Imagine being infected with a virus, one that festers inside you and embodies everything you’ve come to hate about your life. But it also acts a sort of superpower that helps you get ahead in life and you’ve got a substantial promotion at work. You’re on top of the world and everything would be perfect if it weren’t for this sickness. That and the fact that your girlfriend’s dead.
This is what Digital Extremes Creative Director Sheldon Carter and 2K Games Associate Producer Dan Schmittou want you to feel when playing The Darkness II, out today. During a conference call late last week, the two reflected on certain aspects of the game’s production and divulged a few points those eagerly waiting to pop the title into their Xbox 360 or PS3 will experience firsthand soon enough.
To get those of you who haven’t played the first game up to speed, here’s the gist of it. You assume the role of Jackie Estacado, a former hitman turned mob boss who has this dark power dwelling within. It gives him superhuman powers but make no mistake: It controls you just as much as you do it.
The Darkness II demo and the first game have a unique problem. Being based on a complex graphic novel, the chaotic and high-octane gameplay had to be balanced with an immersive story, a challenge the folks at 2K Games and Digital Extremes were more than happy to take on.
“It was challenging but at the same time it gave some pretty unique opportunities to take this intense Darkness lore — the quad-wielding, the demon arms and the mob setting — but also tie it into Jackie as a person and make players feel like they’re this character and using the story and the gameplay progression from high-octane moments,” Schmittou said. “It was challenging to kind of get that balance, but in the end just making sure the story and gameplay were always in service of each other really helped us to be able to achieve that.”
Carter likened having constant action to too much of a good thing.
“The problem I think you can run into is that if everything’s at 11 then nothing resonates at all,” Carter said. “We were able to go so crazy with some of the things you could do with the demon arms.”
He went on to explain that moments when you’re walking through a hub during the slower moments of the game “let the player breathe.”
“We’re really kind of varying the pace with diverse environments and gameplay,” Carter said. “One of the important things is that a lot of games will try and do 11 the whole time. But the thing that gets tricky is that the story doesn’t always feel like it’s to 11.”
In order to keep things balanced, the hubs and player interactions with NPCs came in to break things up and spread the action out a bit. Of course, with such a fast-paced and frenetic game mechanic as quad-wielding to work with, there must have been a lot of trial and error, right? Not really, the developers said.
Carter said the team had the quad-wielding mechanic down pretty early on in the development of Darkness II, which working on the rest of the game that much easier. One of the keys there, he said, was having people working on an in-house engine in the same building.
“This kind of feels like it works,” Carter said as he explained how team members reacted when they felt the quad-wielding mechanic for themselves. “We had that down early and that’s just a testament to some of the great guys on the team.”
After the initial development of the quad-wielding mechanic, Schmittou said it was “just a matter of fine-tuning grab times and reaction times and a lot of things that would come out of testing.”
“Having that base there kind of set us up for success,” he said. “It just works really well.”
Not much was divulged as far as story goes, only that The Brotherhood of the Darkness will return in the sequel and that the organization will present a new threat in the form of support troopers. In The Darkness, Jackie’s powers are upset by direct light, something these guys are more than happy to exploit. Schmittou said Support Brotherhood will shine light on your character and “create this opportunity for their fellow enemies to get the upperhand on Jackie.”
“They have a bit more military tactics to them and they seem more organized,” he said. “You’ll feel like ‘oh, I really gotta watch out for these guys.” You need to be on top of your game.”
Once exposed to enough light, support troops can get you to lose anything of use.
“Now you have no guns, no demon arms, no powers and it’s kind of like ‘run like hell’ at that point,” Carter said.
In terms of building the rest of the game — primarily the cooperative multiplayer element — Carter and Schmittou constantly returned to the philosophy they started with.
“We kind of went back to our main pillar, which is ‘only in service of story,’” Sheldon said.
After the call, 2K Games sent over a bevy of screenshots and, well, it didn’t feel right to keep them to ourselves so I hope you enjoyed them as you read the article. If you’re still on the fence regarding The Darkness II, John’s review is right here.