Archive for the 'Mulling' Category


Player Consent and Responsibility


Over four years ago (!?!?) I wrote a post concerning how games do and don’t account for ambivalence in their pacing, which boiled down to the point that sometimes the player doesn’t want to fully engage what the game has lined up next for the player, and it should give them the space to decide when to engage it.  It’s a topic that’s come back to mind as I consider how I choose to engage Dragon Age: Inquisition.  I haven’t invested enough in that game to really judge one way or the other in its specific case, but it’s led me back to a train of thought about how games are structured around player preferences to maximize engagement.

This question of how and when to engage the player is a matter of achieving player consent to engage (e.g. when to begin the final battle with Lavos in Chrono Trigger.)  While this is not something that should be employed at every turn in a game (there’s got to be some room for surprise) the experience must first begin with soliciting and confirming the user’s consent to engage in what the game has planned.  It’s easy to see how this makes sense in cases of user experience design (allow players to skip dialogue, allow them to save at critical points before proceeding, etc) but it becomes more complex when applied to the “text” of the game itself.  “Text” meaning the content of the game itself rather than how the game and player interface with one another.  The player must first choose to listen to what the game has to say before it can successfully proceed in conveying its text.  Anticipating the player’s desires and navigating their preferences would appear to be an insurmountable task.  But this is something that is worth consideration in evaluating critically successful games.

Following from consent, the game must next instill a sense of responsibility in the player to respect the game’s rules.  When the game chooses to speak, the player must understand what is being said in addition to consenting to hear it then accept responsibility for its consequences.  And only when after this process of acquiring consent and accepting responsibility can the interaction follow.  For instance, in the very beginning of Super Mario Brothers, World 1-1, we can safely assume consent is acquired being so early in the game. And responsibility is instilled by creating a coherent set of rules to determine what the game means when it speaks.  Not jumping over the goomba results in failure.  Failure results in restarting the level.  Jumping and maneuvering is required in order to navigate the spoken hazards of the level.  Thus, the game instills in the player a sense of responsibility to protect Mario against those hazards.  Failure comes at the cost of the player’s time.  This creates anticipation and tension, but if the cost is too great, then the game will lose the player’s consent even if they understand and accept responsibility for its rules.  World 1-1 mitigates this by only increasing the cost of failure by what it knows the player is capable of.  They cannot proceed to the ending of World 1-1 without demonstrating they are capable of understanding what the game has said.

How do I tie this back into Dragon Age: Inquisition? I think many times, when a game makes grand promises, I meet them with greater scrutiny.  I have less time to play them now, and I’ve played enough of them that I want early assurance that what I’m doing is novel or new.  I’m also a tad bit overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of this game in particular.  I don’t have confidence I will play it well at first and, as a result, I don’t fully invest myself in it while I learn its systems.  I’ve consented to the game, but haven’t accepted full responsibility for the meaning of its text.  And that’s because it’s got so much to say! I’m not really sure what to make of it yet or why I need to care.  So, I joke around, play with the systems and wait for all of this noise to coalesce into an experience resembling what I think the designers had in mind for me.  At that point, they’ll have my full buy-in and I’ll fully play the game “in character.”  Games like Walking Dead and Saints Row IV accomplished this for me, and Dragon Age may yet as well.  In the mean time, this will be my experience:


Minimal Minecraft

minecraft alpha screenshot

There are few games that I would use the word “beautiful” to describe, but Minecraft is one of them.  I’ve been playing the game from one degree to another for the past four years – around the time that alpha version had been released and was in testing.  It’s been such a satisfying gaming experience for me because of the interplay between the game’s randomly generated environments, and it’s capacity for audience expression.  Even while utilizing a low-res aesthetic, it’s composition and depth have potential for beauty in surprising ways.

  • The audience would begin to explore their environment. (Listen.)
  • Then would create the tools and structures they felt they needed to respond to it. (Speak.)
  • And the game would challenge the player with enemies and offer new resources to expand on what has been built. (Respond.)

Even in the alpha version of Minecraft, this core game provided a tremendous degree of interaction between the game, the player, and other players.  And the game itself has continued to build on this pattern ever since.  I think it’s worthwhile drawing a distinction between earlier and later versions of the game, however.  After Markus Persson stepped down from leading development of the game, Mojang was still left with audiences that had a voracious appetite for more in their Minecraft worlds.  And to meet that demand, Minecraft expanded as a brand.

