It's a fairly safe assumption that the remake of Demon's Souls will be one of the hottest launch titles on PlayStation 5, and a strong argument speaking in favor of the console. It may be a game that will make many people opt for the PS, rather than Xbox. The original was a game that defined the PS3 era, spurred an entirely new genre of souls-like, eagerly imitated by numerous other studios. The bar is set incredibly high, but since the development was entrusted to the developers from Bluepoint Games – the same people who have us the fantastic remaster of Shadow of the Colossus on PlayStation 4 – we're quite confident about the outcome.
This confidence was reinforced by an interview with Gavin Moore, the creative director at SIE Worldwide Studios. Next-gen Demon's Souls is to be, above all, as faithful to the spirit of the original as possible. Expect an equally unforgiving game, equally enigmatic and with an equally gloomy atmosphere, but definitely more beautiful in terms of sights and sounds. We talked about the challenges lurking at every step of creating a remake of a cult-classic, and the extent of leeway the creators had.
Jackob Mirowski: You're doing one of the first launch titles on PlayStation 5, so... No pressure, huh?
Gavin Moore, creative director of Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios: Yes, after twenty-five years in the industry, I am creating a launch title for the console I love, which is a great honor. In a few weeks, everyone will be able to play the new Demon's Souls.
How do you feel about working on a game with cult status? The community gathered around this production is really eager. I've seen complaints about small details, like the slightly altered appearance of one of the opponents – the fans can be incredibly meticulous.
We are fans of this game ourselves. We've never remade a game we didn't love. You have to love the game to it justice, to stay true to the original vision. What we're drawn so much to is the fact that Demon's Souls is the most beloved production of the PS3 era. Its fans are really amazing. We thought about this project for years, but we never thought we would do it. It wasn't until we created the remake of Shadow of the Colossus that we felt we had reached the point, where we had the knowledge and skills necessary to take on this challenge and rise up to it. Now, with the new console, with the power of PlayStation 5, it's the perfect time to give Demon's Souls a second life. Not only for fans of the original, who will be able to experience it again, in splendid 4K at 60 frames per second, but also to show the game to a completely new generation.
That's right. Demon's Souls was the game that started the "soulslike" fashion that kicked off for good with the release of Dark Souls. But for these eleven years, the genre didn't just stand and wait, and so the original became outdated in a few aspects. How do you plan to make it attractive to new audiences?
Of course, a lot has changed during this time; games have changed, their vocabulary and the expectations of players have changed. We made some "lite" improvements, such as the camera, which now behaves in a more modern way, or the speed of climbing or descending ladders, which was frustratingly slow in the original. We added the ability to roll in any direction, which now seems obvious, but in 2009, you could only roll in four. These are small nuances, but they're really key to making the game live up to today's standards. The way we play games has evolved and we want to adapt to it. But all these changes are only made when we carefully analyze whether it will negatively affect the heart of the gameplay or not, which is crucial to us.
As for that heart ... You've added weapons as a bonus to pre-orders, and from what I saw in the gameplay footage, you've made minor changes to boss fights – I wonder what's the extent of these changes. How much does Bluepoint Games and Sony Japan try to inject a bit of their own vision into this game?
We're not messing with a proven recipe. We're big fans of the original. If you were cooking something for yourself and I started throwing in my ingredients, you probably wouldn't be thrilled. We remain loyal to Demon's Souls. We're including all the original weapons, for example. Of course, we have added elements of equipment that players can discover, but we have made sure that they do not disturb the delicate balance. We have done everything possible to ensure that they don't alter the experience. The bosses were a tough nut to crack, on the other hand. We had to go back to square one, harness the power of PlayStation 5, take advantage of the locations rich in detail, tell the story through every room, corridor and arena to really breathe life into this world. We did the same thing with the bosses. They had to be an integral part of this reality, to be refined in every aspect. So their designs have been improved and changed to better fit this world. But Vanguard is still Vanguard, Flamelurker is still Flamelurker. We didn't interfere with their animations or attacks, their AI is still the same.
A tricky supplementary question, then. Some fights in the original could be won by different exploits...
I know you mean one of the Maneaters, who could be defeated through the fog. I'm sorry – not this time! We considered it a bug and fixed it. Also, you can't take advantage of the bug that allowed to get 99 demon souls instead of just one from Stockpile Thomas. I'm afraid all these bugs have been fixed. But many of the specific elements that fans love have remained unchanged. We just removed the bugs that were spoiling the game. No offense!
None taken. It's just that this exploit was almost a meme, and I wondered whether you'll bring it back.
Well, I'm sure there will be a few new ones!
