Friday, September 13, 2013

DUST 514: The Dark Side of 1.4

Before I continue with my DUST tutorial, it would be remiss of me not to mention some of the things that don't endear me to the game, now at version 1.4. Despite the fact that I've been playing for all of a month (or maybe because of it), I have definitely formed some very strong opinions about things that I see as just plain wrong about the game.

Matchmaking

This is the single biggest problem with DUST. Current matchmaking results in heavily unbalanced team matchups and lead to something called "Proto-stomping."

Proto-stomping occurs when players who have been playing this game the longest (many from the original closed betas last summer) come online with their best prototype dropsuits and weapons and just stomp the shit out of the other team. As near as I can tell, this happens because DUST's matchmaking wasn't taking into account the total "attack power" of a team prior to the most recent 1.4 patch.

Post-patch, Scotty (the new matchmaking AI) still has a lot of bugs and issues. While Scotty now appears to be trying to balance out teams by their hitting power, this is occurring on a team based level - which in my opinion doesn't offer enough granularity. You can have a whole team of people equipped in average equipment paired up with a team full of people with low end equipment and one proto-equipped squad. That proto-equipped team will likely still murder you.

As a beginner player, if you get placed into a team where many people are running advanced and proto gear, you're likely to also get killed repeatedly as the team on the other side will have many players you just can't kill. Let's not forget the arbitrary 1500 War Point cap for beginner players to be promoted out of Academy (training grounds) into the general populace. I see this as perhaps the single biggest reason for proto-stomping. People proto-stomp because they can get a lot of points from easy kills to keep leveling up their characters.

As I see it, the only way matchmaking can be fixed is for the AI to gain greater granularity all around. Instead of matching up teams by total attack power, they need to make sure that each side is balanced down to the individual player level. Proto teams should be matched up against other proto teams and they can have at it. I think less people will be tempted to proto-stomp (due to the ISK cost of the equipment involved) when they know they are likely to incur a huge financial risk by playing this way.

Next, I think that points gained in battle should be relative to the player. If you are in proto gear and kill a newbie you should get less points because it was an easy kill. But if you get killed by a newbie in proto gear, the newbie should get more points because you're worth more. This will also dissuade proto-stomping because people in proto-gear won't be able to quickly grind points by preying on weaker players.

Finally, I think that new players need to be able to remain in Academy far longer than the 1500 War Point cap. I think that number should be closer to 20000 minimum or perhaps have a time limit such as a few weeks in Academy matches. This gives players a chance to learn the intricacies of the game and continue to be competitive against other people that are similarly matched in gear and ability. New players should be given an option to play in Academy matches or venture out into the general populace as they see fit.

Vehicular Manslaughter
 

One of the biggest complaints prior to the 1.4 patch was what was commonly referred to as "murder-taxis." Murder-taxis are LAVs, basically jeeps, that are driven around by players and used to hit other players for kills. In my 30 days of playing, I've seen players rack up ridiculous numbers of kills per game many times in the 20's and up mainly by driving around in a jeep. Get a clue! DUST is a FIRST PERSON SHOOTER, not GTA on steroids!

Post 1.4, the effect of the murder-taxi has been toned down a bit. Where you used to be able to kill people at almost any speed by hitting them, now murder-taxis need to be traveling at full speed in order to kill. While this is a big improvement, it doesn't go far enough in my view.

What happens to a moving vehicle when they hit a man sized object at speed? They get totaled - that's what happens in the real world. These murder-taxis are hitting players in armored and shielded dropsuits. You'd think they should take a lot more damage than what they are taking now. I have no issue if you get killed being run over by a tank, because that makes sense. But getting killed by a LAV and then watching that jeep merrily drive away makes my blood boil.

I will state the obvious again: DUST is primarily a shooter and people should play it that way. LAV's are support vehicles, and they should be used to support other ground vehicles and provide fast ground transport for troops. If a player decides to hit an armored and shielded opponent, the LAV should take the appropriate amount of damage based on speed of impact, up to the point where a full speed hit on a single player could possibly total the LAV. Again this should dissuade people from driving their way through a shooting game.

