Members of the Bluepoint Games discussed their 2020 remake of Demon's Souls, talked about their production workflow, and answered some questions the fans of the game will find interesting.
Daryl Allison, Senior Producer: Hello everyone, I’m Daryl Allison. I was fortunate to join Bluepoint Games at the start of 2012 when a small, aspiring developer had grown enough to begin building a production team. It’s been incredible to watch the Bluepoint team grow from the early days of simple remasters to deliver a launch title like the Demon’s Souls remake.
Mark Skelton, Art Director: My name is Mark Skelton. I’m the Art Director at Bluepoint Games and I've been with the company for about five years.
Justin Wagner, Environment/Lead Material Artist: Hello, I'm Justin Wagner. I was the Environment/Lead Material Artist for the Demon’s Souls project at Bluepoint Games.
Christian de los Santos, Lead Environment Artist: Hello all, my name Christian de los Santos. I joined Bluepoint Games to be the Lead Environment Artist on Demon’s Souls. I have been knee-deep in the games industry since 2003.
Bob Wallace, Lead Character Artist: Howdy, my name is Bob Wallace. I was the Lead Character Artist for the Demon’s Souls remake and have been with Bluepoint as a Character Artist for a few titles since 2014.
Chris Voellmann, Technical Art Director: Hello, my name is Chris Voellmann. I’m the Technical Art Director, and I have been with the company for eight years.
Chris Torres, Animation Director: Hey all, I’m Chris Torres. I’m the lead of all things animation and rigging. I’ve worked in the industry since 2007 and have been here at Bluepoint Games for five years. Prior to coming here, I’ve worked at Midway and Retro Studios on titles such as Blacksite Area 51, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and a few unannounced titles that never came to be.
Reworking of the Demon’s Souls
80.lv: Guys, how did this project even happen? How did you decide to approach the creation of this massive project?
Daryl Allison: The sense of shock hits when I reflect on all the amazing franchises we’ve worked on: God of War, Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, and Shadow of the Colossus, to name a few, and now Demon’s Souls. Bluepoint’s track record of success, delivering high-quality titles that have fulfilled both fans’ and publishers’ hopes, has put us in a fortunate position to receive opportunities like remaking Demon’s Souls. We were nearing the end of the Shadow of the Colossus remake when conversations about Demon’s Souls began. We had a great working relationship with PlayStation’s JAPAN Studio and we were eager to partner with them again for our next challenge. The Demon’s Souls remake was a perfect fit.
80.lv: What were the first steps that you decided to undertake while dissecting the original game?
Mark Skelton: First and foremost, we were all in agreement upfront that the layout of level design, encounters, and creatures should not be adjusted. We felt that the essence of the game was in the brilliant cadence of these elements working together to form the soul of the game. We focused our attention on the overall fidelity and the quality of life improvements throughout the game when bringing it to modern gamers as a PS5 launch title.
80.lv: Did you guys go through some new concept art? How did you decide on how you wanted to visualize this incredible project?
Mark Skelton: When we first sat down with Gavin Moore, Creative Director at PlayStation's JAPAN Studio, we discussed how far we wanted to take the visual elements. We agreed to dream big about how the original team would have imagined the game if they could have designed it around the PS5. We started with the tutorial area and pushed the style to the edge, all rooted in our study of the original game’s concept art. We set out to give players something new but familiar that would fit into their expectations of the Demon’s Souls universe.
80.lv: What way did you decide to approach the texture production of this game? What are the main tools that you’ve used for this?
Daryl Allison: You’re right that advancements in the quality of textures are one of the most noticeable improvements in a remaster. Remasters focus their effort on enhancing visuals while hopefully also fixing bugs and improving frame rate. These cosmetic and quality of life improvements in a remaster usually don’t go much further than this layer of polish atop the original. For a remake, our mission is to explore every aspect of a game, looking for ways to realize its full potential for a new audience on a new platform. Much of the effort in a remake is put towards recreating every asset entirely from the ground up. There is also a greater commitment to technical enhancements beyond bug fixing and performance improvements. Where our previous remasters might simply swap a model’s textures with much higher detailed versions, in our remakes, we are going back to the drawing board with concept art and a new sculpt, then applying new materials and new dynamic elements, etc. Demon’s Souls was especially deserving of this remake approach as the project goal aimed to set the PS5’s standard for quality as a launch title. We made the significant quality of life improvements to the player package and UI. A lot of effort was put into crafting highlight moments, from a bookshelf breaking in multiple layers then dissolving away based on the type of magic you used to the intensity of a dragon flying overhead and scorching everything around you when you thought it was safe to cross that bridge. Remaking of audio was also a huge undertaking, not only for greatly improving the quality but also to utilize the haptic feedback on the Dual Sense controllers and the 3D audio features of the PS5.