World’s in Minecraft can be populated by towns, dungeons, nether realms, many species of animal, and a never-ending series of new gameplay systems.  This isn’t even to mention the Minecraft brand expanding into physical merchandise. (I just received my collection of Minecraft handbooks today – a item that I’d been looking forward to for years.)  Minecraft is a game, a world, and a brand that has exploded to meet the demands of its audiences.  I still enjoy playing it quite a bit, but it feels noisier.

When I think of playing Minecraft, I think about that core cycle of interaction between players and the game.  And I think of my time playing the game during its alpha and beta phases.  It was a period of time where it was a polished core that encapsulated that cycle almost perfectly.  Today’s Minecraft still does, but with so many potential paths to travel down, or listen to, it’s difficult for the game to speak to one message.  And during that time that I remember playing it, the message I got was that the world is a beautiful place that we can participate in creating.


Comment: Gamers and Tribalism

Must be a "real" game.

I’ve been standing back over the last few weeks and watching “controversy” unfold in the gaming community.  I don’t know what to really say about it, other than I’m aghast at the campaigns of harassment and vitriol that have been levied against the likes of Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Phil Fish, and Tim Schafer.  I’m embarrassed to share the same hobby with the people attacking them, and feel pretty depressed with the general state of gaming.  I’ve never seen any of Quinn’s or Sarkeesian’s work, and I’ve only partly completed games by Fish or Schafer.  But what I’ve seen unfold has only served to draw me, and I suspect many others, to their work.  I’m not invested enough in any of the individual “controversies” to comment directly on them, and honestly, I can’t imagine there ever being a controversy in the video game industry that warrants this kind of attention and abuse.  I would like to make some observations about “gamers” as a community and the divide that’s opening among them.

The term “gamer” has been used as code for those who have an affinity for games in a way that they comprise an important part of their identity.  For much of the time, it was a way for these individuals to identify each other in contexts that weren’t exactly game friendly.  For younger gamers, video games were looked down upon by those in authority (and used as a scapegoat for a long time) and among their own peers, who considered it an antisocial activity.  In reality, it was a new activity that was grew through smaller demographics but was unfamiliar to most others.  Out of necessity, the gamer label was forged to create community amongst those contending with alienation.  If you wanted to apply an anthropological concept to it, gamers formed a tribe.

The video game industry made appeals to this tribe and reinforced it.  They encouraged this tribe to make THEIR games part of their identity.  And like any business would, they made observations about their audience and played to the primary demographic that games appealed to: young white males.  And if I had to speculate on why it’s young white males that were the majority of that early group of gamers, it would be because they were most likely to have access to disposable income and were receptive/privileged enough to adopt the hobby in spite of it being looked down upon.  But certainly, others who did not fit that profile enjoyed games just as much, but didn’t have a group that embraced them.  There have, without a doubt, been girl gamers (among other demographics) for as long as there have been “gamers”, but being included in that tribe meant compromising other aspects of their identity to placate the majority.

Tribalism isn’t a model for growth.  But video games as a medium were going to grow no matter what.  “Gamers” have grown up.  Gaming is in the mainstream, and it’s a far more acceptable activity than 10 or 20 years ago.  The “gamer” tribe has outlived its usefulness, but there are those who cling to it out of fear of compromising their identity by letting it go.  In order to remain loyal to the tribe, to be a true gamer, it means liking certain games, respecting aspects of “gamer” culture and not challenging the foundations of the tribe.  I was part of this earlier in my life.  But you know what, I’m not afraid anymore that having others join in on the medium means compromising my identity.  For me, the medium is part of my identity, and there are certain games that led me to that.  But particular games, companies, and ideas of who gamers are is not part of that identity.  It’s not about deciding which games are the real games; which are the core games; and which ones signal that you are a true gamer for playing them.

