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AusGamers Darksiders 2 Haydn Dalton Video Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:00pm 03/02/12 | Comments
At a recent trip out to San Francisco for an updated preview of Darksiders II, AusGamers caught up with the game's lead designer, Haydn Dalton. Read on or watch for what he had to say about one of 2012's hottest gaming properties...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link to our video page.

AusGamers: Welcome to AusGamers, this is Death! Actually no, it’s Stephen Farrelly -- Thanks Joab from GameArena! (Note: You need to watch our video interview for this to make any sense.)

Hi guys, welcome back to AusGamers. You are here once again with Stephen Farrelly. I’m here with Haydn, who is the Lead Designer on Darksiders II. You guys know that we are champing at the bit for this game. We’ve been flown out here to San Francisco to have an exclusive look at how the game is coming along -- which is brilliantly by the way.

What I want to do is actually talk about the man behind the mask. So that’s a pretty good metaphor to jump into and the mask is a really good place to start Haydn, because I really want to know what’s going on with the concept of the mask in and of itself?

It seems like there is someone behind that, and there was this really great line in the lecture that we just saw that said “the last face you see is Death”. So is there a reason that the mask is there, so that once it’s actually revealed -- maybe at the end of the game... and humanity is about to die by the way -- because I played through the first game and I know that humanity dies. So we as players, are we subjectively... once the mask is revealed does that mean that that’s the apocalypse? Are you guys going to release the game at the end of 2012 as some kind of Mayan joke [laughs].

Haydn: No. A lot of it comes from the original source that came from Joe’s original concept. Because Death is such an iconic idea -- he’s a legend; he’s a myth -- having that mask on kind of sells into that, so you don’t ever truly know or understand who Death is. So the mask is like a good way of keeping the mystery of that character and I think he’s going to become quite iconic within the story -- there’s always something that’s held back from him as a character. It’s very interesting having that element of mystery in the story.

AusGamers: Now correct me if I’m wrong also, but it seems like the character himself has been toned down a little bit since he was revealed. I felt like he was a bit hulkish and today in the demo that I saw he looked like he’d lost a little bit of weight; he’s a little bit thinner. Is that just me? Because we went through that lecture a little earlier on.

Haydn: I don’t think his proportions have changed that much since the early stuff that we’ve shown. Maybe it was some of the armour that he may have been wearing or something, but he’s always been the more wiry, more streamlined of the horsemen and that kind of physique blended in well with the kind of gameplay we wanted to do.

With the combat for instance: how much... he’s always on the move, he’s got a kind of locomotion and fluidity about him, so that ties into the way he evades rather than blocking and the way he wall-runs; the way he traverses. Everything’s about being lean and mean and always moving, always on the go, and always going from one thing to the other. And that was very important with Death as a character, that shadow on the battlefield as it were.

AusGamers: Now that’s a huge component of your game: combat -- the first game and the second game. But now you guys are talking about [Death] as a more assassin type character; he’s a more stealth type character. But you have archetypes as well this time around which is a little bit different. Kind of taking from the RPG realm, where you’ve got the warrior and the necromancer and the rogue. How do you find the balance to make it seem like he’s not... how does the warrior component -- that archetype -- differentiate himself from War?

Haydn: Well the core things that make Death, like the way he moves around the environment, the way he moves around in combat, they’re more always core to Death as a character. You can never actually change those core pieces of the character. The things that you do is actually basically: you supplement Death with the type of gameplay elements and synergy that you like as a player.

So if you like to stand off from the battlefield and launch things at a distance, there’s a route for you. If you like to get in there and do all your combos and be a little bit more like War; or just be into that skillful combo-based type of game, there’s a route for the player for that.

Everybody will experience the same core movement and dynamic of Death, but then they’ll flavour it with their own dressing or whatever you like to call it. That’s the core thing, that customisation is one of the core big things of this game, is being able to give the player choices of their type; of their version of Death.

