How do you make an RPG after Dark Souls, pt. 2

All the designers who got back to us for our first Future of Genre piece, “How do you make an RPG after Dark Souls? were absurdly generous with their insights. We’ve organized some of their original thoughts here:


Jasper Byrne, NEW GAME+: “What I remember most was the feeling of beating Boletaria 1-1, and going into Frontier where I worked at the time, and telling all the other game dev mates I had there about it, that they HAD TO GET IT (although it took quite a while and even bringing the game in for a lunch session to convince them haha.)  But yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.

Chris Roberts, Star Citizen: “I put about 200 hours of playtime into [Demon’s Souls], which is a huge amount of time for me. Normally, I will very rarely finish games all the way, only if it really captures me. I played it through once and almost finished a playthrough plus, and then I got busy on something else…it was super challenging. I have to say it’s the most frustrating game I’ve played in a long time, but also one of the most rewarding games I’ve played.

Connor Ullmann, Oblitus: “I played [Dark Souls] for 40 hours over a few days, and it was all a blur…The game was intensely frustrating, but never to the point where I could put the controller down. At the end of that 40 hours, I knew my perspective on game design had changed dramatically—this game had broken so many of the “rules” I’d put up for how games work, and it had made it all work so well.”

Mark Foster, Titan Souls: I found [Dark Souls] very unforgiving and brutal, which I liked. After I got to the Undead Burg, I spent many hours dying and getting very frustrated, and eventually getting past these little milestones and progressing through the game felt like a monumental achievement which was the core of my enjoyment.

Nick Wozniak, Shovel Knight: Lots of people like to describe Dark Souls as feeling retro, but I think this fresh, uncompromising approach is what makes them say that rather than actual retro difficulty or gameplay.  It was one of the first games in a long time where I booted it up, and I didn’t already know how everything worked without the game telling me.  Have you seen many games like that since the retro game days?

Tobias Svensson, Francis Coulombe, and Liam Raum (Tales of Game’s), Barkley 2: “There’s often a certain part that stuck with you. Area[s] that took a long time to overcome, times when you got lost and confused, challenges that seemed so overpowering that they made you question if you missed something or if you’re even taking the right path in the first place. There are many places and situations that people love, even though it got them killed several times…such as the distance between the first two bonfires, that forced players to really learn the combat and the area inside-out to be able to progress…actually what I always hear are “the first two” aren’t even close to the first and second bonfires.  Really what we mean is Undead Burg looping around to … Undead Burg.  So that’s the small bridge with the firebombs, the black knight, Taurus Demon, and crossing the main bridge.”

Matt White, Ghost Song: “I lived and breathed Dark Souls in the months following its release, and cumulatively have played it for hundreds of hours…Sword in hand, never knowing what’s around the next corner—there’s nothing that can rival the sheer elation of discovery and labored victory. The tension and investment was real, from start to finish, and boy, no way in hell am I going to watch a single thing in a Dark Souls 2 stream before getting the game in my hands. I know virtually nothing about the game, I’ve seen virtually nothing, and I’m damn proud of myself. See you guys in March. We’ll share stories.”


Ullmann: “Most games in recent years were labors of time for the player; I can’t remember the last game I bought before Dark Souls where beating it wasn’t simply about the number of hours I put in…Dark Souls is part of a trend in gaming that is about making players feel proud to beat thingsbosses, areas, etc.and games like Spelunky, Nuclear Throne, and many others seem to be embracing the idea of bringing in design elements that make beating it an “if” not a “when.””

Roberts: It was really hard and tough but it was always fair. It never felt to me like it was arbitrary…every time I died, it was always my error. I was rushing through an area that I had done a million times before and got sloppy and tried to take a shortcut, then I would pay for it.

Wozniak: Dark Souls and Shovel Knight are like water balloons. As you play the game, you are filling the balloon, being careful not to overfill or break it while you are tying it.  There is so much suspense; if you recklessly throw it, then all is lost. But if you are patient and plan enough to hit your target, then you can soak in the victory.

Foster: With survival in dark souls (specifically talking about in boss fights), you have the ability to heal yourself a finite number of times with estus or humanity, but getting these heals off is difficult and will usually end up getting you hit, so isn’t usually an optimal thing to try and do. The balance of bosses in DS (for someone playing through for the first few times) is about surviving long enough to put out the damage required to kill the boss. With a finite number of heals you have a limit to how long you can really be in there with the boss, and have to find a balance between getting in attacks and defending yourself, and timing any heals needed to sustain maximum survivability. The optimal way to play is become adaptive to the bosses’ attack patterns and to not make mistakes. Not making mistakes, however, is easier said than done, especially for a newer player. It was always an uphill struggle, and overcoming those struggles was very rewarding.

Jonathan Gustafsson and Samuel Sekandagu, Cornerstone: “I was not used to playing a game that  ”punished” me if I didn’t play it right…to me it felt like playing a game on the hardest difficulty, I had forgotten that “challenge” was one of the medium’s greatest virtues.”

