Ginger Nuts of Horror
It was the start of June 2014, and it had been a late band practice… again!
My rock band, Exit State, were making decent waves in the industry having reached the No1 slot in the most requested video charts on Kerrang TV a short while earlier, and as such, we had increased our tour dates, and that meant practice. Lots and lots of practice. More so than usual.
So, returning home, weary and hungry, sitting down to a takeaway with a few beers in tow, I fired up my Xbox 360, and, as was customary at the beginning of each month, checked what games were available via the ‘games with gold’, option.
My eyebrows lifted, my lips pursed, and I nodded my head. ‘Hmmm, Dark Souls,’ I said to myself, ‘it’s about time I gave that a go’.
Now, I had heard of Dark Souls a couple of years earlier upon its, ‘Prepare To Die’ European release. It had been introduced to me via an article from a well-known gaming website and had immediately piqued my interest with it being a ‘sword and sorcery’ type, semi-open world game. The article had also defined how insanely challenging it was, unsuitable for your average gamer (you ‘gotta love the reverse psychology of the piece) as the steep difficulty curve from the get-go, would put most off. Well, this was right up my street, I thought, and the only reason I hadn’t purchased it upon release was my crazy schedule at the time, with touring, work, and writing my debut novel Judas. Sleep was a commodity I didn’t think I needed back then… oh how wrong I found myself to be a few years down the line. But that’s a tale for another day.
So, I had started the download, relished my curry and commenced attacking my beers. To my surprise, and relief, it took only a couple of hours to download, even though I didn’t have the best internet at the time, and I decided I was going to play it a bit. I didn’t need much sleep (remember?) I was invincible (I wasn’t).
Now, ask any Dark Souls veteran, and they will all tell you the same thing; the opening few hours of the game are some of the most incredible you will experience in any of your gaming lifetime. It’s quite hard to describe in fact: the uncertainty, confusion and creeping terror as you edge your way around the starting areas, shield raised, trembling behind it, awaiting the next surprise attack from enemies that feel as though they can just ‘look-at-you’ to death. And, of course, you die. A lot. Over and over. It… is… maddening.
But something gnaws away. A feeling. That you won’t give up. That you can’t. The game grips you and clamours at your very essence, daring you to attempt the run to the first boss, and its subsequent encounter, just one… more… time. It really is maddening, and, if like me, you have a fierce and overwhelming passion for winning, the game can, and will make short work of your ‘patience-strings’, tugging at them hard, as though they were a fisherman reeling in the largest catch he has ever seen.
By the time I had fought and screamed my way to the city of Anor Londo, all the while swearing incessantly like the most foul mouthed of sailors, (another of my previous lives thanks to Her Majesty’s Royal Navy) I had already gone through two controllers; lost to the god of ‘bouncing-around-one-corner-of-my-living-room’, hurled in frustration, and I was astute in warning myself, that my wallet could not stand another egregious, rage induced, flinging of pad. I’d been warned. By myself!
And, oh wow, was Anor Londo gorgeous. My word, did it show off the game. A beautifully rendered city, bathed in the warmth of a stunning sun, and a welcome relief from the poisonous, underground gloom of Blightown, or the claustrophobic terrors of The Catacombs that, god forbid, any newbie such as me, had dared to venture into at the cost of souls.
Ahh, yes, a nice reminder. I had forgotten to mention the games currency, souls.
For anyone that doesn’t know or understand the series, souls are the games currency, earned from defeating enemies used to increase your levels and essential for health, endurance, choice of weapons, gear loadout and more if you haven’t yet figured out the games dodge mechanics.
You become obsessed with souls, with earning and keeping them, in that you may spend them to become stronger and in turn, the game obsesses with relieving you of them, ensuring that once you die, and fail to return to your bloodstain, signified by a green-glowy-glob, they disappear forever, lost to the sacrificial lamb of ‘screw-you-player’. There is nothing quite like dying to some nonsense enemy attack, that you should know better about, then rushing back to retrieve your souls and dying again to some other kind of bullshit, losing over 100,000 souls that you definitely needed in the process.
So now you can understand why I was on my third controller. Or maybe you can’t!
