One of the best parts about doing a show like Bonfireside Chat is that our listeners are smarter than we are. The Errata section of each Appendix episode bears this out, with smart, savvy Souls fans coming out to correct our flawed document, turning the podcast into an ongoing discussion about this game series that we love so much.
Recently, two things happened. A blog called Illusorywall popped up on Tumblr, providing the community with looks at cut content and the deeper, less-understood systems of Demon's and Dark Souls. We're talking "This might just be a playground rumor" type stuff. You know, like Vagrants. This is also added to an ongoing repository on the Demon's Souls wiki.
The other thing that happened was the author of this blog started writing to us and commenting on episodes, dropping science of Bill Nye proportions on us.
As we mentioned on the most recent episode of the show, we felt it would be difficult to do some of this stuff justice in audio format. So, instead, I will present his findings here in the blog, with links back to his supporting blog posts where applicable.
You really ought to subscribe to the Tumblr, by the way. It doesn't look like he's slowing down any time soon.
What do the Maiden and Oscar have in common?
Our discussion about the ending to Demon's Souls was pretttty contentious, dividing down firm lines of bleakness vs. non-bleakness. The Souls games do ambiguity very well, but is that intentional... or is there something we're not seeing?
As a little refresher, Oscar of Astora once had a more prominent role in Dark Souls, beyond being a corpse-shoving flask-holder. In early versions of the game, Oscar acted as a Gary to your Ash, siding with whichever Primordial Serpent you didn't. There is cut dialogue to back this up.
If you side with Frampt, Oscar goes full Darkwraith and offers this dialogue in your final confrontation with him: "I have waited for thee... Foolish slave of the Gods, and pawn of Frampt... I will kill you, and become the true Dark Lord."
And if YOU try and become the True Dark Lord, Oscar picks up the mantle of the gods and says "So, it was you... I had a feeling. I shall destroy you, as fate has commanded me. Foolish pawn of Darkstalker Kaathe, and fiendish Dark Lord."
This isn't the first time From has attempted to acknowledge your choices... only to leave that acknowledgement on the cutting room floor. Illusorywall brings us some recently-found cut content from Demon's Souls which sheds a little more light on the Maiden's possible motives (at least as far as your actions are concerned).
If you're a meanie on the fast-track to being an Archdemon, the Maiden will say the following: "Ancient Old One! My dearest! I have brought a new Demon to thee. This is what you wanted, is it not? Yes, yes, good boy. Now be still."
On the other side, you get this: "Now, now, dearest Old One. Old One, all the Demons are destroyed. But do not despair; they are of use to thee no longer. Together, we shall slumber soundly."
Illusorywall cautions that there is no evidence that this dialogue comes from two different scenarios... It's just as likely that it comes from one long, segmented speech. But he offers his justification for thinking this mirrors Oscar's split.
In the first scenario, she's comforting the Old One by saying that she's offering you up as a powerful demon. In the second, she's informing the Old One that all the demons have been destroyed instead.
I found this interesting because not only do both games have cut dialog from their end-game scenarios, but both of these instances would have reflected on which the side the player appeared to be on.
He continues, saying it's unclear what would trigger this split. Just like Dark Souls, your choice of ending extends all the way to the very last moments of the game... long after the Maiden in Black calls the Old One to the timeless shore. He says it's possible that it could be pinned to Character Tendency, a mechanic that is otherwise underused.
It's difficult to take this information and extrapolate any new conclusions about the cosmology of Demon's Souls. Notably, it doesn't shed light on the outcome that lies beyond the credits.
In the demonic ending, there is no mention of the Old One being lulled back to sleep, which in the final build was the Maiden's nominal purpose. It appears that the Maiden is actively aiding you in taking your place on the Old One's throne (will you, too, be reduced to a CatDog puddle?), and thus accelerating the destruction of the fabric of the universe as you abandon the mission of the Monumentals.
In the slumber ending, the Maiden consoles a childlike Old One, saying that although its primary source of souls is now cut off, she is here to slumber with him. There is no mention of whether or not he will wake again.
