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2:44 PM on 09.17.2012

Conventions: PAX 2012 was a great, I say, a honkin' good time

This year was--I say--was a heck of a time, the best of times, even. I had a whole gaggle of fellas hanging around with me (good people, really good people, just a little kooky sometimes, if you get my meaning). Now listen up now, everybody. I say, boy, are you paying attention!? Look sharp here!


Okay, we're done with that for now. I love The Fog to death, but I can't write a whole blog like that. It'll drive me insane. PAX was awesome, though, as I was saying. I had upwards of five guests staying at my place this year, and upwards of 15 piling in for the nightly parties. I'm going to give a whirlwind tour here of what I saw and did. I started out with the aim of going easy on the words, but they just kept flowing!


Tuesday?! That's right, in a surprise turn of events, Occams made it in late Tuesday night. I picked him up from the airport, promised to grill him some sausages when I got home, then abruptly fell asleep, leaving him to fend for himself. Luckily, he's a resourceful guy and ate some chicken nuggets.

I guess Tuesday was pretty short, huh guys?


Corduroy, COM, and Steezy also flew in this day to do some early sightseeing. They grabbed Occams from my place while I was toiling at work and whisked him around Seattle to see everything. They brought back some weird doughy thing that they put in my fridge and which later evolved into some kind of beating club.

My wife drove six hours to pick up our weird friend Colton Phillips from the faraway Port Angeles. Dag yo, we like having guests. WORTH IT.

In the evening we all went out to a rad local BBQ joint and got some delicious smoked meats for dinner. Across the street was this convenience store, where they tanked up on beer and Slim Jims.

I think the rest of the evening was spent basically playing Hidden in Plain Sight, right, guys?


Monk, SQID, and bbain all showed up on Thursday. I picked them up from the airport. Dixon drove up from wherever the heck he lives. Beyamor condensed out of a passing cloudmass sometime in the evening. Things were shaping up pretty well.

We hit up a pho place for lunch. Oh hey, I guess Bloodspray came along with us... visibly drunk, at that. It's like noon, hahaha.

The elusive Bloodspray came to Pho too.

We all went out to Dim Sum Thursday night. As my first experience with it, I was annoyed at how long a wait there was, but it was totally worth it. Dude, that stuff is mad good. Pork buns, dude. That's what it's all about. Unfortunately it was while we were out that Beyamor showed up. Being a cloud, he had no problem floating into my house and making himself at home.

SQID actually got in pretty late on Thursday, and had some kind of crazy adventure at the airport where he managed to walk out on a level that shouldn't have been accessible to arrivals. Dude is less a squid and more a ninja, apparently. When we got back home, people were all playing Cards Against Humanity. Fame Designer and Wolf Girl were also able to join! This went on for quite a while, so I guess it's pretty fun? It was real late when they left, and PAX proper hadn't even begun yet!


Bright and early, I started rousing people to get up and shower and make sandwiches to pack for the day at PAX. I'm kind of a fan of sandwiches, so I was well prepared with a selection of lunchmeats, spreads, bread, vegetables, and cheeses to make yourself the perfect PAX lunch. I think all of us availed ourselves of the ingredients, and let me tell you: it was very convenient not to have to take a break to get food!

He's probably thinking about code.

It wasn't exactly legal the way we crammed everyone into my poor, belabored Honda to get to PAX, but it was a beautiful day outside, and we had a nice little walk over. All of us had something pretty early we wanted to see. For me, it was the Idle Thumbs panel, my favorite pocast. You can't actually tell, but the dude on the far right happens to be Doug, from the Walking Dead games (caution: spoilers for the game farther down the page).

The Monk himself.

The big highlight of Friday at PAX was, of course, the Destructoid panel. Actually, to be honest, I was expecting a lot more craziness. I guess Dtoid got in trouble last year for too much craziness, so they had to tone it down. To be perfectly frank, the panel itself was a little boring, but the announcement of the animated Podtoid shorts was super cool, since I was already a fan of his previous works.

Bey and Law get friendly.

Funk approves of Isay Isay.

Max can't be bothered with Isay Isay. Fantastic photobomb by Swishiee.

The community picture afterwards is always pretty neat. In the interest of space, I'll just link to another post that has it covered adequately.

I spent a lot of time in the indie game area of the exihibition hall. I would tell you all about it, but bbain's done a much better job, so I'll just point you to that! Of course, Antichamber was my most anticipated game, carrying over from last year. It was nice to talk to Alexander Bruce, the dev. He spotted my "knutaf" periodic table nametag and was like, "oh, you're that guy from Twitter." That was neat.

Conrad is seriously distracted by something over there.

But my newest most anticipated game was definitely Quadrilateral Cowboy. Any game that lets me drop down a laptop and literally telnet into various devices to hack them gets me drooling. It's like my dream come true.

At some point during Friday there was a Geometry Wars 2 tournament. I always enter, and always have a pretty good time. This year as I was walking into the tourney room I turned to Corduroy and said, "yo, what's with all the people? I wonder what game they're here for." Turns out there were over fifty people in the GW2 tournament. WAT. I made it into the top 8, then got eliminated by a guy who was really very good. It was still a close game, though, and he was a cool guy.

All these people are here to play Geometry Wars. Am I in heaven?

I also watched Corduroy in the Trials Evo tournament. Unfortunately, they were using boring, simple tracks, so no real skill was shown off, mostly luck. Oddly, I ran into Freddie Wong, creator of one of the coolest shows I've seen recently, Video Game High School. He was just as crazy in person as he acts in his part on the show. Jeez. Apparently he's some Trials Evo hotshot? I dunno.

The dinner parties are maybe my favorite part of PAX. This year I cooked my Indian chicken again for about 15 people who came back to my place on Friday night. We played Smash Brothers and ate good food and had a great time. Again, everyone left pretty late, leaving us more and more hollow for the coming day.


Saturday is always the longest, fullest day of PAX, and this time was no exception. I saw a number of panels, none of which I can really remember, because it was such a blur. I remember spending most of the day with Bbain and Beyamor, though. We saw more indie games, wandered the expo hall, and sat in various panels.

Bey has a real knack for these kinds of shots.

I also took advantage of some free time to find out what Isay Isay was up to. Seems he was pretty busy!

Isay Isay gets a photo with Ezio or whoever.

I don't even know what this is from. I guess it looked kind of cool.

Mr. (Mrs.?) Destructoid showcases Isay Isay.

Monk totally fell asleep standing up. Come on, Monk. Wake up!

In the evening, we of course came back for another dinner party. This time, we made homemade burgers and did beer-soaked brats! God, those burgers were good. I just need to be careful about grease fires... oops. Heh heh. People played Smash Brothers and board games, then we of course moved into Rock Band later. There were some pretty stunning renditions of songs, let me tell you.

Coheed and Cambria - Welcome Home

Tenacious D

Gorillaz - Clint Eastwood

At some point we got the crazy idea to do a podcast. Well, we had like a bajillion people in the same place. Why not!? It was a short, sweet success, though we could have chosen the microphone a little better. Oh well.

Weary and dead on our feet, we slept like rocks. Some of us more than others.

Actually, Law passed out after one beer like 15 minutes into the party.

Sunday and Monday

Yet again we got up early and headed in. We seemed to always have something early in the morning. Beyamor and I went to the Spacechem tournament. I knew I was middling to bad at Spacechem, but I really didn't have that confirmed until I saw some of the incredibly elegant, beautiful solutions people came up with. Wow.

Isay Isay always wanted his very own mech.

Everyone, including Isay Isay, is pumped for Borderlands 2!

Speaking of beautiful, Bbain entered in the Beautiful Katamari tournament and made it all the way to the finals. He's good, you guys. Here's his semifinals win, followed by his unfortunate upset in the last match of the finals. His opponent really knew how to smash. His opponent was also very quick.

Bbain demolishes this guy at Beautiful Katamari

But not against this dude :(

I think we saw a few other panels on Sunday, too, but we were starting to get tired at this point. We were mostly split up during the day, and half the group headed home on a Sunday afternoon flight. That sucks! Dinner that night was a melancholy affair of leftovers. Too bad. Monk, Bbain, and I had a great time finishing off the last third of Rayman: Origins, though. It's pretty rare these days that I actually finish a game...

Isay Isay with one of the bikes from Lococyle

I honestly can't remember who left Sunday and who left Monday. Occams had to leave at the buttcrack of dawn, so that was fun. I think Monk was the last to leave, and Colton a bit before. Those last bits are always depressing. The kind of close-knit friendship in our group cannot be understated. I honestly feel like even though we live thousands of miles apart, the people in this group are every bit as good friends as many of my local ones.

I LOVE this picture.

I think every one of us suffers from some degree of post-PAX depression. Ah well, at least we have PAX 2013 to look forward to, right guys!? Oh yeah, and Borderlands 2, heh heh...   read

12:14 PM on 07.20.2012

Dark Souls and the "Style Over Substance" Mindset

It's no news to any of my friends that I'm severely addicted to Dark Souls at this point. I never could have predicted the way I became utterly gripped by it. Eventually, this largely became a matter of being integrated into a community of players, primarily on, once I started live-streaming. I have friends there now, so I see myself stuck in that world for a while.

This post isn't about that, though. It's about the player-vs-player (PvP) system in Dark Souls, and some of the contention around it. I started off watching various streams a long time ago while waiting for co-op, which began my exposure to PvP--one of the major end-game activities. I was young and impressionable, as it were, so when I saw someone who was just racking up kills with no sign of slowing down, I was kind of in awe. "MAN," I said to myself, "this guy must be amazing!"

