Dark Souls 2 Design Works Translation

A complete translation of the Dark Souls 2 design works interview originally posted over on my tumblr. It features the director Yu Tanimura as well as artists Daisuke Satake, Masanao Katayama, Hiroaki Tomari, Kota Tonaki and Shin Ou.

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Firstly, I’d like to ask director Tanimura to give an overview of the Dark Souls 2 design process. This was your first role as director and you had some difficult shoes to fill in those of Mr Miyazaki, who was really the cornerstone of both the previous entry Dark Souls and its spiritual prequel Demon’s Souls. On top of that it was the first direct sequel in the series. Was it as difficult as it sounds?

Tanimura: Yes, this game actually went through quite a troubled development process. Due to a number of factors we were actually forced to re-think the entire game midway into development. We really had to go back to the drawing board and think once more about what a Dark Souls game should be. It was at that point that I took on my current role, overseeing the entirety of the game including the art direction. To ensure we created the game both we and the fans wanted it was completely necessary, but it did of course create a problem. We had to decide what to do with the designs and maps that had been created up to that point. Ideally we’d start again from scratch but of course we were under time constraints so instead we had to figure out how to repurpose the designs in our newly reimagined game. This meant everything from deciding new roles for characters to finding ways to slot locations into the world map. This unusual development cycle faced us with an entirely different set of problems and looking back on the project as a whole it was at times, arduous. Although I’m confident that none of this will be felt by the players and I’m completely satisfied with the final product. So while I don’t think we need to dwell on it too much, in the interest of giving a full count of the development process it’s something we can’t avoid touching on.

In terms of sheer volume this entry is much bigger than the first game yet you were able to release on time which I’m sure wasn’t easy. In the midst of this difficult development cycle what kind of direction did you give to the artists on the game?

Tanimura: Well there were really two patterns and the process differed for each one. There were the partially completed designs which needed to be modified to fit into the reworked game and the new designs created after the revision. In this case my preferred method is to start with a base idea or concept and then develop it from there although this project had many more of the former than the latter. It is worth noting however that this doesn’t apply to the dlc as it was created completely from scratch and we didn’t begin work on it until we had completed the entirety of the main game. In both situations I took care not to be too controlling, even when I myself had a personal preference. I like to take time to talk with the designers and artists and evolve the idea that way. In my experience this method tends to provide better results in the end, in fact it’s used in a lot of From Software’s games so I saw no reason not to use it with Dark Souls 2 as well.

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However rearranging the partially completed designs was extremely difficult. For example the character Lucatiel of Mirrah. Her name during development was Don Quixote and the Bell Keeper dwarf her Sancho Panza. They were originally designed as a slightly untrustworthy female knight and her bumbling, middle aged squire much like their namesakes. But while I’m a fan of the source material inserting these two overtly comical characters into such a dark foreboding world just wouldn’t fit at all. So eventually we changed their roles to that of the cursed knight and the Bell Keeper. I simply asked the designers if they could modify them a little for their new roles.

When changing the role of a character you also have to make changes to their appearance…

Tanimura: There are some designs that don’t but yes, many require some degree of modification. There were also those designs that we just couldn’t salvage and had to do away with all together. It really depends on the circumstances.

When I interviewed Mr Miyazaki about the first Dark Souls he mentioned a number of changes that occurred during development, for example the character Pricilla originally being designed as heroine but ending up as the boss of The Painted World and the original design for the Fire Link Shrine being partially filled with water. But you’re saying that this game had even more?

Satake: This isn’t unique to Dark Souls. From Software’s titles often go thorough such amendments, although i’d call it more of a reconfiguration than an outright change. If some aspect isn’t coming together we’ll take it apart and think about how we can make it work. This can really give the artists a chance to flex their creative muscle. To put it another way it’s like were conducting a jazz session, but one to try and produce a superior experience. If an artist comes to us with an idea then we might suggest some something else before throwing it back. At times the studio almost feels like a live music session.

People not used to this way of working may think it wasteful but every single change is made to benefit the final product in some way, so in my opinion this back and forth really is essential. The one downside is that these changes can affect other areas of the project meaning that in some cases larger changes are necessary. I think it must have been very hard for the director to maintain this working method on a project of this size and scale. Imagine how difficult it would be to simultaneously conduct 4 or 5 orchestras!

Tanimura: Yes, this wasn’t the easiest project but everyone was extremely forthcoming with help. In fact when approached with changes I’d often ask them to take it even further, so I’m sorry for all the extra work I created. Personally I was able to approach and overcome a great deal of challenging problems and found the whole project to be a valuable learning experience.

As the first direct sequel in the series there were a number of items and some equipment from the first game that also appeared in this one. Did you have to modify them at all to bring them in line with the rest of the game’s visuals?

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Tanimura: The increase in graphic fidelity allowed us to achieve a number of things that weren’t possible before and I wanted the artists to embrace that. For example the character use on the cover, the faraam knight, since he was featured in much of the early promotional material I had the artists think about about every little detail, right down to the way the skirt and other fabric would move.

Satake: During the early stages of development I spoke at length with one of the 3d artists about things such as realistic cloth that we hadn’t been able to create before and the new possibilities and realms of expression that this new technology afforded us.

Could I ask Mr Tanimura to explain his direction style in a little more detail?

Tanimura: When I first give instruction I give the outline concept and the general direction I want it taken. Depending on the situation I may take a fairly direct approach, clearly explaining the place, function and role I want it to fill, at least it’s my intention to be clear and direct. However I have been known to give intentionally ambiguous explanations, even when I myself have a clear image of what I want. I want to see how the artist will improve upon the original concept.

That’s not just in the art. I use this technique in a number of places throughout the development. For example animation. If I say ‘This character is a woman’ The animation will naturally start to look a certain way. The design is instantly confined within set boundaries and the final result will suffer because of it. To put it bluntly, it can become stereotypical. We are no longer thinking about enhancing the experience of the player, but rather simply following instructions and fulfilling the design brief. I want to utilise my staff’s creativity, in fact You could say that I want them to go through some hardship and deliberation before producing their design. Even though this method can take time it’s more likely to produce better, more unexpected results.

Satake: Like the Jazz session I talked about earlier, We actually had a situation like this before. In the original game the butchers in the depths carrying the giant meat cleavers and wearing torn sacks over their faces. When making them Mr Miyazaki never told us that they were women. On hearing that even we were surprised so I’m sure the players were similarly shocked. Rather than the artists producing those surprising twists it is in fact more down to the directors instruction.

Now I’d like to have the artists for this project introduce themselves so we can go into more detail of specific areas. If you could explain what you worked on and perhaps give us your impression of the game.

Satake: I mostly worked on enemy and equipment designs and I was also involved in map concepts and creation. The Castle Drangleic from my initial concept is a little different from the final one that appeared in the game but I talked with the director about the architecture and design and made some suggestions.

So really from the very early stages then?

Satake: Yes, right from the time we started forming the initial image we wanted to build the game around. I also worked a little on the characters.

There are a lot of characters in this game aren’t there.

Satake: Several of the characters were actually shaped primarily by suggestions from the artists like the previously mentioned Lucantiel. She began as one type of character and by the end of development had transformed into something else entirely. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that’s how she would end up.

Tomari: On the previous game map and character artists weren’t separated but on this project i was in charge of the maps. I was involved right from the very earliest concept stage. A lot changed as the project progressed and there were things that appeared differently in the final game but looking though the pages of this book you’ll see a number of these concept pieces. I was involved in all of them.

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Tonaki: I was involved from the enemy concept design stage and I also worked on the DLC after the main project was finished. As well as that I also worked on several of the bosses and some equipment. This was the first time I’d been involved for the entire duration of a project so it’s quite a special game for me. I was also responsible for supervising the miniature weapons in the collectors edition, that was an interesting departure from CG.

Ou: I wasn’t involved in the project until the latter half. It was my job to aid my Tonaki and the other leads.

Stake: you worked on both maps and characters didn’t you.

Ou: Yes, maps characters and icons I worked on them all. I was delighted to be able to work in so many different areas and I learned a huge amount. I played the previous game before entering the company and was blown away by the attention to detail in the designs.

Out of my designs I’d probably say I’m happiest with the Black Witch set. The Dark Souls series doesn’t have all that many female characters so I think it’s an important addition and it was also a lot of fun to work on.

Next a veteran from the previous game, Mr Katayama.

Katayama: Yes, it’s just Mr Satake and I that worked on the previous game isn’t it. I only joined from the latter half of the first Dark Souls but here I was involved right from the early concept stages. Once we entered the main stage of development I worked with Mr Satake and Mr Tonaki, mainly on the characters.

Satake: You worked a little on map design didn’t you?

Katayama: Yes, But only during the very early stages. Of my designs the one I’m most attached to is probably the green cloaked Faraam Knight which was used in the first trailer, that and the Mirror Knight. As well as that I worked on a number of bosses and a lot of the normal enemies such as the salamanders. Dividing my time between cg and real models.

This game is much larger than the prequel, did you encounter any difficulties because of this?

Satake: Yes, while working on the previous game I remember thinking a larger game would be completely unthinkable, but this project eclipsed it in both size and scale. I told myself multiple times during development that it was impossible, the fact that we completed the game at all is entirely down to the hard work put in by the artists and designers, I have the upmost respect for them.

By increasing the number of characters you also increase the amount of weapons and equipment. That must have been a lot of work.

Satake: With this project we actually relied quite heavily on out of ouse artists, although that did mean we spent a lot of time checking their designs. We also had the in house artists supervise creation of the 3d models rather than just working on 2d images. We made and remade things countless times during this project, but there were some designs like Mr Katayama’s mirror knight that made it unchanged into the final game. I remember the company director actually phoned up to tell us how much he liked it.

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The mirror knight was also the boss of the first playable build wasn’t he?

Satake: Well he has a strong image doesn’t he. Most people who saw it seemed to praise the subtle wing design embossed on the back of the armour, but personally I always loved the way the helmet looked. You can never tell what part will resonate with people.

Mr Tanimura, what was your overall design theme with dark souls 2?

Tanimura: Since it is a sequel i was always conscious of the original games legacy and kept that stylistic core, but of course I couldn’t just leave it the same. It’s a cliche thing to say about a sequel but it can easily become like a copy where you imitate rather than move the series forward in any meaningful way, so we had to inject our own special colour into the project to set it apart. At that time the keyword i used was ‘deep curse’. I’m not simply talking about the curse of the undead which afflicts the world of Drangleic, but more about the grim fate of the undead. Those chosen to perform this seemingly impossible task. I wondered if we could draw that out, have the player bear some of that burden as they embark upon their journey. If that is the case then I’ve been successful.

There are some tragic stories such as those of Lucantiel or Blacksmith Lenigrast and his daughter Chloanne, then there are characters like Cale the Cartographer and Maughlin the Armourer which were at times quite humorous, but I almost felt bad for laughing, it’s very black humour isn’t it.

Tanimura: You laugh, or more accurately you can’t help laughing because the characters are so straight, that’s something we actually aimed for when developing them.

Tonaki: As we move to the end of the game the characters all begin to lose their memory, they remember their ultimate goal but they can’t remember why they’re working towards it. It’s quite sad.

Satake: It’s like many of the Japanese festivals. The tradition is passed down and we remember what has to be done but the original meaning behind those actions can get lost along the way.

Tanimura: Dark Souls’ Solaire of Astoria was a huge fan favourite wasn’t he. I liked the complexity of the character. On the face of it he’s a typical npc that might appear in any game, supportive and jovial to a fault, but underneath it all he’s deeply troubled. It’s only when you start to consider what type of person he really is that you discover he’s actually in an extremely dire situation. I really think that that’s tremendously clever and one of the things that draws people to the character.

Since a lot of time has passed since the prequel, how did you try to reflect this in the game?

Tanimura: Well I never actually asked the designers to think about the change in time period. It’s true that a lot of time had passed since the prequel. But as I see it old civilisations have fallen, new ones has risen up and new kings have come to power before being overthrown themselves. If there is some kind of discovery or innovation to break the status quo then this isn’t the case but in this world one never came. History simply continued to repeat itself for several hundred years. This being that case it’s natural that there hasn’t been a huge advancement in technology or any vast change is culture or customs.

Satake: The world of Lordran was one of dusk and twilight, the gods had already left it behind. The fire had weakened and the realm waited, either for a king to bring a new golden age, or a slow slide into oblivion. In the world of Dark Souls 2 there are barely any traces of the old gods left, but we took care when creating it to leave suggestions of their presence behind to hint at the worlds arcane past. People who played the previous game should be able to recognise them, or those who take there time to absorb every detail. I remember Mr Tanimura telling me many times to keep it to the merest hint.

Tanimura: I often said things like that didn’t I. Posing drawn out questions that were too complex and hard to answer. [Laughs]

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Next I’d like to talk about the various locations in the game in a bit more detail. How about starting at the beginning, in Things Betwixt.

Tomari: While the concept art doesn’t appear in this book, in the initial design you were going start in the depths of a dark cave and immediately be faced with a gigantic dragon, but you had yet to procure any weapons and were powerless against it. The player would then be tasked with working out how to overcome this seemingly impossible situation. But, during the re-design the dragon disappeared leaving only the empty cave behind. When thinking how we could re-purpose the area we struck upon the idea of making it a tutorial map.

Tonaki: There are small enemies hidden in the grass which you can attack, but you do so little damage that you can’t hope to defeat them. On top of that, attacking one will attract all the surrounding enemies granting you with a spectacular first death. It was our way of saying welcome back to people who played the first Dark Souls.

Satake: For the players who had been eagerly awaiting this new entry we wanted to place them in an exciting new world and immediately let them know that the adventure had begun anew, but I feel like our original design was overdoing it a bit. You were plunged into a pitch black world, as if you had instantly been flung into the original game’s Tomb of the Giants, all but the most hardened player will start to loose hope being faced with that right off the bat. Then after advancing a short distance you’d be faced with this great dragon.

Of course we wanted the experience to get off to a strong start so we added these elements, but there are also those players who didn’t play the first game, and also in terms of tempo it just didn’t work. When we took another look at the area during the re-design some elements were changed, but we still wanted the player to have that feeling that they were embarking on something amazing, plunging headlong into the dark unknown. In the opening grass-filled area you hear that faint rustling and think ‘here we go again’. It’s a complex feeling, a mixture of excitement of the journey ahead and dread of the hardships to come.

There’s a blue light in the distance. I was immediately drawn towards it, it’s a little glimpse of hope.

Satake: I’m actually very fond of that detail. It makes you wonder what could be stretching out on the other side. We worked very hard to craft a world that lives up to those expectations.

Tanimura: In the design it’s written that very few people actually make it out of that cave alive. The undead you encounter past the house are those who became forever lost in the space betwixt.

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The house itself features some wonderful detail, it really feels ‘lived in’.

Tomari: That was done on purpose to immediately distinguish it from the previous game. It feels very different. If you think about it the simple fact there there is a house with people living in it is something that didn’t exist in the first Dark Souls. We wanted to make a warm little space in this otherwise dark and gloomy world.

Satake: Those old women are mean [Laughs], the way they talk just makes me want to shout ’Shut up you old hag’.

Tanimura: As a player you feel anxious about being cast into this eerie place, but you see a house in the distance with warm light spilling out over the threshold, and it alleviates that somewhat. Of course we couldn’t have the old women inside be too welcoming or it would have been strange, this is Dark Souls after all. In the end we thought that fact that they offer you any kind of help at all is enough.

Satake: I don’t want to be told that I’m going to die over and over again, it’s a service I could have done without. [laughs]

Tanimura: In the end it was cut but originally the opening movie was about twice the length and the laughter was also far more prominent. We decided it was a little much so we chopped it in half.

Next, after leaving Things Betwixt we arrive at the hub, Majula. That’s a setting sun isn’t it?

Tomari: Majula was actually the very first design I worked on. While it was to function as a hub I wanted to make it feel desolate so initially I gave it a cloudy, overcast sky. That very first design was also near the sea and had the dilapidated buildings which the final design retains. The reason I removed the clouds was probably because you’d just emerged from a dark cave, but rather than a bright midday sun, a setting sun seemed more appropriate.

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Satake: It’s a dying world is it not, there is still a calming light, but it’s not a world with bright cerulean skies. You visit the place many times throughout the game so while it does feel lonely at first, it’s a location which has the potential to develop into a new hub area. The director would often come to me and say things like ‘what shall we do about the hub area’ I think he lost a lot of sleep over it.

