Awakening, because he just can’t say no to random strangers who tell him to do things. He also fights a bull demon.

Link: Here

Part 3: In which our hero explores the Undead Parish and meets Solaire of Astora, better known as Brolaire, as well as Andre of Astora, a blacksmith who seems to have misplaced his shirt.

Link: There

Part 4: In which our hero challenges the Bell Gargoyles to ring the first bell of awakening, and things go far better than I had expected! Then he challenges the Capra Demon guarding the key to the Depths, and things go far worse than I had expected!

Link: Click Me

Part 5: In which our hero explores the Depths, encountering Laurentus of the Great Swamp, who can teach us new pyromancies, and Butchers who would like nothing more than to carve us up. I knew that wasn’t beef.

Link: But this IS a link, promise

Bonus: In which our hero accidentally attacks Andre of Astora and must face the wrath of the Shirtless Blacksmith!

Link: Don’t worry, no shirtless blacksmiths here

Part 6: In which our hero returns triumphant to the Northern Undead Asylum, confronts the Stray Demon, and is killed horribly. Repeatedly. Not to be deterred, our hero sneaks past the boss to steal the Rusted Iron Ring.

Link: Knil

Part 7: In which our hero works his way through Blighttown, falls to his death several times, and is attacked with blowdarts, a lot.

Link: I won’t make you toxic

[Gaming] So, are You Prepared to Die?

I’ve started a gaming channel, and for my first project I’m going to do a let’s play of Dark Souls, and I’m going to use this as an opportunity to show new players how to get into the game without getting murdered (too much). You can watch the first part here: https://youtu.be/7fNEBmV3XxI

In the mean time, I decided I wanted to post a list of tips for new Dark Souls players here.

1. Picking a Class? If its the first time, go with Warrior, Knight, or Pyromancer. The other classes are great, but they all have a fairly steep learning curve. Since this game has a pretty steep learning curve already you want your first class to be relatively simple and versatile. Which should you choose? If you want a primarily defensive class, go with Knight. They start with a lot of health and very good armor, and can easily be upgraded into a great tank. If you want a more offensive class, go with Warrior. They have a high starting strength and dexterity, respectable endurance, and start with pretty good armor, so they can afford to get up close and mix it up with enemies. If you’re like me and enjoy using magic, then go with Pyromancer. Their starting fireball spell will make some early fights a lot easier, and they’re the least complicated of the magic using classes.

2. Picking a Gift? The Master Key is the Only One You Can’t Get Elsewhere. It is possible to get every gift other than the Master Key somewhere else in the game, so if you can’t decide, just go with the Key. A good second choice would be the Twin Humanities, since you can never have too many Humanities. The Black Firebombs are another good choice, since they give you a bit of extra firepower right at the beginning of the game when you need it most. The Divine Blessing seems like a good choice, but whenever I have them, I never end up using them.

3. Playing on the PC? Learn the Controls. For whatever reason, when they ported this game to the PC they didn’t change the tutorial, so the instructions all assume that you’re using an Xbox360 controller. Here’s what you can do: When the opening cutschene ends, hit the “End” key on your keyboard. This will open up a menu. Use the arrow keys to move the cursor all the way to the right and hit “Enter” This will open a list of options, one of which will be labeled “Key Bindings”. This will explain what all the buttons on your keyboard do. You can also change them if you like.

4. Playing on the PC? Use the Keyboard, Not the Mouse. On the PC version, you have the option of controlling the camera with the mouse and using the right and left mouse buttons to attack. Don’t! Instead, use the “I, J, K, and L” keys to control the camera, and the “H, and U” keys for light and heavy attacks respectively. This will give you a lot more control over what’s happening, and you’re gonna need it.

5. Talk to NPCs Multiple Times. Most NPCs have multiple things that they can say, and only talking to them once can cause you to miss out on useful information, items, and even merchnts who would sell you things. So, always talk to people until they start repeating themselves.

