Why Are Tough Games Like Dark Souls And 1001 Spikes Rising In Popularity?

By Spencer . June 4, 2014 . 3:15am

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The short answer is tough games feel gratifying. When you take down a boss in Dark Souls or clear a level in Mega Man it feels like perseverance paid off. It’s a different experience from other games that hold a player’s hand from the start to the credits. Siliconera talked to 1001 Spikes creator Samu Wosada about his thoughts on the rise of games that reward persistence and designing tough games.

 

"I personally have not played Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. However, a lot of people have told me there are comparisons between those titles and what I have created," Wosada said to Siliconera. "When you play modern games, there are lots of elements that make them feel like a tedious chores to beat certain stages as opposed to this where every time you die it makes sense and every time you clear a stage it feels gratifying. Maybe it isn’t necessarily a trend, but games that feel rewarding through persistence a lot of people’s answer to making modern games easier and the feeling of satisfaction isn’t there."

 

I was playing 1001 Spikes while talking with Wosada and he saw me run right into a trap. "Do you enjoy seeing your traps work," I asked.

 

"By no means do I get any satisfaction or enjoyment by watching people die," Wosada laughed. "I really want to see people clear my stages. I can feel my heartbreak when I see people die I can feel their pain. In all seriousness, I think the true satisfaction of the game is when you clear a level on the fourth or fifth try. You’ve learned the traps, you know what to watch out for, you’ve memorized and you’re finally able to beat it. If you beat it the first time through, then it might not be that fun. There won’t be gratification because you didn’t have to work to beat it."

 

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I asked Wosada how he tested levels so they were just hard enough, but weren’t so frustrating players would give up. "I am my own yardstick in this case. I play it and when it feels just about right for me that is when a level feels right. I know a lot of AAA titles have focus groups, user tests, and they try to integrate as much of that into the game as possible. However, we I feel you do that you make too much of an average and you lose an edge since it’s been sanded down too much to make it for everyone. What I really wanted to accomplish is a very focused game that a select group will really like and accept," Wosada answered.

 

"Even with in compact spaces, I focused on simple traps, but I combined these traps to create a puzzle. The satisfaction of creating a more complex trap out of a series of simpler traps is very gratifying even as a designer.

 

Wosada believes older gamers that grew up with Famicom and simple platformers with easy to understand controls are the primary audience for tough platformers. We talked a little bit about story in games and Wosada feels that if all that moves the game forward is story you sacrifice the fun of gameplay. With 1001 Spikes, Wosada wanted players to start the game in a level instead of a prologue. The story doesn’t show up until after a few levels.

 

"To me clearing this game with all 1001 lives still intact is a feat of near impossibility." There is, however, something players will see if they lose all 1001 lives. Wosada doesn’t expect too many people will see it because he doesn’t expect everyone will lose all of their lives.

 

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Wosada continued, "I think almost any genre can benefit from this model of being rewarding through persistence. At some point until the previous generation, there was like an arms race for having a better story, better characters, and better graphics. People felt that was the only way to make a game better. But, we are at a cusp of a new revolution where going to focus again on gameplay and quality entertainment through interactivity. I think we’re talking a step back from story and graphics. It’s about rewarding a player for learning the game. Take a rhythm game for example it’s not just playing a song, it’s about playing a song many times and finally getting to the end of it and feeling ‘wow I did it.’"


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  • Ephidiel

    because we are all fed up by games that hold us by the hand

  • Shippoyasha

    Great point Wosada makes about it not being about punishing the player or making it wholly frustrating. There’s always a fine line between being challenging and being entirely unfair.

  • Xerain

    Today’s hard mode is yesterday’s normal mode. Buzz about Dark Souls being ‘tough’ all you want, but it’s still an easier game than Super Mario Bros.

    • CozyAndWarm

      This. Demon’s/Dark Souls were highly enjoyable but they were by no means even half as challenging/frustrating as most NES or Sega Genesis games. The braindead enemy AI was particularly easy to exploit.

      • E.T.993

        Out of pure curiosity, what about the Wonderful 101′s difficulty?

      • Cazar

        That’s kind of the point of Souls. The enemies seem tough at first but you just need to learn their patterns. It was never meant to be about smart AI.

    • Shane Guidaboni

      Why would you even compare the two games in terms of difficulty? SMB is a platformer. Dark Souls is about testing and learning from your mistakes.

      • disgaea36

        That was just one example Im sure he/she could name more but the point is today’s co called difficulty is nothing like it was in the past.

      • Sakurazaki

        I think it’s less about objective difficulty by genre and more subjective in terms of frustration, lol.

      • Gemlit

        In both games you have to time your jumps across the pits so you won’t die, and it is easy to die in both games.

      • AndyLC

        Because both are games about pattern recognition, and everyone is familiar with SMB.

