Hidetaka Miyazaki On Bringing Elden Ring To A Close And The Future Of From Software

The launch of Shadow of the Erdtree brings a new and exciting journey for From Software to its end. Elden Ring, released two years ago, was the studio’s first venture into the open-world genre, a massive undertaking full of complex challenges even for studios that have a long history of making them, let alone one taking its first crack at it.

For From Software and game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, it was an opportunity to leverage years of experience making Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and other titles to give players a game that retains the sense of adventure and challenge the studio is known for, while also offering the freedom to explore a vast landscape full of possibilities. Shadow of the Erdtree, the first and only DLC of Elden Ring, is the completion of that vision.

With Shadow of the Erdtree on the cusp of release, GameSpot spoke to Miyazaki-san about this journey and the road to making Elden Ring happen, as well as what he learned from the experience, what he envisions his next projects being, and the future of From Software as a whole.

GameSpot: How does this moment feel, given that it’s essentially the end of a big journey for Elden Ring? What does it feel like for you and the team; what’s your state of mind?

Hidetaka Miyazaki: A few things. First, Elden Ring, for us, we’ve never made a game of this caliber and scope before, so it’s an experience that I think myself and the entire team has not experienced both in terms of volume as well as the success itself. Elden Ring is, in terms of scope, just so much bigger than anything we’ve worked on in the past. I think it really helped grow and nurture a lot of our in-house talent as From Software. So the timing was right and we knew we wanted to take on a new challenge. Through developing Elden Ring, I think a lot of our talent, including directors who are not me or game designers, game planners who are not the core team that usually designs games within From Software (benefitted), it really served as a kind of foundation for us to build upon and grow into the next stage as a company.

I believe that will translate into being able to show the world the so-called new From Software, as well as the types of games that we will be developing in the future.

To add to that, I think developing this game was genuinely just fun for me and the whole team. Being able to build out a world and game of this scope, as well as collaborating with George R.R. Martin, I think is just one of those experiences you don’t get to have every day. So in terms of the unique joy in myself and the staff, I think that really helped us grow and hopefully someday we can apply all of these learnings and experiences to what we develop next, whatever that new challenge ends up becoming for the company.

And again, the enormous success that Elden Ring experienced, of course we’re very, very thankful to the fans who have supported the game. I think that it is that support that will enable us to take on whatever next challenge it is we want to as a company. So I want to give out a heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s supported the franchise so far.

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Open-world games are a big challenge to make and it takes a lot out of a studio to do them. Do you now see this is the baseline for future games and open worlds being the kind of core of (From Software’s) games going forward? Or do you hope to return to something a little more linear and focused in the way that games are made?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that open world is going to become the new base or foundation or standard of the company. As I kind of hinted in earlier responses, we have a lot of game directors and designers who are growing, so we’d love to keep an open mind in terms of the types of games that we develop. So, of course, I can’t really say anything at this exact moment, but perhaps when you see future announcements from From Software you’ll look back at this point and think, “Ah, that’s what he meant.”

Do you remember how it was to make the decision to go open-world? Having made multiple Dark Souls games, Bloodborne, and Sekiro did you feel confident and capable or was there still a sense of nervousness about pulling it off?

Well, there were a couple of things that we had going for us. As you mentioned, having built up our experience and team with Dark Souls, I think that foundation gave us a certain amount of confidence. Likewise, seeing the team grow also gave us a different type of confidence that it was achievable. If you asked me if we were 100% sure we could pull it off, the answer would not have been yes at the time, but it did feel like there was a path to achieving what we set out to do. And of course, once we were on that journey, we realized how naive we were.

But of course everything leading up to Elden Ring has been built within the company brick-by-brick, if you will. And what we were setting out to achieve with Elden Ring we knew was an extension of what we’ve built up. So instead of just doing what we already know, we’ve always wanted to push the status quo and kind of extend ourselves a little bit, which was what helped create Elden Ring.

Do you remember what the mission statement or the objective was for this game? What is it that you wanted to have achieved and do you think that you have done so?

I think in the very, very early stages of Elden Ring’s proposal, a lot of the core concepts came down to giving players this adventurous feel, this very open-world freedom, if you will, and adjusting the difficulty to match that freedom that we’re giving players. That was a huge mission statement or thematic element we wanted to achieve with the game.