WMDs

Being a shooter, DUST will basically survive or fail based on the balancing of the various weapons available to players. Post 1.4, there are issues with two weapons: Mass Drivers and Laser rifles. Prior to the 1.4 patch, laser rifles had iron sights and were not nearly as powerful as they are now post 1.4. Now, you get a nice laser dot that tells you where your shot will land, and the power of laser rifles has been amped up.

My main character is running an advanced medium assault suit. It has just over 400 points in armor and 160 shields. I find myself getting killed with about a half-dozen on target hits by laser rifles. That just doesn't feel right. I have two starter characters in basic suits and they get killed with about 3 decent hits! If you make the laser rifle easier to hit with, you should reduce the damage so it takes more hits to kill.

Another weapon that continues to grief all current players are mass drivers. They are basically grenade launchers. However, in their current form they might as well be highly mobile tank turrets. The cycle rate, ammo count and splash damage combine to allow basically one player in a strategic location to wipe out entire squads.

I don't mind the splash damage because grenades do splash damage, I can live with that. If you take a direct hit from a grenade you die. But I can't live with the fact that you can plaster an area with about 2 mass driver shots per second. It doesn't take much skill to kill with a mass driver, and the current setup allows a player running a mass driver to rack up a lot of kills very quickly.

In my opinion, they should reduce the cycle rate to about 1/2 to 1/3 what it is now, reduce the ammo count and also increase loading times for the weapons in order to balance them out. These restrictions will ensure that you will actually need more skill to kill with this weapon rather than being able to kill by taking pot shots at other players.

There are other issues and bugs, but they are understandable given that the game is provided free of charge and that it is continually being patched, changed and hopefully improved. Despite these concerns and my personal play experience, I have generally enjoyed this game. It is my hope that CCP do a better job listening to the concerns of players and dealing with them in a timely manner. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Post-Jobs Apple is in serious trouble

Say what you will about Steve Jobs, but the man was a visionary. Somehow, despite all his detractors and against huge odds, he was able to transform Apple from a computer company into a media conglomerate. Make no mistake, Apple has been out of the hardware business for a long time now as most of their revenue is driven by purchases from iTunes and the App Store. Apple's hardware is now only a reason for people to consume content provided by Apple's online stores.

However, Apple under Tim Cook seems to be digging itself into serious trouble. The first, and in my opinion the worst, faux-pas is their continuing lawsuits against Samsung globally. Public reaction to this continuing legal morass has ranged from tepid to outright ridicule and has done more to drive consumers to Samsung products than any other single factor I can think of. From a public relations standpoint, Apple accusing Samsung of being unoriginal copycats, have highlighted the fact that Apple is itself even more guilty of this than their competitor.

Consider that four product generations have now passed from the iPhone 4 to the just announced iPhone 5S without much in the way of originality or change. Except for the slightly larger 4" screen on the iPhone 5 series, each successive generational product has been largely incremental and rather forgettable. With each successive generation, consumers are complaining about the lack of product leadership that marked Apple under Steve Jobs, but Apple seems to be out to lunch. Where is the surprise, the flash, the excitement of past product launches?

The industrial design for the iPhone seems permanently stuck in neutral as Apple's preference is to play it safe rather than go for something startlingly fresh or new. And despite the larger 4" screen on the 5/5S, the 5-inch plus large screen market pioneered by Samsung has largely passed Apple by. Even in Asia where consumers have much smaller hands, everyone appears to prefer the larger screen Samsung (and Android smartphones in general) over Apple's offerings. Big screens are in, but Apple seems oblivious or grudgingly resistant to this market trend.

The second mistake has probably impacted Apple from an operational standpoint. Samsung isn't just a competitor to Apple in the marketplace, they are also a huge semiconductor manufacturer and vendor of strategic components and services. Samsung provides foundry services, and manufactures DRAM, FLASH, advanced displays (AMOLED anyone?), and all the other various bits and pieces that go into smartphones and tablets.

All of Apple's CPUs prior to the A6 were manufactured for Apple by Samsung Semiconductor. A large portion of the DDR DRAM and FLASH memory were also provided by Samsung since Samsung is the world's largest supplier of memory products with 50% global market share. Apple is still the single largest consumer of mobile memory and FLASH products in the world.