It wasn't until much later, when I'd watched much more, started playing PvP myself, and was exposed to many play styles that I started to view kill count as far too simplistic a measure.

A measure of what, you ask? Your effectiveness at killing your opponent is not necessarily an indication of your skill.

When I see statements like these, I think of games like Mario Party, which has a large element of luck involved in winning. I don't think of more competitive games like shooters or fighting games. I certainly don't think of Dark Souls. Well, I didn't used to.

What it comes down to is the fact that, despite the huge breadth of play-style choices in Dark Souls there is a straight path to success--where "success" means how often you get the kill. You strap on heavy armor, pump up your vitality, wear the crit damage ring, and backstab your way to glory. It's a recipe for that kind of success, and huge numbers of players do it. It's absolutely a failing in the game, both in its net code and its balance, but it exists, so people exploit it.

Before I go on much more, I need to make a critical distinction. I'm not condemning people for doing these things. They're legitimate game mechanics, not glitches (that's a whole 'nother story), and so there's nothing wrong, per se, with using them. What I am saying, to reiterate an earlier statement, is that doing certain things lowers the skill needed to earn a kill.

Let me get specific and dump a list of things you can do that lessen the skills you need to win in PvP. I'm not saying any one of these things guarantees wins, but they sure help, sometimes to an absurd degree.

- Spawn camping with two of your buddies
- Heck, engaging in any kind of 2v1 and 3v1 situation, especially if you endlessly heal your friends
- Abusing the atrocious netcode to backstab people (a.k.a. "lagstabbing", or "backstab fishing")
- See above about backstabs, but especially coupled with the Hornet Ring
- Wearing a full set of Giant's Armor while still maintaining a fast movement speed
- Cranking crazy amounts of vitality and using Mask of the Mother to further boost it
- Stacking huge amounts of poise so you can tank the heaviest weapons without flinching
- Healing yourself with Divine Blessings (more on this later)
- Using glitches to create powerful, low level characters for the purpose of invading inexperienced players

Let me be clear: none of those things necessarily marks you as a bad player or means that you're "playing the game wrong"; these are displays of low skill. If you want to be a better player as opposed to just a successful one, challenge yourself and step outside these tactics.

Now I'll be prescriptive for a moment, and offer a shorter list of displays of high skill. For the record, I only attempt a few of these, usually unsuccessfully. That's because, heh, I'm not a very skillful player. But I can dream, right?

- Parrying, especially on the first swing
- Using low or no poise - makes you prey for stunlocks
- Using fast-roll without the Dark Wood Grain Ring
- Forgoing stunlock opportunities
- Using less common weapons - halberds, straight swords, regular hammers, whips, fist weapons, and plenty more choices
- Not healing during fights, even if the opponent does
- Succeeding in 2v1 and 3v1 fights
- Manually aiming hits without lock-on
- Manually aiming projectiles (including pyromancies) without lock-on

There are so many choices in this game. That's part of the breadth that I like to talk about. And that's why it pains me a bit to see people narrowly focus in on the few seriously overpowered paths. On the flip side, I love seeing stuff like Poise-Free PvP, which puts a list of agreed-upon restrictions for duels, with the goal of actually making you better at the game.

So what do I do about it? Do I complain? Eh, a little; call it "venting" instead. But more importantly, I play the game like I want to see it played. I watched a Youtube video recently where the uploader said something like, "as usual, PvP boils down to who can backstab whom more." My comment was: that's probably true right now, but if more people challenge that assumption, maybe we can elevate the state of the game overall.

So I play without backstabs, for the most part. I do a lot of dodging and rolling, attempt parries, and have characters with moderate vitality. I eschew the tryhard gear and pick armor that is both functional and appeals to my eye (though nobody else's, it would seem. sheesh). I do all these things because I know that if everyone did, we'd have much more interesting fights in general. I know this, because most of the duels I've had with the great people from that aforementioned community are a far cry more fun than those I have with lagstabbing randoms.

I'll even go as far as to avoid backstabs in 2v1 and 3v1 encounters, where the odds are staggering. This is because I feel winning is secondary to showing these players that it's possible to win without techniques like that. It's making a statement, albeit a painful one, since I'm rarely successful.

This is the "style over substance" camp: we play for reasons other than winning, sometimes at the cost of our quantifiable, measured success. But things are way more interesting in here.

Sidebar on Divine Blessings

I need to take a minute to state my view on Divine Blessings. This is an item that heals you fully and removes all status effects within a fraction of a second. In a normal playthrough, I think there is a maximum of about 10 you can get a hold of. You can't really farm them from anything (forest hunters can, but the drop rate is pretty rare).

The problem is that the advent of modding tools has given rise to the availability of basically infinite divine blessings. An item that was intended to be extremely rare is now commonplace. This is fine for PvE and PvP in "peacetime", but in the middle of a PvP fight I find it problematic, for these specific reasons:

- They take effect significantly faster than any other type of healing (heal spells, humanity, and Estus), allowing you to both use one and escape a retaliatory attack with ease.
- They are not subject to the preventative influence of Lloyd's Talisman.
- They can be used by invading red phantoms, who are denied the second fastest healing option, Estus.

And so I consider using Divine Blessings in PvP as outright cheating. If you want to heal, that's fine, but use one of the other mechanisms. Of course, none of this applies if you're using your legitimately earned DBs, but the sad truth is that the other player will assume you got yours through glitches or mods.   read

9:50 PM on 04.04.2012

10 Factoids about knutaf

Do I bother? I feel like lots of people already know some thing or another about me by now. I feel like I talk about myself too much sometimes as it is. I get self conscious about that kind of thing. Oh, was that #1? Ha ha! Bbain is quite a fellow and kicked off this recent revival. I will follow suit, just because.

#1 - When I was an infant, a cabbie burnt my hand with a cigarette. I obviously don't remember this firsthand, but as I've been told, we were riding in a taxi back in India, before we moved to the US. The cab driver somehow touched his cigarette to the back of my hand. I still have a very visible scar from it. As I understand it, my mom absolutely went to town on the guy. Go mom.


The miracle that is Beyond Dark Castle

#2 - I was a Mac gamer for a lot of my childhood. Beyond Dark Castle. Crystal Quest. Stunt Copter. Spectre Supreme. The Manhole. Cosmic Osmo. Spelunx. Glider. Do you remember any of these? They were the fabric of my gaming childhood. I want to go back and revisit some of them in blogs eventually.


#3 - I was kicked out of primary school. Yup, I was a rowdy kid. My teachers didn't know what to do with me, and my natural childhood boisterousness was misdiagnosed as ADD; they used that as grounds to have my parents withdraw me, or something. I have vague memories of wrecking a classmate's Lego creation, then trying to make them clean it up.


#4 - I got in trouble on my very first day of first grade at a new school, for cussing. The conversation went like this; it is etched into my memory forever.

Person #1: I got to go to King's Dominion [local theme park] last week!
Person #2: Aww, lucky!
Person #3: Ducky!
Person #4: Fucky!

Person 1-30 + teacher: crickets

Guess who Person #4 was?

Also keep in mind those may have been the very first words I uttered in this school. I was kind of sheltered, and didn't even know the F-word yet! How inauspicious!


Circa 2012/04/04, 8:26 AM

#5 - I am an Eagle Scout. Like my nearly-brother, Qalamari, my formative years were spent in the Boy Scouts. It was such an amazingly enriching and fun time that if I have a son, I'm going to urge him to join, too. I didn't encounter even one chimo!


#6 - I work at Microsoft on the Xbox. Many of you already know this, and it's already in my sidebar (because my employer believes that we shouldn't try to hide the fact), but who reads sidebars, anyway? My job freaking rules. I work on the networking stack of the console itself, so if you wonder why I take an inordinate interest in your router problems, well, now you know. Maybe this also at least somewhat excuses my rabid 360 fanboyism.


#7 - A long time ago, I was a drummer in a band. Granted, it was a crappy high school band with my friends, and I was never very good, but I still kind of self-taught myself some stuff and had my ambitions of being as good as the best drummer I've seen. Once I moved out and went to college, I didn't have a place for my kit. I haven't gotten a new one to rekindle my little musical joy. To this day I at least still retain an appreciation for all sorts of good drumming; it's the first thing I listen for in any song.

Circa 2001

You know what our band was named? Gratuitous Squank. I did say high school. We changed our name to the less childish and more pretentious The Dispossessed, after the novel. Hoo boy. We even recorded a godawful 4 track album over a weekend at a friend's basement studio. It was so bad, you guys.


#8 - I have had a long time love for hackysacking. Or, as I still call it sometimes, footbag. I somehow developed it during my first year of college, where I played (no exaggeration) every single day for 2-3 hours, without fail. If it was raining, I found a covered place to play. I played in lecture halls, in libraries, in parking garages, parks, middle of the street, waiting for the bus, middle of the night, first thing in the morning, you name it.

I went to a competition in Virignia once, too, though I was never really good enough to compete. I achieved the level of skill where I could keep kicking it and keep it alive indefinitely, so I stopped counting. In fact, even now you could toss me a sack and ask me to do that at pretty much any time. I was getting to the point where I was trying to pull tricks with crazy names like Osis and Paradox Mirage.

