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The Unlikely Rise of Dark Souls | Past Mortem [SSFF]


Welcome to Past Mortem:
a post-mortem of past events. To celebrate the release of Dark Souls III, we
thought it fitting to reflect on the series. I mean, who would’ve thought that in an era
of broad appeal and hand-holding, a game series that prides itself on challenging its
players would end up as a triple-A blockbuster? That a modestly sized Japanese developer largely
known for an unending string of mech games would become one of the hottest and most
influential studios in the business? That a man who never touched video game
development until his late twenties would be lauded as someone
who changed games forever, even becoming a company president in the process? In this episode we break down and explore one
of the Cinderella stories of the last ten years: The meteoric rise of FromSoftware, the Souls series, and the man at the center of it all, Hidetaka Miyazaki. Most outside of Japan hadn’t heard of FromSoftware
before 2009’s sleeper hit Demon’s Souls, and the blockbuster Dark Souls series that followed it,
except for our fans of course. If you think the name sounds like something
created before the internet, you’d be right. FromSoftware was founded in 1986,
initially developing office software. They made the jump to video game
development with King’s Field, which launched along with the Japanese
Playstation 1 in late 1994. After a trio of King’s Field games,
they began to branch out. Outside of their long-running Armored Core series,
few titles found critical or commercial success. Though the company never seemed to let this deter
them from creating odd but unique games. Studying their catalogue, it’s clear
they were uniquely positioned to make a game as weird but fully-formed
as Demon’s Souls. In July 2007, the American-made Elder Scrolls IV:
Oblivion was released in Japan, and became a surprise success among
the traditional JRPG audience. Western-style RPGs were making waves across the
world in a way they hadn’t in the last 10 years. Sony Japan approached FromSoftware to make
a game that could complete with Oblivion, but with that FromSoft flavor! Though it had only just seen localization in Japan, Oblivion had proven to be a massive hit internationally,
especially in the west. Sony wanted something with Oblivion’s
broad international appeal. This is the reason for Demon’s Souls’ British
medieval aesthetic and voicework, and for a time was even playable in first-
and third-person perspectives. This was the first game FromSoft had made
with an international audience in mind, as well as with an external production
company from the onset. But let’s back up for a second. It’s impossible to talk about the rise of the Souls series without mentioning director-producer wunderkind
Hidetaka Miyazaki. A precocious child and avid reader, Miyazaki
(no relation to famed animation director) had a love for English-themed fantasy, which
evolved into a love for fantasy games, like the Fighting Fantasy game books, Magic:
The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons. According to Miyazaki, he was never
particularly driven though, and meandered into a social science
degree at Keio University. By 2001, Miyazaki was working as an account manager
for the US-based IT company Oracle Corporation, when a friend recommended him
ICO for the Playstation 2. Fumito Ueda’s artful and unique take on
the typical action-adventure game awokened him to the possibilities
of the video game medium. Miyazaki was hooked, and again to the
credit of FromSoft’s idiosyncratic culture, they were one of the only companies
that would give the time of day to a 29-year-old account manager with
no experience in the games industry. He was hired in 2004, his first project was as a planner
and coder for Armored Core: Last Raven. For the next Armored Core game, Armored Core 4,
Miyazaki started as the lead planner but became the director midway
through the prototype phase. He implemented designs that evolved
the staid Armored Core formula, like a quick-boost mechanic which proved to be
a watershed moment for the series. After Armored Core 4 was released in Japan in 2006, he jumped straight into directing
Armored Core: For Answer. At the same time, Demon’s Souls was entering the
prototype phase, and was apparently a mess. While still busy with Armored Core: For Answer,
Miyazaki got wind of the project: “The Demon’s Souls team had been unable
to create a compelling prototype,” “but when I heard it was a fantasy-action
role-playing game, I was excited.” “I figured if I could find a way to take control of the
game, I could turn it into anything I wanted.” “Best of all, if my ideas failed, nobody would care –
it was already a failure.” Miyazaki tossed out the idea of directly
competing with Oblivion, and spearheaded the difficult and rewarding
gameplay the series is now famous for. He was also heavily involved in
designing levels and bosses, devising its revolutionary online experience, and insisting that the game have
a fixed third-person perspective. Though he directly worked with