Justin Wagner: When determining how to modernize the textures for Demon’s Souls, it was very important to study the original game. Once we felt we had a good understanding of the original developer’s intentions, we began planning an inventory of textures and materials that would help support each level’s setting and backstory. We often reused the original material’s intended surface type, such as cobblestone or mossy brick. We designed and created new materials, but they always had to support the level. The direction we set for materials was raw, gritty, and detail-rich, which beckoned exploration. In order to reach this goal, we relied heavily on the Substance suite as the main texture authoring tool. Alongside ZBrush, we were able to reach a level of quality and storytelling that we felt held true to the original game's intent.
80.lv: With Shadow of the Colossus you’ve used a lot of Megascans assets, have you guys decided to work with the library again?
Christian de los Santos: Being part of remaking the masterpiece that is Demon’s Souls was a great honor. Our past material library was not used in this remake, but we used similar, effective pipeline methods such as Quixel for foliage and applying altered associated materials/textures. Seldom did we use full Megascan materials in-game, mostly utilizing masks and decals.
For tiling, world materials artists mainly used Substance Designer, using our materials team’s custom graph templates. We used photogrammetry for height maps and ZBrush to generate meshes for unique detailed assets, then applied a method to maintain texel density with our masking setup through Substance Painter.
Another asset set we approached in a unique manner were the wood beams. We started with creating a tileable texture using photogrammetry, displacing a cylinder using the tileable height map in ZBrush, then baking that detail down to a low poly version, ensuring that the top and bottom ring of the low poly mesh were identical. As a result, we could snap multiple instances of the low poly mesh together. From there, I took the low poly mesh and blended it with mud and weathering in Substance Painter.
Other materials we approached in a more traditional manner. The mucus decals and poison water and waterfalls were generated solely in Substance Designer. World rock materials consisted of blending a few Megascan assets. The Bluepoint team also used some of our photogrammetry assets and some manual processing in Substance Designer.
80.lv: How did your environment art team work on this monumental task? How did you decide on the level design and prettiness of it all?
Christian de los Santos: Some of the areas in Demon’s Souls were so vast that they were a fundamentally open world. The team was required to comprehend blockouts with the intent of ‘reuse,’ and they worked hard to be consistent based on our key-art concepts. Further concept exploration was needed in architectural worlds, and we created modular assets to keep the various sub-themes intact, such as the evolution of Boletaria from the player’s experience. At the start of Boletaria, the player sees a lot of mud, debris, and coarse stonework. As the player progresses, they see a gradation towards higher economic class areas of the castle and finally the plush, ornate center where the royalty would have lived and hosted events. This was achieved through four tiers of subthemes and a modular asset set for each.
In the context of Level Design, we felt it important to honor the original layout and gameplay, so while we expanded on detail, we kept the expansion of layout and composition to a minimum. One example of staying true to the original’s allure is that the bounds of the collision were not altered. Enemy pathing and combat encounters fundamentally happen within the same space. Most of the collision adjustments accounted for new architecture and for the player and the camera to move smoothly through the world. We did alter areas to accommodate the quality of life changes that came from modernizing the game. In general, these modifications were refined with and approved by the Design and Production teams, who kept a watchful eye on our remake staying true to the original.
80.lv: How did you work with the character models here? Did you guys work on any animation changes? Did you leave everything as is and just change the design of the characters?
Bob Wallace: First and foremost, we studied what the character was meant to be in the original game. We read through game lore, played many hours of the original Demon’s Souls, and studied the original concepts created by FromSoftware back in 2008. We identified aspects of the original concept art that were not easy to achieve in the original version of the game due to hardware limitations, and we incorporated those elements into our versions. We watched videos of players and read forums, understanding what players loved and remembered, and we did our best to recreate how fans of the original remembered characters and encounters.
