Soulsborne series

On the Branch Gaming

In my recent time playing Dark Souls for On the Branch Gaming, we discussed several ideas for ways that the game could have been improved. I'm not sure if From Soft will be making any more Dark Souls or Bloodborne games (at least not anytime soon), but if they do, here's a list of some things that I'd like to see them improve. At the very least, we can consider this to be a retrospective, "How could they have done it better?" brainstorm, and any other developers who want to try their hand at a Souls-Borne-style game could maybe try these alternative designs out for their games.

This isn't a wishlist of changes that I'd like to see in specific games. I've already done those for each of the Souls games:

Some of these posts (and the ideas presented in them) haven't aged very well, but I do stand by most of the suggestions offered in the above posts. At the very least, they offer perspective on how my own perceptions of the games have evolved over time.

Table of Contents

More informative UI

The UI is something that could definitely use some work. Each game in the series made minor tweaks to the UI - sometimes improving the overall experience, other times seeming to regress to a clunkier interface. But there are some things that probably should have been present, if not in Demon's Souls, then at least by Dark Souls or Dark Souls II. Some of these things seem so obvious that it boggles my brain that nobody at FROMSoft thought of them. Or maybe they were always items near the bottom of the priority list, that the team simply ran out of time to ever implement.

Collection log

Something that persitently bothered me across all the Souls-Borne games was the intrusive item-pickup notification. That giant, black box sitting almost dead in the center of the screen, partially blocking your view of your character and his or her immediate surroundings, did not need to be there. If you pick up an item in the heat of battle, then having to press X to dismiss it could be just enough of a distraction to get you killed.

Dark Souls - item pick-up
While playing Dark Souls with On the Branch Gaming,
I was reminded how distracting the item-pickup notifications are.

Instead of this big notification box, I propose an alternative: put a smaller notification in the corner of the screen somewhere that vanished after a few seconds. Since we don't want to miss knowing what we just picked up, the game should also include an item-collection log in the menu. Heck, it wouldn't even need to be a separate screen, it could just be a sorting option in the existing menu: sort by recently-acquired...

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Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - title

FROM Soft has an erratic track record with how cryptic it can be to find the DLC in the Dark Souls and Bloodborne games. The first Dark Souls required an absolutely arcane process that you'd probably never discover if you didn't already know how to do it. Dark Souls II apparently had its three DLC planned form the beginning, as the vanilla game included shrines for accessing each DLC - at least one of which is in plain view and can't be missed. Bloodborne put a prompt on the screen telling you where to go, but accessing the DLC still required the player to counter-intuitively interact with a specific entity in the game world. And Dark Souls III's first DLC added a character that you could talk to who teleported you to the DLC.

So how would The Ringed City implement its entrance to the DLC? Would it require some arcane process of killing optional enemies in optional areas? Would a dialogue box just pop up to tell the player where to go? If you ask me, The Ringed City might have the laziest and most boring access point of them all. An extra bonfire just appears at one of two specific points, which teleports you to the new area. It makes the whole thing feel like a very detached afterthought.

Dark Souls III: the Ringed City - Ariandel bonfire
If you don't want to wait till the end of the game, you can access the DLC early by beating Ariandel.

If there's one common thread for the DLC, it's that it always requires the player to be teleported across space and/or time. Continuing that tradition is disappointing. I was really hoping for the DLC to be integrated into the actual game world -- that it would reveal some previously-blocked-off path in some obscure or interesting region of the map that would simply allow the player to walk to the DLC, thus revealing the game world to be much larger than originally believed. Like maybe defeating the Stray Demon gatekeeper above Farron could have opened the gate and revealed a path to the DLC. Or the Kiln of the First Flame could have a new path leading down into the Dreg Heap. Or you could descend into the chasm below the Profaned Capital. Something like that.

Maybe as a fun easter egg for fans, the access point could have been hidden behind a statue sitting behind Andre the Blacksmith in Firelink Shrine. But no, it's just an extra, out-of-place bonfire. Further, the fact that this expansion is an extension of the plot from Ariandel, and the very anti-climactic nature of Ariandel, makes it seem like Ariandel should have been the first act of this expansion, but was separated out into its own expansion for ... whatever reason...

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The Chicago Bears confused analysts and fans Thursday night when they traded up with San Francisco to draft North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky 2nd overall in the 2017 NFL draft. Analysts, fans, and even myself thought that the Bears would likely take one of the elite defensive players such as Jamaal Adams (safety), Marshon Lattimore (corner), or Solomon Thomas (defensive end). It was unlikely that Myles Garrett would still be on the board at no. 3, but at least one or two of those other players would be.

Bears trade up to draft Mitch Trubisky
The Chicago Bears traded up with the 49ers to draft NCU QB Mitch Trubisky no. 2 overall.

The Bears desperately need help in their defensive secondary, especially considering the elite passers that are in their division (Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, and maybe even Teddy Bridgewater if he returns healthy). They did pick up Prince Amukamara (CB), Markcus Cooper (CB), and Quintin Demps (S) in free agency to add some depth, but they still need more help at those positions. If a safety or corner wasn't available, then an elite pass rusher that could pressure those rival QBs would be the next best thing. The Bears offense actually moved the ball pretty well towards the end of the season, scoring 20 or more points in 4 of their last 5 games. The problem was their defensive was giving up 30 or 40 points.