I think to a degree we have achieved that. But like all the games that we release at From Software, nothing is ever perfect. So there were certainly learnings from this experience. There were certainly some failures and shortcomings. But if I had the chance to redo this, I think I might do something differently but I would like the chance to revisit a lot of the themes that we set out to achieve.

You make these worlds that are vicious to you to begin with; they make you feel like you don’t belong there, and by the end of it you have conquered it. But for certain people that keep coming back it starts feeling like home–counter to the design intent. How does it make you feel knowing that there are people out there who come to this world that you designed to push them away because it makes them feel good? I often return to the games and I’m in these worlds because they make me feel capable and happy.

I think that some of that was part of the design, it was designed as intended. And I think what you’re referring to is the sort of severity of the world and how brutal it can be, which oftentimes translates to the difficulty and learning curve. But by conquering a lot of those challenges, players will be able to call that place, that world, their home like, “I’ve conquered it.” And I think there is certainly a sense of enjoyment that people can feel from it. One of the core themes of Elden Ring is this sense of achievement and perhaps what you just described is a small part of that sense of achievement, when these worlds start to feel like your home. The fact that you brought that up of course makes me really, really happy because it was working as intended.

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I like to go back and fight Malenia when I need a little confidence boost, and it was the same way with Sekiro and Genichiro.

When you’re having challenges in your life or need a confidence boost, the fact that you turn to Sekiro and Elden Ring I think shows a lot of courage (laughs). I don’t know if I would say a lot of that was an intended core part of the game design itself, but whether it’s Elden Ring, Sekiro, Dark Souls, there is certainly that sense of achievement that I mentioned earlier of overcoming a challenge, and it makes sense how that would translate to a boost in confidence.

Our world, the real world, has a lot of challenges and there are a lot of obstacles that we face every day, and some of these obstacles are not always achievable or conquerable. However, I think there is something innately comforting in knowing that within this realm of video games, it is conquerable and achievable. So if you face it head-on and interpret what’s happening on the screen and the inputs, you can again feel that sense of achievement. So I do think about that sometimes, how through this interactive medium of video games we can have that communication.

Each new release from the studio is a chance for it to evolve but usually what we hear is, “From Software is the team that makes hard games.” What is your interpretation of your identity now and how do you see From Software?

It would be hard to describe the next chapter of From Software in one word but if I had to, I think it would come down to value and how we create this value. The words that you use to describe it, fantasy, world setting, difficulty, sense of achievement, that perhaps I think is more closely tied to my own set of values than the company itself. These new directors and game designers that are up-and-coming, our in-house talent, may not share those exact same values. I don’t want to say something right now and commit to the future direction of From Software and bind what they’re able to do.

But if you look at it more broadly, I think it all comes down to creating and providing that value to gamers and being able to do that at 100%. So, making sure the environment is conducive to that type of thinking, and (creating) a path to be able to achieve that is to me what I think as the president and how I feel about the future of the company. So in reality it’s a very simple company, I would say.

For the immediate future, I think how fans have responded to our games, and I daresay the amount of trust they’ve placed in us as a brand, has provided us with this opportunity to be able to show different types of value that we can add. So I think our job at this point is to not betray that trust and expectation.

On an individual level, however, the sense of overcoming challenges, and the dark fantasy world setting is something I will always have, but I don’t necessarily think that will always be the direction of the company because others might feel differently.

It feels that diversity of games is starting to come out. I’ve never seen as many people excited about Armored Core and it’s obviously because of that trust. That must make you feel very confident in where you’re going and the team.

That there are so many Armored Core players tells me that perhaps our direction or our process wasn’t necessarily wrong, and we’re on the right track. So it’s certainly a confidence boost. But more so than that, I am very thankful for the fans who have responded and embraced that trust that we’ve built together. So I understand Armored Core was never a huge franchise adopted by many players, but seeing the current state of the franchise I think makes us know that we’re on the right path. And I think the same can be said for me as well as the company as a whole.

Last time we spoke you had moved to a leadership position and one of the things that you talked about was helping to serve that function but also staying in the thick of creating games. Having now created the biggest game you’ve made, how is that balance going?

