Eat Krow: So You Want To Make a Soulslike!

Eat Krow: So You Want To Make a Soulslike!

Skarekrow13 was born with a rare gift:

To annoy the crap out of his loved ones with observations during their favorite things, completely sucking the fun out of the moment (for them, I find myself amusing).  Thanks to the “magic” of the internet, this  can now be brought directly to your eyeballs.  Behold as I try my best to tear down the things many of you love as well. Hurray?!?


They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  In recent years, From Software, makers of the Dark Souls series has kicked off a new style of gaming called “Soulslike.”  From must feel flattered as all get out then, as developers race to get in on the action releasing a myriad of titles like Salt and Sanctuary, The Surge, Nioh and more.  But, a lot of developers trying their hand at this new style of game fail to capture the core elements necessary to bring it home.  As an avid Souls gamer since January 2010 and “dude who yells at other fans of the series online” for almost as long, I think it’s safe to say I’m a bit of an expert.  With that, I present my in depth guide to recreating the magic of a Soulslike…

Combat, Weapons & Mechanics

Combat is one of the hallmarks of the Souls genre. To accurately create a Soulslike game, one would need to capture the allure of conflict. The burst of adrenaline when hunting…or being hunted. If you capture the combat, you’ve gone a long way toward capturing the, dare I say it, “Soul” of this genre. Let’s explore a few key facets to get you on your way.

There’s definitely gotta be swords. Several varietes and lots of reskins are a good idea. Now that you’ve got at least four or five sword “types” and a minimum of 42 skins with varying stats, the next step is easy. Take one of the sword types (katanas for instance) and do this simple programming trick: Make the visual representation of this weapon “x” pixels long. Now, make the actual length of this weapon “1.5x” pixels long.

My Fashion Souls game is on point

Players like lists.  Make sure there’s at least one terrible weapon, and one that has something players can exploit to make it the best one.  This will lead to endless debates on “ranking weapons.” This is a good thing somehow.

Don’t forget magic either! Here’s a quick way to make awesome magic. Create a cool spell to have mages start the game with. A little energy burst kinda thing will do. Now make a dozen versions of that spell, with incremental size and damage adjustments. The last one can have like, a different colored outline or something. Just so it’s clear it’s a different spell. Make sure there’s at least one really cool spell per game that’s only useful in incredibly specific scenarios.  Remove or break this spell in any sequels if more than three players figure out how to use it.

If there’s one thing people looking for leisure time enjoy above all else, it’s endlessly scouring data.  It’s a waste of your time to create a player stat system that doesn’t require a master’s in math.

Story and Setting

Now that you’ve nailed the art of Souls combat, it’s time for the story and setting. The atmosphere has to be just right.

Basically tell the player two things about the story. The first thing to tell them is Jack. Follow that up by telling them shit. Make them dig through scattered text which may or may not be translated correctly. At some point, hint that the scattered texts might contain false information too by letting everyone know that each little bit of information is only as good as whoever wrote it.

Never tell players who wrote it.

Right out of the gate you’ll want to set the tone for themes in the world.  I recommend having an NPC tell you within the first couple hours of play that the principles of time and space are “convoluted,” and there’s no telling when and where anything is from.  This makes world design and enemy/NPC placement easier because you don’t have to give a shit where you put anything.  If anyone whines that something feels out of place you can remind them, “time…it’s all convoluted and what-not.”

“I fart in the general direction of chronology and linear storytelling”

Give players a super secret and meaningful explanation of the overarching plot…in a grainy picture that no one can actually use.  Give them the real version once the series is ending.

On to the scenery. Gray is your friend. Bricks are your friend. Make things out of gray bricks.

Online

Very few games these days have any sort of longevity without multiplayer components using the information superhighway.  So you’ll need some sort of online features.

Cooperative play, or ”co-op” as the kids call it, is encouraged.  It’s not so much for struggling players to find help or to allow interesting social interactions.  The real beauty of co-op play is to ensure that players who don’t use it have a reason to puff their chests.

Create a system of competitive play in which players get to reeeeally mess with each.  Don’t even think about making it a level playing field though.  “Fair” is not a consideration that should come up during development.  Continue this exact same basic system through a minimum of 4 games.  Periodically, use the microwave at the office to make popcorn.  Enjoy popcorn while people on the internet argue about how fair the system you created is or isn’t.  This may get boring after close to a decade but probably not.  Once in a while, you can release a patch that adjusts things in the game to make it look like you care about balance and fairness.  This will minimally spice up the internet arguments. Remember, it’s perfectly acceptable to break something worse with one of these patches to show players who’s in charge.

darksouls3-review

“Behold, as I hide behind this blue guy”

Enemies & Bosses

Now that your game has solid fundamental mechanics, a world steeped in awesome, and no longer unique online elements; you need to give your players their foil.  Enemies should have as much consideration as the players themselves.  What good is a rich world without compelling antagonists?