My cardio and foot/leg endurance were maximum back then. Oh, how the mighty have fallen...


#9 - I dabble in cooking, and kind of like it. Those of you who made it to PAX last year tasted my Indian Butter Chicken, passed down to me from my awesome mom. I also make a really mean hamburger bean dip that we eat as a proper meal. I've only made it a few times, and it may not be authentic in taste, but my jambalaya is freaking incredible. I grill frequently, though that is walking the line of proper cooking. And my meatloaf is pretty great.

That wasn't meant to sound nearly as self-congratulatory as it came off. Think about it instead as... incentive! to freaking get down here for PAX Prime.


#a - I haven't yet really experienced death. Nobody close to me has passed away yet. I count myself lucky, but it also sits nervously on me at times. My grandfather passed away a few years back, but we hadn't really been close for a long time. My childhood dog did too, but again, I hadn't really lived with him for years. I dunno. I kind of worry that when it someday does happen, I'm not going to feel anything. Could I be a robot? Doesn't sound good to me.

#b - I am a programmer, through and through. Which is why I was counting in HEXADECIMAL instead! HA HA SUCKAS! Where, "10" is actually sixteen in normal numbers! Ahhhh, this joke is spent already. That's it for me, folks. Good to know yall.

It was windy that day. Give me a break!

4:00 AM on 03.18.2012

Journey Is About So Much More Than Travel

If you haven't played through Journey yet, stop reading this now. Just stop. Go away, play it, and come back to this blog when you can. This game is too beautiful and well crafted for me to spoil even the smallest aspect of it, and I don't want that blood on my hands.

I picked it up on launch day and played it the next evening. It blew me away like I never imagined it would. I'd skimmed the Destructoid review, and I remembered only two things from it: there is sand, and you meet another traveler. While both of those things are true, I was totally unprepared for the range of emotions I felt as I played through.

Within my first 5 minutes, I was hooked. I walked through the sand and stared, hypnotized, by the way the grains shuffled around and away from my spindly legs. Climbing to the top of a dune, I stood there for a while, watching that obdurate wind pushing me back. As I stepped back onto this side of the dune, my person slid gracefully down: my first glimpse of exhiliration abundant in the rest of the game.

Stepping outside the game for just a second, I noticed how well it drew my attention to the next thing to go do: a lone feature on the top of a nearby dune. Subtle, not breaking immersion (except for overthinkers like me).

The whole game changes, of course, when you meet your companion. As I said, I'd heard this from the review, but I wondered how they would achieve it. Clearly, this game wouldn't have a matchmaking lobby or anything like that. It would be disguised, I knew.

I entered the area where you build several of those carpet bridges. It was basically at this time that I discovered I could tap the circle button to chirp quickly (as opposed to holding it down for that "shout"). I was merrily jamming on this button as I drifted down to the ground. Something caught the corner of my eye. Is that... is that another person? They were just milling around, now chirping back since they heard me.

Of course I ran right over and we started bonding. We walked around, visiting the various features in the area. Thinking about it, the design of this matchmaking is utterly brilliant. They give you a large area with several similar tasks, which necessarily take you many minutes to complete, due to travel time if nothing else. At any point in here, a second person can join and chip in to finish the tasks. I'm not sure I've ever seen such a complicated game implementation detail disguised so elegantly.

My companion and I, we stuck together the whole while, flitting to each carpet thing to activate it. At times, one of us would break away with a series of chirps and lead the other to one of those glowing scarf powerup things. With nearly no communication whatsoever, we just naturally fell into exactly what the game wanted us to do. In the absence of a pathological troll, I imagine this simple, team-building interaction to be the natural progression at this point. The way they steer you towards it is, once again, very smart.

For quite a long time, neither my companion nor I would jump or float, because the game had made us to understand that the limited scarf power is something of a precious commodity, to be hoarded in the way that gamers do. Eventually I experimented and found that being in close proximity to my companion mutually recharged both of us. I tried to convey this discovery to my partner by heedlessly jumping and recharging by him, but I don't think he got it until much later.

That's okay, though; interpersonal skills kick in, and I adjust my playing to account for his lack of understanding. How many games implicitly influence you think about these kinds of things? How many do it without having a button that makes your character holler, "MEDIC! HEAL ME!" This is probably a contentious point. In a game like Halo, I might understand a teammate's weakness and try to make up for it with my playing. I wish I could articulate why it just doesn't feel the same.

One of the reasons I think this game is so great is that it evoked so many different emotions that I didn't expect, let alone in a 2 hour game. I felt exhilirated every time the game took me through one of the "luge" sections. I felt trepidation in the caves, especially in that brief period when the eye of the dragon turns red, and you're not sure what will become of your partner. I felt awe at some of the landscapes and spectacles they put before you, like the illuminated lantern of a tower. And finally, I felt a pang of grief, at the loss of my companion.

No, I don't mean at the end of the game. Premature. We were close to the end, in the snowy heights, and had just battled our way up the slope, slowly, huddled together, darting from scrawny rock to rock to escape the wind. Finally, we came to the bridge across the top--crumbling, in disarray. We started to make our way across. Halfway there, my companion slipped. As he dropped over the edge, I must have--in real life--exclaimed something, possibly profane. I gave it no thought, and jumped after him. In my mind, there was no other choice: how else would he climb back up without my warmth? He would be doomed. He needs me.

As we both alighted on the ground, I imagined him straining to see far up to the bridge above. He tried to fly straight up, a note of desperation in his efforts, since he had lost part of his scarf earlier in the caverns. I tried to help him fly. I chirped "3, 2, 1, go!" and we both took off in perfect unison, but it seems you can't recharge each other in mid-air. We would have to take the long way back.

His character waited for what seemed like forever, just standing. I could practically see him exhale a sigh into that frigid air. Finally, he settled on the ground, resting, and I knew what was coming next. With the bite of cold, his body frosted over and disappeared. Only a sense of resignation lingered.

Later I thought back to this moment and realized, wryly, that he had rage quit from Journey. Wow.

When you think about it critically, the game gives you very little to do. You walk around and explore. You progress through the areas. The levels are all totally linear and barely disguised as such. Some are even mostly on-rails. About the only independent things the game gives you to do are finding those scarf upgrades and shrines.

But even as little as there is to do, I feel the game would have benefited from streamlining the scarf collecting. Usually the scarves are off in the distance, and you'll catch sight of them glowing brightly. What I hated is that every time I saw one, no matter where I was, I fixated on it. The immersed, experiential part of my brain got rudely shoved aside by my finely-tuned gamer brain, which understands what has to be done. It's an upgrade. I have to get it. Why? Because collecting... why else?

Worse still, I feel like it broke the fiction a little. From the beginning of the game, you see your ultimate destination: the glowing light-volcano in the distance. Your character seems single-minded in his drive to reach there, braving all odds. Why would I detour? People don't take a detour from a pilgrimage. That's how I ended up viewing Journey by its conclusion.

I loved Journey. It's probably the first thing I've ever played that made me just sink in and almost forget that I was even playing a game.   read

2:52 AM on 02.28.2012

Ezekiel 25:17 - a Dark Souls faith/dex PvP build

More Dark Souls! Since it is almost the only thing I've been playing for weeks, I guess it was only inevitable that I write another one of these, huh? If you've been watching my live stream at all, you'd have seen me crafting this build, which has ended up being somewhat effective so far. I also mentioned it on the most recent episode of the Secret Moon Base podcast. I'd like to tell you all about it. Warning: this post is serious Dark Souls nerdage. There shouldn't be any spoilers, except the names of equipment you might not have seen.

This is a flavor of dexterity/faith rapier build. I guess the basics of this build are pretty well known by experienced Dark Souls players at this point, but I've imposed certain restrictions upon myself to try to differentiate from the "optimal" one. Despite these restrictions, I made Darkmoon Blade +3 (80 PvP kills) in about 3 days with probably a > 70% K/D spread, so it's vastly exceeded my expectations.

For any not-Dark Souls fanatics, I'll briefly explain dex/faith builds. Thrusting swords like rapiers scale their damage well according to the dexterity stat, so I'm using them as my primary weapons. With high faith, you get access to certain temporary weapon enchantments that add huge amounts of damage. Put these together and you have a mean combination.

Biggest dredgling EVER.


- no backstabbing unless the opportunity is very carelessly presented to me. So far I have barely even backstabbed for healing during the fight.
- no Dark Wood Grain Ring, and I have to fast roll (that is, keep under 25% equip weight - only wear light armor).
- Wrath of the Gods only as a defensive measure. It is a fast-casting area attack with high damage and is considered cheap by some.


- Endurance - 40
- Dexterity - 40
- Faith - 40
- Vitality - 30 (yields 1100 HP)
- Attunement - 14 (yields 4 magic slots)
- Strength - 16 (able to equip halberds for fun)
- Resistance - 10
- Intelligence - 9


- Mask of the Father - yields 92.0 equip burden
- Armor of the Sun
- Channeler's Gauntlets or Knight Gauntlets
- Hollow Soldier Waistcloth - has the highest poise to weight ratio in the game!