Gaming has outgrown gamers, and that’s a natural progression.  You’re not a terrible person if you enjoyed a game once that wasn’t the most friendly to women or folks who don’t fit a “gamer” profile.  Criticizing aspects of a game you enjoy is not criticizing you.  There have been problems with games, but nobody’s perfect, and games are going to continue improve over time.  Having voices like Sarkeesian’s goes a long way in communicating how that can happen.  It’s been the same way for every other medium of entertainment.  We can’t preserve gaming as it was 15 years ago in amber because we’re upset that we felt alienated by non “gamers.”  It’s not fair to the medium, and if you’re invested in games as a medium, you’re holding it back by doing that.  If we’re so insecure about gaming’s place in our lives that we’re blowing up perceived problems to the level of Watergate, then we’re warping the industry to be a form of therapy for an manufactured ailment, rather than a form of entertainment.  And people will be justifiably pissed at us for that.  It needs to be acknowledged that gaming will include others, and that doesn’t automatically mean competition with that gamer tribe.  But that’s how it’s being treated – as a zero-sum game where the success of a game like Gone Home somehow means other “real” games lose.

Sarkeesian’s videos are about recognizing problematic patterns in game design, and how to correct them.  It’s not about antagonizing those who identify themselves as part of a tribe.  But between Tropes vs Women in Video Games and “Gamergate”, it’s being treated like an assault on the livelihood of gamers.  If you believe that suppressing this point of view is important to protect games as you know them, then you’re just making it more difficult folks like me to be able to enjoy games with those outside of “gamers”; people who are important to me and who I want to be able to understand why games are an important part of my identity.  If you think, for example, that women shouldn’t have a problem with how other women are portrayed in games because you’ve managed to rationalize it to yourself, that’s not persuasive, and I still don’t get to share the experience.  You’re acting like gamers are a band of survivors after the apocalypse who can’t trust outsiders.  I don’t think that these non-gamers should excuse flaws in games in order to accommodate those who think games should only be made for “true” gamers.  And I don’t want to excuse them either.

I can believe there are people out there, somewhere, that fit the profile for a social justice warrior that are simply being intolerant of the existence of games they don’t agree with.  But even assuming that’s the case, the resulting campaign of harassment against the individuals mentioned above is also telling me that I can’t enjoy games with others who don’t conform to the tribe’s norms and customs.  And while perhaps there was a time where tribalism made some sort of sense in gaming, that time is well past.  The behaviors that follow from tribalism are extreme, irrational, and blinding people to the fact that the games they enjoy are not going away.  Tribalism is an explanation for spontaneous human phenomenon, not a justification for treating people like shit.  But that’s what it has become.  Being a “gamer” means being driven by fear of games you might not identify with, and the insecurity from no longer being able to claim an entire medium as your domain.

If you’re going to tell me that women shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy games because at one point you felt like women alienated you for playing games, then I’m going to tell you to get over it.  You’re being an asshole, and you’re the one ruining games by trying to hold them back.  I’m not able to identify with the gamer label anymore, and my sympathy for “gamers” has dried up.  This isn’t a controversy between SJWs and gamers.  It’s a conflict between those who love games and are afraid to share them against those who love games and want others to enjoy them as well.


Final Fantasy X Revisited

In my experience with the Final Fantasy series, you can draw a line roughly between two types of worlds that are offered by each game.  It’s not the most significant distinguishing feature between the games, but one that resonated with me when I was immersing myself in that genre.  Earlier in the series, you saw the games providing world’s that leaned heavily on mystical qualities to provide thematic coherence.  Derived from works of fantasy and myth, early Final Fantasy games constructed quasi-medieval worlds where legends were alive in contexts that we might understand them as children listening to a fairy tale.  They were compelling in a self-contained universe and captured the imagination by removing us from our own worlds.

By the time Final Fantasy VI rolled around, you began to see a stronger reliance on themes in science fiction to build worlds.  With VI, this had a dramatic effect to make it feel more real, even while retaining the fantasy trappings of magic and legendary creatures.  VII, VIII, and IX also pursued this direction in different ways, but each framed their world by pulling in speculative science fiction from our own.  It’s that quality that drew me into the series and captured my own imagination.  Final Fantasy X, I felt, began to turn the formula back towards the mystical again.  Colored by the plot’s attention to religion, the world of Spira was built around metaphysical qualities that was less interested in aliens, space, and technology.  Final Fantasy X was a fine game, and I stuck with it through the end, but I’ve held it in lower regard for not engaging me the same way prior games had.

