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Part 2 of the Dark Souls Design Works interview, this section takes a more detailed look at each of the game's main areas.
If you missed the first part of the interview you can read it HERE.
Otsuka: Next I'd like to talk about each of the areas in the game in a little more detail. I suppose we should start at the beginning in the Undead Asylum.
Waragai: I was in charge of the Undead Asylum, but in was actually the last thing I drew.
Miyazaki: It may sound strange, but it's quite common for the tutorial to be the last thing to be integrated. It's much easier to design once you know what needs to be communicated, and have thought about how best to explain it to the player. I remember saying that the Undead Asylum should take Dark Souls' dark fantasy aesthetic and just distill that to it's purest essence. We began with the image of a gloomy basement cell and the stone architecture, and also incorporated that cold, sad atmosphere I mentioned previously. Once we decided on this direction the area came together fairly easily. In many ways it fell directly in the centre of designs we had been working on up until that point...
Otsuka: Next I'd like to ask about a very important area, the Firelink shrine.
Miyazaki: The Firelink Shrine was Mr (Daisuke) Satake wasn't it?
Satake: Yes. From what I remember it was originally designed as a water temple. But as work on the game progressed, and the image of kindling and fire became more prominent, the water gradually dried up. Haha.
Miyazaki: Yes that's right. The Firelink Shrine is what serves as the hub for the game so I initially wanted it to be a very healing place with water, greenery, soft light and subtle music. and while that never really changed, as Mr Satake said factors like the introduction of kindling and frampt's arrival later in the game, meant the water gradually disappeared from the area. We realised that when Frampt appears he bursts through the ground, so the water that used to fill that area would all have to drain away...
The other thing is the bonfire placement. It use to be in a different location, the place it's in now used to be a small pond. We had problems with the original placement because when the ground wasn't flat it interfered with the players sitting animation. So we had to search for a level place to move the bonfire and that's were it stayed… but of course you can't have a bonfire in the middle of a pond so that water had to go too.
Waragai: But it feels like a place everyone will gather so I think this location actually worked really well.
Miyazaki: Yes, I had an image of people gather around the fire from the very beginning, but getting back to the subject, the Firelink Shrine was one of the first places we designed, it's a small area but it connects to many different places and has many hidden areas, It was actually a very enjoyable location to create.
Satake: Yes. It was made to connect with areas in every direction. In fact we had to remove some routes from area in the final game, as well as some other things. Initially Pricilla was the heroine of the story and she was going to be there for example…
Miyazaki: That's not really something I want to talk about just yet….
Otsuka: Pricilla is certainly the most beautiful character in the game
Miyazaki: Thank you, she was the heroine of the story at one point so I'm glad you think so. Moving on to the undead burg. We never really spent much time working on the look of the area. It was the first map we created and the large bridge, the church and the other structures were already planned out by the 3d artist who was in charge of the area. As the lead artist on the project, he had already decided exactly how he wanted these things to look right down to the smallest detail, even the levers and statues.
Otsuka: Next I'd like to travel upwards to ask about Sen's Fortress...
Miyazaki: Sen's Fortress and Anor Londo were both overseen by Mr Waragai. As for me, I had a definite visual image right from the beginning and a good idea of the concept behind the area i.e. the trial to reach Anor Londo, full of deadly traps. The designers had real trouble with this area I seem to remember. We spent a long time on the rough map didn't we.
Waragai: Yes we did, but the image of a trap road was fairly straightforward. The pendulums, rolling boulders and other major traps were all there from the start. Infact we almost tried hard to make them obvious and create things that screamed trap!
Miyazaki: It's almost comical how obvious they are, but I think things like that are all part of Dark Souls' appeal. Personally I love the stone launcher, the way it endlessly fires the boulders, and the strange complex contraption build to achieve this simple action. It's things like this really add a sense of intrigue to the Dark Souls world. In terms of achieving the original design aims, I think the area works really well.
Satake: I really like the way the stairs are worn away where the boulders roll down.
Waragai: I think that was Miyazaki's idea
Miyazaki: Was it?
Waragai: Yes, the idea was that the worn steps might give players a warning as to the dangers ahead.
Miyazaki: I see, although I doubt people will be able to pick up that on that small detail, especially on their first time through, Haha, perhaps the second time it will serve to remind them.
Waragai: Diligent people will notice I think, by that point you've already seen several large boulders haven't you...
Miyazaki: Well I'm glad we were able to create a design that really incorporated all of our ideas. Haha
Otsuka: Next up is Anor Londo.
Miyazaki: There was a lot I wanted to fit into Anor Londo. As I mentioned before I wanted it to feel like a reward after finishing Sen's Fortress, but I also wanted it to be an area with no clear road, to have the player walk in places that you wouldn't normally walk such as the buttresses. Then there was also the image of the setting sun, and the way it the area changes once night falls. I really like the way your eye is drawn to to different features like the revolving staircase elevator.
Waragai: That was Nakamura's idea, I remember him saying Life is like climbing a great spiral…
Miyazaki: Nakamura comes out with some strange things doesn't he. I mean that in the best possible way of course. I think this idea works really well, there are several spirals in the area and I'm glad that we were able to incorporate that idea.
Otsuka: Did you use anything for reference when designing Anor Londo?