Sony producer Takeshi Kajii, they both misled Sony’s marketing team
by downplaying the difficulty because they understood that Demon’s Souls’ fundamental
game concepts were going to be a tough sell: “Of course I communicated with our producer at Sony,
Kaji-san – but he actually agreed with me.” “He felt that if we were too forthright about
all the death, about this game concept,” “with the marketing people, they would have run a mile.” “So that’s why we had to be a bit sneaky about it.” But Demon’s Souls was still an uphill battle. When Miyazaki took over the project, he was still
working on Armored Core: For Answer, meaning he was directing two very
different games at the same time. Debugging Demon’s Souls took apparently
twice as long as a typical FromSoft game, and it suffered from terrible framerate
issues right up until its release. And that’s just the technical side, which is to say
nothing of polishing its challenging gameplay. Sony Worldwide president Shuhei Yoshida
himself thought the game was terrible: “When it was close to final I spent
close to two hours playing it,” “and after two hours I was still standing
at the beginning at the game.” “I said, ‘This is crap. This is an unbelievably bad game.'” And if you think two hours is a short time to wrap
your brain around Demon’s Souls, try ten minutes! The game was shown at the 2008 Tokyo Game Show,
FromSoft’s Tokyo Game Show debut by the way, but attendees were only allowed ten minutes to play. With a demo build reportedly only 65% finished, and which included the lengthy story opening
and character creation sequence, it was disastrous: Some players didn’t even
make it past the character creation portion, and those who did simply did not understand the game. Reflecting on the experience, Ryan Davis
of Giant Bomb recalled that it was: “The worst possible impression
that game could’ve made.” Nobody really understood or believed in Demon’s Souls. Because of this, Sony passed on publishing the game
internationally, which company execs would later regret. “We definitely dropped the ball from a publishing
standpoint, including studio management side.” “We were not able to see the value of the
product we were making.” – Shuhei Yoshida Against all odds, Demon’s Souls
was released in February of 2009. In our research we’ve seen numerous speculation
that this game was an outright failure upon release, but we found this to be largely untrue. Now granted, Demon’s Souls
was not a blockbuster smash, but from the very beginning it exceeded expectations. It sold about 20,000 copies on the first day, much
more than expected, causing shortages and Sony to all-hands-on-deck push out an extra 15,000
copies to meet demand for the rest of the week. A devoted fanbase sprung up,
and hype from word-of-mouth inspired an international audience
to start importing the game, which was made easy by the
region-free nature of the PS3, and the late-February 2009 Chinese version,
which featured an English-language text option. And if you’ll remember, this was made
with an international audience in mind, and as such, all spoken dialogue is in English. This was still not enough to convince Sony to reconsider
the international appeal of Demon’s Souls. The North-American publishing rights were
instead picked up by Atlus America. Published on October 6th 2009, it was
expected only to sell 75,000 copies, but sold three times that amount a
few months later by February 2010. It was responsible for doubling Atlus’ core business profits from the previous year during that fiscal quarter alone. As of late 2013, Atlus has claimed that it
was still the company’s best-selling game. Possibly because Atlus did not
have a PAL publishing arm, for example, Persona 4 and Catherine were both published in Europe by Square Enix and Deep Silver respectively, Demon’s Souls was put out by Namco Bandai in June
2011 for Europe and Australia, to similar success. While the game didn’t sell crazy gangbusters,
the stock of the Black Phantom Edition, which included an artbook, strategy
guide and soundtrack CD, sold out except for, the most British
phrase ever: “dribs and drabs”. This is doubly impressive when you remember
that PS3 games are region-free: Superfans had over a year to import the game if they
wanted to, they didn’t have to wait for the PAL release. Much to the surprise of everyone involved, Demon’s
Souls found a sizable and very passionate audience. It was even shortlisted on numerous
Game of the Year lists. Later when word got out that the North American
servers were going to be shut off, fans responded in droves, and Demon’s
Souls’ online functions work to this very day. At a 2010 GDC panel on localization,
Sony rep Yeonkyung Kim said that passing on the international publishing
of Demon’s Souls was a mistake. “It should have come out as a first-party title.” It was certainly no flop, but even Miyazaki was
worried Demon’s Souls’ success was a fluke. Still, they moved forward with a sequel,
with Miyazaki again in the director’s chair. But Dark Souls would see them partnering
