Dark Souls Design Works
Updated: Jan 22, 2018
This interview, originally published in 2012 in the Dark Souls Design Works was conducted by Famitsu’s Kadoman Otsuka and featured the director of the game Hidetaka Miyazaki as well as a number of the artists who worked on the game. You can buy the English version of the book here. Extracts from this translation were used in the July 2013 issue of PC Gamer UK
Otsuka: Firstly I would like to ask Mr Miyazaki a little about the general design process.
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.
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.
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 the 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 backstories. Each collaboration was different, and because of that, each was stimulating in its own way. I think this is the main reasons that the world of Dark Souls turned out as well as it did.
Of course, having said that, there was a 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 the environment, this one on characters and this one on equipment. Instead, all the artists contributed to all of these areas.
Otsuka: So Anor Londo for example, wasn’t created by a single artist?
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 collaboration 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. [laughing]
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?
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.
Anor Londo, for instance, is one of the most complicated areas in the game in terms of architecture, and as the midway 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.
Otsuka: It seems that your direction was at times quite… abstract
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. [laughing]
Waragai: That’s true
Miyazaki: I’m sorry. [laughing] 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 whiteboard, 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.
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.
Otsuka: Is there anything else, in particular, you tried to avoid?
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.
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.
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 it was actually the last thing I drew.
Miyazaki: It may sound strange, but it’s quite common for the tutorial to be the last thing to be integrated. It’s much easier to design once you know what needs to be communicated and have thought about how best to explain it to the player. I remember saying that the Undead Asylum should take Dark Souls’ dark fantasy aesthetic and just distil that to its purest essence. We began with the image of a gloomy basement cell and the stone architecture and also incorporated that cold, sad atmosphere I mentioned previously. Once we decided on this direction the area came together fairly easily. In many ways, it fell directly in the centre of designs we had been working on up until that point…
Otsuka: Next I’d like to ask about a very important area, the Firelink Shrine.
Miyazaki: The Firelink Shrine was Mr (Daisuke) Satake wasn’t it?
Satake: Yes. From what I remember it was originally designed as a water temple. But as work on the game progressed, and the image of kindling and fire became more prominent, the water gradually dried up. [laughing]
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 used to be in a different location, the place it’s in now used to be a small pond. We had problems with the original placement because when the ground wasn’t flat it interfered with the players sitting animation. So we had to search for a level place to move the bonfire and that’s were it stayed… but of course, you can’t have a bonfire in the middle of a pond so that water had to go too.
Waragai: But it feels like a place everyone will gather so I think this location actually worked really well.
Miyazaki: Yes, I had an image of people gather around the fire from the very beginning, but getting back to the subject, the Firelink Shrine was one of the first places we designed, it’s a small area but it connects to many different places and has many hidden areas, It was actually a very enjoyable location to create.
Satake: Yes. It was made to connect with areas in every direction. In fact, we had to remove some routes from the area in the final game, as well as some other things. Initially, Pricilla was the heroine of the story and she was going to be there for example…
Miyazaki: That’s not really something I want to talk about just yet….
Otsuka: Pricilla is certainly the most beautiful character in the game
Miyazaki: Thank you, she was the heroine of the story at one point so I’m glad you think so. Moving on to the undead burg. We never really spent much time working on the look of the area. It was the first map we created and the large bridge, the church and the other structures were already planned out by the 3d artist who was in charge of the area. As the lead artist on the project, he had already decided exactly how he wanted these things to look right down to the smallest detail, even the levers and statues.
Otsuka: Next I’d like to travel upwards to ask about Sen’s Fortress…
Miyazaki: Sen’s Fortress and Anor Londo were both overseen by Mr Waragai. As for me, I had a definite visual image right from the beginning and a good idea of the concept behind the area i.e. the trial to reach Anor Londo, full of deadly traps. The designers had real trouble with this area I seem to remember. We spent a long time on the rough map didn’t we.
Waragai: Yes we did, but the image of a trap road was fairly straightforward. The pendulums, rolling boulders and other major traps were all there from the start. In fact, 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 built to achieve this simple action. It’s things like this really add a sense of intrigue to the Dark Souls world. In terms of achieving the original design aims, I think the area works really well.
Satake: I really like the way the stairs are worn away where the boulders roll down.
