Dark Souls’ grand vision
Despite the relentless influx of new titles always coming to market, there are some games that we just can’t seem to permanently eject from the console. Dark Souls has a way of stubbornly finding its way back into rotation. After spending roughly 120 hours living – and dying, and dying, and dying – in the dark-fantasy world of Lordran, returning to a place filled with so many indelible experiences offers a nostalgic headrush on par with visiting the home in which you grew up.
Here, we sit down with Dark Souls creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki to discuss the game’s design and artistic vision in more granular detail.
This interview discusses enemies and tactics from later on in the game, and as such contains spoilers.
How much did having the existing template of Demon’s Souls help ease the development burden of Dark Souls?
There were definitely many areas in Dark Souls’ production that were made easier due to Demon’s Souls, but on other hand, there were many areas that were pulling us back and were quite difficult to handle, so overall it wasn’t all that easy. We experimented a lot with the system, and also removed the server. On the surface they may seem to be similar, but we put a lot of effort into the content of Dark Souls so it was rather difficult. Plus there were a lot of expectations from fans because of Demon’s Souls so it probably made things more difficult in certain ways.
Creative director Hidetaka Miyazaki
The vast, seamless world of Lordran is one of the game’s greatest achievements. What kind of design principles guided its construction?
Because the entire world in Dark Souls is connected, it had to look natural as players walk from one area of the map to the next. However, we didn’t want to bore players by having everything just look the same, so our design process this time was executed with emphasis on providing variation in the map within a reasonable scope and introducing changes naturally.
Demon’s Souls was divided into five sections and therefore we were able to simply cut things into five pieces. However, this time we were actively considering how to connect everything together and lose that sense of disconnection. We tried to take advantage of the continuity by letting players feel the differences as they travel from one area to another. The idea was that the higher-up area would be more beautiful, more fantastic, then as you literally walked down the stairs into a deeper, nasty, muddy area like Blighttown, you’d be able to experience the change. If you’re just jumping between areas, you immediately see the contrast but you don’t feel the change gradually happening.
When we journeyed down past Blighttown through the tree hollow to Ash Lake, it felt like the bottom of the world and this dread settled over us, this claustrophobic feeling of not being sure if we’d ever make it back to the surface.
I’m glad that you were able to feel that. The journey and the exploration is a big part of this game – going deeper, deeper, deeper. Getting the feeling of not being able to come back up is definitely something that we wanted players to feel, that gloomy emotional side of what we were trying to express in the game.
We kept thinking our descent had hit rock bottom and then another stratum would open up. Did it become a game on the development side to see how many times you could surprise the player in this way?
A lot of information has already surfaced about the game’s world, but we wanted players to feel like there was no end to the hole or how far down you could go. The idea was to have a stage that was called something like The Bottom Of The World, but then you find out that there’s an even lower level, and then another even lower level, and after you beat that boss then there’s still another level below. We wanted players to experience the surprise of not knowing where the world ends.
Critics writing about the game have called you ‘cruel’ and ‘sadistic’ – to mention a few of the more polite adjectives. Are those fair accusations, given the game’s extreme difficulty?
If I had to say for myself, it’s actually the opposite – I’m more masochistic. Because I created Dark Souls while thinking about what type of game I would personally like to play. I wanted somebody to bring out a really sadistic game, but I ended up having to make it myself.