Following our hands-on demo with The Darkness II at PAX East last weekend, we sat down with Lead Designer Tom Galt to talk about how the sequel came to be, new combat features, executions, the first game, and more.
Considering The Darkness (the first game) was very overlooked — sort of a hidden gem — what lead 2K to create The Darkness II? And why with Digital Extremes, rather than Starbreeze Studios (creators of the first)?
Well, you know, 2K approached us and asked us to make the game. We jumped at it! It was a great opportunity for us because we all loved the game. Everybody at the studio had played it. We all enjoyed the story, it was such a great, touching story with Jackie and his relationship with Jenny, so we jumped at it.
We, right off the bat, called Paul Jenkins — he wrote the first game, and he also wrote a lot of the comic books, which the games are based off of — and we brought him on board to write our story, as well. And we worked really close with him to make sure we really capture the essence of what The Darkness is.
On top of that, we also read all the comic books, the graphic novels, and fell in love with the art style, and decided to make our graphic style — or visual style — of the game to reflect the comic books. So when you’re playing it, it makes you feel like you’re playing the graphic novels.
Agreed. We’ve seen and played the game and the graphic novel-esque style of the visuals are beautiful. Now, in regards to the story, is this new chapter in Jackie Estacado’s story based off or ties into the graphic novels? Or is it a completely new penning?
We continued the story from the first game. So it’s two years after the first game finishes and Jackie’s now the Don of the Estacado crime family; and we explore Jackie’s character throughout the story and just what’s happened to him since the death of his girlfriend [Jenny]. It’s a unique story — we use the characters and the themes from the comic books, but we tell our own story.
What were the events surrounding the whole 2K-approaching-you thing surrounding the game?
2K approached us and asked us if we wanted to make the sequel, and we jumped on it. We had a team that could evolve to it, and so we started working on it about two years ago. We’re using our own Evolution Engine to develop it. We created this engine for Dark Sector, and we’ve been building on it for The Darkness II.
So, for example, with the lighting system we’ve created just for this game to allow you to shoot at the lights and create the really nice scenes and lights that you saw in the demo. Think about the animation system as well. First, we have the demon arms, which are core to our combat. The slashing demon arm allows you to knock enemies anywhere you want based on how you push the right analog stick. That was really important to get a good animation system to support that — so when you hit an enemy, he has an animated reaction, then he goes into rag doll, so he’ll react physically with the world in a believable way. But then if he hasn’t been killed yet, he can actually get up off the ground. So that’s a great example of the way our animation system has been built and tailored for The Darkness II.
While playing the demo, I noticed you’re actually able to select which body part you’d like to pick up the enemy from — be it the head, left shin, right arm, etc. Will this feature come into significant use at some point in the game?
Grabbing different body parts allows you to execute enemies in different ways. One of the new features of The Darkness II are our demon arm executions, so once you grab an enemy with the demon arm, you can execute him. Where you grab them controls how you execute them, and we have a lot of different executions. So if you grab a guy by the leg, it’ll play out a different execution than if you grab him by the torso or the head.
Basically, it just gives variety to the player, so you’re not, throughout the course of the entire game, seeing the same execution again and again and again.
How many executions is the team aiming for?
Well, we showed off three in the demo [you saw today]. There’s one that we call the “Daisy Pop,” where you pop off a guys head. There’s one we call the “Wishbone,” where you pull a guy in half. And then we also have the “Anaconda,” where the demon arm wraps around them, and then the other demon arm pokes through his chest — I love that one. And we have a lot of other ones we haven’t shown yet.
The game’s set in New York City. How close is the design of The Darkness II sticking to that of the real-life metropolis? Did the team actually travel out on-location and take photos of the city for the game’s development?
We did actually a lot of field research and it’s funny, actually, our art director — once we created our story and knew where our locations were — our art director chucked those and figured out on a map of New York City where all these different locations should be, so that when you’re in a certain area, you’ll see appropriate landmarks that help place it as New York City.
Now, we’re not being true, or exactly, like 1-to-1 with New York City; we’re not trying to replicate the city. But we are trying to give the feel of what it’s like to be in Little Italy, or in the industrial area, or wherever the other levels may be. So it feels like you’re in New York City without having to stick 100 percent to what it looks like.
Does the whole game take place in Manhattan? Or do you travel throughout the other boroughs?
I can’t really tell you where the locations are right now, but a majority of the game does take place in New York City, but there are a lot of other cool places that we go.
Being from New York City, ourselves, we spent a lot of time in the demo analyzing the map in the subway station, making sure you got it right. You did pretty good! Our only complaint is that the third rail doesn’t electrocute you when you step on it.
(laughs) We’re still working on that one!
I noticed we were racking up points as we took out goons. What’s their significance?
We do have a progression system. The demon arms and the darkling is just the basic, core mechanics of the game. We have a lot of stuff that builds on that, that you’ll get as you play through the game. But that’s all I can tell you about that for now. But there’s definitely a lot more than what you’ve seen today [at PAX East].
With The Darkness (first game) being such a hidden gem, are you trying to promote players into playing the first game before playing the second? Or is it a game where you really don’t have to play the first to understand the sequel?
We’re definitely encouraging players to go back and play the first game, it was a fantastic game. But we are aware that it’s been three years since the first game was released and not a lot of players played it, and more might not remember exactly what happened. So we are introducing them to the background of The Darkness — who Jackie is, who Jenny was. So it’s not a requirement to play the first game, but I definitely encourage it, solely because it was such a great game with a great story.
Will there be a sort of marketing push that might encourage players to play the first game?
That, I’m not sure about. 2K probably has some plans — I don’t know what those plans are, though.
Thanks for your time, Tom!
The Darkness II is out for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC this Fall.