    • Mastery

      Dark Souls isn’t easier than Super Mario Bros. in the slightest. Now, SMB Lost Levels, on the other hand… Also Dark Souls was basically a 3D Zelda 2 that gave you a way to recover the progress you lost if you died.

    • Chardo

      I agree so much, I’m getting really tired of people these days associating any hard game to “its like dark souls but with platforming! or its like dark souls but with guns!” since it clearly states they never grew on the older consoles era, newsflash for them, Dark souls didn’t invent hard difficulty in video games.

      • Chardo

        trying to be more RELATED on topic however, 1001 spikes is a pretty cool game.

    • Attribule

      You’re in absolute denial if you think Super Mario Bros. was even remotely as hard as some of the more difficult games of today. There may have been a handful of difficult classics but Super Mario Bros. would not make the list I can assure you.

      Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who remembers the games of the past for what they actually were and not just from the eyes of a young child who thought everything was either more difficult or more magical than they truly were. I wish more gamers would take off the BS rose-colored glasses already.

  • SirRichard

    I can only hope he’s right about things shifting away from graphics and story, developers talking about how they’re focusing on those is beginning to seriously annoy the hell out of me. He definitely seems to understand how this sort of game should work, too, definitely going to check this out.

    • Time Sage

      Graphics don’t matter to me but a good story is something I look for. Game play is important too but it can be flawed (Note, flawed, not utter garbage) if the story is engaging enough

      • SirRichard

        I agree with that sentiment (it’s basically entirely my defence for Deadly Premonition as one of the best the last generation had to offer), but lately it’s still begun to stick out more and it just seems disingenuous at times and outright ignoring the strengths of the medium at others.

        The recent one that’s sparked this is The Order: 1886, where in an interview with CVG a developer claimed the story was the top of their priorities, and they seemed particularly bothered about having to talk about gameplay at all, saying (direct quote) “Gameplay is something that… it’s a game, we make games, we can’t get around it.” Check it yourself: http://www.computerandvideogames.com/464912/previews/hands-on-and-interview-the-order-1886s-e3-demo-showcases-style-over-substance/

        I don’t mind devs putting work on or even focusing on story over gameplay, but the attitude from that quote seems to be the prevailing one; gameplay is just a thing you shove in there, who cares, which just misses the entire point and strengths of the medium. The Order is just another third person cover-based shooter with QTEs, for instance, it feels like they’re not even trying.

      • loempiavreter

        Good storytelling…? You mean that spoon fed narrativity bullshit, they’ve been feeding us for years?

    • Tatsuya1221

      Graphics i don’t care about, but i honestly cannot play a game without a good story anymore, so avoiding working much on story is a way to guarantee a no-sale for me.

      • Asura

        Ha… I still can’t even think of a game with a good story. Mediocre maybe, but nothing I’d call good.

        • CozyAndWarm

          Good writing or presentation of the story is way more important than the story itself. And yeah, story is by far the least important aspect of a game.

        • Tatsuya1221

          I completely disagree, but to each his own i suppose.

      • Mar Mar

        It’s either a good story or “make you own” story like wandering around Cyrodiil or Morrowind =)

      • loempiavreter

        good for you

    • 0nsen

      Don’t worry, the time were almost no developers can afford to pay for graphics is near. We already lost lots of developers over the last decade but even the powerhouses realize that they just don’t have enough money to sustain this emphasis on graphic.

      There’s at least one thing that prevents this from happening, though. Remember when games didn’t cost millions to make and were still fun? Yeah, turns out you can still make those kind of games and the best/worst thing about this is you don’t even need a PS5 or XboxTwo for those games to work. Your phone will suffice. Hooking up your phone with your TV and a controller turns out to be incredibly easy.

  • Demeanor

    Balancing difficulty the way the Souls series does is a great strong point for games, and one of the “riches” of the title alongside graphics, environment, builds etc.
    Personally I would like to see more games where I’m forced to battle in a tough – but fair – environment, I think it could greatly add to the charm of any game; I understand not everyone might be happy with it, though, it’s probably why this tendency is not very widespread (and/or difficulty levels exist, but it’s not the same thing).

  • Tatsuya1221

    “Why are tough games rising in popularity?”

    They aren’t, there’s always been a group of people who want hard games, just as there is a group of people who want games with moderate difficulty.

    I personally cannot really enjoy games like dark souls well because in all honesty, i don’t have the patience anymore for that kind of difficulty in games, that and i play rpg’s (with a favoring towards jrpg’s) and mostly for story, while i actively avoid playing on anything lower than normal, that doesn’t mean i want to spend 10 hours on a game just to get past one boss.
    That said, i did force myself to play through sonic genesis, so maybe i’ve just not found that 1 hard game that i would enjoy dying over and over in.