Tanimura: Well it is the most important area, and the most difficult to get right [Laughs]

Satake: Yes, it’s the starting point for all of your adventures but it’s also somewhere you spend a great deal of time. There is a heroine like character in the Emerald Herald and other NPCs also gather as the game progresses so it serves a huge number of functions and we had to figure out how to represent those in the environment. I think the map designers had a tough job incorporating all of those components.

Tomari: I actually think the artists had a harder time with Majula, I recall the area used to be much larger and stretch down nearly to the ocean.

Satake: In the concept stages it was divided into an upper and lower section and much like the fire link shrine in the last game there were routes that connected to both the top and bottom of the map. There was even a rope similar to the ones found in The Dragon Aerie and the lower section of Brightstone Cove Tseldora, that’s how wide it was.

Tanimura: It was just too big and no longer fulfilled its function as a hub area so we had to make it smaller. Above all else the hub area must be convenient. The large hole in the centre of town also used to be in a different location, but we thought it was really something that should be close at hand. It was one of the maps that changed a lot over the course of development.

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Moving onto the Forest of Fallen Giants.

Tomari: Much like the Undead Burg in the last game the Forest of Fallen Giants was an area primarily designed by the 3d artists. It was another map that was created extremely early on in development and it has a number of typical dark souls short cuts. It’s really a map where the map designers were able to fit in everything they wanted to.

Concentrating purely on the aesthetics, you have the withered sleeping giants scattered throughout the area and evidence of the ancient conflict is all around you.

Tomari: In the original design the giants were actually much larger. They would tower over the castle walls and attack the player as you progressed through the area. Gradually you would draw closer to the sea where you would find the defenses constructed to stop the their advance.

Satake: The concept that it was a series of defenses made to fight against the giants never changed so most of the area actually survived the redesign untouched. I think it’s fun to look at the place and imagine what kind of battles were fought there. Of course you get a glimpse of the scale of them within the dreams as they hurl those colossal fireballs about.

When you reach Heide’s Tower of Flame the atmosphere changes once more. This time it’s a bright, open and extremely beautiful setting.

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Tanimura: Originally it was nothing more than a path to the next area but that just wasn’t interesting. We started with the concept of the sunken city forming the road and the map just expanded from there [laughs]. We designed a boss encounter, added the Cathedral of Blue and before we knew it, it had become it’s own complete area.

I think the Forest of Fallen Giants was a relatively orthodox opening area so after that we wanted to introduce a curve ball, to have an area where you were primarily fighting huge enemies. After this your journey starts to take you inland so we decided to keep the visuals of this coastal region calm and beautiful.

Do the Heide Knights you encounter throughout the game have any relation to this location?

Tanimura: Yes, of course. They are the Knights of a lost kingdom, they have nowhere to return to and lack the presence of mind to do anything but wander the world.

Is it a coincidence that they bear a striking resemblance to Solaire from the first Dark Souls?

Tanimura: Yes, there is no direct connection between the two.

Satake: I hadn’t thought about it myself but I did hear people calling them silver Solaria.

Let’s move on to No-man’s Wharf.

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Satake: We began designing the area with two keywords, ‘harbour’ and ‘underground’. The designers requested an image to work from so we worked with an out-of-house artist to produce the original concept. Using that as a base we started to discuss the kind of features we could add to the area. Of course we worked hard to introduce a level of individuality into each of the games areas, but for me this map is an especially memorable one. I love calling the ship and then fighting upon the decks. When the staff saw the it they were really excited about working on it. I remember them saying ‘I want to make it move’.

Tonaki: Originally when I had the boat designed the sail was going to catch fire, then you would fight a boss on the burning deck. It would have been a great set piece so I’m a little upset that we weren’t able to pull it off.

From No Man’s Wharf to that moonlit hell that is the Lost Bastille.

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Tomari: This was a map that went through many changes, the original working name was the ruined castle but as it was revised and altered the entire castle became a prison and the inhabitants, inmates.

Tonaki: This is the point in the game where the number of enemies really starts to increase.

And we have the return of our favorite gargoyles. That’s something fans of the last game will enjoy, even the music is the same.

Tanimura: Of course. We decided it was the only way to do it!

After beating the gargoyles and lighting the bonfire you descend down into an area full of dogs. It bears quite a resemblance to the narrow room you fought the kapra demon in in the first game doesn't it. Was that intentional?

Tanimura: I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Huntsman’s Copse was the map used in the network test, was it one of the first maps completed?

Tanimura: Yes, it was the very first map to be finished, once we decided to use it in the network test we prioritized it above all the others.

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It’s a dark area but you can glimpse the sun shining through the trees.

Tanimura: Yes, it’s the early morning sun. I remember making all kinds of requests while working on the area like, ‘There must be depth to the area to give you the feeling that you’ve traveled some distance’, and ‘we must make sure that you don’t entirely lose your sense of direction, but have an idea of the place you entered’. I also wanted it to feel like it was connected to areas in multiple directions.

There is the route over the rope bridge to the Undead Purgatory and the path along the cliff to the caves.

Tanimura: In the Undead Purgatory we only really have the chariot boss don’t we.

That location is full of detail, both the outside and the interior. I find it an interesting area because the entire map is part of the boss battle.

Tonaki: Once you spring the trap and the chariot crashes you realize that the boss is in fact, the horse. On seeing that for the first time I was very surprised.

Tanimura: At one point we did have the executioner come down and fight after the horse had been killed, but the fight was too easy and the battle lacked any kind of impact, so I decided to kill him off. When I first showed this within the company everyone was surprised saying, 'but he looked so imposing in the intro movie’.

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After the Huntsman’s Copse we enter the poisonous regions Harvest Valley and the Earthen Peak.

Stake: Originally the entire map was like a basin completely filled with poisonous fog. In the first design you would redirect the flow of water to start the windmills and that would clear the fog away. Of course that changed in the final game but I think ultimately it became a visually interesting location.

Is the fact that it’s poisoned fog and not water an idea left over from the original concept? The presence of the poison itself hints at a long history of industrial activity and the fact that the windmills are moving is evidence that there’s somebody there.

Stake: The inclusion of windmills was something that was suggested quite early on in development. From there we simply had to build a map that would incorporate them. We developed quite a number of ideas and images and found that rather than a sturdy, well built structure an old run-down mill was far more appealing so that’s what made it into the final design. Although I recall in the original concept the mill was next to a lake and used its power to turn the wheel.

About the poison extending through the area into Earthen Peak, it’s lurid green colour really sticks in my mind. I think it really enhances the effect somehow.

Satake: I talked with the 3d artists and together we decided on that colour. I believe the poison in the King’s Field series was green so we matched it with that.

Tanimura: In the last game poison was represented with purple, but here we used that to represent the darkness attribute so it would have overlapped.

On top of that it’s as Mr Satake says, From’s games have a history of using that colour to represent poison.

If the poison had been purple then it would have been an extremely purple world. [laughs] Next we move onto The Iron Keep, although many people found the fact that these locations were linked to be something of a mystery.

Tanimura: The idea is that the lake of magma is actually on the upper strata, like a caldera lake on a plateau. However, looking down from the top it was far too wide, that and the fact that there isn’t an adequate transition between locations meant we didn’t really communicate the idea as well as we could have.

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Satake: The image for The Iron Fort came from a piece of concept art created for a separate project, a dam which harnessed the power of magma. In the end it wasn’t used in that project, but with every new game I’d show it to the producer and director and see if there was some way we could fit it in. Of course conventional wisdom would place magma underground but when you start to consider this lake and realize that there must be a reason for it being there, then the world becomes a little more interesting. I tried to implement ideas like this throughout the game, to give the player something curious and unexpected.

Next to Brightstone Cove Tseldora, a city built into the cliff walls. Looking down you can see crystals shimmering below.

Tomari: Originally those weren’t crystals, instead the entire map was covered in spider’s nests. The town was always build into the walls of a deep ravine but in that design you’d have to use the spider webs to cross to the other side.

Next we go down the hole to the Grave of Saints, The Gutter and the Black Gulch. Locations very similar to The Gutter have appeared in all the souls games haven’t they, those filthy, grimy places with uncertain footing [laughs].

Satake: Yes, it started in Demon’s Souls with the Valley of defilement, then Blight Town and now The gutter. Although during development it went by a different name, everyone called it D-suke village because my name is Satake Daisuke and D-suke is my nickname. [Laughs]

Tanimura: In the end you were the one who named it The Gutter weren’t you?

Satake: One day I just said ‘Would you guys stop calling it D-suke village!’ We had a few different ideas and The Gutter seemed to fit the best, but I thought you were the one who suggested the name?

Tantrum: I just gave you a list of names and said asked you to pick one, that’s when the name was decided.

The stone effigies in the Black Gulch left a pretty lasting impression, they were also used in the first dlc…

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Tomari: I was the one who designed them. It actually a huge surprise for me, I had no idea they would be used so widely throughout the game.

Stake: There’s something distinctly Japanese about them, they’re reminiscent of jizo statues or dousojin. (statues placed along the roadside to protect travellers)

Tamara: The keyword I based the design around was kokeshi. (A limbless doll carved from wood)

At last we reach Drangleic castle, it’s an important location as it’s integral to the story.

Satake: Mr Katayama produced the first concept, A vast castle hidden amongst the mountains. It’s a place built by the king to hide away in rather than one built for war so capturing that feeling of isolation was important.

I started working on it when the time came to decide how the actual map would fit together. The first plan I received from the designers was rather flat and uninspiring so I introduced some verticality and made it into more of a castle-like location, connecting rooms vertically as well as horizontally. I tried to give the map and the path you take through it a certain rhythm as I fit everything together. Then I handed it over to the 3d artists for a final brush-up. Thinking back it was an area that saw a lot of reworking.

The original concept for the area never changed then?

Stake: No that never changed, it was always a remote castle nestled amongst the mountains. Anor Londo was a relic of a golden age, now forgotten and abandoned, but with Drangleic Castle it was important that it felt even more isolated and remote.

Even in the concept art there is rain falling isn’t there. To my knowledge, this is the first location with rain in the series.

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Satake: I don’t recall the exact path we took to get there but rain is wonderful for making something look forlorn and as I said before, we really wanted the place feel desolate so this was just one more trick to do that.

Tanimura: As well as that there’s the Mirror Knight and the lightning. I was sure that battle would look beautiful if it was fought in the rain.

With the rain you can tell there are many holes in the castle, it’s raining inside too!

Satake: That was requested very early on, the designers mentioned how they wanted to make an inner courtyard and have holes where the rain would pour in. As I see it, the castle wasn’t build for war so it’s not going to be as sturdy as one that was. Instead it was built as a place of residence so we tried to remove anything that didn’t fit with that idea. Also we wanted to allow players to scale the castle and reach the higher areas so we introduced quite a number of spiral staircases, however we realized that people quickly become bored running in a circle 3 or 4 times so we took them out again.

Tanimura: It’s very difficult to make a spiral staircase interesting, it’s fine to introduce some flavour but relying too heavily on them for the main route is unwise.

Satake: There were places we had to use them but we avoided them where we could. In another project we were using similar spiral staircases so we thought it would be okay but we received a lot of feedback that players found them boring so we decided to remove them. Instead the designers and I used other techniques like having staircases open out into rooms and then continuing upwards from there. This is an example of the rhythm I was talking about earlier.

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After climbing the castle we are plunged into the depths of the Shrine of Amana. It’s beautiful, almost dreamlike.

Tomari: The final area is almost identical to the very first concept, however if you look at the concept image you’ll notice that there are fireflies in the trees above and these were removed. It was designed as a quiet and beautiful place, but one where disturbing the silence caused the enemies to emerge and attack you.

Tonaki: I love the atmosphere of this area, the way the song floats out over the silence.

The solitary house in the middle of nowhere, it has a certain rustic charm, but at the same time it’s subtle and quite beautiful.

Tomari: On many of the maps we introduced objects to make them more visually interesting, but here we were careful to keep it to an absolute minimum. It was important to keep it quiet and serene.

Although playing through that area you realize it’s actually hellish! That contrast was one of the highlights of the game for me. Moving on we reach the Undead Crypt.

Tomari: I worked on some of the objects, but in terms of the layout, it’s a typical dark souls map so the 3d artists took the lead on the design.

After that is Aldia’s Keep. I remember this area was featured in the first trailers, was this also finished relatively early?

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Tomari: Yes it was, similar to the Shrine of Amana the initial concept made it relatively unchanged into the final game. The name during development was the Dragon Research Facility, the idea being that they had captured dragons and other living things and were experimenting on them. Similar to the Duke’s library in the first game it offers a glimpse into the worlds past, this once illustrious place now abandoned but left relatively undisturbed.

Satake: Looking at it next to the other locations it’s clear that it was a place filled with learned people, at least that’s what we aimed for. If that comes across when you’re playing through it then we were successful.

How about the Dragon Aerie and the Dragon Shrine?

Tomari: In the original design Castle Drangleic linked to the Dragon Aerie and beyond that, the Dragon Temple so these two areas were always connected. In terms of the location I worked hard to try and make the player feel like they were extremely high up, that’s something that the first Dark Souls didn’t have so I reworked the map countless times trying to capture it. Because of that it’s actually one of the more memorable maps for me personally.

Next I’d like to ask you about the enemies, starting with the boss characters. The first major boss enemy most players will encounter is of course, the last giant.

Tonaki: The design for the last giant was actually completed very late in the project. As we said previously, originally it towered over the castle walls and would hurl great fireballs at the player, but as the project progressed it decreased in stature and became a withered prisoner confined deep underground. It went through many changes but eventually we settled on the design that you see in game.

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Did the design change visually every time it’s role was revised?

Tonaki: Yes, you encounter the Giant Lord within one of the dream sequences, I believe his design was based on one of the earlier designs for the last giant. That of the prisoner deep underground.

The hole in his face is an interesting feature, it really makes the character memorable.

Tonaki: I took inspiration from one of the bosses in the last game, the iron golem. He had a perfectly round hole right in the centre of his chest. It’s a small detail that really stuck in my mind and helped to shape this design.

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Katayama: Bosses like the iron golem that had some kind of distinguishing feature are really befitting of the dark souls world. I think we touched upon it briefly when we talked about the mirror Knight, but it’s important that even bosses have some layers of depth to them. They are an enemy you fight first and foremost, but they should exhibit weakness as well as strength. Strength alone isn’t interesting, but if you add a feature such as a hole or scar then that weakness, that imperfection really adds to the character.

Satake: Not only Mr Tanimura, all the directors at From software will say that, if at any point it feels like you’re simply fighting a bunch of polygons then it’s no longer fun. If there is some conflict or contradiction behind a character, weakness behind its strength, or if they are inhibited in a believable way then that comes across as you’re fighting them and makes the battle more enjoyable.

It’s an action game, so fighting is inevitable, but this too can be a form of communication. Mr Katayama spoke about adding layers to a character, and that doesn’t just apply to combat. You can put that across in every single aspect of the design. If it’s an interesting design that the players we want to know more about then that’s even better.

I see. Next a boss you fight multiple times during the game, The Pursuer.

Tonaki: The image for the pursuer is based around his cursed armour, cursed spirits permeate his entire being and that motif is central to his design. I also remember the director asked me to that a sense of mystery and also a subtle air of sorrow. I really struggled to bring the image to life.

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On his back carries a huge array of weapons, like Benkei.

Tonaki: Originally he was a hunter who collected the weapons of his fallen enemies. While we did away with that design the weapons remained. Not only do they make him look a good deal more imposing, but they also add a sense of history and intrigue to the character. You start to envision the glory and horror of his past battles. I love that sense of weightiness as he crashes to the ground and the way he moves and teleports you fight him.

While we’re speaking about bosses you fight multiple times, could you tell me about the Dragon Riders.

Satake: This was designed in-house. Initially, the knights were actually mounted on two legged dragons, but there were other designs that had characters riding beasts, and we realised that the soldiers looked imposing enough by themselves, so we decided to go with that in the end.

What about the lost sinner?

Tonaki: What’s up with that bug-like creature in her introduction movie…

Satake: When you think about it that is quite an interesting little detail isn’t it. This character was designed in the latter half of the project, we decided we had enough hulking, armoured characters and wanted to make a character that didn’t rely on their equipment to appear imposing. While she wields a great sword her hands are bound which lends an interesting distinctiveness to the way she moves. The map was also very interesting to work on.

