This week I wanted to highlight something that isn’t in Super Space Galaxy, and never will be. It all dates back to something wrong with Dark Souls II…
As with most of the ‘Souls‘ games, in Dark Souls II you level up by talking to a female NPC, in this case the mysterious woman known as the Emerald Herald. Whenever you talk to her, she starts by reciting a series of four lines that have become infamous in the Dark Souls community.
Bearer of the curse…The Emerald Herald, Dark Souls 2
Seek souls. Larger, more powerful souls.
Seek the King, that is the only way.
Lest this land swallow you whole, as it has so many others.
This might sound fine by itself, but like many things in videogames, repetition is key. Players will visit the Emerald Herald to level up quite often, and each time they can will be given her speech before they’re allowed to level up. After a few times, you’ll be so used to her speech that you’ll simply skip it, hearing ‘bear, seek, seek, lest’ instead. This is why ‘bear seek seek lest‘ has become a meme.
I think this shows a clash between what players normally do and what a game’s developers would like them to do. As a Game Designer, you want players to take their time, and appreciate all the hard work you put into making a cohesive game. Meanwhile, your players don’t care about any of this and they don’t have to. They’re more likely to go wherever they please and skip over anything that doesn’t help them accomplish something in the game.
What makes this issue particularly annoying is that the ‘Souls’ series already implemented this much better in its first game, Demon’s Souls. There, the Maiden in Black is a close equivalent of the Emerald Herald, but she says her mantra in the background while you level up.
Soul of the mind, key to life’s ether.The Maiden in Black, Demon’s Souls
Soul of the lost, withdrawn from its vessel.
Let strength be granted, so the world might be mended.
So the world might be mended.
The effect here is much better. As the Maiden in Black recites her mantra, the player is likely to be looking at the level-up menu, considering what to level up next. Even if the choice is easy, they’ll probably take some time over it anyway because it took effort to earn enough souls to level up. While they think, they’ll hear the Maiden talk as though she’s blessing their level up. This endears players to the Maiden in Black in a thoroughly unobtrusive way.
This game-design story inspired me to avoid the ‘Bear Seek Seek Lest’ problem in Super Space Galaxy. I was never planning in having much dialogue in the first place, but because I heard about this I resolved never to have merchants in the game talk before trading with you. On the other hand, I also liked the Maiden in Black’s speech so much that I wanted them to talk a little in the background while the menu is open.
An important factor to consider is how long the menu would be open for. It would do no good to have a long line that’s triggered by a menu you’re likely to close quickly. You’d either have to interrupt the merchant’s voice-line when you close the menu, or have the merchant awkwardly continue to talk as you fly off. I avoided both scenarios by making the merchants’ lines short and to the point.
I’ve been very cautious introducing voices to Super Space Galaxy, because I know how easily voice-samples can be repeated in a game until they become annoying. Earlier I got the machine yard to say ‘anything I can do for ya?’ with my own voice. Allan Zax, the musician for most of Super Space Galaxy‘s soundtrack, decided to make a pack of voices at one point and I used his ‘You wanna trade?’ for the merchants as well. Somehow he sounds like a merchant to me.
These are only minor touches, but I think they’re important, especially when they may be repeated thousands of times by anyone who plays the game. In my own small way, I feel like I’m righting gaming wrong by learning from the mistakes of other games. When I’m done, I hope to make Super Space Galaxy an expression of everything I know about Game Design.
Thanks for reading,