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Hidetaka Miyazaki's advice for challenging game design: "Trust players"

FromSoftware game director Hidetaka Miyazaki took time to share some design insights from the making of Elden Ring at DICE 2023.

Bryant Francis

February 28, 2023

2 Min Read
A hooded young woman stares at the player character in Elden Ring.

FromSoftware and Bandai Namco's Elden Ring was one of two big winners at the 2023 DICE Awards last week—and game director Hidetaka Miyazaki was on hand not only to accept the award, but take a few questions from press in the minutes after his win.

With only a few minutes on our hands (the door cracked open and we could hear the party kicking off outside), we wanted to see if Miyazaki had any insights about Elden Ring's design for developers who've been bowled over by its mysterious open world and challenging combat.

What FromSoftware has won acclaim for in nearly all of its post-Dark Souls games has been how the studio's games don't overly signpost where players should be going. Progression is a trial-and-error process where players might wander off the beaten path, only to find an entire zone that they had little idea ever existed.

We asked Miyazaki how FromSoftware considers the design of these zones, especially when frustration or confusion from players might be an intended design goal.

His advice? "Trust players," he said (through a translator). "Players will figure out what to do next."

He added that this philosophy is placed in "the foundation" of FromSoftware's design process. It seemed to give the implication that the studio has figured out how to work with some degree of uncertainty. And given the positive reception to its last decade of games, that's not exactly a surprise.

You can use enemy difficulty to guide direction

But what if you...don't trust your players? What if you want to have that mysterious Elden Ring feel, but make sure your players have a sense of where to go and what to kill next? Miyazaki was game to share some further thoughts on the subject.

With the game's open world (a first for this genre of action game), he did admit the studio put a little more effort into directly guiding players to their next destination. When they didn't want to do any explicit signposting, they turned to enemy difficulty.

"When players go to certain places, there might be some difficulties," he mused. "Maybe there are tough enemies, and [the player] might feel 'oh, this is not the right way. I've got to take another way to get somewhere [important.]"

So the game's combat can kind of double as a map. There's the classic Halo-themed game design logic of "if you're fighting enemies you're going the right way," but with a little more nuance, you can tell the player "if you find enemies you can actually kill, you're more likely to make progress and go stronger."

The design of Elden Ring and other From Software games often raises questions about the concept of game difficulty—but to hear Miyazaki tell it, intense difficulty can be a wonderful tool to help players gauge what challenges they're ready to take on.

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About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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