- Cloranthy Ring, since I don't use either the Grass Crest Shield (not 100% physical damage block) or Mask of the Child
- Wolf Ring

Estoc +15 or Ricard's Rapier +15
second slot: some elementally upgraded Shotel or Darkmoon Bow; or pyro glove (unupgraded - more on this shortly)

weight-3 shields like Dragon Crest Shield or Crest Shield
second slot: Darkmoon Talisman


- Darkmoon Blade, of course
- Sunlight Blade, also of course
- Power Within OR Replenishment (!)
- The aforementioned Wrath of Gods

The name of this build harkens back to that oh-so-lovely scene from Pulp Fiction: "...when I strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger..." The play style is a headlong rush, and the vengeance is, of course, Gwyndolin's. Not that I rush opponents in duels or anything like that.

The cornerstones of this build are the magic choices: DMB/SLB and Power Within. These are temporary boosts and represent throwing all your weight behind your first press. Power Within using an un-upgraded pyro glove drains 11 HP / sec, which gives you 100 seconds before you die! Heh, with a +15 pyro glove it's 20 HP / sec. OUCH. Depending on the area I'm in and my mood, I might switch out Power Within in favor of Replenishment, which heals slowly enough that it's probably not considered "cheap" healing, and offsets such things as swamps and lava.

The armor choices are very specific. With the armor shown, you get 26 poise. With the Wolf Ring that comes to 66 poise, which has worked pretty well so far. Poise matters.

The weapon choices are likewise pretty restricted. With the remaining equip burden after taking armor into account, only very light weapons will fit. Heh, in fact, I can wield a Ricard's Rapier with a Shotel in second slot, but if I swap in the Estoc instead, the Shotel is now too heavy by 0.5 pounds. Yikes!

The build favors quick kills and exploits the opponent's impatience and mistakes, but suffers when the opponent is cautious and the fight goes long. Most of my time is spent furiously rushing my opponent, attacking quite a lot. I haven't been parried much so far, maybe due to the speed of the rapiers, or maybe due to luck. A lot of the time is spent doing the sprinting R1 attack (that rad lunging double-poke).

Quick side note: that double poke is unique to rapiers' movesets, an example of how Dark Souls differentiates weapons by more than just damage.

That being said, most opponents who go 2-handed or drop their shield aren't expecting 1000+ damage from that sprinting lunge.

What does this abomination of a character look like? Well, in a word, UGLY. By the way, that's a SHE.


Opponents with Eagle Shield who wait until the weapon enchants run out. You can switch to the shotel to try to deal with them, but I've had mixed success. This is probably my inexperience showing.

Opponents who rush. I don't call this cheap; it's their prerogative to exploit a weakness in my build. So it can be dicey getting the buff on my weapon in time, especially in the Kiln or forest.

Outnumbered fights. This build works best targeting a single opponent. Part of that is due to the narrow arc of the rapier. Arc? The arc is nonexistent! It's a poke directly in front of you! A Claymore this is not.

In 2v1 and 3v1 fights, your best bet is to look for openings in either player and try to eliminate him quickly, so you can go back to defending your back against the remaining ones. Wrath of the Gods sometimes helps here if they all get in too close. Still, I have lost far more of these than I've won. In these cases I will not put on Power Within, because the fight is bound to be too long.

Bleed damage. Turtling up like sometimes happens in these fights is no good against an opponent inflicting bleed damage. I need to dodge more in these cases, I suppose.

So yeah, that's my build. It took about 60 hours to get to get to the conventional PvP level of 120 and get all my equipment in order, but I wasn't going at a crazy pace.

People in the live stream chat sometimes comment on my self-imposed restrictions. I have this to say: backstabbing makes PvP in Dark Souls uninteresting. It's not fun to fight against; after a while it's not fun to watch; I imagine eventually it's not even fun to play. Likewise, huge numbers of people are using some of the same equipment, like the Dark Wood Grain Ring. I think doing something different is fun, even at the expense of winning.   read

11:43 PM on 01.08.2012

Weapons in Dark Souls Aren't a Numbers Game (img heavy)

Dark Souls is an RPG, right? I have trouble describing its genre to people. It's kind of an adventure game. It has some stats. Your character has some stats. You "level up", and so on. Yeah, I guess it's an action RPG... it just feels so different sometimes, yanno?

I'm cool with stats. I think about number crunching sometimes, despite my aversion to real math, so naturally when I got the pretty cool Dark Souls strategy guide (now somewhat obviated by the 1.05 patch), I groveled all of the weapon lists seeing what was there.

At some point I figured out the hidden truth in Dark Souls: that your level matters only inasmuch as it enables or complements your weapons and armor. Many weapons have stat requirements, so of course you need to have leveled the corresponding stats in order to even use them. Likewise, having higher Endurance lets you wear heavier armor while retaining mobility and lets you keep on swinging your massive sword. Other than those things? The abundance of level 1 playthroughs is evidence enough that your level doesn't really matter.

So I went through the weapon lists and would pick out cool weapons with high damage and say, "Yo knut, let's craft our character to be able to take advantage of this crazy pain-factory of a sword, 'cause it's got mad damage and we'll be unstoppable." After all, it's an RPG, right? Numbers, yeah! And I did this, and it worked to an extent, but the more I watched other people playing (I've watched an obscene amount of Dark Souls videos, live streams, etc.), the more I realized there's far more going on here than stats and numbers.

Let's start with an example to frame the discussion. We've got two katanas, the ironically named Iaito (because in real life, an iaito is an imitation katana) and the awesomely named Washing Pole. To start with let's just look at the stats. Hmm, they're pretty close: base damage of 88 and 90, 300 bleed. Stat requirements are a little different (20 STR for the Washing Pole). Damage scaling for the Iaito is better if you have a DEX build, so that's a consideration. But they're pretty similar.

Similar? Ha! Don't make me laugh (again)! How the heck are these similar?

Could make some bad joke here... Nah, Dixon will take care of it.

What the strategy guide doesn't tell you (but which the in-game description hints at) is that the Washing Pole is monstrously long. With reach like that, your combat capabilities change drastically, since you can hit many enemies without getting within a normal weapon's range. Weapon sizes: not a quantifiable thing, but an important consideration nonetheless.

Next, let's talk about speed. Actually, I don't think "speed" is precise enough. Let's split speed in half and talk about "spe" and "ed". HAR! Got ya there, didn't I!? Anyway. The two aspects of speed that I think matter are hits per second and recovery time.

Notice I said "hits per second" and not "damage per second." An upgraded greataxe does a boatload of damage in, say, 5 seconds, which comprises maybe 2 hits; our friend the Iaito may do significantly less base damage in that same five seconds, but maybe you get 5 hits in. Those 5 hits might be better than 2, for two reasons: firstly, you can't move during a hit, so 5 quick hits gives you more opportunities to stop what you're doing and roll out of the way.

Greataxe's one-handed "light" attack is slow

Iaito's one-handed light attack is pretty fast

Secondly, bleed and poison damage. Many weapons have bleed damage or poison damage along with them. These weapons raise the enemy's bleed or poison meter a fixed amount per hit, not per unit of damage, so to be effective, you need to land several hits rather than a lot of damage. Bleed is neat because it does an extra truckload of damage when it fills up the bleed gauge.

So that greataxe we were talking about? Maybe it does a lot of damage per second, but if you factor in the Iaito's bleed, if you get in several hits in quick succession, the katana may win out in a big way.

Even within a class of weapons, though, there can be significant differences. Did you know that each weapon has seven unique moves in its move-set? They are:

- Light attack (1 or 2 handed, running or standing) - R1/RB
- Heavy attack (standing only) - R2/RT
- Two-handed heavy attack - R2/RT after hitting Y/Triangle to switch to 2H mode
- Running light attack / backstep-counter - hit R1/RB while running or hit B/Circle followed by R1/RB
- Rolling light attack - roll in any direction and hit R1/RB while coming out of the roll
- Kick - direction + R1/RB
- Jumping heavy attack - direction + R2/RT

Within a class of weapons, usually the light attack is pretty similar, but the heavy attack can vary quite a bit. For example, both the very neat Black Knight Sword (BKS) and the Flamberge, both greatswords, have similar light attack moves, but the BKS has a straight thrust with a very long wind up time for its heavy attack, whereas the flamberge has some weird diagonal wavy dance. Dunno what's going on there. Anyway, they're very different. And the BKS 2H heavy attack is this crazy uppercut thing.

Black Knight Sword has a slow, but strong one-handed strong attack

Black Knight sword's two-handed strong attack is a crazy uppercut!

Flamberge's strong attack is this weird diagonal wavy dance thing. wut

And speaking of crazy, some of the 2H strong "attacks" are reserved for completely baffling special moves.

Which one of these is better? The beauty of it is that there's no right answer; it's all up to your play style! There are so many weapons, and many of them have slightly different moves and quirks.

One of the most interesting ones to me is my beloved Great Scythe, which has a pretty diverse move-set. In fact, the simple light attack is not very good, in my opinion: it has a slow wind-up time that I don't like. However, many of its other moves are much more interesting. The running light attack turns into a sprinting jump while swinging. The standing heavy attack does a quick charge and slash. I find them quite useful.

Some moves have great reach, some have a wide arc, some are only vertical, some are horizontal or diagonal, some are pure thrusts in front of you. Halberd-type weapons even tend to have a move that hits in a circle around you. Each has its time and place or fits well with someone's style. The Iaito has a quick slashing dash (hee hee), where the Washing Pole has a long range thrust. Who's to say which is objectively better?

Iaito's slash is horizontal, so has a wide-ish arc

Washing Pole's strong attack is a long range thrust. Look at the reach!

