Creative director Gavin Moore talks about how the beloved From Software classic is being reborn for PS5.
For many, Dark Souls was their entry point into From Software's Souls series. The cultural zeitgeist around the game attracted people eager to find out why everyone was raving about this fantasy RPG that prides itself on difficulty and an intricate but obtuse narrative.
But for many Souls evangelists, the obsession began with PS3 title Demon's Souls. Unlike its successor, word of mouth wasn't on the game's side and, as a result, it enjoyed a small but passionate cult following--ultimately remaining a niche game. Nonetheless, it established much of what defined and continues to define the Souls series.
It's a fascinating game that, unfortunately, has been incredibly difficult to find and play. Even those who go through the trouble of getting a PS3 can't play it as it was intended--online play is an important component of the game but its servers are no longer available. This, in large part, is why there has been such a thirst for a remake. With the PlayStation 5, From Software's seminal Souls title is returning, complete with all-new visuals and gameplay tweaks, courtesy of the masters of the remaster, Bluepoint Games.
As exciting as this is for gaming as a whole, there's also a sense of trepidation from the Souls community. A studio other than From Software working on its games isn't necessarily a major cause for concern, and Bluepoint's track record definitely earns it the benefit of the doubt. But there are still questions--how much has changed in this remake, and how has Bluepoint modernized the experience while still remaining faithful to From Software's original vision and what the niche cult following loved about it.
Ahead of the game's release, we talked to Gavin Moore, creative director at SIE Worldwide Studios External Development, about this, and delved into some of the major questions that the Souls community has been asking. These include the involvement of From Software, Bluepoint's overall ethos in remaking the game, the tweaks it has made, the features it has introduced, and more.
GameSpot: To start with, give us a bit of the history on how this project came about. You previously said that the team was three years into development. When did that process start?
Gavin Moore: So we've always wanted to do Demon's Souls, [to] remake Demon's Souls. I mean, it's a PlayStation classic, it's beloved by fans. It's the most-requested game in our catalog for a remake. So we've been thinking about it for a long time.
But it wasn't until we kind of redefined what a remake should be with Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 4 that we felt that we had the knowledge and the power to basically take on the challenge of Demon's Souls and to actually do it justice. So to answer your question, the game actually started [development] immediately after we finished Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 4.
What is it about Bluepoint that makes it the ideal candidate for this?
They're called the masters of the remaster, and there's a reason for that. Their methodology in the way they work, they're big fans of the games. We make sure that people we work with for remakes are big fans of the original titles. That's incredibly important because you have to stay true to the original vision of the game, and you can't change the core of the game.
And Bluepoint is exceptional at that, and I remember sitting in their studio in Austin, in their boardroom with all the leads and their chief technology officer, Peter, and Marco, the president of the company, and they said, "Ah, well done on Shadow of the Colossus. Amazing. Right. You know what we're doing next?" And we talked about it. And then I said, "You're going to have to go above and beyond on this one. We're going to make this 11, basically, on your amp. We really have to pull this one-off."
What kind of involvement does From Software, Miyazaki-san, and the various other members of that team have? How much involvement either in the past or the present version of the development effort was there from that side? And what was their response to the decision to remake the game?
So the original creators, Miyazaki and From Software, gave their blessing and they were happy for us to go forward and make this game. I mean, they gave their blessing, but they didn't get involved in the actual day-to-day production of the game. Now, all of that development was handled by Worldwide Studios and Bluepoint Games, but we made sure that we stayed true to their original vision. That's incredibly important. We're massive fans of Miyazaki's games, and so making sure that what we created was true to his vision, that was the gold standard.
You mentioned that the team needed to go above and beyond, and there are things in the trailers that kind of diverge from what the original was, not in major ways, but in small tweaks. How do you draw the line, and is there a back and forth with From Software to be like, "We're changing this thing, is it okay?" because to fans, even the smallest change could have this domino effect that plays out in so many different ways.
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, as I said, we're all massive fans and we're our own worst critics. And there's many a time I've gone, "Oh God, you know what I'm going to do. I'm going to do this." And I've run over to somebody's desk. And I sat down next to them and said, "Hey there, why don't we try this?" And they just look at me and like, "Are you insane? We're not going to do that. We can't because..." And so we're our own worst critics. We stop ourselves at every turn. We don't put anything in this game without really thinking about how it will affect the core of the game and how it will affect that experience. And that is true to every aspect of the game.