Speaking of interesting maps, Mr Satake previously talked about the Executioners Chariot in the Undead Purgatory.

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Satake: The designers took care of the specific details of the fight while the artists simply worked on the visuals, wondering all the while just how the player would fight it. Occasionally the designers would ask us to incorporate things into the design, for example the blades on the side of the chariot. The they wanted them to hit the player even if they managed to avoid the chariot.

The features of the map and the characters within all come together into a cohesive whole. It’s all works extremely well.

Satake: You’re dropped into the area and have no idea what is happening or how to progress. It’s a situation you see in a lot of movies where a character is trapped underground and the subway train is coming. We wanted the player to experience that feeling in a fantasy setting.

Tonaki: The combination of the sound design and lighting really add a sense of drama to the area. I love the way the light shines around the corner as he approaches, it’s wonderfully atmospheric.

Satake: You see his shadow before he comes into view don’t you, the artists spent a lot of time achieving that effect. Please take notice of it when you play.

Mr Katayama, could we talk a little more about the mirror knight?

Katayama: Yes, from the the weeping face carved into his helmet, to the subtle wing design embossed on his back, the character is packed with detail and contains a number of interesting features. I think it’s very at home in the dark souls world and personally I’m very fond of it.

His enormous mirror shield is certainly very striking.

Katayama: Originally, when the player was reflected in the mirror, a copy of your character would burst out and attack. In the final game it works slightly differently, but it still retains the summoning aspect of that original design.

I also worked on Scorpioness Najka. As you can see, chaos witch Queelag from the previous game formed the base of her design. Originally we planned for two scorpions, male and female, to attack the player together. In that design the female was larger, but the male was more nimble and would skirt around her. If that had made it into the game I’m not sure how you would have fought them [laugh]. It would have been a difficult boss that’s for sure. I remember the decision to go with the Scorpion design actually came from the directors.

Satake: As we’ve said before we wanted to introduce a variety to the locations that we didn’t see in the original dark souls, so we designed an arid desert setting. But, if it simply looked like the Egyptian desert then it would have been uninteresting, so we had to fit it in with the rest of our fantasy aesthetic. Of course this also extended to the enemies, Queelag was a spider and in a desert, well you have scorpions.

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Dukes dear Freja is a spider isn’t it, albeit one with two heads.

Tonaki: Yes, it has a head on the front and the back. Originally we planned for the boss to split into two, you’d begin fighting a single enemy, and then after doing enough damage it would separate. There was another design where there was a weak point on its back and attacking that would cause it to split. I also recall there was a design with eggs on its back, attacking them caused them to hatch and baby spiders would come out. That really gave a frenetic pace and sense of tension to the fight.

The Smelter Demon has a very interesting design.

Tonaki: I intentionally incorporated elements of the Giants and the stone bull statues into the design to connect it to the location. Once I obtained the armour and put it on I was really surprised, I wasn’t expecting it to look so… I mean, you can even see the belly button.

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Many players like equipping that armour on their female characters. It really enhances their chest.

Tonaki: That’s all the 3-D artists doing. They’d send around screenshots and ask everyone ‘what do you think of this?’ [laugh].

Really [laugh]. Next the throne watcher. We have the throne defender and the throne watcher, I’d like to talk a little bit about the differences in the designs.

Tonaki: I was in charge of the throne watcher, and Mr Ou the throne defender. There is also Velstadt the Royal Aegis who, in the original design was the third member of the group who protected the King. Although the course, in the end Velstadt became his sole protector. The throne watcher is another of my designs that I’m very fond of. There was a boss in the last game, dark sun Gwendolyn and I wanted to bring something of that character to this design. From the details of the mouth to the feminine lines of the body and the equipment primarily comprised of cloth, I thought about all the things as I drew it.

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The throne protector on the other hand, is a very well built, solid design.

Ou: Of course, it was important that he look powerful and robust. So I gave him thick, heavy armour. As Mr Tonaki mentioned, originally the design was for a three-man group, and he was to be the oldest, I wanted to make him look like a grizzled veteran, so I added details like the beard design on his mask, and the ecclesiastical markings on the cloth hanging from his armour.

Tonaki: Mr Ou also drew the Knights in Heide’s tower of flame and the users actually noticed some common themes between the two designs, I was surprised and overjoyed that they picked up on them. I’m constantly amazed that they look into every detail so deeply.

You mean the green giants in Heide’s tower of flame don’t you.

Ou: Both of those designs were completed early on in development.

Next the last boss, how about Nashandra.

Tonaki: Originally, she wasn’t going to be the final boss. She was always the monstrous, true form of the cursed Queen, so the character didn’t change, just her role within the game. Her original role was closer to that of Nito from the first game, although he was simply the inspiration, the characters themselves aren’t directly linked.

I think she works well as a final boss, she’s quite a repulsive character and she links well with the theme of the 'deep curse’ that Mr Tanimura spoke about.

Tonaki: Her portrait also curses you if you get too near. When I first played that section I remember thinking 'What the hell is this!’. [laughs]

Next I’d like to talk about some of the standard enemies. First, some enemies which cause new players a lot of trouble, the ogres. They look quite comical but they’re also frighteningly strong.

Satake: That was in another design from early in development, I created the original image, and then worked together with Mr Tonaki to complete the design. It’s based on large mammals like the hippopotamus.

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Compare them to lions and they don’t appear outwardly aggressive or fearsome, but if you had to face one unarmed, what would that be like? I wanted the player to experience fighting something like this, slow and lumbering but at the same time, intimidating. As I was searching for reference material I stumbled upon a picture of a hippopotamus skeleton. It really is far more frightening than that of a lion or other big cat, the skull is especially terrifying. If someone told you it was a dragon’s skull, then you’d almost believe them.

Because they have this internally their outward appearance is also extremely unique. We based the design on this idea, a creature that didn’t appear outwardly aggressive, but that would pose a fearsome challenge.

Hippopotamus are said to be the strongest mammals on the African continent. I hear that even Lions can’t best them.

Satake: I’d always planned to have them near the beginning of the game. As we said earlier, in the original design the first map was pitch black and quite large, in the centre there was a forested area and the ogres would wander around it in procession. You could let them pass by, or attack and inevitably regret you decision. They were like terrible stray dogs. Often you anticipate some valuable reward so you can’t resist engaging, and placing them at the start of the game means you’ll likely underestimate them. It’s situation many souls players are familiar with and I think we managed to preserve it in the final design.

If the readers have a chance, I’d also recommend searching for a picture of a hippo skull, they really are extremely cool.

Similarly to the ogres, the flaming salamanders were visible in the centre of the map even in the beta build. They’re another enemy you want to attack but you suspect might give you some trouble. I really like the design, they are definitely more lizard then dragon, the way they crawl along the ground and raise their head before they vomit flame at you.

Katayama: I wanted them to look like animals that could potentially have evolved in that environment, so I payed special attention to details like the wide, flat head.

Satake: It’s actually an amalgamation several real-world animals, perhaps some of you might find it interesting to try and guess which ones. The basic anatomy is modeled after a certain species of dinosaur which should be fairly obvious to some people. They way it’s throat inflates as it shoots out flame is taken from a different animal. What the people of this world call dragons are perhaps just animals from a different genus.

When you start to think about the ecology of the world it really becomes interesting doesn’t it, it brings a sense of reality to this fantasy universe.

Satake: Many of Mother Nature’s creations are far more fantastical than anything we could imagine.

The masked assailants featured in the very first trailer for the game had quite an impact. Originally they had those distinctive white faces, then when they appeared in the game their heads had disappeared altogether. The mask from the marionette armour set also had a different design.

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Satake: We created quite a variety of designs, I think about seven and eight in all. We settled on the design from the trailer to because we wanted them to appear secretive and enigmatic, and that blank white design fitted with the director’s image.

Tonaki: I had an image of a white mask emerging from the darkness; the rest of their clothing is completely black so it appears to be floating. I based the original design around this strange image, although in the end the head completely disappeared so… [laughs].

Could I ask about the mimics? They proved to be very popular with players of the first Dark Souls and their design looks very similar in this game too. Did you think about changing it at all?

Satake: Yes, in fact we thought about it a great deal. The enemy was so popular that the director and artists were all worried about how to approach it this time. We produced a number of ideas, some of which changed the design entirely but we wanted to produce something that served as a nod to those who played the previous game and still surprise newer players so we settled on this design. On encountering the enemy some players may have laughed, but during development it was the subject of some extremely serious discussion.

This game also introduced some new races that didn’t appear in the first game, namely the Lion clan and the Gyrm.

Satake: What we call the Lion clan are a little different to the beast men you see in more traditional fantasy, those types of creatures don’t exist in the Dark Souls world. I think instead that they have been afflicted by some curse or disease which has altered their appearance and lion clan is a name they have come to be called by those around them.

In the concept stages we spoke about this, we didn’t want to simply introduce generic fantasy races to the world, but that the same time it would have dull to simply concentrate on the king and his subjects so we thought why not think about the people on the outskirts of society. These races may seem slightly out of place but that’s what we were aiming for, of course looking at the designs independently there are those who would say, “This isn’t Dark Souls”.

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So the Gyrm aren’t dwarves, but in fact humans.

Satake: The Gyrm warrior and worker we both designed by Mr Tonaki, while we did use the term dwarf during development to help unite everyone’s image, they aren’t traditional fantasy dwarves. I think we spoke briefly about D-Suke Village and the Gyrm were originally created as its denizens. Manual labourers employed by the king to work on the underground waterways below the castle. Within that image we certainly drew from traditional fantasy but they aren’t simply short, muscular humans. Personally I’m particularly fond of the Gyrm warriors.

I really like their squat, almost spherical silhouette. The NPC merchant Gavlan is a Gyrm and his short, round frame definitely made him more appealing as a character.

Tonaki: I like those huge thick suits of scale mail they wear; there is really a sense of weight to the design.

Satake: Although it’s not ordinary scale mail, it actually made of stone.

Tonaki: they don’t protect their backs, their simple minds only think about the enemy in front of them.

Mr Katayama worked on Vengarl didn’t you?

Katayama: Yes, that was me. There’s an old Irish story featuring a headless swordsman called Dullahan that provided the original idea, and when it came to designing the character I wanted to make him broad and powerful like a grizzly bear. In the original design the body was on a murderous rampage searching for its head, and it was actually up to the player to return it to him. Once you did he would find peace and pass on.

I also designed the Leydia pyromancer. Initially, they were going to attack the player together with the Knights you encounter in the Royal crypt. At that stage the two designs were known as the Phantom knight and the Phantom mage. Similarly to the planned scorpion fight they were a group of enemies whose strengths complimented each other making them a dangerous adversary.

Satake: we planned to have them face the player three on one.

That particular enemy has a very interesting design, the fact that they don’t have a lower half is quite unique.

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Katayama: I like that hollow emptiness, as if they’re barely clinging to the physical realm.

Now onto something else, the Dragon acolytes have those distinctive masks and white robes. Can you explain that a little bit?

Tonaki: Well they were originally designed as researchers working in what was then known as the dragon research facility. The key-word we used when designing them was observation, so that’s where the eye design on the mask comes from.

So the design was derived from the idea of observation.

Satake: Their robes are interesting, they look almost provincial. They are researchers, but they definitely aren’t typical straight-laced scientists are they.

What about Mr Ou, are there any designs the particularly stick in your memory?

Ou: Well it’s not one of my designs, I’d have to say the demon of song. There’s something about the frog-like design that I find very appealing.

Tonaki: It’s actually based on an actual frog from Africa. It looks like someone whose suddenly lost a great deal of weight, the way it’s skin hangs from it’s bones. I found it fascinating. To that I added the bleached skull-like face that would emerge from the mouth. Although I wonder if it isn’t a bit of a one trick pony [laughs].

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It looks slimy, but it’s also extremely hard.

Tonaki: It’s quite gross isn’t it. It has that loose skin, but also manages not to look too soft and flabby. I was really happy that that idea translated to the in-game model so well. It’s an interesting character because it’s actually singing. I enjoy that contradiction, that something so disgusting could have such a beautiful singing voice [laughs].

I’d like to talk briefly about the NPCs if I may. I realise the game went through a lot of changes during development, but generally speaking was there a central theme or idea you had in mind when designing their equipment?

Satake: The last game was set at the close of the age of fire, and this idea was central to its themes. In this game we wanted to concentrate on the people in a time even further removed from that ancient age of prosperity. The gods have deserted them, and any tangible trace of their power is gone, because of this human knowledge and ingenuity has started to replace the divine. In the far reaches of the kingdom there are still those who have power left, but we move ever closer to the world of men. For the entire development we were always aiming to make a more human centric world than the last game.

I like to ask about the DLC. You only began working on it once you had fully completed work on the main game?

Tanimura: Yes, we began work on it immediately after the release of the main game. Of course the original Dark Souls had DLC, so during the project we did have some ideas about what we’d like to do if DLC became a possibility here too. But, we couldn’t begin working on it in ernest until we’d finalised the deal with Bandai Namco games, and that wasn’t until the main game was on store shelves. Development was continuous from that moment until the final piece of DLC was completed.

Which means, that this wasn’t affected by the previously mentioned redesign, and was built entirely from the ground up.

Tanimura: That’s right. The main game took place entirely in Drangleic, the land ruled by king Vendrick, but the DLC all takes place in different kingdoms, ruled by different monarchs. This gave us a good deal more freedom in the design, although it had to be accessible from the main game so we couldn’t separate it completely.

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The downloadable content was split into three parts, each with differing themes. I’d like to start with the crown of the sunken king. Deep underground status aliments like poison and petrification proved a challenging obstacle to the player.

Tanimura: The original plan was to introduce as much variation as possible between the three pieces of DLC. In one of them, we wanted to travel to the deepest darkest places of the world. Originally, when we were thinking about what kind of place it would be we thought, it’s even deeper than the Gutter or the Black Gulch so naturally it’ll be even filthier.

But that’s not how it turned out is it.

Tanimura: Well, while it isn’t set in Drangleic, this is still an organised society under a king’s rule. Instead we decided that it would be far more interesting to explore a colossal sunken city. The society was so deep and isolated, that they developed their own advanced culture completely separate from those above ground.

It’s full of poison, but there’s also a distinct lack of moisture.

Tanimura; As we mentioned, it’s deeper than the Gutter or the Black Gulch so we could have simply increased the number of poison statues, but that would have been overdoing it a little [laugh] So we went in a slightly different direction. Also in this first piece of DLC I was adamant that there was going to be a dragon. I felt it was something that we didn’t truly capture in the main game so the desire to right that wrong became my motivation.

Of course you face Sinh the slumbering dragon at the end of the DLC.

Tanimura: When we were thinking about how we could draw out the cruelty and harshness of this subterranean world we decided to tie it to Sinh. The entire culture was built around worship of this dormant beast, they constructed their great capital around its resting place, but in doing so got too close and awoke it from its slumber. Unbeknownst to them the dragon was their guardian, absorbing the deadly poison seeping from deep underground. The instant it awoke they lost its protection, the poison was released into the air, and the civilisation was wiped out.

Looking at the design of the creature, Sinh actually has a spear sticking out of it doesn’t it.

Tanimura: That was the spear that awoke it. Sinh is a poison dragon, according to the design its pale colour is due to the fact that no poison remains in its body, but I still felt we needed another point of interest. Mr Tonaki suggested we pepper his flanks with arrows which formed the bases for the idea, rather than arrows, why not a spear. The dragon is an ancient and powerful creature, so we were careful not to make him appear weak. Even in his wounded state, he is still majestic. It wasn’t easy to pull of but I think we managed it in the end.

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As well as that, the area incorporates many other interesting features, such as the way you move the giant stone pillars to progress. I was immediately struck by how well the design and visuals came together, and how the area changed as you move through it.

Tanimura: It is an ancient ruin so originally we drew inspiration from the pyramids of Giza which contained many traps designed to keep grave robbers out. We created a lot of traditional spike traps and things of that nature but it was stereotypical and uninteresting. From there we decided that we wanted the entire city to be more dynamic, to alter and transform as you progress. That dynamism was something that the main game’s areas didn’t have, so it’s definitely something we wanted to challenge here. That’s the reason it ended up as it did.