While I don't know the extent of the impact this has had to Apple's sourcing and logistics, I can safely say the impact isn't zero. If Samsung really wanted to put the kibosh on Apple, they could refuse to sell DRAM or FLASH to them, or raise the price as there is not enough supply in the world to satisfy Apple from the balance of remaining suppliers. Smart move on Apple's part? I think not.

And finally, yesterday Apple announced the new iPhone 5S and 5C. The 5C was rumored to be a potential Trojan horse for Apple to win back lost market share by adding a "low cost" model to their product lineup. However, pricing revealed that off contract the 5C is almost as expensive as the "regular" iPhones. Who would want to pay for something that expensive made out of plastic? Apple completely missed the boat and squandered a strategic opportunity to address their shrinking market share in the face of Android's assault.

And that's not all. The 5S comes in three colors now and none of them are the classic black or white which has become the trademark colors for all iPhones. Would it have hurt Apple to add three new colors in addition to the classic black and white?

When Jobs passed away, Tim Cook assured us all that Steve Jobs' influence in future product designs would continue to be felt for some time to come. However, given what's been going on lately at Apple, it's hard to say if Tim Cook is going strictly by Jobs' playbook or has actually been second guessing his work. What we do know is that Apple doesn't look as surefooted as when Jobs was at the helm.

I've used iPhones for many years and also have an iPad and iPod Touch. But lately, I've found myself less and less enchanted by the prospect of spending a premium amount of money for virtually the same thing as I already have. For my money, my next smartphone will probably be an Android device.

DUST 514: 30 days and counting...

I have been playing DUST 514 for about one month now, and in that time I've created 4 characters and 2 separate login accounts on PSN, due mainly to ongoing realizations about how to take the best advantage of the game's framework and rules. While the shooter mechanics are pretty straightforward, the game is quite complex when you consider all the various options available to you as a player.

The first character I had created lasted all of 48 hours. I quickly realized that the starting 500,000 skill points were incorrectly allocated across too many items resulting in very little progress on any given front. There isn't much in the way of a tutorial for this game and you are tossed into an environment with a pretty steep learning curve.

The three main categories that would concern new players are Dropsuit Command, Dropsuit Upgrades and Weaponry. I quickly realized that I had wastefully allocated my starting skill points into too many skills. None of them made much of an impact at low levels and it would take me at least 2 weeks to get enough points to start to make corrections. Oops.

My second character fared much better and has been the main character I've been playing for the past month. I went with an Assault class and skilled into the Gallente Medium Advanced Assault Dropsuit off the bat. Truth be told, I'm not the best FPS player so I figured the Gallente dropsuits which emphasize more armor would be a good place to start.

While more armor kept me alive a little bit longer, I still got killed a lot. I came to the realization that situational awareness and cover are actually more important than how much shields and armor you have. Keeping track of where you are, versus where the enemy is, as well as making sure that you shoot from cover and have someplace to safely duck behind while your shields/armor regenerate is much more important to staying alive than being built like a tank.

This led me to making my third character about 20 days into playing DUST. As an experiment, I decided to switch things up a bit. Instead of going for a good dropsuit first, I decided to directly level my weaponry for more damage out of the gate. At this point I found that I was getting better at watching what was going on both in battle and on my HUD, so I figured I could give up better protection for more weapon damage.

The result was that I was actually scoring better early on as I was dealing more damage, despite the crappy basic dropsuit. The key was avoiding situations that would surely get you killed. This proves that playing smarter actually keeps you alive longer despite the fact that I had crappy armor. Again, cover and situational awareness are key to surviving.

Also, for my third character I went with a female since I was told that female characters are physically smaller than their male counterparts and therefore make them a bit harder to hit. In theory it sounded good, but in practice, I haven't noticed too much of a difference as most of the shooting is done at fairly close ranges. The hit detection in DUST 514 seems a bit suspect, to me at least.

I chose to go with a Caldari suit for my third character. Caldari suits emphasize shields over armor, which is the exact opposite of Gallente dropsuits. While the Gallente suit can make you a little tougher to kill, armor regenerates more slowly than shields. With enough shields and a higher level shield regenerator, you can quickly alternate between fire and cover. On a Gallente suit, once your shields are gone every hit penetrates armor and that takes a lot longer to regenerate.