  • Ooh Bee

    Speaking of 1001 Spikes, how do you get the other characters?

    Sorry for the off topic question. >_>

  • Kotorin

    Are people still going on about Souls games being the hardest thing ever? People really need to wake the fuck up from this shit. The Souls games difficulty are being extremely exaggerated by the gaming community.

    • Land of Green Pasture

      well because lots of casual gamer play it, it will be indeed, dropped in ‘tough’ category… sometimes all we need to playing ‘tough’ game is to stay on all your toes all the time.. not actually hard.. it’s just really frustrating for some people..

    • Chon Pak

      They need to play Touhou, then they will understand what is “hard”.

    • Mar Mar

      People say Souls games are hard because they assume the game will assist them on what they’re supposed to do. And that’s what most modern games do.

      “I wanna be the Guy” is the hardest game I have ever played and somewhat it is enjoying.

    • TrevHead

      Generally the only ppl who say DS is too hard are casual gamers and those weird anti hardcore elitist types who hate on hard games and the ppl who play them.

      Other than that DS is just a poster child for hard games, which it rightly deserves imo.

    • Rohan Viajar

      y’all need to play some BattleToads.

      oh dear…. T___T

    • Juliano C

      relax man

  • http://keiserone.tumblr.com/ KeiserOne

    It’s true that roguelikes/dungeon crawlers/punishing platformers are making a comeback. You can notice that just by taking a glance at the iTunes store (of all places). The explosion of casual games attracted large audiences that would haver never touched a game in their life. Once they got hooked, they started craving harder experiences. Hence the return in shape of hardcore games. Good thing either way. No challenge=instant boredom.

  • Kornelious

    A game being hard has never really been a selling point, but a bonus so I can feel proud that I beat such a difficult game. But really I like Dark Souls beacuse behind the difficulty it’s just a really fun game to play. Awesome weapons, interesting story, cool world and just overall great gameplay :)

  • z_merquise

    This is really a nice short interview. Hard or challenging games are always there. They just didn’t get the attention they deserve. I haven’t played any of the Souls games as well but those games did garner attention to many people and I think that’s a good thing.

    The bigger-budgeted, ‘block-buster’ games can co-exist with the tighter-budget, ‘gameplay-focused’ games that appeal to niche audience and I’m glad the latter is getting more attention and that publishers are becoming more aware that there’s still a market for it.

  • icup ✔️

    the reason for dark and demon’s souls is not just because it’s “gratifying.” it’s the whole atmosphere, the design and aesthetic of the game and mechanic. the fun comes from it being challenging (also the ability to coop, pvp, and troll online), then gratifying to feel after you’ve overcome a challenging obstacle…

    being hard alone does not make a great game.

    • Afternoon Intergalactic

      Zurako would be pleased.

  • Guest

    Why are new games’ spikes being compared to old games’ spikes, if most of the difficul from old games happened thanks to bad design choices and programming?

    • Fen Y

      That just isn’t true. Sure, a lot of bad games of the NES era were
      difficult by bad design, but a lot of good ones were difficult because
      they were designed well.

      You have to be a complete fool to think
      that, say, the original Castlevania is only difficult due to bad design.
      If you actually look at it, you’ll notice that every single enemy is
      carefully
      placed in specific ways, rewarding planning and thinking. They are
      placed so you die if you rush, and if you plan ahead, you can make it.

      Similar goes for most of the Mega Man, Mario, or Zelda games – and many, many more..

  • Ni ~Algidus~

    Souls games are not difficult they are pretty much “exploit the dumb AI and be good at dodging” difficulty. If wasn’t for the atmosphere and lore i would never have played them.

    >But, we are at a cusp of a new revolution where going to focus again on gameplay and quality entertainment through interactivity. I think we’re talking a step back from story and graphics.

    I really hope so. because in today industry. instead of using the more powerfull hardware to create new gameplay mechanics they (developers) are wasting everything they have on NICE GRAPHIX.

    • MaidKillua

      If you don’t bother figuring out/ googling how to exploit the dumb AI then it is actually pretty great to play properly. Though of course once you know it’s hard to resist doing it. The Ancient Dragon in Dark Souls 2 is the most obvious example

      • Ni ~Algidus~

        >If you don’t bother figuring out/ googling how to exploit the dumb AI then it is actually pretty great to play properly

        we don’t even need googling since they throw the patterns at the players face you just need to do a little observation. and seriously? play properly? the game is pretty learn the attack patern of monsters+dodge/run+attack (repeat). if you don’t pay attention on the game’s monsters and keep getting beating I don’t think that you’re playing it properly.