6. You’re Going to Need a Ranged Attack, but Which One? No matter what kind of character you play as, you’ll need some kind of ranged attack. If you didn’t take my advice and went with a Sorcerer, your starting Soul Arrow spell will be sufficient, but if you didn’t your options are Bow or Crossbow. The difference between them is that a Bow will deal more damage the higher your Dexterity, while a Crossbow will cause the same amount of damage no matter what your stats are. This means that if you’re going with a character type that uses a lot of Dexterity you want a bow, but if you prefer Strength, then you’ll want a crossbow.

7. Helping Others Helps You. Pretty early in the game you’ll get an item called the White Sign Soapstone, which allows you to leave a summon sign, which allows other players to summon you to help them. You want to be summoned, a lot. While you are summoned, you still earn souls (they aren’t taken away from the host, they’re duplicated and given to you), but if you die while summoned, you will just be booted back to your world none the worse for wear. In addition, if you help the host defeat a boss, you receive a huge number of souls, are fully healed without causing enemies in your world to respawn, and gain humanity (and as I said, you can never have too much humanity).

8. Choosing a Covenant? Start with Way of the White, then move on to Warrior of Sunlight or Chaos Servant. All that the Way of the White covenant does is makes it slightly easier for you to be paired with other players for co-op and harder to be paired up for PVP, which is generally what you want if you’re just starting out and don’t want to be ganked by more experienced players. After that, if you’re going to put points into your faith stat and use miracles, you’ll want to be a Warrior of Sunlight (or sunbro) since that covenant grants offensive miracles that cause lightning damage and it’s hard to find other ways to cause lightning damage. If you aren’t a miracle user, go with Chaos Servant. Merely joining this covenant gives you the Great Chaos Fireball pyromancy, which is one of the best pyromancies in the game. Leveling up the Chaos Servant covenant further will get you access to a shortcut that lets you skip two very difficult bosses. This shortcut is also part of a sidequest that will give you a summonable NPC in the final boss, which goes a long way toward making that fight more managable.

9. Get a Shield, Get a Shield, GET A SHIELD! You may discover that you can wield a weapon in two hands. This has the effect of increasing the weapon’s damage output, and reducing the strength requirement for that weapon. This might seem appealing, but the problem is that weapons don’t work to block damage well at all so you have to rely entirely on dodging to avoid damage. For an experienced player, this is fine, but when you’re starting out you really want to have the ability to block until you’ve learned the attack patters of enemies.

 In the mean time, I decided I wanted to post a list of tips for new Dark Souls players here.

1. Picking a Class? If its the first time, go with Warrior, Knight, or Pyromancer. The other classes are great, but they all have a fairly steep learning curve. Since this game has a pretty steep learning curve already you want your first class to be relatively simple and versatile. Which should you choose? If you want a primarily defensive class, go with Knight. They start with a lot of health and very good armor, and can easily be upgraded into a great tank. If you want a more offensive class, go with Warrior. They have a high starting strength and dexterity, respectable endurance, and start with pretty good armor, so they can afford to get up close and mix it up with enemies. If you’re like me and enjoy using magic, then go with Pyromancer. Their starting fireball spell will make some early fights a lot easier, and they’re the least complicated of the magic using classes.

2. Picking a Gift? The Master Key is the Only One You Can’t Get Elsewhere. It is possible to get every gift other than the Master Key somewhere else in the game, so if you can’t decide, just go with the Key. A good second choice would be the Twin Humanities, since you can never have too many Humanities. The Black Firebombs are another good choice, since they give you a bit of extra firepower right at the beginning of the game when you need it most. The Divine Blessing seems like a good choice, but whenever I have them, I never end up using them.

3. Playing on the PC? Learn the Controls. For whatever reason, when they ported this game to the PC they didn’t change the tutorial, so the instructions all assume that you’re using an Xbox360 controller. Here’s what you can do: When the opening cutschene ends, hit the “End” key on your keyboard. This will open up a menu. Use the arrow keys to move the cursor all the way to the right and hit “Enter” This will open a list of options, one of which will be labeled “Key Bindings”. This will explain what all the buttons on your keyboard do. You can also change them if you like.

4. Playing on the PC? Use the Keyboard, Not the Mouse. On the PC version, you have the option of controlling the camera with the mouse and using the right and left mouse buttons to attack. Don’t! Instead, use the “I, J, K, and L” keys to control the camera, and the “H, and U” keys for light and heavy attacks respectively. This will give you a lot more control over what’s happening, and you’re gonna need it.

