• Hey, guest user. Hope you're enjoying NeoGAF! Have you considered registering for an account? Come join us and add your take to the daily discourse.

Hidetaka Miyazaki Sees Death as a Feature, Not a Bug

IbizaPocholo

NeoGAFs Kent Brockman

Dark Souls and its sequels have become notorious for their ego-skewering difficulty. Their reputation transcends video games: “The Dark Souls of ‘X’ ’’ is a meme used to describe any particularly onerous task. (A teetering pile of dirty plates? “The Dark Souls of washing up.”) “I’ve never been a very skilled player,” Miyazaki told me recently, via Zoom. He was sitting in his office, a book-lined room in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo. “I die a lot. So, in my work, I want to answer the question: If death is to be more than a mark of failure, how do I give it meaning? How do I make death enjoyable?”

Still, for every vanquisher of Miyazaki’s monsters, there’s another who glumly sets down the controller. “I do feel apologetic toward anyone who feels there’s just too much to overcome in my games,” Miyazaki told me. He held his head in his hands, then smiled. “I just want as many players as possible to experience the joy that comes from overcoming hardship.”

Miyazaki had played games in his youth, but the moment of discovery arrived around 2001, when, at the urging of friends, he tried Fumito Ueda’s Ico, an exquisitely minimalist fairy tale about a boy, a girl, and their escape from a castle. For Miyazaki, the game reproduced the childhood joy of piecing together a story from snippets of text and mysterious illustrations. He decided to switch careers. At twenty-nine, and with no relevant experience, he took a significant pay cut to join FromSoftware, an obscure studio based in Tokyo. He started as a coder, then took over development of a struggling project—a fantasy set in a shadow world of looming castles and eldritch monsters. He rewrote the game from the cobblestones up, creating a mechanism by which, if a player died, they returned to the level’s beginning, with their health weakened, their resources lost, and their enemies just as strong. “If my ideas failed, nobody would care,” he told me. “It was already a failure.”

A theory suggests itself: the challenging circumstances of Miyazaki’s early life, followed by a string of hard-won achievements, provided the template for the emotional trajectory that many players experience in his games. Miyazaki—whose face, behind his glasses and wispy goatee, is youthful and jocular—resists the idea. “I wouldn’t say that my life story, to put it in grandiose terms, has affected the way I make games,” he said. “A more accurate way to look at it is problem solving. We all face problems in our daily lives. Finding answers is always a satisfying thing. But in life, you know, there’s not a lot that gives us those feelings readily.”

Miyazaki’s work is often invoked by the latter camp, as it suggests that challenge, not escapism or uplift, is the medium’s crucial quality. “It’s an interesting question,” Miyazaki told me. “We are always looking to improve, but, in our games specifically, hardship is what gives meaning to the experience. So it’s not something we’re willing to abandon at the moment. It’s our identity.”

And yet Elden Ring, Miyazaki’s new game, offers something of a compromise, a way “for people to feel like victory is an attainable feat,” he said. All of his hallmarks remain—the dramatic encounters with giant foes, the demanding combat, the insistence that the player improve their own abilities, rather than merely power up their onscreen avatar—but there are concessions that make the game more approachable. Now you can summon spectral animals to your side, or ride your horse to flee a losing fight. In Miyazaki’s previous games, a player was consigned to a handful of given paths, each one blocked by a powerful boss. In Elden Ring, the world is truly open. If one path proves too challenging, you can simply pick another.

Still, you die a lot: in the white heat of a dragon’s snort, under the cold weight of a giant’s hammer, whipped by the leg of a beached octopus. For Miyazaki, video-game death is an opportunity to create a memory, or a punch line. “When I’m playing these games, I think, This is the way I’d want to die—in a way that is amusing or interesting, or that creates a story I can share,” he said. “Death and rebirth, trying and overcoming—we want that cycle to be enjoyable. In life, death is a horrible thing. In play, it can be something else.”

For Elden Ring, Miyazaki collaborated with one of his heroes, George R. R. Martin—whose work, he told me, he enjoyed long before fantasy novels such as “Game of Thrones,” when Martin was best known as a science-fiction writer. Miyazaki approached Martin at the urging of one of FromSoftware’s board members, and was surprised to learn that Martin was a fan of his games. At first, Miyazaki feared that the language barrier and age gap—Martin is seventy-three—would make connection difficult. But as their conversations progressed, in hotel suites or in Martin’s home town, a friendship bloomed.

