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9 Years Later, ‘Demon’s Souls’ Going Offline in February 2018

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It has been officially announced that online servers for Demon’s Souls will die off come February 28th, 2018, the month of the game’s (and Souls/Bloodborne series’s) 9th birthday.

Demon’s Souls will, of course, still be playable offline, but without the aid of (or invasion from) Phantoms, and helpful (or mischievous) messages left by other players. Sadly, this will mean the ingenious Old Monk boss fight will be left gimped.

The 2009 PS3-exclusive title, developed by now-living-legends From Software, and directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki, was the starting point for the Souls/Bloodborne series, serving as the genre-defining breakthrough that I personally believe was needed back then, even if it barely made it to a Western release. In fact, either directly or by proxy, I think it changed video games forever onward.

It’s downright amazing that the servers have been online all this time, as the game has remained a niche title when compared to its more famous successors. Perhaps now is the best time to experience all the elements of the game, as news of the the coming server death might bring players, new and old, out of the woodwork.

TFW your primary gimmick is an online event in an offline game

Maybe that’ll offset the hackers that roamed the empty landscape when I replayed the game about a year ago.

Additionally, there has been a lot of interest and work done into attempts at emulating Demon’s Souls on PC, so maybe the time truly is ripe for a little revival.

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

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The Manual Matters: ‘The Legend of Zelda’ How It Was Meant to Be Played

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“Can Link really destroy Ganon and save Princess Zelda? Only your skill can answer that question. Good luck. Use the Triforce wisely.”

The Legend of Zelda’s manual isn’t just throwaway reading material, it’s an essential component to understanding the game. Design priorities have shifted with time, but the first Zelda relying on its manual so intimately is not a flaw and never was– it’s simply reflective of its era. Video game manuals aren’t as common as they used to be, but The Legend of Zelda coming with a manual in 1986 is no different than a board game coming with instructions today. There was only so much space on a Famicom Disk Card, and a game as conceptually sophisticated as The Legend of Zelda naturally wouldn’t be able to parse all its key information in-game. In fact, one read of the manual is really all it takes to recognize that many of Zelda’s obscurities are anything but. 

For what it’s worth, The Legend of Zelda’s opening does offer some basic information along with laying down story context. Ganon stole the Triforce of Power, Princess Zelda broke the Triforce of Wisdom into 8 units, and it’s on Link’s shoulders to save Hyrule. There’s a certain charm to how The Hyrule Fantasy details every single treasure in the game through what is essentially a scrolling cast list. The intro even ends by telling the player to look up the manual. The Legend of Zelda is kind enough to offer some narrative breadcrumbs through its demo reel, but it has the sense to use all the tools at its disposal. 

Zelda’s manual wastes no time in getting into the meat of the story. The Prince of Darkness, Ganon, has ushered in an era of Chaos for Hyrule. Foreseeing the inevitable, Zelda instructs her nursemaid, Impa, to find a hero courageous enough to challenge Ganon. The Princess is soon imprisoned by Ganon while his forces close in on Impa. Exhausted & surrounded with no means of fighting back, Impa is left at the mercy of Ganon’s minions. Only for Link, a weaponless boy clad in a green tunic, to swoop in and fight off the Prince of Darkness’ forces. Impa rescued, she imparts onto Link the plight of Princess Zelda, beckoning him to become the hero of Hyrule. 

Described as “burning with a sense of justice,” Link sets off to rebuild the Triforce of Wisdom and liberate both Princess Zelda & Hyrule from Ganon’s clutches. The rest of the manual is framed through the actual message Impa left Link. Impa specifically detailed Hyrule’s history, along with the layouts of the nine labyrinths Link will need to brave– the latter of which appear together in a cute & crude drawing featured later in the manual (hand-drawn in-universe by none other than Link.) It’s no Final Fantasy (or even Dragon Quest,) but the manual does a good job in making The Legend of Zelda’s plot a little bit compelling. There’s no real emotional or character nuance, but it’s a classic fantasy premise laid out well with just enough dramatic flavor. 

The rest of the manual is framed like a children’s fantasy story, conveying conceptual gameplay mechanics through the text. Link has to meet shopkeepers in caves because they’re hiding from Ganon’s monsters; Springs are referred to as a home to fairies & other secrets (a cheeky hint at Level 7’s hidden entrance;) and multiple pages are dedicated to explaining basic dungeon design– from outlining the emphasis on puzzles & riddles within labyrinths, to ensuring players they haven’t done anything wrong when all the doors lock in around Link. It’s easy to take for granted, but gaming was still a young medium at this point and there was nothing quite like The Legend of Zelda

It’s for this exact reason the manual goes over the literal controls in such a meticulous fashion. A attacks with the sword, B attacks with items, the D-Pad moves link, Start opens the menu and Select pauses. Basic wisdom, indeed. The act of opening the menu and equipping items is also detailed in a highly sophisticated fashion, far more so than it needs to be. The manual even suggests that quickly being able to switch between items is the key to success in combat. While reflexes do play a role during battle, the in-menu tension the manual pitches are pure fiction. If nothing else, it’s a nice way of teaching newcomers how to understand not just the game, but video games as a whole. Reading The Legend of Zelda’s manual puts one in the right puzzle-solving mindset to competently save Hyrule. 

