[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

 

Introduction:

Dark Souls, FromSoftware’s dark fantasy masterpiece, is a seemingly impenetrable work from an interpretive and thematic standpoint. First, famously, much of its worldbuilding and story can be reached only by careful attention to environmental set pieces, optional character interactions, and item descriptions. Second, and more of an obstacle for our present analytical purpose, Dark Souls is a game which seems to be about death, decay, and annihilation—but which is simultaneously a game starring a prophecy-driven character who survives death, and in which souls are demonstrable realities.

But would-be Souls scholars should not despair. As for the subtlety and density of its worldbuilding, this is no rarity in the wider world of art. While it’s nowhere near as complex as a Modernist novel, I would contend that Dark Souls is similarly rewarding to careful attention and study as are, for instance, the works of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. So, obviously I don’t consider the difficulty of accessing its story to be an insurmountable detriment. And as for the seeming thematic contradictions of the game, these are not intractable.

A reading of Dark Souls as being in conversation with the canon of existentialist philosophical thought yields a relatively straightforward path toward interpretation: Dark Souls, especially through its story and gameplay mechanics, is an allegory for the human condition in an entropic universe with no inherent meaning. That might seem vague and insubstantial, but hereafter I intend to provide support for it (and eventually specificity) through careful attention to both the game and the relevant philosophy.

Dark Souls screenshot with Furtive Pygmy, Dark Soul, and First Flame - existentialist philosophical analysis of Dark Souls - FromSoftware - existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche

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[Game: Dark Souls, FromSoftware, 2011]
Unchosen Undead:

A Thorough Existentialist Philosophical Analysis of FromSoftware’s Original Dark Souls

was last modified: October 30th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Transistor, Supergiant Games, 2014]
Red Pen:

On the Interestingly Deep yet Frustratingly Vague Plot of Supergiant Games’ Transistor

 

Introduction:

It would be boring for me to simply say that Supergiant Games’ Transistor is a gorgeous-looking, wonderfully designed, mechanically fun, and brilliantly soundtracked title, even though all of that is true. It would be slightly less boring for me to defend Transistor‘s much-maligned brevity in the same spirit as I have defended other cheap, brief indie campaigns, even though I clearly would be willing to defend it. But the least boring thing for me to do, I feel, is to discuss the one area of the game that I am inclined to critique: Transistor‘s presentation of its plot.

Supergiant Games has an attraction to endings. And not just to the ending of games, but to the ending of worlds. Each of their wildly successful indie titles, Bastion and Transistor, has presented a vividly imagined world right around the moment of its ultimate demise (the world of Pyre had better watch its back). And I’ve loved this aesthetic decision in both cases. But in both cases the series of events leading up to the end of the world (and so leading up to the start of the game) is not easily discerned—which, in the oft-dense RPG genre, is saying something.

Transistor screenshot with ordinary thoroughfare - analysis and criticism of Transistor's plot - story, narrative Continue reading

[Game: Transistor, Supergiant Games, 2014]
Red Pen:

On the Interestingly Deep yet Frustratingly Vague Plot of Supergiant Games’ Transistor

was last modified: July 5th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: The Sentient, Uncaged Studios, 2016]
Galactic Potential:

An Introduction to (and Cursory Assessment of) Uncaged Studios’ The Sentient

 

(The article below remains in its original state for archival purposes, but work on The Sentient was abandoned by its developers in mid-2018, before it was completed and exited early access. As such, I am now forced to recommend that no one purchase the game. – The Gemsbok)

 

The Sentient screenshot with ship overview - Uncaged Studios - early access review

Introduction:

Alright, this is going to be a relatively brief article that doesn’t go into too much detail, as the game in question, Uncaged Studios’ The Sentient, is very early in its early access career. But I wanted to write this preliminary review because I have been rather impressed by what I’ve seen so far. If I could sum it up in one sentence, I would say that The Sentient has accomplished more of the things promised by the developers of Pixel Piracy before entering early access than Pixel Piracy has managed to accomplish in the year since its full release.

As you can tell if you’ve read that earlier article linked above, I am no fan of Pixel Piracy; so why even bother with the comparison? Well, as much as I think Pixel Piracy is a clunky, buggy, superficial, bad-UI-ridden mess of a game, its premise is very strong: you take the exploration and RTS gameplay of FTL, and you add in deeper crew management and ship customization features. And this is exactly what The Sentient does, putting the player in control of a fleet of human scouting parties as they search the galaxy for the means to research, expand, and survive.

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[Game: The Sentient, Uncaged Studios, 2016]
Galactic Potential:

An Introduction to (and Cursory Assessment of) Uncaged Studios’ The Sentient

was last modified: November 2nd, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Terraria, Re-Logic, 2011]
Yes Half Measures:

5 Reasons You Should Play Terraria on Mediumcore Difficulty

 

Introduction:

Terraria screenshot with home base - Re-Logic - Mediumcore DifficultyAny players of Re-Logic’s Terraria will know that difficulty levels in the game do not merely affect the stats of enemies. A ‘softcore’ character will only drop held money on death. A ‘mediumcore’ character will drop held money as well as held and worn items on death. A ‘hardcore’ character, when it dies, just stays dead. (Terraria possesses an overabundance of difficulty-related terminology, so, just to be absolutely clear: I’m not talking about normal mode versus expert mode, and I’m not talking about pre-hardmode versus hardmode.)

These are pretty dramatic differences in consequences for each character’s demise, and as a result the vast majority of players choose softcore mode. Those looking to prove what they’ve learned, on the other hand, are likely to crank it up to hardcore immediately. My personal opinion is that both are sub-par options when seeking the best playthrough of the game.

Here is my one caveat to this difficulty advice: if you’re really just playing Terraria as an artist or an architect (i.e. you just like building things), then softcore obviously make the most sense. But if you want the most enjoyable possible RPG adventure experience, then I highly recommend mediumcore. Here’s why:

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[Game: Terraria, Re-Logic, 2011]
Yes Half Measures:

5 Reasons You Should Play Terraria on Mediumcore Difficulty

was last modified: February 11th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Game: Pixel Piracy, Quadro Delta, 2015]
Swashbuckling Bored:

The Bad Design Choices, Game-breaking Bugs, and Superficial Execution of Quadro Delta’s Pixel Piracy

 

Introduction:

I have previously written, on more than one occasion, about games with simple premises or gimmicky attributes, which succeed due to the high quality of their execution. Today I would like to talk about a game with a great, interesting premise that fails due to the low quality of its actual design and execution. Pixel Piracy, a pirate-based RTS RPG with roguelike elements, is a game that was in an abysmal state at launch, but which has come a long way since then; the problem is that it has come nowhere near far enough, and does not seem likely to ever do so.

One of my biggest problems with the game is that its most grievous flaws are not apparent to the player until after a few hours in-game. In fact, Pixel Piracy is almost enjoyable, if a little repetitive, for almost half of its campaign. At that point, however, the small cracks widen into crevices, into which fall all of your hopes of ever completing the game with a positive opinion of it. I have completed the main campaign, and it was no easy task to do so (although the gameplay is easy as cake, the game’s technical problems and repetitive design made progress difficult). Now let me discourage you from doing the same.

Pixel Piracy screenshot visual effects comparison - Quadro Delta - negative review - criticism

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[Game: Pixel Piracy, Quadro Delta, 2015]
Swashbuckling Bored:

The Bad Design Choices, Game-breaking Bugs, and Superficial Execution of Quadro Delta’s Pixel Piracy

was last modified: March 6th, 2019 by Daniel Podgorski