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The Darkness 2 Video Interview & Transcript
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 12:10pm 20/05/11 | Comments
AusGamers travelled all the way to Ontario, Canada for an exclusive look at The Darkness II and while there we caught up with Digital Extremes Project Director Sheldon Carter for a chat about all things Darkness.

Watch the full video interview embedded above or click here for the HD version

AusGamers: Hey guys, welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here with Stephen Farrelly and I’m out in London, but not cold London in the UK -- we’re actually in sunny London in Ontario, Canada.

I’m sitting here with Sheldon Carter, who is the Project Director on The Darkness II. We’re out at Digital Extremes, who many of our readers will know are built from some pretty grassroots mod teams from way back in the day.

Sheldon Carter: Yeah, the Unreal roots are still alive and kicking here in London.

AusGamers: Well obviously you guys have gone from strength to strength and being given a title like The Darkness II is a pretty big thing. Can you run us through how you guys came about doing it? Obviously Starbreeze [original Darkness developer] had that at the beginning and did an amazing job with it.

Sheldon: For me, The Darkness I is one of my favourite games -- which is great because I’ve got to play it a lot in preparation for this game.

2K came to us two and a half years ago -- I think it was when we were working on BioShock MP [BioShock 2’s multiplayer component] and they knew the strengths of our team; they saw the things that we really wanted to do -- and they said “hey, are you interested in The Darkness?”.

So many of us are huge hardcore fans -- I look back on my comic collection and the only issue I’m missing is One and I probably had to sell that because I had to make rent in college.

AusGamers: So that’s true fandom then.

Sheldon: Oh yeah for sure. We love the game, we love the IP.

AusGamers: OK, so you guys were handed something that you were all very excited about, what was the next step for you? Because fundamentally, the game is very similar to the first game, but there’s a lot of subtle differences that you’ve made. I guess maybe let’s begin with the visual overhaul -- because the first game was quite dark and semi-realistic, and you’ve with a kind of painted-texture comic book style.

Sheldon: Yeah, we took the first game and looked and it were like “What are the things we love about it?”. The first thing we loved was the narrative. We though that there’s a game there that had an emotional connection. You got hit by that story right? Sitting on a couch with Jenny, watching To Kill a Mockingbird.

AusGamers: I unlocked that achievement!

Sheldon: Oh you watched the whole thing? Awesome. Me too! And then being held back while The Darkness kills her -- these are emotional moments that actually hit you as a gamer and I think those are top ten for me for gaming moments. So when we were looking at Darkness II, we thought “OK, that stuff, we want to hold on really tight to”. So luckily we have Paul Jenkins who was the writer on the first game and he’s the writer on our game as well, so we brought the art style.

So we were looking at it like “OK, what is it that we love about The Darkness as fans?” We were fans... for me I was a fan of The Darkness before I even played the game and what is it that draws me to this? What draws me into this Universe? You start to go through these graphic novels and you see the work that Marc Silvestre did when he was building up this comic book and I guess it felt like “I want to play that!”; “I want to go through a world with those big pops of colour from blood -- usually -- or Darkness”.

Then just that hand-painted feel too, that late-nineties Top Cow style that had the hard-line and the hatching-edge and we really wanted to emulate that for the game.

AusGamers One of the things that I noticed is -- you mentioned hand-painted textures and the lighting throughout is quite dynamic -- did you guys have much of an issue there in creating the lighting system to reflect that new focus on the art style?

Sheldon: Yeah, for us actually lighting was huge. The engine that we’re using is our own internal engine -- it’s the Evolution Engine. We used it on Dark Sector and that game didn’t have any dynamic lighting, it had kind of baked-in light, the way you see in most games.

Then we realised that, you know, light’s an enemy in The Darkness. This has to be a character, you have to actually... not only does it have to affect the characters but you have to switch them on and off; enemies have to be able to wield it against you.

So it was a big challenge, but we started out knowing that, so we tackled it pretty head-on.

AusGamers: It is your own internal engine, so what have you guys -- apart from the lighting -- done, because this looks further along than anything else you’ve worked on. Have you kind of streamlined the pipeline process? And animations seem pretty full-on this time.

Sheldon: Yeah, I mean it’s the whole gamut. We have a motion-capture studio which we haven’t had before; we have one on-site now so all of the animations being mo-capped brings us a whole new reality to it. Being kind of gamma correct, I guess is the technical term in terms of our colour-scheme lets the colours really come out.

And some of that stuff is just hard work. The textures are one of those things where we kind of made the game... we were building it as we were working on the technology and we thought “Ok, let’s just start emulating the style of the first game while we figure out our art style”. So we have this huge batch of realistic assets that we build the game up from and we thought that what we can do is do a procedural... do something with the graphics engine to make it all look hatched -- and that didn’t pan out; that was the quick solution that we thought would work and it didn’t. So we had to go back, get a team of artists together and go through every asset in the game and hand-paint them. So it literally is hand-painted.

AusGamers: Now let’s move on to the progression type of play. Because one of the cool things about the first Darkness was that you had a bit of a hub that you could play in and the whole subway. Just before I was pulled out of the demo then, I’d just got into the subway, so I’m not really sure where I can go from there.

