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- Last time I asked you to remain objective and even gave you a nice definition to illustrate what I meant. Then I tried to convince you that the wacky elevator from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep was intentional (as well as a thousand other wacky transitions). Maybe I convinced you, maybe I didn't.
- I made a promise that I would talk about game and world concepts that these “mistakes” or “transitions” might serve as clues for. I've narrowed it down to three personal favorites that fit the in game concepts we're overtly told. They're all similar in many ways and I'll just put it out there that they're not mutually exclusive either. The first two concepts are ones I've felt might be true since Dark Souls. The last theory is one that only popped into my head thanks to Dark Souls II. I'll also dabble at the end with why this would be used for storytelling purposes (which is similar to game design). I'll use various locations and references to illustrate concepts, but keep in mind that this the opinion part of this whole deal. While I'm convinced that the transitions are purposely wacky, there's every possibility that none of these are right (or even close). This is for fun and discussion only.
(aka “Twilight Zone” mechanic)
This particular theory is the one I've felt most strongly about since the first Dark Souls. In this concept, there is an actual elevator that does in fact go from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep. We may travel a distance of a few hundred feet or so, but the ground covered is miles and miles (as the Iron Keep is actually to the Southeast of the Earthen Peak remember, not a short distance up). How does this occur? We are told from the get go in the Souls games that time is distorted. I've always equated the timeline of a chosen undead to be less of a straight line than it is a squiggly vortex looking thing. Now toss a ton of those squiggly vortex things at each other and the occasional times they cross would be known as “invasions” or “cooperative online play.”
What would happen if SPACE was distorted in a similar manner? Where a straight line walk over mountains (ha ha, right) from one location to another could be circumvented under the right scenario. For instance, an out of place elevator. If we imagine the distance from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep as a spiraling vortex and not “as the (skare)krow flies,” ask yourself this: Would it make more sense to walk the whole spiral or to just use an elevator to cut out all but the beginning and end of that trip?
Maybe this will help… In a normal world, the two red spots are connected by a straight line. In a distorted world, they're more like the spiral as you travel. Rather than walk the blue line, the elevator (in this concept) would make a shortcut between the red points. Make sense? God I hope so…
I call this the “Twilight Zone” mechanic because it's something that's seen in various episodes of that series. The protagonist is walking/driving/hanging out in an ordinary fashion. At some point they realize that they're no longer in the world they thought they should be. While the actual walk/distance covered was unremarkable in most instances, a significant distance (or time, or dimension) has been covered. You'd never know you traveled a hundred miles, because you only walked a hundred feet. By the way, “a hundred miles” is gonna come up a lot. It's an arbitrary distance I picked because I think it sounds like it'd be a long walk over and over again.
I said this was a theory since Dark Souls so let's use an example from there. We've just entered a small building and are faced with two choices. We can cross the bridge to Sen's or continue to go down the stairs, past the Smithy and into the forest. If we cross the bridge to Sen's we are greeted with sunlight. If we go down the stairs we are faced with night. This difference is exacerbated by the fact that you can see some of Darkroot Forest from the bridge to Sen's. Yet this time of day difference exists. But wait Skare, Darkroot is dark because of all the trees blocking the sunlight or something right? Go take a trip to the top of the Moonlight Butterfly tower and let me know about that. Above the trees, Darkroot is still nighttime. Or the clearing where we fight Sif. Still nighttime. Or when we pop out of the tower from Undead Burg to the Basin where trees are more sparse. We still go from day immediately to nighttime. Admittedly, this is possibly attributable to time distortion. As we step into the new area we are suddenly whisked into a different time of day. So it wasn't just this that provided me with the initial theory. It is however, evidence of transition zones, which is an important idea for all these concepts. Why I've felt strongly about spatial distortion (and not just time distortion) is because that, just like in Dark Souls II, the distances traveled don't always make sense. A hop, skip or jump (not even all three are necessary) are enough to bring us from New Londo, to Undead Burg, to Anor Londo. Three fairly large geographic areas and hubs of civilization should never be close enough to simply walk to. Undead Burg and Anor Londo are possibly sort of logical. The Burg is part of the larger castle complex, but it's still a suspiciously crowded kingdom if you ask me. The primary difference between games being the first one shows the world as “mashed together” and the second chooses to show you an impossible distance traversed.
