Dark Souls II: Shibuya on the gameworld, awkwardness and accessibility

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Dark Souls II will once again be staged in a seamless open world full of dangers, but Shibuya also plans to weave in elements that “will help to guide the player”

“Ideally we want Dark Souls players to smoothly get into Dark Souls II,” he explains, “but at the same time I am implementing a lot of different aspects as well. So there might be a sense of awkwardness at the [beginning] when experienced Dark Souls players pick up Dark Souls II. But ideally we want that smooth process, so Dark Souls II will have the same general feel in terms of the experience in the game. I don’t intend to change the controls.”

Our conversation then turns to the issue of accessibility. Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are notorious for not just being difficult to master in a mechanical sense, but remaining staunchly inscrutable as well; the games rarely explain their systems to players. Demon’s Souls contained a feature called World Tendency that veered between pure white and pure black, changing the nature of the world depending on certain actions, but you had to flee online to the Demon’s Souls wiki if you were to have any hope of untangling the mystery of how it worked. Dark Souls has a host of different ‘covenants’, which require different actions from players to both join and maintain good standing in. The covenant system will return in Dark Souls II, but Shibuya assures us it will be easier to understand.

“I personally feel that the covenant system was something that was difficult to fully absorb and experience [in] Dark Souls, and I intend to make it more accessible to players. And that’s not just with the covenant system, but with a lot of other aspects that I felt were difficult to fully adapt to.

According to Shibuya, the player’s ability to parse the meaning behind subtle hints or clues in the game’s environment will “determine the difficulty of the game and the challenges that are available for them to experience”

“I will follow the same concept as Dark Souls, but there were a lot of hidden story elements that some players may not have caught before, and I’m hoping to make some of that a little bit more clear or directly expressed to the player as well – not just in the story, but messaging. A lot of elements were very subtle in Dark Souls, and that was something that was characteristic to Dark Souls. But I personally am the sort of person who likes to be more direct instead of subtle, so I think that part of me will [result in] a difference [for] players when they pick up Dark Souls II. It will be more straightforward and more understandable.”

Despite Miyazaki telling us in an interview conducted back in November 2011 that he wasn’t yet sure if he’d have the chance to make a follow-up to Dark Souls, Dark Souls II had in fact already been in development for two months at that stage. Shibuya mentions being approached about the project in September of last year, at which point, we’re told, development was proceeding in parallel, with some of the Dark Souls team working on patches and DLC content, and staff gradually migrating over to the new game as required.

According to Shibuya, the team working on Dark Souls II is “substantially bigger”. Though he won’t quantify the growth numerically, he points out that the studio has nearly doubled the internal team focused on world creation alone, in addition to adding new members across every other department. When asked what state the game is currently in, he estimates it being roughly 25 per cent finished. In other words, if the current pace of development holds, you can almost definitely rule out the game arriving in 2013. Is the team hoping to finish the game before the end of the current hardware generation? Shibuya politely declines to comment.

After about 90 minutes of question-and-answer jousting, we haven’t teased out many specifics. It’s just like Dark Souls to raise more questions than it answers, but we can’t help feeling frustrated. Diehard fans of the series will surely be disappointed as well. But it’s also just like Dark Souls to provide players with dizzying turnabouts in fortune. After stumbling blind and hopeless through the pitch black Tomb Of The Giants in Dark Souls, discovering that first bonfire near the base of the tall cliff-face ladder felt like reaching pure nirvana. In a cavern that dark, the illumination from even a tiny bonfire can feel as penetrating as the sun itself.

You can find part one of our look at Dark Souls II here. The third part, in which we learn more about the game from its concept art, will be published tomorrow.