I love that it was the player that triggered the map to move think it was an excellent idea.

Tanimura: I think so too, moving the stone pillars to open up the way to the bonfire, it really gave you the impression that you were the one forging the road ahead.

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Next the second piece of DLC. We travel to the home of the Old Iron king, venture into the black fog and investigate the dark towers.

Tanimura: For the second part of DLC I wanted to create an area with a lot of verticality and have the player scale towers hundreds of meters tall. This region was once ruled by the Old Iron King, the boss of the Iron Keep in the main game. The advantage with maps of this nature is that the way forward isn’t as clear as a more linear map. You can have the player ascend and descend and this is something we thought about when creating the map. This DLC introduces a character similar to Elina the squalid queen from the first DLC, but she doesn’t attack you like a normal boss, instead she manipulates the area and everything in it. That detail makes this area quite unique.

As this is the territory of the old iron king it’s linked the the main game’s narrative in a way the first piece of DLC wasn’t.

Tanimura: Rather than an entirely new area, this is more like an extension built upon the foundations set in the original game. Although having said that it was important that we create a different type of area than those found in the rest of the game.

Finally we move onto the third piece of DLC. Here we travel to the frozen north.

Tantrum: Yes, it’s a region shrouded in snow and ice. With the previous DLC we concentrated on large imposing structures, so here we aimed for a simpler design, with a certain quiet serenity. The locations for the previous DLC were so grim and desolate that we wanted to make at least one beautiful place, although you may disagree once you play it. [laugh]

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The main goals of this DLC were to convey the sense of deep cold, and also give the player the experience of exploring a large walled city, located far to the north. The interesting thing about the area is the way the snow storms change it as you progress. It’s really an area that rewards you for exploring.

Mr Ou, you worked on the DLC, were there any designs that stick in your memory?

Ou: That would have to be the Fume knight that appears at the end of the second piece of DLC. Mr Tonaki was in charge of the design and he also worked out the intricacies of the battle. There have been many knights in both this and the previous game, but almost all of them have been fierce and imposing. Here we tried to show the character’s weakness. He is designed, not as a knight sworn to protect the ailing queen, but one sent long ago to defeat her. However, in the end the quest claimed his life. The important part of the character was the fact that he isn’t fighting you of his own volition, but rather he is being controlled by the queen. It’s a little complicated isn’t it [laugh]

Fire is a symbol for strength and power and as I said we wanted him to be show weakness, so he is an ashen knight, a fire burned to embers. Another notable feature is the weapons he carries, an ordinary knight’s sword paired with a huge great sword. We wanted to have him dual wield his weapons but at the same time it was important to add something unique, so we had him drag about his great sword. This gives the fight a completely different tempo.

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That way he fights changes depending on his adversary.

Tonaki: dark souls two was the first game in the series to introduce dual wielding so of course we wanted the enemies to do it to. That’s why we went in this direction. Concerning the tempo of the battle, he attacks the small sword waiting for an opening and then goes in for a lethal blow with his great sword. If you remember the fight with Artorias in the original game’s DLC, it had a fantastic rhythm to it, which made the whole encounter hugely enjoyable so we wanted to try and emulate that. We also wanted to introduce a second phase where the fume knight ‘heats up’. He begins the battle using both swords but partway through he changes to his great sword. Here the queens power becomes even greater adding flames to his already ferocious attacks.

Ou: As I said before we really want to emphasise that he is being controlled. If you look at his hands in the concept art you’ll see that there are flames burning within them, like an extinguished fire which springs back to life. We also wanted to make him a tragic character, and give the impression that he is fighting you with the last of his strength. I hope that comes across as you play.

Lastly I like to get your impressions of working on the game.

Katayama: this is the sequel so I wanted to see how we could expand to the concept while still keeping the essence of what is dark souls. The project was completed safely and the user seem to be enjoying themselves so as a member of the team it’s a huge relief, that’s the honest truth.

For me, once it was decided that the Faraam knight would be used in all the promotional material I really put my all into the design, so it’s something that I’m quite attached to. Other than that I remember the moment development was over and we could finally relax. It was great to see designs that came from my own head recreated on the screen in such detail. I couldn’t help myself, I had to take pictures when they were featured on the promotional materials.

Tomari: I played a huge amount of the first game, and as a huge dark souls fan, I really wanted to make this a game worthy of the dark souls name. I was glad that we could introduce things that hadn’t been in the first game. Features like the storm over Castle Drangleic, maps like the dragon aerie that convey that sense of altitude, or locations like Majula next to the sea. I think we succeeded in creating a wide range of interesting areas which was great.

Ou: While the start of the project was difficult, I was permitted to work on many different areas of the game. This is also the first time I’ve had one of my designs used in a game and when I see players saying they think they look cool it makes me so happy. It really was an invaluable experience for me.

Tonaki: I was involved for the entire duration of the project, this is the first game where that has been the case. At times I was learning as I went along, but that was also part of the fun of it. I didn’t part with my designs after completing them, I was also involved in putting them in the game and continued working on them with the 3d artists. I hope I can put this experience to good use in my future work.

Satake: To the people reading this book, you have my sincere thanks for playing the game. Simply having a game come out and be played by so many people his wonderful, and on top of that have an art book! As for my part in the game, I was able to challenge many different things in different areas. At times I’m sure I made extra work for the in-house artists and directors, but they offered me so much help and advice, so I’d like to offer my thanks to them too. There were times I wasn’t able to reach the loft goals I set for myself but they were always there to offer support.

From a design perspective I can’t say I’m completely satisfied with everything but as long as the readers of this book enjoyed there time with the game I’m happy. If you have time I urge you to play the DLC, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Tanimura: looking through the designs I remember all of the things that happened during the project. Of course there are places where I think we could have done better, but there are so many things that evolved and improved immeasurably as the project progressed. I’m sure this is due to the way we discussed and developed our ideas with the other team members. This type of discussion with people who think differently really adds spice to the game. Finally of course, I’d like to thank everyone who played the game, thank you.

Start the Conversation

Asura's Wrath

I don't know why I wrote this...

No Caption Provided

It’s summer in Osaka. Heat radiates from glass and metal, cracked black asphalt like skin stretched taught against the brilliance of the morning.

A muggy humidity beats down on the commuters who labour to work, and seeps from their pores.

But this room is cold, almost uncomfortably so. Three figures sit in silence, arms crossed, their eyes fixed on the opening door.

“Punctual as ever”

Two suited men shuffle in and bow awkwardly, their footsteps echo out into the vast sterile space.

“Mr Matsuyama, Mr Shimoda… Thank you for coming. Please.”

He gestures and, the pair take their seats.

“We know our last meeting wasn’t as… fruitful as we’d hoped it might be, but we are still confident that our relationship can be a successful one.”

They bow politely, hints of a sanguine smile.

"I’m certain Mr Inafune only rejected your proposal because he knew you we’re capable of so much more.”

Mr Matsuyama is the first to speak.

“Not at all, in fact I feel it was a blessing in disguise. Since then we’ve essentially reworked the entire project from the ground up. A small team at cyberconnect2 have been working on some concepts and I think… Well I’m really quite proud with what they’ve been able to produce.”

“We’re are delighted to hear that.”

“I see now that there was a certain lack of purity in our original pitch, we needed to take a step back, to think about the experience we wanted to craft and the essence of the action genre… what we’ve come up with is entirely more focused in its themes. We began with a single emotion, that of rage and built the game from there.”

“Rage?”

“Yes, for what purer emotion is there, we’ve all felt it at some point regardless of colour or creed… in a way it’s a theme which transcends such boundaries…”

“I see…”

“…but were our past games have been very much action orientated, and this project will continue to build on that, this time we want the narrative to drive the experience… Not the other way around.”

“Interesting.”

“Look at modern action games. The majority have become nothing more than thrill rides with little to no player agency. This is appropriate for what they are trying to achieve, they live and die not by their content, but by their pacing.”

“This is true.”

“Much of the gameplay revolves around shepherding you through a series of elaborate set pieces, but without momentum you are left with dead time… where you have peaks you must also have valleys, and this is not conducive to an enjoyable experience. Players will simply suffer through this dead time in order to reach the next scripted set piece… And we’re not From Software… the last thing we want the player to do is suffer.”

“Quite… So how are you going to break this trend.”

“Break it…? On the contrary… in a way, we mean to embrace it!”

“How so?”

“May I ask, are you familiar at all with western drama? 24, Lost, Battlestar Galactica…”

“Of course… but I’m not entirely sure where you’re going with this.”

“The vary wildly in their themes of course but is there not a consistency in the way they weave their tale… at their best they demonstrate complete mastery of pacing and the creation of a compelling narrative. We began to wonder if it was possible to adapt this same formula to a game, to split the experience into episodes and create something where it is the story which urges you to progress.”

“Mr Yoshida, Mr Kamiya has shown it’s possible for a Japanese developer to produce a quote on quote western game, but I assure you it’s not as easy as you might imagine…”

“The structure is taken from western drama, yes, but the story itself is very much a Japanese one… If I may.”

No Caption Provided

He reaches down and produces a piece of concept art. The character is striking, a shock of white hair and shining eyes set in a face the colour of burnished copper.

“I like to think that we at cyberconnect2 have our own style and with this game I’m confident that our artists have once again succeeded in creating something unique. A style that pays homage to both its Japanese origins and its East Asian influences.”

“I see… so you’ll deliver this story through cut scenes or during combat?”

“As I said, the narrative is the main focus, and we thought…” He pauses for a moment “we want to use quick time events.”

An uncomfortable silence descends.

"Mr Tanaka, I’ll admit that while both Mr Mikami and Mr Suzuki have been able to use these QTEs to great effect, by themselves they’re hardly the most stimulating method of interaction… Do you plan on delivering your all important narrative through QTEs alone?"

“We have been looking at more traditional combat sections as well as on rail shooting sequences but as I said, we want the experience to be a spectacle and we feel a straight quick time event is the best way to maintain some level of interactivity while showing the player something dynamic and interesting.”

“I see… So what happens if I fail your quick time event?”

“Well… Nothing… That is to say, the on screen imagery may vary but the story will, in most cases, continue.”

“There are those, Mr Tanaka who maintain that a game with no fail state is not a game at all.”

“Yes, but when you consider the alternative then I’m confident that our way is in fact, the lesser of two evils, especially when your game is trying to tell a story. QTEs quickly become a nuisance when you are forced to repeat them, but used in the right way we believe they can complement and even enhance the impact of the moment. They’ll give the game a rhythm, an ebb and flow a… heartbeat.”

“Well you certainly don’t lack conviction. If you would be so kind as to excuse us for a moment.”

“Of course.”

The three men exchange a few brief words before turning back to the pair opposite.

"Well Mr Matsuyama, Mr Shimoda… It seems our faith in you was not misplaced. I must admit I see real potential in your ideas.”

“Then we have your permission to continue development on project?”

“Yes… begin by polishing the prototype, Mr Tsuchiya will be assigned to aid you with­­­­­­­­­­­ production…”

"Yes sir of course… Thank you."

“Mr Matsuyama… there is one more thing…”

“We haven’t yet spoken about downloadable content…”

Start the Conversation

Xenoblade Monado Archives Translation

Originally appearing in the Japan only art book 'Xenoblade The Secret File: Monado Archives this is a side story which takes shortly before the final battle. Although the events have little real impact the story (they are alluded to briefly in a heart to heart) there are some spoilers with regards to the events during the latter part of the game.

Translator's note: I've tried to match the English translation as far as I can, but since I played the Japanese version there are bound to be some things which don't match.

There's also an alternate translation HERE.

twitter: @ThePeterBarnard

-

No Caption Provided

Prologue

There can be no darkness without the light. Their perpetual conflict a part of nature, and so it was with Mechonis and Bionis, the old gods rose, and fell together.

They are dead now, their monstrous frames no more than lifeless husks, but their progeny survive and through them their ancient conflict endures.

The Homs of Bionis. Their elders tell of a time when they thrived, when their colonies spread throughout this world. But that was long ago, and one by one they fell to the machine god's armies until all but a handful were left in ruins. Colony 9 would have met a similar fate, were it not for its distance from Mechonis. Now despite the conflict which rages around them it remains the closest thing to a place of refuge the Homs have left.

An oasis in the desert of this uncertain world

-

Chapter 1

Shulk ...got a sec?

Shulk looked up from his research.

It was Dean again, stony faced and love sick. The long war had made many widows, and he had fallen for one. He thought of nothing but winning her heart and seemed to take pleasure in burdening Shulk with his troubles.

He had little choice but to listen dutifully although, even he had to admit, that after everything he and his companions had been through, there was something comforting about the normality of it all...

Still, Shulk thought to himself, I'm not exactly the best person to ask about this sort of thing…

Dean however, failed to notice his stoic expression, and launched headlong into another tale of unrequited love.

It quickly became apparent that Dean was after more than just a sympathetic ear, he had cooked up another scheme designed to win favour with the woman of his dreams and as it unfolded, Shulk was to play a small but essential part.

"I'll see what I can do…."

In truth, Shulk was happy to help, after all what was this compared to the the trials and hardships of their journey, the monster infested caves and their ascension of the ancient gods. It wasn't long before he was returning to Dean to report his success.

"There you go, all done"

At Shulk's words Dean's expression softened at last. Although old fashioned and serious to a fault, he was likeable enough and his heart was in the right place.

-

Climbing the steps, Shulk emerged into the Military district plaza as dusk was falling, bathing the square in a golden glow.

Another day had ended and it continued to elude him, another day of false leads and dead ends, of ceaseless toil with nothing to show for it.

As a scientist he was bound by reason, but had he listened to reason he would surely have given up long ago, and he couldn't give up, not while there was even the slightest hope.

Dean's little diversion had made no difference, it seemed that some things would always remain just beyond his reach

Could what Linada said really be true… he puzzled.

Heavy hearted, Shulk crossed the square. Around him, the air was abuzz with the chatter of residents hurrying home before nightfall, and the rhythmic thud of iron shod feet as the troops filed out to their posts to begin the nights watch.

He had watched this scene unfold countless times, though of course in the past it lacked such pattern and purpose, in those days they had thought themselves safe from the Mechon, the fighting, while fierce, had all been concentrated far away in the Sword Valley, any threat seemed insubstantial and remote. Indeed to many Homs, those cold iron soldiers were nothing more than a story used to frighten children. The occasional sightings on the Gaul Plain all that served to remind them of the war that raged outside their walls, but for them to come as far as Colony 9... it was unthinkable.

That tranquil life ended the day the Mechon came, they swept across Bionis taking Colony 6 and advancing on Colony 9, shattering the peace that had lasted since Dunban had driven them from the Sword Valley a year earlier. It was that sudden attack that had started Shulk on his journey.

Since then the colony had been transformed from a small outpost into the base of operations for the fight against a new threat... The Telethia

Reawakened at the ceremony of destruction and recreation, they were beings whose sole purpose was the destruction of all life on Bionis, but the people refused to give up, instead spending their days planning and constructing defences. There was an air of conviction, a hope which had been absent in the days immediately following the attacked.

A return to that former, peaceful, existence was impossible, but some semblance of normality had returned.

With everything they'd lost, Shulk thought, the colony members had gained something more important; the dogged determination to not simply give up, but to go on living in this precarious world

He found great solace in that.

For they all knew the end was coming, the final battle which would decide not only the fate of the Homs, but of all life on Bionis. Venturing into that 'lifeless husk'; the shell of the giant god was a journey which, in all probability, they would not return from.

But they couldn't go without first passing on the fruits of their labours, the knowledge they had gained on their journey, of the Machina and the monaco replica, a weapon which had the potential to turn the tide of the war and give them an crucial advantage over the machines.

It was Dean, far more adept with metal than with romance, who was chosen to lead the project. Shulk recalled the look on his face when he had passed him the data, a wide eyed enthusiasm he had previously only seen at mention of his sweetheart.

But that wasn't all, there was something else, something Linada had shared with Shulk that, unlike the monado replica, he had kept completely to himself...

He cut through the commercial district, passing shop keepers readying their stalls for the night market, exchanging idle pleasantries with the people he encountered,

From here he headed towards the town gates, to the house where Dunban and Fiora lived. It was Dunban who had chosen this place, that he might be first to respond to any danger that threatened the colony.

Shulk had spent much of his childhood here, a thousand memories came flooding back as he paused to take in the familiar sights and sounds. Night was descending, and light spilled out onto the threshold as he opened the door and stepped inside.

