Dark Void

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: Jan. 19, 2010 (US), Jan. 22, 2010 (EU)

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'Dark Void' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on Nov. 8, 2009 @ 1:55 p.m. PST

Dark Void is a highly innovative action title, is in development with platforms being confirmed shortly. Developed by Airtight Games, Dark Void will deliver a groundbreaking combination of fast-paced vertical combat mixed with mid-air and on-foot action.
Something is consuming out universe, a vast and ancient force almost beyond our comprehension. Millions of years ago, the minions of that power found their way to the third planet of an unremarkable yellow star. Ours. The race they created came to call their masters "The Watchers." For millennia we knew them as gods and served their dark purposes, but a few humans developed extraordinary powers. They were known as the Adepts and they rose up, banishing The Watchers into a parallel universe, where they've manipulated and schemed from afar. Until now.

Dark Void is a new sci-fi action-adventure game that combines an adrenaline-fuelled blend of aerial and on-foot combat set in a parallel universe called "The Void." Players will take on the role of Will; a pilot dropped into incredible circumstances. While on a routine air cargo flight his plane crashes in the Bermuda triangle leading him to be trapped in the Void. This unlikely hero soon finds himself swept into a desperate struggle for survival at the head of a group called The Survivors. Caught in the Void, these resistance fighters are battling to hold off a mysterious alien race that plans to threaten Earth.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Morgan Gray, and I'm a senior producer at Capcom.

WP: Tell us a little bit about the concept behind Dark Void. Capcom has had a few games where you weren't necessarily moving in the standard back, forward, left and right. Bionic Commando had you flying around with a zip line, and now in Dark Void, you've got a jetpack. Did Dark Void have any tie-in with the ideas behind Bionic Commando, or was this a completely new thing?

MG: I don't think I've ever said this publicly. Originally, what we wanted to do with Dark Void was play a lot with perspective, so we knew that we wanted you off the ground as a visual perspective change. Our concept of vertical cover, which is the on-your-head, fighting up and down, has you facing 360 degrees of enemies. Originally, the way you navigated was going to be a claw, like a grappling hook, kind of like Bionic Commando. We were already doing that! So we needed a better way — well, maybe not better; sorry, Bionic — a different way. Then the concept team said, "Well, we know that we want you to fly around. What about we just strap a jetpack to you?" and then we laughed. Then we stopped laughing and went, "Oh, yes! Let's do the jetpack."

From that point on, it pushed every other decision. Now that we have a guy in some vehicle, Airtight Games, the developer — they made Crimson Skies on the original Xbox — they always wanted to get out of the plane and run around, which is where Dark Void got its on-foot segments. The concept of the player as the plane was kind of huge, and then it changed everything. We changed our fiction over to the concept of "the Void" to re-create environments that helped facilitate running around and flying and gripping and sort of non-regular geometry or terrain settings. It was probably the smartest thing that we'd come up with, ever.

WP: Dark Void has a kind of '50s sci-fi futuristic look. What inspired the look and feel?

MG: We are huge pulp fans, and we're huge steampunk fans. Obviously Airtight Games, with the Crimson Skies pedigree, loves that sort of pulpy feel. That was a huge influence. One of the things we like in Dark Void is we're sort of pushing that through without being very straight-on. We're doing that twist on the classic steampunk, a retro-tech look, but we also have really, almost I, Robot-esque super-crazy detailed, sterile, surgical environment technology places, and the sort of lush jungle terrain. The changes of perspective apply even to our art palette and art styles. As you go through the game, you'll have places that feel way pulpy, adventure-y and jungle-y to way very clean, sterile, surgical, alien abduction facilities. It's kind of visually fun if you progress through the game. It changes a lot for you.

WP: In fiction, rocket packs have always had a sort of uncontrollable aspect. In fact, as one of the promotions for Dark Void, you guys make fun of that. How challenging was it from a design perspective to balance that out, to give the player a feeling of being slightly out of control without making the game a pain to play?