First, you need to make sure there are TONS of chances for players to run into groups of enemies and ambushes.  If a standard enemy seems too easy, see if your fans can deal with nine of them at once.  Adding a tenth enemy that casts magic to make the other nine stronger is considered best practice, however.  Don’t worry, you’ll only hear complaints about these situations if you let someone else direct the sequel.

Bosses should be memorable.  The best way to do this is to make them really big.  If you’re not sold on an idea for a boss, just picture it larger and I bet you’ll have a winner.  Think your players would laugh at fighting a tree?  What about a REALLY BIG TREE?  Is a “Dancer” scary?  What about a REALLY BIG DANCER?  How about a goat?  No?  What about a REALLY BIG GOAT?  Add swords and you have yourself a boss!  If you’re still not convinced your boss is memorable, just toss in a couple smaller enemies for good measure.

His bark is worse than his bite. But his toe fungus is worst of all

Don’t be afraid to reuse ideas.  If there’s a boss you really liked creating…make a second version.  Why not a third? Never quit while you’re ahead.  Might as well go for four!  Although you might want to give that last one a shiny partner or your fans might catch on.

Enemies don’t have to come in the form of something a sword swing can take care of.  There’s an old martial arts philosophy that paraphrased is “He who cannot see, cannot fight.”  In game design philosophy, this roughly translates to “Don’t spend a ton of development time ironing out issues with the camera.”  If your game can’t force players to misjudge a ledge because a mosquito made the screen flip around wildly, you’re not doing it right.

Congrats! Now you have a Soulslike!


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7 comments on “Eat Krow: So You Want To Make a Soulslike!”

  1. Avatar Lich180 says:

    Very good guide, hopefully more devs see this.

  2. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    Is it still satire if it’s accurate?

    Some good laughs there. I think this is a good argument for why From needs to leave the old formula in the past when making this new dark fantasy IP.
    As much as I love Soulsborne, I’m kind of tired of playing the same game after 5 installments.

  3. Avatar Fallenangel700 says:

    Yeah, this is more or less spot on.

  4. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Personal opinion only, but I think the best satire is always highly accurate.

    I’d love them to deviate from the formula too. Bloodborne is amazing for what it did turn on its ear.

    And thanks for the kind words. It’s my favorite series ever, but I gotta admit this was fun to write

  5. Avatar Nahztek-Shadowpath says:

    ^
    I think all the formula really needs is some way to jump/climb. Maybe add a Shadow of the Colossus element to the game, but not to the point of making it the main staple of combat.
    A level like the last boss in SotC, but with a Souls approach to combat, would be epic.
    Not to mention, I feel the dex team has progressed enough that I should be able to hop over a rock by now. From does a great job at progressively unlocking levels and shortcuts, but they should step it up some when it comes to something like a pile of sticks barring my path.

    I love the control scheme and combat of Souls, but magic needs an overhaul. Even though it’s kind of limited in Nioh, I kind of prefer their approach.

    I like teleport/blink spells and things of a utility nature more than shooting projectiles. But Unique buff stacks are fun to play with when dealing with projectiles, like building up arcane damage on a WoW mage. And spells that add debuffs along with normal damage.
    For example, mages could have a projectile that puts debuff stacks on opponents that lowers physical resistance. All of the sudden that little knife is a decent finisher. Or a good bonk with a catalyst.

    The main problem with the series is that they aren’t getting any more complex. As much as I love BB, the complexity was only raised a tiny bit. And in many ways it was a complexity very well hidden under simplicity when compared to DS.

    But yeah, I’ll avoid derailing too much.
    And yes. Satire should be accurate imo. I was just poking fun because you pretty much nailed it.

  6. Avatar nsane32 says:

    Great article Skare some really good satire and as the others have said spot on.

    That would be my main issue with the games as well. While I love the series the lack of complexity and changes throughout the series has gotten tiring especially after the fifth game.

  7. Avatar eremHaNeoN says:

    Bravo. I had actually no idea what this article was to be about or where it was headed but then… well you raised issues better-worded and more succinctly than I’ve ever tried to. Only disappointment was the link to your article about gank mobs that were plentiful in Dark Souls 1, where you stopped at Painted World. So much fun would be had writing about Duke’s Archive, imo the most egregious area in the game (outside the New Londo ghosts) when it came to enemies/ganks. Go up an elevator and… get jumped on by crystal sword dudes and archers from every angle while being fired upon by (respawning!) Channeler, who’ll then do his funky disco dance and buff these enemies which are AROUND EVERY GODDAMN CORNER up real nice-like. And like five archers on the stairs or something? Then the garden of crystal golems? Then the sloped crystal tightwalks with golden crystal golems leaping in your direction? A bunch of giant clams guarding an, initially. non-fogged boss room made of one part petroleum jelly, one part astigmatism? I didn’t check how old that particular article was but you could’ve/should’ve gone all out with that one.