And finally, I started my fourth character on a new PSN account today. The reason is that while you are allowed to play up to three characters per PSN account on DUST 514, only one character can be assigned to receive passive skill points. Passive skill points accrue at about 1,000 points per hour so you get 24,000 free points every day. With both my second and third characters on the same PSN account, I have to choose which one gets the passive SP bonus. Putting my fourth character on a separate PSN account means that it gets the passive bonus separately from my main account.

Also for my fourth character, I decided to make what is called an Assault/Logi. Logi (short for Logistics) characters can easily rack up a lot of points during battle by providing essential support services, other than just straight killing the enemy. Logis heal teammates, repair their armor/shields, repair vehicles etc. These actions give additional points not available to straight assault or heavy class characters.

Logis can be a little hard to play at the beginning. In order to be effective, you have more equipment you need to level up above and beyond your primary weapon. However, in the long run, you will consistently score more points than other character classes that score based only on killing the other side.

DUST 514 has a massive tech/skill tree for each of the 4 races present in the game. While choosing any particular race doesn't affect anything other than your starting location within the DUST/EVE universe, the dropsuits of each of the 4 races vary quite a bit. If you further consider the different classes such as assault, anti-armor, sniper, logistics and heavies, then there is a very wide range of options that you can skill into to optimize each of these classes.

As mentioned previously, the main categories important for the beginning player are Dropsuit Command, Dropsuit Upgrades and Weaponry. Dropsuit Command determines what class of dropsuit you skill into, i.e. light, medium or heavy; and also the level, i.e. basic, advanced or prototype.

You can choose the dropsuit of any race, but you really should focus on the suit that would be optimum for the class and role you plan to take on the battlefield. It takes a long time to move from basic to advanced and finally prototype suits so for the first 2-3 months, you're going to be stuck with leveling your one suit.

Dropsuit upgrades affect and optimize the different abilities of the various dropsuits. There are skills for increasing the effectiveness of armor and shields as well as core system upgrades that affect things such as available CPU/PG and allows you to use equipment such as active scanners, drop uplinks and nanohives or improve skills such as hacking which is required to capture resources on the battlefield.

Finally the Weaponry skill determines the class and type of weapon you can use. Weapons are separated into several categories including light weapons which cover the various types of assault rifles, sidearms which cover pistols and SMGs, and finally heavy weapons such as the heavy machine gun or forge guns.

As you can see, there is a huge amount of choice and customization available for every player to create a character suited to their playing style. In my next update, I'll get into the various classes and how they work together on the battlefield.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

DUST 514 First Impressions

Recently, I decided to give DUST 514 a whirl after watching some gameplay videos on YouTube. I also wanted to make some updates to my original blogpost here.

First of all, DUST 514 is a completely free to play MMOFPS. Most everything you can purchase through the use of Aurum (AUR) can be earned and purchased with ISK. Aurum and ISK are two types of in-game currency.

Aurum is purchased using real money, while ISK is earned from battling in game. That said, there are some things which you can only purchase with Aurum using real money: Blueprints and Active/Passive SP (Skill Point) Boosters.

Blueprints for various in-game items give you an infinite number of that item which will never disappear. Non-blueprint items can be purchased with ISK but are consumed during gameplay. When your clone dies in battle, everything that the clone was equipped with for battle are lost with it.

Boosters are available for varying periods of time and come in two types: Passive and Active. Passive boosters increase the rate at which you earn SP's when you are not actively in battle. This carries over regardless of whether you are online or not. Active boosters increase the SPs you earn in battle.

Why are boosters important? Because DUST 514 has a very tech-heavy skill tree. You must use ISK to purchase training in order to use specific items and use SPs to train up those skills as prerequisites for any equipment beyond the most basic default militia equipment. Earning SP more quickly will allow you to advance to better equipment earlier.

Each skill has five levels (from 1-5) which requires various amounts of SP to increase. More advanced equipment in game require various combinations of skills and levels of training in order to unlock for use.

As you might have guessed, everything from dropsuits to weapons, modules and augmentations require training to use. This system and the elaborate tech-tree give a decidedly RPG bent to what might otherwise have been just another space-themed shooter. The amount of choice is staggering and allows you to customize your dropsuit, equipment and weapons to best complement your style of play.