So for instance, with the PlayStation 5, here comes along this amazing technology. You have 3D audio, haptics feedback, its super-fast solid-state drive, instant loading ... How does that affect a game that is much beloved? How do you go about saying, "Oh, I'm just going to implement haptics in this game." You don't. You have to make sure it's a perfect fit. So we spent a long time saying, "How do we do this?" And haptics is all about this triumvirate, this triangle of visual, audio, and tactile working together.
And the best way to make that work for us was the combat in Demon's Souls. Which is so important. You don't want to change the cadence of the actual animations or change how they play because that changes the gameplay and changes the game. But we could make the combat grittier and darker if we added haptic, so you can feel metal strike metal, and it really enhances the feeling of the game. You can really feel that boss when he swings that attack and you block it. You can really feel that through the controller. And that's not only an emotional response. That's also a gameplay benefit.
So now, when you make that perfect parry, you know instantly through the controller, for instance; and can then do the riposte attack and then get out of there. It gives you those fraction of a second extra timing and really makes you feel like you're part of the combat.
Have you introduced new elements to leverage that technology? Because one of the things that fans picked up on in the gameplay trailer is the riposte animation where you lift an enemy into the air and bring them crashing down to Earth. Is that something designed specifically to show off the haptics?
It's not designed specifically to show off the haptics. I mean, that length of animation hasn't changed. But we knew that when we were going to leverage the power of the PlayStation 5 and the amount of detail we could add to the game, that we would have to go back and recapture all the player animations again. But that's incredibly difficult if you think about it because you can't change the cadence, you can't change the timing it takes to walk, or to run, and each of those attacks has to be perfect. So we spent a long time, well, months in the motion capture studio, to make sure that it was pinpoint and accurate.
But what we did do beyond that was we thought, "Well, we've got all of these weapons, and we've got all of this memory suddenly, and all of this power." So we added all these unique animations to weapon types. So now, when you pick up your spear, or you pick up your polearm, or your rapier, or your katana, they're all different attacks. But again, the cadence is all the same as the original. So the gameplay doesn't change, the speed of the attack is the same. We're visually just adding extra details and flourishes to really bring that world alive.
I guess that was one of the main things that fans picked up on. A lot of the weapons, despite their variety, could feel the same [in the original]. Is that something that you really focused on? I know whenever you go to Reddit, you see fans being like, "I wish they had like a weapon art system," or something like that. Is it too far to say that it's weapon arts? Is it more just like, "We just want to make each weapon feel distinct"?
I think we wanted to make each weapon feel distinct. And there are benefits to the system in Demon's Souls. So using your sword single-handed allows you to parry attacks with a shield, but going double-handed is a great way that you can counter the attack of an enemy with a shield. You can do more damage and break their guard. And at the same time, what if that happened with an axe? Or what if that happened with a mace or a spear? And it would have to look different and feel different, but it just makes the game feel bigger. It brought things home.
You mentioned cadence and leveraging the power of the PlayStation 5. One of the things that I was thinking about is the impact that having the almost instant-loading might have on the cadence and the pacing of the game. There's a weird kind of loop that these Souls games have of where you die, and then you have this time to reflect on that. And also when you're traveling from point-to-point, there's almost like an apprehension that comes from the loading screen and going in and out of the areas. How is the game impacted by effectively eliminating that? Does it have an impact? Is that something you considered?
So getting on an elevator in Demon's Souls is getting on an elevator in Demon's Souls. It's going to take the same amount of time and it's designed that way in the original to, as you say, build tension, to make you start to think about what's ahead and what's to come. So we don't change any of that. But with the solid-state drive, what we do, is we suddenly have almost instantaneous loading, so you can jump into the game. Now, instantaneous loading from the nexus into a level, that's not a problem. Because you want to get into the game as quickly as you can. You touch an Archstone and you're in 1-1 Boletaria on the bridge.
But you hit the nail on the head I think when you came to the fact that the loading time gave you time to reflect on what had happened to you and made you prepare to face your challenge again and think about what you have to do. So when you die, what we do is we just hold it for a beat, a little extra beat to just give you that time to reflect. I mean, it's hardly noticeable, but it just gives you that little time to take a breath, prepare yourself, and you're back into the game again.
I want to go back to a quote that was in a PlayStation Blog post where you said you went back to the drawing board and wanted to build on what was originally there and then fine-tune it. I guess, to a lot of fans who are precious about these kinds of things, that might come as two conflicting things. So can you kind of give us an idea of how much of the game is new and how much of it is small details being changed?