Getting back to Dark Souls II, this explains certain missing elements, like the sub-aquatic tunnels running around Heide's (to Majula and the Wharf). There's no tunnel under the water because the short tunnel we started in used the Twilight Zone phenomena to travel to where we needed to be. Same as the Sinner's Rise tower not having a crashed boat in it. The bridge to the tower exists, but it brings us to a less than literal translation of what's visually there. I use Twilight Zone not in a deus ex machina way to explain laziness in game design (because I know that will come up) but more of fate. In the TV show, a reoccurring theme is balance. People go where they're supposed to be, because they need to be there. The old farmer finds himself on the road to heaven with his dog, because the dog is the key to him not being tempted by the side road to hell. The pioneer finds himself in the same spot geographically but in the future, because it's the only place to get the medicine for his sick son. We enter an elevator in Earthen Peak and come out far away in Iron Keep because it's our fate. Just as it's our fate to transcend time and dimensions to help or hinder others in their world.
I said last time that the well in Majula was suspicious. Lots of things are to be fair. While looking for evidence for this and the theories below, I came across some “anomalies” that lend some weight (not proof, just weight) to this theory. Specifically is the idea of a “blended” location. In other words, one that jams together elements of multiple areas or locations where things don't add up to either necessarily. I'll illustrate…
The gray bricks on the right represent standard Earthen Peak architecture. The elevator seems a little out of place. It's not any better up top
In Majula at the top of the well/pit, there are statues that are also found below. While this is explained by the given fact that this pit was used to discard Drangleic's trash, what makes this an anomaly is the fact that there are still statues at the top. This is the equivalent of a sliced cheese wrapper on the counter about six inches from the garbage can. I won't name names, but I know one person in my life who used to do just that. However, for most people, if you're that close to the garbage can, you finish the job. While it's not conclusive, it's possible these statues weren't “thrown away” by From to indicate the “blending” of two environments. Before it comes up in comments I know those statues also appear elsewhere in the game. This adds a wrinkle for sure but doesn't add much evidence on either side from what I can tell. I look at these anomalies as sort of like a geographic collision in which the two areas merge a little. Further possible evidence of this brings us back to our elevator (since ka is a wheel). From an architectural standpoint it doesn't cleanly match either location. The brickwork is similar to both but is cosmetically in line with neither.
(aka “Mechanic we are explicitly told exists, taken to new levels”)
This one is similar to above, with the exception that a hundred miles still requires you to travel a hundred miles. We (player or character) just don't have to sit through it. This one is the “cleaner” theory as far as mechanics go, but doesn't necessarily explain some anomalies as noted above. This one is much easier to illustrate. There's an actual elevator in Earthen Peak, it actually goes up. It just doesn't actually connect to Iron Keep. As I mentioned last time, I estimate that it would likely only reach the top of Earthen Peak.
So what happened then? Under this theory, the Chosen Undead rides up the elevator and finds…something. Who knows what? Then they leave Earthen Peak and travel to Iron Keep. Who knows how? Who knows which road was taken? Who knows what occurred on the way? Because time skipped forward for the Chosen Undead. This concept uses Time Distortion as the directly stated primary world concept in Dark Souls. Rather than explaining how we only briefly exist within each other's worlds though, it's more like a an implied scene in a movie. We don't need to see what type of peanuts Indiana Jones ate on the flight or how long his nap was. Instead, they show us a map that means “look, he's traveling!” with a little airplane moving and making neat lines. This is the same idea. Rather than show us every step of our hundred mile walk, we get an airplane traveling over a map. It just so happens that it looks more like an elevator in Dark Souls II. It's notable that the Chosen Undead would likely also not experience the trip itself as time is skipping for the character as well. Futurama illustrates this with the chronitons/Globetrotters episode. After tearing reality a new one, the characters find themselves skipping forward into time. While there are events that occurred between the skips, which it's implied the characters took part in, the cast is unaware of even their own actions in the time lost between the skips.
The biggest flaw with this theory is the geographic anomalies. If time is distorted and we've just skipped over a scene, then it's implied that the locations are all taken on faith to be “as is.” Instead of seeing the top of Earthen Peak, we skip ahead to Iron Keep. Instead of seeing the whole tunnel to Heide's (because it's a lot of rock and water to cover) we just pop out of the building we need to. But like I said, the geography of some of these would then need further explanation. I'll go back to Heide's. Skipping ahead is fine and dandy, but at some point, we need to get into that little building at the beginning. At some point, we walked through the rock from Majula. Skipping ahead doesn't explain how that's possible. With Earthen to Iron, we just have to assume that we left the Peak and walked to the Keep. But Heide's adds the wrinkle of a water crossing. To get to that building we'd need to reach it by boat or sub-aquatic tunnel. There's no evidence of a boat. Or space to come out of the cliff face for that matter, so we're left with that tunnel under the waves. This is certainly possible as we can see pretty direct evidence of mass flooding but it does take a little (lot) more thought to explain away.
