Gaming aesthetics are a tricky subject. To many people the blocky, low-polygon models of yore were simplifications meant to evoke a more “realistic” portrayal of game worlds rather than aesthetic decisions in and of themselves. Depending on which game you’re talking about, developers may respond in agreement or outright refusal of that idea. Technological limitations, while restricting, did not necessarily mean those developers were striving for more realism as a rule. We consider this with regards to the new Demon’s Souls remake by Bluepoint for PS5 on this episode of Waypoint radio. You can read an excerpt and listen to the full episode below.
Rob: In terms of the aesthetics , to me it feels like there's not a lot of atmospheric character to the game so far. Again, I need to see things that aren't the Boletarian palace, but that section feels very much like artists portfolio work showing their command of fantasy styles for a job application. That's a harsh way to put it, but it is how it feels, right down to the bright blue banners just everything about it kind of feels like "what is the character of Boletaria? Oh, it's just a generic fantasy kingdom."
And I think that stems, you can go into the nexus, the bit you see of it, everything about Demon’s Souls I remember having this really dour limbo-esque feeling, not the game, but the concept of limbo. You feel like an undead warrior, who's just damned to repeat this shit forever. And everyone has that Odysseus talking to people on the shores of the river Styx vibe of like "we're here and yeah, sure, like we'll chat. But you know, none of this matters."
Patrick: You've got an NPC who says like, "Yeah, when the demons showed up, I ran from my wife and daughter, and now I'm stuck here in the nexus. I do storage here. You want me to hold onto your shit? I got it. Not going anywhere. Yeah, demons got my family that sucks."
Rob: Yeah. and the nexus was not pretty in Demon’s Souls. The nexus felt like an empty cathedral.
Patrick: Game also had a, um, I've heard it described as "piss orange" filter over all of Demon’s Souls. And this game has, I have not messed with it-
Rob: Oh, are you talking about filters option?
Patrick: It has filters. And one of the filters is like "classic" or something where it attempts to, um, this is what I've read, I haven't messed with this stuff cause I've tried to just approach the game as "here's what they're presenting me and I'm just gonna take it on those terms. because I feel like whatever the default is , this is what they wanted you to do and stuff like that is like tinkering on the margins in weird ways.
I do believe there is a color filter that changes the aesthetic slightly to make it a little more in line with the kind of tint that was present in a lot of Demon’s Souls lighting. I feel like this game is chasing Bloodborne in a lot of ways. Which I'm fine with because Bloodborne's maybe my favorite game ever made. So it's like, if this is the closest I get to Bloodborne 2, then I'm not crying too many tears.
Rob: And it might be making it easier to spend time in the world too. To a degree there was an oppressiveness to Demon’s Souls and a claustrophobia.
Austin: Yeah, it ruled.
Rob: Yeah, but also I'm like "okay, I have a better sense of there being space and I can see what's going on a little bit better. That's another thing, early in the Boletarian Palace, there's this portion where you are running through the interior of the castle walls. And in the original game, it's like you're running through a black void and then fireballs begin dropping on you. And the only warning you got was like the sound cue of the torch kicking off, and then like shit's exploding and it's terrifying.
It's like," I do not know what is happening. Is there a fireball monster up there? What is happening?" Here, you walk into that space and you're like, "Oh, there's dudes up there." You just kinda look up. And like, you can see them moving around in the rafters and shit.
This transcript was edited for length and clarity. Discussed: Umurangi Generation Macro 4:46, Demon’s Souls 10:57, Godfall 1:02:16, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla 1:14:50, Teardown 1:22:30, Hades 1:25:30, Destiny 2: Beyond Light 1:29:28
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