MG: That was extremely difficult! The fantasy fulfillment of the rocket pack is having some of that out-of-control, pushing-the-envelope, edge-of-your-seat feeling. It's like "Top Gun" with a flaming butt. You're going for it. (laughs)  Early on, we actually had more plane mechanics that played a little more with uncontrollability, and then we looked at upgrades that would tighten it up, and we realized that no one really wants to play something that's out of control. They just want it to feel like it's out of control, so we put a lot of effort in the animations and the physics of said animations, where Will actually does a bit of Hollywood magic.  

When you see a video of Dark Void where you play the game, he looks way more out of control than he actually plays. He plays really tight, so we've actually been sitting on the sidelines sometimes getting frustrated by some of the posts in the forums that say, "It looks like it's really hard to play." Guys, Airtight Games made Crimson Skies; those were tight controls. I myself worked on the Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter series. It's going to play tight. This is Hollywood magic! Finally we start layering in some showmanship, and it bites us in the butt.

Selling the fantasy of out of control — I think we're doing a good job, but when you pick it up and play, it's super-tight, super-controllable — I hate the word "accessible" because it sounds like a children's game — but its pick-up-and-play value is pretty high. We also try to apply the same sensibilities to the on-foot segments, so super-tight controls so nothing gets in the way of you, the player, interacting with the world, but layering on that level of showmanship so we get some wish fulfillment.

WP: What about just launching a new IP? Capcom has a strong IP base, and there have been a lot of games that pull from that, but Dark Void is entirely new. What kind of challenges have you had in just explaining the IP to consumers and getting the word out?

MG: A new IP is like a double-edged sword. It giveth, and it taketh. The big challenge from a gameplay perspective is that we didn't have a template to follow. There's no history where we were at an intersection of do or don't do. "Historically, we've done this, so we should …." We're sort of in the wind, so we struggled a lot early on with trying to get our fiction right, trying to get our justification right, even trying to get our gameplay right. We've never build a Dark Void level. There aren't many games where, at any moment, you can look to the sky, take off, flip it around and rain death from above. The cool thing about Dark Void is that there isn't a set run level and a set fly level. You can do all that at will, at any point. We'd never made a game like that, so it took us a while to learn how to build that game.

In terms of getting the message out for people to get behind the game, basically we've just been taking the tactic of not shutting up. We've been talking about Dark Void for over a year now and trying to show as much as possible just so that people can see what we're doing and even let them in a bit on how it's evolving. When we made the announcement that we were changing the release date, we went forth and said, "Here are the reasons why. Here's what we're adding to the game," and basically try to do full disclosure. So far, it's been good. People are starting to hear about the game, and generally, we're getting a lot of good will back. It's an interesting struggle.

WP: As part of that exposure, you guys announced a contest in partnership with Tesla. You're giving away one of the Tesla Roadsters along with a few test drives. How did that come about? How does the Tesla car tie into the Dark Void game?

MG: In Dark Void, after we decided that we were going to give you a jetpack and some crazy technology, we needed to figure out who made the stuff. So since people gate into the Void, at one point, someone said, "Tesla actually disappeared before he was found dead in real life. What if there was an experiment gone wrong and Tesla's in the Void?" Much like the, "What about a jetpack?" everyone shut up and said, "Yes!" Up with Tesla, down with Edison!

We added Tesla into the plotline and made him the mad scientist tinkerer. He's been reverse-engineering alien technology, so he's the brains, and Will, your character, is kind of the brawn. We're making the game and on a lark, we thought, "Wouldn't it be pretty funny if we did a promotion with the Tesla car company?" because we're doing crazy cool things with these electric sports cars that are sporty; I mean, Priuses are awesome, but these cars are freaking crazy! I lament that I have seen one because I know that I will never own one, and that makes me cry.