-

No Caption Provided

Chapter 2

Fiora was a gifted cook, during their journey she had been able to conjure something edible from even the most meagre rations, but here in her own kitchen surrounded by her aged utensils and familiar ingredients she could work miracles. Shulk glanced at her as he entered the room, she wore an expression of deep satisfaction as she busied herself with the next recipe.

In the past the house had often been host to visitors. Not just Shulk and Reyn, but Dunban's comrades Mumkhar and Dickson, and even Colonel Vangarre and Kantz of the watch.

But only the chosen may wield the Monado, and for all Dunban's strength using it to drive the Mechon from the sword valley had taken a terrible toll. After he had been carried back gravely wounded and clinging to life, visitors to the house had become infrequent and the atmosphere somber.

Yet looking at the room today it almost felt as if those days had returned, though now instead of grizzled fighting men, scarred and battle-weary, it was Sharla, Riki, Melia and Reyn who now encircled the dining table. Dunban sat quietly taking in the scene. It was clear that he too was remembering the old days.

Memories of another age... another lifetime.

-

Then the food arrived on the table:

"Hey, you big meanie that's mine" squealed Riki "You've eaten too much already... I've been outside all day working my fingers to the bone, this should be mine!"

"What fingers!?", blustered Reyn, "And I think you'll find I was the one doing all the work, you just stood there shouting in that squeaky voice of yours"

"Well... That uses calories too you know! Heropon has to eat or he'll waste away"

Dunban continued to watch the scene with amusement, his dark eyes twinkling.

"Where do you put all this food anyway you little midget"

The pair began chasing each other around the table, much to the disapproval of Sharla who was growing visibly more agitated with each passing second...

"Will you two give it a rest. Honestly, it's like watching two children squabble"

Melia stood up, her precise, graceful movements at odds with the surrounding cacophony.

"I'm sorry for being so ill-mannered" she exclaimed as she made her way towards the food which lay cooling on the counter "but if these two don't eat something soon…"

"Don't worry Melia" said Fiora without even pausing to turn around

"Riki and Reyn can wait, I made that for you"

"...There's no need to make a special effort on my account"

"It's not that, I just made yours before I added the spicy cabbage"

It was true that Melia didn't share Reyn's love for this particular delicacy, but she had been raised since childhood to eat everything she was presented with, Her father's words echoed even now.

"The High Entian royal family must be just and benevolent rulers, to refuse food given by our people is to belittle their diligence and sacrifice, and that Melia, is a shame we cannot bear"

So on the Gaul Plain when Reyn had offered to share his rations with her as a clumsy gesture of good will, she had eaten it all without complaint ,although she hadn't been at all amused when he'd offered her seconds.

"You didn't want me to?"

"No...it's not that I... Thank you"

Fiora beamed at her "...You know Melia, you've really started speaking your mind... It suits you"

In truth Melia was caught off guard by the remark,

In the short time she had known Fiora she had come to admire her honesty and the ease with which she spoke her mind. Indeed, on more than one occasion she had caught herself wondering if she could ever be so straightforward, but old habits die hard, and a lifetime among the High Entia meant it still felt strange to speak frankly.

No Caption Provided

"Okay you two, grub's up! Sweet salmon and baked aubergine, everything you growing boys need"

Reyn and Riki's stopped, their eyes lit up

"Seriously!?"

"Fiora's food makes Riki's tummy happy"

In an instant all slights were forgiven as Reyn began piling food onto Riki's plate.

"You should eat up too Melia, it's going to get cold"

"Oh... of course"

Melia returned to her place at the table, sat down and gingerly brought the fork to her lips...

"It's… Delicious"

Without the spicy cabbage, the subtle flavours were fit for even the most delicate High Entian palate.

For the first time in recent memory, she ate something that was truly delicious.

-

No Caption Provided

Chapter 3

Melia awoke with a start, a cry of pain had pierced the quiet stillness of the night.

The ether lamp still cast its ghostly, pale light; it appeared there was some time left until dawn.

The three girls slept on the first floor of the house in Fiora's room, Sharla and Melia had been forced to make do with moth eaten mattresses spread on the hardwood floor but even those had seemed like luxury compared to the nights they had spent out in the wilds, the titans looming black against the night sky, blotting out the stars.

Sharla slept peacefully, her chest rising and falling with the quiet sound of her breathing. It was Fiora who was suffering. Her mechanical hands lay clenched by her sides, her breaths short and sharp.

Melia went to her.

This wasn't the first time she had cried out in her sleep, but she couldn't sweat or have a fever, repairing her robotic body was beyond the expertise of even the most learned High Entia. The only one who could help her now was Linada; the Machina doctor.

It was a feeling of powerlessness she had rarely experienced. The might of the High Entian Empire at her beck and call and she could do nothing more than hold Fiora's hand and whisper words of comfort into the darkness.

Anger welled up inside her, burning, acrid, white hot.

At that moment something moved, a shadow between the ether lamps that lined the street outside "...Shulk?"

Where was he going at this time of night? Shouldn't he be here? Shouldn't he be the one supporting Fiora in her hour of need?

Melia knew that it made little real difference who sat by her side, but someone had to tell him... had to let him know just how callous he was being.

Pausing only to gather her equipment (for the Telethia could attack at any time) she set out in pursuit. She already knew where he was headed for these days he rarely left the laboratory in the military district.

-

By the time she arrived Shulk was already buried in his reports, scanning the room she noticed hundreds more, stacked in precarious towers like gigantic paper monoliths. Whatever he had been doing this afternoon, it appeared that he had returned to continue it.

It was just like him, he was single minded, almost to the point of obsession; but it was that self-same devotion that made him such an invaluable companion, and that dedication which would no doubt ensure the success of the Monado replica project. But he was forgetting something important, he was forgetting Fiora.

Naturally, Shulk was completely oblivious to her presence, he thought of nothing but the regeneration machine.

That was what Linada had told him about. Advanced High Entian technology so ancient that even they had lost all record of it, but if he could find it; then there was a chance that could save Fiora from her suffering.

Since hearing Linada's words words they had consumed his every waking moment.

Even the machina were unable to recreate it, yet there was still a chance that one existed somewhere on Bionis. So when he wasn't assisting the Monado project he was pouring over the archeological reports left by his parents and the other explorers who had cataloged the ruins dotting the landscape. Perhaps somewhere in those records...

Knowing nothing of this Melia stormed into the lab, her poise and etiquette momentarily forgotten.

"Shulk, what are you doing here?"

"M... Melia...?"

But her blunderous entrance disturbed the delicate balance of the documents piled beside the doorway, they swayed and rippled for a moment, like some great serpent, before collapsing.

Shulk had just enough time to grasp what was happening and leapt to protect her from the descending avalanche. At that moment...

-

Melia stood in front of the authentication device and spoke.

As sovereign of the royal house of the High Entia I request that control of this facility be passed to me.

Dunban hid his face, he didn't want the others to see his tears.

"It appears I'm in your debt once again..."

"No problem" Reyn laughed "I'll keep Shulk out of trouble until it's done..."

Linada placed a reassuring hand on Fiora's shoulder

"The preparations are complete, it is time to enter"

Fiora smiled

"I......."

-

"What happened Shulk?"

Visions gave way to a monochrome world, ink blots to water colour, reds and blues. Then Melia's face swam into focus, she stood over him.

"Shulk" she said, her anger forgotten.

"Melia, where are we?"

He looked around the lab, documents lay scattered in great heaps upon the floor, his mind still trying desperately to process everything he'd just witnessed.

Melia had seen it many times before, that fleeting moment when Shulk's consciousness was elsewhere, that faint blue light glimmering in the depths of his eyes.

"You saw it didn't' you... The future"

Shulk nodded and slowly began to explained what he'd seen.

Whatever ancient system kept the machine sealed, it could be opened by a member of the royal family... By Melia

"I think I've found it..."

"found what? ...Shulk?"

"All this time and it was right under our noses" Shulk exclaimed "Don't you see Melia, there's a way to help Fiora, and you're the key!"

"What!?"

"There's this machine, of course the technology's been lost for eons, but I knew there had to be at least one left somewhere on Bionis"

Melia's expression went from puzzlement to delight

"It's right here in colony 9, and you were the one who showed me. It's all thanks to you!"

Forgetting herself a second time, Melia embraced him.

"We did it!"

Despite her delight, Melia couldn't help feeling guilty. Of course Shulk had been thinking of Fiora all along. She had been wrong to doubt him...

-

Chapter 4

No Caption Provided

The journey from the hidden Machina village wasn't an easy one, but difficult and fraught with danger as it was, Linada responded to their summons and arrived just a few days later. Together the party headed to the Mag Mell ruins above Colony 9.

They made their way into the caves in silence, the atmosphere of anticipation palpable.

As they walked deeper Melia's pace began to slow, her eyes fixed on the structures which sprang from the rocks in the deepest part of the caves.

"You know it's strange" she said in a barely audible whisper "but this place, it reminds me of the the royal palace somehow"

"There is nothing strange about it" Linada replied "these walls were built by your ancestors hands, what inhabits this space is not a ruin as you seem to think, but an ancient ship of High Entian design".

The companions were taken aback by this sudden revelation. To them the old ruins were as familiar as the streets and houses of the colony, the creatures weak enough so that even the rawest recruits could train in relative safety. No one suspected that they held such a secret, that the metal structures were actually part of an ancient ship, crash landed so long ago that centuries at the mercy of the elements had rendered it indistinguishable from the surrounding mountains.

"The High Entian people developed many unique technologies in their high towers, regeneration chief among these. They protected it well. It is little wonder that time has not touched this place."

-

The colonials visited the alcove at the highest point of the ruins frequently. It's walls, lined with hundreds of ether cylinders were an invaluable resource, though their true purpose remained a mystery. The door at it's rear resisted any and all attempts to open it.

Now, Melia stood before it and spoke.

"As sovereign of the royal house of the High Entia I request that control of this facility be passed to me"

The captain's final orders fulfilled, the ship's computer accepted Melia as its new master and the automated systems, for the first time in hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, unlocked the door. With the defences finally at rest, the party progressed quickly through the ships dark interior until they reached the central chamber.

-

"This is it, no doubt about it"

No Caption Provided

Linada nodded her agreement

The device appeared just as it had in Shulk's vision. Before them lay a great mass of complex machinery, a human sized transparent capsule at it's centre.

Dunban gazed at the machine, his voice trembling as he spoke.

"With this, Fiora's body will...?"

"Yes," said Shulk "I'm sure of it"

"It appears I'm in your debt once again..."

Shulk averted his gaze, he knew Dunban was trying to hide his tears.

"This machine, will it really...."

Fiora seemed far from convinced, could this antiquated contraption really be the answer?

Linada spoke, placing a slender hand on her shoulder.

"Though Iron and steel replace your flesh, the patterns of your original construction remain, this machine can use the information in your remaining cells to rebuild you as you were"

"Riki doesn't understand machines, but soft Fiora would give better hugs"

Fiora looked at Riki and smiled, though her doubtful expression remained.

"Something wrong Fiora?" Asked Sharla, concerned.

"...it's, well... how long will it take...?"

Linada punched something into the terminal before answering"

"Your physique is slight, half a year will be sufficient"

"Half a year...?" her expression darkened.

"Half a year... No problem, I'll keep Shulk out of trouble until it's done" Reyn laughed

"Like I need you to protect me you big lump"

"The preparations are complete, it is time to enter" at Linada's words the capsule slid open."Sleep deeply, and awaken to your own body"

But Fiora stood resolute, turned to them, and said

"I... I'm not going in..."

-

Chapter 5

Shulk and Fiora stood outside the Terra Cave, below them the colony lay shrouded in the early morning mist.

"You're sure about this?"

"For the last time, I'm sure"

Shulk was understandably worried, but Fiora spoke with unwavering certainty.

She couldn't going in, not now at least, of that she was certain.

It was true that six months in the machine would save her life, but the Telethia would not cease the slaughter while she slept, and unless they marched to meet Zanza, the cycle of destruction and recreation would continue. Fiora couldn't let her friends go without her.

"I've decided, I'll fight with you, with this body. I'd rather face this head on than be stuck here worrying, and besides the machine has survived this long, I'm sure it will still be here when we get back."

For Linada, Fiora's words were disquieting, they had no way of knowing how long this fight would continue, and no guarantee that her robotic body could endure it without Meyneth's protection, but she was adamant, immutable.

Her body weakens with each passing moon, she thought, but I'll give her all the time I can.

Reyn and Dunban join them overlooking the colony

"We'll be back, won't we Dunban"

"Once it's finished. Then we can fix Fiora. Then we can finally live in peace"

Shulk nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, we'll be back, this is our home after all"

The companions, making for the Gaul Plain, turned and headed into the caves, behind them Colony 9 stood defiant, just as it always had.

No Caption Provided

-

Start the Conversation

Dark Souls Design Works Translation: Weapons and Equipment Part 2/2 + Animation

The sixth and final part of the Design Works interview. If you missed the previous parts you can find them here:

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

PART 5

-

No Caption Provided

Nakamura: What about the trickster set.

Otsuka: Domhnall of Zena's equipment right.

Waragai: Initially he was conceived as an illusive purveyor of rare objects.

Miyazaki: Yes, a character like that is actually very easy to fit into the game, you can essentially place him anywhere and move him about wherever you want. Mr Waragai took care of the design, but it wasn't until he added glasses that the character started to emerge.

Waragai: I agree. There are actually a number of examples of armour with glasses attached so I just used those as a base for the design. At first glance the character may look eccentric, but his armour is actually quite typical of suits worn in central Europe in the late middle ages, just chain mail, a surcoat and leather boots.

Miyazaki: I was adamant that he should be carrying a lot of things I think Waragai did an admirable job. Even in this world where money has lost it's value he holds onto these precious objects and carries them with him.

No Caption Provided

Nakamura: Talking of Domhnall, didn't we design a weapon for him, the triple crossbow. I really liked it, it was very unique, especially when compared to the other weapons in the game.

Miyazaki: The triple crossbow, you mean Avelyn? Unfortunately I had to move the it to the dukes archives.

Otsuka: Avelyn was originally Domhnall's weapon? I really like the name, where did that come from?

Miyazaki: Hmm, think there was a reason behind it, but… I've forgotten... at least that's what I'm going to tell you. Haha. I was fully aware when we were designing it that the detail and complexity of the weapon wouldn't come across in the game, but I specifically remember saying we'll probably make an art book in the future so let's just make it. I'm glad we were able to realise that dream.

Waragai: Make sure you to make it really big so as soon as you open the book, BAM. Haha. I don't work in that area much myself, but designing weapons looks like a lot of fun. Avelyn would have to be my favourite, but I also love the design of the Dragonslayer Spear.

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Otsuka: That's Ornstein's spear isn't it.

Nakamura: We talked at length about that, about how you would pierce through the tough dragon scales.

Miyazaki: There's only so much you can do with a spear so it can be difficult to design, but once we hit upon the idea of using your bodyweight the design emerged pretty quickly.

Nakamura: Yes, the shape of the weapon was based entirely around the idea of stabbing the dragon, and then using all your bodyweight to force the spear deeper.

Miyazaki: I like the dragon weapons, especially the Drake sword and the Moonlight Greatsword, I'm really happy with the way they turned out.

Hatayama: I'm pretty sure I designed one of those…

Miyazaki: Ah yes, one of the early designs. I thought the Dragonslayer Greatbow looked great and once we added the animation it really came together.

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Satake: I'm fond of the Dragon Tooth.

Waragai: Although I've heard some of the users calling it the fried chicken. Haha. They say it looks like you're carrying a giant piece of fossilised chicken.

Miyazaki: ...No comment.

Satake: But, I love the simplicity of the design, there's something really cool about it.

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Otsuka: How about the shields? I know you actually held a contest so the fans could submit their designs.

 The Owl Shield
The Owl Shield

Miyazaki: Well, shields are the opposite to spears in terms of design aren't they, you have a great deal of room to create something expressive and unique, it's because of that we were able to hold this type of user contest. It was a great success actually. The quality was exceptionally high and there were scores of ideas that we simply wouldn't have come up with ourselves. Despite the fact that the contest was only open to Japanese fans we were inundated with fantastic designs, far more than we could ever hope to put in the game. Designs like the Owl Shield really gave me some trouble, I simply couldn't decide and in the end was forced to leave it out.