        • MaidKillua

          There’s a difference between learning the telegraphs and “exploiting the dumb AI”. They don’t really even have patterns unless you bait them into using a certain attack (which admittedly can be done if you stand in the right spots but like I said, why do that?). Most games boil down to memorising the telegraphs and how to dodge each move, I dunno what more they could do with it. The thing with Souls is that each move tends to hit like a truck so you have to not screw up. I mean, all else that could really be done with it is to make it slow and based around standing still and having higher stats like Elder Scrolls, or speed it up and turn it into Ninja Gaiden (which uses the same formula of memorising telegraphs anyway). You talk as if it’s just a badly designed game when in actuality it’s just not your type of game. Though if you don’t like games about memorising telegraphs and dodging then that basically rules out every third person action game ever made

          • Ni ~Algidus~

            i don’t know. the moment that you learn how the Ai will react if you approach it or do attack x and use it at you favor is exploiting the AI for me. since you know what will happen and can use it to win against it. You ask why do that? “The thing with Souls is that each move tends to hit like a truck so you have to not screw up.”. You answered your own question. If the enemies hit like a truck… Learn their pattern to dodge the attacks. simple and clean. Also I never said that the Souls games were bad designed. I said that they’re not as difficult as people tend to make them be.
            And seriously. i got surprised how you can say that they’re not my type of game without knowing me. beat’em up, fighting games, action rpgs and TPS action games are my favorite types of games. I like memorising attack patterns and dodging the numerous enemies attacks in ninja gaiden/DMC/God Eater/Monster Hunter etc.

          • MaidKillua

            The Dark Souls AI could definitely use some work but they’re still some of the hardest games around today if you don’t take into account games with dumb difficulty settings and broken mechanics. I don’t personally find them that hard after a little practice either but regardless, they still make most of what else is around outside of indies look like a casual stroll through the park by comparison. They still have nothing on G rank Monster Hunter (which I only just finally reached recently and holy shit) though

  • http://epiclyamazing.wordpress.com/ AzureNova

    Because the World is slowly becoming a better place lol

  • fairysun

    Because deep down, behind the sloth, greed, pride, lust, envy, wrath, and gluttony, human races like challenges.

  • AoC

    They’re really not, it’s more the case of mainstream needing to be spoonfed in order to realize something exists in the first place. Generation of hand-holding difficulty didn’t help it either, though.

    • Fen Y

      This just isn’t true and has never been true. Companies just ASSUME it to be true.7

  • persona_yuji

    Why? Because they are fun, that’s why. :P

  • DeAndre Atchison

    Have atlus make it. Then it’ll be hard.

  • revenent hell

    People like challenge and miss it. So many of the more well known games now a days cater to people much like an interactive movie would and deep down when people want to play a game they want a bit of challenge involved in it. Especially the older gamers of the world.

  • 60hz

    I <3 Games of Skill. Not Games of Story.

  • 0nsen

    So… is this something like “I wanna be the guy”?

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/EnvyMizuhashi Garyuu (& Spyke)

    Dropping this here if you want another answer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGOIMPQo9uI

  • ronin4life

    I think it has more to do with these kinds of games generally being Game Design focused and well rounded experiances than Challenge. Because they kind of have to be in order for that Challenge to be legitamate and respected.

    That is generally why I like stuff like MH and DS anyway. Same for most of Nintendos games too.

  • AJ

    I think it’s more of a reaction to the “handholding”, really. I have played quite a few games where failure is completely eliminated as an option, at which point it ceases to be a game, or an interactive experience. Games used to be “hard” because there was never an option of adding in the help and the guides due to technology, and now that you can do it, designers have to start thinking about whether or not they should, and how to manage experiences in a new way. The first time I played “Demon’s Souls” I was surprised because it just presented itself without help or explanation and required the player to put work in to understand it and find out how it works. It’s “difficult” in that you have to participate, I guess.

  • Nicholas Perry

    There’s absolutely no reason they can’t co-exist. The more variety the better IMHO.

    • TrevHead

      I wish more ppl had your attitude as on one end you have challenge gamers who hate the fact most AAA games dumb down, while on the other casual gamers who won’t accept that some games just aren’t made for them and expecting every game to cater towards them is selfish

      • Nicholas Perry

        Too true my friend. I like playing just about every kind of game with different mindsets or expectations going in.

  • Niyari

    shhhh, don’t tell Blizzard!

  • Kumiko Akimoto

    Masochism is on the rise

  • Ecchitori-san
  • Sinful

    I don’t get the intense love for the Soul’s games.. I played Dark Souls 2.. I see it more as cheap than challenging. IN MY OPINION WHILE PLAYING.

    I had fun playing the games for the gritty environments and the monsters, but I just don’t see what people see in this game.

  • Juliano C

    Some people here are mistaking hard games with broken games, in the nes era there was a lot of broken games that are hard not because they tried to make it hard and cool to play, it was hard just because it was poorly made

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