Finally, there is an unquantified weight characteristic that comes into play. Yeah, I know there's a weight measurement that shows up in the stats, but I think there's a second, hidden weight-like aspect that affects the way some weapons hit. The best example of this is probably the Zweihander. Weighing in at a paltry 10.0, this guy's overhead chop/smash flattens enemies to the ground. It's not the only weapon to do this, but it might be the lightest one.

Zweihander Smashing attack

Compare it with the lengthy, heavy Black Knight Halberd. It weighs significantly more, at 14.0, has a sort-of overhead vertical hit, yet... no flattening. Clearly there is some hidden attribute that affects some weapons.

Numbers... yeah, Dark Souls has 'em, but if you start looking closer, there's a lot more that's hidden and really has to be explored, experienced, and discovered on your own. The perfect weapon for your play style is out there. Maybe it doesn't have the supermodel measurements, but you'd rather grab onto it than anything else!   read

4:19 PM on 01.03.2012

Being a Jolly Good Fellow in Dark Souls Co-op

If you listen to me on Twitter it's no secret that I play a lot of Dark Souls. A lot of the time I spent in the game was in co-op play, or, as we Sunbros like to say, JOLLY CO-OPERATION. I've played over 60 games of co-op at this point, and I find it one of the best ways to get souls and humanity in the game. Plus, it's super fun! Everyone knows what the goal is (usually), and it leads to a really nice joint effort.

But there's more to co-op in this game than just putting down your sign or touching someone else's, then swinging away. There are definitely ways to be a good host or guest, and I think it behooves us all to try to be enlightened about these things. With that in mind, I'm writing this as a kind of guide on how to be a good co-op partner. I hope it will lead to much jollier sessions in the future.

I won't talk about the actual mechanics of summoning, because it's already covered in great depth elsewhere, but more about strategy and etiquette. I'm covering most, but not all bosses, omitting ones that aren't too interesting for co-op or which I don't have much experience with.

You know what? We're gonna do "DOs and DON'Ts", because writing everything out will be way too long. How do I know? I already tried it, then had to DELETE DELETE DELETE.

Basic stuff

DO keep an eye on your guests' health, since they can't use Estus to heal themselves. You can use Estus yourself to heal the entire party.

DON'T assume that guests can pick up items or talk with NPCs... 'cause they can't. They can interact with the environment by opening doors and such, though.

DON'T try to lead the host around. It's their world; be... like a faithful puppy! Likewise, DON'T run off without your guests. After all, you want their help as much as they want souls for helping you.

DO try to help the host if they seem lost or severely confused or they're gesturing wildly like they want you to tell them what to do, or they're hitting walls and spinning in circles.

DO donate any spare weapons, armor, shards, and so on that you don't need. This kind of random kindness really breeds goodwill. I was able to skip fighting Gwyndolin a second time because some kind soul randomly dropped me a Darkmoon Bow! I filled up on green titanite shards somehow, so I'd sprinkle them about for fun. People love it!

Now I will move on to specific things I can think of for each of the bosses.

Bell Gargoyles

Usual places for summon signs are right outside the promenade leading to the blacksmith and right outside the boss door, where Solaire's sign is.

DO distract the second gargoyle once it enters battle, if the host is busy with the first one.

DO try to cut off the first gargoyle's tail before dealing heavy damage to it. The host may want the item for an achievement.

Capra Demon

Usually I see summon signs right outside the boss door. This is a fun fight, and usually lasts only about 30 seconds.

DO take out the dogs immediately or distract the Capra Demon.

DON'T get all in the way and trap the host in a corner or something. That's not helpful!

Gaping Dragon

Summon signs are usually around the closest bonfire and in the area near the boss door where Solaire's is.

DO try (again) to cut off the dragon's tail before dealing it heavy damage.

DO lead a confused host up to the Channeler's area to kill it so that it doesn't spew junk on you during the boss fight. Also try to take him around to kill Kirk while you're at it.


Usually summon signs are either around the closest bonfire in Blighttown or right outside the boss door, where Mildred spawns.

DO help the host kill Mildred, even though she's not very hard. It shows you're paying attention and willing to be helpful.

DO kill mosquitos if they are pestering the host. You never know what the host might be doing! writing messages, changing their clothes, eating a hotdog...

DO charge ahead using the safe line to Quelaag's Domain once the party starts moving, and in particular DON'T alert the boulder barbarians.

DO cure your own poison once you're on the shore, unless you have a dumptruck full of vitality.

DO watch the guests' health during the fight, especially if Quelaag does her abdomen bomb move; that thing has a pretty big radius and does a nice chunk of damage.

By the way, if you haven't noticed the tell for that attack, the sexy woman portion of Quelaag lies down on her stomach like she is fainting from suddenly realizing that oh my god, my legs are actually a SPIDER. A few seconds later, the abdomen blows!

Iron Golem

Due to the weird structure of the zones, where the bonfire is in a different zone than right outside it, I've only noticed signs outside the boss door. Maybe just let the NPC Black Iron Tarkus do all the work for you. Dude is built like a TANK.

Smough and Ornstein

This is really the first interesting boss from a co-op perspective. Big One and Small One are significantly easier in co-op than solo due to the simple fact that one person can distract one while you kill the other.

There are three common places for summon signs: the bonfire room inside the castle, right outside the boss door, and on the ledge in the cathedral hall where Knight Solaire's sign is. Let's talk about when you get summoned in the bonfire room.

DO actively help with taking out the knights on the way to the boss. Also follow the host's lead: if they're fighting the Royal Sentinels, you should help too.

DON'T be caught unaware in case the host summons you into a mob of enemies right outside the boss room. Have your correct boss-fighting gear equipped!

DO tell your guests in an Xbox message your preference of which boss (Fat Boy or Slim) should die first, if you care. Likewise...

DO try to figure out which one the host wants killed first, if he hasn't told you. You can try to be smart about this. While distracting Freddie Mac, watch out of the corner of your eye to see if the host is attacking Fannie Mae with gusto, which tells you that he wants to kill his first. Or is the host keeping Jim Sterling in a holding pattern? Then he might be hoping you'll kill Max Scoville first. Use that human intuition and do the right thing. That's what an excellent co-op partner should do!

DO heal your guests if they get caught in that lightning butt stomp. That thing is devastating!

Crossbreed Priscilla

DO play this co-op only if you have not previously attacked Priscilla. There is a neat trick to this fight where the guest can attack Priscilla with impunity so long as the host hasn't.

DO (if you're the host) send a message to your guests telling them that you need the tail, otherwise the trick may fail.

DO (if you're the guest) attack only the tail, repeatedly many times.

DO (as the host) attack Priscilla only when you feel her tail has taken "enough" damage.

DON'T play this one co-op at all if Priscilla is already antagonistic towards you. It's not a hard fight and is made sort of personal in that the only reason you tend to fight her is to get her tail, which is not easy to coordinate in combat between two people.

Moonlight Butterfly

Summon signs are near the bonfire closest to it, right outside the boss door, or--unintuitively--near the Hydra, since it is considered in the same zone as the Butterfly. The host may want to kill the Hydra, then proceed to the Butterfly.

DO kill the golems and keep them off the host's back.

DON'T stay far so away from the Hydra that it goes into spitter mode.

DO use ranged magic on the Butterfly if you can. Even fireballs work.

Four Kings

Summon signs are either right outside the boss door or near the entrance of New Londo Ruins. Guests who join near at the beginning of the area should be prepared to sprint the entire way; follow the host's lead. Guests who join near the boss door may spawn into several enemies who were chasing the host.

DO quaff an Estus before falling into the Abyss, in case your partners were damaged in the sprint to the boss room.

This is a very difficult fight for multiple people, since it's likely that more than one King will be present at once and might start attacking players who aren't directly engaged with one. Still, I think the best tactic is for the host to stay a little disengaged and keep the guests healed. They do large amounts of damage very frequently and can easily kill a guest, who doesn't have control of his Estus.

By the way, it's actually very doable to wear light armor and dodge a lot. I didn't even consider it myself until I saw it done. Then I tried it myself and had good success!

Seath the Scaleless

Seath, oh Seath, what a boss you are. Due to a lot of high level play in this area, I played the heck out of this boss in co-op. I had probably a 90% success rate in cutting the tail for the host, too. There are a lot of things to keep in mind for this one.

There are three usual summon locations: the bonfire in the archives closest to him; just outside the door overlooking the golem field; and near the boss door, probably before the clams. Obviously, the first is the most involved.

DO help the host unlock the shortcut if it's not open yet, in particular killing archers and Channelers to keep him safe.

DO help the host kill the giant golden golem containing Sieglinde if it's there. Furthermore, DO follow up by killing all the golems.

DO follow the host on the invisible walkways in the caves, but do take the lead if the host seems uncertain or lost. If you manage to lead the host off of an edge somehow, give them 1 humanity next time they summon you. Oops!

DON'T bother killing unnecesssary golems or the butterflies in the caves. They are optional and hazardous, and the host can do them on their own time.

DO fight the clams so that your guests aren't struggling to run through them after you. It also gives the guests a chance to change into curse resist gear for the boss.

DON'T aggro more than one clam. They hit like a truck and can be dangerous in a group.

DO equip the Covetous Gold Serpent Ring while fighting the clams, which may help the host get some of the good loot drops. This is the kind of thoughtfulness that sets great co-op partners apart.

DO send a message to your guests if you need Seath's tail cut. If you already have the sword, you could take it out and waggle it around to indicate you don't need it.