Considering his silent protagonist status, it might surprise some that Link was a defined character all the way back in the original Legend of Zelda. All the same, the intent was always for players to see themselves as Link. The manual even goes over the intimacy of creating Link. When booting up the game for the first time, Link does not exist. It’s only until you register your name that Link is given life. It’s fascinating how something as basic as naming a file after yourself speaks to the interconnectivity inherent to the medium. You may not be Link, but he’s your Link created to be your namesake.

Beyond laying a narrative foundation & dishing out gameplay concepts, the manual serves the practical purpose of simply functioning as a proper manual and offering helpful advice. Players are warned that some enemies can only be defeated with the Bow & Arrow– hinting at Gohma & nudging players to purchase the Arrows. The Triforce chart helps players know which Levels they’ve beaten at a glance, perfect for anyone doing dungeons out of order (and there will be many.) There’s even a step by step guide to reaching Level 1, offering direction in an otherwise directionless game. As an added bonus, the general vicinity of Level 2 gets its own page for anyone still in need of early game assistance. 

That said, the real pièce de résistance is the partially filled out map in the back. Roughly 2/3rds of Hyrule is pictured in an easy to read & understand fashion. The first 4 Levels are all located on the map; secrets containing Heart Containers, bombable walls, & movable stones are marked with question marks; and there’s even an item checklist at the bottom. Best of all are the enemy tips to the side, offering insight on which enemies drop bombs & which drop Rupees. Considering how useful bombs become late-game, it’s nice to know which enemies to farm off. 

Given The Legend of Zelda’s reputation as a game that doesn’t hold the player’s hand, it’s interesting to note just how helpful the manual ultimately is. Alongside the item checklist is a separate dungeon item checklist that shows players outright which dungeon holds which item. Levels 3 through 6 feature partial maps showcasing their treasure locations, while Levels 1 and 2 actually feature fully detailed maps that leave little to no room for the imagination. It errs on being too helpful, but The Legend of Zelda’s back half is hard enough where perhaps Nintendo felt this was only fair. 

Zelda’s manual withholds the game’s juiciest secrets while guiding you through the more obscure challenges. There are entire gameplay mechanics that go unexplained lest players reference their manual. Ever wonder why an entire room of enemies suddenly vanishes after killing one foe? That’s because they were the Ringleader and their death triggers the death of every other enemy in the room– a concept only conveyed in the manual. Even if you don’t reference the manual as a guide, the gamebook offers valuable story and gameplay context that makes The Legend of Zelda a considerably more compelling experience. There’s a reason the demo reel outright tells players to read their manual: it’s not actually optional. 

Getting through The Legend of Zelda is still challenging, but the manual not only lightens the load, it adds another layer to the gameplay loop. Truly out of your wits? Consult the manual. Want to make money fast? Consult the manual. Just plain old lost? Consult the manual. It’s even better when going through the trouble of filling in the map, taking notes along the way. The Legend of Zelda isn’t designed with the player actively referencing the manual in mind, but it does expect you to have at least read it once. And why shouldn’t you? It’s quite literally the game’s instruction booklet. 

Of course, things have changed since 1986 and the concept of reading a manual before playing a new game hasn’t been commonplace for some time. Games are often thought of as self-contained entities, and failing to convey vital information in-game is a failure of the game. But this is a notion reflective solely of modern gaming and can’t apply to a title like The Legend of Zelda, a game that presents its manual as a part of the core experience in order to circumvent technical limitations. 

The Legend of Zelda is perfectly gripping with or without its manual, but something needs to be said for the relationship video games used to have with their instruction booklets. It’s not an ancillary accessory to the game, the manual is a part of the game. At release, playing The Legend of Zelda the way it was meant to be played meant reading that instruction booklet and diving headfirst into Hyrule with a clear goal in mind. It meant knowing Link would stop at nothing to save Hyrule; it meant understanding where to go, how to get there, and why you’re going in the first place. 

One could argue that the manual removes much of Zelda’s mystique– and they wouldn’t exactly be wrong– but in an age where manuals are a rarity, the fact The Legend of Zelda shares such an intimate relationship with its own is in itself notable. Reading Zelda’s manual offers entirely new insight into Hyrule (arguably insight we should have always had,) but it’s also a fun read in & of itself. There’s a charm to the series’ early, almost desolate lore, and seeing mechanics we take for granted taught & laid out in such a methodical manner is almost humbling. It might not be high literature, but it might well be something better: The Legend of Zelda’s manual. 