with a different company: Bandai Namco. When the 2008 financial crash happened in the US, reverberations quickly made it across the globe,
and Bandai Namco was feeling it. For the record, we wished we could
dive into FromSoft’s financials, but they are not a publically traded company,
but that ain’t the case with Bandai Namco! A rough couple of years culminated in
a dire fiscal year 2010, which found Bandai Namco in the hole to
the tune of almost thirty billion yen! Yikes! In February 2010, the company
announced a restart plan: This emergency plan involved
the company, among other things, consolidating their video game
studios under one branch and seeking partnerships with other game studios
in order to speed up production. These factors, and the surprise
success of Demon’s Souls, paved the way for Bandai Namco to push for a deal
with FromSoft to exclusively publish Dark Souls. We don’t know the exact reason, this is all speculation, but we think Bandai Namco ended up with the rights over Sony because they were far more desperate for a hit. It certainly didn’t hurt that they had already worked
together bringing Demon’s Souls to the PAL region, and FromSoft would be freed from
the shackles of console exclusivity. But why Dark Souls? Why not Demon’s Souls 2? Even though it’s a sequel in
almost every way imaginable, the fact is that Sony Computer Entertainment
still owns the rights to the Demon’s Souls IP, and they have a policy of never selling their IPs. Actually, FromSoft struggled a bit
to find a name for their new game. They showcased it as Project Dark at the 2010 Tokyo Game Show, because they could not think of a suitable name. Thank god for Bandai Namco’s localization team: FromSoft initially wanted to name the game
“Dark Rings” or “Dark Races”, both of which wouldn’t have exactly
played outside of Japan. Bandai Namco ended up registering
three possible titles: Dark Rings, Crowns of the Dark, and Dark Souls. They might have been covering their bases or
just trying to throw off reporters at the time, but at any rate, Dark Souls was released September 2011 in Japan, and October 2011 in the rest of the world. It ended up selling 1.9 million copies in the
North American and PAL regions alone! That year Bandai Namco’s net profits jumped – wait for it 1044%, nearly bringing the company
back to their pre-recession figures. Dark Souls would receive critical acclaim, its difficult
but deep and rewarding gameplay becoming legenary. Within a year, Dark Souls 1 had sold
2.3 million copies worldwide, ascending the series from sleeper cult hit
to bona-fide blockbuster, recognized as one of the best and most
important games of its generation. The future burned bright for FromSoft and Miyazaki. After releasing Dark Souls on PC in August 2012, Sony approached FromSoft to create a new IP,
and thus development started on Bloodborne. A few months later, Dark Souls II was announced. We don’t know exactly when development started, but it’s safe to assume they’d been working
on it for about a year at this point. Some time in mid-2013, development
on Dark Souls III began. Dark Souls II would see release in March 2014, which means for a three- to perhaps
nine-month stretch of time, Miyazaki and his team were concurrently
working on three Souls games at once! Counting Bloodborne, which we do, the Souls series
was an annual series for a three-year stretch. Whoever thought the Armored Core people would be churning out annual triple-A blockbusters like Ubisoft and Activision? And this is all while Miyazaki was active
president of FromSoftware, that’s right! After Dark Souls II shipped, and while he was secretly
directing both Bloodborne and Dark Souls III, FromSoft was bought by Japanese
media giant Kadokawa Corporation, and Miyazaki was made president of FromSoftware. Not bad for a studio that once made office software, and a man who took an 80% pay cut to pursue his
dream of making video games at the age of 29. One week after Dark Souls III’s international release, Namco Bandai boasted the most successful
launch in the publisher’s history. Leading up to Dark Souls III’s release, Miyazaki was vocal about it being the final
game in the series, at least for a while. It’s certainly too successful a series for
the company to truly close the book on, but here’s hoping they use this momentum,
and the steady hand of president Miyazaki, to create other projects outside the dark
fantasy RPG worlds of the Souls games. We’re sure this story is far from over, but when the
next big scoop happens, you’ll know how it got there! For Grace Kramer and Derek Alexander,
this is Past Mortem, signing off! Thank you so much for watching, as always huge
shout-out to our wonderful supporters on Patreon, if you’d like to support the show and see your name
here, please click the link and give what you can. We did another FromSoftware video
called Punching Weight, all about weird other FromSoftware games
that aren’t necessarily about the Souls games, and check out this other video on the left, ‘cuz you know that Drake of the 99 Dragons…
Is It Really That Bad? Thanks again for watching, subscribe
if you wanna see more, and I hope to see you again real soon!

