The internet's attempt to play Dark Souls has been fun to watch, even if they have spent most of the time rolling into walls. But last night, a breakthrough: they defeated the game's first boss, Asylum Demon. It was awesome, but how they pulled that off calls into question whether they're really playing Dark Souls anymore.
The bar for "progress" in Twitch Plays Dark Souls has been a low one. Navigating the menus of the character selection screen for the umpteenth time, thanks to the opening area's best weapon breaking yet again, was a reason for celebration. (It was breaking because players were spending a lot of time accidentally hitting a hand axe against the wall, eroding its durability.)
Managing to climb a ladder, allowing them to escape a tiny pool of water that Twitch Plays Dark Souls spent enough time in to spawn a hilarious meme, resulted in high-fives and tears of joy.
Yesterday afternoon, I became pretty confident Twitch Plays Dark Souls wasn't going anywhere — the experiment was dead. The feeling was reinforced by the dropping number of viewers for the channel. Folks would pop in to see if progress had been made, chuckle at the futility, and leave. There were enough people to keep on playing, but it was becoming a joke.
The vast majority of the time, this is what Twitch Plays Dark Souls looked like:
It was taking hours to fumble into the game's first boss, with the highlight of the first few days being a single successful strike against it. Whenever they managed to confront Asylum Demon, it never went well, as players spammed the chat with a mixture of legitimate moves and trolls.
A few moments later, they died.
In Twitch Plays Dark Souls' current form, it was clear they were never going to beat the first boss, let alone the whole game. Something had to change. And yesterday, something did change.
In essence, Twitch Plays Dark Souls gave up playing Dark Souls how it's supposed to be played. Instead, they decided to start modding the game. Another word for that would be cheating.
The operator behind this madness decided to program a way for the game to briefly pause — sometimes, for as long as 50 seconds — and allow users to vote on the next course of action. It morphed Dark Souls from a demanding, nonstop action game into a turn-based affair.
What's the problem? Dark Souls doesn't let you pause — ever. That's one of the fundamental design choices behind all of the Souls games, be it Demon's Souls or Bloodborne. The action never stops, and one of the game's constant stressors is knowing that fiddling with menus could lead to your death. By removing this element from Dark Souls, you've undermined the game.
Here's what this tweak looks like in practice:
No one would blame you for believing the game has crashed; that's what I thought at first, too.
But this is exactly what Twitch Plays Dark Souls needed to move forward, and as they worked out new strategies, they defeated Asylum Demon. Someone made a video without the pauses, so it's not a total pain to watch. Turn-based or real-time, it's clear how close they came to death.
Even watching the archive stresses me out. No fireballs. No estus flacks. A sliver of health. Yet, those elements make Dark Souls victories so satisfying, the reason I'm obsessed with the series.
In case you don't want to watch the whole thing, check out the final moments:
Here's how chat exploded when this nasty dude went down, providing a new path forward:
It's hard to not feel the excitement while looking at that, you know?
And yet, it's a little hollow. It's not Twitch Plays Dark Souls, it's Twitch Plays Dark Souls*.
It may be a moot point to the many who contributed to getting this far — the alternative was giving up. If the point of Twitch Plays [Insert Game] is to see if the Internet can work together to, against all odds, beat games in their purest form, Twitch Plays Dark Souls failed, forced to admit to defeat. But if the point is to succeed against slightly less than impossible odds, Twitch Plays Dark Souls has been a masterful success that I'll continue to watch for weeks to come.
At the moment, Twitch Plays Dark Souls is trying to make their way to the game's first major section outside the tutorial, Undead Burg. Can you even imagine them trying to fight Smough and Ornstein? It's gonna be a shit show, but I'm sure as hell looking forward to seeing them try.