The central piece of equipment in your arsenal is your dropsuit. The dropsuit provides armor and shield protection for battle, and have optional module slots that allow you to customize the performance of the dropsuit. Dropsuits come in three variations: Light, Medium and Heavy and are useful for different player classes.

Dropsuits also have PG and CPU limitations which affects play-balancing. Each module or weapon you equip requires some amount of power and compute cycles so creating a combat capable suit is based managing various tradeoffs. You try to optimize your dropsuit for your style of play using available equipment and try to keep it within the PG/CPU limits of each suit.

More advanced suits usually offer more equipment slots and have higher PG/CPU limits to allow you to use more or better equipment. In this case, SP grinding is much like the level grinding you find in many RPGs. The skill points and ISK you earn allow you to continue to upgrade your combat effectiveness.

So for new players of DUST 514, their primary goal at the start of the game should be to try to get to advanced or even prototype dropsuits before investing heavily in upgrading equipment or weapons. Everything you can or can't use depends on the dropsuit, so that is the place to focus 100% of your early effort.

I have settled on level 3 (Advanced) medium assault suit as my first goal. The assault suit can be customized for Assault, Sniper or Anti-Armor roles. You can also go for medic/logistics builds with an Assault suit. However if you want to specialize as a healing or engineer class, the better choice would be to go with a logistics skill adaptation (as opposed to an assault skill) as logistics suits usually have the most slots available for equipment and modules.

So far DUST 514 has been an interesting twist on the shooter genre. I will add more information on various suit adaptations and classes in my next blog, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Packrats and Gaming

I am not a packrat... I am not a packrat


Some of you are probably already wondering what packrats have to do with gaming. Of course, I don't use the word in the literal sense; I am a self-professed packrat, but in a figurative sense. I generally loathe to throw things away despite the obvious fact that the item in question has generally outlived its usefulness.

I'm willing to bet many of you reading this can identify with this sentiment. We've all been faced with situations where we thought, "... if I'd only kept that so and so then I could have easily taken care of this." So somewhere in the back of my mind, there is a little voice telling me that someday a situation will present itself when this item would come in handy. So I pack it away against such a day.

This habit extends to my gaming as well. Over the past 8 years, I've picked up probably over 130+ console titles for my Xbox 360, and a good half-dozen for my PS3. I got the PS3 rather late in this console cycle so I haven't purchased as many titles for it. This in addition to some PC purchases, and I've got a pretty huge collection. In fact, I've been collecting games since the good ol' DOS days when all my gaming was done on the PC.

I am normally quite busy and don't necessarily have a lot of time for gaming. My gaming comes in spurts, sometimes on weekends but normally during long holidays. Still I regularly pick up highly rated games, again, against the day that I have enough time to play them.

I live in Taiwan, and the local distributors will only carry a limited number of newly released games due to the size of the local market. Unlike the US where you can order online or find older games in bargain bins, generally when a newly released game sells out here, you're not likely to see it again. So by necessity as much as by habit, I will pick up a good game even if I don't have time to play it right away.

At current count, I'm looking at about 100+ games I haven't played yet and next gen hardware is just around the corner. I'm not planning on buying a next-gen console this holiday season. There are likely hardware and manufacturing issues on these new consoles which will take at least a few months to iron out, so in all likelihood I'll probably bite by summer or fall of next year.

That gives me about a year to go through all these games, and there will still be more games to get before this year is out: XCOM Declassified, GTA V, the next COD and Battlefield 4, and titles which will come to both current and next-gen machines such as Titanfall and Bungie's Destiny.

I've got years and years worth of great games to go through and I'll certainly enjoy all of it, but this packrat mentality of mine certainly doesn't make things any easier for my gaming habit.




Sunday, July 21, 2013

Time in a Bottle

 I'll be back! (and other famous last words)

General Douglas MacArthur makes good on his promise to return to the Philippines during WWII

I return to my orphaned blog nearly two years to the day since my last post. At the time I had big plans for content and updates, mainly because of my own personal interests with regards to gaming and tech and specifically because I had a lot of time on my hands. I had always been a super-consumer of tech and gaming news, and I felt that I also had something positive I could contribute back to the the community in this regard.