Glenn Chapman

100 Comments

  1. Derek, could you do a video on Team ICO? I´d be interesting to learn about where they came from and, most important of all, what happened in the years between Shadow of the Colossus and The last guardian

  2. damn now this makes me wonder, what would have happened if from soft owned the rights to demons souls, would they republish it on the switch, seeing how they have an interest in bringing the soul series to that console?

  3. Shuhei Yoshida couldn't get through the game because the game levels were not connected in code, which is quite bad for a game that is a month from release.
    Take God of War PS4, it is playable from start to end a year before release, allowing the studio to polish everything.

  4. … this story makes me feel so good!

    I only ever played Demon's Souls and Blood-Borne (not so much finished) but From software Will always be one of my personal favorite development teams just based on their own personal story alone ^^

  5. The rise of the Souls series, not Dark Souls. If any specific title should be mentioned, it is Demon's Souls, where there was the actual rise, the first rise, with the series attaining even more rises with each series entry, up to the 5th one we are in now. (Dark Souls III.) The video title could use a fix.

  6. I'm kinda tearing through this series can you hurt and make more maybeeeeeee kingdom hearts there's a 15 year development gap there

  7. HA! I had Armored Core. 🙂 I didn't know that was them. Who knew I'd be introduced that way.

  8. Miyazaki is going on the Mt.Rushmore of Videogame creative's along with Hideo Kojima.

  9. 1:10
    i don't remember seeing this in any video..is that just gameplay with an e.n.b/light mod? Never seen it..but it is awesome, and i need an excuse to replay Dark Souls 1 for the 40th time…so if someone knows if it exists….
    I mean: i know about the "overhaul project" that is currently in developement, but it is nowhere near that quality

  10. I dunno, you guys seemed to hint as FROM didn't make good games before souls. Personally, to this day, i think AC4A is their best outing, unmatched by even bloodborne.

  11. Great video, very inspiring. Miyazaki seemed to have had a hidden knack for game development.

  12. I don't hate the name "Dark Souls" but I almost wish they titled it "Darksign" instead. It would've felt more appropriate and made a nicer, more varied image to see Demon's Souls, Darksign 1-3, and Bloodborne under FromSoft's belt.

  13. Well either I'm a god at video games or a majority of people around the time of release of Demon Souls were incredibly thick. I had my issues with the game at the start but that mostly stemmed from me not realising what fat rolling was. Once I tried the game again and picked the thief, I steadily worked my way to the end and beat it. Then beat every other game in the series including Bloodborne.

    I enjoyed Demon souls even with some of the flaws.

  14. Soo, do they push out shitty games in the hopes that it's a gem that the management just couldn't wrap their heads around ? :^)

  15. Ah i remember playing Demon Souls for the first time…. I hated ti. But loved it at the same time.

  16. One thread I was waiting for mention of was the Another Century's Episode series. FromSoft produced five of these games — basically Armored Core meets Super Robot Wars — between 2005 and 2011 for Banpresto (which is part of Bandai), so the company already had an existing relationship with Namco Bandai well before Dark Souls. Otherwise a great, well-researched video! Just discovered your channel and am loving it. 🙂

  17. This is why Miyazaki is my favorite figure of the whole gaming industry.
    A youtuber of my country (and one of the most sincere persons i know) had the luck of spending a couple of evenings dining/chatting/interviewing him, and he said nothing but excellent things about his personality.
    He truly is an underdog that managed to raise ONLY due to his talent, and was recognized for his genius later.
    That's enough to make a movie, seriously…
    I think that the whole Souls serie (yes, including Demon's and Bloodborne) is by far my favorite serie also because i really respect the story behind it's developement..to fully appreciate it i even went through the effort of playing all the king's field/shadow tower games..
    stop…that's what happens when i talk about these games…i start to ramble

  18. So, Hidetaka Miyazaki actually already made the Demon's Souls sequels, as Dark Souls was very much a remake/refinement of the original Demon's Souls, just with a certian amount changed. That's why you can find massive amounts of "Dark Souls/Demon's Souls Similarities" videos.