But now I’ve got a PS3, and Square-Enix has put a lot of effort into polishing up FFX for the HD era.  It’s held in such high regard by fans of the series that I’ve decided to give it another shot.  With many of my teenage biases eliminated, I’m hoping to enjoy it for what it is and not I wanted it to be (which was apparently Final Fantasy IX given the number of times I’ve played through it.)  I’m not the biggest fan of some of its qualities, but if I could learn to love Final Fantasy VIII, then I really should give X more of a shot.  I’ve fired up my digital copy and decided to play through the expert sphere grid.  It’s got some great music, an interesting take on the turn based battle system, and plenty of content to keep me engaged and exploring for quite a while.

As far as Final Fantasy X-2 HD goes, well, perhaps I’ll play that in another lifetime.



Super Hexagon is a game about fluency and literacy

So I’ve only recently been able to reach the 60 second mark on Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon.  I’ve had it on my iPhone, PC, and most recently on my Nexus 7 tablet, where I finally felt like I had the most optimal view to complete the game.  My earlier experiences playing the game were underlined by frustration with the game’s interface.  Touch screens provide no haptic feedback, and furthermore I felt that the game itself provided scant feedback on what the player was doing.  I was struggling to find aspects of the game that could assist me in overcoming its challenges.  It is a game that’s been notable for how unforgiving it can be, and has been seen as a sort of twitch-action game.

After putting in a more concerted effort to complete the game, I began to discard my earlier impressions and abandon my strategy of trying to find ways for the game to tell me I’m making the right move.  What I needed to be doing was anticipating what the right move would be.  I had to be reading the screen.  This is not a simple matter of finding a path though.  You probably know what I mean if you’ve played the game, but if you haven’t, just watch the game’s trailer.  Your job is to navigate a small triangle through a series of rings that have openings that can occur on one or more of the game board’s six sides.

The game proceeds very quickly and presents the maze in very disorienting ways.  Path finding is a very time consuming process.  In order to assure correctness, the player would have to follow every possible path to find a clear one.  To put this into computer science terms, each ring added to the screen represents adding 1 to the variable N.  The path finding algorithm that’s most intuitive for players to use would have a complexity of O(2N).  So even if you didn’t have to explore every possible path along the way, the number of decisions you’d have to make would be growing at an exponential rate.  If you were to consistently rely on path finding, you would be relying on luck that you would find the correct path very early in the search.  The difficulty curve is exponential.

If you were going to try and tackle this as a problem in computer science, you’d want to find a way to reduce the complexity of the process to something more like O(N) – which would create a difficulty curve that’s linear and grows at a steady rate.  Or, if at all possible, you’d want to reduce complexity to O(1) which means that the size of N (the number of rings the game throws at you) don’t matter; you can find the path in the same amount of time whether you’re looking at one, ten, or 100 rings.

When you begin to look at the game as a matter of anticipation, you have to be able to quickly identify the pattern that’s on the screen and translate that into precise player responses.  Even if the game board is flashing between colors and spinning around, you can still identify when there’s a pattern that requires you to hold a direction for a pre-determinable amount of time before releasing it.  You rely less on watching the triangle on the screen (which also forces you to focus on the disorienting images around it) and more on just identifying what is on the screen at a moment in time.  What the game is trying to do is to make you fluent in its patterns, and literate in writing the correct response (input/timing).

The screen is "speaking" to you and telling you "write" four, staggered, 30 to 90 degree, left inputs.

You “read” the screen and “speak” with four, staggered, 30 to 90 degree, left inputs.

When you are just beginning to learn to play Super Hexagon, you experience frustration that’s similar to what you might have experienced while learning to read.  You had to sound out each word and you needed someone there to tell you when you were saying it correctly.  Super Hexagon is like that, but it’s a robot that’s teaching you and forces you to start over every time you make a mistake.  Eventually you don’t need to sound out each word though.  You can create shortcuts in your mind between the word you see and the word you speak.  And eventually in Super Hexagon, you’re no longer “finding” the right path, you just know it without having to move the avatar around the game board.  And by reading the screen and immediately recalling the correct response, the complexity of completing the game becomes something closer to O(N) or O(1) – a complexity much friendlier to the speed at which our human brains can translate images into hand-eye coordination.

