WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Hayden Dalton, and I'm lead designer at Vigil Games.
WP: Tell us a little bit about the conception of Darksiders. On the surface, it sounds like a depressing premise. The world gets destroyed, and you're one of the four jorsemen of the apocalypse who gets kicked out. How do you get kicked out of being a horseman of the apocalypse?
HD: You get kicked out because the apocalypse was falsely started. You heard the call, you came down, and you started kicking lots of ass, and then you find out that it wasn't meant to be. You get drawn in front of The Charred Council, a neutral board of guys who balance between heaven and hell. They basically strip you of all your powers, and you say, "Send me back, and I'll find out who did this and restore the balance again." That's how the game starts off.
WP: It's the ultimate on-the-job screw-up. One day, War's out, chilling, and he goes to work and destroys the planet.
HD: Well, I don't know about screw-up. It's more like someone did a bait and switch on him. He got the call, he came in, and he thought he was doing the right thing. It just turned into a big cluster.
WP: At the beginning of the game, you get a good little tease seeing War with his powered-up, badass moves, and that gets taken away. How do you handle the skill build-up again? What do you feed out to the player, and how long do you have to play through the game before you start to get back the kick-ass abilities?
HD: You start getting some of the abilities very quickly. Within the first hour or two, you get back quite a few of your abilities, but you also get a lot of new stuff that you never had at the start of the game. We start the player off with just one primary weapon, which is the sword. Later on, we add a secondary weapon so people can mix it up between the primary and secondary attacks and combos. Then we start to give out gear, which uses the trigger, so the player has three different attacking options that he could make. We purposely stagger it so players can learn to be good at one and then start to use a second and then the third, so we slowly build up the player by slowly drip-feeding them new elements.
WP: What about upgrades? Is there a structural merchant system for you to upgrade existing weapons, or do you just pick up new weapons along the way? What kind of system does Darksiders use?
HD: We actually use both. Some things happen naturally through normal progression through the story, there are abilities that way. There's a character called Samuel who gives you new abilities and you give him items that he needs. Then there's also things like boosting up your combat moves. Our currency is souls, so you can use those souls to upgrade your weapons, get new combat moves, buy weapon enhancements that you can slot onto your weapons. They have different attributes to give you more health or let you do more damage or light people on fire. Players can pick and choose however they want to slot those items into the weapons. We also have rough abilities, like magical, supernatural power moves, and they can be powered up as well. Players will have to make choices on the way through because there's not enough money in the game to boost up everything in the first pass unless players grind for hours in single areas.
WP: What about some of the mythology behind the game? Was this something that you guys pulled from fantasy literature? Did you check any traditional religious texts? What went into the research for the actual story?
HD: That's all Joe Madureira. I think one day, he was driving home in his car, and the idea of the four horsemen of the apocalypse kind of popped into his head. He rushed and phoned the other guys at Vigil and said, "I think I've got a good idea for a game." He told them, and they were all raving about it. They were actually at a point where they were between three or four ideas, and when the four horsemen of the apocalypse and you get to play one of them, we knew that this was going to be the most badass game ever. There's no real literature, per se, on the actual horsemen. There's a bit obviously in Revelation, but this is definitely Joe's take; this is a comic book take on the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
WP: Is that how Joe got involved with Vigil in the first place?
HD: No, Vigil was made up of four people. They worked together on and off at NCSoft. There's Joe Madureira, there's Marvin Donald, there's David Adams (he's the GM) and there's Ryan Stefanelli. The four guys got together and were kicking around different ideas of what they wanted to do with a game, and then Joe came up with it and they all got on board. That's kind of how Vigil formed.
WP: How about the visual look of the game? Obviously Joe had quite the impact in the comic book style. Comic book art is very distinct on the page and in concept art, but how do you work to translate that to a moving form on the screen?
