Dark Souls 2's 'visual improvements all have meaning'
The Souls series has been gradually evolving since Demon’s Souls, continuing to refine systems and adding involving new mechanics, but what constant defines the franchise?
I think the sense of achievement, that sense of satisfaction when you’re able to overcome the difficulties in the game – that has been a concept through the entirety of From Software’s series. It’s that fist-clenching sense of ‘yeah’ feeling whenever you can overcome a boss or enemy or anything in the game.
How beneficial was the recent online beta in terms of balancing the lauded difficulty of Souls in the sequel?
Our main purpose was how it would impact our own dedicated gaming server we’re implanting, making sure we could properly attend to the traffic that goes back and forth within the servers. But it was a good eye opener in terms of understanding how players play in the online space. How much they summon, how much they invade, how many blood messages they leave on the ground – all that was very informative for us to make sure we properly tune the game.
Did you discover any surprises in regards to player data that conflicted with what you know from Dark Souls?
I think a little bit. Me, personally, one of the things I noticed was the blood messaging. It was a cool feature in the original. So if you write jump some players will jump while others won’t but for Dark Souls II, because you can rate the messages and that will have a benefit in the game itself – seeing your energy recover as people rate – so watching how many blood messages there were and how they actually do benefit players was fun to see.
The two-hour time window for the beta last year offered added an interesting dynamic. Have you considered implementing similar twists on the design?
Not really. Obviously time is something always chasing and it added a new angle to the beta itself. I think Dark Souls II, the reason we didn’t add that element of time, is that there’s a whole bunch of different play styles, there are people who want to run through the whole game, there’s players that take one step at a time so that they’re as careful as possible and try not to die as much as possible. I can guarantee that when you are able to defeat bosses in the game, that sense of achievement and satisfaction will be there.
You seem to have gone back more to the design of Demon’s Souls with elements like Black Phantoms being more prominent. Did you want to return to the series’ roots with Dark Souls II?
It’s not necessarily going back to the roots. We wanted to carry on the Dark Souls experience from the first one and provide a good sequel to that. We also needed to put new elements into the game and those elements just so happen to be some of the features in Demon’s Souls, and we’ve also added brand new original features as well. We wanted to keep the core essence of what Dark Souls should be but continue to innovate for fans that continue to play.
What was the impetus behind telling a new story within the same universe and not making a direct sequel?
For us to try something new, we wanted to keep the same universe but make sure the stories took place in different locations. We can try new ideas out. Tanimura-san is a big Dark Souls fan and a fan of King’s Field and one of the hardest things for him was to make sure he brought in new elements. And for him to do that in terms of lore he had to separate it from the first Dark Souls so that you can bring in new lore, new history and new gameplay elements.
Has it been difficult dealing with the closer scrutiny from fans with the sequel?
It is in a way, but we don’t want to disappoint anyone. Over the past few months we’ve really been concentrating on anything we’ve added not taking away from the Dark Souls experience. Features like the life gems, the estus flask, everything in the games sort of balance together I think, so everything has a connection to all the features in the game.
What did directors Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura bring to the franchise in terms of a new approach and style?
Obviously the two new directors brought in a new wind to the Dark Souls franchise. Miyazaki-san brought forward this the dark fantasy world that was so original. But in Dark Souls II the gameplay elements were really brought to life by thing like the new game engine, motion capture animations, the way the game plays with light and dark. The visual improvements are not just for eye-candy. They all have meaning. You’ll see a shadow moving in the background will hopefully have some meaning. You’ll see the grass moving and you’ll feel the wind and that’ll have a meaning in the game as well. The gameplay mechanics were really brought to life by the new technicalities they brought to the franchise.