I regret that we weren't able to use more of the designs, perhaps If we had started the process sooner we would have been able to, but it just wasn't possible.

I suppose the last thing about the contest is that we didn't really give the entrants any direction, I thought it would be far better to just let the entrants use their imagination.

Anyway, on to the designs we created in house, what do you think of them? Personally, I really like the simplicity of the Sunlight Shield.

Waragai: I like the Dragon Crest Shield.

Satake: I like the items that emanate that eerie glow.

Miyazaki: You mean the Crystal Ring Shield? I must admit, I wasn't entirely happy with how that turned out.

Ultra Slash!
Ultra Slash!

Waragai: Perhaps, but I think it's a really great design.

Satake: If you combine it with the Moonlight Greatsword it looks fantastic.

Waragai: Like Ultraman's Ultra Slash right!

Miyazaki: That's right! That's exactly how I tried to explain it to the artist, but he had no idea what I was talking about, I really felt the generation gap when that happened.

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Otsuka: Looking at the equipment and armour from that game as a whole, how do you feel about it?

Miyazaki: Well this is going to get a little abstract, but I really like equipment that shows feeling or emotion, the best example of this would be the Armour of Favour, I mean, it's the only thing you have to depend on when you step onto the battlefield. So I really wanted players to say, I trust this with my life. Whether it's a sword, shield or armour, I want it to evoke some kind of feeling, and to do that sincerely, be it the devotion of the wearer or the hopes and dreams of the one who made it. I went into all the designs with that in mind, and while I wasn't able to get that in every single one, I feel I wasn't entirely unsuccessful. Of course this doesn't just apply to the aesthetics, the game systems must also be constructed around this idea. It's something I always strive for, a theme that carries through everything I do.

Otsuka: So you'd like the players to find a weapon or piece of armour they like and just stick with it?

Miyazaki: I'd be delighted if that were the case! This strays from art design a little, but with the weapon upgrades we made sure that there was one upgrade path that preserves not only the weapon's name, but also the motion and timing. I wanted people to be able to continue to use their favourite weapon so I left them this option.

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Otsuka: Of course once you've created the art, you have to add the animation. Was there anything that gave you trouble during this stage?

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Miyazaki: The way I prefer to work is that once the concept design is finished, I'll always gather together everyone involved with a particular character to talk through all of our ideas and ultimately decide where we want to take it. That means that for each and every character I get the artist, animator, effect and sound designer, AI planner and programmer and all the concept artists. While there might be some small areas that need work, there was never anything that differed wildly from my initial image.

One animation that I'll always remember is when the play activates the Dragon Torso Stone. I actually acted the motion out for the animators but when they showed me the finished animation I didn't like it. "He wouldn't move like this" I said. To which they replied "but this is how you showed us, I'm sure of it" and of course everyone agreed with them. Haha. I was a bit embarrassed, but that awkward, jerky motion actually conveys what it would be like if a human was trying to force him or herself into becoming a dragon, so in the end after some slight adjustments I gave it the okay.

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Otsuka: How about the dogs in the depths, I actually found their movement a little unsettling.

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Miyazaki: Yes, they weren't originally supposed to move like that but just as you say, it gave them a very unsettling quality so I left it in. If everything goes exactly as you plan that unsettling element, that disgust is very difficult to create and you end up with a game that doesn't surprise or shock the player. But it's very difficult to manufacture so it needs some stimulus, some mistake that you can utilise and turn to your advantage. I suppose in the end it's all about being receptive to failures as well as successes.

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Satake: I'll always remember the Dark Hand's soul drain attack. This was the first thing Mr Miyazaki tried to explain to me and the first time I found myself on the receiving end of his acting. He was saying "I want it to be like this" while acting out the motion, and of course, I had no idea what he was doing. Haha.

Miyazaki: Yes, that can happen, but as I said before it's really a chance to hear everyone's ideas and get us all thinking on the same wavelength. I like to encourage everyone to contribute their ideas, no matter how trivial because from those some great ideas will emerge. For example having characters imprisoned inside the crystal golem. The lead artist actually came up with that idea. While we may end up using less that ten percent of these ideas I still think it's an important exercise. Of course we could just say "you go away and think about these 20 enemies" but I much prefer coming up with ideas together, having everyone contribute and develop the concept together. Although too many cooks can spoil the broth. Haha.

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Satake: We actually used motion capture for the pre rendered movie, but in the sections where it differed from Mr Miyazaki's image he would act it out himself. Such as the part where Nito opens his hand, we reshot that many times didn't we. Also the part where the maiden takes the fire, originally she just took in in her hand but Miyazaki wanted it to look more like a prayer. We reshot that part many times too.

Miyazaki: Yes, I wanted her to take it gently as if she was protecting something very important and delicate from being broken. It took a long time to achieve that, no matter how many times we reshot it, it always looked like it was going to break. Actually right after working through the night on that, I was flying from Haneda to American. I remember someone asking "where are you going to sleep" I decided I'd be fine just sleeping on the plane, but I wasn't fine at all, it was absolutely awful.

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But I learned a huge amount from working on Dark Soul's pre-rendered intro. At that point we were much more experienced working on mech games like Armoured Core and I think that lack of experience with fantasy games hindered us a little, but there are things I really like about it. Seath's scene or the part where Nito raises his hands are my favourites, I think they came together really well.

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Otsuka: Lastly I'd like to ask about the cover art.

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Miyazaki: This was another area that gave us some trouble. Since she designed the Elite Knight Armour I asked Hatuyama to design the cover. The cover features the player character and the bonfire, but it's the darkness behind the two that is the key to the design. Explaining this darkness was difficult without getting extremely abstract...

Satake: It was really interesting seeing the design develop, at first the knight and the bonfire were arranged very differently, separate from each other, but Nakamura started talking about facing the shadows and how to have the viewer feel the depth of that darkness. Hatuyama's original design was adjusted again and again until, we were looking form directly behind the character into the darkness. It's actually the opposite of most cover art isn't it.

Nakamura: Your proximity to the darkness and the impending sense of dread and anticipation, we tried to capture all that in the design.

Miyazaki: I think that really comes across when you see the art blown up into a poster, although speaking honestly, as a cover it does have some problems. I think it comes across as a product more than a game, although I do like the image and I was the one who suggested it so I'm responsible for the way it turned out.

Satake: Yes, I really think Hatuyama overcame a difficult challenge, taking advice from various people but at the same time producing something that is all her own.

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Miyazaki: Yes I agree, that's something I really like about the image. It's interesting to compare it to the cover art used abroad. I'm sure it's shown somewhere in this book, It's really is completely different! I just gave them all the materials and took no further part in the design so I was actually really looking forward to seeing the results. I was really surprised. Haha. I thought the finished cover looked really cool, especially the cover used for the special edition.

Hatuyama: When designing our cover I have to admit, I was at a complete loss as to what to do, I was told I had to "face the darkness inside myself", which didn't really help at all.

Miyazaki: Really? I didn't think I'd say such an abstract thing...

Hatuyama: It was Satake who told me that, I didn't know how to react.

Satake: Ah yes I say things like that from time to time, then Mr Nakamura has to fill in the gaps.

Nakamura: Yes, I'm like a translator aren't I.

Hatuyama: But I was really in trouble, I didn't understand what Satake was trying to say.

Miyazaki: Oh dear Mr Satake. Haha.

Satake: But thankfully we were able to talk through all those problems.

Hatuyama: Yes, I feel like a learned a huge amount working on Dark Souls.

Miyazaki: It turned out fine in the end.

Hatuyama: Yes it really did, when I look back on everything we achieved, I feel a huge sense of achievement.

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Miyazaki: In closing, I just want to say that the four artists here and two others not present were the entirety of the concept art team. With only six people we had to rely on out of house artists, but their job was mostly just to clean up our rough images. Almost all of the actual concept design work was done by just this handful of people.

That may surprise some you, and we certainly encountered difficulties because the team was so small, but I also believe that there are things that could only be achieved by a small team like this. It was a difficult balancing act, and as artists I'm sure you'd prefer to tighten up your own designs, so I'm sorry that you weren't able to.

Nakamura: Not at all, I think you really created an excellent environment to concentrate on producing interesting ideas.

Miyazaki: I'm glad you don't hold that against me. I truly enjoyed my role in developing the concepts and collaborating together with the artists and working together to shape the designs. I really think that looking at the game as a whole, we were hugely successful.

… Oh, and I'd also like to thank enter brain for producing the art book.

Everyone: Haha

Otsuka: Thank you very much.

-

Follow me on twitter... or not... it's up to you @ThePeterBarnard

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Dark Souls Design Works Translation: Weapons and Equipment Part 1/2

Part five of the Design Works interview. If you missed the previous parts you can find them here:

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

PART 4

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Otsuka: There are some really unique weapons and suits of armour, could we speak a little about them? Siegmeyer's armour is one that really stands out.

Bazuso
Bazuso

Miyazaki: The Catarina armour was designed by Mr Waragai. Long before we started work on the game, in fact, not long after he joined the company we actually asked him to produce a number of designs, not for any specific project but more as a kind of test to help us decide which development team to attach him to. During that period I asked him to produce some fantasy armour, and among his designs there was a large, overweight character like Bazuso from Berzerk. It was really distinctive with a spherical, onion shaped helmet and I took to it immediately. Once we started work on Dark Souls and I began to outline Siegmeyer's character, it seemed like a perfect fit so I just used the design as it was.

Otsuka: That's great, so, does it have a special meaning for you since it was one of your first designs?

Waragai: Yes I suppose it does. I've always liked fantasy but it wasn't until I started working on these designs that I really began to think about how the armour was put together. Then I started thinking, how would you construct armour for someone who was really overweight, and this design was the result.

Miyazaki: Although Siegmeyer isn't actually fat, it's just his armour. Haha. It's strange little details like this that I really like about it. If there's one thing I regret about the Catalina armour, it's that I wasn't able to show the helmet opening, it's designed to do that and I have a mental image of Siegmeyer popping it open and hungrily guzzling down some food. I just wasn't able to fit in anywhere in the game. I have to apologise to Mr Waragai for that.

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Otsuka: If you get the camera into just the right position you can actually see inside Sieglinde's helmet, she's quite a looker isn't she.

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Miyazaki: You did that!? Haha. Well Waragai and the 3D artist he was working with made almost all of the npc's faces.

Waragai: And in a pretty short space of time as I recall.

Miyazaki: In my mind Sieglinde was always a cute character. I specifically remember asking for that.

Waragai: In the end she turned out completely different but at one point you asked me to make her look like Hermione.

Miyazaki: Eh? I said that? Surely I would have asked for Emma Watson, anyway I don't think she ended up resembling anyone in particular.

Waragai: You definitely said it. I remember because I'm also a fan. Haha.

Otsuka: Well, for some reason I was certain that a handsome man and beautiful woman would emerge from that armour.

Miyazaki: Fairly early in development I was actually talking about the game abroad when I blurted out something about her being beautiful, once I'd done that I couldn't go back on my word could I...

Waragai: Although in the end you never see her face. Haha.

Miyazaki: That's Dark Souls in a nutshell. Haha. In the end they lost something of their initial resemblance to Bazuso, but I'm very happy with the way the two characters turned out. Siegmeyer's story, including his touching final scene is actually enhanced by the fact that he's wearing that armour don't you think? …perhaps that's just be me. Haha.

In many ways it's the complete opposite of the Catalina armour but the set which best embodies Dark Souls' dark fantasy aesthetic, and which was consequently featured on the box art, is the Elite Knight armour. Hatayama designed this. I actually showed her the knight's armour from Demon's Souls to use as reference and asked her to enhance it by adding features that weren't present in the initial design such as the surcoat. I really wanted to bring out an air of nobility and refinement. Nakamura designed the knight's armour from demon's souls, and it was such a great design that it actually gave us trouble when it came to trying to improve upon it, there were several times where we took it in entirely the wrong direction, when it started to look like an inferior copy rather than an improvement.

Hatayama: I redrew it countless times didn't I.

Miyazaki: Yes, we struggled at first but I really think the final design is great. In fact when I find the armour in game myself, I can't help but equip it for a while. With the blue surcoat and other additions, I really think it turned into a very cool design.

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Otsuka: And what about Mr Nakamura's designs?

Nakamura: In the early stages I worked on the equipment for the warrior, the wanderer, the hunter and the bandit.

Parn
Parn

Miyazaki: For the warrior we wanted to move away from the traditional soldier class seen in Demon's Souls and instead aim for something more like an adventurer, we used the relatively simple image words of leather armour with metal plating, and I suppose, a little of Parn from Record of Lodoss War...

Nakamura: Yes he did come up didn't he.

Miyazaki: It's not surprising, we're a similar age and both grew up with the series. Also I assumed that players would spend a significant portion of the game using this armour so we actually paid special attention to the back as it's the part the players will be looking at the majority of the time. It's the same with armoured core, we have to ensure that each and every camera shows the player some little detail or point of interest. We tried a number of different ideas but in the end we actually settled on something very close to the initial idea. The final design walks that line between warrior and adventurer so I'm really happy with it.

Nakamura: When I started work on these four designs I decided that I didn't want to just create a standard set of armour and swap parts around,

Instead I aimed to create something that while not traditional, looks like it could exist. Designs which felt like they were from another world but that were entirely plausible. That's what I was really strived for.

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It was actually a very difficult period for me, I was determined to have something substantial before I showed my designs to Mr Miyazaki, to be able to explain my choices and defend them if needed.

I worked on them intensively for a long time before I was finally ready to show them to anybody. In fact as soon as I received the OK I went straight home. Haha.

Waragai: Oh yeah, I remember that. The look of relief on your face as you left!

Nakamura: Up until then I was practically sleeping at the office.

Waragai: I remember your look of satisfaction, as if to say "I've done it!"

Nakamura: I heard later that Satake and Miyazaki were discussing my designs over ramen and saying how pleased they were.

Satake: Yes we did.

Miyazaki: Of course I remember too, that was a great moment. Haha

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Otsuka: Next is Satake san.

Hydra
Hydra

Satake: As far as equipment goes… the Thorn Armour. I remember it didn't start well at all.

Miyazaki: Ah, I was quite rude about the first design that reached me, I apologise. Originally I asked for something like Hydra from Saint Seiya. I like the poignancy of that character, to have gone through such harsh training to earn his holy armour, and after all that, his special ability amounts to nothing more than some claws attached to his hands, you would be pretty crestfallen wouldn't you. We talked like that a lot, but basically our images for the armour didn't match so we spend a long time working on it.

Satake: My first design was a huge guy covered in spikes, but that wasn't what you wanted at all was it.

Miyazaki: The design only began to take shape when we started talking about the trial of the 77 rings from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure. In the first part of the manga there are two characters called Tarkus and Bruford who, in order to earn their knighthood have to overcome the trial of the 77 rings. Each combatant wears a metal ring, the winner taking the loser's and adding it to his own. They have to defeat 77 opponents, but with each victory the number of rings they are forced to carry increases. It's a really cool idea, so we started talking about what it would be like to attach thorns to those rings. The final design was slightly different, but that's where it really started coming together.

The trial of the 77 rings
The trial of the 77 rings

On the other hand the design for the Iron and Sun set went extremely smoothly. I really felt like we agreed on the main elements, the large sun symbol and the mismatched, almost hand made look, so the design emerged remarkably quickly.

Satake: I never expected him to be raising his hands like that when I drew it though. Haha.

Miyazaki: Ah, that pose was something I brought over from demon's souls, a holy man always makes that pose. Haha.

Satake: We actually took to calling that his "Power" didn't we.

Miyazaki: Yes we did, although I think the 3D artists would have heard that more than the concept artists, those people in charge of lighting and effects. At first we tried to explain it saying "You know, the light glows behind him like this" but in the end it was just easier to call it "Power" Haha.

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That pose actually carries some significance for me. During Demon's Souls that was a holy sign. When I presented the game to the rest of the company I showed them that pose and one of the higher ups told me it just wasn't cool enough. Of course I told him I'd get rid of it but I secretly kept it in the game. So naturally, with this game I was determined to use it.

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By the time I began thinking about Solaire's character I had already decided I was going to use it for the Sunlight covenant. By using it for summons it doesn't interfere with the action. I remember I actually acted the pose out so the artist could take pictures.

