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der_spudmeister Blog

Courtesy and Cowardice in Dark Souls

Why I Was an Unintentional Jerk to an Unwelcome Visitor. So, Dark Souls. Been playing it for a while now. The game is pretty good. Not great, definitely not fantastic, but still pretty good. But I'm not here to give my opinion on the game itself, you can read my user review for that. This post is for solely for a single moment I experienced with this game. Dark Souls' many features are hard to summarize and the game itself certainly doesn't bother explaining its intricacies, instead it just drops you into the deep end saying "good luck, buddy" Thank God for the Dark Souls wiki... I do need to summarize a few features to sketch the situation accurately though, so bear with me. Scattered across the game world are bonfires or, in Layman's terms, save points. These are the points where you save your game, level up, repair your own armor, refill your Estus flasks (health potions), attune magic, etc... Bonfires also have other noteworthy actions: Reverse Hollowing and Kindling. You start off as an Undead character but by sacrificing Humanity, you can reverse hollowing and become human again. You need to be human to Kindle a bonfire, which means that whenever you rest at that specific bonfire, you get more health potions. Ten instead of five, for example. Very handy indeed. Being human also means that you can interact with other players, like leaving a sign for a friend so that he/she can summon you for some co-operative play. But, in true Dark Souls fashion, this also comes with a negative side. Other players can interact with you as well: they can invade your world. So it happened for me the first time. There I was, a mere level nine, exploring the Undead Burg (the very first real section of the game) when the bonfire and exits were suddenly walled off by a misty barrier. I couldn't save. I couldn't leave. I didn't know what was happening, but I knew it was bad news. My gut feeling was quickly solidified when a message popped up, saying that someone had invaded my world. Soon thereafter, I saw this malicious-looking crusader, dressed in bulky armor with a sword that seemed like it was twice his size. A nightmarish knight hued from head to toe in a sickly red. I knew fighting him would mean my own death so I did the only thing I could do: I walked up to him and bowed. Turns out this man had no evil intentions. On the contrary. He dropped a breadcrumb trail of goodies, including an insanely powerful sword and armored leggings, demanding that I'd follow him throughout the Undead Burg by hitting me with his sword whenever I lagged behind. His hits didn't kill me, but left me near-dead nonetheless. I had to wade through unknown, enemy-filled territory to follow this altruistic but stab-happy knight. I didn't know where we were heading, but with the loot this guy was dropping for me, I didn't mind. Until the smell of barbecue reached my nostrils. Dinner was being served so I wanted to quit playing, but this generous spirit and my greed prevented me from quitting outright. I couldn't save because the bonfires were walled off, and I couldn't select the option to quit the game either because it was greyed out. I could turn the system off, but then maybe I'd lose these glorious new items. I searched online to see if there is anything I can use to banish an invading player but there is no such thing. I decided to run back to the bonfire, and to wait in front of the wall of mist in hopes of my invader getting the hint. He didn't. He kept attacking me in an attempt to get me to follow him. There was no way around it: one of us had to die. It's dog eat dog, and I was hungry for victory. And hungry in general. So, I devised a plan. I knew I couldn't take him head-on, but if this guy came back to get me when he noticed that I wasn't following him, I could lure him into a trap. I waited behind a corner near a ridge for a while. Plotting. Scheming. My fingers itching. My stomach growling. This was gonna happen. No more than two minutes passed when he turned the corner I was hiding behind. He stopped to look. He must've spotted me in the corner of his eye and started turning around to face me, but I didn't let him. Buttons were pressed, kicks were delivered. There he went, tumbling into the abyss. I killed the invader. I could keep his spoils. Above all else though, I could finally save and go eat. We have a saying here which, literally translated, means something like: "those who aren't strong have to be smart." I felt smart, but I also felt like a jerk. I've learned since then to never reverse hollowing unless I'm certain that I need the extra health potions, and then I usually let myself die at the first enemy to make sure I cannot be invaded. It's a stupid technique, I admit, but if it prevents situations like these (not being able to save and quit when I want, being a jerk to well-intending people) then so be it. Whoever you were, thank you sir, and sorry!

Eskimos, Pills and Automobiles: Composing the New HotSpot Theme Song.

*updated 23/03/2013: all links to the songs and demos have been removed since I no longer have webspace (cutting the fat off my expenses, so to speak) So, some of you may know that news editor Tom Magrino recently took over the hosting duties for GameSpot's podcast, The HotSpot. As is tradition, each host may pick his own song to open and close the HotSpot with. Former host Brendan Sinclair used a song by his brother's band The Eskimos, called "The Pills". For many, that song became synonymous with the HotSpot, to the point where hearing it in my playlist triggered my brain to go "cool, new HotSpot." But with Sinclair passing the sceptre, Magrino needed his own song and he called unto the fans to write a new HotSpot theme, but I thought I'd leave it to the pros or people in bands. I've only done a few before, and most of them were for student movies and as such, I really don't have the experience to deck out a full theme. Besides, matching The Pills would be a hard. Eventually though, I got an idea. How about a theme song that's reminiscent of the Shadows of the Damned soundtrack? To pursue that idea, I quickly punched together a demo (called "El Magrino") to see if it works as a HotSpot theme song. It didn't. Do note that this demo was recorded in under two hours so the instruments don't sound right, it isn't played very well and there aren't any computer-generated soundscapes to give it that Damned-edge. By then I had downloaded a retro gaming soundbank to make the music a little more game-y, which lead to a second demo called "It's Dangerous Out There! (Take This Umbrella)" - It got cancelled after days of toiling over 25 seconds of song and realizing I didn't even like it. Further experimentation with the retro soundbank got me a little melody for a demo that never actually came to be. The song was called "Sensei Knows Best" but I instantly felt that, despite liking the melody and sound, it really didn't fit. I did, however, end up using the same sound in my theme song submission. By this time I had noticed that plenty of people sent in genuine rock songs so I decided to go for that. Snooping through my unused riffs folder lead me to a two-year-old riff that I instantly knew I was gonna use. The first piece of the puzzle was laid. I experimented with some drum kits and bass guitar sounds and spent days on end trying to knead it into the song it is now, jumping from one instrument to the other just to get the next couple of seconds right. At a certain point I had 12 different evolutions of the same theme song. Eventually, a first complete demo was made. This demo was recorded at 104 BPM (beats per minute) but I felt like it was too fast for a theme song so I slowed it down to 98 BPM. It might not sound like much of a difference on paper, but you can definitely hear the difference when comparing the two. For the remainder of the time I spent on it, it was just polishing; fine-tuning the drum sounds, adjusting drum patterns, re-recording riffs, lowering the overdrive gain on the guitars and overall just making sure the production was smoother and more pleasant to listen to. Before settling with the final version, I had another version which has more lead guitars in it but I felt like the guitars were becoming a little too much so I threw the additional leads out. Until I was left with "Magrino Rides Again", voted to be the theme song for GameSpot's podcast The HotSpot (now available in video format) by the listeners, for which I am very thankful! Some closing facts - The software I used to record the song with; FL Studio 9 (for the drums and the bass, and the Toxic 3 plugin for the retro sound), UX2 Pod Farm (to hook my guitar to my pc and get the amp- and pedal-sounds digitally) and Mixcraft (to record my guitar and do the final mixing). - The working title of the song was j0n tech, and I kind of imagined him being a jolly, tubby, bearded internet plumber that rides to work in his internet plumber van to this tune. - The actual title came when the song was finished. I looked at the song and "Magrino Rides Again" was the first title that popped into my head, and I thought it fitted pretty well.