The lights are on
Minor issues with it aside, Dark Souls remains one of the most intense, addictive, and challenging games released in 2011. To get to the bottom of this difficult game's surprise success, I talked to From Software's Hidetaka Miyazaki, the director of Dark Souls.
With Dark Souls it seems like you truly embraced the idea of being a difficult game, even more-so than with Demon’s Souls – such as the “prepare to die” tagline. That’s a unique path to take at a time when many developers are making games easier to get through. What’s your philosophy for creating games, and why is challenge such an important part of it?
The concepts behind Dark Souls are "sense of achievement" and "surprise of discovery." To make players find those feelings in the game we needed to set high levels of challenge and difficulty. So setting a high level of difficulty was to make players feel a sense of accomplishment, not to simply make players suffer. Finally, the tag line "Prepare to Die" came from the Namco Bandai marketing team. I really think this tag line represents the game and I appreciate the Namco Bandai marketing team for making this nice tag line.
How do you balance between creating new situations and enemies that are challenging without creating parts where players will get stuck for too long?
To be honest, it is very difficult to adjust the difficulty of the game. I do not have 100 percent confidence in what is right in terms of adjusting the level of difficulty. But I try not to believe my sense that much. I would rather take opinions from our test players and development staff. However, even those people will get better in terms of playing the game, so we might end up making the game a little too difficult for some.
I found that some areas in Dark Souls get downright sadistic, such as the pitch-black Tomb of Giants. Were you specifically trying to make the game harder than Demon’s Souls?
As described on the first question, setting the difficulty level high is not my objective of creating Dark Souls. I know nobody trusts me on this, though....
Was it difficult walking the line between paying homage to Demon’s Souls without making a direct sequel?
Yes, it was difficult to make Dark Souls without positioning it as a direct sequel. However, since Dark Souls is not a direct sequel of Demon’s Souls, there were many things that I could add/change.
Demon’s Souls ended up doing well over time, but with Dark Souls it seems like there’s been a lot of buzz in a very short period. Are you at all surprised to see so much discussion and hype building up around the spiritual successor to what many wrote off as a niche title?
Yes, I am very surprised on the amount of buzz Dark Souls created with people worldwide. This was actually our first time receiving these huge expectations from media and players. I have to admit that it put huge pressure on me. But thinking back now, I felt happy to be busy and pressured for some reason.
As part of that movement toward making games easier, a lot of developers use extensive play-testing to help determine when they need to tweak or possibly cut levels. Did From Software use play-testing in the creation of Dark Souls, and if so, was it ever used to actually make an area easier...or the opposite?
Yes, we used play-testing to determine difficulty level. When we did play-testing, we found out that usually the difficulty level was decreased. So we started off setting the difficulty level drastically high depending on the concept/theme of the stage, then we made it easier thanks to the feedback from play-testing.
One of the biggest changes from Demon’s Souls is the switch to a huge open world. Was this harder for you to create? Did you ever worry about people getting lost due to the lack of a map or objective system?
By having seamless world design, I admit it was difficult to establish game design. But at the same time, it was very fun to create the connection of maps/hidden routes/etc.
Also, I fully get your point about saying people may get lost without being told where to go. But I thought it would be fun for players to go into the wrong stage and get brutally beaten up so badly that they would automatically know that the stage was not the one to go at that point. I am sure it is going to be a very memorable gameplay experience for them, and it will add to their story of the game. However, I actually wanted to add a few more objectives for players when they are exploring these areas. That is something I would improve if I had more time.
My personal experience with Dark Souls – and this seems to be echoed by most of my friends who are playing it – is that it’s a much longer game than Demon’s Souls. How much bigger is Dark Souls in terms of actual physical size/geometry? Or is most of the added length just due to the exploration warranted by the open world?
The physical size of the map is approximately three to four times bigger than Demon’s Souls, and the game length, depending on skill, is approximately doubled.
In interviews leading up to Dark Souls’ release, you suggested that players should go with the pendant starting gift. There’s still a lot of confusion and mystery in the community surrounding what this item affects. Now that the game has been out for a while, care to give any further clues?
Hm.... I am very happy to get this question because this is exactly what I expected. I am very sorry, I cannot tell you here how you use the item. I still want people to try investigating the meaning of the item. Please find it out on your own! [laughs]
Namco has previously stated that there are no plans for Dark Souls DLC, and you similarly did not do downloadable additions for Demon’s Souls. Is there a reason that you don’t think DLC works well for the Souls games or could you see that being a possibility in the future?
My point of view for DLC is as follows: Items such as strong weapons, spells, and armor are rewards for players for being able to overcome a difficulty. So I am not going to provide those items as DLC. Also, I wanted to create a complete package of the game without adding any DLC. That is the reason why I am not planning any DLC for Dark Souls.
Where do you want to go from here? With all the positive buzz for Dark Souls, it seems like there’s a healthy audience for this kind of challenging game. Do you plan to make another Souls title? Perhaps a direct sequel to Dark Souls this time?
I am very glad to know that there is a lot of positive feedback on Dark Souls. It's such an honor to hear that as a game developer.
To be honest, I do not know if there is a plan for a sequel to Dark Souls at this point. Personally, I have some things which I could do better and things I wanted to add to Dark Souls. If I get a chance to develop a sequel, I would love the challenge of making a new one. However, at the same time, if we are really to make a sequel, I think we would need some more new blood on the dev team, not just myself, to create an even better game.
But making a sequel is too big of a topic for me to decide anyways. So I will leave it up to the company. [laughs]