    And this does raise some interesting things to discuss:

    Well first off I don’t think the issue with the series is a lack of change, necessarily. Dark Souls was very different or at least an overhaul from Demon’s Souls in most aspects. Dark Souls 2 experimented with a bunch of different things, some ideas better than others of course. BB as mentioned just took the regular formula and turned it on its head. Dark Souls 3 is the only one that really plays things safely. It’s the more polished game in many ways but the one with fewest surprises. The big problem really being the same nagging flaws running throughout all of these games, most mentioned in the article, that never were properly addressed. Funky hitboxes, terrible camera and manifold issues with multiplayer connectivity and balance being among them. There’s also a feeling of "for every one thing fixed, one or two other things end up broken." FromSoft’s trusty patches, indeed. And the occasional AI pathing issues too where some enemies forget how to walk around a small barrier or stairway. Poor Gascoigne and Church Pick hunter…

    I myself like the idea of having at least one or two intentionally crap weapons in these games, as long as they’re funny. Handmaid’s Ladle? Definitely. Yorshka’s Spear? That one’s just… bad. But not in a funny way. That one’s actually kind of sad because it’s a weapon with interesting properties but where none of them are done well at all. It seems they, sort of, keep trying to make it more viable without ever getting it right, exactly. They don’t know what the real issue with the weapon is. An added C scaling in faith, with a nerf to its str/dex scaling resulting in…basically the exact same AR more or less as before. Cool. And all they kept doing to the weapon art was make it drain more and more FP with every other patch but without changing it in a way where it would be actually worth using – drain FP, to gain back a bit of FP of your own. How hard would that be to implement? It wouldn’t make it an amazing weapon but it would give its WA some actual utility. Oh, I wasted FP of my own draining a bit away some of my opponent’s FP which probably doesn’t matter to them anyway, and if it does they probably have Ash Estus on them. Otherwise it’s just a lame spear that happens to do strike damage. Yayyyyy great aweso-I don’t care. Yeah I dedicated an entire paragraph complaining about one bad weapon in Dark Souls 3 out of many, many other weapons that exist that are better or at least more interesting to use. Whatever faults one may have with the DLCs I don’t think many can complain about how much better most of the weapons they made for them were compared to a lot of the main game’s.

    Magic is definitely something that could be done better in these games. There are definitely too many glorified variations on "magic missile" with obligatory heal powers, some buff spells and spells so situational in use that they’re not worth really using at all. Dead Again might have more use if these games had the option to pick up and place corpses around like minefields or if say the corpses with loot on them could be used with the spell (can they? I’m not 100% certain but pretty strongly certain they cannot). And that going pure spellcaster, no melee, is at so much more a disadvantage than a melee build with every new entry, not just PvP either. Only maybe in Demon’s Souls was the opposite the case because of how crazy OP magic was and that spice was near-unlimited. Dark Souls 1 had its share of insta-kill magic as well and Dark Souls 2 hexes, of course, but their main advantages were mostly in PvP. I’ve read and heard a good share of proposals as to how magic systems could be improved in these games and there are some good ideas. Things like going back to a Demon’s Souls system where the ability to use a spell is determined by your attunement and not necessarily meeting an int or faith requirement. Just that if you have low int or faith the spell will be much weaker, getting better with every level up in those areas. More magic being like, say Old Moonlight where you can fire off smaller, quicker blasts of magic that use less "magic meter" or something but with weaker results or one big charge that slows you down and uses up a ton of meter but nets stronger results. With a system like that you can take every version of Soul Arrow up to Soul Spear and make it into one bigger spell. I like the idea too of spell "cooldowns" more than mana bars or limited-use-til-the-next-bonfire casting. And there was talk here about the idea of attuning spells to different staves allowing for dual-wielded catalysts firing off different spells, which I like too. I don’t know, I haven’t played too many action-RPGs so I have no other games in mind to reference that might have pulled these off better.

    Another thing about magic: a good number of utility-based sorcery I see seems to be intended for stealth purposes, but these games don’t really emphasize stealth at all. Aural Decoy/Yearn, Spook/Hush, Hidden Body, etc. seem there just so you can run past mobs without having to stop to fight them all the time on your way to the next bonfire. And sometimes for a sneaky backstab. Whatever. Not asking for Metal Gear Souls or Splinter Souls or anything but I think stealth could be implemented more craftily. Like, the old Thief games come to mind. I’d like to see shadows used as more than just a bit of atmospheric dynamic. Hiding/running past enemies too strong or arduous to take on in your current state that you can return to and easily kill later and who could give good chase and be serious trouble if they spotted you. Then you could use these magical distractions and shadows to your advantage or whatever. Maybe this is something they can reserve for the next Tenchu game if they every plan on making one.

    Annnnd, uh, yeah, stuff like that. I don’t know what else to say. If they ever do make another Souls-type game there are a ton of things that need fixing and so, SO many ways they can improve upon systems they already have in place. Or we can leave that up to any developer wishing to make themselves a Souls-like, assuming they want to go a different direction with their game than what your article advises. ;)


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