AusGamers: So how has that shaped the way you guys have created the foundations of the enemies for this particular iteration. Because the first game kind of had this hierarchy and it was pretty obvious from a gameplay perspective and a design perspective that you start small and you end up big. So you fight a mini-boss and then he becomes just a regular enemy later on and they all had different ways to beat them and certain types of attacks didn’t work specifically.

But if you have all these archetypes, are there specific enemies that need you to play a certain way? Or how does that work for you guys in terms of, I guess just creating a balance to make players feel like they’re always in control?

Haydn: Well there’s never a point where I think there’s say an optional element of a character where you will literally hit a brick wall -- you’ll just have to deal with it in a different way. For instance, if there’s a ranged character that’s very hard to get close to then maybe your combo set won’t be as useful as using your ranged, magical set. It will be a little bit more difficult, but there’ll never be a point where you’ll get to and go “oh, I wish I had have got that option because now I’m really screwed”.

We always make sure that a player has got a route through the game. Again, we’ll throw things that are magic-based and we’ll throw things that are physical-based, so the player of either ilk will always have some sort of challenge to overcome.

AusGamers: Did you guys find that that was withholding for yourselves then? To add these RPG elements, but have to rein them in to a certain point so that the player never felt like they were being tied to a specific kind of archetype or a style of play?

Haydn: Well the big thing was not to overwhelm the player that had come from the first game, right. Because we didn’t really have that element of customisation in the first game. There’s a fine line between giving the player choices and being able to get to those choices and actually create lots of different kinds of outcomes, but not overwhelm the player who’s come from Darksiders I and going “well now there’s too many things I need to manage and think about”.

We tried to... it is a massive balance in that we’ve given them enough to customise and find their own route, but not enough where it feels like you’re basically all you’re doing is worrying about what loot you’ve got all the time or worried about which choice to take through the skill-tree. We want that to just compliment the game that you’re playing rather than feeling like an absolute necessity of the game.

AusGamers: Now I want to talk about bosses, and I brought this up with Jeremy Greiner earlier (who is the THQ Community Lead on the game). You guys keep talking about grandiose and everything is bigger and larger than the first game, but we haven’t seen it yet. And I'll believe you, but for the interim, I just want to talk about... I mean, the hammer that we saw at the end of that demo is massive -- it’s ridiculously large, so obviously the guy that wields it is even larger.

But you’ve got this agile character; you’ve got this guy with these great combat moves. Is it just a case of saying that bosses are larger, but you’re not really going to be able to use all of your combat abilities that you accrue throughout -- in that there might be more scripted boss battles? Because some of the mini-bosses that you’re talking about, you can definitely use everything that you do -- and we’ve seen that in motion -- but I’m curious to know how these large bosses where Death is the size of their toe, how that actually works in a combat sense.

Haydn: Well it is all about balance. I certainly don’t think it’s all about generally the size of things -- bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better right? We always design our bosses in such a way that the dungeon that they’ve played or the gear they might have got up to getting to them have been some sort of training to the way that you take that character down.

Now taking out a character is not always about the smacking on the heel then he comes down. Using the hook for instance and dragging things down that are taller than you and things like that. So it’s not always about the physical scale between the two, it’s about the synergy between the gear and how they’re used in combination to overcome a boss.

And our bosses are really kind of like puzzles in a way -- like level puzzles. You’ve kind of learnt A and B in the level, but now to actually open a weakness on this boss, you’re going to need to use A and B, but also create C, which you have to figure out yourself. And I think that’s what makes Darksiders unique as an action-adventure. It’s that sort of element where there is a puzzle element and that kind of logical leap that the player has to make on his own, based on what he’s already played in the game.

AusGamers: That’s actually a really good segue, because I want to ask about puzzles because in the demo that we saw, I also noticed that there was a bit of a camera trick, where one of the grapple-points in one of the leaping puzzles and I guess you were waiting for the camera to come up for the rest of us to see. Are you utilising things like that -- camera tricks to make the puzzles a little more difficult?

