Four months, 112 hours (47 hours and 65 hours on two different characters), and 257 deaths later, I have finished Dark Souls. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I am finished with Dark Souls. There are a few side things that I didn’t completely wrap up, a few monsters left unchallenged. I took a quick look at some of the dlc, but I have done nothing of note in Oolacile. All in all, I think I’m satisfied. I have drunk my fill of Dark Souls, and I don’t really feel like heading back for more any time soon. Maybe I’ll feel differently the next time the Steam sale rolls around.
If you don’t know anything about Dark Souls, it is a game where you ferry a clumsy warrior made of jerky through Lordran, a lavishly set designed, but sparsely populated medieval heavy metal fantasy theme park. It’s all of the Barad-dur parts of Lord of the Rings and none of the Shire bits. I’m not tearing it down, I played the thing for 112 hours after all, but if that description doesn’t appeal to you, there may be other games for you.
There are a spare few games that I have ever put that sort of time into. The last would probably be Mass Effect, but that was 3 games spread over a few years. Dark Souls does feature a Wolf the size of a semi truck swinging an equally enormous sword held sideways in its mouth, but viking metal attitude and ridiculous epic visuals can’t be the only reason I stuck around that long. I felt that the game was probably too long by a third, and some areas (looking at you Lost Izalith) existed only to pad out the length. Like poor B-sides to an otherwise solid album. Match that with the way that I play games these days, half and hour here, hour there, two hours at a stretch is a rare luxury, and Dark Souls seemed to roll on for ages.
During the late days of the Playstation 2 a game that had a total play time less than 16 hours was considered a waste of money. There wasn’t really a venue for a game that could express its complete experience in under 8 hours, let alone the three or four hour range that a lot of celebrated indie games currently occupy. Often a game would have only a few hours of real content, but that content would be repeated to the point of tedium to satisfy the notion that play time means value. The worst offenders of straining minimal content to the point of boredom is the RPG.
RPG games can linger on into the 100s of hours, while making the player do essentially the same things over and over again. Dark Souls likens itself to a RPG, but I think, at it’s heart it is some other strange hybrid of action game, fighting game, and adventure game. Making an experience that last for 60 or more hours shouldn’t really have been in the games mandate. At the time it was made the short length indie game had not yet caught on as a trend, so it would have been tough for them to sell the game as tight 10-20 hour experience that you can return to for its variety of play styles and fast, challenging combat. A price point of $30-$40 just wasn’t an option. And so, they stretched.
I’ll be honest though, I don’t know that I have ever played a game that did the stretch and the padding quite so expertly. Areas and enemies are always changing and varying well into the later hours of Dark Souls. Often there will be an enemy that you will encounter in an area that is complete unique, if not in behavior, then at least in appearance. The unqualified shit ton of art created for Dark Souls is absolutely staggering. But does that make the game better than a focused experience that gets to the point and wraps up in a reasonable amount of time. No, no it doesn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I obviously enjoyed playing Dark Souls quite a bit, but I think there is something to be learned here about not creating games that overstay their welcome, or in this case, inch right up to that line and linger at the edge.
Best Games - Aero Fighters/Sonic Wings 2
Cyborg, ninja, baby, or dolphin. These are the sort jet fighter pilots you can choose from in Aero Fighters 2(Sonic Wings 2 in Japan). At the end of the game you fight a space baboon and maybe a ghost.
In the Aero Fighters series, like other games of their type, you control a fighter jet firing exotic laser weaponry up the screen as sci-fi enemies plummet down toward you. It is a direct descendant of Space Invaders. There is probably no reason to include a story or characters in this type of game. The action consists mainly of winding your way through increasingly treacherous bullet patterns, and that could be enough. They could stop there. The developers of Aero Fighters chose instead to envelop all the preceding in thick ridiculous sauce while still playing it fairly straight. There is rarely any acknowledgement that a dolphin in a leather aviator helmet isn’t the most natural thing in the world. They even include multiple endings based on the characters chosen. The game would be good without it, but it is the weird factor that pushes Aero Fighters, and particularly Aero Fighters 2, into the realm of the classics.