5. Talk to NPCs Multiple Times. Most NPCs have multiple things that they can say, and only talking to them once can cause you to miss out on useful information, items, and even merchnts who would sell you things. So, always talk to people until they start repeating themselves.

6. You’re Going to Need a Ranged Attack, but Which One? No matter what kind of character you play as, you’ll need some kind of ranged attack. If you didn’t take my advice and went with a Sorcerer, your starting Soul Arrow spell will be sufficient, but if you didn’t your options are Bow or Crossbow. The difference between them is that a Bow will deal more damage the higher your Dexterity, while a Crossbow will cause the same amount of damage no matter what your stats are. This means that if you’re going with a character type that uses a lot of Dexterity you want a bow, but if you prefer Strength, then you’ll want a crossbow.

7. Helping Others Helps You. Pretty early in the game you’ll get an item called the White Sign Soapstone, which allows you to leave a summon sign, which allows other players to summon you to help them. You want to be summoned, a lot. While you are summoned, you still earn souls (they aren’t taken away from the host, they’re duplicated and given to you), but if you die while summoned, you will just be booted back to your world none the worse for wear. In addition, if you help the host defeat a boss, you receive a huge number of souls, are fully healed without causing enemies in your world to respawn, and gain humanity (and as I said, you can never have too much humanity).

8. Choosing a Covenant? Start with Way of the White, then move on to Warrior of Sunlight or Chaos Servant. All that the Way of the White covenant does is makes it slightly easier for you to be paired with other players for co-op and harder to be paired up for PVP, which is generally what you want if you’re just starting out and don’t want to be ganked by more experienced players. After that, if you’re going to put points into your faith stat and use miracles, you’ll want to be a Warrior of Sunlight (or sunbro) since that covenant grants offensive miracles that cause lightning damage and it’s hard to find other ways to cause lightning damage. If you aren’t a miracle user, go with Chaos Servant. Merely joining this covenant gives you the Great Chaos Fireball pyromancy, which is one of the best pyromancies in the game. Leveling up the Chaos Servant covenant further will get you access to a shortcut that lets you skip two very difficult bosses. This shortcut is also part of a sidequest that will give you a summonable NPC in the final boss, which goes a long way toward making that fight more managable.

9. Get a Shield, Get a Shield, GET A SHIELD! You may discover that you can wield a weapon in two hands. This has the effect of increasing the weapon’s damage output, and reducing the strength requirement for that weapon. This might seem appealing, but the problem is that weapons don’t work to block damage well at all so you have to rely entirely on dodging to avoid damage. For an experienced player, this is fine, but when you’re starting out you really want to have the ability to block until you’ve learned the attack patters of enemies.

Hopefully this advice will be enough to get you started on making it through one of my favorite games. Feel free to check out my channel for the complete walkthrough.

Regards,

Science Viking

[Science] So What is Punctuated Equilibrium Anyway?

When you’re learning about Evolution in school what you’re usually taught is basically that over time species gain new traits, traits that make individuals more successful become more common. Through this process the species gradually changes. This is usually presented as the species becoming gradually better (smarter, stronger, more successful, you get the idea).

This idea makes sense, it’s easy to understand, but it isn’t really accurate. A common argument made against Evolution in general is that this model doesn’t hold up to scrutiny very well. Creationists like to point to things like species of insects that are known to have gone hundreds of thousands of years without changing significantly, or the Cambrian Explosion, where a huge amount of diversity appeared extremely quickly. Are Creationists right that these things disprove Evolution?

Sort of. These observations do pretty much blow a hole in the image of Evolution that I described earlier, what is normally called the gradualist view of Evolution. However, Evolutionary Scientists have known about these problems for a long time, and have an explanation for them. That explanation is: Punctuated Equilibrium.

