Hell Hath no Fury like a Developer Scorned - The Story of Darksiders 3’s Rise from the THQ Ashes
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:47pm 03/09/18 | Comments
AusGamers had a chance to sit down with Gunfire Games' senior designer, Richard Vorodi to talk about the journey he and his team went on to give life to Fury, and Darksiders 3. Read on for the full story...
Speaking with Gunfire Games Senior Designer Richard Vorodi, it was myself that got all choked up before he held back his own (jovial) raw emotions. You see, Darksiders -- the original game, and later the sequel -- was one of my favourite new IPs to emerge in the generation they were released. During press-tour hands-on sessions with the game, I found unique ways to exploit certain gameplay systems (such as juggling baddies with the Fracture Canon before that exploit was nerfed), to a point that a lighthearted conversation was had with THQ PR locally, that they ask Vigil to leave that exploit in and add an Achievement named after me: “The Farrelly Juggle”, I believe, was where we landed.
I’d had Vigil devs around at my house. I spoke with my comic-book hero, Joe Madureira -- co-founder of Vigil Games and Darksiders creator, more than once -- and kind of became the “Darksiders guy” through my sheer love of the IP and depth of knowledge. The devs felt so bad when I asked them about the one chest still displayed on my map in the Drowned Pass, as it was an early build glitch they couldn’t remove, meaning I never ‘technically’ finished the original Darksiders 100%. I have a Chaos Eater proudly hanging on my wall, I have my own Darksiders II tombstone with my name on it, and a Death mask, procured at an event where the Aussies got shafted for interview time and so Joab Gilroy and I basically got drunk and then had the loosest interviews of all time: “So… what does it take to be a Horseman?,” I recall Joab asking to raucous laughs.
So when THQ went down in flames, so did my hopes at ever seeing this clearly four-part series (with maybe a co-op heavy fifth release) out. And I was invested in the game-world, its story, characters, art -- all of it. But for a time there it was essentially gone. Cue Nordic Games, now THQ Nordic, who went on a spending spree when THQ’s licenses and IPs went up for auction -- which led to the resurrection of the name THQ.
“We're here to burn them all!,” Richard says with a laugh when asked about the whole THQ descendancy, and we tell him he doesn’t have to answer if he doesn’t want to burn any bridges. (He served as Senior Designer at Vigil Games on both Darksiders and Darksiders II.) “No, I'm just kidding. Man, I'll tell you, it was some highs and some lows. We had just shipped Darksiders II and that was really difficult to get out the door. That was a really big game. You know, a lot of quests…”
“[And] we were really proud of that and still are. And so we put it out there and then we got a lot of great feedback and we were riding high and [it felt like] ‘hey guys we just climbed the mountaintop!’, and then the mountain got cut out from underneath us, you know. So yeah, it was a bit of a shock. We went through a year and a half or so of transition I'd say. You know the team got offered positions with another publisher. That publisher couldn't pay its bills, notoriously, so we said ‘alright we're done with this. We love the team, we love working together. The thing that keeps messing with our success is the fact that if a publisher goes down, we go down with it’.
“So, we said, ‘alright we're going Indie’,” he adds. “We started Gunfire Games and we had wonderful partnerships with our publishers and one of them happened to be THQ Nordic -- “THQ: The Revision”. You know, ‘the Phoenix Rising from the Ashes’, right? And we've developed a relationship with these guys over the years and we really wanted to make another Darksiders. Everybody wanted to make one. So, we had some discussion, we got the ball rolling on what some of our initial ideas were. They agreed and we were just off to the races.”
Richard’s enthusiasm at this point outplays the clear frustration of the past few years treading Darksiders water he showed moments ago. And rightly so. It might have felt odd coming full circle back to the name “THQ”, but THQ Nordic is a different kind of publisher -- one that seems intent on reaching unique audiences through equally unique and compelling games and partnerships. The likes of Biomutant, Wreckfest and the recently announced acquisition of fan-favourite TimeSplitters, to name a few (as well as their recent purchase of Koch Media who manage Deep Silver, which includes the hotly anticipated Metro Exodus), gives rise to what they’re attempting to achieve. Add to this their commitment to keeping series like Darksiders, Red Faction and Homefront relevant through updated re-releases for current-gen, and it’s not hard to see they have belief in creativity over imitation of industry trends.
(In that, Darksiders et al, won’t have Battle Royale modes just because they can.)
“We had just finished a game for Oculus Rift called Chronos. And basically, like, a day after that game finished and we shipped it I started on [Darksiders III] and yeah, the team rolled onto it.”
