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