Punctuated Equilibrium starts with the idea that if a species has been living in an environment for a few hundred generations, they have become about as well suited as they can get to that environment. Once they have reached this state, nearly all mutations that happen will be either harmful or neutral. Harmful mutations will be removed from the population by natural selection, but neutral mutations, which don’t have any effect on an individual’s success, will accumulate in the population since nothing is removing them. This state is called Equilibrium

The Punctuated part happens when the environment changes. When the environment a species is living in changes, then the selective pressures acting on the species will change. For example, suppose there was a species of beetle that only dealt with predators that hunted by smell or sound. These beetles would develop a variety of colorations since their coloration did not impact their survival. Then, suppose a new predator appeared that hunted by sight. Now, beetles with duller coloration that made them look like their background would have an advantage in avoiding predators. This would cause the duller camouflaged coloration to spread throughout the population.

When the selective pressures on a species change, mutations that used to be neutral will become either positive or negative. When this happens, the species will undergo significant, rapid change, with some traits spreading to the whole population and others disappearing entirely. This rapid change will continue for a while until the species is in Equilibrium again. This process is why species appear to change at radically different rates than each other, and why you will see a species going generations without any change at all followed by sudden, drastic change.

 

 

Regards,

Science Viking

Why do I like Learning Abilities from Equipment?

This is going to be more of a rambling post than I usually do. I just wanted to talk about a particular mechanic that a few games have used that, for some reason, I just really enjoy. That mechanic is where equipping a character with a certain piece of gear gives them an ability, and then they can master the abilities granted by equipment through earing ability points. Once they’ve mastered an ability, they can keep it even if they remove the equipment.

I’ve probably been thinking about this mechanic because I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy 9 over the last few days. Other games that use this mechanic include Lost Odyssey and Xenosaga (at least episode 1, I haven’t played the other two yet). Another related system is where you have one type of equipment dedicated to teaching you new abilities. Examples of this system include magicite in Final Fantasy 6 and Heraldry tomes in the RPG Maker game Forever’s End.
As an aside, these are all really fun games and I recommend any of them if you like JRPGs.

Anyway, I’ve been pondering over the last few days why I like this ability system so much. I think the answer comes back to an idea that I’ve been talking about quite a lot in the last few blog posts: Player Choice.

In normal RPGs, when you arrive at a new town, you get access to new equipment which is basically just the next incarnation of gear that you already have. It will have higher stats, but it will just fill the same role a little better. Sure, some games do avoid this, possibly by having a few different options that fill different roles. For example, one weapon for a warrior might make them better at taking hits for teammates, while another might improve their ability to cause damage. Also, if the developer took my advice, you might not be able to afford everything. Still, most of the time, getting new equipment is basically a formality.

The consequence of learning abilities from equipment is that at least most of the time when new equipment becomes available, you have to make choices. You can immediately switch to the new gear, giving up the chance to master abilities in exchange for better stats, or you can wait to finish mastering the abilities you were working on. Even grinding has some additional choices added into it because of this system. You’ll find yourself wanting to switch between equipment each time a character masters an ability so that they can learn another. It can also lead to rotating equipment between several characters because they can all learn a new ability from it, but you only have one.

This also adds a layer of excitement when you find new gear in a dungeon or as a reward for completing a sidequest. Normally finding rare equipment just leaves you comparing it to your old gear to see if it gives you better stats to make a character better at what they were already doing. Now, getting new equipment means learning new abilities, which can cause you to change your playstyle to incorporate these new options. In addition to all of that, there’s a certain enjoyment that at least I get from seeing how many different abilities I can master in a single playthrough. It’s like getting collectables, but with the added bonus that the things I’m collecting give me additional ways to modify my playstyle.
In summary, this system adds choices to the process of getting and equipping new gear, as well as to the process of fighting random enemies. These choices keep your brain active while performing ordinarily routine tasks, which keeps the entire experience interesting.

So, that’s why I find this particular ability system particularly addictive. Obviously using this system is not required to make a game fun, it’s just a particular mechanic that I happen to enjoy a great deal.