We took great care to ensure the remade characters’ proportions stayed close to the originals so that combat encounters felt very familiar and so the flow of the combat system that fans loved remained intact. Respecting and preserving nuances like these add to the nostalgia and magic of our remakes.
One of the greatest challenges we tend to face when doing remakes is riding that fine line of adding detail and form to characters that were ambiguous in the original. Older generations of games were unable to push as many polygons and had to make use of lower resolution textures that made designs a bit more interpretive and subjective. This made matching the look of a character very challenging.
Chris Torres: There was a lot of work that went into remaking Demon’s Souls, every single motion was touched by an animator at some point in the production. In the original Demon’s Souls, there were around 4,000 animations in total and at the end of the remake, we had about 12,000. The additions came from new facial animations, a female player set of motions, transition animations for enemies, bosses, and the main player. Many hours were spent to get these animations to the quality that gamers expected from a next-gen title. This would not have been possible without the talented animation and rigging team we have here at Bluepoint Games.
80.lv: How did you guys utilize Houdini during this production? What are the main areas where you’re using this tool?
Chris Voellmann: For Demon’s Souls, we increased the ways we use Houdini, including modeling, animation, and visual effects. In past productions, we primarily used Houdini for fracturing geometry and destruction sequences. In addition to those, we now use the software for modeling tasks, model cleanup, collision geometry creation, asset assembly, asset placement, terrain generation, and procedurally replacing the original game’s low-resolution models with higher fidelity counterparts; basically, for procedural modeling in general. We built a tool in Houdini for generating hair cards from combed nurbs curves. We simulate wind in Houdini to generate motion vectors for our real-time wind system. We simulate cloth to animate flags and banners. Plus, we do some tricks with signed distance fields to create collision data for our GPU particles.
80.lv: How do you optimize all the amazing photorealistic stuff you’re adding?
Chris Voellmann: Well, it’s difficult for the Art or Tech Art teams to take too much credit here. We have an amazing group of engineers who’ve created a powerful engine for us to use. Plus, the PlayStation hardware team delivered a console that pushes a large amount of data.
As artists, we make sure our materials are performant and we push layering techniques for quality while also reigning in excessive usage. Thanks to the power of the PS5, we utilized a dynamic tessellation technique for the first time on this remake. This gave us additional detail on the floors, grounds, walls, etc. We built a custom LOD processing system for our models. This system allowed us to quickly adjust and generate the poly counts for Demon’s Souls’ heavily populated scenes. For VFX, our GPU particle system, with its optimized materials, allowed us to push our counts much further than previous projects. As for characters, we had the luxury of being able to scan faces, and FACS expressions, for our human characters. Plus, we just simply pushed the poly counts and material usage beyond what past console games could do.
80.lv: Overall, what did you like most working on this classic? What were the biggest takeaways from the process?
Mark Skelton: Overall, this project really allowed Bluepoint to flex our creative muscles and create something that has our distinct signature on it. I think one of the biggest takeaways for me was being able to examine a brilliant classic game from the inside out and understand the choices made by the original team. It's like seeing an incredible magic trick, then being able to go behind the scenes and learn the brilliance and ingenuity that it took to create it, and then having an audience excited for you to perform it! That's one of my favorite parts of our remakes.
Q&A about Bluepoint Games
80.lv: Guys, tell us a little bit about your studio? Who are the people behind the company, where are you based, what projects have you been working on?
Daryl Allison: Bluepoint Games is based in Austin, Texas, and was started in 2006 by Marco Thrush and the late Andy O’Neil. Most of our leadership team is from the game development scene here in Austin, and our talented teammates have been recruited from all over the US.
Before Bluepoint Games, Marco and Andy held important roles as engineers on the Metroid Prime team. They founded Bluepoint with a philosophy heavy on engineering, technical ability (among non-engineers), and technical solutions (where a traditional, brute force method for creating content wasn’t required). These traits have carried through to the talent we have on today’s team and the approaches we use when solving most development challenges. We invest heavily in creating efficient tools and pipelines, enabling our artists to create content quickly and quickly visualize and iterate on that content.
This passion for technical challenges has put us in a fun, unique position when viewing our history. We deliver games for the launch of PSN (Bluepoint’s original title Blast Factor), the launch of PS4 (the Flower remaster), and now the launch of PS5 (the Demon’s Souls remake).
