Dark Souls II co-director Yui Tanimura discusses development philosophies and game difficulty

Satisfaction and connections make Dark Souls.

Is there any aspect of Dark Souls II in particular that you hope players pick up on and enjoy?

There are a lot of potential answers to that question, but if I were to pick just one, then I’d hope it’s the sense of discovery that’s to be experienced as people enjoy their newfound freedoms in Dark Souls II. That act of discovery is something that we made integral to the gameplay experience. You’ll come upon things whose meaning and significance aren’t made immediately apparent to you at first glance, but as you keep playing, you’ll have revelations about them and get what they’re there for. That’s one of the design tenets we developed the game around.

Do you mean to tell me you deliberately put things into the game that won’t make sense at first?

You got it. But again, we didn’t do that out of malice. That communal aspects of the Souls games where people exchange information with each other is one of the most fun aspects about the series and we wanted to make sure that was still upheld. That sort of information gathering by way of in-game messages that players leave for each other and external resources like forums and wikis has just become a fundamental part of playing these games. We figured that if we could introduce some unknown elements into the mix to keep people busy for a while, that would be one of the ways that the game could remain entertaining.

Basically you want to ensure that websites with strategy guides and whatnot don’t have all of the answers, that players will still have to go out and make some of those discoveries on their own. I can see that also being a solid way to encourage people to try out different ways to play the game. Not everyone is guaranteed to see the same things as they go along.

When I was a kid growing up, I used to go to the arcade to play Tower of Druaga and I’d swap information with other people playing the game. What we have going on with Dark Souls II is pretty similar to that, but on a much larger scale. That exchange of information will help people get a grasp of the things that they do and don’t really understand about the game. Obviously, not everything is going to be that obtuse and there are some things that will just make sense upfront. But even so, right now there are things that people totally have yet to find and discuss, let alone figure out, and hopefully running into those sorts of things will be fun for players. For instance, there’s a way to get your hands on a Titanite Slab at the beginning of the game despite it normally being one of the more important items you can find in the series.

But isn’t it useless to give that item to players right off the bat?

At the time it doesn’t serve much of a purpose, sure. People will probably look at it and just be confused about why they have it, but eventually they’ll realize just how important it really is. Moments like that are where some of the fun in the game lies.

Similarly, in most games, progression is pretty linear. You start off by fighting weak enemies and raiding easy dungeons and then as time goes on, both of those things get progressively harder and harder.

Naturally.

But in Dark Souls II, you play as a cursed character that’s just thrown into this world that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense upfront and told to go off and cure yourself and it’s just all very brusque. If we were to give everything on a platter to players like other games like to do, everything would be rendered meaningless.

So to motivate players to play through the game and make them feel comfortable at making mistakes as they go along, we feel that there’s no other way than to just throw them in head-first. By doing it that way, the thinking is that they’ll just naturally want to find a way out of their predicament. And then when they encounter something hard and manage to deal with it, they’re rewarded accordingly. That’s why it’s so fun to get something like a major item early in the game, because there’s a justification for going off the main path and checking things out up close along the way.

I know I’ve said this before, but it still really does sound like you made Dark Souls II harder compared to the first one.

Like I mentioned a while ago, we weren’t actively trying to make it harder than the last game, but there are definitely people within the company who feel as much. But as a sequel, just repeating what we did before and emulating the original game is pretty boring, so the difficulty factor is there. It’s just that now it’s a different sort of difficulty compared to what we’ve done in the past. If you feel it’s a harder game, I’d argue it’s less because it was explicitly designed to be that way and more just because there are new things you haven’t gotten acclimated to yet.

When you put it like that, I get where you’re coming from. It’s like how in the original game, there’s enough that’s set in stone on the game world that you can reliable count on certain things being around when you turn a corner on repeat visits.

Yeah and this game isn’t any different in that regard. Once you get to know the new parts, they become pretty manageable to deal with. They’re not such a big deal in the end.

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say they’re “not a big deal” myself, but…. (Laughs.)

Okay, maybe I overstated it a little bit. (Laughs.) But when we were developing Dark Souls II, we didn’t fuss that much over how we were going to fine-tune the difficulty. Instead, we shifted our focus to balancing the game to make sure people really feel like they’re making substantial achievements and it’s how we hope that players will derive enjoyment out of playing it.

During February and March, From was holding demo events for the game throughout Japan where people could come and try out the game. What were the reactions from those who played it?

We got a lot of people who more or less said they felt right at home again once they started dying repeatedly from the start of the game. From what I could gather, a lot of people had their worries since we’ve shaken things up a good amount for something that’s ostensibly supposed to be a sequel, but it looks like that sentiment is disappearing.

Only in Dark Souls would someone say that dying makes them feel at home. (Laughs.)

Actually, we also ran beta tests online in September and October last year and we got a lot of good feedback about things like the controls and user interface. They gave us a lot to think about and influenced how the final product feels. Hopefully those people who came away from it feeling unsure about the game will give the final retail version a chance to see how it turned out.

Before we wrap this up, I have one last question for you. Compared to the first Dark Souls, how much content do you think you wound up making for II?

During development, we were aiming for around 1.2 times the amount of content, but when I add up everything we did with things like the covenants and new ways you can strategize, I’d say that the total feels closer to about 1.5 times. If you play to the very end of Dark Souls II, I feel that there’s an unparalleled sense of satisfaction you’ll get from beating it compared to other games, so I hope everyone out there who plays it, both existing fans and newcomers alike, won’t lose heart when the going gets rough and find it in themselves to fight through to the bitter end.

I know I’m waiting for the release of this game with bated breath. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.

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