Elden Ring wasn't just FromSoftware's biggest game ever: it was also the studio's most high-profile collaboration with someone outside the world of game development. George R.R. Martin wrote the lore for The Lands Between, which FromSoftware built upon to create their fantasy game's story. FromSoftware hasn't done that kind of collaboration many times in its history, but there is one other famous example. Throughout the Armored Core series, FromSoftware has relied on mecha designer Shoji Kawamori to guide the visual style of the hulking piles of metal players pilot and destroy.
Kawamori isn't famous on the international level of George R.R. Martin, but he is a legend within his old field. Or fields—he started working as an animator in the anime industry as a teenager in the 1970s, and eventually created, wrote and directed most of the entries in the Macross series. He also designed Macross's famous transforming variable fighter jet-mech hybrid.
Outside of Macross, he's written and directed other anime and also served as a mechanical designer for other shows as well as a number of games. Just recently Kawamori designed all of Devil May Cry 5 protagonist Nero's robotic arms, the Devil Breakers.
In a 1997 interview about the first Armored Core game translated by Shmuplations, Kawamori talked about working with FromSoftware to decide how many parts of the mech players should be able to customize and how it differed from his work in anime, where he isn't usually designing each individual component of a mech. "We had a series of conversations in which I asked them to make things as simple as possible for my design work," Kawamori said.
"First, I asked them to settle on the main cores. If there were hundreds of cores there'd be no design unity, so we made the individual core designs in the spirit of functional beauty, and I could then create all the parts that would attach to them."
For the first game he designed three types of cores. In Kawamori's words these were: an "angular, tank-looking core," a "sleek, dynamic core," and one he described as "what I imagined a combat helicopter might look like if you deployed it as a land-based weapon."
Kawamori mentioned being frustrated by running into the limits of how many polygons the PlayStation could display and having to make his designs more angular. My favorite bit of the interview is when he then breaks down the process of designing the mecha parts to fit with each core:
"I drew about six layout blueprints for each of the basic cores, showing them from different angles. Then, using copies of those layouts as a reference, I designed the parts so they could be attached to each core. In this way I was able to preserve a sense of integration in the designs. I double checked every part I designed against each core. Like Karasawa said about not wanting to have an "ultimate" strongest weapon, I also thought it would be boring if there were one design that everyone wanted, that stood out above all the others. So I tried to make every part unique, so the choices would be meaningful."
Kawamori is credited as a mechanical designer for eight Armored Core games, including as a "guest" designer on 2008's Armored Core: For Answer. It seems as though he didn't return for Armored Core 5… but what about Armored Core 6? In a recent interview with FromSoftware I had to ask, and the question generated a flurry of back-and-forth between the team—in Japanese. Finally the answer came back:
"We want to reveal this information at a later date, regarding the designers," the translator finally said on behalf of director Masaru Yamamura.
I have no proof, but my suspicion is that Kawamori was again a guest designer for AC6, and either did some early concept art or designed a singular showpiece mech for the new game. While he hasn't contributed to every single Armored Core, his work is a key part of its identity, and it's hard to imagine FromSoftware making a triumphant return to Armored Core after 10 years without Kawamori's name attached.