You fight tanks, you fight walking robot tanks, you fight a baboon, and you can do it as a dolphin in a jet. Aero Fighters 2 is one of the best games.
When The Tragically Hip album Fully Completely came out in 1992, I bought it a copy, and also received one as a gift. One was a CD, one was a cassette, but I don’t remember which. The sensible move might have been to sell one copy, or give it to a friend, but that wasn’t what I did. I kept the cd in the house and I took the tape out to the shop. The stereo I had out there was a tinny, scratchy little thing, but sound came out of it when tapes went into it, so it served my purposes. For a good long time, the only tapes that nestled into that little deck were Fully Completely, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and maybe some Soundgarden.
The shop, like a lot of farm buildings, is a large, rectangular, steel clad structure on a concrete pad. Unlike a lot of farm buildings, the shop is heated and, aside from an ever present whiff of gasoline and diesel fuel, fairly clean. In 1992, that is where the computer was. In 1992 that was where I would be. I would turn on the stereo, and play Wing Commander or X-Wing well into the night. Occasionally, well into the morning, Fully Completely on loop.
When At the Hundredth Meridian comes on the radio, it still makes me think of flying though space.
I was thinking recently about the way I work on design problems. There are about as many ways of approaching and dealing with design problems as there are people who wrestle with them. Because of that, I have always felt that the usual tutorial style writeup people do of their work flow and habits was at best overly simplistic, and at worst blind to alternate solutions. For far too many people the contents of tutorials are taken as the definitive way to solve a problem or use a tool. I can think of few things more counterproductive than telling a creative person a definitive way to do something. As is my general policy, I will not do a tutorial. If anything I write is useful to you in your own work, we can call that a happy side effect.
My own method, and as prescribed above I invite you to ignore in favor of yours, is often to work backward. Or outward, or inward, or occasionally sideways. When a design problem comes up, there is often one clear and obvious way to tackle it, but I often find that looking at it from another angle can lead to better solutions. I’ll attempt to explain by describing a project I worked on a few years ago.
I used to design and build signs. Many of the signs were already designed in the creative sense. That is, someone had designed the look and general aesthetic of the sign, and the task then for we, the sign manufacturing folk, was to figure out how to assemble that sign. Occasionally that was very simple and straightforward, for something standardized like a traffic sign. Other times it could be aggressively complex incorporating many materials, manufacturing methods, and specialized skills. I’m not going to write about any of those. I’m going to write about a measuring stick.
Quite a few different sizes and shapes make up the wonderful world of traffic signs. Most of them are standardized to fit on the same poles and brackets. The holes are a set distance from the center of these signs, and a measuring tape is the most complex tool you would probably need to mark where those holes go. Of course, people being people, not all types of signs match that standard. Some have holes that are set wider or in a different pattern than straight up the center. Some holes need to be drilled vertical to the ground, some are horizontal to the ground, and some need to be drilled in both vertical and horizontal like a T or H shape. Rather than attempt to measure each one of the dozens and dozens of signs that are manufactured constantly, someone a long time ago decided that it would be more efficient to create some templates that you could simply lay over the sign you were marking for holes. You would lay the correct template down and mark the spots where the holes would go with a sharpie or a grease pencil. When you needed to mark another type of sign, you would go to the pile of templates, gather up the one that you needed, and make your marks. It was a pretty good system, and I couldn’t really see any way to improve it.
As with all tools, the templates had started to wear out. One of them had been broken and welded back together so it no longer laid perfectly flat. They were all made of pretty heavy steel, and some of them were U channel bars, so they were much thicker than a template really needs to be. The templates were in use long before I worked there, but their time had come, and since I operated the metal cutting router machine, I was tasked with replacing some of them.