(aka “the Lucatiel hypothesis”)
Two things to note. The camera is angled up and at chin level it's rock, not castle. Note my claim last article that the castle is quite elevated. For purposes of this article, notice the lack of thunderstorms around the castle
This last concept again shares some features with the other ones and arose after meeting the wonderful NPCs of Dark Souls II. For visualizing, this is most similar to the Time Distortion theory, with the notable exception that the Chosen Undead not only does travel the hundred miles, but experiences the hundred miles to it's fullest, rather than skipping ahead. They just might forget about it. In this concept, the character has indeed walked the hundred miles (likely repeatedly based on the land of Drangleic and implied locations/distances) but has lost all memory of their travels except for what we play in the game. So just like above, we remember beating Mytha and going up the elevator. And then we forget everything that occurred until we reach Iron Keep. Due to the memory loss it seems like a seamless transition between areas. In game, this concept has the added benefit of implying that memory loss is a symptom of the curse.
Lucatiel begins to forget most of her existence and by the end has lost almost everything. She takes a minute to recognize us at Aldia's. Maughlin brags that's he rich enough to not worry about going home. Good thing too, since he's forgotten where home is. Chloanne can't connect the dots to recognize her father. We see evidence of the curse taking away the memories of Drangleic all over the place. Should our character be immune to this? Can these anomalies I've discussed be chalked up to “I seem to have forgotten how I got here?” Speaking of that, does ANYONE recall how they arrived in Drangleic besides some vague walk into a whirlpool?
Memory loss even meshes with the above concepts quite well. If we have been actually traveling across kingdoms on foot, there's no telling how old we really are. It's been surmised before that the curse is the inability to die. The real life cost of old age is often our past. We may be cursed simply by facing the ravages of extreme old age. Where entire chapters of our life are simply erased from memory. Would the first chapters to leave the book be the “boring” ones? The walk from Peak to Keep for instance.
This concept can even account for geographic anomalies depending on how far you want to take it. I could argue that, if the reason some things are missing or weird are because we're losing our memory, then the entire game is memories. Maybe that's why Darkroot is always at night. Because that's when we were there. Or that's what we remember best. There's no sub-aquatic tunnel to Heide's not because there isn't a path that went from “A” to “B” but the game won't show us what's no longer remembered. The path is missing, because the recollection is missing.
All of the above theories all serve the same purpose as far as storytelling (and game design) goes. Stories aren't supposed to be real life. We don't need to see each bathroom break, meal or nap. We know these things SHOULD occur in many stories. Anyone who has followed me in the FextraLife forums should know I love the Dark Tower series. I know Roland has to piss on occasion. The only time Stephen King needs to write it down is the time it matters to the story (this example is used because Roland does in fact piss in one of the stories).
We need to Twilight Zone/Skip ahead/Forget about the trip from Earthen Peak to Iron Keep because as a whole, Drangleic is likely 95% boring as shit. The world is dying. The beams are weakening. The tower might be getting ready to fall…
The population is decimated and we're cursed to not die. That hundred mile walk might have literally nothing except dust and stone. By having a concept like one of the above, we cut out the garbage and keep the good stuff. We can experience burning lava right after pools of poison because we have these mechanics in games.
One last parting thought. Best for last if you will. This is more for those of you who don't think that something is going on in the first place. For the rest of you, it's just neat.
When we approach Drangleic Castle it looms large in front of us. On a nice, sunny day (alright, alright…partially cloudy, maybe even overcast…see above). We enter a very short tunnel and come out into a thunderstorm. How? Is the tunnel taking us a longer distance than what we walk, thereby allowing us to have not seen the approaching storm? Do we skip ahead in time? Did we forget that we sat down in the tunnel for a piece of lembas and a short nap and find ourselves in the rain at the end?
I'll let you decide your own “why.” But, despite the nonsensical transition, one fact is obvious…
We're destined to reach this castle in the rain.
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