    I wonder what From Software will make next.

  19. I couldn't ever get into the Dark Souls series, which is strange because I loved Demon's Souls and especially Bloodborne. We can only hope for another spin-off akin to Bloodborne. I loved Bloodborne, but I don't think a sequel would do it justice.

  20. How is it a sequel if the stories have anything to do with each other? Seems someone didnt understand DS or DeS…

  21. Where the two Lost Kingdoms games on Gamecube als made by From Software? Because you didn;t mention them 😛 Just something i noticed.

  22. i see! I always wondered why Demons Souls wasn't popular outside of Japan. It was never released. I've been in Japan for 12 years, and bought the game on a whim. I'm not surprised it sold well, as at the time there were no decent games on the shelf for the PS3 at the time and it did have an attractive cover. The Paladin with ethereal mist coming off his armour, and some good shots on the back cover. I'm sure I wasn't the only one drawn in by the box alone. So I picked it up. My spoken Japanese is good, but the game was heavy on kanji so I couldn't get it at first, by some miracle I figured out about summoning and the red phantom invasions, and after I got that mechanism going I was hooked.

    It was weird seeing the names translated into English once I ordered the Chinese version.
    For example kezuritoru yari (scraping spear) translated as 'desharpening spear' – so for about a year prior to it I'd called it 'The Desharpener' in my head.

  23. I know it'll sound dumb, but I played all Kings Field game but didn't know (actually didn't care) who made it lol
    First time I recognized them was from the first Armored Core

  24. I feel if it was necessary for a series with such deep but vague lore to begin development of each game within such a small time frame.

  25. Maybe they will hopefully look back into possibly continuing with ……
    Wait for it……
    .
    .
    .
    .
    Otogi 3 😛

  26. I bought a PS3 just for Demons Souls. It was worth it. Those of us who got to experience the first Souls game before PC and Xbox players did knew what an amazing , unique experience the game was. I stopped playing after I beat Dark souls because you can never get that ''first time playing a Souls game'' feeling ever again.

  27. As far as pumping out yearly titles, they were popping out Armored Core games dang near every year since they started. This is the longest dry spell for the series since it started, actually. FS even forgot about the 20th anniversary until a few weeks after the fact. It's quite a good series, and actually just as ripe for their weird exploration as their other games, almost every one was a unique experiment of some form or another.

  28. Souls and Bloodborne are some of the best games of all-time.

    Boss fights in particular are LEGENDARY.

  29. King's Field, Armored Core, Souls, Otogi

    From has been both jank and great for longer than people think.

  30. So much respect for Miyazaki's vision. he went against the grain of mainstream, hand holding, button mashers, full of tutorials, and proved to the gaming industry that there is still a market for difficult games that rely on game play and not 8 hrs of cut scenes to make its mark.

  31. didnt realize how interesting these behind the scenes of the video game industry were. by far one of the most interesting channels, got me with mighty 9, sealed the deal with this one. great job on 360RRD and kojima's/konami too!

  32. I had no idea Fromsoftware was behind those Souls games. They weren't my steez. Still aren't. When everyone was gushing over how hard it was I just thought "Yeah but have you played The Immortal for NES?"

  33. Sunbros are lame. That "Praise the sun" stance is lame. Help me beat this boss but still, you guys are lame. Had fun killing him and getting his gear and never wearing any of it. I'm not even an invader, just he's a dork. I worship my spider queen. Chaos for life.

  34. I bought demon souls on release, the trailer was awesome and I like the aesthetic. The trailer said game was hard but I didn't believe them lol. Ironically I didnt like it and didnt start like sooul game til post blood borne. I thought ther game was shallow…still think it is but newer games are smooth enough for me to loo past it.

  35. Thank you for the video, I know Dark Souls 1 isn't perfect, but it's my favorite game of all time, and I have been wanting to know more about the history of FromSoftware for a while.

  36. slight incorect fact there. they actually made FOUR kings field games but we only know of three of them because the game WE know as Kings Field 1 is actually kings field 2 as the True KF1 never made it outside of japan.

  37. They got lucky, because games now suck… Let me get CoD 5000 with everything it already had… Games were hard before too, millenials just suck cock much more

  38. Don't dis armoured core 😡 or us Gundam fans will revolt…. Joking

  39. I just discovered your videos today, and they're really good! Keep up the hard work!

  40. It's funny cause people usually don't believe me when I mention how shit the process was for the games publicity and release.