Are gamers going to have the option to play around in that hub again or are you going for a more directed gameplay approach?

Sheldon: Well I guess it’s a little bit of both. When you play the rest of the demo, you’re going to see that we kind of metaphorically destroy the subway in that scene. So some of the things that we wanted to work on for the game, was kind of the wandering that sometimes happened. Not the exploration, but the wandering and the subway was a big part of that in our minds.

There is a hub in the game -- we’re not giving away too much about that just yet, but there is one; it still features a full dialogue system; you’re going to have conversations with characters: returning characters like Aunt Sarah, Jimmy the Grape. Those people are still going to be there for you to interact with in the world and kind of puzzle out what the story’s all about.

I would say that we’re a more narrative-focused game, we really held the story up as the thing that we wanted to hold on to tightest and for that we wanted to have a streamlined experience.

AusGamers: Will we see a return of the payphone Easter egg?

Sheldon: There are different Easter eggs, but along the lines.

AusGamers: Now I haven’t been privy to this information yet [interview was hosted before the announcement], but is our favourite Darkness voice-actor back?

Sheldon: Yeah absolutely, Mike Patton’s back which is awesome. We’re really excited to have him. We went without him for a long time in our cycle actually, with me doing the cookie-monster to at least give the feel of the atmosphere while we were going. Now having Mike, he’s just so talented.

AusGamers: Was it a decision for you guys from the outset to just not have multiplayer at all?

Sheldon: No. I mean right now where we’re at, we’re just not commenting on anything outside of our narrative-focused game that we’re excited about.

AusGamers: Now in terms of platform parity -- this is a big one these days -- you guys obviously have a history in the PC market -- and like I said, the game looks fantastic. Are we going to see more juice coming out of the PC version? Are you guys using anything extra special there?

Sheldon: Well right now, what we do is we do build all three simultaneously. So we’ve got all our three platforms going and we love the way it looks on each one. There are some tweaks, some things that you can take advantage of on each platform actually we’ve found. Without getting into too many specifics about each of the consoles, but the consoles each can be tuned differently to perform in different ways.

And the PC, we’re going to take advantage of the fact that we have a broad range of users at the PC level.

AusGamers: Also going back to the narrative, another one of the cool things was the creepy World War I era stuff that we saw in the first game. Are you focusing more on the modern-day urban stuff that you have -- that kind of graphic-noire look and feel -- or are you guys going to explore that kind of dark side of The Darkness?

Sheldon: Yeah. I think that stuff comes part and parcel with this game. I think that it’s cool because you’re a mob... well now you’re The Don, but a mob hitman and that’s fine; that’s an element of the fiction. But then there’s this Cthulhu overhaul -- you’ve got two demon heads on and a darkling running around with you. And I think that allows us to kind of stretch the boundaries of the world and to go to all sorts of different places.

AusGamers: I used to use one of the demon heads to infiltrate whole levels on my own, just with the detachable arm. Will you be able to do that again or are you kind of focusing more on the player using everything in a more tactical way?

Sheldon: Yeah, I think the..

AusGamers: I don’t want to say I cheated, but it was a really cool way to do it.

Sheldon: Yeah Creeping Dark was a neat power. We definitely are leaning more towards the action, I mean, the demon arms are there to grab guys; to bring them close so you can rip them in half. They’re about showing how Jackie - with The Darkness -- is kind of a whirlwind of death. Creeping Dark was a stealth element which I think was cool and we do have stealth in the game, it’s just not that same type of stealth.

AusGamers: Are we going to see a return of the Black Hole, or any new powers?

Sheldon: I can’t talk about powers yet.

AusGamers: So maybe Black Hole? Because that became almost too powerful towards the end of the game. A lot of people complained about that, that you were given it too powerful at one of the most intense parts of the game. Whereas it could have been given to you in other sections.

Sheldon: Well I think the difference between Darkness I and Darkness II is kind of what you saw there. With having two demon arms and two guns and you’re about to use all of those at the same time. We already have a super powerful character to start with and so our challenge designing the game was how you limit that.

In Darkness I what they would do is there’s lots of lights and you have to shoot them all out before you got into a fight. In Darkness II, the enemies bring the light into the fight. So you have enemies that have light cannons; you have enemies that are using flashbangs. So that let’s some of those more powerful powers be less unbalanced because they can negate those things.

So I would say, if anything, we’re kind of ramping those things up.

AusGamers: Alright. And is there any information that you’re actually allowed to say, but nobody has asked you the right question yet that you can give us? A nugget of information that would be cool and tantalising?

Sheldon: Well I guess one of the things with Paul writing the first story and now writing the second story, we have a lot of nods to the comic book fans. So I think one of the things if I was to say to somebody “Hey, go brush up on ‘X’ for the game”, I’d say “Go brush up on The Brotherhood”, because they factor into this game.

AusGamers: OK awesome. Well we’ll leave it there. Sheldon, the game looks fantastic, thanks very much for your time.

Sheldon: Thanks a lot.

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