Super Hexagon is a game that has few, yet very dense, game mechanics that have been composed into an experience that captures and compresses the challenge and reward of becoming fluent and literate in another language.  It’s not a game that’s difficult, it’s a game that’s about the difficulty of this type of human learning.  It’s possible to interpret other games that require this sort of pattern identification and motor memory as doing the same thing, but few other games distill the concept into such a pure form or are as demanding for this level of player precision.  It’s a very strong player experience that would be almost impossible to replicate through another medium.


Tifa Lockhart don’t get no respect

Tifa Lockhart

As far as overlooked or underrated characters go, Tifa Lockhart of Final Fantasy VII gets a pretty raw deal.  Much of the game focuses on Cloud moping about, and Sephiroth having “mom” problems, or the two of them squabbling with swords.  Tifa is also easily overlooked for not martyring herself as Aeris did (Aerith, whatever.)  When you do take control of her in the game, it’s mainly to act out a slap fight as the world starts coming to an end.  Of all the game’s colorful characters though, her conflict is probably one of the most compelling and believable, though very understated.

VII puts you in the shoes of Cloud Strife, a mercenary working for a resistance group named Avalanche.  Or, at least, that is your assumption for much of the game.  It’s Tifa who persuades Cloud to join their cause, even if just for money.  The two had been, more or less, childhood friends until Cloud (who was a misfit among his peers in his home town) decided to join the military (Soldier) to be like the war hero, Sephiroth.  It was Cloud’s way of trying to be accepted and promised Tifa he would be able to rescue her should she ever be in trouble.

The problem with all of those plans though was that Cloud never made it into Soldier.  He was just a Shinra grunt that ended up suffering from the trauma of “that day five years ago“,  his subsequent imprisonment with Zack Fair, and then Zack’s death (see Crisis Core).  He had utterly failed in achieving his goals and failed to protect Tifa.  Once he finally escaped, he returned to Midgar, where Tifa found him delirious and insisting he had been in Soldier and was now taking on mercenary work.  Tifa knew this wasn’t the case, but had taken Cloud in to be able to protect him.  She had no idea what had happened to him after he left to join Soldier, but she did know that the person he described himself as was actually the deceased Zack Fair.

Tifa’s relationship to Cloud has been seen as one part of a love triangle involving Aeris.  Cloud doesn’t really have a romantic relationship with either woman in the game though.  His relationship with Aeris extends more from the identity he inherited from Zack, and was characterized as an idealized situation which Sephiroth parades into and destroys as part of his false identity.  Cloud’s relationship with Tifa is more characteristic of reality – Cloud has flaws which Tifa accepts and looks past.  And that leads to what I felt was one of the most interesting parts of the game: Tifa is essentially trying to help a mentally ill friend who happens to have creepy and unexplained ties to a war hero turned mass murderer.  She chooses not to challenge Cloud’s assumptions and instead goes along with his delusion.

Tifa’s work in Avalanche ultimately overlaps unraveling what happened to Cloud.  Later in the story, however, Sephiroth confronts Cloud with the truth of what happened, and Tifa is no longer able to deny that Cloud has assumed a false identity.  It’s one of the more surprising and uncomfortable scenes in the game, and Cloud is returned to his unstable frame of mind following Zack’s death.  While Cloud is ostensibly the lead character for his relationship with Sephiroth, he doesn’t exactly play a role in the game that’s more important than any of the others.  Much of the later story concerns him coming to terms with that, but it’s also as much about Tifa bringing him to accept it and not succumb to the reunion.  And her cause for wanting to stop Sephiroth is equal to Cloud’s.

It may have been necessary to understate Tifa’s role in the game’s story initially to try and not let on to the player that Cloud has invented a new identity for himself, but it robs the game of the full impact of the scenario.  I enjoyed Final Fantasy VII very much the first time I played it, and I enjoyed dissecting it further upon replaying it.  But I think it could have benefited more on focusing on the human aspect of how the events of the game affected the characters and their relationships, rather than relying on increasingly absurd sci-fi plot devices.  It’s unfortunate that with as much attention given to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, that Tifa remained such a secondary character to Cloud.  And while Vincent was kind of a neat secret character to unlock, he didn’t exactly deserve his own, albeit poorly conceived, game.

But hey, maybe if Square Enix ever does decide to go through with a re-make of Final Fantasy VII they’ll have the perfect opportunity to elevate Tifa’s character to something other than fan service.


