Interview: Producing Dark Souls Means Getting Out Of The Way
Daisuke Uchiyama and Kei Hirono, producers on Dark Souls for Namco Bandai, are quick to point out that it's not a sequel to Demon's Souls -- despite it sharing a team and gameplay concept with that surprisingly successful and well-loved title.
"We placed this game as a brand new game, not a sequel to Demon's Souls. We call it a spiritual successor of Demon's Souls," said Hirono, speaking to Gamasutra about the game.
"Again, this is not a sequel to Demon's Souls," added Uchiyama, later on in the interview. But surely he and the development team at From Software are aware that the game will inevitably be compared to it? "Yes, we are aware of it," he replied, laconically.
"Yes, we admit that we are working with the exact same dev team of Demon's Souls, so the game might look alike, and the concept behind it is maybe the same," Hirono offered. So: yes. They get it.
And in fact, the game is under the careful creative control of lead director Hidetaka Miyazaki, who also helmed the original. "He's very confident about this game. He has a lot of stories going on in only his head. He can write a book about it," Hirono joked.
"We completely trust Miyazaki-san, and I want him to create what he's confident in," said Uchiyama.
And the signature challenge of the original is not disappearing, thankfully, said Hirono. "We are bringing this game to a new stage, making this game more difficult and having people feel more of a sense of achievement or accomplishment."
Strange to hear about a publisher advising its developer to make a game more challenging in this day and age, isn't it?
"Actually, we wanted people to feel the sense of achievement or accomplishment -- a 'Yes!' feeling. That was the reason why we increased the difficulty level. And I believe that this is the only game that people can feel that much sense of achievement," said Hirono.
"We don't really tell them to adjust the game balance or difficulty level," said Uchiyama. Is it because you trust the team that you just get out of the way and let them do their job? "That's exactly how it is."
The new game is also building on original game's quirky online mode, which didn't allow for direct co-op. "People worldwide play," said Uchiyama. "and they are having so much fun. So we are sure in Dark Souls, everyone will like it, worldwide."
Of course, it's not 100 percent radio silence from the publisher side, Hirono admitted. "You know, since we're doing PR and marketing in our territories, we will provide them our feedback, and they will take that as much as possible."
However, said Uchiyama, they don't offer much feedback. "In the beginning, yes, we did. It's about basic stuff, though." The "details" have been left to the developers.
"I probably would not be here doing this," said Hirono, if From Software didn't want to bring the game to the U.S. and Europe. "Actually, the team was surprised about the success of Demon's Souls, obviously. Now it gives us pressure for Dark Souls; we have to have success with this game."
From Software will publish the game itself in Japan. Working with Namco Bandai has also helped in another regard, though: "They wanted to bring more games to Europe and America -- so, that's why we are bringing this game on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at the same time," said Hirono. But he agreed with Uchiyama: "in terms of gameplay, we're relying on From Software to develop what they think is the best."
Again: it's in the hands of Miyazaki. "What we are doing is to respect his vision of this game, and what we are doing is to create an environment where he can focus on creating what he exactly wants to create. He always says, 'I cannot make the game from marketing.' I guess, in a way, he's a creative type of guy. He's that type of guy," said Uchiyama.
Uchiyama and Hirono actually come from the Bandai half of the Namco Bandai equation. Bandai, after all, much more frequently worked with external developers, and has the production capacity to handle it.
"It's not unusual for us to collaborate with other developers or publishers," said Hirono. "With Bandai people, we used to cooperate with other developers, so it's kind of a Bandai game. And we're from Bandai."
Of course, their bread and butter was games based on anime licenses like Dragon Ball Z -- a series which Uchiyama has produced for in the past. "We didn't really care if it's an IP or a non-IP," he said. "We just thought that it's best to work with From Software to produce this game in North America and Europe, and having From Software publish the game in Japan."
"We're very excited work with From Software to actually publish this great game," said Hirono. "For Dark Souls, fortunately, they chose us and we chose them. So, we will do our best to do marketing and PR to maximize their sales numbers."