You see, the added problem of increasing your levels, and spending your souls in that manner, is that each time you do so, the cost increases and the amount that you require to add another level of anything increases, and as a result, you end up walking around with a bank of souls, desperate not to lose them (and I don’t mind repeating myself) to some bullshit or other. Oh, did I mention that each time you reset an area by resting at a bonfire, the games checkpoint system, all of the enemies you just killed respawn? Did I not mention that? Well… they bloody well do, and it is both irritating and flippin’ amazing in equal measures, especially if you are making a fresh run to a boss. The game is liquid rage.
Dark Souls, whether you love it or hate it, is a unique experience that nobody can deny, and has so many facets to it I could be here all day explaining them. So, what does this all have to do with horror, and what does this all have to do with me, you might ask? (you probably haven’t though!)
Well, the game genuinely defined things about me. It became something ‘That Matters’, to me, and to my writing career as the game does a number of things supremely well, better than any other game that has dared to dip their toe in its self-forged, genre.
Dark Souls does horror. And it does it very, very well. You see, by making you care about the loss of souls, and throwing in punishing enemies and dark, eerie environments, the tension and dread that creates, comes in high volumes, and those are two concepts lost in many modern day horror movies, in my humble opinion. But Dark Souls accomplishes it, as you creep around dark and confined spaces, shield up, an ear cocked, listening for heavy breathing, or the sound of rattling bones, anything to give you an edge or heads-up on the dangers you know lurk around every corner. You can’t run, or at least you can’t as an inexperienced player, as that leads to certain death, stumbling into an enemy or group of them, just waiting to wreck your day.
No area in the game is more effective at this than the Tomb of the Giants. A pitch black, downward traversing nightmare, filled with giant skeletons ready to smash your face in with enormous swords or launch you back 20ft with dragon-slaying sized arrows, sending you spiralling down to your doom. And if you are unfortunate enough to attempt the area with no light source, then the descent is tense, unbelievably so, as you feel your way around in the dark, trying not to get murdered or walk off a cliff. Oh yeah, falling to your death is a big thing in this game. In fact, if the enemies are not trying to mutilate you, horribly, horribly, then its damn environment is. I hate Dark Souls… but love it. It’s a terrible relationship.
The tension is not only confined to creeping around in the dark. If you’ve never played the game you simply cannot appreciate the heart pounding, non-stop action of boss fights. The feeling of, finally, overcoming them while the blood still pulses in your ears, your controller almost slipping out of your sweaty palms. On many occasions at the end of a fight I have flopped back into my armchair, breathing a deep sigh of relief, convinced that never again will I repeat that fight, the stress just isn’t worth it. But you do. Because that’s what Dark Souls does to you. You just can’t help it.
And so, by the time I came to pen my next novel and second in the Judas series (Judas: The Relic), the game had wormed its way into my psyche to such a degree that it was influencing the way I thought about my story’s enemies, the horror elements, and the sword fights and battles that were to be written for the immortal, sword-wielding anti-hero, Judas Iscariot.
Having recently completed the third in the series and gone through my second draft rewrites/edits, I had come to realise just how much the Souls games had influenced me while reading through a particularly convoluted fight sequence between Judas and a demon. You see, that’s what the game does, it infiltrates your headspace, affecting how you think and then, when you least expect it, there it is, Dark Souls, slapping its influence badge squarely on your chest with an undead, toothy grin.
Dark Souls matters to me. It has become an influence on how I tell certain story’s and build certain sequences. And it has definitely had a significant effect on how I build tension within a tale, by creating memories to draw on when the time is right.
Dark Souls matters. Oh, and I also get murdered a lot in PvP!
When he’s not chucking console controllers around his living room in gaming, frustration hell, author and screenwriter, Roy Bright spends his time writing novels, with two successful books already under his belt, and a third due for release August 2018.
The ex-Royal Navy Gunner-turned author, began his writing career in 2012 and has not looked back since, with his book series about an immortal, sword-wielding, Judas Iscariot having received much acclaim from fans, and critics alike.
Roy is also proud to be a Patron of the Children's Hospice Arts charity chARTUK whose amazing work aims to enrich the lives of children and young people with life limiting conditions in hospices through the creative, performing and literary Arts, enabling individual expression, creativity and communication.
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