PS1-style demakes are in right now. From Cyberpunk 2077 to Untitled Goose Game, idle developers have been creating low-poly homages to Sony’s first gaming console, warping modern aesthetics and sensibilities into late ‘90s jank. Bloodborne PSX is another project in that vein, but unlike lots of other demakes, its creators want to make the retro tribute to From Software’s beloved Dark Souls spin-off fully playable, at least on PC, if not Sony’s original hardware.
“I was inspired by a bunch of demake screenshot mockups that went viral around 2015,” one of Bloodborne PSX’s developers, Lilith Walther, told Kotaku over Twitter DM. “I saw them and thought of the logical conclusion which was ‘make a demake fully playable using a game engine.’” Bloodborne had just come out at the time, and quickly became Walther’s new favourite game. So she got to work with developer friend Corwyn Prichard to try and transform the PS4-exclusive into a full-blown, PS1 demake. The project was quickly shelved while Walther focused on finishing a separate indie game, Arcus, but with that now complete she’s again full steam ahead on Bloodborne PSX.
'heavy fall damage' reaction animation is in, and also turned off the default anim blending settings so the 'death from fall' anim is now playing as intended pic.twitter.com/Lv2ZaYbLnS
— Lilymeister ✨????️⚧️ BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER (@b0tster) January 24, 2021
The result has been a flurry of short video clips shared on Twitter since the beginning of the year that show how exactly a Bloodborne PS1 demake could look and play like. In many of the early uploads, Bloodborne’s protagonist, the hunter, can be seen running around a flat, low-poly stone arena, occasionally swinging dual blades or firing a musket at roaming packs of hunting dogs. More recently, entire buildings have been added to the environment, showing the project slowly taking shape as Walther and Prichard make steady progress. One clip even shows off a split-screen multiplayer mode in which two hunters can duel, with clumpy, bright-red streams of blood jetting out whenever they strike one another. It all feels a bit like discovering a lost PS1 demo disc with footage from a game that was ultimately cancelled and then later became haunted.
Walther said that between the generally simple art style and straightforward mechanics, Bloodborne felt like a natural fit for a PS1-style demake. “This might be a somewhat controversial take, but I always thought of the soulsborne games as retro in their feel, and I mean that as a form of the highest praise,” Walther told Kotaku. “Of course they take advantage of modern technology (the online functionality is just as vital to soulsborne as anything else) but like I mentioned before they are very rudimentary in their core design and there is that classic souls jank that just makes it all incredibly endearing, as well as the mischievous design that you don’t really get in big-budget releases anymore.”
A full playthrough of 'Yharnam test map' (part 1!), tried to use every tool and asset that's currently been built! pic.twitter.com/6YrXTpF29j
— Lilymeister ✨????️⚧️ BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER (@b0tster) January 26, 2021
More ambitious will be translating Bloodborne’s unique brand of world-building and exploration, full of subtly connected spaces whose nuance could be lost when dialling back the game’s entire presentation by two decades. “For something that didn’t translate down so easily it would have to be the seamless interconnected worlds that have been a staple of soulsborne since the first Dark Souls,” Walther said. “We threw around a lot of ideas before landing on having many separated small levels that are stitched together with loading screens, similar to how Metal Gear Solid or Ocarina of Time did it. That way, there is still a logical layout of the world that players can reference in their head like Bloodborne on PS4.”
Fan games are always a risky proposition, especially ones as ambitious as Bloodborne PSX. Whatever its eventual fate, Bloodborne fans will at the very least get to feed off the dream of seeing its devolution play out in real time. While traditional games are about imagining the future, demakes are uniquely about re-imagining the past, and Bloodborne PSX already looks like it would fit perfectly onto the back of the original PlayStation box. Hopefully when Walther and Prichard are done with it it’ll play like it belonged there as well.