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:







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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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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