My first trek into The Depths was not a successful one. After ploughing through the gang of torch-waving Hollows who congregate at the foot of the stairs in one of Dark Souls’ least popular areas, I was proper ragdolled by a cleaver-wielding Butcher. On my second attempt, I managed to circumvent the kitchen, but was gnawed to death by a pack of rabid dogs. On my third shot, I made it as far as the Giant Sewer Rat, and, on my fourth, I slipped, fell down a hole, and was Cursed by a cave-dwelling Basilisk. All of this before I even got a sniff at the level’s Gaping Dragon end boss.
It’s been 10 years since my first plunge into The Depths, and I can safely say: it ain’t a nice place. I can also safely assume that Grimrukh – the co-creator of Nightfall, one of Dark Souls’ most ambitious community projects that’s due later this year – is a glutton for punishment. Because while crafting Dark Souls: Nightfall, he devised a custom map that turns The Depths into a randomly-generated death run. In essence, he’s bringing Bloodborne’s Chalice Dungeons to Dark Souls.
“I thought to myself: what if I just set up a kind of random system where I have a procedural generation algorithm, where I start with some room and then it randomly selects a compatible room to connect to it, and repeats and so on, going down all the branches endlessly?” says Grimrukh. “I hit run on that, I waited a few minutes, and I ended up with some horrible, ungodly, infinite Chalice Dungeon set in The Depths that can just grow and grow and grow. I sent a tweet out just for a laugh, and it certainly had an interesting reaction.”
Out of your Depths
With Nightfall’s December 21 launch date fast approaching, Grimrukh admits his focus lies firmly on that project, but says he’ll shift his attention to finishing his work-in-progress Dark Souls Chalice Dungeons mod shortly after that. The Nightfall team plans to release patches and bug fixes in due course, however Grimrukh reckons with some help, his Depths-defying creation will be good to go at some point into the New Year.
“It all spawned from Nightfall,” Grimrukh adds. “All of the stuff I’ve sketched up for a Dark Souls Chalice Dungeon system, all of the tools that I plan to use, were originally for Nightfall. Most of Nightfall’s world is rearranged maps, because we’re really not able to create new ones from scratch. A lot of the maps are organic – cliffs and forests and things – and it’s not easy to design entirely new maps.”
“The few exceptions to that are the artificial, man-made geometric areas, places like Anor Londo, Sen’s Fortress, and The Depths, where all of the map is assembled from assets that are joined at right angles and simple hinges, there are doorways and things that really lend themselves to rearrangement – just like the actual Bloodborne Chalice Dungeon assets.”
“These are all cookie cutter assembled pieces, individual rooms and their doors designed to match up with all kinds of doors in other rooms and things like that. And so The Depths in Dark Souls is one of the few areas where that’s also true. That’s one of the maps I looked to really build some new geometry on an area basis, as opposed to just reconnecting The Depths somewhere else in the world, which is what’s been happening elsewhere in Nightfall.”
YOU DIED x infinity
Grimrukh says in order to make this process easier, he set up tools that can identify which doors in The Depths are compatible with others – “there are narrow doors and there are these wide passages that water flows through” – and then created code which treats each door as hinges.
On the enemies front – as if Butchers, infected rats, and Basilisks weren’t terrifying enough – Grimrukh plans to broaden the scope of foes, suggesting keeping combatants lore-friendly would get boring quickly. Instead, he’s considering any enemy that’ll fit inside The Depths’ dark and claustrophobic tunnels and ducts, and even reckons the area’s Gaping Dragon arena – where players do battle with the titular boss in the base game – could make for a natural end point. And that, Souls fans, is bloody terrifying.
“Enemy-wise it’ll be anything that fits basically, and I’ll be angling much more for the fun gameplay than trying to develop any compatible lore,” adds Grimrukh. “Those passages in The Depths are quite tight, so there are a lot of enemies that wouldn’t fit down there. You do have the Gaping Dragon arena down there, of course, which is one of the largest rooms in the game could fit basically anything, and that could be an end point to levels.”
“We’re also not totally restricted only to The Depths, you can bring in individual rooms from other maps, and use them as well. That would join things together a bit more than that would start introducing more of a scattered aesthetic, so that we’re not restricted in fun and entertainment value terms.”
Grimrukh’s Dark Souls Infinite Chalice Dungeon has a planned, but tentative, release for 2022. Keep your eye on the creator’s Twitter page for updates.