As of mid-August this year (the 14th), it had been six years to the day that Darksiders II was released. Not counting how long that game itself was in development, that’s a long time between drinks for Darksiders III to see the light of day. But it’s looking every bit as good as I’d hoped. And the aesthetic hasn’t altered, which speaks volumes to both the passion and consistent design and story tentpoles these guys have had around their inaugural franchise, from day-dot. Though that isn’t to say they haven’t worked with the greater growth in visuals and processing power compared to technology more than five years old.
“In fact Joe Madureira, he actually worked with us to hone in the final design of Fury,” Richard reveals when we ask about Gunfire Games’ relationship with Airship Syndicate (Battle Chasers), and if they helped on Darksiders III at all. “You know, what the 2018 version of Fury looks like.
“The first two games were made with a proprietary engine that we had. It was made in house, it was cool. We loved it,” he expands in relation to the tech running Darksiders III. “[But] then, you know, Unreal came out and we just started to take a look at that and it was, like, well there's some good stuff here. There's some great lighting, some great scripting ability, it's an all-round fabulous engine, right? So, you start working with that, it helped us get up and running really quickly because there's all these systems that are already built in that we don't have to figure out, right? So we can focus more on content. But, I'll tell you even though graphics have gotten better and it's a lot easier to do stuff, it's still the same challenge. It's... we're just scaling up.
“We have way more memory. We have way more processing power. We can push way more tries then we could but, we're still filling them up. So, the same problems with memory management we had on the last generation we still have now because we're greedy. We want to fill the screen with as much insanity as possible. So, we're always gonna be fighting that fight, you know what I mean? You could say we have 128 gigs of RAM [but], like, we're still... we're gonna blow it out.”
While the game still looks as fast, frenetic and inviting as the previous outings, Richard points out that this time around they haven’t specifically made a “bigger” game, rather, they’ve gone for a more vertical game. So, while floor-space isn’t specifically huge, the verticality and level-design around that has allowed for them to make a thematic and progression shift in how the game plays out. “If Darksiders was The Legend of Zelda, Darksiders III is more Metroid,” he enthuses, bringing a quiet tear to my eye. “This whole thing is just a big nest, you know. It's a cool way to travel, it's new. [And] we're telling a really personal story for Fury. The first games... War was very stoic at the beginning and he was stoic in the middle and he was stoic at the end.
“That's War. Death was a bit of an asshole, you know. The Charred Council tells him that, ‘hey your brother screwed up and did this stuff’, Death's, like, ‘no he didn't. I'm gonna show you he didn't. I'm gonna do it my way, right’. Fury is definitely impetuous; prideful — she wants to be the leader of the four. [She’s] very confident, right? So, the Charred Council says, ‘hey look what your brother did, go fix this’. The first things she says [to War] are, like, ‘of course you did. What's wrong with you, War? What's wrong with you? Why'd you do that? I'm gonna go do what the boss says’.
“So, that might not necessarily be her take at the end of things. She's very black and white in the beginning and she'll realise the world is very grey. It's very cool, I can't wait for players to see that.”
Fans of the series will be happy to know that Vulgrim returns again and that there will be “quite a few connection points” between all three games thus far, that extend beyond the story proper. Richard even excitedly tells us fans who’ve been following the series closely will “see some good payoffs here” and will likely “smirk”, if they’ve been paying attention. Hopefully I’m one of those peeps.
And finally, Darksiders’ legacy doesn’t just exist in the tumult the crew faced at THQ’s initial demise, nor in their own videogame homages. The uber-popular and critically successful recent God War has plenty to thank both Vigil and Gunfire for, and it’s something that isn’t lost on Richard or his team, though he’s quick to point out that they looked at Kratos before he looked back.
“It’s such a cool circle of life thing,” he says in regards to the obvious Darksiders nods throughout Santa Monica Studios’ latest effort. “You know, they inspired us, we inspired them and it's this, you know, this neat cyclical relationship, yeah? It is funny though, with this game I've been trying to explain to people that -- and it sounds really strange but -- we're just trying to make a videogame. We're not trying make a really cinematic thing. We have a story of course, and we have beats and things like that, that we're trying to hit but, we're just trying to return to just character action games. You know, quick response on the controls and you get in there and you play it and you're playing with a toy, you know. And that's what we're trying to do. I think God of War went a slightly different route. They're very cinematic -- it’s a very beautiful game. We just felt like we had a different niche we could fill.”
We wrap it all up there, but not before exchanging home videogame museum swag notes, given our respective lengthy tenures in the industry. I am, however, trumped by Richard when he reveals a unique nugget of info from the N64 era: “Yeah, I still have my mo-cap suit from 1080,” he says with a smile. To which I reply “huh?!?!”.
“Yeah, I was the mo-cap and voice for characters in 1080,” he adds nonchalantly.
Darksiders III adds to an already insane year of releases, coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on November 27.