ToG: “Each time you put in a hard challenge there are going to be some players that can’t overcome it and end up giving up, but that’s also the very reason that people pick a game like this off the shelves in the first place. Because these challenges bring you your own personal experiences and growth. When you figure out the way to progress by yourself, it makes the experience that much stronger. That’s something that’s been lost from many games today that are designed to try to keep you on the hook for as long as possible, where every rough edge is gone because it is a potential lost player.”


White: “As a player, the knowledge that a game is full of rich discoveries, that the game contains truly hidden wonders, enriches everything even if you don’t necessarily see it all. When I discover a beautiful area I might have missed, in Dark Souls, the feeling is electric. When I discover a beautiful area that I can’t possibly have missed, in, say, Uncharted, the feeling is ordinary. It’s hard to dazzle us with smoke and mirrors, beautiful graphics, or light shows. We’ve seen all that. True, unforced, organic discovery is what dazzles.”

Gustafsson and Sekandagu: “Unlike most games, Dark Souls gives you the opportunity to keep going on a path that may be too challenging…I found that very inspiring.”

Ullmann: “Dark Souls is my favorite game because of how many designs it had that I would have said were terrible before seeing how they work together. Placing checkpoints huge distances apart? Make players fight through fleets of enemies to get back to the boss every time they die? No fast-traveljust make players find their way through the whole world when they want to get somewhere? It all just felt like a recipe for angering and frustrating players unnecessarily, until I realized how critical all of these were to the fun of the game.

Wozniak: While playing Dark Souls, every player feels trepidation when encountering an area they haven’t played before. Venturing into a room and finding a few enemies in a new formation is just as daunting as approaching an unknown hazard or creature…Dark Souls doesn’t reward blind aggression as much as it does careful preparation and patient attentiveness. You really can’t beat that game on your own terms… While not every room in Shovel Knight is as tense as Dark Souls, we’ve designed each setup and crafted every room to test the dexterity of the player.

ToG: Dark Souls is a game that elevates the “open world” structure by making exploration thrilling, intense, dangerous, rather than simply feeding impulses of wanderlust. It is a big gamble to let the players stumble into areas where they are out of their depth, but Dark Souls embraces this. Letting you explore areas any sensible game would lock away means you are never quite certain that you are “where you should be”, you always feel a little bit like you are trespassing into some end-game zone where you have no chance of survival. This gives the game a feeling of tension that in many ways resemble survival horror. It wouldn’t take much to turn Dark Souls into a genuine horror game, just a handful of obnoxious jump scares would do.”


Foster: Weapons would ‘feel’ heavy to swing if they were big, and boss attacks would shake the screen and feel aggressive, and of the course the enemy and boss design was really awe inspiring and terrifying when you’re sat there thinking “wait, I have to kill that thing?!”

Roberts: “I’m not someone who likes a game that’s all about dice rolls, so I hate those games where you’re basically hitting attack, but there’s not any skill to it…what I liked about this was that it had the role-playing aspects of getting armor and leveling up, but it had a certain level of skill and coordination. You had to block.”

ToG: Dark Souls' combat is a very unique beast because it focuses very heavily on realism and how things interact. When swinging a heavy, oversized greatsword you can see your character raising it up behind you and then kind of throwing it forward, his body following through with the swing and the weight with no real control of it, until it hits the ground and stops. Your speed and dodge is affected by the weight of your equipment. Someone with heavy armor will barely move when struck whereas a lightly clothed person gets knocked back and recoils from even the smallest hit. Blocking an attack with a small wooden shield will have you pushed backwards but using a large metal shield you're stable enough to mostly stay in place. These things are even represented by stats, called Poise and Stability. There is a lot of depth and details to how things interact and it plays a big role in combat with how forces interact with each other to allow you to overpower your opponent.


Foster: “Running back becomes a task you need to think about. The optimal path is generally to run past all the enemies and not engage in combat, but doing that can be tricky, so you have to learn how the enemies/environment are going to act and try and fit into the flow of that path. Also maintaining enough stamina to keep your character running as much as possible is another layer of micro-management to focus on…All of those things draw a player into a ‘flow’ state as they’re heading back to a boss.”

Ullmann: “They don’t let you fast-travel because it makes you learn about the world. I can still probably make my way through the entire world of Dark Souls, and I haven’t played it in months. It made me connect with the world in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. And the way checkpoints are placed is also very critical…I would physically exhale after I would find a new bonfire!”

ToG: “You can take the wrong path, you can and will permanently lose out on items your first times through. Many secrets have no in-game clue except for the cryptic messages left by other players. Even with the story and quests, you only get small crumbs of information to piece together the big picture from. The guidance and hand-holding that you’ll usually find in games today is not there.”

57 notes

  1. materialifestream reblogged this from killscreen
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  3. hckleinman reblogged this from killscreen and added:
    I really hope that not all RPGs follow Dark Souls’s model. I love the game, but I don’t need every game to do what it...
  4. adriansugden reblogged this from killscreen and added:
    Most if this is the reason I love dark souls
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