So, to answer the rhetorical question at the beginning of this section: No, seeing the cut content would not have reduced the ambiguity of the ending to Demon's Souls. Instead, it would have added flavor and motivation to some of the more enigmatic players in the play.
That's the thing about choice in games: It's really hard for both outcomes to be "true" at the same time. There's been somegreatwork done in exploring the implications that this fact has on the nature of narratives in game, but ultimately we have to be comfortable with some degree of dissonance when it comes to figuring out the "truth" of the matter.
The Pro-Tip Pit
Those familiar with Demon's Souls will also be familiar with the Pro-Tip Pit: that nowhere-hallway at the bottom of the Nexus that's lousy with soapstone messages teaching you the basics of the game in clipped sentences. Illusorywall suggests that there's cut content which shows that this information was originally meant to be conveyed through an NPC.
This character would be called "Tell All" according to the dialogue dumps, and she would have shared a VO with Mephistopheles (if the dialogue was ever recorded). This character has the usual battery of dialogue branches: Is this my first time talking with you? Did you interrupt me somehow? All of that. Additionally, she has dialogue explicitly asking the player if she has any need of her information.
The one thing she's missing is, you know, actual dialogue reading off the tutorial text. Illusorywall figures that if you answer "Yes" to her question, you'd get either a menu of information, or a random Pro-Tip from the Tip Pit.
There are no audio files to coincide with this dialogue, but it's really nifty to think that there's an old-hand Nexus dweller who has made it her purpose to teach newbies the ropes.
This is rampant speculation on my part, but it would be nifty if this character WAS Mephistopheles, using her position of trust to organize hits on the powerful Souls Arts users in the crowd. Hide in plain sight, right?
Way, way back, we talked about how weird it is that Yurt is trapped in an unlocked cage in Latria. Illusorywall believes this isn't telegraphing anything... it was just poorly thought-out.
However, there's a bit of cut dialogue that says this wasn't where Yurt was supposed to be in the fyurst place.
In this cut dialogue, he asks you to fee him from "this dungeon" instead of "this place". Illusorywall says "I interpret this as the evidence that the devs possibly weren't 100% sure on where you'd find him, even at the time of recording his dialog. I wonder what dungeon he might be referring to? Perhaps he would've been Biorr's cellmate? I have no idea."
Going Berserk Again
You thought we were done with anime, right? Nope! Illusorywall was curious about further connections between Souls and Berserk, and he found a little tidbit in the source files that indicate an even greater connection: Ornstein's nickname in the data is Griffith. "From what I've heard from this episode, and after some looking around online, the biggest parallel seems to be that Griffith is the leader of the Band of the Hawk, while Ornstein is 'believed to be the captain of the Four Knights'" he says.
He continues: "With Artorias being Guts' analogue, I'm not sure if we can assume this implies some kind of relationship between Ornstein and Artorias that Dark Souls might not have directly referenced. Just curious what your thoughts are!"
I'm tempted to say that there's intentionality behind using those nicknames. There's an awesome potential four player co-op game that follows Ornstein, Artorias, Gough, and Ciaran, and in my heart of hearts I desperately wish we could see those dynamics play out. Still, we're left with the cold possibility that this was just a Berserk fan on staff using Griffith as a placeholder while they were figuring out which vaguely Germanic apellation to go with.
YOU WANT A SPREADSHEET!?
There's truth in data, and Illusorywall's deep dives into the code of the Souls games really, really bears that out. If you're like me and you're a big fan of spreadsheets, then run (don't walk!) to this entry on his blog, which contains a big honkin' spreadsheet with all of the enemy data for Dark Souls. There's some neat stuff in there for speculation-hounds like you and me.
Holy shit, Illusorywall, this is fantastic stuff. I'm very excited to see what you can suss out of the Dark Souls 2 data (when the time comes). With DS2 being a direct sequel, the connections to Dark Souls will be far more explicit than we've previously seen. When the details are so hazy, it's awesome to have people like you out there doing this kind of great work to synthesize new thought out of seemingly random bits of discarded code.
Really, keep following the Illusorywall blog. There's huge stuff there.