It was just a lark. We didn't think it would happen. Mentioned it to marketing, and they thought it was a good idea. Six months later, the marketing guys at Capcom told us, "Tesla's really interested, and it's on." What? One, you listened to us, wow. Two, it's on? Awesome! I think it's the first time Tesla has done a promotion like this. For the Tesla car company, they were doing this super-innovative car, super-sexy, super-cutting edge, super outside-the-box in the typical thinking, and I know it sounds like PR shill, but there's some aspects of Dark Void that there's some overlap.

We're mixing gameplay genres that no one's really mixed in the way we're doing it. We're avoiding dark dystopian future or gritty military campaign game, both of which I love, but there are a lot out there. So I think they like the innovations that we're doing in the game world, and games as the new mass media engine. Books and movies, they're making way to interactivity. We obviously like the coolness of their product, and both corporations are mutual Tesla fans, so we figured, why not? If people go to http://www.darkvoidgame.com/ or go to http://www.capcom.com/ and find the Dark Void page, they can enter the sweepstakes to win a $109,000 electric sports car, which is the coolest thing. It's like the Batmobile, except it's ultimately quiet. It's rad.

WP: What about the multiplayer aspect?

MG: The game has been developed entirely at Airtight Games. Early on, we were thinking about multiplayer, but as we looked at the totality of everything that we were doing — mixing gameplay genres, brand-new IP, brand-new company (it's going to be Airtight's first released game) — we just went, "You know what? I think multiplayer is going to be the straw that broke the camel's back." We made an early decision to focus on getting the gameplay right, focus on building the universe, focus on launching the IP, and if people groove on that, then we can hopefully look at multiplayer in the future of the franchise.

Me, personally, I've been playing multiplayer games since Doom 1, so the days of "Here's some deathmath and capture the flag" are gone. I think if you can't put a huge investment of a meta-wrapper with item unlocks and leveling up, it's boring, and given everything else that we had to do for Dark Void, we weren't going to be able to put in that level of commitment. I'm happy that we said, "We'll make single-player great and keep multiplayer on the backburner and look to the future." Believe me, all of us would love to see jetpack multiplayer, air-punking action. It would be fun.

WP: With the heavy focus from Microsoft and Sony for games to be online, do you think it's a risk to launch a game that focuses solely on single-player these days?

MG: I think people can say that there's a marketing, back-of-the-box bullet point loss there. If you can't make a quality single-player game, then people don't care. If you can't make a quality multiplayer game, no one cares. If you have an OK single-player game and an OK multiplayer game, no one cares. So I think really, it's about not biting off more than you can chew and try to make a really good experience. A bunch of games have come out in the past that have proven this — BioShock, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect — games that people love. People want a quality experience, and I think if you have that multiplayer and they're so inclined, all the better, but if you have single-player, people also want a story that's told to them. I just think people want something that's cool, fresh and unique, whether it's single-player or multiplayer.

WP: Do you have any plans to release a demo before the game launches so that fans can get their hands on the jetpack mechanic and see how it plays?

MG: Yeah, it's super-important to us. Dark Void looks best in motion. I think that if you see a screenshot, you don't understand how smooth and seamless the ground-to-air really is. We're targeting on doing a demo. It's definitely going to be out before release, and it's certainly going to be up on XBLA and PSN.

WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Dark Void a game that's worth playing?

MG: I hate strong declarations, but screw it, we're doing that. Dark Void is the only game that combines the visceral nature of on-foot, tactical cover-based combat with dogfighting in the air, with our unique vertical twist, and it's all seamless, giving the player so much freedom on the battlefield, it's almost like you're a god on the skies and on the ground, raining death at will, which is refreshing.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

MG: The only thing that we haven't talked about is how it's not getting me one of these Tesla Roadster cars. (laughs) Sadly, I can't even afford these things. Why did I pick games for a living?

Seriously, though, the thing that I'd like people to know and think about is checking out Dark Void in its video format and not just screenshots and being open to seeing a unique and even refreshing twist on the genre. Just give it a shot. Check out the demo, see if you like it, and go from there.
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