Monday, November 7, 2011

To Speed or Not To Speed? A Look at Dark Souls

One way gamers try to prove themselves is through something called a speedrun.  The speedrun is where one person tries to best another person by having the fastest runthrough of a game.  This can be done in a multitude of differences genres, spanning from an MMO to an FPS.  The concept is typically the same throughout.  Speedruns are the most common on games where players are able to backtrack through the various levels, thus enabling them to re-run levels once they are familiar with them.  These games include the Metroid titles, some Castlevania games, and others where players are presented with an open world to discover different abilities to upgrade their characters to gain entry into new areas to complete the game. 

I myself have never been a speedrun type of individual, mainly wanting to take my time and have fun.  I understand that fun can be had by those that do speedruns; however it's just not my cup of tea.  Most times, players that excel at speedruns are individuals that show how a game can be broken.  For example, instead of going through numerous levels to finally get a bomb upgrade to get through a specific wall to proceed through game, speed-running players actually "break" the game by proceeding to that next portion of the game without the necessity of those bombs.  Not only are speedruns a fun challenge against other players, but they can also provide unique ways of interacting with the game itself.

Certain titles actually coaxed players into completing levels faster based upon a points system.  Take, for example, the recently released downloadable title, Crimson Alliance, for the Xbox 360.  Within each level, you are timed and the faster you complete the objectives within the level (mainly killing everything that moves), the better the score you'll receive.  There are other components that add to or subtract from your overall score, such as combat and your ability to find hidden items, but given the importance of time throughout each level, the idea of speedrunning is almost made a  necessity.

The biggest thing about speedruns, though is how they can make the rest of gamers seem like "newbs."  Normally I don't like this term, but I think it's appropriate here.  You see, I recently started playing Dark Souls, the spiritual successor to Demon Souls, a game that was known to be extremely difficult and only renewed the idea of rage quitting and throwing controllers across rooms.  Well, as many reviewers have already stated, and what I will attest to, is that Dark Souls is even more difficult than its predecessor .  At first glance, you're probably asking, "Why play something so difficult?  Are you masochistic?"  And while I'm not saying that I'm that good at Dark Souls, I do get an incredibly rewarding feeling after completing a challenging task--it's enough to keep me coming back for more, death after death.  That ability to shout out roars of accomplishment after taking down a boss that has made me curse with frustration keeps me reloading my save, time after time.  It's the challenge that makes this game worth playing for me--not my ability to race through it.

But it has recently been reported that someone has completed the game in less than one and a half hours.  While I first thought this to be impossible because of not only the difficulty of the game, but also the size of it, technology in this day and age has allowed the player to show everyone in the world how he was able to do it, almost perfectly, with the help of YouTube.  Broken up into twelve minute segments, the video shows the gamer taking down bosses, running through environments, and equipping armor and weapons mid-game, all while making it look terribly easy.

My playthrough of Dark Souls has taken a little more time then this guy’s.  Within 12 minutes, this speedrunner has blown through 3 bosses and a good part of the environment, all while not dying and barely getting touched.  That same amount of progression for me has taken me 4 or so hours and a handful of deaths.  While I’m definitely playing at a different speed than this individual, I just can’t help but marvel at the confidence he portrays as he guides his character through each corridor and outdoor environment, whether he’s flying past useless enemies or taking out bosses within seconds.  Every move is calculated, every potion or piece of humanity taken as if on cue.  It's a performance that makes mine look that like of a newb.

And what is even more surprising is that this individual--known as “SexyShoiko”--has had the game for less than a month since it released on September 22nd in Japan. So in under a month, this guy has run through the game, checked every nook and corner, and probably scoured the internet to secure the perfect route throughout the entirety of game.  Knowing where to go is one thing, but actually following through with it and then being able to complete it with pressure as you’re recording it is a whole other component.   I can trace a line through a guide, or memorize a set of sequences or routes, but then to actually follow through and make it look as easy as this individual--well, let’s just say that it would take a while longer than the month afforded for this guy to complete the task. 

From the standpoint of the difficulty alone, this is a big milestone in the speedrun community.  Typically the difficulty of Dark Souls comes from the amount of damage that enemies do, not from aggressive artificial intelligence.  That’s what makes the game fair.  While one small enemy alone won’t be too hard to take down, a group of those enemies will easily gang up on you and cause trouble.  Now, add in some smaller boss characters and some hounds from hell throughout your travels, and you have yourself some difficulty, but it’s difficulty based in the reality of the subject.  And this guy makes it look like a piece of cake.  I know gamers who have put in 60 hours and have not made it through the game yet, and some of that’s obviously due to exploring more, but a good portion comes from deaths and reloading. 

I think that’s what's most impressive about this speedrunner.  Forgetting the exploration component, the fact that this player barely takes damage throughout the entirety of his run is just plain crazy.  As it stands, I think this is a speedrun record that will be near impossible to beat.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep pressing on room by room, death by death at my leisurely place.

If you’d like to check out the speedrun, here’s a video: