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Dark Souls: The difficulty, the design and the sequel

Like Demon’s Souls before it, Dark Souls is one of those games that gets people talking. Whether you’ve played it and you chat to others about your experience, or you’ve not played it but are talking about it getting it – chances are… you’re talking about it, or least know someone who is.
Having awarded it 10/10, we’re certainly talking about it. That’s why we sat down with the game’s lead director, Hidetaka Miyazaki, to chat difficulty levels, play styles, designing worlds and possible sequels. 
IncGamers: Why do you enjoy making players suffer?
Hidetaka Miyazaki: Well, I don’t mean to make people suffer [laughs].
Personally I prefer to be the sufferer, rather than making people suffer. So, I designed the game how I would want to suffer during gameplay.
IG: We found Dark Souls more difficult than Demon’s Souls; will the next game be even harder?
HM: If there is a sequel to Dark Souls, I am not going to make the game more difficult. I believe that the difficulty level of Dark Souls has already reached maximum, also there are some places where I think it might already be too difficult.
However, that does not mean I am going to simply make the game easier – I believe that would make the game less appealing. The tuning of the difficulty level will be a very big topic when making the next game, if there is a chance [to do so].
IG: Your approach to teaching players how to play is very minimal – the ‘tutorial’ simply teaching you the controls rather than tactics. Did you ever think about lowering the barrier of entry to attract more players?
HM: Yes, I have thought about lowering the barrier of entry. However, my intention when designing this game was to force people to find their own strategy by themselves. All the games I used to like had that kind of design. I want to get close to those games.

IG: The direct storytelling elements are also very minimal, and yet the world feels rich and atmospheric. How did you achieve this and did you ever think about telling a more direct story?
HM: When I designed Dark Souls, I wanted people to draw their own stories throughout their gameplay experiences. So, I have only prepared a minimum amount of such elements – for example, the atmosphere of the world. I intentionally avoided personal back story for the characters or game’s story.
IG: In your opinion, has moving the game into an open-world environment been a success?
HM: This is very difficult question to answer.
In terms of making people feel sense of exploration, I am pretty confident that the open world design was a success. However, I have to admit that there are some disadvantages as well. I am not going to mention what the disadvantages are, but I think this kind of environment was not a complete success because it was not perfect. My objective from now on is to remove all disadvantages and reach a perfect game design.
IG: We rather enjoyed Dark Souls, awarding it only our second ‘perfect’ review score in over ten years. What do you think gives the game such appeal in the West when many other Japanese games are struggling to make an impact over here?
HM: I am very glad that you liked the game so much. I feel like dancing now [laughs]. If there is a chance to create another game, I will do my best to make it a better game so that you will praise it again.
But, this is also a difficult question to answer. As a game director, I do not take the market situation into consideration when I create games. To be honest, I do not know much about market situation in the US and EU.
Perhaps it’s because Dark Souls does not rely on story or characters that much. That might have contributed to many types of people, from many countries, understanding and enjoying the game. I am not saying all games should be like Dark Souls, but I think that is one of the reasons why many people from all over the world seem to like it.
IG: I imagine you guys are pros at the game. How quickly can you finish it and which are your favourite class types?
HM: Actually I am not good at playing Dark Souls [laughs]. It took 40 hours for me to beat the game using master build.
My favourite class is the Cleric. I like to be very careful and play with a tough character. Also, the Cleric helps me avoid paying a huge amount of Souls to the annoying Petrus [laughs].

IG: What’s your favourite Dark Souls moment?
HM: If I were to pick one favourite moment, it would be the first time I reached Anor Londo.
IG: Dark Souls is one of the most beautiful looking games we’ve ever seen. What inspirations did you draw upon when designing the world?
HM: Thank you very much for your comments. I am not sure if you will believe me, but my theme when designing the game was simply ‘beauty’. So, you won’t understand how much it means to me when you say it’s one of the most beautiful you’ve seen.
I started off by discussing each section very deeply with the designers. We discussed the theme of the design, the concept, the atmosphere and ‘philosophy’ about the player’s deaths.
So, from within those back and forth discussions, Dark Souls was designed. It was a result of collaboration and I think we could not have reached the current level without help from my design team.
IG: Please, leave us with one tip that will improve our Dark Souls skills.
HM: First of all, as I mentioned previously, I am not good at Dark Souls [laughs].
But if I were to give adivce, I would say you should calm down – do not concentrate on trying to go through the game by relying on your play style alone. I know it is fun and important to find weapons (or spells) that fit your fighting style, but I won’t suggest using them all the time. You should look for other options when facing difficult challenges.
In Dark Souls, I have prepared multiple solutions for many situations. If you think you are in trouble, try looking for another solution. For example, let’s say you are playing as a knight… if you are having trouble fighting the mosquitoes in the village, you should try using projectile weapons such as crossbows. I believe finding a solution to a difficult problem is one of the most fun parts of Dark Souls.
I really hope your experience in the game has plenty of surprises, discoveries and gives you a sense of achievement.


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