Digital Spy

Search Digital Spy
1

Gaming Interview

'The Darkness II' interview: Bringing back a cult classic

By
Darkness II screenshot

© 2K Games

The Darkness II will emerge next month, around five years after its action shooter predecessor. Based on Top Cow's hugely successful comic book series, Dark Sector studio Digital Extremes has taken over development duties from Starbreeze, and spent three years creating what it hopes will be a visually distinctive and story-driven game that can stand out in the packed first-person shooter crowd. We caught some time with project director Sheldon Carter and senior lighting artist Cliff Daigle to discuss storytelling, stereotypes and staying out of the light.

So how come you waited so long to release the sequel?
Daigle: "I don't know why they waited so long."

Carter: "Basically, as soon as 2K came to us with it, we started it. So for us it has been about three years that we have been working on it. There was probably just a couple of years where they were figuring out what to do with it.

What things did not work in The Darkness, and how have you ensured the sequel does not repeat those mistakes?
Carter: "Good question. I will start this off with the reverse, which is that the stuff we wanted to hold on to so tightly was the narrative and the story. We couldn't have this game without the story being the key pillar. That was the most important thing. But everything else, we loved it, but we wanted to improve on it. That included how the demon arms worked, how the shooting mechanic operated; but also the Darkling - we wanted to make him more of a character in the story. Then there was the multiplayer mode Vendettas - we wanted that to be more story-oriented as well."

Darkness II Preview

© 2K Games

Darkness II Preview

© 2K Games



How closely does the Vendettas story mesh with the main campaign?
Carter: "I would say that it is a companion story to the main story. The main campaign is like an action drama, in that it has a strong internal and external struggle for Jackie. Whereas the Vendettas campaign is more of a dark comedy. You are getting a motley crew who have these darkness abilities, but it's more fun, in terms of the characters and their interactions. But at the same time it's also about filing in the gaps, because we are telling such a personal story for Jackie, and so there are lots more things in the world for people to explore."

The characters are very over the top in Vendettas...
Carter: "Yes, they are like that by design."

But do you not think you have gone a bit too far? Particularly with characters like drunken, English-hating Scot Jimmy Wilson…
Carter: "Well, when I hear that, that's basically what we went for. We were trying to go too far, if I can say that. That's really what we thought with these guys. When you are playing the main campaign, it's a very serious game, so we wanted to have a mode that was serious, but also the chance for you to jump in with your friends and have fun. So it's intentionally tonally different, and over the top."

> The Darkness II Vendettas co-op multiplayer preview

Darkness II screenshot

© 2K Games

Darkness II screenshot

© 2K Games



Let's talk about the gameplay; what have you really changed in The Darkness II?
Carter: "In terms of the quad-wielding, we looked at the very end section of The Darkness, which was a cinematic scene in which Jackie is going nuts with his powers; he's grabbing guys in the air and cutting them in half, he's casting black holes, he's throwing stuff around. But that was not a playable part of the game. So we thought, 'Hey, this is what we want the base level to be for The Darkness II'. We wanted to enable you to use the demon arms. So that was the core thing. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but it was all about the story. We were always saying that this is a narrative-focused game and it was going to be all about the story."

Daigle: "This is also the sequel to a five year old game, and I can hardly remember what happened in the first game. We have put in a thing that says 'previously on The Darkness', like a TV show, giving a recap on previous events in the first game."

The Darkness II
With Jackie having two demon arms and capacity to dual-wield weapons, how difficult was it to ensure the game does not just become a cakewalk?
Carter: "There are a couple of things. First of all, Jackie is resistant to the light. In the first few levels, we make sure you understand that through the environment. We shine lights at you at certain points and make it clear that you need to avoid them, or shoot them out. But as you progress in the game and the Brotherhood get involved, light becomes this really interesting dynamic weapon used against you. The Brotherhood will throw a flare or a flashbang at you, which will white out an area. That just dynamically changes the environment.

"Then there are Brotherhood holding light cannons and aiming them at you, so you really have to take those guys out quickly. It's awesome how smart the Brotherhood are tactically. There is a guy with a darkness whip who can disarm you. So you could walk into a room, a guy with a light cannon makes your demon arms go away, then the whip guy whips the gun out of your hands.

"So now you have no guns, and no darkness powers, and you are basically f**ked. You need to run, find some cover, find a gun; just come up with these strategies to get out of the situation. In terms of balancing, I don't think we are going to have any complaints from players."

So they are using the light and you are using the darkness; it's basically the opposite of Alan Wake?
Carter: "Well yeah! That's a great game too. But it's about feeling powerful. If you kick on gun channelling, then you can see through walls, take out the guy with the light cannon, and now you can go toe-to-toe with the whip guy."