Regards,
Science Viking

How to Make Abilities Interesting in an RPG

This isn’t a tutorial about how to make abilities in RPG Maker. I might make one of those another time, though the system seems fairly self-explanatory. What this article is about, rather, is how to make your abilities interesting.
The simple question you should ask yourself when designing an ability is: “When will the player use this ability? What is this ability for?”. It is quite common for a game to have abilities that seem interesting or cool, but that you end up never using because there is a more efficient way to get the job done. A type of ability that falls into this category quite often are instant-kill abilities. Most often, these abilities miss so much of the time that it takes longer to kill an enemy by waiting for the instant-death spell to hit then by using conventional abilities that just deal damage.
In order to understand why these kinds of abilities so often fall into this useful-but-useless category we need to think about balance for a moment. An ability that can end a fight instantly could easily be overpowered, so there has to be some kind of limitation to keep the player from using it for everything. However, in order to prevent these abilities from becoming overpowered, developers often either limit their accuracy, so they might work the first time, but they probably won’t, or make the most dangerous enemies immune to these kinds of abilities entirely.
The problem with this method of limiting an ability’s effectiveness is that now, you don’t want to use an instant kill on a regular enemy, because they have so little health that it’s faster to kill them with conventional attacks, and enemies that have enough health that instant kills would be worth it are immune to them. This is a case of the person designing the ability having thought that the ability is cool, but not about when the player should make use of it.
How would we fix this kind of ability? To start, we must remember that the player will naturally gravitate towards the strategy that is fastest and safest. Fastest meaning ending a fight in the fewest turns (players can be impatient creatures, especially with random encounters), and safest meaning the strategy least likely to result in a game over. If the player has a method of ending a fight that is either faster than what you’re offering them, or safer than what you’re offering, then they won’t use the new ability you’re designing, no matter how cool it is.
This might seem to imply that the player will eventually find a single strategy that they use for every fight, but that isn’t the case. Remember, in a good game, every fight is different. If the challenge the player is faced with in two situations is different, then the fastest or safest methods of meeting those challenges will also be different. Instead, when you create an ability, you need to make sure to create a situation where that ability is the best option.
To illustrate what I mean I’ll use the example of Persona 4 (Yes I know I talk about it a lot. It’s a great game, what of it?). In Persona 4, instant-kill abilities are not useless. This comes from three kinds of situations that the game puts you through. The simplest of these is that some enemies are weak against instant-kills, meaning that, against these specific foes, these abilities will hit the majority of the time. The second situation in which these abilities are useful is that there are instant-kill abilities that hit all enemies at once. This means that when you are confronted by a large group of enemies (a fairly common occurrence), you can open with a group-targeting instant-kill which will nearly always eliminate at least one or two enemies, making the rest of the fight faster and safer, but not eliminating the challenge. The final way in which these abilities are useful is that Persona 4 will confront you with single enemies with massive defense, massive health, and attacks that do incredible damage. These enemies are not immune to instant-kills. In these situations, the safest way to deal with the enemy is to use instant-death spells as soon as you can, since these are the only way to end the fight before the enemy brings you down.
Of course, there are also plenty of situations in Persona 4 where instant kill abilities are not the right option. If a group of enemies are all vulnerable to an element you have available to you, you can hit them all with that element, knocking them down and netting you some free attacks. Some enemies that appear alone are fragile enough that it is smarter to use conventional abilities to bring them down, or safer to use status effects to prevent them from attacking while you erode their health. There are even enemies who are completely immune to instant-death. What this adds up to is a game with a great variety of enemies and enemy groups, which each have different “correct” solutions. This variety of challenges, encourages a variety of approaches, and forces the player to think on their feet and keep revising their strategy. This in turn creates a complex and varied gameplay experience, which keeps the player entertained.
In summary, in order to make an ability interesting, you need to create a corresponding situation where that ability is the best option for the player. It is important create a variety of abilities, but to do so you have to create a variety of challenges to force the player to use these abilities. This interplay of new abilities inspiring new challenges and new challenges requiring new abilities pushes you toward a more fun, interesting, and challenging gameplay experience.

Regards,
Science Viking

[Tutorial] How to Avoid Using Conditional Branches by Using Event Pages

In this tutorial you’ll learn how to script changing NPC behavior over time. For example, having a particular character say one thing before you defeat a boss, and having them say something different afterward. You might be tempted to use Conditional Branches to do this, but you really shouldn’t, there’s an easier way. What we’re going to use is a variation of the system we used to prevent refilling chests.