And I guess what approaches have you done? Because I found the puzzles in the first game quite visceral, but they were still well and truly easy to get through after a little while. But it seems like you guys are reiterating that the stuff that we’re seeing now is really early in the game and it’s going to become much more complex. And quite recently we heard a lot of designers say they’ve had complex puzzles in games and they’ve taken them out because they don’t want the average consumer to not be able to use them, but it feels to me that a game like this needs complex puzzles.

Haydn: The thing about a complex puzzle is that it’s what the player has learnt to get to that complex puzzle. You can give someone a very complex puzzle, but without the right ingredients to understand it, it’s like someone giving you a really hard algebra equation to solve. If you don’t really know algebra, it’s ridiculous...

AusGamers: Or a bunch of ingredients to make a pie.

Haydn: Whatever it might be, yeah a pie is a really good analogy as well. If you’ve never baked a pie or don’t really understand the ingredients to create that pie, then it’s going to be pretty much impossible to re-create or understand it.

But again, we find that the most difficult bit is trying to give the player those few pieces of ingredients so they can go and bake that pie. Even though it seems really complex from the outside looking in. If you’ve learnt to play it right, they should be able to do it. And that’s one of our biggest challenges: to slowly drip-feed that conscious development to the player over time.

You saw me when I was doing a little bit of the wall-running, then I was going from one wall to another and then it was wall-running around a corner to jumping and leaping and using the hand. That slow progression to the player is just slowly and instinctively adding to their repertoire, without maybe even knowing it. It’s just like “ok, now I must need to do this” and slowly over time things just get ingrained into the player.

AusGamers: We’re going to have to wrap it up, but one of the things you guys do that no other developer does -- or at least some do, but don’t really talk about it that much -- is you do wear your hearts on your sleeves and it’s really, really important that that exists, because not only does it give a foundation but it allows you guys to separate yourselves [from the crowd] as well. It’s very easy to say that Darksiders I was like The Legend of Zelda or Metroid, but at the same time it was Darksiders and it had so much character and so much amazing... it’s one of my favourite games. I’m not saying that because I’m on camera, I’m saying that because it’s true.

So what I want to ask is: what have you guys drawn upon for inspiration this time around? Because the one thing that I can see the most of is Diablo -- with the loot system... and I was talking to Daniel Isaac and he was talking a little bit about Diablo and how the team played “the shit” out of Diablo...

Hadyn: Who didn’t [laughs].

AusGamers: And that there might be some item-trading components or something like that with this touted online thing. So I guess, apart from the Diablo component, I just want to get your stance on where you guys have drawn a lot of inspiration from?

Haydn: I know it sounds a little bit cheesy, but while actually developing the second one, there was literally many times when we went back to see what we did on the first one. You know, you should never lose sight of what you did and the reason that it worked. Those kind of synergies and the minutia that happened in the first one and why they worked so well -- you really break it down and understand that and re-create it on the second one.

It’s like anything though. If you’re going to add loot, you look at how other games did it. Which ones did it well, which ones did it bad or why did they do it good? We obviously did our research and drew on things we’ve played in the past and we tried to do our spin and say “this is the Darksiders version of that”. It’s definitely a fine line when you’re doing something like that, but I feel like we’ve done it in such a way where it feels like there’s a hell of a lot of depth, a lot of items, and the synergy between the items works really well with those choices.

All I can say is that we draw from what we played from -- what you know -- and then you personally add something that is going to make it feel unique and fits within the gameplay and the actual world that you’re creating.

AusGamers: Ok well I’m sold; I need to see more; I can’t wait to see more. My only criticism is that I haven’t seen more. So we’ll leave it there. Thanks so much for your time Haydn and thanks for bringing us out here. The game looks great and I really hope that a lot of people buy it so that you can make Darksiders 3 and 4 and then the fifth game is a co-op experience, which is what everybody’s asking for. So awesome. Thank you very much.

Haydn: Thanks a lot. It was nice meeting you.

AusGamers: Cheers.
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