The first, simplest, solution was, of course, to replace the damaged ones with lighter aluminum versions and move on with life. Both the guy who was in charge of the templates and myself weren’t really satisfied with that. There were a few templates that could easily be combined into one with some simple design work, so why not do away with the redundant templates, even the ones that were in good condition, to reduce the amount of different measuring tools in that pile. I drew that up in whatever vector program was handy, likely illustrator but I really can’t recall, and it was quickly apparent that we could fit a few more of the templates into this design. We did that, and figured we were done. There were a couple more large H shaped templates, but adding those to the design of this new template would make the whole thing unreasonably large and heavy, sort of defeating the whole point of recreating the templates in the first place.
I got to work creating the one, roughly rectangular, template, and the several outlier versions that would become slightly lighter and less massive after the redesign, but only slightly. That should have been it. Replace the old tools with new tools that, with the exception of a few, would be roughly the same. The pile would go from 5 or 6 different templates to 3 or 4, but you would still need to measure several of the sign blanks and mark the center so that the template would line up properly. That’s when I started to look at the problem from the inside out rather than just base my work on what already existed.
Working from the inside out, I came up with an idea for a cross shaped template, rather than one that matched the perimeter of the standard signs. Since the holes ran up the centers of the signs, you really only needed the center of the template. The rest of the material was superfluous. I set out creating a plus sign a few feet across that had stepped sides. The different steps would line up with the different sign dimensions so you would never have to measure to find the center. Lining up the steps to the edge of the blank piece of aluminum with your fingers would be enough. All but the H shaped brackets could be included in this design and it would massively simplify the templates pile. It wasn’t very far into the design process that we realized that only the location of the holes was important in the H shaped template. Adding a ring with holes at the appropriate points to the cross shaped template wouldn’t add much weight, and it would maintain roughly the same dimensions. The ring also worked as a nice carrying handle when you needed to move the template from place to place.
I cut one out on the router and it worked pretty well. Actually, it worked so well that the department that actually goes out and installs the signs onto signposts snagged it for their trucks. Rather than cart around the several templates that they had, they could carry this one light and durable template for any sign they need to install or repair. I made another for the sign shop, incorporating some tweaks that we had come up with, and someone else created a color coded chart and stickers for the template. Now if someone was operating the hole punch and was unsure what set of holes was for what type of sign, they could simply consult the chart displayed above the templates storage location.
All in all, it wasn’t a particularly sophisticated solution to a design problem. It didn’t take a lot of engineering or complex math. I think the end result is pleasing to look at, but only because the tool excels at its one job, showing you where to make holes.
I’m not sure if they have made more of them for the folks on the installation trucks, or made changes to the design to refine and add to it, but I was happy that it worked. Rather than just replace what existed with slightly improved versions, looking at the problem in another way resulted in a better functioning and simplified tool. Whenever I am faced with a problem that seems like the solution might be a bit clunky, I always remember that measuring stick, and how working the problem from the inside out made for a better product.
The template can be seen leaning against the wall behind the metal punch. The color coded chart (KPP Chart) is on the wall above.
We are all playing Pokemon Go here. What of it there is to play. The experience of Pokemon Go could be described as thin. The game consists primarily of going for a walk and getting interrupted. That may not sound particularly fun but that would be missing the point. What Pokemon Go offers is wish fulfilment.
The original Pokemon games were simple RPG games made for kids between the ages of around 8 to 15. You would walk your character around a few small towns in a fictional land searching out and capturing all sorts of imaginary animals. You then train your new pets for combat and pit them against other cute animals. You know, like kids do. An awful lot of kids explored that fictional world. They combed every square inch trying to find a Squirtle or a Kadabra, but they did it largely alone, and on a screen.
I wasn’t the right age when Pokemon hit North America full force so it never really resonated with me, but the idea that you could walk around your own town or your own neighborhood with your friends to search for those same fictional creatures was the stuff of daydreams for a lot of kids. A lot of kids that are now grown into adults. Still, childhood daydreams endure, and gathering cute imaginary animals remains an attractive pursuit.
Sure Pokemon Go is a simplistic game, and the gym battles miss out on a lot of the strategic depth that could be found in the original, turn based, combat system, but it delivers wish fulfilment in spades. With the promise of augmented reality games like Pokemon Go, or more theme park styled, location based, virtual reality games, it makes me wonder what other daydreams could be made real.