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Titan Souls: Not for the faint of heart.

Every enemy in Titan Souls is a boss, and your job is to make them all dead. But with just one hit point and a single arrow for a weapon, that’s easier said than done. Don’t let those cute pixels fool you: this is a game made in the mould of  Dark Souls . Forget carrot and stick:  Titan Souls makes the stick out of carrot then pokes you in the eye with it.

I ask lead designer Mark Foster what appeals to him about difficult games. “It’s all about overcoming a challenge.  Dark Souls  gives you these obstacles, and you have to get better by playing the game to overcome it. You can increase stats and stuff, but a lot of it is about your skill as a player. That’s the biggest similarity between Dark Souls and Titan Souls. we’re mostly skill-based.”

As well as From Software’s RPG, Foster counts the first Zelda game as a big inspiration. “If you play Zelda now, it’s harder than Dark Souls! It just throws you in without much knowledge of what’s going on.”


Dark Souls  also informs the way Titan Soul’s story is told. “There’s a history to this world that you’re in, but you’ll only discover it if you go looking for it.” When you wake a titan, their name appears at the bottom of the screen in a strange fantasy language. Deciphering this seems likely to be a part of uncovering the game’s mythology.

The titans are a varied bunch, from giant blobs of goo that multiply when you shoot them and laser-firing cubes, to stone giants with massive, pounding fists. Each has a pattern that must be learned, and although, like you, they only have one hit point, they often have several ‘layers’ that have to be peeled away.

Boss building
I ask Foster about the process of designing such varied and imaginative creatures. “I start by thinking of a mechanic first. I thought about a rolling titan with a hole in it that you have to shoot an arrow into. But you wouldn’t always be able to hit it because that specific part of the sphere wouldn’t be visible. So I tried that out, and it worked.”

Not every idea is a winner, though. “Sometimes you get a titan out of these ideas, but sometimes you have to throw them away. We’ve made loads of titans that we’ve had to get rid of after a day because they just didn’t work.”

After the hero fires his single arrow, he has to either run over to it to pick it back up, or he can pull it towards himself telekinetically. If a titan hits him he dies, and you’re tossed back to a checkpoint and have to run back to the fight to try again.

“Titan Souls requires patience and perseverance,” Foster says. “When you die, you respawn at a checkpoint and have to run back to the fight. That’s supposed to incentivise you to be more patient in the battle, so you’re not trying to Rambo in and get the kill.”

Foster says the key to beating the titans is to concentrate on surviving, studying the pattern, waiting patiently for a chance to strike. I ask if he thinks the more impatient among us will be turned off by such a process, but he’s optimistic.

“Because you only have one hit point, it’s actually quite fast-paced, so people with short attention spans might enjoy it.”

Anyone who’s played the understated PlayStation classic Shadow of the Colossus  will find  Titan Souls more than familiar. That extends to the open world. “After the first temple, which is like a tutorial of sorts, the game opens up. It’s basically a big open world, and you can kill the titans in any order.”
You have one arrow. From that it felt natural to give you one hit point
“Each area has a theme based on classic videogame tropes snow, lava, etc and once you’ve killed every boss, a door to a new location opens up. The open world structure means that if you can’t kill a titan, you can leave it for a while, then come back and tackle it later. Each area has one titan that’s a shade harder than the rest.”

Titan Souls began life as a game-jam game, created for Ludum Dare. “The theme was ‘you only get one’. We met up before the jam and decided we wanted to make a top-down game, and we wanted to make it about boss fights if possible.

“The first thing we came up with was the idea that you would have one arrow, and from that it felt natural to give our hero one hit point. When you’re hit, you’re dead. No enemy is going to do a different amount of damage or anything like that. It’s really cut-and-dry whether you live or die. The tension that causes in the fights is pretty great.”

Devolutionary
The team’s Ludum Dare entry caught the eye of Devolver, a publisher known for approaching developers on social media. “It was really weird how it all happened,” Foster says. “ They tweeted us and said they wanted to talk about Titan Souls . So we lost our shit and said, yeah, sure. We actually joked about Devolver picking the game up, and then it happened.”

I ask him how challenging it is to balance such a difficult game, especially when you’re still in the thick of development and know every boss inside out. “This is the most difficult part of designing the game,” Foster admits. “We play it a lot, and we’re really good at it. The developers of the  Mega Man games were notorious for tweaking the game to be challenging for  them . Then when actual players came along it was rock hard.

“So we try to get loads of people to play the game, sending out builds to friends to give us feedback. A really useful thing to do is just watch other people play. They react in different ways and do things you, as a developer, wouldn’t do, because you know the fight so well.” Through this process, Acid Nerve realised that the weak spots of some bosses weren’t as intuitive as they thought, and were changed as a result.

As well as using friends as a makeshift QA team, taking Titan Souls to shows like E3 also helped. “That was the first time we’d ever shown it to people, which was crazy. A jam game, and its first public appearance is at E3. We had people playing the game for four days, and we sat there taking notes. We were happy with the response, but I definitely tweaked a few numbers, like the speeds of things.”

Titan Souls is an intriguing game that marries charming SNES visuals with sanity-sapping,  Dark Souls-flavoured difficulty. It’s a hardcore test of patience, timing and skill that some people will relish the chance to tackle. But it remains to be seen whether it can capture the imagination of a wider audience, or the type of person who angrily tapped out of Dark Souls after one too many deaths.

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