I launched the blog with the intention that it would be my little corner of the web where I could occasionally climb up on my soapbox and talk about things that mattered to me and may also be of interest to a wider audience in general. I would post what I felt were newsworthy items, provide some analysis or commentary, and talk about games and tech. Although I only managed to squeak past a dozen posts, what is present is a good representation of the vision I had for my blog.

Then, REAL LIFE (tm) caught up with me and, well, we know the old saying about the best laid plans...

 

A blast from the past


Last night I had spent the better part of an hour revisiting my original posts and discovered that they made for a good time capsule. The posts covered a very short period of time, and they had captured what in my mind were newsworthy or discussion worthy items of the period in question. The intervening two years neatly encapsulated these posts and allowed me to view them with 20/20 hindsight.

In the quickly changing technology and gaming landscape, industry observers and pundits  alike have a hard time making predictions based on current trends with any amount of accuracy even months out, much less for a period of years. What I found most interesting about some of my posts, was how prophetic some of them actually turned out to be.

The next next-gen


On the matter of next-gen hardware, I think I got most of it right - much to my surprise. Back in 2011, much of the gaming press was still casting about trying to figure out when the next, next-gen was going to arrive. Estimates ranged from holiday 2012 all the way up to 2017. In my commentary and analysis of Nintendo's Wii-U, I predicted that both Microsoft's and Sony's next-gen consoles would be out probably by 2013 and latest by 2014.
 
I was also spot on regarding the Wii-U's (mis)fortunes to date. Nintendo's Wii-U sales have been lackluster and it suffers from the same issues facing the previous generation Wii - lack of content from third parties and first party developers - which I predicted would be a problem for Nintendo. And now that Microsoft and Sony are launching real next-gen hardware with lots of content during their launch windows this holiday season, I see the Nintendo ship slowly sinking under its own weight.

It's all about the games


I started this blog with an initial post on the XCOM reboot by 2K Games. XCOM is a series very near and dear to my heart and to the hearts of many gamers now in their 30's and 40's. It was a simple game to grasp, but like any good game it was difficult to master. There was a lot of concern with the direction that 2K was taking this franchise and I put in my two cents worth on what I thought 2K needed to do to to make things right with the XCOM fanbase. 

At the time, there was a lot of concern that 2K was going to make a shooter with the XCOM license but not provide the game with the strategic and role-playing elements that made the original XCOM series a critical success. In the intervening two years, 2K has reworked the original concept into The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, due out next month.


The Evolution of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified courtesy IGN

Recent trailers during and after E3 show a very polished third person perspective shooter, but with strategic and role-play elements necessary for a proper XCOM branded game. While the focus has changed from being the overall commander to that of a battlefield commander, the inclusion of real-time shooter mechanics create a more frenetic and fast paced game with a sense of real urgency. If anything, the real-time battles are even more visceral and immediate.

We even got an updated turn-based XCOM from Firaxis which came out of left field to become one of the best games of 2012. The first time I heard of this development was well into 2012 and long after I had stopped blogging; but just the same, I'm very glad Firaxis was able to create a modern XCOM game for the current generation of gamers, many of whom knew nothing about this seminal franchise.

Firaxis' XCOM Enemy Unknown gameplay, a modern update to a seminal classic

Looking back, I'm really quite amazed at how relevant some of my posts still are, two years after they were made.



Saturday, July 23, 2011

Demon's Souls Revisted

Demon's Souls is a very unforgiving RPG released on the PS3 back in 2009. It is extremely hardcore and has developed a small but rabid cult following, due mainly to the difficulty and the unique gameplay mechanics. Demon's Souls was created by Japan's FROM Software, the same company that makes the Armored Core giant robot combat games with a heavy RPG emphasis. Come to think of it, those games also have a difficult learning curve as well.

The reason I'm revisiting Demon's Souls is because of the recent interest generated by the announcement of a followup game, Dark Souls, which was shown at this year's E3. This was a surprise to many as the sales of Demon's Souls didn't break any records. It was a sleeper hit. However, this new IP developed a hardcore RPG fanbase, something which Sony needs to differentiate itself from Microsoft's Xbox 360.