You can view the entire Legend of Zelda manual here.

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The Cuteness of Competition: ‘Party Animals’ Developer Talks Origins, Randomness, and Corgis

Soon you will be able to duke it out as Corgis, Dinosaurs, Rabbits, and more in the upcoming multiplayer brawler Party Animals from Recreate Games…

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Soon you will be able to duke it out as dogs, dinosaurs, rabbits, and more in the upcoming multiplayer brawler Party Animals from developer Recreate Games. We had the opportunity to ask the game’s Product Manager, Andy Jianyi, questions about the developer’s upcoming release. In our interview, we spoke about the game’s origins that derived from a missing gap in gaming experience from the team’s family members, how physics-based titles helped inspire the release, the adorable pets that inspired the title’s cast of playable characters, and of course, its future availability.

Party Animals began development because of one simple idea: the developers wanted to be able to share their passion for hardcore gaming with their loved ones. Behind the curtain of Recreate Games, the studio is packed to the brim with longtime gamers who have probably spent more time behind a monitor than they probably should have. Popular titles such as The Witcher, Kerbal Space Program, and Dark Souls have taken up hundreds of hours of the staff’s time over the last few years. Their biggest problem with these titles was that their families were not into playing them or really anything the team considers competitive and hardcore video games. The staff at Recreate Games wanted a title that they could use to spend time with their families rather than alone. They wanted people with just about no gaming experience to be able to play something fun, yet wholeheartedly competitive at its core.

“We would love to play with our close ones, but usually people in our lives are not into these hardcore games, and we are not too interested in generic party games either,” Jianya says. To solve this problem, the team decided to focus their next project on a game featuring adorable and friendly-looking animal characters. They wanted a game that looked approachable, masqueraded by cutesy visuals that appealed to all audiences. The title had to be flat out fun to just mess around in whether you were winning or losing, but something that also provided a level of depth that could satisfy the competitive needs of the developers. Recreate Games wanted a title similar to other popular easy to pick up and play games that are difficult to truly master.

“[When creating Party Animals], we drew a lot of initial inspirations from Human: Fall Flat, Gang Beasts, Stick Fight, and Super Smash Bros: Ultimate,” Jianyi says. “We love the idea of real physics in video games. Aside from the endless and funny outcomes of the physical actions, physics-based games provide a level of immersion that couldn’t be achieved in other genres.” Party Animals was intended to be entertaining from both a playing and viewing comedic standpoint. Every punch, kick, and flip was intended to have a special outcome with a knockback of a few laughs. “In our physics system, the effect of a simple punch will vary based on your position, your enemy’s position, speed, stamina, and where you land the punch. It’s quite hilarious when the unexpected happens,” Jianyi says.

When it came to designing characters the team knew exactly where to start. Without any hesitation, their boss’s corgi Nemo was chosen to become the star of Party Animals and was the first character to make the roster. “We do not really have a process of choosing species though. We just add in the animals we love, which is quite a lot,” Jianyi says. Two of the game’s characters were actually directly based on two fans’ pets: the husky Kato and the one-eyed kitty Kiko. According to data gathered by the team, the most popular character is currently Carrot the bunny. The team is planning on implementing more animals at a future date, but they currently already have a roadmap to release.

“In our current plan, we will have 3 game modes, 8 maps and 10 characters at release,” Jianyi says. The three current game modes that will be available at launch are Fight Club- a time-based brawler with both solo and team modes, Last Stand- a round-based free for all battle royale, and finally Snatch Squad- teams fighting for special items in the arena such as gummy bears, soccer balls, or even lumps of coal. Each map has been intricately designed to accommodate various strategies and core gameplay elements. Fight Club and Last Stand, in particular, will always be refreshing when it comes to fighting due to the arena you may land in. Currently, the game supports up to 8 players in the same room with 4 additional positions available for spectators, but the devs have pondered making the game larger.

While fully eradicating the problems of online synchronization and making every round feel as rewarding as possible are aspects you would come to expect in a local multiplayer brawler, you may be wondering–what is the best aspect of Party Animals that will blow players’ socks off? The team still has a few impressive features yet to be unveiled that they are not quite ready to talk about just yet, in case the presence of corgis has not sealed the deal for you already. “We have a couple of tricks up our sleeves, but we are not going to say too much about them,” Jianyi said. “Let’s just say they might shock a lot of people.”

The PC version of Party Animals will be released on Steam by the end of 2020, with console ports set to hit later at the end of 2021. The game is currently planned to make its way to the Nintendo Switch, however, Jianyi did not specify whether the PlayStation and Xbox systems in question would be current, next-gen, or both systems. You can watch Party Animals’ official steam trailer below.

