Darksiders II goes to hell and back
- 12 April, 2012 15:19
Jay Fitzloff initially started at Game Informer magazine as a journalist before he moved to Take 2/Rockstar as a product manager in marketing. His next job was for a PR agency before he ended up at Vigil Games. Working at a developer turned out to be the "last piece of the puzzle," as at that point he had seen journalism, PR, and marketing.
We caught up with Jay, a producer at Vigil Games, to talk about Darksiders II.
How did you go from PR to game development?
Vigil Games producer, Jay Fitzloff (JF): There are many things to do in video game development. I'm not an artist or a programmer, and I don't think a person like me who doesn't have those craft skills could just decide to work at a developer, walk through a door and get a job. However, the skills I collected along the way, and if I knew these skills I would name them, but the variation of my career allowed me to go to Vigil Games.
How did you find the position at Vigil Games?
JF: They had a job listing, they said what they wanted, I went out and met with the guys, and they talked me through it. I was honest with them and said that I had never worked at a developer and this is what I want to try, and they talked me through what the job needed and if it matched up with what I had. But having said that, I still had a lot to learn and I had to work hard to catch up. I thought I knew a lot of video game tech talk, but then you work in a developer and learn that there is a lot of terminology that I had no idea what it meant. It was like a foreign language, so it took some time for me to pick that up.
What was the highlight of working at Take2/Rockstar?
JF: On the Rockstar side, they spared no expense when it came to events for landmark games, so I had a lot of fun with that.
Anything you miss about the job?
JF: My biggest disappoint was when they were working on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I had a small hand in it, though I was mainly involved with the Max Payne and Midnight Club properties. I was travelling and checking my email remotely, and they had sent an email asking for people to lend their voices for pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Unfortunately, that was taking place the entire time I was away, so I missed out on my opportunity for fame. [laughs]
How did the concept for the original Darksiders come up?
JF: I wasn't there at the time, but I've heard this story. A couple of guys were working at another developer and they knew that they wanted to do console games, so the core team of four founders were working on the technology while at the same time considering what to make. They knew that they wanted an action adventure title with puzzle solving and combat, but they didn't know what the theme would be. At some point, somebody threw out the idea of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. That was the idea that caused them to perk up, but they didn't decide on it straight away and looked at other concepts, but it always tended to come back to the four horsemen idea.
How did they build out the initial concept?
JF: With any game you have a grand vision, but you have to reel it in and make it more concrete, so they had to consider what direction to take the horsemen concept, such as whether it takes place during the apocalypse and which horsemen should be the protagonist. The team felt that War made the most sense, as you were going to do a lot of fighting in the story, so the first game focused on War and was set on Earth to kind of set the scene for the Darksiders universe.
Was the pre-planning of the sequel any different?
JF: The sequel went through the same decision process, so we once again had to decide what we could do with the team and the time on a budget. So we decided to do something different and we decided to pick Death as the new protagonist. So that's how the themes of the two games came about.
What is the source of Darksiders unique art style?
JF: A lot of it is based on Joe Madureira, our creative director, who has penciled the X-Men comic and is now on Spider-Man, so all of the original artwork was his and the art team took them into a 3D realm. More so than the art itself, it was adapting his art style to the game, added to the title's unique style. If you notice in Darksiders, there is no symmetry or perfectly rounded corners. Everything is jagged, cracked or old, and that especially makes it seem unique, because especially when you're building a game, it's a lot easier to make something symmetrical — if you design half the other is automatically done. From a creation standpoint, it takes longer to build these uniquely structured items and environments. But visually, it makes it pop a lot more.
What was the design direction for the sequel?
JF: With Darksiders II, that art style is taken to another level, because we're not on Earth anymore and not bound by reality. So our team got to spread their wings, as there was nothing off the table and there were no rules to what the world or enemies should look like, as long as it was cool. Every game has its own reality to set the stage, so it comes down to the artist to sketch something unique and then we will attempt to put it in the game.
What is the challenge of creating a new IP like Darksiders?
JF: Mainly, it's getting attention. Generally, any game could be an original IP, could be based on something else or a sequel. For example, Portal is an original IP, but if you would tie some Disney characters into it, it would be the exact same game but it would be licensed by Disney. With an original IP, you have the advantage of no set boundaries or rules already established, so you're able to do what you like. So the advantage is that creatively you don't feel bound by what you're working around. The disadvantage is that on the marketing and PR side, you lose that instant connection that people might have or knowledge going into your game.