Waragai: I think that was Miyazaki’s idea
Miyazaki: Was it?
Waragai: Yes, the idea was that the worn steps might give players a warning as to the dangers ahead.
Miyazaki: I see, although I doubt people will be able to pick up that on that small detail, especially on their first time through, [laughing], 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. [laughing]
Otsuka: Next up is Anor Londo.
Miyazaki: There was a lot I wanted to fit into Anor Londo. As I mentioned before I wanted it to feel like a reward after finishing Sen’s Fortress, but I also wanted it to be an area with no clear road, to have the player walk in places that you wouldn’t normally walk such as the buttresses. Then there was also the image of the setting sun and the way it the area changes once night falls. I really like the way your eye is drawn to different features like the revolving staircase elevator.
Waragai: That was Nakamura’s idea, I remember him saying Life is like climbing a great spiral…
Miyazaki: Nakamura comes out with some strange things doesn’t he. I mean that in the best possible way of course. I think this idea works really well, there are several spirals in the area and I’m glad that we were able to incorporate that idea.
Otsuka: Did you use anything for reference when designing Anor Londo?
Waragai: We had the image of walking on buttresses from the start so that I suppose. Their actual purpose is to support the walls so they can build them even higher, but when I visited the cathedral in Milan, I walked beneath the buttresses and I thought how fun it would be to walk upon them…
Miyazaki: There was one more thing I wanted to achieve with Anor Londo, the last game I directed Demon’s Souls was based in the early middle ages so it was extremely difficult to gather reference materials for the area design Dark Souls is based in a later time period so with Anor Londo I saw a chance to create an area that felt more cohesive and full of the kind of detail that we couldn’t achieve in Demon’s Souls.
Otsuka: How about The Duke’s Archives and the crystal caves… The library looks a little like…
Miyazaki: Yes the revolving stairs are from Harry Potter aren’t they. [laughing] 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 the area.
Otsuka: How about the Old Londo Ruins?
Miyazaki: We tried a slightly different approach with the New Londo ruins, closely basing it on existing architecture, in this case, Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France. Of course, it’s not exactly the same but if you compare the two, the similarities are obvious.
Very much like creating the cities in Armoured Core, it’s much easier for the planners, designers and 3d artists to start with a basis in reality than to start from scratch. Real things contain such a mixture of influences and ideas and such an abundance of information, so I wanted to try using this technique in dark souls too. Of course, some things worked out better than others, but I think in the end we created something that wouldn’t have been possible starting from zero. Even with the areas that didn’t turn out as I’d hoped it was a pretty successful experiment. Looking at it against the other areas I think the difference is actually fairly obvious. But since we used this different approach for this area it was the last area the artists worked on.
Waragai: Yes. While I was in charge of New Londo, the fact that it was based so heavily on a real-world location meant there wasn’t actually a great deal of work to be done. All but the finest details were already in place.
Otsuka: Well then moving on to the Depths and Blight Town
Miyazaki: Well the depths were based around the image of an underground aqueduct, but it’s aesthetic is very similar to that of the undead burg. It also shared the same lead artist so the two areas really fit together well.
As for Blight Town, I started with a number of images I wanted to incorporate, but due to the complexity of the area it would have been difficult to try and design everything all at once, so instead we began with large features like the water wheel elevator and, with the designers and artists, gradually build the area up from there.
Otsuka: Moving even further down to the Demon Ruins, they have a different feel to the previous areas don’t they.
Miyazaki: I mentioned previously that Dark Souls is divided into three main sections or themes. The demons are all based around the idea of chaos, but we had to think long and hard about how to convey that image in a map. We decided upon an oriental theme. I’m worried people may this that the wrong way but oriental things possess a kind of chaos, or to put it differently they lack a kind of peace or order and that’s what I wanted to try and capture. The best example of this is found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and in the areas surrounding it, where east and west Asia meet.
Otsuka: How about the Catacombs and the Tomb of the Giants?
Miyazaki: The Catacombs and the Tomb have a similar atmosphere to that of Blight Town, but both contain a great many more man-made objects, which meant more work for the artists. In our team, the 3d artists will sometimes be called upon to do work more akin to that of a traditional artist so we tried to utilise their skills as much as we could. As I said before we don’t have many artists to start with, and just throwing more people at something doesn’t guarantee a better result.