Waragai: We had the image of walking on buttresses from the start, so that I suppose. Their actual purpose is to support the walls so they can build them even higher, but when I visited the cathedral in Milan, I walked beneath the buttresses and I thought how fun it would be to walk upon them…
Miyazaki: There was one more thing I wanted to achieve with Anor Londo, the last game I directed Demon's Souls was based in the early middle ages so it was extremely difficult to gather reference materials for the area design Dark Souls is based in a later time period so with Anor Londo I saw a chance to create an area that felt more cohesive and full of the kind of detail that we couldn't achieve in Demon's Souls.
Otsuka: How about The Duke's Archives and the crystal caves… The library looks a little like...
Miyazaki: Yes the revolving stairs are from Harry Potter aren't they. Haha. Personally I was really interested in creating a library or archive, but if I'm being honest I would have liked to spend a little more time on some aspects of area.
Otsuka: How about the Old Londo Ruins?
Miyazaki: We tried a slightly different approach with the New Londo ruins, closely basing it on existing architecture, in this case Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. Of course it's not exactly the same but if you compare the two, the similarities are obvious.
Very much like creating the cities in armoured core, it's much easier for the planners, designers and 3d artists to start with a bases in reality than to start from scratch. Real things contain such a mixture of influences and ideas and such an abundance of information, so I wanted to try using this technique in dark souls too. Of course some things worked out better than others, but I think in the end we created something that wouldn't have been possible starting from zero. Even with the areas that didn't turn out as I'd hoped it was a pretty successful experiment. Looking at it against the other areas I think the difference is actually fairly obvious. But since we used this different approach for this area it was the last area the artists worked on.
Waragai: Yes. While I was in charge of New Londo, the fact that it was based so heavily on a real world location meant there wasn't actually a great deal of work to be done. All but the finest details were already in place.
Otsuka: Well then moving on to the Depths and Blight Town
Miyazaki: Well the depths were based around the image of an underground aqueduct, but it's aesthetic is very similar to that of the undead burg. It also shared the same lead artist so the two areas really fit together well.
As for Blight Town, I started with a number of images I wanted to incorporate, but due to the complexity of the area it would have been difficult to try and design everything all at once, so instead we began with large features like the water wheel elevator and, with the designers and artists, gradually build the area up from there.
Otsuka: Moving even further down to the Demon Ruins, they have a different feel to the previous areas don't they.
Miyazaki: I mentioned previously that Dark Souls is divided into three main sections or themes. The demons in are all based around the idea of chaos, but we had to think long and hard about how to convey that image in a map. We decided upon an oriental theme. I'm worried people may this that the wrong way but oriental things possess a kind of chaos, or to put it differently they lack a kind of peace or order and that's what I wanted to try and capture. The best example of this is found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and in the areas surrounding it, where east and west asia meet.
Otsuka: How about the Catacombs and the Tomb of the Giants?
Miyazaki: The Catacombs and the Tomb have a similar atmosphere to that of Blight Town, but both contain a great many more man made objects, which meant more work for the artists. In our team the 3d artists will sometimes be called upon to do work more akin to that of a traditional artist so we tried to utilise their skills as much as we could. As I said before we don't have many artists to start with, and just throwing more people at something doesn't guarantee a better result.
Otsuka: On to the Great Hollow and Ash lake
Miyazaki: These two areas were entirely created by the designers, with little to no concept work. I had a clear image of both areas from the beginning, and as work progressed I continued to modify that so as to be in keeping with the other areas we were creating. Most of the work was done directly from the rough map, but there is also more than a little Avatar in there I think. Of course if the area hadn't have come together I'd have had the artists create some concept art, but in the end it wasn't needed.
Otsuka: Now, a very interesting area, the painted world of Artemis
Miyazaki: We drew a great deal of concept art for the painted world. It was actually based on the map used in the dark souls prototype. Of course the prototype is your chance to really get across your vision for the game so we spent a long time on the area. So much so that I really wanted to use it in the full game but I couldn't find a way to make it fit with the other areas. In the end I cheated and put it in the painted world.
Waragai: It's the only area with snow so it would be hard to put anywhere else.
Miyazaki: Yes. it may sound like a poor solution, but I actually had an image for the painted world from the start, I'm just happy I was able to combine that image and the prototype map.
Otsuka: It was here you decided to put former heroine pricilla wasn't it
Miyazaki: Yes. I think she she works well here… she's kind of snow coloured after all…. but I also think the painted world is place where someone who's being chased might go to escape, and she fits that description doesn't she.
Waragai: Like she's been chased from her natural place?
Miyazaki: Yes, although "natural place" means something slightly different in this case. Haha.
Otsuka: I think it's a really unique area, I remember before travelling there I was excited to see what would happen.
Miyazaki: Thankyou. I'm very happy with the area overall. It was the important first map and I think I was able to incorporate the new ideas I had while not taking anything away from the original design of the area. When collaborating with the team I often come up with ideas, and I enjoy trying to fit them in as we develop the world. Of course I also have to be careful not to break anything. I think this method of continuous improvement can really help add to the atmosphere of an area, infact we also used this method on the last game I worked on "Demon's Souls", the problem is that there is a tendency to over produce things and before you know it the project can spiral out of control and work can slow down.
I suppose I'm getting off subject slightly so I will stop there but it's something I want to work on in the future.
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Read part 3 HERE.