I'm not complaining about drafting Trubisky. I like the pick, and the Bears need a quarterback. I just think that the Bears have severely overpaid for it considering their earlier offseason moves, and that a defensive star should have been higher priority. Everyone seemed to think that the 49ers were going for Solomon Thomas -- or maybe Jamaal Adams. And, in fact, the 49ers did use their number 3 overall pick to get Thomas after all. So it seems (on the surface) that Trubisky would still be there for the Bears at number 3 if the Bears wanted him.

NFL analysts and fans were dumbfounded by the Bears' first round draft trade.

Maybe the Bears were tipped off that someone like the Jaguars were offering a trade with San Fran to get Trubisky? Maybe the Jags were worried about Chicago picking Trubisky at number 3 and wanted to leapfrog to get him? Or maybe the Jets were looking to trade up? That's the only way that this trade makes sense. Or maybe the 49ers outright swindled the Bears? The Bears gave up this year's third and fourth round picks, as well as another third round pick next year, so this was a pretty costly trade considering they only moved up one spot, and the 49ers got a super-sweet deal. They got the guy they wanted all along, and they get two more mid-draft picks to fill other needs or as capital to trade.

What this tells me is that the Bears still have no real clue what they're doing at quarterback. They already committed a huge amount of money to get backup quarterback Mike Glennon ...

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Bloodborne: the Card Game

I've written quite a few wishlist and feature proposals for video games on this blog. But today I'm going to do something that I don't think I've done before: suggest ideas for a board game expansion. In this case, I'm going to outline some ideas for my own user-made expansion ("mod"?) for Bloodborne: the Card Game. An official expansion may be due out later this year, so perhaps designer Eric Lang might come across this post and incorporate some of these ideas.

In my review of the card game, I mentioned that the card game adaptation is very simple, that a lot of stuff from the source material seemed strangely absent, and that it almost seemed as though the designers were leaving the door open for some easy expansion material. So I'm going to go ahead and try my hand at creating some of that material.

This isn't the first time I've ever tried my hand at modding a board game, but it is the first time that I've publicly posted my ideas. One of my better ideas (I think) was to try to write a series of national agendas for each of the factions in Axis & Allies, which would be drawn in secret at the start of the game. Only the faction(s) that fulfilled their agendas (and won the war) would be considered victorious. The idea was to make the game more interesting for more than just two players. Probably my most successful mod idea was for the Battlestar Galactica board game (specifically the Exodus expansion). Nobody in our BSG group ever liked playing as Laura Roslin, as we didn't feel that her benefits offset the handicap of having to sacrifice cards from her hand. In order to make her feel more viable, we all agreed that instead of having to discard two cards, Roslin could chose to take a trauma token. This introduced the risk that she might suddenly die (if a blood stain was drawn), but also allowed the player to keep her cards in her hand if they were going to be needed.

So let's see if I can come up with some workable expansion suggestions for Bloodborne...

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Bloodborne - the Card Game

It seems like everything has a board game these days. I wouldn't think that a license like Dark Souls or Bloodborne would warrant a board / card game adaptation, but apparently, I'm just not creative enough. The kickstarted Dark Souls board game is shaping up to be something similar to Descent, and is slated for release later this year. Bloodborne, on the other hand, already has a card game sitting on the shelf of a hobby store near you since last year. A copy of the game showed up under my Christmas tree this year.

Bloodborne: the Card Game Is very easy to learn, and it plays very fast and smooth! This is good, since most of my games are epic-length, 4-plus-hour games that we rarely have time to play. So it's always good to find a new game that people like and which can be played in an hour or less. Our first learning game of Bloodborne (including reading the rules) took about an hour and a half. We had planned on playing a sample round to learn the rules and then doing a mulligan on the game, but we didn't even need to because the game process is so simple that we all grasped the basic mechanics pretty much immediately.

"Selfish Phlebotomy": A game of kill-stealing

The game is a competitive card drafting game in which players sort-of cooperate to defeat a series of monsters, but compete against each other to score the most points. It's basically a Bloodborne-themed reskin of Cutthroat Caverns. Thematically, each player takes on the role of a hunter, the group fights a series of monsters in a Chalice Dungeon, and the hunters acquire Blood Echoes (points) by fighting and killing the monsters. Blood Echoes are directly earned by damaging a monster with a weapon attack. Each player who deals damage to a monster in the round in which the monster is killed also gains one or more trophies (based on the strength of the monster), which are converted to Blood Echoes at the end of the game for scoring.

Bloodborne the Card Game - Hunter's Dream
You're playing for Blood Echoes, which are lost if you die - unless you bank them in the Hunter's Dream.

The major mechanical gimmick of this game (and the one that is most inspired by the source material, and which most separates it from Cutthroat Caverns) is that when a player's character dies, that character loses all of his or her collected Blood Echoes, and then resurrects to fight again the next round. However, a player can use an action during the round to return to the Hunter's Dream and bank their collected Blood Echoes so that they cannot be lost. While in the Hunter's Dream, a player can also select new cards to add to his or her hand, and going to the Hunter's Dream is the only way to cycle your previously-played cards back into your hand. The drawback, of course, is that you can't participate in the fight and gain more blood. It's a risk / reward mechanic, and it works very well.

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