Otsuka: On to the Great Hollow and Ash lake
Miyazaki: These two areas were entirely created by the designers, with little to no concept work. I had a clear image of both areas from the beginning, and as work progressed I continued to modify that so as to be in keeping with the other areas we were creating. Most of the work was done directly from the rough map, but there is also more than a little Avatar in there I think. Of course if the area hadn’t have come together I’d have had the artists create some concept art, but in the end, it wasn’t needed.
Otsuka: Now, a very interesting area, the painted world of Artemis
Miyazaki: We drew a great deal of concept art for the painted world. It was actually based on the map used in the Dark Souls prototype. Of course, the prototype is your chance to really get across your vision for the game so we spent a long time on the area. So much so that I really wanted to use it in the full game but I couldn’t find a way to make it fit with the other areas. In the end, I cheated and put it in the painted world.
Waragai: It’s the only area with snow so it would be hard to put anywhere else.
Miyazaki: Yes. it may sound like a poor solution, but I actually had an image for the painted world from the start, I’m just happy I was able to combine that image and the prototype map.
Otsuka: It was here you decided to put former heroine Pricilla wasn’t it.
Miyazaki: Yes. I think she works well here… she’s kind of snow coloured after all…. but I also think the painted world is a 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. [laughing]
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, in fact, we also used this method during 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.
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.
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: [laughing] 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 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 too, 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, personally I like to think that unlike the followers of the path of the Dragon, Logan sought to gain the dragon's 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.
Miyazaki: In his underwear… If we had done that I’m not sure it would have been taken in the way I wanted. [laughing] 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 at 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. [laughing]
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. [laughing]
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. [laughing]
Hatayama: Can I ask about Gwynevere, because compared to the other female charters she’s very different, almost glamorous.
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. [laughing]
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 Tranquil 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.
Waragai: Really? [laughing]
Miyazaki: Yes, But the artist had such a happy look on his face that I didn’t have the heart to stop him.
Otsuka: Earlier we were talking about Half breed Pricilla, but are there any other characters whose role changed dramatically as development progressed?
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. [laughing]
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.
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
Miyazaki: I remember all the trouble we went through naming the character. Waragai thought my original name for the character was too sad. [laughing] 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 constant 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.
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.
Miyazaki: Next is Mr Nakamura isn’t it?
Nakamura: Right from the initial concept stages, when we were still working from keywords 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.
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?
Nakamura: Yes, it was completely consumed with the desire to eat, so much so that it began to adapt, and the parts of its body it no used such as it’s head, began to retrogress. It no longer eats with its mouth but takes food directly into its 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.
Miyazaki: You can almost imagine him saying things like “You’re too far away”, “Get over here, I want to eat you”. [laughing] 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. [laughing]. To put it plainly, I’m delighted with your designs.
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 known 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 the 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. [laughing]
Otsuka: What were you in charge of Ms Hatuyama?
Hatuyama: The black knights and the gargoyles!
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 were one of those designs. This enemy would appear just before you ring the bell in the church tower, this much was decided but I couldn’t get a clear image of 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. [laughing]
Miyazaki: It turned out well though. 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 its heavy thick armour and its 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.
Otsuka: What about Mr Satake?
Satake: I don’t really have to speak do I?
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 simply 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.
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. [laughing]
Satake: Yup parry, parry. [laughing]
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Miyazaki: Smough came from 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. [laughing]
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. [laughing]
Miyazaki: He 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 undoubtedly the fight with Ornstein.
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.
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 tabletop games and game books, my copies of Titan andOut 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….
Waragai: Ah, her introduction cinematic. [laughing]
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.
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. [laughing] 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 on 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.
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?
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. [laughing]. 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.
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 it doesn’t does it. I love the design but it’s just been overused. 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 birdmen 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?
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 an 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 is 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.
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. [laughing]
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. [laughing] I’m very grateful.
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.
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. [laughing] 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.
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.
Miyazaki: You did that!? [laughing] 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? Did I say 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. [laughing]
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. [laughing]
Miyazaki: That’s Dark Souls in a nutshell. [laughing] 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 me. [laughing]
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.
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.
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…