"Dark Souls mods have the potential to get a whole lot stranger," reckons prominent Souls figure Zullie the Witch. With fidget spinners, flamboyant Eurovision Song Contest entrants, and Nicolas Cage's face plastered over absolutely everything—how much stranger can it really get?
Carl Johnson's likeness, as featured above, is a good place to start. The work of modder Drop0ff, the sun-praising GTA: San Andreas star is made possible by Meowmaritus' new DSFBX import tool. Designed to let players add models from other games to Lordran, the latter marks a new age for the Dark Souls mod scene.
Link from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series joined CJ last week, and Zullie suspects we'll see a host of bespoke armour and weapons as more modders get to grips with Meowmaritus' latest project.
"You can already make so many deep, impactful changes to the game, but nothing is going to wow people the same way as starting the game and seeing things that just weren't there before," says Zullie. "The ability to customise the player is big part of playing most games, and importing models allows people to take it much further."
Zullie says that while the Dark Souls modding community is dedicated, it's still relatively small. Most of its works come via simple texture editing or through hacks using a cheat engine. Despite the game's age, it's been a steady process to this point, admits Zullie, which is mostly down to how complex the action role-player is to manipulate behind the scenes. It seems fitting that developer From Software's reliance on proprietary file formats has made a game now notorious for its difficulty such a challenge to mod.
Illusorywall, another renowned Souls aficionado, believes this label can finally be shaken off—and Meowmaritus' DSFBX marks the evolution and collective input of the Dark Souls modding community from day one.
"For years, if someone asked about the prospect of modding Dark Souls, you would be told that it's too complicated and you can't really do anything outside of changing textures," says Illusorywall. "But people have been continuing to pick the game apart and make more complex modding possible. DSMODT (created by Nyxojaele) introduced importing new models for weapons.
"The Dark Souls Item Randomizer (by HotPocketRemix) remixed the game by shuffling around the contents of loot. And more recently, The Scorched Contract (HotPocketRemix) demonstrated the implementation of new items, events, and effects in the game (with the help of some other tools created by Meowmaritus)."
Illusorywall adds: "Now Meowmaritus' contribution allows modders to easily change the entire model for the player character, which is always a desired feature in the modding community. As these talented modders continue to tinker with Dark Souls, we move further and further away from the idea that modding Dark Souls is impossible."
For Illusorywall, the biggest remaining hurdle is modding environments. On the technical side, he cites altering map data, introducing new collision and kill box data, and accounting for LOD and when and from where it's displayed as potential obstacles. On the artistic side, aesthetics that look good are of paramount importance.
"Someone who may be able to do all the aforementioned things might not be the same person who is capable of creating new environments, and finding or making textures to match," Illusorywall adds. "If tools ever arise that make that possible, then the sky will be the limit."
Zullie underscores Dark Souls' cryptic nature, and the community's desire to see no stone left unturned. This ethos is evident throughout the scene: be that through modding, speedruns or challenge runs. "In addition to all that," says Zullie, "it's a very popular game for gameplay's sake, and it's great to see what sort of changes that gameplay can undergo and still be fun."
Illusorywall agrees and says that while Dark Souls has a reputation for being difficult, many of its fans have a genuine love of its core mechanics. These satisfy a particular niche, he says, but mods clearly have scope to tinker with the familiar formula. Illusorywall adds that the challenging nature of modding Dark Souls has meant no one individual could have brought the scene to where it is today, and that "it took time for that foundational support to arrive". In turn, this has galvanised the excitement of where the Souls mod scene stands today.
For Zullie, it's the unknown that carries the most excitement. "As for what I'd like to see. I'm sure there are people with ideas that would blow any expectations or wants I have out of the water."