The vast majority of people who played Demon's Souls back during its release found the difficulty so high that many just gave up from frustration. You die. A LOT. However, unlike other games, being dead doesn't mean you can't continue playing - you just play under different rules. Getting past the first few hours is really critical to surviving in the game and developing your character.

In fact, you die immediately after meeting your first boss following the short in-game tutorial. This is SUPPOSED to happen, because it brings you to the Nexus, which is sort of your hub for leveling your character, getting your weapons and armor fixed and/or upgraded and also buying necessary supplies.

The in game currency is souls, which is amassed from the enemies you kill. Souls are needed to purchase supplies from the various vendors you find in game. Learning magic spells and miracles will also cost you a lot of souls. However, unlike standard RPGs, you don't gain experience or level up right away during combat. Souls are also used to purchase stat increases and levels from a special NPC character in the Nexus. This makes souls a valuable commodity as you must choose how to use this very limited resource.

The first key to the game is learning how to fight. Frantic button mashing won't help you kill enemies; in fact it will do the exact opposite and get you killed. Unlike most modern day RPGs, Demon's Souls tracks stamina. Every action you take be it running, dodging, attacking or defending uses stamina. If your stamina is used up, even fairly weak monsters can kill you because you can't even lift your shield to defend or move out of the way by dodging.

Managing your stamina is very important, and it regenerates fairly quickly during short periods of inactivity. However, the same rules also apply to your enemies - meaning that after they go through their attacks, they also have short periods of vulnerability due to lowered stamina. Enemies have predictable attack patterns, so after a while you'll learn when to block, when to dodge and when to press the attack.

The other key is learning to block and dodge. Effectively targeting enemies and switching targets is key to blocking and eventually attacking. Also don't be afraid to dodge an attack as some especially strong enemies can drain your stamina from blocking just a few hits. This combat mechanic is quite realistic and provides for a more tactical combat experience. You really have to plan your attacks in order to succeed.

As mentioned before, dying in game doesn't mean you've lost. When you lose your body from death, you revert to soul form. Your hitpoints becomes half of what it is when in body form, but your attacks become a bit more powerful in soul form so you do a bit more damage. Dying in game also causes you to lose all the souls you've collected up to that point and creates a bloodstain. You restart the level you're on from the beginning and if you're able to get back to that bloodstain, you can reclaim the souls. If you die again, a new bloodstain is created and the souls trapped in the previous bloodstain are gone forever.

After entering the Nexus the first time in soul form, you only have one area you can access. You end up fighting in this area in soul form up to your encouter with the first boss in this area. You must defeat this boss in order to unlock a special NPC called The Maiden in Black. She is the one that you can purchase your levels and stat increases by trading in souls that you've collected.



Unlike other RPGs where NPCs critical to the continuation of the game are invulnerable, NPCs in Demon's Souls can be killed. If you kill a merchant or vendor, they will no longer be available to sell you goods. If you kill The Maiden in Black, you won't be able to level up your character. The game may seem rather harsh, but it basically imposes no artificial boundaries. You are free to do whatever you want, but you face the consequences of your actions or decisions, just like in the real world.

To regain your body, you must kill another boss, or have a magic item called Stone of Ephemeral Eyes. The stone can be found in various places in the levels and may be purchased from some vendors. Killing a boss demon will shift the world tendency to white. This makes all the enemies weaker and easier to kill but will provide fewer souls. However, dying in body form in the game will shift the world tendency to black which makes the enemies stronger and provides more souls when killed. Shifting the World Tendency to pure white or pure black will cause special events and NPCs to appear. In offline mode, only your actions will affect the world tendency.

Besides world tendency, there is also character tendency which affects difficulty and also provides extra content in pure white or pure black world tendency. Character tendency can be thought of as alignment or "karma." If you kill friendly NPCs you will move towards black. If you kill black phantoms that appear in the game, you will move towards white. Again special content or abilities are granted at pure white or pure black tendencies.

Character development in Demon's Souls is not limited in any way. You can build a character however you want, with whatever abilities suits your own combat preferences. For example, you could build a barbarian-mage, that has huge strength and stamina for close quarters fighting, but can also hit enemies with ranged magic attacks. If you prefer purely ranged combat, you could build a rogue-mage that can use bows and magic only.

