Dark Souls - About the Design


Cave Canem
August 30, 2006
At Gamasutra an article about the design of Dark Souls, dives into the trade-offs that were made during the design of the game.

As I said earlier, the developers seemed to embrace the idea of trade-offs in the design. Two of the biggest risks the developers took were the choices to

1. not arbitrarily gate off difficult areas and

2. leave out explicit directions on where to go or how to use things

For these two reasons many players - both casual and ‘hardcore' (perhaps more so the hardcore gamers, as it may be different than what they are accustomed to) - have difficulty getting into the game.

These design choices have some obvious negative consequences, which include limiting the audience to players who are willing to invest enough effort to understand the game. But there is one aspect that these decisions affect in a very positive way: creating mystery. There are secrets in Dark Souls... And they would not feel the same if the game explained them to you.

Let me explain with a comparison (forgive me):

My experience of playing Dark Souls was very similar to playing the first Zelda on the NES: I did not know to go into the cave and get the sword so I meandered around avoiding enemies for the first 15 minutes or so. I could not understand why people were talking about this game so much... But the mechanics were engineered so that each time I died I would start again at the same spot. Eventually I tried the black dot on the rock and - lo and behold! There was this secret cave with a dude giving me a sword! As a kid playing Zelda: I found myself burning down trees with my newly-acquired candle... And - what's this? - level 8? I hadn't gotten through level 3 yet and I could explore level 8?

Fast-forward 25 years - In DS after talking to the crestfallen warrior and exploring a bit I went down the steps and into New Londo. I spent almost two hours trying different strategies to get past the ghosts but eventually gave up. Then I found the steps leading up toward the Undead Burg - I'd somehow missed them before! Later - another surprise: after running through the Burg for the 15th time or so - I accidentally crashed into some boxes and there was stairway there! I thought I knew the lay of the land like the back of my hand... But here was a secret only feet away from my character!
More information.
Aug 30, 2006
The souls are also some of my favorite games. I'm playing SotFS right now. I agree with the author. It can be incredibly frustrating at first (running into massively over-leveled enemies, but not knowing it). Now I know to just go somewhere else. Really enjoying DS2: SotFS right now, though some parts of it feel too reused. I hope the next one has more new content. I don't want to seen Ornstein as a boss for the third straight game.
Dec 16, 2013
I enjoyed this article, and agree that those elements that DS possesses are some of my favorite elements as well.

Elminage Gothic is a lot like Dark Souls in a way. You can die easily, there are risk/reward factors (floors re-spawn when you leave them), it has a dark atmosphere, no hand-holding at all and you can wander into a difficult dungeon and get destroyed easily, forcing you to choose another route.

I hope more games incorporate these types of elements in them.
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