Our first big project was the God of War Collection, which exceeded expectations and set Bluepoint on the path of other remasters like the Metal Gear Solid Collection, the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection, and Flower. We started expanding the quality of our remasters with our work on Gravity Rush and the Uncharted Collection, which opened the door for PlayStation’s JAPAN Studio to let us remake Shadow of the Colossus. Now focused on remakes and able to focus on developing the Bluepoint Engine, we pushed ourselves further, growing our team and our technology, in creating the Demon’s Souls remake.
It’s great to be part of a team that is never satisfied yet is still able to focus when the time comes to ship a high-quality product. We are proud of what we accomplished with the Demon’s Souls remake, but it is also easy to see how much we’ve grown and what we are capable of now and glance an eager eye to the future. It’s exciting to think of where our next projects are taking us and what our team will do to set the bar even higher.
80.lv: How did you start thinking about these amazing new remakes? Why do you feel this is an interesting field and how does it help get your creative juices flowing?
Daryl Allison: Bluepoint’s relationship with PlayStation’s JAPAN Studio and our team’s growth made it natural to discuss remaking Demon’s Souls. PlayStation’s JAPAN Studio worked with FromSoftware on the original Demon’s Souls. As we were nearing the end of the Shadow of the Colossus remake, we began exploring possibilities for our next project and quickly settled on Demon’s Souls. The JAPAN Studio team valued us as a development team capable of bringing that classic to the PS5, and Bluepoint has many Demon’s Souls fans at the studio. It was a perfect fit.
Past success brings us new opportunities. With each new challenge, we have carefully grown our team, expanding our strengths and capabilities. You can see this in how we went from simple remasters to a more complex remaster with the Uncharted Collection, then evolved into remakes with Shadow of the Colossus and a grander remake with Demon’s Souls.
Any way you look at it, it is interesting, challenging, and rewarding being part of Bluepoint Games. As confident as we have been during our past projects, we know fans will be excited to see what the Bluepoint team is working on next.
80.lv: How is your hiring process organized? What are your criteria?
Mark Skelton: We ramped up our team quite a bit on this project, and we took the hiring process very seriously. This team is relatively small compared to most AAA studios (still well under 100), so our philosophy has always been smarter, not harder. We hire talented, intelligent, proactive problem solvers with broad strengths capable of wearing multiple hats and contributing across a project. That's the key. It can't just be based on talent alone. The passion of a proactive problem-solver with the skills to make things happen is where the heavy lifting really gets done.
80.lv: Did COVID hit you hard? Did you have to change the way you work? How did you alter your processes to make sure the project is being delivered?
Daryl Allison: We’re fortunate in that the pandemic didn’t have a significant, direct impact on our staff. (The recent snowpocalypse in Texas was a completely different story. That was significantly disruptive.) We had some scares among friends and family. Our hearts go out to those who have not had such good fortune.
We’re also fortunate in that Bluepoint legitimately does put people first. We saw the possibility of the pandemic and lockdowns coming and conversations began as soon as we returned from our 2019 Christmas holiday break. We were able to invest time into preparing before the reality slammed into Austin. When our local government sent word to start locking down, we acted quickly and transitioned to working from home, encouraging staff to prioritize their health and that of their immediate families over productivity.
In the face of those challenges, Demon’s Souls shipped on time at the high quality everyone has seen. Other than the lighting exception described above, the Bluepoint Games team was fully working from home during the final 8-9 months. Unexpectedly, we’re better off for it in the long run, now having effective solutions for collaboration and supporting teammates working remotely. When the pandemic calms and we can safely return to the office, we will likely implement a hybrid model, supporting both in-office and working from home, making it easier to retain and attract the best talent to join us on future projects.
80.lv: What were some of the biggest discoveries in your pipeline that you really liked and found most useful?
Chris Voellmann: Remakes are definitely fun to work on. It’s nice to have a project basically all laid out, and all the Art team has to do is make it look awesome.
For our current pipeline and workflows, tools like Houdini and Substance have tremendously increased our creation speed and quality over the last couple of titles. It’s been quite impressive to see what our team can accomplish with procedural tools. Our studio’s main tool is Maya, and we have started to tinker with AI tech through some python scripting in both Maya and Houdini. I’m sure as we move along, we’ll integrate more AI into our Maya and Houdini modeling techniques. As far as materials, we’ll certainly adopt more of Adobe’s AI tools and develop our own as well moving forward.