With respect to the balance between being the president versus being a game director, I would say that hasn’t changed from our last conversation. And if I had to give it a ratio of president to game director, I would say it would be about one to nine in terms of ratio. So that hasn’t changed. What makes that possible, I would say, is on the more management or the president side of the business I have a really good team who’s able to support it.

And what it comes down to is me in a leadership position on the executive side, I want to focus on the things that only I am able to do, and I think that’s what I should be doing. And what that comes down to is keeping the vision for the company as well as passing judgment on if any one goal is being achieved and how we set those metrics. So the vision is setting the goal where the company should point where we should steer the ship and the judgment part is determining what’s needed, including the talent, the resources we’re deploying, how we evaluate and interpret talent and these resources, and how they’re being applied to our goal. To me, that’s something only I can do and the biggest contribution I can provide in the leadership role. The rest of the management really comes down to having such a great team.

What’s enabling us to do that is, I think going back to the previous response, the simplicity of how From Software is set up and how From Software paints its vision. We’re going to make good games and keep that entire mechanism and machine sustainable so we can continue to make good games. It’s that simplicity of directing everything towards value that allows me to spend, one part, doing president and, nine parts, being a game director. So if that balance and that overall vision start to point in a different direction, perhaps I’m not best suited for that role anymore.

Going from memory here, but I believe this is the longest period you have had between releasing a core game and then a DLC. What was it like spending this much time on a DLC and what challenges did you find that were new compared to your previous games?

You are correct in that this is the longest period between a base game and its DLC, however, that was not the intent per se and more of a byproduct as we embarked on this journey of developing it. If you ask why, it simply comes down to the sheer volume of content that is in the DLC, which doesn’t compare with others, but of course it translates into more time and more resources being applied to it. And if you ask why Elden Ring’s DLC has so much more volume, for me it comes down to the gameplay of Elden Ring and how the game itself is structured.

At its core, Elden Ring is about adventure, exploration of the unknown. and the sense of freedom that players get when playing Elden Ring. To make sure the DLC lives up to those core themes or core concepts, it necessitated creating a massive volume and the scale, so that we’re not losing sight and the players aren’t disappointed in those elements. So I think it was a necessity given the game design and gameplay of Elden Ring that the DLC took two years.

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How difficult is it to stay the course in your ideas when in that period, you see the people who love these games, the fans talking so much about what the game is, what they hope the next part of it is going to be? Are you tempted to react?

I would say it’s the hybrid, but first and foremost, as a foundation, there is the original vision of what we set out to achieve with this DLC. And there is a strong idea of the type of experience we want players to have. And that being said, with the base game out in the wild, there are a lot of comments and feedback that users have. We tap into that as more of a means to adjust the game or tweak the balance or brush up the experience. But I would say there is certainly a foundation of what we are trying to do before user reactions or comments come into play.

And that’s something that is not just limited to this DLC. That same philosophy applies to everything that we do at From Software. There is always a vision or a concept of what we want to do and that comes from within the creators. We always have one eye on what the users and audiences are saying, so we can feed that back into the design or the experience and making sure we’re not completely ignoring reactions. That’s also combined with the experience the studio has built over the years as well, which is a very strong asset.

A big part of how people experience the game is how they interpret it, but for you, what was the theme you wanted to pursue in the DLC?

Of course, there are certainly themes that I have and themes that I hope audiences will experience. That can be said for Shadow of Erdtree as well as past games I’ve made, or even the base Elden Ring game. That being said, I don’t think it would be fair for me to explain that to players or tell that to players. The video game is supposed to be experienced, and I think that personal experience and interpretation is what’s most important. So whether it’s before or after the game is accessible to wider audiences, myself coming in and saying, “Well, actually this was the theme” would really take away or distract from the experience and that interpretation each individual player has built around their own adventure. On a more personal level, I think me trying to take these ideas and themes that I have and put them into words and say them out loud is, on a very simple level, embarrassing.

How do you construct a story by saying less and has it become easier over the years?

