Joe is an aspiring game designer with an insatiable appetite for games and talking about them. He plays primarily PC games, but the occasional Wii or PS2 game creeps in when he has time. He is also a total Fire Emblem nut, but don't let him know I told you. He also enjoys reading, watching movies, circus arts, and stage combat. He has his own blog at http://chin-stroking.blogspot.com/
So I was thinking, with the recent announcement of Dark Souls 2, along with the statement from series director Hidetaka Miyazaki that he would like to make the game more accessible while maintaining the ball-busting difficulty it and it's predecessor are known for. It certainly caused a bit of a ruckus among the fanbase, and while I can't say that I agree with them that such a thing would be undesirable, I can see why they would be irate about that kind of change. It could be construed as tampering with what makes the game really interesting, and jeopardizing the unique charm of the games. But, what if there was a way to make the game unobtrusively easier for those looking to get into the series, but are too afraid of how unforgiving it is?
One thing to consider about the Dark Souls series (MAN it's nice to call it a series) is that while it has both single player and multiplayer elements, both are inextricably tied to the setting. It is actually explained in universe why other players can help or hurt you while you are playing what would otherwise be a strictly single player game, and the various permutations on the multiplayer are still tied to in universe objects and NPC's. Essentially, there is no difference between single and multiplayer, there is just one game (suck it, Brink). Thus adding in separate difficulties tampers with the nature of the game by causing disparities between players. It adds in divisions that didn't previously exist which would be tricky to reconcile, given the random, drop-in drop-out nature of the multiplayer. For instance, is it really fair for an invading player that an easy-mode invadee has less to fear from the wandering monsters than a normal-mode one? Or, if you invade two otherwise identical players, but one is one easy mode and the other isn't, then do you do less damage to the easy mode one because of the mode he picked? It raises too many balance questions to be really feasible, without creating a disparity that could cause frustration and be exploited by players.
However, there is another option. This option has proven decidedly unpopular among the hardcore that play games like Dark Souls, but I think that it could be used very well in this case, with some provisions. Essentially, Dark Souls could take a page from New Super Mario Bros., and have Luigi help you out.
Now, this being Dark Souls, having an NPC do all the work would make the game completely toothless. It would ruin the challenge, and most importantly, the player would get nothing out of it, losing the point of the experience. Dark Souls is about self improvement, about mastering your fear and learning the game until you can effectively conquer the tremendous challenge it offers, feeling the savage glee of the conqueror. Putting in an invincible computer controlled helper would invalidate that. However, Dark Souls already has something somewhat similar to this in the form of our grossly incandescent purveyor of Jolly Cooperation.
After you first meet the Knight Solaire, you can find his summon sign outside of a few boss areas in the game, and there are a few other potential NPC companions to be found. These AI helpers can be extremely helpful against certain bosses. So what if there was a guaranteed AI helper against any boss? Now, naturally this helper should not come without some fairly stringent requirements. For instance, you may have to attempt to beat the boss without them a certain number of times, say 5. After that, you may get a message telling you obliquely that they are available for summoning right outside the boss door; you have to get there by yourself to summon them. Then, if you do summon them to help you, you would lose some of the reward from the boss, say, half the soul reward. This would provide proper incentive to NOT summon them, as you would lose out on personal reward in exchange for progress. Now, loss of souls is only temporary, and it happens all the time in Dark Souls, but it is still an exchange, unlike the Luigi example. You are giving something up for help, and forcing the player to grind and make up the difference in souls will give them more practice with the game, so hopefully next time they won't need it.
Now, as the nice wall of text has described, we have a fairly in-character and potentially in-universe easy option for the noobish among us, but there are other questions. One thing that we might want to guarantee is that the AI helper cannot kill the boss. Perhaps after the boss has taken a certain amount of damage, the partner backs off and attempts to distract the boss, but not damage it further. Additionally, would the AI character be invincible or not? If it is, then it could make the fight entirely too easy, but if not they could die very early and the entire exercise is moot. This is not a perfect solution, but hey, I was just thinking. What do you think?[img]