Software’s Hidetaka Miyazaki discusses his approach to difficulty

From Software Games – along with the rest of the Soulslike subgenre – has earned a reputation for delivering difficult, punishing experiences that deliver persistence with unparalleled triumph. The latest release, Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree, has drawn attention and, in some circles of fans, controversy over how punishingly difficult it is. A week before the expansion’s release, we sat down with From Software president Hidetaka Miyazaki to talk about the concept of Difficulty and how the passionate fan base has surprised him over the years.

The Soulslike genre, especially from software games, emphasizes death as part of the gameplay experience. When you fight challenging enemies, it can feel insurmountable, but by taking a studious and persistent approach, players can spot patterns, develop skills, and sometimes, with a bit of luck, pass trials to progress through the game. “I think about all the different ways I want to kill as a gamer and as a player, and to think about the difficult curve and some of the challenges we put in front of other players, as a gamer, I hoped or wanted to exist as an experience,” says Miyazaki.

Difficulty and the unknown build a certain level of tension, contributing to a sense of dread that some players can’t get enough of. The feeling of not knowing what’s around the corner, then seeing something you couldn’t have imagined in your wildest nightmares, provides the level of surprise that software hopes to achieve with each passing encounter. To achieve this, Miyazaki takes on a high level of design responsibilities to ensure that players experience that tension in the right way.

“The whole genre from Demon’s Souls to Eldon’s Ring — called by Software Soulslike Games — I’ve always been very involved in platform design and level design because I want to create those exact experiences,” says Miyazaki. “I know that when a player walks through this world, they have a very fragmented understanding of the lore, the setting, the type of monsters, but I don’t. So, the map and level design act as this guide. They help the player pick up more information and think about what that world is about. The reason I do my design the way it is: the process to make sure those moments aren’t lost, but (fans recognize the purpose of the level design) makes it worth it.”

But while many of the games Miyazaki creates are inherently difficult, dedicated players of the genre always rise to the challenge. “Obviously there’s a lot of surprise, especially watching stuff from really good players,” he says. “Oh man, I’m sure they’re going to have a tough time with it, but somehow, these players are able to overcome all the obstacles with their skills. Difficult, I know we get a lot of credit for saying, ‘Yeah, our games are hard,’ but it’s just cranking up the difficulty.” Doesn’t matter.”

“When players are killed, and they can understand why they’re killed in an instance, and that’s justified — ‘Well, yeah, that makes sense’ — that’s the game design we’re trying to achieve,” continues Miyazaki. “I know a lot of players out there will probably disagree: ‘What are you talking about?! This game makes no sense! What the heck!’ But we try to make sure that the players are able to figure out the learning curve and the feedback loop, but, of course, there is still room for improvement on our side.

With Elden Ring: Shadow of the Erdtree now available (read our review here), Soulslike and the From Software community are back to debate the developer’s hard-hitting merits. But despite the debate, history has shown that players eventually adapt to this new level of challenge and defeat the seemingly invincible. The software has shown an unprecedented level of mastery in understanding how to create content for its community, so while some players may currently feel that Earthtree’s Shadow is too challenging, it will be interesting to see how that feeling changes once those same players do. More time with expansion under their belts.

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