[yes, I’m talking about Dark Souls again – sorry!]
Expansive 3D world games often use maps, quest markers, or locked paths to direct players to their goal. However, can gameplay itself be used as an alternative navigation tool? Dark Souls tackles this challenge in three ways.
When arriving in the main landmass of the game, players are faced with two paths that, on surface, look equally viable. There are no signposts, no markers, and no map. It is only through gameplay itself, and in actually taking the incorrect path (the graveyard) that players understand which way will lead them to the goal.
Entering the graveyard, players are greeted by skeletons blocking their progression (figure 1), leading them to engage in a fight. However, it quickly becomes apparent that starting players are very under-levelled for these enemies, as they can kill the player in a couple of swipes while starting players will struggle to dent their health. The positioning of the enemies is also meaningful: arranged as a line on a very narrow path, they make escape impossible… and death unavoidable. Indeed, as highlighted by Hunter (2011), enemy placement is a useful way to help players navigate through a level.
Should players manage to progress further, they soon realise that any equipment looted in the area will be high level and require stats that are out of reach for starting characters. This reinforces the message that players may not be in the right place at this point of the game, in other words using the level and what it contains to communicate “important narrative elements to the player without disrupting gameplay with a cutscene or scripted piece of dialogue” (Solarski, 2013).
Finally, Dark Souls uses a visual clue to further warn players: other players’ bloodstains, replaying how other players died if interacted with (figure 2), are plentiful in the area. An observant player will notice their proliferation and get a sense of danger, further reinforcing, along with enemies and loot information, that they are not on the right path.
Hunter, D. (2011) ‘Directing the Player (Part 1)‘. Available at: http://www.vg-leveldesign.com/directing-the-player-p1/ (Accessed 30 January 2018).
Solarski, C. (2013) ‘Framing and Centering: Directing Player Attention in Open 3D Worlds‘. Available at: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ChrisSolarski/20130621/194798/Framing_and_Centering_Directing_Player_Attention_in_Open_3D_Worlds.php (Accessed 30 January 2018).
Dark Souls – Bloodstain (2012). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=732Uw2CCX0U (Accessed 30 January 2018).
Dark Souls – Graveyard Skeleton (no date). Available at: https://giphy.com/gifs/graveyard-fZJnz32xcHPVu (Accessed 30 January 2018).
Dark Souls – You Died (2017). Available at: http://www.manic-expression.com/triple-nerd-score-gaymer-edition-i-suck-at-dark-souls-and-this-is-not-a-bad-thing-no-really/ (Accessed 30 January 2018).