I don’t know if I would necessarily say it’s difficult to construct it in this way and perhaps this is, I don’t know if it’s myself or From Software as a brand, but by having these denser and lighter moments, we try to keep everything rather simple. In the case of Elden Ring, the so-called gaps that you mentioned come from the gameplay of us wanting to encourage people to explore and have their own adventure. And you yourself said, once you understand this and can feel this, you make the world your own in some way and it feels closer. Enabling players to feel that informed a lot of our storytelling style.

And this act of players trying to understand and trying to go deeper into this world is a huge, fun point, or value-add that Elden Ring provides. And it’s also something that I myself really enjoy, this idea of understanding and unboxing this world is a very attractive way to immerse oneself. So perhaps it is unique compared to a lot of other more setting-heavy games, but I find that enjoyable so it translates into the games as well.

Do you watch other people or the fans theorize or the videos they make or are you content with letting that happen outside of your vision?

I watch them. Of course, I can’t watch all of them, but I do like to watch them and I actually enjoy that process. I think it’s quite fun to see how people piece together their own theories or working theories based on a lot of fragmented information that the game provides. Some can be derived from hints in the game, others are completely theorized. But regardless, for me, I find it quite enjoyable to see the different interpretations that the fans and audiences have.

I think it’s a very desirable mechanic and the game was designed that way for people to be able to fill in those gaps. So, regardless of whether they’re correct or maybe not, it doesn’t change the way I watch these videos. I like to see it on a very objective level and say, “Oh, that’s an interesting way to piece together all these fragments.” So that’s how I interact with that type of user-generated content.

Taking that ethos and applying it to ending your DLC, how do you make it feel like a conclusion instead of an end to the world. Do you even want to leave it open to say, “We’ve got more to do in the future”?

Concerning Shadow of Erdtree, that’s something where I very strongly wanted to make sure audiences feel Miquella’s ending. And there of course might be room for interpretation in there, but the overall feel is a definitive closure to his arc. So if Shadow of Erdtree is Miquella’s story, he has his conclusive endpoint.

One of the things I really like is that your games always treat the player character as insignificant. You are a Tarnished and everyone’s constantly telling you that you are worthless. Traditionally people want their characters to feel special, a chosen one, or a savior. Where does that come from?

The game world is a quite severe and vicious place, including the very strong enemies. And I think that disdain that a lot of the game world and NPCs show towards the player is perhaps an extension of that harshness that you experience. And I think the same can be said about our own surroundings and world, where it’s quite cold and harsh at times. That link between reality or that harshness drives us in our world to find the beauty within it. And perhaps I think that’s the value that we provide and the value we experience at the core of this game. Whenever there’s a game and from the onset everyone’s like, “Oh my God, you’re the hero. Thank you so much,” to me it doesn’t feel real.

So if you hear just that part, it might make me seem like a sick or crazy person. But I think that’s where a lot of the reality comes from. Take love or any type of emotion that you may feel, if there’s too much of it, I think it lowers its value. So it’s that scarcity that I think really makes people feel and appreciate whatever it is they’re experiencing.

I love reading superhero comics like Superman and they are partly about how he’s special and amazing and savior of the world. But these days I’m drawn more to the stories of struggle, much like your games are or manga like Berserk is, and I see that a lot with others too. Do you think it’s a bit of a cultural shift that these darker stories are more in demand?

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To make sure there’s no confusion, I want to be clear that, as a consumer, I love both. I love Superman and I love Berserk. I think they both have their own flavor and their own touch, but they’re both super enjoyable. When I said reality feels harsh and the games I make are in a way a reflection of that, that’s more me personally, how I have a worldview and how I translate that into the game design. The fact that happened to be a cultural match in terms of the times and the era that we live in, of course, there’s a sense of relief and happiness there as well. But again, that’s just how I create games. But as a consumer, I love all flavors.

Following on from that, how many of the games you make are a reflection of how you’re feeling? It’s a joke among fans that there must be something going on in there to be able to conjure the kind of imagery From Software does. Are you guys okay? Is everything alright over there?

(Laughs) A lot of the creature and monster design comes from my direction, and looking only at myself I mean, I feel okay. I think I’m pretty healthy and I’m enjoying life. So all joking aside, yeah, I think that it kind of is what it is.

That’s good. We’re just checking.