  41. Demon's Souls…I still get goosebumps from the music. Best souls game IMO <3 them all though, don't hit me pls thx

  42. I heard “to celebrate the release of dark souls 3 wii” and I was a bit overexcited.

  43. Demons Souls and Bloodborne are great, and to a lesser degree Dark Souls. Dark Souls 2 and 3 are trash.

  44. Im subing because of the creativeness behind the title intro and past mortem.

  45. I'm probably the only person who can say this, but Lost Kingdoms 2 still might be my favorite From Software game.

  46. I sure heard about From a long time ago when they FUCKING LET SEGA KILL CHROMEHOUNDS WHICH WAS THEIR BEST GAME EVER

  47. I was really hoping you were going to mention Evergrace among the early FromSoft titles. It in some ways holds a similar vibe to Dark Souls to me. Careful management of stamina along with the grueling endurance Tower end game as well as the ability to acquire the Moon Blade which is a FromSoft staple.

  48. I downloaded the demon's souls trailer on ps3 about a month before it released. A few days before it released I saw some more footage at my local game crazy and knew I needed to get it. The day after it launched every store was sold out. I probably went to 15 stores before I found my copy. I never looked back and have beat every souls game since. It's easily my favorite series of all time. Ah such sweet memories.

  49. Anyone else watching this again on the eve of Sekiro's release?

  50. The only difference between from software churning out games as oppose to Ubisoft and Activision is that FROM's games are actually good.

  51. Demon Souls: "fuck you"
    Dark Souls : "im difficult"
    Dark Souls II : "im tough"
    Dark Souls III : "… what they said"
    Bloodborne : "you will grow bald after im done with you"
    Sekiro : "HOLD MY BEER ,take a sip…also poisoned and you're dead. Wha? Cant take it bitch ? Here is an easy mode — just quit,easy."

  52. The part where Miyazaki threw out anything to do with Oblivion explains everything I love about The From Game. "For there is only one." – Yahtzee

  53. Only Miyazaki game I haven’t played is Demons Souls. I will buy it at full price if they release it on ps4. Don’t even need to remaster anything.

  54. Guess they've kept the "Ring" for Elden Ring, which also could mean they've been in pre development and concept for Elden Ring even during or after Demons Souls considering Elden Ring is more open world than what has come before, a culmination if you will of their time trying to create an Oblivion killer and all they have learnt up till now.

    More hyped for Elden Ring now.

  55. 0:28 you explained the exact reason it became popular in the first comments of the video

  56. Dark Souls 1 was a really good game but DS2 was a mess. I played it on the first day for a few hours and never touched it again. Pile of crap.

  57. I wish someone would pick me up like that picked him up I have so many ideas for videos games things that seem like good ideas for some people my mind instantly figures out why it's not if it's not it's like my mind was made to make lore that makes sense I can even make video game music without trying my fingers just do it maybe it's cause when I make lore it's the direct opposite to my nightmares in my lore nothing bad happens no matter what it all makes sense all things connect unlike real life and my dreams of blood and Ash iv seen so much I can't help but escape I guess cause I have the power to live inside that world for even a second it helps look for cracks in its integrity iv been thinking about making an RPG that's about a man who lives amung monsters he slowly starts to understand it's his fault they are the way they are and through the player you would choose how the would progresses it could turn hellish or into a happy dream it's a ironic metifor for how we think life is okay but darkness is only two or three steps away…

  58. I love your videos on From Software, having watched both this one and the one on Shadow Tower, but I keep wondering why you ignore the wonderful Otogi games for the Xbox that From put out. Either I'm missing it or these games haven't caught your interest. I really like your point of view in these videos and would enjoy seeing something on the two Otogi games that released in the early 2000's.

  59. 5:36 LOL that's so hilarious. Been living in Japan over the past 3 years, and you almost never hear that kind of brutal honesty. Just imagining the look on Shusei Yoshida's face as he's thinking that. The shock at assuming how he employed some mentally challenged man to challenge Bethesda and this is the crap they come up with. A low framerate turd with sprinkles on it. But no, it wasn't a turd. It was a black truffle. And he wasn't mentally challenged. He was a genius.

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