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Waragai: I'd like to ask about the Darkmoon Knightess.

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Miyazaki: The Knightess' brass armour was actually one of the starting sets for a while. In amongst the other classes I wanted to create something a little more unusual, and this was designed as a pagan knight, but it was too difficult to balance so we gave it to the knightess. However, that initial image remains.

The majority of the people in the Dark Souls world follow the way of the white or Gwyn and the sunlight covenant, but there is another far more secretive group who follow Gwndolin

and the dark moon. They have developed in almost complete isolation so their customs and traditions are also completely different. The Darkmoon Knightess was designed around this idea.

These ideas, the moon and purity also carry with them something feminine, infact they obsess over the image of a maiden dancing in front of the moon, and strive to capture this beauty.The copper armour's appearance and indeed, the appearance of Gwyndolin himself can be attributed to this.

Nakamura: The skirt like garment he wears on his lower half for example, actually represents female menstruation. An interesting thing is that I actually made his head a little bigger than usual. When Mr Miyazaki saw it he was delighted, saying that it made him look like a little girl and that I had to keep it.

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Waragai: Huh? Haha

Miyazaki: It's not what you think. Haha

Nakamura: To be honest I just made a mistake when I copied and pasted it.

Miyazaki: Yeah, I did say that didn't I. When I first saw that you'd made his head that size I thought you were a genius. Haha. But the fact that it was an accident, I was hoping you'd take that to your grave. Haha.

I'm very happy that our feminine image for the Darkmoon covenant made it into the game intact.

-

Follow me on twitter... or not... it's up to you @ThePeterBarnard

Read part 6 HERE.

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Dark Souls Design Works Translation: NPCs and Monsters Part 2/2

Part four of the Design Works interview. If you missed the previous part you can find them here:

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

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Otsuka: Personally I'd really like to know more about the Ceaseless Discharge

Miyazaki: As with Priscilla, I had a pretty clear image of how I wanted the character to look and behave so I entrusted his design to an out of house artist.

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All demons are born from the fire of chaos, but he was the first, born so long ago that the fire wasn't yet stable. He possesses it, but he can't control it and it burns him constantly.

Despite his size, he's actually the youngest of Izalith's children, he stands gazing up at the ruins where his sisters live. The only source of comfort in his pitiful, painful existence is the belief that they are watching over him.

Waragi: Do you think people would have been able to guess all that simply by looking at the boss room?

Miyazaki: I don't really think so. There are a huge number of things that while present in the game, we make no attempt to explain to the player, and many more that they simply have no way of finding out. The Ceaseless Discharge's story is just one of these. I recall the main difficulty designing the character was trying to get across that sense of sadness that I wanted. People just couldn't see past the fact that he's a flaming giant

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Satake: Poor guy, everyone just wanted to attack him didn't they.

Miyazaki: It's not difficult to see why, but simply giving him a melancholic expression or making him weep would have been taking it too far in the opposite direction wouldn't it. It was a very difficult balance to achieve.

Otsuka: So in a way, by killing the ceaseless discharge you are doing him a kindness aren't you.

Miyazaki: Yes probably, relief from his pain at last… Although it's extremely difficult and I doubt anyone will ever discover it, I seem to recall there being a way to progress through the game without killing him, although in truth, it's more of an exploit than a valid method.

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Waragai: I really like Ornstein and Smough

Miyazaki: Those were both Mr Nakamura designs. I personally really like Smough's armour.

Nakamura: He was the first thing I designed

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Miyazaki: Smough came form the initial concept stages, while Ornstein was introduced much later. I remember the channeller's design was put forward around the same time as Smough's and we all took to referring to them as the four knights, knights C and D if I remember correctly. I hoped that by doing this it would ensure that knights A and B were created. Haha.

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But of course in the end they never were, the four knights disappeared and the design work for knights A and B was transferred to other characters like Ornstein and Artorias. The channeller was given a different role, so that left Smough. I'm extremely fond of the design so I wanted to do something special, turn him from one of four knights into something almost… heretical.

I'm sure made the designers and programmers really angry because I forced them to make his armour equippable.

Otsuka: You really were fond of him weren't you. Haha.

Miyazaki: He's offers a substantial challenge for the player too doesn't he.

Otsuka: I thought the strongest boss in the game was probably the… Capra demon

Waragai: For me it's undoubtably the fight with Ornstein.

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Miyazaki: There's something unnatural about Smough's armour, it doesn't look like something that would have been created by a normal, sane human, I think that's what I like about it. There was a rumour that we were hunting players who bought the game early. I wasn't us, but whoever was, was wearing Smough's armour and I remember thinking how fitting that was.

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Otsuka: How about that Chaos Witch Quelaag?

Miyazaki: Quelaag was another character I always had a pretty clear image for. The truth is there is an old board game called Dragon Pass which I really love, in the game there is a special unit called the crag spider, all it is, is a tiny chip with the name, parameters and a small silhouette but for some reason it really stuck with me. Although she developed into something quite different, that's where the inspiration for the character came from. It's not just dragon pass, I love all old table top games and game books, my copies of Titan and Out of the Pit remain some of my most treasured possessions.

Satake: When he's having difficulty trying to explain something he will often take out an old book, point to something and say "Like this!"

Miyazaki: It was my first foray into fantasy so it holds a special place in my heart... but getting back to Quelaag she became strangely popular, perhaps it has something to do with her chest….

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Waragai: Ah, her introduction cinematic. Haha.

Miyazaki: I wonder… Personally, and this is also the case with the ceaseless discharge, I'm not entirely happy with the way they turned out, I think we could have improved both their behaviour and the way they are introduced to the player.

Waragai: She spoke at one point didn't she.

Miyazaki: Yes she did, and, perhaps with a better script we could have made it work, but I felt like the character lost something, so we quickly took it out. She's actually one of the few completely silent characters.

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Otuka: What boss gave you the most trouble?

Miyazaki: Who gave me the most trouble…. Hmm

Nakamura: All of them right?

Miyazaki: That's the truth. Haha. There are quite a few, when deadlines were closing in and I couldn't get a good mental image of what I wanted, but we had to settle on something. Those situations were the hardest because I knew something was wrong, but couldn't express what I wanted and couldn't give a solution. That was difficult, both for me and for the artists I was working with. I suppose the Bed of Chaos is the principal example of this.

Otsuka: It seems you designed King Izalith at one point too, what was that like?

Miyazaki: Ah yes, evidence of the twists and turns we went through.

Waragai: Initially he was going to be the boss of the area, the Bed of Chaos lies sprawled on the floor and waves it's hands about but he was a king sitting in his throne...

Miyazaki: That's right. We really had trouble with that didn't we. I've already talked about quite a few aspects of the game I'm not entirely happy with, but I'd have to say that my greatest regret is the Bed of Chaos. The artists and designers worked extremely hard and came up with some fantastic ideas, but it exposed a real problem in our production method. We have no way to find a common goal and work towards it when things go wrong. It's definitely something I want to correct in the future.

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Otsuka: Well now we've talked about the boss characters I'd like to talk a bit about the normal enemies.

Hatuyama: I want to ask about the black knights. I remember originally they were going to wander the world, why was it that you decided to change that?

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Miyazaki: We've been thinking about introducing wandering enemies since Demon's Souls, then it was skeletons and grim reapers… but for whatever reason we've yet to go through with it. The Black knights behaviour was changed slightly, but their role never changed. Since they were burned by Gwyn's fire they wander the land. As far as design goes there were a number of themes I wanted to incorporate. I wanted to make them really detailed models so we gathered a huge amount of reference material, of course cloth wouldn't fit their burned image, but I wanted to design right down to the patterns carved into their armour. I really wanted that quality. I also wanted their armour to look like something a normal person couldn't wear, thick, heavy and almost hollow. I'm really happy with the final result, in fact it really helped us promote the game.

I hadn't expected people to say it looked like a character from Demon's Souls though. Haha. That wasn't at all intentional.

Hatuyama: The fact that they used to be silver knights and were transformed by Gwyn's fire. I was really happy that players actually noticed. I saw someone saying "This must have appeared when they were burned" and I realised they'd got it!

Miyazaki: It's always great to see things like that.

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Otsuka: The Mimic was quite different to those in other games, it's certainly the strongest I've ever encountered...

Miyazaki: Yes, the mimic. I wanted a mimic in the game from the very start, but mimics in other games are all the same aren't they. The point of the enemy is to surprise people but in doesn't does it. I love the design but it's just been over used. So I wanted to create a mimic that would surprise the player again, to go against their preconceptions… "Oh this is a mimic isn't it… wait what!" That was the image I had for the enemy from the very beginning, it was designed out of house but as long as it left a strong impression then it succeeded.

Super Tiger
Super Tiger

Hatuyama: It has an interesting way of kicking doesn't it.

Miyazaki: Yes that actually Super Tiger's rolling sobat. I think I recall saying that Super Tiger's story is one of the greatest ever told, although I suppose that's not really relevant here.

Waragai: How about the tentacled beasts in the Izalith ruins? When I look at them all I see is Mixer Taitei from Kinnikuman. I think some of the players noticed it too.

Mixer Taitei
Mixer Taitei

Miyazaki: well he is one of the few people to ever win against Kinnikuman isn't he.

Otsuka: So that's why he looks so much like Mixer Taitei?

Miyazaki: No, I'm joking. It wasn't intentional. although I have no problem with it looking like mixer Taitei. I'm a fan of the series and people seem to enjoy it.

Satake: I was responsible for designing that. It was actually based on a very old sketch. I was trying to create something strange and unique, like the Great Race of Yith from the Lovecraft mythos, or something with many eyes on springs. There was a period where I was created a lot of designs around these themes, and it was one of these sketches that formed the basis for this particular design. I'd been wanting to do something with it for a long time now so I'm glad we were able to use it in the game.

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Otsuka: Of all the enemies in the game the ones which scared me the most would have to be the crow demons in the painted world, and the basilisks in the depths. How about them?

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Miyazaki: the crow demons came about during the initial concept stages. I think the animator did a really incredible job.

Satake: I think they are really at home in the painted world.

Nakamura: I like to think that they were humans who wanted to fly so badly that they sprouted wings, but rather than their skeletons evolving over time, they instead twisted their limbs into unnatural positions, forcing their bodies into a birdlike shape, that's how I've always imagined them.

Miyazaki: I always thought of the painted world as somewhere where things go to escape, and the bird men but no different. They were originally designed as worshippers of the Goddess Velka whose bodies were warped by their devotion. I think this obsession makes them really interesting characters.

Satake: In some ways there are very similar to the gaping Dragon aren't they.

Otsuka: How did the basilisk's come about?

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Miyazaki: They also came out of the initial concept stages. Although the idea that they could turn people to stone came much later.

Waragai: Yes, it was never designed as a basilisk. In was just one of the many designs created during those initial stages. In the end, we had an out of house artist brush up the design.

Miyazaki: the concept images are extremely rough. They're great for getting the design across, but when it comes to building the model and animating it, it doesn't contain nearly enough information. So we had and out of house artist complete the design for us. The thing which takes the longest time and needs the most communication is of course the very first image, so having this work done for you it actually a very good method. In his book, I'm sure there are a lot of rough concept images, I think is interesting to compare them to the finished images.

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Otsuka: Did you all like fantasy before starting the project?

Everyone: Of course!

Miyazaki: Everyone really loves it. There are a couple of people who also draw mechs, but I think it would be very difficult to work with someone who didn't like fantasy. It would be hard to communicate some of the more fantasy based ideas. Haha.

I don't have that problem with people like Mr Nakamura or Mr Satake. I've worked with Mr Nakamura for a long time on both Armoured Core and Demon's Souls, and have always trusted him with the most important designs. I've also worked with Mr Satake since Armoured Core, and on this project he worked with the out of house artists which basically meant he had to translate my abstract directions into something they might understand. Haha. I'm very grateful.

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Read part 5 HERE.

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Dark Souls Design Works Translation: NPCs and Monsters Part 1/2

In this section of the interview the artists talk about their designs for the NPC characters and bosses found in Dark Souls. If you missed the first two parts you can read them HERE and HERE. Also be warned, some of this could be construed as spoilers so read it at your own risk.

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Otsuka: Now we've covered the maps I'd like to ask about the NPCs (non player characters), There certainly are a lot of memorable characters aren't there.

Miyazaki: Thanks very much, we spend a lot of time on them so I'm happy to hear you say that.

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Waragai: Personally, I really like Big Hat logan

Miyazaki: That was one of (Mai) Hatayama's designs wasn't it?

Hatayama: Yes it was… but I have to ask, why did you make him naked?

Miyazaki: Huh? I made him naked?...

Waragai: Haha, I'm sure it was your idea mr Miyazaki.

Miyazaki: I suppose it was… Well as to why I made him naked, I wanted to show that the character had found enlightenment, but unfortunately the character models in dark souls weren't built with a wide range of emotional expression, so as I was thinking about how to overcome this problem, for some reason, I hit upon the idea of making him naked… Its Logan's goal to gain the power of the ancient dragons, so in order to do this, I had an image of him casting off his human clothes. It's similar to when when you use the Dragon head or torso stone, you have to remove your equipment don't you. Of course there are gameplay reasons for this to, but there was also this image of the player character leaving something of their humanity behind. Similarly, Logan removing his clothes is his attempt to bring himself closer to Seath in some way. Although I couldn't take his hat off because you wouldn't have known who it was, but personally I like to think that unlike the followers of the path of the Dragon, Logan sought to gained the dragons power, while still retaining his pride as a human.

Hatayama: I drew a lot of designs for underwear so I'm a little disappointed he didn't emerge wearing one of those instead.

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Miyazaki: In his underwear… If we had done that I'm not sure it would have been taken in the way I wanted. Haha. But I also really like Logan as a character, so I spent a good amount of time on the design. He's a wise man or a sage, but I really wanted to make him unique, so I had quite a few designs made. Once we arrived on the idea of his big hat the design came together, but that wasn't there from the start and only emerged through continual revisions.

Hatayama: At first I held back thinking "Is it really okay to make his hat this big" but as time went on It gradually got larger and larger until…

Miyazaki: Yes we went through that process many times. Haha.

Hatayama: I thought he'd turn into a mushroom, but I was told that it wasn't a problem so I just went ahead and did it.

Satake: Turn into a mushroom… I like that. Haha.

Hatayama: Artistically speaking I made his hat far too big, you can't actually see his face anymore.

Miyazaki: I think it turned into a good silhouette in the end, he looks like someone who doesn't like other people… I can empathise with that. Haha.

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Hatayama: Can I ask about Gwynevere, because compared to the other female charters she's very different, almost glamorous.

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Miyazaki: …. You don't like the design?

Hatayama: No, I just wanted to know what the original idea behind it was.

Otsuka: As a fan of the character I'd be interested to hear that too. Haha.

Fujio's Yasaragi no Yakata
Fujio's Yasaragi no Yakata

Miyazaki: Well, the truth is, I just wanted to make a really big woman. I think it was a Fujiko F. Fujio manga, (Yasuragi no Yakata, literally Tranqil Mansion), there was a company president who joins an exclusive club to escape his stressful work life, and there's a giant woman who takes care of the club members, almost like a mother… don't you think that's just a perfect situation? A giant, considerate, caring woman. The kind we all lost when we grew up, that's what I wanted to make. Originally I also wanted to put a mouth in the palm of her hand, and we made all of the animations, but it didn't make it into the final game. Talking of glamour, her breasts are nothing to do with me, they happened without my knowledge. It's all the artist's fault. I think I mentioned it earlier but I always seek a certain refinement in all my designs.

The woman who inspired Guinevere's design
The woman who inspired Guinevere's design

Waragai: Really? Haha

Miyazaki: Yes, But the artist had such a happy look on his face that I didn't have the heart to stop him.

Everyone: Haha

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Otsuka: Earlier we were talking about Half breed Pricilla, but are there any other characters whose role changed dramatically as development progressed?

Early concept art depicting Andre
Early concept art depicting Andre

Miyazaki: Oh there are many, for example Andre of Astoria. Originally he played a far more important role in the story.

Satake: Andre is no longer related to Gwin is he?

Miyazaki: Yes, we took that out. He was originally a descendant of Gwin whose task it was to protect a door within the fire link shrine. In the end he was going to push aside the goddess statue to let you progress, but as development progressed he became just a simple blacksmith. Haha

Waragai: But there are still those statues that look like him around the game world aren't there?