Speaking of novelty – there are some unused elements in the source code of the original Demon's Souls. Did you use them to create a part of the game that was missing from the original?
In the original, there is indeed one destroyed statue in the Nexus, and this will not change in our remake. We stick to the original, so there won't be a new world. I think that this would fit the definition of meddling in the game. We don't want to deviate too far from the vision that fans love.
And how will you deal with the legendary level of difficulty? Will you weaken some bosses, or on the contrary – make them even stronger?
Of course, we won't include multiple difficulty levels, as in the original Demon's Souls... I'm not sure I'd call it "legendary" – more like a fair challenge. You have to learn the attacks, know your surroundings; you have to learn to time attacks and dodges well. It's all about risk and reward. It's completely fair. People always say Demon's Souls is an extremely difficult game, but I really don't think so. On PlayStation 3, you just died, and due to hardware limitations, it took two minutes to get back to playing, which quickly became frustrating. You died again, you waited two minutes again. On PlayStation 5, you die, see the immortal "you DIED" screen, and after a few seconds of black screen you are back in the game, you can recover the souls and continue the adventure. On PS5, this is definitely less annoying than ever on the PS3, because the that console simply couldn't load data fast enough.
In one fragment of the tutorial, we see a fence through which you can jump – that wasn't possible in the original. This naturally begs the question of how much you've changed the locations: enemy placement and such.
The fence is there because in the original, players weren't told they can jump over objects. We considered it an oversight, and decided to present that simple mechanic in the tutorial. But as for the layout of levels and placement of opponents, everything remains identical to the original. We have something called Shattered World, which is basically a mirror image of the regular one. So when you're done playing, you can try your hand again, just the other way around. And this already qualifies as "legendary" difficulty – you're running down a familiar corridor and turn left, but there's only a wall there. Your memory suddenly fails, opponents jump out from completely different sides. It's like playing completely fresh.
In terms of changes, we also need to talk about the sound design. The footage seems to suggests there will be quite a lot of additions in terms of sound: our hero screams, grunts, the soundtrack has been modified, voice were actors re-recorded. These changes are apparent.
Very audible. We've spent a lot of time working on the audio setting. We had to redesign the entire soundscape of the game – otherwise, we'd be wasting the potential of PlayStation 5's audio engine. We have thousands of new audio effects because Tempest (the said engine – ed. note) creates a sphere of three-dimensional sounds around the player. So you'll be able to hear monsters crawling out of their hiding places, imperial spies trying to get behind you; you'll be able to locate a dragon just by its roar. You'll hear projectiles whizzing past your ears. It's now an incredibly immersive experience, and that's very important to us, because demon's souls cleverly uses its audio. In the "regular" sections, there's no music at all, it appears only during boss fights. Adding this extra layer of audio really brings this world to life. You also mentioned the voice actors. We were very lucky because we were able to work with the vast majority of the original cast and record all their lines with them again. Changes here are very minor. When you approached, say, Stockpile Thomas in the original game, he kept repeating the same lines, of course due to PlayStation 3's memory limitations. We added a few lines to give him some life and character. I'm also extremely proud of the music. It's great. We got a permission to create new versions of the songs from the soundtrack by Shunsuke Kida, so we recorded everything again, with a full orchestra and a choir. We also had the opportunity to record the famous Tampa organs, giving the game a distinct, Gothic character. We've had over 120 masterclass musicians perform for the game. This soundtrack should be interesting for everyone, and fans will surely love it. Demon's Souls fans in our office loved it.
Were you aided in any way by FromSoftware team, or are they too busy with Elden Ring?
They're extremely busy with Elden Ring. When we started working on Demon's Souls, we asked for their blessing, which they gave us – with the proviso that we do justice to the original and the original story. We think we did.
What are your overall impressions of working with PlayStation 5? The original was released two generations before it, and PS3 was quite notorious as a rather irksome platform for devs.
PS5 works fabulously. It has tons of memory, it has a super-fast SSD, the haptic triggers are great for fighting, the sound spectrum and capacity... you know, I've been working in this industry since PlayStation 1 and every generation has its own improvements, but now we're getting to the point where the possibilities are almost too great at times. I felt like someone let me into a candy store and said, "Take whatever you want."
Okay, one last question, then. Do you have a clause in your contract that demands you end each game with the death of the protagonist?
Look, it's Demon's Souls – you just have to die.
Yeah, I totally get it. Thanks a lot for talking to us!
Demon's Souls will be released on PS5 as a launch title on November 12, 2020. You can learn more about the game in our encyclopedia.
Jakub Mirowski | Gamepressure.com