Okay. So when we approach a remake, what we do is we pare the game back and we look at what we have to keep. And what we had to keep for Demon's Souls is the gameplay, the AI, the logic. That's our core, that's the thing that makes the game so great. And then what we do is we take everything else away and then we rebuild it back using that power for the PlayStation 5. For example, if you look at the environments on the PlayStation 3, they're very sparse and there are two reasons for that. One is because the PlayStation 3 didn't have enough memory to furniture those environments. And the other reason is that there could be a story told by the way that those levels were furnished.
But with the almost unlimited power that we have now, and the amount of detail we can add, we can tell and bring that story to life even more by adding more into the game and making you feel like every room, every corridor, every boss arena has a story to tell. So when you're in the arena with Penetrator, for instance, there are statues around the arena like the original, but he'll swing his massive sword and they'll all smash and break and crumble around you under dynamics, for instance. And it's just adding those extra features.
One of the things about a remake is that what you're doing is you're not remaking the game note-for-note. That's not what you're doing. What you're doing is remaking the game the way that the person who played it before imagined it to be. So we hope that when the original fans who played the PlayStation 3 version see the game and play the game, they'll go, "Oh, wow. This is how I imagined it. This is so cool. Yeah."
Adding that lightning strike on the tree, for instance. It doesn't change the gameplay in any way, but what it does is [it] emotionally sets up the coming of the storm. So when you get to the last boss battle on Shrine of Storms, there's a full-on tempest storm there because we can do that. And it makes that battle more epic and more dynamic. It doesn't change the gameplay; it just feels more dynamic.
One other thing that you mentioned in your quote on the PlayStation Blog was you want it to feel fresh and appeal to new users that are accustomed to modern controls and experiences. Can you explain what that means? In a previous demo, it seemed like when the player was locked on, they were locked to the four-way roll system. Is that still the case?
So we actually have omnidirectional, so you can roll in eight directions. The game came out 11 years ago now, which is a long time ago in gaming history, so a lot has changed since and people's expectations of what a game should be has changed a lot. So we had to make sure that we made quality-of-life improvements to the game that people expect.
And that wouldn't make a big difference to the gameplay or the core in any way, it was just what people wanted. For instance, the camera in the original Demon's Souls, it got stuck on the collision or went through the wall or all sorts of those things. And then in a modern game, people don't expect that. So we changed the camera. One of the things that we did do, which is really cool though, is that we allowed you to switch to the old camera if you want to.
And that is a feature that we always do with our remakes. If you don't like what we've done, we've left the old system in there. So if you want to switch to that, then please switch to that.
I was watching the trailer and I was like, "It looks and feels a bit different." And I realized it was because the camera was slightly back into the right of the character model. I mean, I got used to it, but the fact that you have the option there is cool.
One thing I wanted to kind of ask about is the VO and the audio. How are you approaching that? Because it sounded like there was new VO for The Maiden in Black. Is that re-recorded, and if so, have you brought in new actors or brought back old actors?
What we did was we realized that we all played the game when it came out and the whole of the team played the game again on the PlayStation 3 as we started development. And one of the things that came up from everybody was how there wasn't much variety in the voiceover. So when you went back to characters over and over again, they would say the same things.
So what we did [is] we decided to add variety. So they're saying the same things. What you're being told is the same, they're just saying it in a different way. So they feel more alive and more natural, which is the kind of ethos that we've been trying to do with the whole game, you know, where we talked about the environments for instance.
We went out and found as many of the original cast as we could and got them to come back and perform their incredibly iconic roles again. Which was wonderful; it was really great. And we re-recorded all the new dialogue at the same time. I think for sound in general, sound is another area that can really add to the emotional experience, that same way that you can by putting details in maps to tell a story, sound does the same thing. And Demon's Souls is masterful with sound.
If you think about the way it works, like when you play the game it doesn't have any music. And it's done intentionally because music is an emotional crutch. It can make you happy. It can make you sad. It can change your feelings. And what was done in the original was say, "No music. It's just the environment." And you feel naked almost. You feel more vulnerable because there is no emotional friend playing in your ear. And then when you go into a boss battle, the music comes in and it feels like the music's making you go further and do better and succeed in the challenge. So it's an incredibly wonderful way to use audio.
So we've done the same thing. We've actually remade thousands upon thousands of new sound effects to add into our levels, and then using 3D audio on the PlayStation 5, that really comes to life. I mean, you can feel arrows go past your head. You can feel Imperial spies creep up behind you in the palace of Boletaria or creatures crawl out of the slime in the Valley of Defilement. It's an amazing soundscape now and it really adds to the fear, the trepidation, and the challenge of the whole experience.
