Victory Achieved-ish: Twitch Kinda Beat Dark Souls

“Sometimes we attempt things to prove we can’t do them,” I wankily declared when folks started trying to play Dark Souls [official site] in the viewer-controlled style of Twitch Plays Pokémon. Embrace futility and inevitability and that, yeah? After days, they’d made two minutes’ progress. I was fascinated that hundreds of people were trying to do something that clearly would never work. So they cheated. People, yeah?

After changing to a system with generous pauses to think and act, the stream and its viewers have beaten Dark Souls, and now started on Dark Souls II.

The classic ‘Twitch Plays’ setup has magical technology which turns Twitch chat commands into game inputs, letting Twitch, y’know, play. Twitch streams have a delay of a fair few seconds between the broadcast and viewers seeing it, which may be okay (well, chaotic but acceptable) in a turn-based, menu-driven game, with a real-time deathfest it becomes near-impossible. Which I thought was the joke.

After a long stretch of characters banging their heads against the walls of the Undead Asylum, stream mastermind Daniel Nichols switched to a system where Dark Souls is essentially turn-based. The game plays a split-second of real-time action then is paused, giving time for commands and votes to come in. Sure, that did let people progress and have fun and finally finish the game after 43 days, 8 hours, 13 minutes, and 49 seconds.

It’s hugely impressive, don’t get me wrong, but “Can we do the impossible?” became “Can we be arsed?”

Anywho, you can now join in with Dark Souls II. Here’s what their final fight against Gwyn looks like with all the pauses stripped out – it actually took over half an hour:

11 Comments

  1. Freud says:

    It’s a shame we’ll never see a Twitch Plays of that gay shower game.

  2. Danopian says:

    Daniel Nichols, the streamer, designed the scripts himself that made the whole project possible. Gamsutra has a sort-of interview with him here. Last I spoke with him in chat, he was planning to release his code to be used and adapted by others. He hasn’t gotten a lot of credit despite all the coverage of TPDS in the gaming media.

    I know this will attract undesired attention, but I want to speak to the comment that the changes were “cheating” as someone who spent quite a bit of time in chat entering commands and participating over the long term. Despite the benefits that pausing added (such as being able to make split-second reactions) there are actually just as many significant challenges it presented that haven’t been mentioned in any of the articles written on it, including those by RPS. I wouldn’t argue that they weren’t/aren’t playing a heavily modified version of the game that can’t be equated to the “real” game, but I would push back on the assumption that what they did was easier and argue instead that it was just as difficult, but in different ways, having exchanged certain obstacles for others.

    While a person with a controller in hand has immediate access to multiple commands/keystrokes at a time, allowing for simultaneous movement and attacking and camera control, etc., the Twitch chat could essentially only perform one action at a time and led to situations where, for example, it was often forced to choose between turning the camera or just attacking blind, or having to find unique workarounds to get across areas like narrow bridges in Sen’s Fortress by using a zoomed-in bow to make small camera corrections. Attack timings had to be memorized perfectly, the set of commands had to be known backwards and forwards, and all the strange interactions between commands and items and so forth had to be familiar to everyone involved.

    Furthermore, in addition to that knowledge of the format everyone had to gain, the character build (the particular stats and items chosen to be raised and equipped) had to be suited to the particular challenges posed by the format, and the strategy to acquire those and keep them equipped had to be communicated between the constantly changing, transient crowds of people from around the world around the clock who were participating.

    And then throw in the regular visits from trolls who would stroll in and threaten either temporary but long setbacks or very permanent setbacks in the form of killed NPCs or dropped/destroyed equipment, and you have yourself a very unique group communication challenge that can’t be compared to the experience of just one person playing the game by themselves.

    So: Thanks Chat! :D I hope this gives some perspective and grants some recognition of the achievement it was, even if it wasn’t pure and untarnished Dark Souls that was beaten.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      Ah, ta, thanks for the reminder – I’ve added a link.

    • Y2Kafka says:

      Thank you. I glad you could say what I could not. Twitch didn’t beat Vanilla Darksouls… but the things they did, and the feats the accomplished are still none the less amazing.

    • GWOP says:

      I really didn’t consider quite a few points you raised. Good post.

    • SuddenSight says:

      Do you know if anyone has written a post mortem or where the strategizing took place?

      I remember there were a bunch of strategy docs abd recaos floating around from TPP that were fun to read through. This sounds like it would be interesting to read about as well.

      • Danopian says:

        No postmortem yet that I’ve seen; I’d be interested in seeing that too.

        Some strategy was discussed on the subreddit, so you could find some discussion there, but a lot of it took place on the fly in chat. Interestingly, and maybe this is something a postmortem could analyze, the chat became increasingly resistant to leader figures as the game went on, despite being very reliant upon them to get through certain sections where votes needed to be unified in a very specific direction, so the number of posts about detailed strategies died off in the latter half of the project as it became clear that chat would do what chat would do and not let any one person or their strategy guide it. The subreddit would often feature posts complaining about the stream having turned into “[Username] plays Dark Souls” when that occurred.

    • Chirez says:

      I doubt it’s reasonable to argue that the changes did not make it ‘easier’, since before the changes as I understand it, the attempt went literally nowhere. After the changes the game became possible.

      The thing is, there is a world of difference between ‘easy’ and ‘easier’. The attempt shifted from being laughably impossible to being monstrously difficult, which while not making it easy did obviously make it easier.

      I’ve always tended to view the Twitch Plays as an exercise in seeing exactly what can be achieved by entirely random input. It’s monkeys and typewriters stuff, but the Dark Souls stream turned into playing the game by committee via a horribly convoluted control method. Which is a qualitatively different question.

      • Danopian says:

        Yeah, that’s a fair point. It went from being impossible to possible, which is certainly a step towards easier. I guess it’s that second point you made that I was after, that easier than impossible is still quite hard; or from another angle, that it got easier than when it started, but that did not necessarily make it easier than a person playing Dark Souls by him/herself.

        It may be worth noting that the issues with Twitch’s stream delay – the 10-20 second difference between chat and the stream – and the unique obstacles presented by a 3D game that weren’t as big a deal for Pokemon – for instance, the pools with only one ramp out where chat stayed for tens of hours that provided fuel to the “pool god” meme – seemed to give justification for some changes being made to the format just to make it work at a mechanical level. Twitch Plays Pokemon had that famous moment where they jumped down from that path and lost tons of progress, but Dark Souls (like most 3D environments would be) is one long game full of areas like that.

        P.S. your description of it as “playing the game by committee via a horribly convoluted control method” is pretty much perfect.

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Sack hat is the best hat.