Dark Souls was one of my favourite experiences to date. Its music, combat and overall design was used to make you feel small and insignificant so as you progressed through the game, your skill and dedication felt empowering by beating all odds. When I got Dark Souls 2, I was eager to play it and reminisce in that experience… and it delivered. The experience provided interesting choices to tackle any situation.
One of the changes in the games design were the levels. In Dark souls, the levels were vastly intricate providing a multitude of paths for the player to manoeuvre through the environment and explore every nook and cranny. In Dark souls 2, the paths within the environment and more streamline but still provide the choice to find the best solution to a situation. The levels are more linear however combined with the other game systems like durability, levelling and combat, it still provides a challenging experience.
One of the changed mechanics in the game was durability. In Dark Souls, you items would slowly degrade until they broke which the player needed to go to a blacksmith in order to repair them. In Dark Souls 2, items degrade far more rapidly until it breaks. Items can be restored when siting at the bonfire unless the item is broken, then it needs to be fixed at a blacksmith. This added a new level of depth to the experience with managing equipment, however it also outputs a metric that a designer can use to create the situations between bonfires . When using metrics to design, Rational Level Design is an effective tool when designing challenging in levels.
Rational Level Design or RLD is a method of creating a game by objectively assessing an element’s difficulty from user testing to achieve consistent interactive experience. The designer can construct the experience knowing how a player’s likelihood of winning or failing in a situation from metrics like the distance traveled and enemies fought. RLD systems use a variety of different metrics to aid the design of a level.
Another metric in the game is souls. In the game the player must collect souls to level stats and items, Buying consumables and maintaining equipment. Souls in Dark Souls 2 are a finite resource as players can only kill an enemy 12 times before they stop re-spawning. Having a limited metric allows the designer to calculate the amount of souls that the player would have likely collected from user tested. Then the data would be used to test a variety of character builds against the challenge of the situation.
Combat in the game is diverse and utilizes different strategies to best suit the situation. Any chosen class, players are able to work and use the environment to over come the situations. They also give interesting choices with risks and rewards to the player even though the level is mostly linear. The dragon shrine has a good example for this.
The first section of Dragon Shrine, before the giant stair case is mostly linear with 2 paths that lead back to the platform before the stairs. A player that is damage resistant would be able to challenge the knights at close range but they still have options. The knights attacks are slow and can be dispatched in multiple ways. The player can fight and dodge as the platforms give enough room for the player to effectively move around, also as the knights cannot fit through doors, so the player can attack the knight using the door to block the knight with timely attacks.
If the class would not be able to withstand close quarters combat with the knight they could attack each one from a distance or they could risk running past 3 knights to get to the turret which allows the player to see and attack all 5 knights in the area without getting attacked. These levels are less complex to Dark Souls but still contain a variety of choice and provides challenge.
By using RLD systems. The designers can create a challenging environment from user data. With the These constraints on the metrics, a designer can build a carefully crafted situation to suit a variety of different character classes and player choices.
I have touched on elements on Rational Level Design by using The Rational Design Handbook: An Intro to RLD by Luke McMillan. If you are looking for more information on creation of RLD systems, I would highly recommend having a look at this great resource.