I love the silence in Demon's Souls and other Souls games where it's like the music isn't used to suggest the feeling to you. You're just left to come up with those feelings yourself. And often it varies from person to person. One person can feel dread in an area where others can feel excitement, so I'm very glad that has stayed the same. Returning to the new lines, are you saying that there are new lines that are a remix of the old ones or that they're brand-new but staying true to the original intent?
Yeah. They're staying true to the intent of what the original would have been. So if it was, "Yes, I need to find this weapon" and you keep going back, the character will still be saying the same thing again and again and again, they're just now saying that in a different way. That's all. So we're just adding more variation.
You showed the original trailer and we had The Tower Knight section and it had what the community describes as a feeling of heroism. It looks brighter there. And then we had another trailer show up and it looked like it was slightly darker. The same with the Flamelurker, the face seemed to change in response to the reception to it. How much of that is a result of the fans' take on it, and how much rope do you give yourself to mess with that kind of stuff?
So, as I said before, we're our worst critics. The team has every right, anybody in the team has every right to say, "I don't agree with that." And then it's talked about and discussed. But for the Flamelurker, for example, yeah, that may have been a step too far down the line. And we did listen to the fans and we took it back. And now if you look at the Flamelurker, he resembles much more of the original, but of course, in greater detail because of the amount of power we have with the PlayStation 5. So it's just more stunning, more fire, more explosions as he smashes his giant fists into the ground.
And for the visual look of the game, what we do is we allow a whole set of filters. So you can pick the filter that you would like to play with in the game. So if you want to play in black and white, that filter exists. And there is a classic filter. So if you want to harken back to the days of the PlayStation 3 and play with that starker look and more of a darker look and a little bit more--what's the word--driving a little bit more fear into the game, then pick that classic filter and play like that. We have all those sources for you to play with. I really would like the fans just to play the game the way we made it first though, just so it can show off the incredible power of the PlayStation 5 and what we've done with it.
Yeah. I mean, I think given the obsessive nature of fans, I'm sure they will be playing it with every filter at least once.
Oh, I hope so.
How much of the actual AI stuff are you tweaking? I watched the Flamelurker fight, and maybe it's just the way that fight unfolded in particular, but it seemed to be way more aggressive, like just getting in on the player. Is there any tweaking happening there?
So we leave the actual logic and AI alone. We don't touch that. That's sacrosanct almost. And we don't want to go in there and dive into that at all. I think that's the way that that was captured, the way that the player played the game. You know the way the Flamelurker reacts, if you hit him more, he gets more aggressive and more violent and lights up. So you can see that in the trailer, but that's a super challenging boss battle as well, it really is.
We've not got a lot of time left, so I'm going to do some quick-fire ones. Will The Old Monk fight be the same as in the original?
Are you going to have World Tendency stuff and events still?
Yep. World Tendency is exactly the same. The only thing that we've done is adjust the UI to make it a little bit easier for the player to understand which state the World Tendency is in.
Is the healing system exactly the same, with the grass?
Yes, it is.
Are you introducing any sort of respec system?
The ability to change your stats midway through, instead of committing to a certain build all the way through.
So what we have done is allow you to... Okay, let's talk about this a little bit... This might not be quick. I'm sorry. What we have done is we've updated the character creator. And we've given thousands upon thousands of new permutations where you can create and you can play. And then once you've chosen a character, what you can do is after you've paid a number of souls for it--in the Nexus--you can actually store your character and then go in and change your character in the Nexus. So that's the quick interpretation of it, I guess. I'll leave it up to you to find out where it is and how you do it.
What is Fractured Mode?
Fractured Mode is basically the Fractured World and it's a mirror mode. And actually, that's challenging because you reverse the map.
The Reaper Scythe, the introduction of new content around that. What is that going to do? People are thinking it might be like an easy option. Is there an easy option and what's the impact of the Reaper Scythe?
There is no easy option in Demon's Souls. It's true to the original in that it's a fair challenge based on you learning the enemy patterns, you learning the environment, and taking on that risk-reward of the combat system. So there's no easy option. We have added new content to the game, though. And I will say that everything that was in the original PlayStation 3 version is in the standard edition. So you're not missing out on anything.
And there's obviously a ton of new content to find as well in the game. The Reaper Scythe is a preorder incentive. So if you want it, then please preorder the game and you'll get that weapon. It's a two-handed polearm weapon with a super sharp blade. I think that it can actually cut the very soul out of your enemy.
You said there is new content. Are you putting back the content into the sixth Archstone or is that gone?
So there was a long and hard discussion. There is no sixth Archstone. There are only five Archstones in the Nexus. It's true to the original, there's no new Archstone, there's no new world.