Why is that a challenge?
JF: With an original IP, you don't have that instant recognition and you have to fight to get that recognition through marketing and PR channels, and we faced that with the original Darksiders. Not only were we an original IP, but we had a hard game to describe. It is hard to say what Darksiders is about to a friend without getting into a drawn out explanation, and in marketing that's not exactly a good thing, as it should be a simple message. With Darksiders II, it will be a little bit easier, as we already have some fans and we're established as an IP.
Why are fans important to Darksiders?
JF: We did get compared to other games when the original Darksiders came out, but we think now the property is getting to the point that when the sequel comes out, we'll be established and the table will be turned, where a game will come out and people will say it's like Darksiders. When we reach that point, we will truly know that we have established it as a franchise.
What was the reception for the original game?
JF: It was positive. I can't sit here and tell you that for every game that comes out I sit and read through comments, but with Darksiders I did since I obviously had a strong connection with it. I can't give you a breakdown, but it seems to be, especially out of all the games I worked on, this one definitely has a strong following and passionate fans, with people who are excited and ready to see what we're doing next with Darksiders II.
How about the fans?
JF: The fans are very involved and that's exciting, but that means we have a bit more pressure because you have that much more to live up to. We're doing our best and I feel really good about the game so I think people will be happy with Darksiders II. I won't say everybody, since you can't please everyone with a game, but I think we will do well with the fans.
Why change the protagonist from War to Death?
JF: It would have been easiest for us to have War in again and probably saner, as we had a new IP and it was hard enough. And switching protagonists from what has already been established is not something that happens in video games. The reason we did it was that we wanted to do something different to expand the game universe, and there are four horsemen, so why still ignore the other three moving forward? It was also in our own interest to create a different character from War.
Why was the change important for Darksiders?
JF: If the gameplay is familiar, there are still enough elements for people to feel that it is new and a full sequel, and not a 0.5 upgrade. For example, Death is more agile in the sequel and that allowed us to make larger levels vertically because he can get to high places. Basically, we wanted to make a more dynamic game and part of that was introducing a new character with new movies in a new storyline set in bigger and better environments.
Does this help to reset the character's experience for leveling up?
JF: The War story had been told and he had increased his powers in the first game, but with the second game we have a new leveling up system, so technically we were capable of doing another game with War. But with the new elements we introduced, it made more sense just to have a new character instead. A lot of the story in the second game also takes place in the underworld, so you don't have to play the first game to play the sequel. But if you have, you'll see crossovers with people, places and events. It really fleshes out the universe of Darksiders and how the horsemen fit into it. I think it just brings it more together overall with a new character.
Will the series become a quadrilogy?
JF: Especially with the Avengers movie coming out, people are wondering if we are following the same pattern where they release a series of movies focusing on individual superheroes before bringing them all together in one movie. The reality is we don't know. Like with anything, you have these grand ideas and we know where we'd like to take it next, and everyone has their own opinion on the design team.
But is the team already thinking about it?
JF: We have to finish Darksiders II, and nothing becomes concrete until this game is in the can, and only then can we take a vacation, collect ourselves and ask ourselves what's next with Darksiders III. What happens next, who it will star or what will happen will once again come down to time, team, budget, and what can we accomplish. Where are we headed? Even that I can't answer. [laughs]
Any plans for a PS Vita version of Darksiders II?
JF: I'm not on the tech team, but I don't think we have really sat down and looked at the technology of the game to see what's possible on the Vita. From a technical perspective is it possible? I'm not sure. We're not against any platform and everything is on the table, but it's just a matter of when you make a game this big, our entire team is occupied and they don't have the time to get sidelined with development. All I can say for Vita now is a maybe.
What do you think of Max Payne 3?
JF: It's hard for me to say, since I've only seen screenshots. I like the Max Payne series and I don't doubt that I'll like the third game when it comes out. I'm still just waiting to see what it will look like when in action. Back in the day, I remember seeing early technology for Max Payne 3, where the character was running around in a blue room, and even then I thought the game looked impressive. I'm sure I'll be playing it, but I'm still just waiting until they show me some more of the game through an in-game trailer.
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