> The Darkness II single-player preview

Darkness II Preview

© 2K Games



You have introduced an RPG-style hub area to The Darkness II, inside a New York penthouse. Players will get to know the backstories of Jackie and other characters, but how much freedom of choice and exploration will players get?
Carter: "There are a couple of choices in the game, but I wouldn't say that we are a moral choice game. We're not Mass Effect. This is much more of an action game, but we do put you in places where you get to know characters and you have to make hard choices about them. There are a couple of those key moments during the game. For narrative purposes it was important to have them, but it wasn't a systemic part of the game, it was more that the story required the player to have some sort of dilemma."

The Darkness
The Darkness comic book series is hugely popular, having sold millions of copies over the years. How closely have you worked with publisher Top Cow to ensure the game pleases the fans and honours the licence?
Carter: "The best part of the game is that the fans know so much. It's awesome having that because you have got people who are going to call you on things if you are wrong. But the flip side of that is that we have the writer of the books, Paul Jenkins, as our writer. He is someone who understands all the lore and he is our consultant basically, on all things story. We have contacts with [Top Cow founder] Marc Silvestri and all the people who continue to produce the comic.

"There is that, but also the comic book goes one way, and the game goes a slightly different way. There is an expectation that the game will have different conventions to the canon of the comics. So we have a bit of artistic licence. The Brotherhood, for example, are in the comics, so we decided to bring them into our game, but they don't have to be exactly the same. They are monks with pointy hoods in the comic but we made them how we wanted them to be. They are a different version of that, but retain the core principles."

That appears to be the same approach that Christopher Nolan has taken with his Batman movies, in that you stay true to the lore and history of licensed characters and properties, but then give your own interpretation.
Carter: "I have never thought about it that way but that is totally the approach. Let's be true and inspired by the comics, but the audience knows that it is slightly different to them. It's about harnessing the power of the medium. For example, in the comics Jackie has hundreds of demon arms, but we have distilled that down to just two demon arms because that works perfectly for gameplay."


One thing you have taken from the comics is the art style, which takes the same painterly finish, thick black lines and cel-shading. How hard was that to do?
Daigle: "It was a struggle, for sure. Very tough, yeah. When you approach a sequel, you think, 'Oh we want to make it look like that, but better'. But the more we kinda looked at it, it was fine for five years ago, but I don't think that essentially a monochromatic game can stand out. So our art director worked very hard through lots of iterations, then our coders helped proceduralise organic art, which ultimately didn't work, but we kept trying, and trying stuff until it just kinda worked."

Carter: "It's one of those things where you have a huge batch of source material that you really love, and you keep looking at it, and one day a lightbulb just goes off. It seems obvious, but why don't we make the game look like the comic? Then you say, 'Hey coders, we want to make the game look like this'. Then they reply, 'Um, nothing is impossible with software'. Then it doesn't quite work, so we had to do it by hand. There is a lot of good tech in there and that got us most of the way, but we needed that extra bit to finish it off."

So what was the actually process of finishing the artwork off?
Daigle: "Well, the shader we used gives the game a bit of a painterly edge, but then each of those textures had to be done by hand. Then the line work on the characters had to be hand done too. Most of it is procedural, but the interiors stuff had to be hand drawn. The art team worked really, really hard. Once we had decided what we wanted the game to look like, everybody was pretty excited. We knew we had an awesome look for the game, and it wasn't too hard to put in the extra hours. And nobody minds working on something that is good. Another thing we wanted was for it to be obvious when someone saw a screenshot that this was The Darkness II. I think it doesn't look like anything else."

Darkness II screenshot

© 2K Games

Darkness II screenshot

© 2K Games



The Darkness II was originally supposed to be released last year, but was delayed until February 2012. The shooter market is extremely competitive, so how difficult is it to ensure a game like this stands out?
Carter: "I guess it is competitive. But we didn't struggle too much because the IP gives us some freedom. There isn't going to be another shooter with two demon heads on the screen, then on top of that you have the art style and the gameplay, which is probably enough. But then we also have such a focus on the story and characters. Being so story-driven is almost unique, because there are not many shooters like that on the market, especially not in the past year."

Daigle: "Some people have said that the shooter genre is getting stale, and one thing that is really going to drive it forward is more story-driven games. People have been trying, since Half-Life I guess, with varying degrees of success, but that is what really separates us. Because good gunplay is not really a problem, most games can crack that, it's about showing people why they should be shooting at things and what is going to happen next."

Can we expect more games in The Darkness series? Or DLC for the sequel?
Carter: "We are just thinking about this game at the moment, but there is so much more we can do with the series, as it is a continuing series. There are loads more characters and so on. It's going to take us quite a while to run out of ideas with this franchise. Top Cow has signed for a movie, but they know that it will be bad for their franchise if a bad movie or game comes out. We were at Comic Con with Marc Silvestri last year and he is like a giant there, but he's also like all the fans. He just wants a great game."

The Darkness II is due out on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on February 7 in North America, and February 10 in Europe.

You May Like

Comments

Loading...