With each level you gain, you are granted one point that you can assign to any of your stats. Each following level requires ever more souls to reach, so you have to choose how to increase your stats wisely to maximize the benefits of your fighting style. Each stat can be increased up to 99 points and you would need to be at level 712 to max out your stats.

You probably won't max out your stats during the first playthrough, so Demon's Souls has a feature called New Game + or NG+ for short. It allows you to use your current character with current stats, tendencies and equipment to play the game over again. However, enemy strength and difficulty scale with your character. NG+ allows you to play through and try different things, such as drastically changing your character and world tendencies, or killing certain NPCs for loot which you didn't do the first time around.

The online component of Demon's Souls is also quite unique and can be fraught with danger. As you connect to the world server, you find that you cannot explicitly alter world tendency. The world tendency in various areas of the game are calculated daily based on the aggregate tendencies of all player worlds online at that time. It is very difficult to have pure white or pure black world tendencies in an online game, so special events and content available in pure white and pure black world tendencies usually won't be available to you. If you want to experience pure black or white tendency worlds, you're best off playing offline by yourself.

As you play the game online you'll notice ghosts of other players in your game. You can't interact with these ghosts but you can observe what they are doing. These ghosts represent other players that are questing in the same area as you in their own instance of the game. You'll also see bloodstains from other players in your game.

Activating a bloodstain left by other players will create a playback event of the last 10 seconds or so of that player's actions prior to their death. Viewing these actions can give you clues or hints at what may be lying in wait for you just around the corner. Areas with lots of bloodstains would indicate an especially tough enemy or boss and could serve as a heads up for you.

You can also read and leave messages for other players in an online game. When you read a comment and you find it helpful, you can recommend it. Recommending a comment will give the player that left it a health boost every time a recommendation is left. Conversely, you can also leave your own message for others, which may lead to health boosts for you while you game.

In online mode, you can invite blue phantoms which are players that have placed a blue stone in different areas of a level. Activating these blue stones will transport that character into your game as a blue phantom. While it is possible to arrange to specifically game with a friend, it isn't easy to do. Usually, you must arrange beforehand where one of you will leave your blue stone. You will want to place it in an out of the way area otherwise you may find it impossible to find your friend. Even then, that doesn't guarantee success. Blue phantoms gain souls while playing with you in co-op mode, which they take back to their own world when they leave or when you dismiss them.

Also, other players can invade your game as a black phantom, and kill you in PvP fashion to gain lots of souls. While you can control to some extent whether you want someone to co-op with you, you can't stop others from invading your world as a black phantom. Phantoms, when they invade, will be chosen from people with a similar level rating as yours. However, given the fact that you may freely develop your character as you see fit, the abilities of these phantoms can and probably will differ quite a bit from your own character.

Invading black phantoms will usually be well balanced fighter magic user classed characters. They can wear out enemies with ranged magic attacks and then move in for the kill using close quarters combat. So while you are free to develop your character any way you like, be aware that unless you have a good defense against this type of character, you will be killed more often than not by invading black phantoms.

You may find that you might want to experiment and play with different online and offline characters to address this issue. As you develop your character you too can use blue and black stones to offer your services to other players or to also invade another players' games to kill them in PvP combat.

Demon's Souls is an incredibly difficult game, especially at the outset. The in game tutorial doesn't do much beyond providing you with the very basics of gameplay before pressing you headlong into an unforgiving environment. The instruction manual is useless for the most part. You are better off finding online resources such as the Demon's Souls Wiki or have a read through an online guide, such as this: 1up Demon's Souls Strategy Guide and Walkthrough.

Having said that, if you gave up in frustration before - have a second look. If you've never played the game before, go and pick it up as you should be able to find it cheap. The game offers at least 100-200 hours of gameplay and increases replayability with NG+ mode. Unique offline and online modes round out the interesting mechanics. Demon's Souls can be an incredibly gratifying game as you feel a very real sense of achievement as you slowly progress through the game. With a bit of persistence and perseverence, this may become one of your all time favorite modern RPGs.