Dark Souls

Four Years In, the Quest to Uncover the "Real" Version of 'Dark Souls II'

When FromSoftware admitted to rebooting 'Dark Souls II' midway through development, it sent some players on a journey that still continues.

Patrick Klepek

Patrick Klepek

Image courtesy of Bandai Namco

Every game holds secrets, but only a handful maintain the attention of fans for years after release. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the more famous examples, but every entry in FromSoftware’s Souls series, from Demon’s Souls to Bloodborne, has digital excavators who continue to mine code for what it might be hiding. Dark Souls II is especially guilty of this because of the game’s rocky development, where the game was rebooted midway through, prompting fans to continue digging around for evidence of what the game might have been.

Any search on YouTube for cut content from Dark Souls II reveals videos from Sanadsk, who recently published a 15-minute video trying to reconstruct the game’s original story. (Limiting an analysis to 15 minutes is actually pretty reasonable by Souls lore video standards.)

Sanadsk’ video is largely based on files buried in the network test for Dark Souls II, and the process begins with unpacking the game’s archives, which contain the game’s assets, used and unused. Then, there’s the meticulous and often pointless job of cataloging everything you find—characters, weapons, armors, environments—and trying to figure out what found its way into the game, or what might have been tossed into the garbage. Much of what he finds, especially dialogue, is written in Japanese, requiring yet another step: localization.

“By comparing those files with the full game,” he said over email. “I was able to recognize the similarities in the code, and that was when I started putting the pieces together. I had to compare the level parameters and how their files are structured in terms of dialogues and characters, which allowed me to link the assets together and form a connection between them.”

While what he outlines won’t make sense to anyone who isn’t invested in the plot of a game many play just to fight hard bosses, it suggests a game where time travel played a big role.

“It seems like they've had a very ambitious vision for the game,” he said. "I wish we could've experienced the ‘original’ Dark Souls II, as it seems like it would've been a very different experience than the usual Souls experience.”

Half the battle is knowing what to look for, but in this case, FromSoftware actually provided sign posts for fans. In a surprisingly frank interview for the book Dark Souls II: Design Works, game director Yu Tanimura explained how the team “went back to the drawing board” on Dark Souls 2’s plot, themes, characters, and fights halfway through development. There wasn’t enough time to start from scratch, so they repurposed what they’d already made:

We had to decide what to do with the designs and maps that had been created up to that point. Ideally we’d start again from scratch but of course we were under time constraints so instead, we had to figure out how to repurpose the designs in our newly reimagined game. This meant everything from deciding new roles for characters to finding ways to slot locations into the world map. This unusual development cycle faced us with an entirely different set of problems and looking back on the project as a whole it was at times, arduous.

Dark Souls II is not the first game to be massively retooled after being announced but before it was released, but developers are often cautious about saying much about it; it often drives fans to wonder “What if?” For Sanadsk, this “What if?” has been a driving passion for years.

Sanadsk has been trying to learn more about Dark Souls II since he was 14 years old, and it’s been a bumpy road at times. Remember what you were like on the Internet at 14? All I remember is starting bad video game websites on Geocities and Angelfire, stealing content from other places in order to make it seem like I had something to say, and calling it a day.

Now imagine trying to navigate those spaces with Souls fans, a group whose passion can go sideways, and making similar mistakes. Over the years, Sanadsk has been accused of plagiarizing discoveries from other community members, an accusation he doesn’t deny.

“I was a bit new to the whole content creation world,” he said. “I used cheat trainers and tools that were made by other people to showcase some of the unused content, without mentioning that they created them. This doesn't forgive the fact that what I did was indeed wrong and unethical.”

But Sanadsk is 18 years old now, preparing to study mechatronics engineering at college, and he’s spent the last few years trying to make amends for his screwups.

“What I have done before is indeed wrong, but people change and mature over the years,” he said. “I didn't mean to hurt anyone in the process, but I was also hurt by it with personal life threats from some people. Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation and false videos being spread about the matter from people who can't accept the fact that I am a different person from four years ago, and won't even consider apologies and apparent regret as an answer.”

Most of my Internet mischief has been swept under the rug, relics from an age before calls for archiving the Internet began in earnest. These days, it’s hard to truly run away from it.

“I have publicly apologized numerous times for the matter on my channel, Twitter and my Discord server,” he said, “and made peace with a lot of the affected people, and my friendships with them improved a lot because of it over the years.”

For now, he hopes there’s more to find in FromSoftware games, while prepping for school.

“Too bad there aren't any Lordran or Drangleic History courses,” he said.

Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: patrick.klepek@vice.com.

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