DO (on the first boss attempt) gesture for your guests to move to the far end of the room right by the crystal before triggering the boss. This puts them in a safe place when the boss lands. Likewise...

DON'T follow close on the host's heels as he goes into the boss room for the first time. When Seath spawns he will be pretty much on top of you, will swing his tail wildly until you're dead, then probably smirk a little. This happens all the time. Instead, DO wait outside and go into the fog door several seconds after the fight starts.

DO then wait for Seath to cross the room and destroy the crystal, himself. This leaves plenty of room behind him to work on the tail.

DO take the lead on cutting the tail if possible, being careful to stay out of range of the tail lash attack. Be careful and conservative!

DON'T do lots of damage to Seath's body until the tail has been cut! Why do I even have to say this!? Since you may be on the opposite side of Seath when the tail is cut, look for him hollering in anguish mid-fight; that's the tell that the tail is gone.

DO wail on Seath with extreme prejudice once the tail has been cut. Staying on the front side of his body can help avoid the tail lash attack.

Gravelord Nito

Summon signs for Nito are usually at one of the two bonfires, so there is a treacherous walk to get to Nito.

DO help as much as you can with the skeleton beasts on the way. They can be very tough.

DO run ahead a bit and take out the skeleton archer when you get to that part, while the host fights the beasts.

DON'T forget the one giant skeleton just past the skeleton beast. If you forget him, he will jump on your head when you go lower, without fail.

DON'T aggro the 2-3 skeleton beasts grouped together. If you hug the right-side wall you can simply walk right by them without a fight.

DO help trigger and kill Paladin Leeroy on the way.

DO (in the same general area) kill the crystal lizard if you see it. The loot drop will be transported directly into the host's inventory, so no need to worry about him missing picking it up.

DON'T bother making the guests fight the Pinwheel enemies. Just run through instead.

DON'T stray from the spot where you drop into Nito's den, or else you will aggro the giant skeletons lurking farther back. Fight near the entrance.

DO equip a divine weapon to kill the skeleton flunkies for good, then switch to a high damage weapon and magic resist shield.

Centipede Demon

This is perhaps the only good boss for co-op in Demonic Ruins. It isn't a hard fight, so not much advice here. Summon signs are either up at the bonfire or down near the boss door.

DO make a very strong effort to cut off the tail, which snags the host the Orange Charred Ring.

DON'T stop now! Continue wailing on him!

Gwyn, Lord of Cinder

Summon signs are outside his door or at the entrance to the Kiln. Be mindful, though, that a lot of people summon partners for PvP, not co-op.

DO go for backstabs on the black knights if the opportunity presents.

DO try to distract Gwyn as much as possible, to let the host heal. Healing is at a premium in this fight, due to Gwyn's speed.

DO take pot-shots at Gwyn when he's not paying attention to you, but watch out, because the arc on his swings is pretty wide.

DON'T try any fancy tricks like parrying, since the lag is Gwyn's own co-op partner.

DO keep your distance and used ranged magic if you have it. It can make a huge difference.


I hope these suggestions help you be a more excellent buddy in this dark, dark world that goes out of its way to make you feel isolated. Even in NG+ I was able to get at least 10 more rounds of co-op, so keep your eye out for that. It's very helpful and especially fun to play with a bunch of super high powered players. Sun praising time!   read

8:23 PM on 11.23.2011

The Myth of the Hero

It's funny how stories get changed as they're passed down from generation to generation. We read tales of daring deeds, masterful heroics, incredible skill... but how much of that is real, and how much of it is embellished? Bards of old will sing anything to get a copper and a bed at an inn, and I tell ya what: it's easier to rhyme "kill" and "skill" than "coward" and, um... "Howard"? Crap, that doesn't even make sense. See what I mean?

So what really happened? What is the truth behind the legend?

Well, legend has it that the hero cut the tail from the dragon, then scaled its back and strangled it with the tail itself.

Actually, he hid under the bridge and shot his tail off, then climbed a tower far off and shot it some more with like a thousand arrows 'til it died. Nobody challenges a dragon to its face. Are you nuts?

They say he wrestled the giant metal boar with his bare hands, grabbing the tusks and slamming it bodily to the ground with inhuman strength.

But really, in his flight, he happened to run past a flaming pile of debris, and the boar was consumed by this fiery happenstance.

You know of the lava demon that lives in the depths of the earth, yes? Well, it is no more; the hero stood tall in the lake of lava it effused, sliced through its arms, thick as tree trunks, and plunged his sword into its eyes.

Wait, no... actually, he hid in a cave, just out of reach, and poked the demon's arms whenever they got too close. It died from blood--er, magma--loss.

The four corrupted darkwraiths, former kings of the land, were banished to a deep chasm below the earth. Thither the hero ventured, and with his blinding sword of light hacked their limbs from them, all four kings at once.

...or so you've been told. Really, he looted an actual brave knight's corpse, donned his ridiculously heavy armor, and basically rolled down there like a rock. The four undead tyrants wailed on his magic armor for the better part of a day, and every once in a while he whacked them back from his impervious shell.

In the dark woods live a peculiar type of overgrown feline, with long, sharp teeth and a ferocious appetite. They eat any man to who braves their den, except the hero. He nimbly dodged around them, back and forth, now here, now there, stabbing and cutting whenever the chance presented... until they were no more.

Nimble, eh? It wasn't nearly so nimble as that. The cats are not too smart, you see. The hero, running like a coward, went past a sort of hole, and one by one the cats fell and foundered therein. It's not too hard to imagine what happened after that.

The fiercely protective guild of forest hunters is renowned for their skill at keeping intruders away, but the hero, with his skillful sword, bested them one by one in honorable single combat.

But there weren't any witnesses for that. How could anyone know that the so-called hero actually fled from them, and in their pursuit they all slipped on a slick, moss-covered cliff's edge and plummeted to their deaths?

And you will never hear of the atrocities that took place in the mushroom kingdom. The supposed hero desceneded like death's scythe and slaughtered every mushroom child he saw, feeling no remorse at their piteous wails as they fell. The parents of the mushroom children gave chase, of course, but they are heavy, ponderous creatures. The hero ran as fast as he could; those parents would probably have tried to hit him, and that would have hurt.


Since about mid-way through my playthrough of Demon's Souls (sic) my mind latched on to the idea of these games being a kind of commentary on the reality of what a hero does or what adventuring really is, as opposed to what gets told in stories afterwards. I doubt From Software had this in mind, but I think every one of us who's played these games has had at least one time where they got past some hard part using less than pure, honorable, courageous means. Is our hero from the game really deserving of that moniker?

By the way, I recommend the excellent fantasy series starting with The Name of the Wind, which is pretty much entirely about this notion of exploring the truth behind legends.   read

11:49 AM on 11.09.2011

I Seriously Cannot Shut Up About Dark Souls

The title says it all. Dark Souls. DARK SOULS. I can't stop talking about this game. I can't stop thinking about this game. Even when I'm not talking about it, I'm thinking about it, so it's kind of like I have an internal monologue going on, you know? So really, I'm still talking about it, just to myself.

I try to broach the topic with my tired Dtoid buddies, who by now are ready to slit my throat or perform an impromptu laryngectomy. I have to keep myself in check; I'm dangerously close to losing all my friends to this obsession. Believe it or not, I actually miss all you guys. I feel like I've been living in a cave for weeks. A dark cave with giant skeletons around every corner. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

I started playing it on the day it came out: Oct 6, I believe. Or was it 4? Anyway, I have barely played anything else at all since then. Rage arrived in the mail a few days later. It sits unopened on my side-table. Battlefield 3 came a couple weeks back. The soldier on the cover is weeping from neglect, and all my friends think I'm stupid for not having tried it. Maybe I am? I'm stupid for Dark Souls, like a bad love song.

One hundred five hours in. That's where I am. I play slowly, so I haven't really accomplished much, all things considered. I think Magnalon said he finished it in like 40 hours while exploring everything. That's just disgusting. But I play slowly, and I remind myself constantly that this is not a game I'm good at. I wouldn't even claim I understand it well. The phrase that I tell myself and others (there's that pesky talking again) is that the game and I have an understanding: it gets to wreck my day from time to time in exchange for some hours of even-keeled adventuring.

I've been trying to put my finger on it: why does this game appeal to me so much? I usually like twitchy, skill based games. Platformers, dual stick shmups, that kind of thing. This game is none of them. I guess it's an action-RPG. I have trouble explaining the sort of game it is to people. I'll say, "well, it's kind of an action RPG adventure game, I guess...?" (question-mark inflection at the end) It reminds me of the box of any game from the 90s: "action adventure". Remember that stuff?

I play cautiously. I walk around with my guard up almost all the time. I creep forward slowly, use my camera excessively to look around corners, and turtle up all the time. I mean, I'm getting better bit by bit. I now backstab anything that has even a gross approximation of a "back".

I actually spend a huge amount of time just looking around. The game is so gorgeous it makes my eyes weep uncontrollably. You know, like a scene from a sad movie or touching your eyes after handling habañeros. Sometimes I'm actually looking to see something, but other times I'm really just enjoying the "Gorgeous view".

I downvote every single one of those worthless messages, by the way. "Gorgeous View". "I did it!". "I can't take this..." "Need humanity." "Despair ahead." When I'm on the edge of my seat wondering if something's about to roll up out of nowhere and break my legs, I don't need your useless blathering distracting me, you know? I consistently upvote good messages, of course.