Suppose you want to make a character say one thing before you fight a boss and a second thing afterward. The first page of the event would look like this:pages-tutorial-1

The second page of the event will look like this:RPG Maker VX Ace Screenshot

Notice in the top right corner under “Conditions” that this page will only activate if switch 001 is on. If the game has a choice between activating a page that has a condition and activating a page that does not have a condition, it will always activate the page that has a condition if it can. So, in this case, if switch 001 is off, it will execute page 1, and if switch 001 is off, it will execute page 2.

Now, suppose you wanted this person to have a third possible line of dialogue after you’ve beaten a later boss. To do that, you would make a third page that would look like this:RPG Maker VX Ace Screenshot

An important thing to remember about this is that, if there are two pages that each require one switch, and both switches are on, the game will run the page that requires the higher numbered switch. So, if page 2 requires switch 001, and page 3 requires switch 002, and both switches are on, then page 3, and only page 3, will be executed.

Now, suppose you wanted an NPC to simply vanish after a particular event had happened. You might be tempted like I was to use “Erase Event” to do this, but if you do, the event will be right back where it was when you return to the area. Instead, to make an event disappear, you make an event page that either has no contents or can’t be activated, and has no graphic associated with it.

To continue with the event we were talking about before, suppose you wanted this NPC to disappear after you defeated a later boss. Then, page 3 would look like this:RPG Maker VX Ace screenshot

Notice a few differences. First, since the event has no graphic, there will not appear to be anything on that square. Second, since I changed the trigger to “Event Touch”, it should not be triggered by anything. Finally, since the event has no contents, it should not do anything even if it were somehow triggered.

The last thing I’ll teach you is how to make an NPC teleport away right before your eyes. If we wanted this character to vanish when we talk to him after defeating the second boss, that would require two pages. Page 3 would look like this:RPG Maker VX Ace screenshot

Page 4 will look like this:RPG Maker VX Ace screenshot

This way, when you talk to the NPC after defeating the boss, they will say a line, an animation will play, and a switch will be flipped. As soon as that switch is flipped, page 4 will take over and the character will no longer be visible. This will cause the character to quietly disappear while the animation plays and be gone when it finishes.
This tutorial should give you enough information to make NPCs change their behavior or appearance without having to use conditional branches. Good luck with your games and have a nice day.

Regards,

Science Viking

Sometimes Annoying the Player is a Good Thing

You probably balked as soon as you saw the title of this article. After all, if the player gets too frustrated, they might abandon the game. Too many players abandoning the game could lead to bad word of mouth and people passing up your game without trying it. So why would I tell you to annoy your players? The answer is tension.

Remember, plenty of popular and well liked games punish the player quite a bit for failure. In Persona 3 and Persona 4 save points are scarce and a single random encounter that you handle badly can cost you hours of progress. In the Dark Souls series dying causes you to lose your souls (currency used to buy items and upgrade your character), and places you in a weakened state that it takes work to recover from. In any of these games, one mistake can cost you hours of progress. This seems like a textbook example of how to frustrate the player into leaving, and yet these are extremely popular games. Why?

Once again, tension. In Persona 4 if a tough shadow ambushes me at the end of a long dungeon delving session, I will be at the edge of my seat for the entire fight. In Dark Souls if I manage to accumulate a large number of souls, I’ll be looking over my shoulder every few seconds with my heart pounding until I manage to make it back to a bonfire to spend them. The adrenaline that you get in these situations adds a huge amount to the excitement of the gaming experience. The moments you’ll look back on when you think about the game will be the times you just barely avoided losing progress, or the times you just barely failed to avoid it. I’ve talked before about making the player make interesting choices, and consequences go a long way toward making choices interesting.

There is, however, one very important thing to remember when implementing a form of annoyance, and that is fairness. I mentioned Dark Souls specifically because the combat in that series is extremely well balanced. I die a lot every time I play Dark Souls, but every time I die, I know that I did something wrong, and I generally have an idea of what it was. This is important. The player will be far more forgiving of frustration if they can tell that they could have avoided it. Avoidable irritation motivates players to think about what they could have done differently, and makes them want to work hard to master the game.

 

Regards,

Science Viking