Miyazaki placed some key restraints on Martin’s contributions. Namely, Martin was to write the game’s backstory, not its actual script. Elden Ring takes place in a world known as the Lands Between. Martin provided snatches of text about its setting, its characters, and its mythology, which includes the destruction of the titular ring and the dispersal of its shards, known as the Great Runes. Miyazaki could then explore the repercussions of that history in the story that the player experiences directly. “In our games, the story must always serve the player experience,” he said. “If [Martin] had written the game’s story, I would have worried that we might have to drift from that. I wanted him to be able to write freely and not to feel restrained by some obscure mechanic that might have to change in development.”

There’s an irony in Martin—an author known for his intricate, clockwork plots—working with Miyazaki, whose games are defined by their narrative obfuscation. In Dark Souls, a crucial plot detail is more likely to be found in the description of an item in your inventory than in dialogue. It’s a technique Miyazaki employs to spark players’ imaginations, in the same way that he extracted stories from illustrated fantasy books as a child. “That power of imagination is important to me,” he said. “Offering room for user interpretation creates a sense of communication with the audience—and, of course, communication between users in the community. This is something that I enjoy seeing unfold with our games, and that has continued to influence my work.”

It’s unusual for such a figure to be company director: the demands of running a business can easily smother creative endeavor. But Miyazaki sees himself as an outsider in the managerial class; he observes fellow-C.E.O.s like an anthropologist, joking that he sometimes uses them as inspiration for his monsters. He’s also a nurturing boss—his team routinely calls him for personal advice—and is acutely aware of the hazards of the empowered auteur. “The thing I prize is total openness from the staff; I try to be frank about my own mistakes,” he said. “Because of my influence over these games, people are often reluctant to give their honest opinion, even when it may matter most. So I try not to let pride get involved, and try to create trust.”

I’d often wondered whether Miyazaki had a similar response, using games as a way of exerting control. “I enjoy the process of solving problems that I know can be fixed,” he told me. “Impossible challenges? That’s where I draw the line, and where I feel stressed out. So I’m extremely fortunate to be able to apply that process by creating games.”

When I asked whether his family had played his games, he laughed and pointed out that his daughter was three. “Not quite old enough,” he said. But there was another reason: Miyazaki worried that his work, behind its abstractions, contained something too personal to reveal. Total control, it seems, risked total exposure. “I don’t want to let my family play my games, because I feel like they’d see a bad part of me, something that’s almost unsavory,” he said. “I don’t know. I’d feel embarrassed. So I say: no Dark Souls in the house.”
 

kingfey

Banned
Still, you die a lot: in the white heat of a dragon’s snort, under the cold weight of a giant’s hammer, whipped by the leg of a beached octopus.
GIF by Bachelor in Paradise
 

kunonabi

Member
Having only beaten sekiro and playing some demons souls and elden ring I don't mind the excessive deaths I just don't care for losing exp. All it does is make me grind so that I can spend all my points before fighting a new boss or going to a new area. I do like penalties for death though so I can't complain that much.
 

01011001

Member
Apparently he also sees bugs as a feature.

the Souls games are among the least buggy games in the modern gaming landscape. we live in a world where you can't even launch popular games like Apex Legends or Call of Duty XYZ without encountering obvious bugs as soon as being in the main menu.

I can't tell you how many times in Horizon Forbidden West I had my plan ruined because the sneak attack from above is so broken that it simply doesn't work half the time... actually I never successfully had it work... maybe I am too optimistic trying it again and again to no avail. that R1 button prompt is just too enticing I guess.

play any modern game that isn't a Soulsborne and you will find at least 10x the amount of bugs than in a Soulsborne
 
Last edited:

kikkis

Gold Member
I have finished every soulsbornekiro game, and loved them to bits. Elden ring bosses and even regular enemies frankly suck after academy. Its just one shot after one shot. I agree with Miyazaki on principle, but this time he simply failed.
 

Zeroing

Banned
If a character can hit you over a wall thus killing you - (it happened to me twice already)
- it’s a bug! And the feature is… me getting frustrated!