80.lv: One of the new tools you’ve started using is Houdini. How does this thing help you out?
Chris Voellmann: We started to integrate Houdini during the production of Shadow of the Colossus. After seeing more and more effort from the SideFX team toward game development, we felt like it was a perfect software for our toolset moving forward. Although we primarily used Houdini for destruction sequences in Shadow of the Colossus, being able to procedurally reconstruct some of the original assets into higher fidelity models for a remake made perfect sense. Houdini helps us to process assets and data in a more efficient way than other 3D tools. It helps automate some of the mundane tasks artists were doing on previous projects and frees them to focus on other areas, such as more time to polish for higher quality.
80.lv: What do you think the direction of game tech and game production is going to take with the introduction of the next generation of game systems?
Bob Wallace: The latest generation of consoles are able to render more polygons than ever, so much so that the poly counts on some of our characters would have been unheard of until now. Gamers will start to see cinematic quality assets in real-time. During the production of Demon’s Souls, our conversations discussing poly limits eventually settled on “use as many as you need.” Fortunately, that came with our non-destructive automated LOD system that took care of any performance issues. That’s still a nod towards the capabilities unlocked by new technology.
The ability to stream larger resolution textures along with higher poly counts has increased the need for more and more detail on source characters and all game assets in general. All those extra details and fidelity take time and create more work for artists. Our teams grew a lot over the production cycle to help populate the Demon’s Souls remake with the level of detail needed to do a PS5 launch title justice.
80.lv: What do you feel is going to happen with the world of game development in terms of overall employment? Do you think that new tools are going to take some of the people from this business?
Daryl Allison: Much like in film, blockbuster projects are only getting bigger; however, the core of each team remains mostly the same size. There’s one director responsible for the overall vision; one producer responsible for the overall project. There are then layers of supporting directors, such as art directors, directors of photography, gameplay directors, etc. There are only so many ways to slice the pie. To remain effective, leadership roles must maintain responsibility for important and cohesive parts of the game's vision.
The production/development team is where we’ll see projects, and talent contributing to them, continuing to scale up. Summer blockbuster movies have multiple crews simultaneously working multiple locations. Similarly, multiple development teams can work on different worlds and modes inside of the same game. Each of those teams has its own environment leads, lighting leads, VFX leads, animations leads, etc.
The number of studios across the industry that have specializations will grow, such as teams who are experts in creating cinematics or designing multiplayer modes and accompanying arenas. You often see this in film, with an hour of the end credits devoted to multiple visual effects studios. All of this is on top of the dozens if not hundreds of artists at vendors across the globe who build props, polish animations, and who will continue contributing in other ways.
Small projects will stay nimble and low budget. More money isn’t required to create fun gameplay or craft engaging stories. As tools become more powerful, these small teams will be ever more capable of creating larger worlds of higher quality.
Tools like Houdini and Substance continue to evolve, allowing individual artists to do more with each moment of effort. This won't displace talent. It'll mean the big projects will get bigger, with each artist able to create even more content for the same amount of effort, while the small projects will remain competitive, able to focus more and more on innovation, able to innovate in areas that previously they would have sacrificed because tools didn’t exist to make those areas accessible.
Perhaps direct ports and basic remasters will be automated, but a quality remaster is much more than the same game with higher resolution textures and better lighting. Bluepoint’s work on the Uncharted Collection is a perfect example. In addition to improving audio and visuals, we were tasked with ensuring each game in the collection was its best representation of Uncharted gameplay. In Drake's Fortune, we added cover mechanics and grenade throwing - tuning behaviors, camera, and controls - bringing the gameplay experience closer to how it had evolved in Uncharted 2 and 3. It will be a long time before automation can handle such enhancements - enhancements to combat and changes to the layout to accommodate those enhancements. Similarly, an automated remastering solution won’t edit narrative moments like cutscenes or translate an original script into a more accurate interpretation of the director's intent before recording a higher-quality voiceover.
The best developers will manage and maximize this growth. Bluepoint invests in powerful tools while carefully targeting where that investment will gain the greatest benefit for each game. We strongly believe in providing superior tools and tech to enable our team’s talent to achieve more per moment of effort. Great tech and great achievements attract the best talent, and the best talent wants to work on teams filled with their peers. We’ll continue embracing automation and we’ll continue hiring the best talent capable of taking those tools and crafting world-class games.