Once a regular Japanese salaryman working as an account manager at Oracle, Hidetaka Miyazaki – at the suggestion of a friend – gave a little game called Ico a try. It changed his life. Ico, as legend has it, inspired him to swap the secure confines of a corporate cubicle for the much less certain world of game development. His first job turned out to be his last: Tokyo-based From Software, a developer best known for the complex Dungeon & Dragons-style King's Field and the nerdy Armored Core mech franchise.
Twelve years later, Miyazaki is running the company. Although he was eventually tasked with directing sequels for Armored Core, the ascendance of Hidetaka Miyazaki to president of From Software was the result of two successful, original games. The first, Demon's Souls, a spiritual successor to the King's Field series, was the PS3-exclusive sleeper hit no one saw coming, selling close to two million copies in 2009. Dark Souls, the harder, better and multiplatform, followed two years later, and it tripled the sales of Demon's Souls, firmly cementing Miyazaki as one to watch. It also established the Souls series as the new torchbearer for action-RPG games, with some critics comparing it to Nintendo's mighty Zelda series.
Since the original Dark Souls' release, Miyazaki has been riding a wave of creativity that has seen him personally direct or oversee the development of three of the most well-reviewed games of the past few years – Dark Souls II in 2014, Bloodborne in 2015 and Dark Souls III in March of this year. That's a lot of dark fantasy in a short time.
With the latest Dark Souls III DLC Ashes of Ariandel on the horizon, Miyazaki met with Glixel in his Tokyo office to talk books, influences and the principles that make his games so distinct.
Many journalists over the years have said that the Souls games, from Demon's on up through Bloodborne and Dark Souls, is what The Legend of Zelda should have evolved into. How do you feel about that comparison?
When I was a student, The Legend of Zelda was truly monumental, so to be perfectly honest, I feel deeply unworthy of the comparison. The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls are different games belonging to different genres though, and they're guided by different concepts of game design. They don't need to aspire to the same ideals. If there are similarities, they probably stem from the fact that The Legend of Zelda became a sort of textbook for 3D action games.
Zelda producer Eiji Aounuma thinks it's "a sin" to let players get lost in a game, and that has ultimately led to the series holding players' hands throughout. Conversely, the Souls games give players very little in the way of instruction or direction. You don't even implement a map in-game. Why?
Our goal was to allow players to do what they want, define their own goals, make their own discoveries, embrace their own values, and find their own interpretations. Core to that was the importance of getting lost. This gives value and meaning to finding one’s way. Also, we're just not very nimble when it comes to giving good guidance, and rather than try to overcome our own shortcomings, we decided to focus on things that we were good at.
A lot of people are interested in playing HD remakes of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Is this something you'd be willing to let an external team handle?
I've mentioned this before, but Sony Interactive Entertainment holds the rights to Demon's Souls, and Bandai Namco Entertainment holds the rights to Dark Souls, so they call the shots on remasters and remakes – so I'm not in a position to comment specifically on it. As for the question of having an external team create a remaster or remake, I’m not opposed to this idea by any means. If such a scenario arose, I know that both Sony and Bandai Namco are mindful of the integrity of the respective titles, and I'm confident that each would put together a highly-skilled team that would be an appropriate fit.
Would you ever resurrect [From Software’s long-dormant first-person franchise] King's Field or has the Souls series rendered it superfluous?
I feel that King's Field and Dark Souls are two separate entities. For starters, yes, the perspective is different, but also they are guided by differing core game design concepts. As for a revival of King's Field, that’s a very difficult question. This is because King's Field is the brainchild of From's former president [Naotoshi Jin], and if I or anyone else were to attempt a revival of the series, we would run the risk of creating a pale imitation. On a personal level, the first King's Field was one of my favorite games when I was just a gamer myself, and I believe there would be fascinating ways to bring it back, but all of these ideas would be contingent on Jin serving as director.
How many teams do you oversee as president? Does this mirror how many projects From has going on at any time?
I can't discuss specific numbers, but I can say that since becoming president, the number of projects that I'm involved with, albeit with varying levels of intimacy, has increased. But this doesn't mean that I'm involved with every From project.
The higher up Shigeru Miyamoto went in Nintendo, the more business-focused he became. Do you worry about this happening to you?
I am a director serving as president, and not the other way around. Luckily, those around me understand my position on this matter. More importantly, From Software's core competence lies in creating unique products with distinct points of view. It's a unique position to be in, and thankfully I've never had to make sacrifices when it comes to devoting time to directing. There's no guarantee that this will always be the case, but there’s no guarantee of anything, president or no.
What has being president of From Software enabled you to do that you wouldn't have been able to do otherwise?
A very recent and straightforward example was the decision to define Dark Souls III as a major milestone, allowing us to move on and challenge ourselves with a completely new project. This decision was in line with our mission to create distinct games with a unique perspective and not only reflects my own wishes, but the wishes of the entire game production staff. Had I not been both president and director, this may not have been possible.
You tell me you're a bookworm. What kind of books would I find on your shelf if I were to look right now?
First, you'd spot the manga shelf, with Devilman and Berserk lining the top. The neighboring bookshelf is packed with tabletop role-playing game rulebooks, with RuneQuest prominently displayed, alongside the board game Dragon Pass. A shelf is packed with novels – old classics of fantasy and science fiction, alongside George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Fevre Dream. A small library of game books shares the same shelf. At the top is Sorcery! and accompanying guides Titan and Out of the Pit. Finally, you'd find various art and reference books, including work by Umberto Eco and McNeill, and Colin Wilson's The Occult.
You're a big fan of the gothic stuff, then.
I'm an omnivore when it comes to sources. Many of the themes and imagery expressed in our games have their origins in text – things conjured in the imagination while reading; the interpretations within the mind.