Miyazaki: Yes they are aren't they. but I don't think they are related, they're simply vessels which hold the embers.

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Otsuka: Next I'd like to ask about the enemy characters, starting with the boss characters…

Miyazaki: There are too many for us to talk about all of them, so why don't we have the artists talk about their favourite designs.

Waragai: I'm afraid I didn't really work too much on the enemy designs.

Hatayama: Really? How about Pricilla?

Miyazaki: Pricilla was designed out of house. I had a pretty clear image of what I wanted for the character so I trusted it to an outside art studio.

Waragai: From my designs… I suppose Nito

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Miyazaki: I remember all the trouble we went through naming the character. Waragai thought my original name for the character was too sad. Haha. Dark souls was his first job as an art designer and Nito was his first design so I felt I should respect his wishes. I changed the name slightly, and I actually think the new name fits the character much better. Also Nito was originally created as the boss of the prototype map, and because of that we tried out a huge range of different effects. from that time there was constantly discussion about what colour he should be and how he should look.

Waragai: He was originally on fire wasn't he?

Miyazaki: Yes, Nito is also in the pre-rendered intro, but it's a really intricate design so It was extremely difficult to communicate what I wanted to the animators making it. The character had to be cloaked in shadow, shrouded in a deathly aura, but that's not easy to get across and their first attempt wasn't what I wanted at all.

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Waragai: It can be difficult to explain how you want the material to behave to the animators can't it, the feel and the weight of something isn't easy to put into words.

Miyazaki: Yes, exactly. I had a good idea of how I want the materials to move in the pre-rendered scenes, but actually putting it in a way that was easy to understand was extremely difficult. No matter how many times you say "he's always surrounded by an aura" he would just come back covered in smoke. In the end I told them to make it more like cloth. Since he was selected to be in the intro we had a very difficult time with the character, but the fact that he was chosen shows how strong the initial design was.

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Miyazaki: Next is Mr Nakamura isn't it?

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Nakamura: Right from the initial concept stages, when we were still working from key words like "ancient dragon", "chaos demon" and "undead" I thought long and hard about how to create something fresh and new for the people who played Demon's Souls

Miyazaki: The demon in the undead asylum, the taurus demon and the capra demon, in fact the majority of the demon enemies were designed by Mr Nakamura. I really love all of his designs, they're simple, but not predictable. Exactly the kind of creatures that I imagined populating the Dark Souls world. They're just fantastic enemies.

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I'm also a huge fan of the Gaping dragon. It's a little different to the other dragons in the world, It's part of an ancient race of mineral based life forms, existing since long before the emergence of mankind. Yet despite its superiority over us, its time has passed, and it finds itself alone in the world, the last of its race forced to survive in any way it can. As to what triggered this change, well the emergence of life corrupted it, it was warped by emotion and desire…

When we were initially discussing the design we came upon the theme of greed, once we arrived at that Mr Nakamura produced the design remarkably quickly. You would expect designs based around this theme to be either fat or have a huge mouth, but that's a little too predictable. When I saw the design I was genuinely surprised and absolutely delighted.

Otsuka: It just ate and ate so much that he turned out like this?

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Nakamura: Yes, it was completely consumed with the desire to eat, so much so that it began to adapt, and the parts of it's body it no used such as it's head, began to retrogress. It no longer eats with it's mouth but takes food directly into it's body, but it had to change in this way in order to survive. Aside from eating It's lost any faculties it may have once possessed and has to survive in this desolate, harsh environment by eating anything he can. It simply did what it had to, to continue to exist.

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Miyazaki: You can almost imagine him saying things like "You're too far away", "Get over here, I want to eat you". Haha. Of course these words never came up in the design process as I never imagined the creature would develop in this way, but I think it's a really incredible design. As I said before I love working together with the artists, I really think it benefits both of us. In fact I'd go so far as to say that it's my favourite part of the job.

Nakamura: Before we move on, I'd like to ask you about the Demon enemies I designed, specifically those designs which incorporate some type of symbolism. I know that you dislike designs which are too easy or obvious, but spending too much time trying to force symbolism into designs can also be just as damaging to the development of the world. So I just wanted to know how you feel about the demon enemies overall.

Miyazaki: I think you're thinking too much. Haha. To put it plainly, I'm delighted with your designs.

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It can certainly be difficult to achieve the right balance of symbolism in designs. It's true I dislike designs which are too obvious, but there are times when I feel a design lacks a certain something. At times like this I have been know to look through the reference materials, pick out things I like and simply stick them on. The capra demon's head is an example of this, it gives a sense of ceremony and long held tradition, which in turn hints at a developed culture. Details such as this can really improve the designs giving them a significance not present in initial image. Symbols contain inherent meaning, they wouldn't be symbols if they didn't, but it's difficult to then add new meaning to that symbol. So I think this can be a really powerful weapon for the artists. Anyway getting back to your question, I think you did a fantastic job.

Nakamura: I'm relieved to hear you say that.

Miyazaki: Really? I wish you wouldn't talk like that, It's almost like you're scared of me. Haha

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Otsuka: What were you in charge of Ms Hatuyama?

Hatuyama: The black knights and the gargoyles!

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Miyazaki: She joined us slightly later in the project, when we'd already finished the initial concept stage, so I had her work on those designs which had to adhere to a more rigid set of conditions. As Ms Hatuyama just said, the gargoyles where one of those designs. This enemy would appear just before you rung the bell in the church tower, this much was decided but I couldn't get a clear image for the creature. Originally the centipede demon from Izalith was here, but looking at the route you take through the opening stages of the game, to Sen's fortress and Anor Londo beyond, it doesn't really fit. It's also the first large boss enemy you face so I wanted something a little more typical. So since it's a church and we have a relatively open space, we decided on gargoyles. It was one of your first designs wasn't it Ms Hatuyama?

Hatuyama: I think it was the second design I worked on…

Miyazaki: This was my first time working together with Ms Hatuyama, so I wanted to begin designing something that was relatively orthodox, and use the opportunity to get us thinking on the same wavelength, unite our ideas of fantasy if you will. I think that was my plan… but it took quite a while to get right.

Hatuyama: I'm very sorry. Haha

Miyazaki: It turned out well thought. It was even featured in the commercials wasn't it!

Hatuyama: I was so happy!

Miyazaki: I remember we talked about a great many things, how to make the creature fit in, about it's heavy thick armour and it's level of technological advancement. I don't really remember what I said in too much detail, but looking back I think I bombarded you with too much at once.

Hatuyama: No, not at all I think you pointed out a lot of useful things, I think it really took me to places I wouldn't have gone to before.

Miyazaki: Thank you for saying that.

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Otsuka: What about Mr Satake?

Satake: I don't really have to speak do I?

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Miyazaki: What are you saying! Let's talk, you were in charge of the last boss Gwyn lord of cinder, how was that?

Satake: Well we had a good initial image for Gwyn so I remember it going relatively smoothly. His armour, or more accurately his clothing needed some work but other than that… We simple continued to adjust the design, checking it in game as we went.

Miyazaki: We wanted his clothing to look ancient didn't we, he is an old king after all. I researched a lot of old clothing but I couldn't really find anything that looked *cool*. Short pants for example wouldn't create the image we wanted for the character. I'm happy with the final design though so…

Satake: Yes, as design progressed he really turned into the type of king who would fight at the head of his troops didn't he.

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Miyazaki: Although as far as the game is concerned I think we could have done a little more with the character. He's the last boss and the concept of the character was to have the player use all the skills they'd developed through the game. I wanted them to have to use everything they've learned in order to beat him. The reason that he uses such a simple single sword fighting style stems from this concept, but in the end we ended up taking a different direction.

Waragai: Parry, parry, parry. Haha

Satake: Yup parry, parry. Haha

Miyazaki: That's the truth… I regret that the fight turned out this way… That's probably about it as far as it goes for bosses, of course there are other designs that I really like, the iron golem for example, is a great large powerful enemy.

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Read part 4 HERE.

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Dark Souls Design Works Translation: Creating the world Part 2/2

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.

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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.

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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...

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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.

Kingseeker Frampt
Kingseeker Frampt

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.

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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.

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Otsuka: Next I'd like to travel upwards to ask about Sen's Fortress...

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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.

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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

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Otsuka: Next up is Anor Londo.

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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?

Milan Cathedral
Milan Cathedral

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.

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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.

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Otsuka: How about the Old Londo Ruins?

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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.

Mont Saint-Michel
Mont Saint-Michel

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.

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Otsuka: Well then moving on to the Depths and Blight Town

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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.

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Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

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.

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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.

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Otsuka: On to the Great Hollow and Ash lake

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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.

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Otsuka: Now, a very interesting area, the painted world of Artemis

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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.

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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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Follow me on twitter... or not... it's up to you @ThePeterBarnard

Read part 3 HERE.

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Dark Souls Design Works Translation: Creating the world Part 1/2

With the recent release of the Dark Souls DLC on consoles I thought it might be interesting to translate the interview from Dark Souls Design Works. It's pretty lengthy so I'll be splitting it up into four or five parts and hopefully releasing one every couple of weeks.

This initial section concerning the basic design principles is, in all honesty, not the most interesting part of the interview, but I want to provide a complete translation so...

The interview is conducted by Famitsu's Kadoman Otsuka and features the director Hidetaka Miyazaki as well as a number of artists who worked on the game.

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Otsuka: Firstly I would like to ask Mr Miyazaki a little about the general design process.

Hidetaka Miyazaki
Hidetaka Miyazaki

Miyazaki: Well, we pursued two main avenues when designing Dark Souls. In the initial concept stages I gave each of the artists a few simple "Image words" to use as a starting point, and then they were free to develop these in whatever way they wished. We then took the images we liked, adjusted them where needed, and used them to begin shaping the world. The Gaping Dragon, Egg Carrier and Gravelord Nito for example, all emerged during this concept stage and made it almost unchanged into the final game.

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Of course, in cases where I had a clearer idea of what I wanted, the design process was slightly different. For example, this is going to be used in this place, to perform this function or, the area is designed in this way so it must adhere to these conditions. In cases like this I often had a clear image of how I wanted these things to look, for example the mimic and the gargoyles. But regardless of which design process was used, rather than appoint a person to take charge of each concept, I took the designs, talked them over with each of the artists and developed them in that way.

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Otsuka: With all this freedom in the design process, and the concept artists differing styles, was there a need to unify all the designs?

Miyazaki: I suppose there was, but as I said before I took charge over all the designs and was ultimately responsible for their direction, and since they all went through me I suppose there was some degree of unification. But having said that, I tried to bring out all the artists individual styles because, rather than taking pains to make sure everything was uniform, I think working closely with each designer on developing their ideas, whilst still embracing their personal style, creates a much richer, organic feeling world in the end. As I mentioned earlier, each artist began with just a few simple "Image words" and developed their designs from that, well the words which inspired each artist's designs and they way they chose to use them was very different. Some found that relatively philosophical words gave them ideas while some artists used them to develop character's back stories. Each collaboration was different, and because of that, each was stimulating in it's own way. I think this is the main reasons that the world of Dark Souls turned out as well as it did.

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Of course, having said that, there was need for some direction, so in Dark Souls there were three main sections or themes, the image of Gods and Knights centred around Anor Londo, Lost Izalith and the theme of Chaos, Fire and Demons, and Gravelord Nito and the image of death and decay. I suppose you could also add to that the image of the ancient dragons. These themes, along with utilising the artists personal styles, formed the basis of the Dark Souls design principle. And as I mentioned previously, in contrast to most art teams, we didn't have our artists concentrating on a specific section, for example, this artist will work on environment, this one on characters and this one on equipment. Instead all the artists contributed to all of these areas.

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Otsuka: So Anor Londo for example, wasn't created by a single artist?

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Miyazaki: Not quite, we didn't have a single designer making Maps, Characters or Equipment, but we did have separate people in charge of each of the game's areas. I believe Mr (Masanori) Waragai was responsible for Anor Londo.

Waragai: Yes, I was the artist in charge of Anor Londo, but before we started developing the look of the area, we first decided on the general layout and then working together with the 3D artist, I set about designing the main features such as the statues and the revolving elevator.

Miyazaki: This is actually how most of the areas were constructed. The map design was really what dictated everything else, once we determined what needed to happen in each area we would immediately draw up a rough map, then once the basic layout of the area was decided we'd work on the finer details. Through the rough map I was able to communicate the requirements, structure and appearance of an area to the artists, and have them develop those ideas through collaborating with one-another. I'm never satisfied with design work which simply follows the design brief, so I often requested that the artists and designers add some of their own ideas, I really believe that these ideas can enrich the area, if not the entire game. Although, this can lead to more work of course. Haha.

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Otsuka: So you had one artist/designer and one 3d artist team working on each area, and then it fell to you to make the final decisions?

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Miyazaki: Yes I suppose so, but each of the areas had it's own feel or tone, as far as art direction was concerned. for an area like Blight Town for example, we found that once we decided on the general direction and gathered together the appropriate reference materials, there wasn't really a need to spend too much time developing the look of the area, it just came together. However in areas which were composed of more traditional architecture we had to spend a lot of time working on the finer details. There weren't a huge amount of artists on the team so it was a case of moving people to where they would be of most use.

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Anor Londo for instance, is one of the most complicated areas in the game in terms of architecture, and as the mid way point of the game it's also a very important area so we spent a great deal of time working on it. After ringing the bells and overcoming the traps of Sen's fortress I really wanted to player to feel "Yes! I've made it" I think Mr Waragai did a great job with this.

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Otsuka: It seems that your direction was at times quite… abstract

Siegmeyer of Catarina
Siegmeyer of Catarina

Miyazaki: Yes, according to the artists it was, but I think, If your instructions are too specific, the designs you get will be somewhat devoid of creativity, so I try to give them just the most basic, essential information before handing it over to the artists imaginations, which inevitable eclipse my own. But my initial instructions are certainly abstract. For example, when designing equipment I'd simply say "Make Something you can trust your life to on the battlefield, or "Make something that has enchantments to protect you." I think the artists probably didn't know what I was talking about half the time. Haha.

Waragai: That's true

Miyazaki: I'm sorry. Haha. Of course, If I don't get what I want, then I start giving more specific descriptions, and I might even start drawing things on the white board, but even then I'd never go so far as to say it has to be this colour or this shape. I don't want the designers to just become my tools. Of course, It doesn't always go as I want, but I think that's probably due to me not getting the best out of the artists, and this is something I want to get better at in the future.

Otsuka: It's similar when I put a book together, I understand how you feel.

Lautrec of Carim
Lautrec of Carim

Miyazaki: With this game some fantastic images came from the initial concept stage, for example Lautrec's "Armour of Favour". If we had simply concentrated on what was required rather than trying to experiment, I don't think something like this would have been created. In order to get this from my designers I tried talking to them about all sorts of things, for example I spoke at length with Nakamura about philosophy.

Waragai: You spoke about space and stuff too right?

Miyazaki: Oh yeah! especially at the beginning. About the world, life and death, and with regards to the game world, the meaning of fire and role of the four kings. By talking like this with the artists I found it not only helped them develop their ideas, but it really helped me shape my idea of the world I wanted to create. I also tried hard not to be predictable or conservative. Of course we decided on a fantasy setting so we couldn't stray too far from that, but we had to be careful not to just take the easy route or the world would become boring. I really tried hard to maintain this.

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Otsuka: Is there anything else in particular you tried to avoid?

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Miyazaki: You may not believe me, but I always tried to maintain a certain level of refinement and elegance in all the designs. I often told the artists muddy or messy is definitely *not good*. I think this carries through the entire game, of course if you asked me to describe what this "elegance" is… well I think you just have to look at the designs and judge for yourself, but it really is one of the most important factors in everything I oversee.

Waragai: I remember you said that to me when I was working on the zombie dragon. Originally it was covered with maggots, but you told me that I needed instead, to try and capture the sadness of this great creature as it marches towards extinction.

Miyazaki: As I said before, everything has it's particular shade or tone, blight town for example is the rawest, most disgusting area in the game, but looking at the area as a whole, I wanted it to feel both bitterly cold and possess a deep sadness, and that's the atmosphere I tried to build on. You could say I have a habit of working in this way, and I think you can really see that in Dark Souls' art direction.

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Follow me on twitter... or not... it's up to you @ThePeterBarnard

Read part 2 HERE.

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