“We hope you guys can have a great time bonding with your loved ones in Party Animals,” Jianyi says.

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From Concept to Card: Behind the Art of ‘Faeria’

The developer of Faeria takes us behind the scenes of the game’s beautiful art design, discussing inspirations and techniques.

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With a loyal fanbase on PC as well as an upcoming Switch port announced in the last Indie World presentation, Faeria is a deckbuilding card game with an artistic legacy to follow. The game is packed with over 300 unique cards, each one of which features its own distinctive art. These illustrations strive to follow the traditions of fantasy worldbuilding through art, introducing their own unique spin in the process.

“From the start, we were looking at developing a modern take on the classic Faeries, the world of Brian Froud,” says Jean-Michel Vilain, CEO of Faeria developer Abrakam. Froud is primarily known today for his ethereal fantasy illustrations for the novel Faeries, which embodies a watershed moment for fantasy artwork that would define the genre for decades. With their lush and otherworldly designs, Froud’s influence is immediately apparent in Faeria’s visuals.

Faeria
Concept art for the Apex Predator creature and card

While Faeria has grown in scope, scale, and ambition since the beginning of development, Vilain acknowledges that Froud’s art was a significant influence from the very beginning. “It is surprising to know where we’ve ended up! But this is exactly where we come from and what has inspired the game’s name, Faeria.”

But that’s not to say that the team has been strictly limited to Froud’s artwork. Rather, they aim to create their own distinct brand, and thus they incorporate a broader array of inspirations. “If Brian Froud is a pillar, then Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are certainly another one,” Vilain adds. “Miyazaki was the key to finding a fresh approach to the world that we wanted to create, [and] we’ve found that his way of representing spirits was very creative and demanded to be further explored.”

Faeria
Final artwork for the “Radiance, Imperial Airship” card

Vilain acknowledges that the team used a wide range of references, “ranging from things like the tribal worlds to Ghibli anime,” but emphasizes that each team member’s individual creativity and ideas were prioritized above all. “Concept artists were given a lot of freedom on the concepts, [and] I think that’s the reason why the world of Faeria looks so rich and diverse.”

Faeria
Line art for the “Radiance, Imperial Airship” card

When it comes to choosing the artistic team to bring this fantastical world to life, Vilain clarifies that there are only two firm characteristics that the development team searches for: “Originality and coherence are the two main qualities we’re looking for in our artists.” Beyond that, Vilain says that “there isn’t any right or wrong ” that makes a good artist, beyond the fundamentals which can apply even in the increasingly digital world of art today. “What every artist needs to learn are the fundamentals such as composition or color theory. Although, with the technological advancements in painting software, we are now able to digitally sketch out the ideas on the go, so we see a rise in artists who are purely digital artists.”

“Of course, a lot of artists still paint and draw traditionally on the side,” Vilain elaborates, “but in a pipeline, it is all about streamlining the process, so many artists that were classically trained had to learn to work with various programs and gain new skills such as 3D design, to be able to keep up.”

Faeria
Research sketches for “Apex Predator”

Such diverse backgrounds and experiences form the backbone of the Faeria art team. Indeed, Vilain says that “We don’t really look at the artist’s background or at what company they used to work for.” Instead, the primary criterion is for artists whose work is “fitting Faeria’s spirit and vibe.”

The varied skillsets and specialties of Faeria’s art team allows them to flesh out its deck of cards with a swift turnaround time. Vilain explains that, “depending on the complexity of the illustration and the quantity of retakes necessary,” it takes only 2 to 5 days to bring these illustrations to life.

As Abrakam’s CEO, Vilain himself plays an intricate role in the visual and design aspects of development. Given this position, he emphasizes the intricate connection between art and gameplay. “I’m leading the design team but also working in hand with our artists in order to make sure that the gameplay is communicated with maximum impact,” Vilain says. “For instance, I would sometimes write a description of what a card illustration needs to convey its game concept, or sometimes I would help the artists build up the world’s coherence. My role is to try to make sure that everything is in good resonance: the gameplay, the style, and the audio-visual experience.”

Throughout the creative process, Vilain clarifies that gameplay and art must work together to be truly effective. When Faeria’s game designers come up with a concept, he explains, they work together with the artists to properly express gameplay concepts through visuals, and vice versa. For every new creature added to the game, Vilain explains that it boils down to a “dialogue between designers and artists” to best “convey the idea while being visually innovative and attractive.” From concept to cards, and from visuals to gameplay, every aspect of Faeria’s presentation is meant to develop an intricate fantasy world and make it come alive.

Faeria is available now on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store. It is also coming to Switch later this year.

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