(Laughs)

One of the big parts of Elden Ring has been the collaboration with George R. R. Martin. How do you reflect on that experience now that the process has come to an end and is it something that you want to do again? I know a lot of people are talking about Brandon Sanderson as someone they’d love to see a collaboration with, and he’s a fan of games.

One of the huge value-adds of Elden Ring is, of course, George R. R. Martin’s contribution in terms of the lore and the mythology, and it is one of the very unique points that other From Software games don’t have. When the team was able to start unpacking his lore and his mythology, it turned into a huge stimulation for us, and it was something that on the development side, we don’t get to experience that often. So there was a lot of fun in terms of the world-building and world-setting and trying to decipher and depict and then translate that to what players see on screen.

So if we have the chance to work with another major creator, I think we would definitely be open to exploring that because of how unique the experience was, both on the development side as well as what players experienced. And with regards to George R. R. Martin himself as a person, aside from the stimulation the team received from all of his amazing mythology and lore, George had a very good understanding of game design and video games in general. I think he has a certain respect for it as well, so that made the collaboration and the entire process very, very seamless and easy for us.

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Do other mediums interest you, especially for the games that you have made? There are no doubt plenty of opportunities to use the success of Elden Ring or Dark Souls to make a movie, a TV show, or something else outside of games. Do you foresee a future where you want to adapt things or try different mediums?

I don’t know if I should say we or perhaps me in this instance, but I have no intention of saying, “Oh, there’s never going to be a movie” or denying all possibilities of other adaptations. It’s just how I think and how I best communicate with audiences is through the interactive medium. So that’s where my focus has gone. And when I think about how I can best communicate, it is through that interactivity. There are many others who can make a much better linear format content than we can. For myself and From Software, I think the biggest value-add that we can provide is by making games. So again, not saying no to any possibilities, but perhaps there are others who are better suited to adapting Elden Ring and other From Software franchises into different medium formats.

You’ve been successful in realizing the sense of adventure and challenge that you wanted to achieve with Elden Ring. Do you think those two elements will continue to be the focus going forward or do you have new ideas or themes you want to tackle?

On the one hand, I often direct multiple games or oversee multiple games at once, so that difficulty curve and sense of achievement are always going to be a core of my game direction and game design. But with another game, perhaps–and this is going to happen sometime in the future that I’ll be able to talk about it in more detail–there might be different themes or core elements.

I guess another way to ask the question is, what excites you in games now and make you excited to play and create?

There are many elements that excite me when it comes to both video games and tabletop board games, and I think that there are many joys to be extracted from that. But for me, personally, what brings the most excitement comes while I’m making a game. Whenever I have a good idea and I can create a hypothesis and then test that theory against, “Hey, is this fun? Is this a good idea or not?” Those moments to me bring the most excitement. So perhaps through my work, I am constantly chasing that feeling and that excitement as I’m making games.

One other thing that really excites me right now is watching my daughter grow. And this might be a very short-term thing, but it’s fascinating and very interesting to see a small human being discover or see the world; see how a human is constructed or built in a way, how the personality is formed, how they start to identify and build their own identity. And this might just be being a father, but I think that there’s certainly something there that excites me.

Do you think that the experience of doing that, watching your daughter grow will eventually make its way into the game? Do you think about how that more naive and idealistic perspective kids have could change how you see the world and thus the worlds you depict in games?

I don’t think about that too much and I am not against the idea of change. In a lot of ways, I think having a daughter can expand the possibilities, and that expansion is a necessary element of continuing to make great games–a stimulant of (creativity) if you will. And I don’t mean to talk about my daughter as an object or anything, but in the process of making games, I think it is a necessary and important stimulant because it helps you see the world through a different lens in a lot of ways. And if that is causing worry for my fans or the gamers, I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

For me, it’s again, finding and discovering that fleeting moment of beauty in a lot of these dark, cold, harsh, grotesque worlds that I think allows it to shine even more. That philosophy applies to how I design and direct video games. So if I find a newer, even higher or more stimulating beauty, that will just help make the worlds even darker, more grotesque, and harsher so that it can shine even brighter. In terms of a fantasy world, the brighter something shines, the darker the shadow it casts, right?

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