Speaking of gorgeous, by the way, I have to say that Darkroot Garden (and Basin) is possibly the most beautiful area I've ever seen in any game. They so perfectly captured my vision of the "enchanted forest" that it's like someone invaded my head with a video camera. I think of my dude wandering through these woods, approached all of a sudden by someone moving quietly through the trees, and it sends shivers down my spine.

But if Law ever interviewed me again, I think I have an answer I'm satisfied with for "favorite scene in a game". When you get grabbed just after Sen's Fortress and carried up, as you crest the wall (the wall! that thing is in the intro and has been looming over you the entire game, but you kind of forget about it!) and look out over Anor Londo, I felt like one of those dudes in a wind tunnel where the wind is blowing their cheeks back all crazily. I felt like I was blasted by this completely unexpected sight.

All of a sudden there's this whole other world that's just over the wall. I'm assailed by questions: why is there even a wall? Are they hiding from the outside, or keeping the riffraff out? Why is it so clean and un-...destroyed in here? Why is the palette so warm, whereas the rest of the world is clearly miring in mud and ruin? And all this aside from the gorgeous sun-basked vista of these castles and spires and towers. You know, I usually forget parts of games, but that one scene, just two minutes--if that--is branded on the retina my mind's eye.

Briefly: I've got some pretty sweet weapons now. Cast aside is the lowly Drake Sword. Now my usual set that I switch amongst includes a Black Knight Sword+5, a Lightning Man-Serpent Greatsword+4 (would be +5 but dunno if I want to commit a slab to it, yanno?), a Divine Iaito+8 (need a few more white chunks to get it up to +10), and a Quelaag Furysword+5. Whatever. Enough about stats.

This game is big. Demon's Souls was something like 14 areas in total, counting the only-boss areas as only half an area each. But they were all self-contained. You could do a "run" through an area and know what's up. In Dark Souls you go and go and go, and where the heck am I now? It announces where the areas switch, but it's seamless in a way that Demon's Souls really wasn't.

The areas stretch out wide across the land and deep into the ground, like long branches of a tree that grew unpruned. Sometimes they stop at the end. Sometimes. But usually they fork off or interconnect. It's confusing and unpredictable, like a world should be. I love what they did with it. Plus, their interconnections and shortcuts are maddeningly smart. This game sets a record for me in terms of oh-HERE's-where-I-am! moments.

And of course, they kept close that same world consistency that I loved so much in Demon's Souls. I remember looking up from Blighttown at one point and thinking: these people--all this stuff--literally sits in the crappy, plague-ridden swamps in the armpit of the Undead Burg. That, up there in the distance above me that I'm looking at right now, is the Undead Burg. I was freaking just there 15 minutes ago. And that makes sense, because I traveled down through The Depths under it to get here. Those moments are a big part of why I can't pry myself away from this.

After beating a boss, I've been finding pleasure in playing co-op with (gasp!) randoms. At this point I'm usually giddy with a sense of accomplishment (Smough and Ornstein solo, killing Smough first, anybody?) and want to share the joy with others. So I'll backtrack to the closest bonfire, put down my summon sign, and browse on my laptop while I wait.

It's really fun helping people, and the vast majority of them are really quite civil. We'll go beat the boss or someone will get careless and die, but afterwards I make it a point to shoot them a message thanking them for a good round. It's Dark Souls, so we can't say these things, and the deliberate, ponderous act of sending a message feels like it puts some weight behind it. Am I alone in this?

But let me warn you: if you suck at this game (as I do), be a little careful with the co-op. I am convinced that on one occasion a person lured me into the world on the pretext of co-op, but stood idly by while someone else immediately backstabbed me as I spawned. I have three pieces of advice for you.

Firstly, while your person is in the act of spawning in the host's world, rotate the camera and make sure you're alone. Secondly, be aware that if someone has already invaded the host's world, you don't get alerted to that. Thirdly, if someone does invade, don't be like this monster of a guy; stick with your buddies, so you can get out alive.

Actually, when I said I browse on my laptop while I wait, that's only half true. I've actually started contributing bits and pieces to the Dark Souls wiki. It feels good to give a little something back. As I say in my bio, I'm not really too knowledgeable or skilled at the game, but I'm a fiend with a text editor, and my proofreading has been known to cause acid burns.

Unfortunately for yall, this is probably not the last you've heard from me about this game. Maybe I'll even end up writing something coherent...   read

4:21 AM on 09.10.2011

Consistency and Plausibility in Demon's Souls

As the release of Dark Souls approaches, I've of course been trying to wrap up my Demon's Souls playthrough. I'd started writing about my usual crazy exploits, but instead found myself gravitating towards this topic of the world building, level design, and attention to detail in the game's areas.

There are minor SPOILERS for the various worlds you visit. No plot points or too much about the enemies within. Just about the areas.

There are five worlds in the game. They are incredibly well put together, something I found myself observing almost continuously. It's not just their aesthetic either, but also their consistency. They have that kind of realism--no, plausibility--that so many games lack.

A sprawling stronghold

You start in a castle. Not just the kind of castle you see from afar and are all, "oh yeah that's a castle," but the kind that towers over you with massive scale and awes you as you walk under the portcullis. It's not symmetrical. It's not small, but rather huge and sprawling. It has towers; you see them from outside, then you walk right into them and climb up stairs within. Really, as I walk in the narrow, cramped alleys and stairs in one part of the world, I get the sense that the place was built, not created.

I love that from one of the earlier lookouts you can see along a sinuous wall (where the dragon strafes you till you burn) and see the next section of the castle. Then you end up going into it. I love that you can look up in certain parts of the third area, see walls and ramparts high above, and later actually be in those places. On many occasions I'd look down from some wall I'm walking along and say, "oh hey, I was down there earlier!"

There's just a large amount of the world that is not merely background, but real, playable geometry. Not enough games give you the ability to actually make it to all the places you can see.

Mine are the depths of the earth

The second area is a sort of mine. There's clanking, steaming machinery, waterwheels and pulleys and platforms on ropes, sluice gates and scaffolding and so on.

Walking through the area, again, I couldn't help but feel that every inch had a purpose to some entity in the world. You take an elevator on creaky platforms and ropes at one point. Someone probably needed access to the lower level, so built it there. But it's made out of cheap, portable material, because it's a freaking mine; you build it cheap so you can move on when it's dry. Later you find a waterwheel used for transporting filled carts of ore--a self-evident purpose. I challenge you to find objects or areas that have no plausible explanation.

Journeying deeper into the mine, you start to come upon creatures. Man-sized tunnels are bored in a mazelike fashion through the earth deep below, made not by men, but by huge beetles. By interacting with the beetles (read: combat), it's not hard to imagine that they dug the tunnels, from the way they walk and charge and use their claws.

And at the very bottom? You discover why it might be so lava-filled above. Hint: it kind of involves a dragon.

Captive of the night

The third area is another castle. A repeat? No, not by any measure. Whereas the first castle was clearly a stronghold or fortress, this one is more like a prison tower. Even though you can tell you're inside some kind of castle (from the cold stone walls and views of other parts of the massive building) the inclusion of rows and rows of cells, and of a kind of repetitious floor layout steer your conclusion toward its obvious purpose.

Not just the floor layout, but grisly furniture in the form of manacles, iron maidens, racks, and other torture devices. Along most hallways one or more illithid guards make their steady rounds. Just like a jail, each block has a key that opens a fairly predictable set of doors.

Not a minute went by that I didn't remember what sort of place I was in.

But you can escape the prison to the upper heights of different towers, erected carefully above a blood-swamp (my god, why is there a blood swamp?). There are two towers flanking a central one, in which hangs a massive, chain-bound heart. The chains wrap around it and anchor to the other towers, where magic-wielding slaves chant tirelessly to keep them secure.

Harkening back to the principles of the first area, from the very start you can see all these prominent places far off in the distance, almost impossibly far and blurred by the hazy night. But then via hazardous walkways you actually go to them, to each of the three towers, then finally ascending the larger one. I had hoped when I first saw it that I would get up close to the giant, totally rad heart and see it in detail. Of course, Demon's Souls did not disappoint me. It would have been so easy to make it an interesting set-piece in the background, but they did the braver thing.

Crashing against the bluffs above the sea

Seldom has any form of art, especially visual, captured the image of the windswept, rocky island above the crashing sea. You can imagine this sort of place, or you've read about it, but Demon's Souls has it in almost tangible detail.

The aesthetic principles of the fourth area, from what I can tell, are meant to highlight nature's disruptive forces on an island that suffers from exposure above all else. The rocks are barren. Only scant, patchy grass grows. The walls are in ruins everywhere (unlike the fortress world, which is in relatively good repair). It's like the land has been beaten and scrubbed raw by the wind until it kind of whimpers and crumbles under the pressure.

The underground portion of this world is less remarkable from this standpoint. Actually, it felt like maybe the weakest area in the game, in terms of level design, since it's basically a generic underground cave without any particular "theme" to it.

A vile place if I ever knew one

Of course, I've saved the best for last. The fifth world is a poisonous swamp (not to be confused with our good friend the blood swamp). In and of itself, that idea is no more interesting than the generic cave system in the fourth world, but the addition of sentient inhabitants really brings it to life.

The world is populated by strange goblins. They're mutated and weird, but still unmistakably humanoid. You never talk to them (only fight them, tooth and nail), but they've left their mark everywhere, and it tells a rich story.