I need to play more relaxing games!
 

Yoboman

Member
I
the Souls games are among the least buggy games in the modern gaming landscape. we live in a world where you can't even launch popular games like Apex Legends or Call of Duty XYZ without encountering obvious bugs as soon as being in the main menu.

I can't tell you how many times in Horizon Forbidden West I had my plan ruined because the sneak attack from above is so broken that it simply doesn't work half the time... actually I never successfully had it work... maybe I am too optimistic trying it again and again to no avail. that R1 button prompt is just too enticing I guess.

play any modern game that isn't a Soulsborne and you will find at least 10x the amount of bugs than in a Soulsborne
I lost about 12 hours of progress in Elden Ring cause there's a bug where the game doesn't save properly if you don't manually exit to the start screen
 

01011001

Member
I lost about 12 hours of progress in Elden Ring cause there's a bug where the game doesn't save properly if you don't manually exit to the start screen

that sucks. but it is proper etiquette in a souls game to exit to main menu before closing it! 🤣 for real the games will give you a warning each time you don't do it

also, isn't that bug only on PS5 for someone reason?

also also, does that mean you played 12 hours non-stop without closing the game even once? wtf?
 
Last edited:

Yoboman

Member
that sucks. but it is proper etiquette in a souls game to exit to main menu before closing it! 🤣 for real the games will give you a warning each time you don't do it

also, isn't that bug only on PS5 for someone reason?

also also, does that mean you played 12 hours non-stop without closing the game even once? wtf?
Nah I usually put my PS4 to sleep without exiting games
 

Notabueno

Banned
I'd really like to try Elden Rings even though I already know what I'll think of it, but the fake score astroturfing, then the stability issues and now this interview makes it worse...
 

IbizaPocholo

NeoGAFs Kent Brockman

In a new interview in the March 10, 2022 issue of Famitsu magazine, translated by VGC, Miyazaki explained how his feelings around the launch of Elden Ring weren’t dissimilar to other launches he’s experienced.

“It’s the same for all past titles, not just this one, but it’s not a very pleasant time,” he said. “I’m sure I’m relieved, but I’m more anxious about it. I never get used to it.”

Miyazaki also explained why he believed that it was the right time to make Elden Ring, praising his “excellent staff” and their ability to “leave (him to it).”

“It was expected from the beginning that this work would be the largest scale ever.”.

Miyazaki also explains that although the combat in Elden Ring has echoes of Sekiro, both games were developed at the same time. As such, it wasn’t a case of lessons learned from one game directly influencing the other, more that the joint development influenced both games.

“Since this work and the production of Sekiro were in parallel, there was not much direct feedback from Sekiro,” he says. “However, since I directed both, it is certain that they influenced each other.”

Later in the interview, Miyazaki explained how Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin influenced the project in its early stages, and how the lore of Elden Ring was developed.

He said: “Martin’s lore has existed since the very early stages of development and has given us various inspirations. The lore depicts a complex and interesting relationship between mystery and the player, and gives us a multi-layered depth that we can call history.”

On the concept of the Elden Ring itself, and the game’s opening, Miyazaki explained that although he did explain to Martin the general idea of what he wanted the game’s lore to be, iconic imagery of the game like the large gold tree that stands above all areas of the map wasn’t solidified until later.

“At first, it wasn’t called the ‘Ring’, but I think he talked about the Elden Ring-like existence and the image of the opportunity for it to break. However, it was only spoken as an abstract concept, and I don’t think he had a concrete motif such as a golden tree at that time.”

The director then explained what he calls the ‘basic policy’ of telling a story in his games.

“The basic policy of telling a story in this work is the same as in the “Dark Souls” series. The textual information is presented in pieces and is intended to be connected in the user’s mind or to be imagined by the user. The reason for this is that we want the gameplay itself to be the story of the user. However, I think that NPC conversations are more straightforward than in past works.”

Miyazaki also explained how he planned to lower the barrier for entry of multiplayer and potentially encourage more players to work together.

“In the context of ‘degree of freedom’ that I often mention, it’s not very appropriate to raise the hurdles of multiplayer play as a means of trying to overcome difficulties without relying on pure action, I decided.”
 
Top Bottom