10m², Prime Location

The Capra Demon is a modern city dweller. He could afford a spacious mansion far out in the suburbs, but to him that would be the equivalent of giving up on everything. Capra is where life is. Where it smells and sometimes maybe even stinks a little. A run-down old building? The facade is crumbling? Doesn’t matter! Tiny? Room isn’t everything, because the goat demon doesn’t care about tangibles. The bookshelf on the tablet, the floor as a bed. It’s healthier anyway.

Capra is concerned with three things only: location, location, location! Right on the doorstep a picturesque bridge, directly connecting his home to the trendy district of Lower Undead Burg. He doesn’t work, his urban vineyard works for him and he sells the hand-crafted wine conveniently via his online store. Despite the modest living conditions, Capra shares his apartment with companion animals. Two dogs, from the animal shelter of course. He lovingly cares for the pair that has been abused by their previous owner, and the dogs pay him back with loyalty and love. Only when a stranger appears every now and then, the trauma kicks in and they display aggression. But most of the time, Capra is alone. Monogamous relationships, as propagated by the church, are long outdated among his kind. No one is intimidated by time-honored symbolism or even fire-breathing gargoyles anymore. Not here, in Lower Undead Burg.

One could simply let him lead his weird life in peace. But that’s not possible, because Capra is a part-time boss in a video game. Not in just any video game, but in Dark Souls. Whoever crams a Dark Souls boss with two mutts together in what feels like 10m² has a sense of humor I’ve never seen before. The whole setup seems like a troll move. A powerful boss in the smallest of spaces. The camera is a disaster. No overview, no room to dodge, no time to understand and learn. And the tiny bit of free space the arena leaves is filled with the dogs, jumping erratically and thus chaoticizing the fight to a level that a strategy can’t emerge spontaneously. What remains are pathetically arbitrary key combinations and a quick death in some corner, just barely caught on camera.

I wasn’t immediately discouraged, though, because I knew how these games work. They force you to adjust your thinking and internalize mechanics. So I made my plans just outside of the arena. The possibilities were so limited that it felt more like a puzzle. In Baba is You, the puzzles that excite me the most are the ones that seem impossible while offering very little interaction. Then I think backwards from the goal to the initial act. The solution is not created by trial and error, but in the mind. I still went into battle with the horned hipster time and again, but not to defeat him. Instead, I tried to determine what options I had in the first place. Block? Parry? The dogs first? Dodge? Stay on the ground or go up the stairs to nowhere? Target or don’t target? Strong armor or more agility? Could a plunge attack work?

It may not seem like it, but this is essentially the Capra Demon

And still I was on the verge of giving up, because it also takes a bit of luck to survive the first moments of the fight. I decided to go for one final attempt before quitting the game. Before that, I had even never landed more than a single blow. But then I outlived the dogs. And found the demon on his own to be slow and predictable. In any other setup, this phase wouldn’t be worth mentioning. It was the long process of observing, dying, and theorizing that gave the duel a tension I’d rarely experienced before. My heart pounding, my shaky hands clinging to the controller. And the demon fell.

It’s okay to roll your eyes when the From Software apostles once again tell you to stick with it until the game clicks. But what can I say. It did. Even though I was able to get my head around the series and knew about this effect: to really feel that adrenaline rush. To have earned that success for yourself. It’s worth it. My being slain for an hour was not a humiliation. I was merely gathering data. The poor guy didn’t even know he was making me stronger with each victory. And when you know that beforehand, a demon on 10m² with two dogs and an impossible camera is not a frustrating troll move, but a puzzle box. A good puzzle out of Baba is You. And you never feel more powerful in video games than when you solve a good Baba puzzle.

Like many others, I’ve followed the games by From Software from afar for a long time with all the various arguments from the enthusiastics and the repelled as to why you should play it or that not everyone needs to play it and…. it’s pointless. It’s easy to forget that Dark Souls is really just a video game. With mechanics and game design. When I rediscovered that and put all the baggage aside, the way was paved for my personal approach to Dark Souls.

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