Dark Souls Combat

Isometric Dark Souls

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Dark Souls at this point, but without actually having a chance to play the game yourself it’s hard to summarize why it’s good other than to say it’s satisfyingly difficult.  That’s quite true, but the satisfaction comes from the depth of its combat system.  You have a myriad of tools and options at your disposal in the game and because of this, repeating sections of the game doesn’t have to feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again.  It’s a playground for exploring the combat mechanics that’s incredibly well realized.

What makes combat in Dark Souls deceptive is that at first glance, it appears to function as a run of the mill hack-and-slash dungeon crawler.  As soon as you begin to treat it like one though, it just doesn’t feel right (especially since you’ll be dead.)  Your avatar doesn’t act the moment you hit a button, and they will become almost entirely unresponsive.  One of the first things to stand out will be the stamina meter, which falls at a steady pace while you are engaging enemies.  Your stamina represents how much energy you have to expend on any given physical action.  In other tactical games, this would essentially represent action points.  However, it is also depleted when deflecting blows or running.  When your stamina is exhausted you will no longer be able to attack, and the next blow you receive will cause you to stumble.  You’ll also stumble if you try to strike the enemy and they successfully block it.

This alone still doesn’t quite set it apart from hack-and-slash games.  Managing your stamina, selecting where and when to engage an enemy, and when to let your guard down to recover is fun.  What really makes it interesting is that all enemies also have stamina meters.  It incorporates a whole new layer of challenge and advantage to the experience that forces you to think about the game in a very measured way that’s more similar to strategy games than action games.  For many enemies, your goal is to first exhaust your target’s stamina as to make them stumble.  The easiest way to do this, many times, is to simply block one of their attacks against a shield.  You’re not simply deflecting the blow in order to control the timing of your attacks against theirs – you are leaving them unable to react at all since they exhaust their stamina.  From there you have the opening to attack them with your weapon, with one hand, both hands, or to flank them and execute a backstab for critical damage.  You must remember though that the enemy will recover stamina shortly and return blows, at which point you must have enough stamina to deflect them or roll out of the way to recover yourself.

This balancing act between using your stamina to attack and to defend is a huge part of the game and what makes it a dynamic experience.  There are ways to rely less on stamina.  Sorcery, archery, and advanced combat techniques (e.g. parry and riposte) allow you to choose a different type of risk (you will be attacked without shielding yourself) in exchange for ranged attacks and conservation of your stamina.  The game comes up with many different ways to throw you off balance while trying to manage your stamina (or control range.)  Here are a few examples.

  • Sen’s Fortress will force you to manage combat while simultaneously navigating environmental hazards.  You don’t exactly have room to put distance between you and your target, and when you’re hit with an environmental hazard you’re either already dead or vulnerable to enemy attacks.
  • Blighttown assails you with enemies that will afflict you with status ailments.  Poison and toxin will build up in a meter in the middle of the screen, and when it fills you’ll lose HP at a slower (poison) or quicker (toxin) pace.  Either way, you’re forced to strategically disengage the enemy long enough to drink from your estus flask to restore your health or to cure yourself of poison/toxin.
  • The Tomb of the Giants is pitch black.  Unless you have a lighted helmet, you must carry a lantern in place of either your sword or shield.  Even then, you cannot see very far in any direction.  When you do see an enemy, if you are not moving slowly, you will almost immediately be attacked by large enemies with fearsome attacks which quickly deplete your stamina.
  • The Duke’s Archives features enemy mages which have strong, ranged magic attack.  They are usually defended by several regular enemies which force you use special magic resistant equipment and use careful crowd control methods
  • There are many enemies that can break your weapons and armor (which can only be fixed at bonfires or blacksmiths) rendering them ineffective.  Weapons will also break after prolonged normal use if not regularly repaired.

Of course stamina is only one part of Dark Souls, but I feel it’s the keystone around which the rest of the game is able to shine.  It drives the game’s PvP community where creative strategies can win over sheer numbers.  Duels are popular and have led to the emergence of PvP etiquette as opposed to open free-for-all.  It gives the game life beyond it’s already entertaining (and repeatable) campaign.  The combat system is a thoroughly rewarding game mechanic that’s encompassed by a game that realizes its full potential.  That’s a rare accomplishment, and is why the game enjoys such enduring popularity.  I can only hope that lightning strikes the same place a second time when Dark Souls II is released this March.

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