HD: Well, it took us through a lot of directions. Joe would do an initial sketch. Then we'd do 2-D turnarounds so you could see it from front, back, side and top view, and once we get into a model step, we'd get it high sculpted in ZBrush so you could see a 3-D high-resolution version of it and then Joe would sit with the artist and the art director would sit with people and show people where they want to cut lines slightly different. Obviously comic books are always done from one angle, and if you create the thing in 3-D and spun it around, it'd usually be distorted or out of shape. That took a little bit of refining, getting Joe's style to look good from every angle. That was quite a difficult thing to do, but I think we pulled it off pretty well.
WP: Let's talk about the music. In the demo, the loading levels are more along the lines of classical chanting and music along those lines, but is the whole soundtrack some of the generic, religious-themed music, or does it get into any other genres?
HD: Well, we never get into any hard rock or techno stuff that's in other action games. We have a mixture of musical styles. We have the classical music, we add some choral on the top of it, but we also have some high action music, which is uses lots of bass and drums and Gladiator-esque piece of music. I think we have over three hours of music in the game, so we have quite a lot of variety in there.
WP: In putting it all together, what was the main theme that you guys were looking for in terms of gameplay elements? What was it that really drove game design?
HD: We don't really like mentioning other games, but if we had to mention two, the two that we kind of wanted to fuse together were Devil May Cry and Zelda. I mean, we're all Zelda fans and we like Devil May Cry. We love the puzzle element to Zelda and the adventure and all the elements that make Zelda such a great game, and then you have the slick combat side from DMC, and we thought, "What if we took those two things and fused them together into one title?" Also titles like Castlevania and Metroid are also near and dear to our hearts, so we saw them and thought, "How can we do our take on all these things?" so we just did a big hybrid of those games and put some original elements of our own in there, and that's how we came up with Darksiders.
WP: Let's talk about the main characters. A lot of games these days are going for the scantily clad buxom babes, and you guys went with the traditional, overly muscular comic book hero, but was there ever any discussion about whether the game would sell better with a male or female protagonist? Or did it not really matter?
HD: It didn't really matter. At one point, we thought about putting in all of the four horsemen — one of the horsemen is actually a woman, she's called Fury — so there was one babe in there. We decided to go with War because we thought it was a good character, very interesting and we could do a lot with it. Joe's style really fit. Some of the pictures that we'd done really fit with a male character. Obviously if we do another game at any point, we've always got the pick of potentially using a female lead in there as well. Everyone just dug on the character War and thought he'd be a good first character to come out of the gates with.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Darksiders a game that's worth playing?
HD: The art, the combat, the adventure and the story are great. The mixture of genres all in one, and just the variety of gameplay that you'll get in the 15-20 hours you'll get from the game — what you get from it is worth every penny. We think you'll find so many different things, so many different game mechanics that you'll learn and find. We do a lot of things that are just one-off sections that you'll never get again; you'll experience them once and never again so we think the player's always got to trying to find that next bit of art and next bit of gameplay around the corner so they'll keep on going.
WP: You mentioned Devil May Cry and Zelda as inspirations, but in the end game, you're just demoing the Voidwalker gun, which is very reminiscent of Portal. Are you guys fans of Valve's game?
HD: I think anyone who appreciates games will appreciate Portal. It's just an awesome game. Anyone who's played it will tell you that it's worthy all the great accolades that it got. When we wanted to do something supernatural, when we were coming up with one of the final dungeons of the game, it seemed to fit what we wanted to do so that's where the inspiration comes from.
WP: The Voidwalker gun is more like a souped-up Portal gun, or if Tim Taylor from "Home Improvement" got a hold of it and gave it more power. Can you tell; us about some of those upgrades?
HD: The thing we did was we allowed players to use charge portals, which increases the velocity of anything that passes through the portal so players can throw objects through it and use them as huge projectiles. Players can use it to jump through and then be shot out high in the air to get to places that they could never get to before. We also allow the player to be able to shoot a portal through a portal, so we can do quite complex puzzles in the game, and the actual dungeon where you get the Voidwalker is like a two-hour dungeon, and some of the puzzles get pretty intense in there.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?HD: I guess there's just the mayhem scene that I think people are going to like. It's the moment when War is thrown into the apocalypse. It's right at the start of the game. Players can experience the power all in one go and the frantic moment of the apocalypse, right when everything is going down.
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