The swamp has almost no visibility, so the goblins have planted burning torches on islands, which the game does a very good job of showing you blearily in the distance. For closer spaces, they have candles everywhere, their constancy lending credence to the idea of a windless, stagnant valley or bowl.

These creatures live in basically the most inhospitable place you encounter in the game. Somehow, with their rickety, nearly-collapsing constructions of splitered wood they've managed to make a home for themselves by hoisting off the ground, away from the foul muck. The look of their abodes reminds me of the tree-houses of the Ewoks, but more dilapidated. The way each triangular tent is assembled and the haphazard way the planks are leaned against one another just feels real to walk through.

As I waltzed through, a veritable demigod of power, slaughtering them left and right, I couldn't help but feel a pang of regret. Aren't they just defending their home?

These areas all, they're as important a part of the game as any of the other fine aspects. At first glance I thought Demon's Souls looked crude and lacked production values, but with a closer eye, I find there's real artistry there.

Screenshots mostly from the great videos by maxtrixandraia.   read

3:03 AM on 09.03.2011

The PAX Prime 2011 Report by Knut

PAX was a glorious thing. I've been every year since 2005, and this was easily the best one I've ever had. You know what was different this year? The people. I met people this year, and they were such thoroughly, fantastically great, that last weekend will never slip from my memory.

Occams, Bey, etc. hanging around in the kitchen

Enough gushing. I could gush for hours. I'm just gonna dump what I remember from my brain and share some photos and videos. Actually, I didn't take too many, because we had talented photographers with better equipment around, like COM 01 and Nihil.

Law trying to put on a gas mask he received as a gift from Angel Eena

Thursday - Who are you people?

Picked up Occams from the airport. Dixon arrived a bit later and woke Occams up from a nap. Picked up Law from the airport. Went to Costco for some awesome junk food lunch. Played Scott Pilgrim with Dixon, Law, and Occams for a while (4 player co-op is quite fun). Occams tried to take another nap, but Corduroy Turtle, COM 01, and Steezy arrived, which woke him up again.

Occams, Dixon, and Law taking a break from Scott Pilgrim

Sat around and talked and played games for a while, then went... (drumroll) grocery shopping for supplies for the subsequent night's cooking. With a hundred bucks in groceries in tow, we dumped it back at the house and headed to Seattle for dinner.

We did a lot of talking in the kitchen. Bey, COM, Corduroy, Dixon, Steezy, and Law

We had planned to go to this great German pub I know, but when we arrived there, they were jam packed, and not a single person came to even talk to us as we were waiting at the door. Law asked one of the maybe 3 passing waiters how long it would be for a party of nine. Dude was like, "Hell if I know!" So professional.

A Mario Kart party! also seen: Qalamari and Wolf Girl

Luckily, there is a pretty sweet burger joint down the street, and I think everyone was satisifed with that for dinner. Immediately after, we walked about 10 blocks to Gameworks for the indie mixer thingy. It was chaotic, but eventually found the big crowd of Dtoiders. Steezy already posted a couple pictures, but the highlight for me was probably talking to Danny Baranowsky, of Super Meat Boy fame.

Yeah, the living room is where I normally spend 90% of my time too

We headed back to the house, but ended up with two more special guests: Nihil, whom I picked up from the airport, and Beyamor, who was delightfully and somewhat unexpectedly dropped off! Later, we tried to get some system link Halo going. Eventually we did, but Fame Designer's girlfriend, Wolf Girl, was way too good, so it unbalanced the teams!

Steezy (!), Fame, Nihil, and Corduroy getting totally pwned in Halo by Wolf Girl (on the other TV)

Friday - Hey, you guys seem pretty cool.

Friday was a full day of PAX. We ended up splitting up almost immediately, but reconvening at various times during the day. Heh, we ate lunch at a decent German pub nearby (not the same one, no) and spent most of our time in the expo hall. The highlight of the day for me was playing Fez and getting to randomly chat about programming for a few minutes with the esteemed Jonathan Blow. Dude is one of my heroes.

The German pub we ate lunch at

Friday evening was astounding. I had previously prepared a batch of my special Indian chicken curry in epic proportions and served it to thirteen guests. By all accounts it was pretty well received, so that pretty much made my year. Cooking for a big group of my best friends... what is better in life?

We set up Rock Band 3 and played for hours. We were very lucky also to have SQID (a.k.a. Qalamari) join us. Guys, he is an incredibly decent human being. Just wanted to throw that out there. Anyway, many renditions of many good songs were had. People left that night tired but full and satisfied.

Saturday - Yo, let's be friends

Saturday, several of us went to various panels. I enjoyed Niero's "So you want to run a gaming web site?" panel. What I liked best about it was how very specific and concrete it was. There was relatively little hand-waving and a lot of actual things a person could go out and do. In one of the most brilliant moves, he put up a slide where he presented three Twitter hashtags to help people with different skillsets (marketing/publishing, creative, and programmer) get in touch with each other. We didn't really need additional affirmation that Niero is great, did we?

Sushi lunch during the con

I was in the Geometry Wars 2 tournament again. I didn't win, not by a long shot, but I challenged [url= Chaos]the winner of the competition[/url] to some head-to-head score attack later and managed to beat him by a bit, so that's cool.

Corduroy and COM

I also spent hours in the indie game / PAX10 area. There were many very good games on show there, but one in particular turned my world upside down (literally, in a sense). For those of you who actually talked to me over the weekend, I'm sorry, but I can't shut up about this.

At some point we randomly met some Dtoiders in the street, such as Xyzliac, Angel Eena, and others

The game is called Antichamber (formerly Hazard: the Journey of Life). It's a game so fascinating and mind-bending that it can barely be described, and any attempt I make will just cheapen it. The developer seemed to find that the game clicked with me, and spent a few minutes explaining bits of it as I played. It felt less like I was playing a game and more like I was exploring the inside of his head.

Loitering. Specifically, KRA1D and Crime Minister are loitering

I went to PAX fully expecting Fez to be the best thing I saw there, but it ended up being second place, thanks to Antichamber.

I'll say just one final thing: it's been six days since I played it, and I have not been able to think about much else. I don't think I've ever been so excited for a game before.

Saturday night brought in more Rock Band. Again, we rocked hard into the middle of the night. I was even somehow persuaded to sing, a thing I'd never done before and may never do again. Corduroy showed off his infuriatingly consistent drumming skills. Dixon antagonized Occams by putting on Papa Roach. Law sang The Piano Man, and Fame showed a much awesomer singing voice than his speaking voice.

You know that Cblog Fanfic Fame Designer has been working on for ages? We were lucky enough that he read aloud the final chapter of it to us on Saturday night, before it got posted to Dtoid. Killer!

By the time people left that night, the melancholy was already starting to sink in.

Sunday - No, don't go

Of course, the big highlight of the day was the Destructoid "panel". Well, more like crapshoot. It was madness in there. Beyamor got a burger thrown at him. I asked a question! It was craziness! A good time. And the group photo was cool, though I'm basically photobombing it in the way back, barely 5 or 6 pixels.

Funktastic in the helmet

More expo hall for a while. Played Kairo with Law, and that was cool. Then SQID and I went to the Omegathon final round, which was a speed run of the original Zelda for NES - first person to the first Triforce piece wins. The Omegathon final round is the most concentrated gamer nerd energy in a single room. I love it. And a good battle was had, too.

Beyamor and Tactix

Sunday night half of us had already departed. The few stragglers left gathered at the house for mediocre Safeway take-and-bake pizza, packing, and sleeping. The following morning they went back to the airport early in the morning.

Outside my garage. Nearing the end of our times together.

And that was that. Burned in my memory. The best of times.

An epic brofist between Qalamari and Beyamor

I omitted a just few photos from this blog. You can find the entire set on Flickr.   read

10:49 AM on 08.31.2011

Improvements: Various Cbloggy Things

I won't mess around much. Straight to the meat.

#1: Since I asked about it in the panel: what's the best way to go about submitting pictures for that community picture rotating image in the upper left corner of the cblogs? Upload to dtoid and put in a blog post? Can we just link to a flickr photostream or something? Not sure how to do that, exactly.

#2: I'd love to use HTML + CSS (and even Javascript, if I'm really lucky) in writing blog posts. It would give me far more expressive power: tables, styling, horizontal lines, lists, anchors, and so on.

#3: Multiple image upload for cblogs.

#4: Badges for cbloggers.

#5: A way to see all the people who have fapped a blog would be nice, but not crucial.

#6: Editing and deleting my own comments. It's been said a million times. Well, million and one now.

#7: Turn off chat by default. I think it sometimes remembers, but make it always remember. I only turn it on when I have time to schmooze in there. Usually I stay connected by other means, sorry.

#8: I would rather have bi-weekly musings rather than the weekly musings that we have now. As in, a 2 week deadline, not 1 week. For some of us who are working, it's hard to polish an idea to satisfaction in one week.

#9: Some indicator that you have unread messages in your inbox. Maybe light up the "inbox" link and put a number next to it?

#10: There are bugs in the mobile version. For instance, on cblog posts, the comments form doesn't load at all. It throws a PHP error.

#11: On the mobile version, Why is the screen width of it so large? I have to zoom out so that it stops scrolling, and then I can't read anything because the text is too small.

Thanks for listening, guys. I hope at least a few of these see the light of day.   read

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