Darksiders then, Darksiders 2 now, Darksiders co-op tomorrow? [Interview]

30 Jul 2012  by   John Robertson
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We chat to Darksiders 2’s lead designer Haydn Dalton about the changes that have been made to the game in comparison to the original, as well as the initial plans for the series and what the future holds.

Be sure to check out our recent hands-on preview of Darksiders 2, and to check back in the next couple of weeks for our full and final review.

IncGamers: Now that the game is finished, how happy are you with the final article? Have you achieved everything you wanted to achieve with it?

Haydn Dalton: I think we’ve achieved all of the high level points, yeah. One of the big things was that we wanted a relatively simple, but in-depth, loot system and I think we’ve got that. Once you’ve played for a while and see the different stats.., at the start we try to keep it simple, simple items with relatively simple stats.

As you go further into the game the stats begin to stack up so that you’ve got four or five different stats on each item and you’ve then got to figure out which stats are important to your own play style. It’s the same kind of thing with the NPCs, the skill trees and the side quests. Those are the four major things we wanted to add to the game in a big way and I think we’ve been successful with that.

It’s hard to find a balance that works for the skilled player and the less skilled player, especially with so many elements. Loot is a big factor in the balancing of the game, especially because we didn’t have it in the first one. We added some things for the less experienced player – like the optional instant equipping of items when you pick them up.

Overall we’re happy with it, though.

IG: With the loot, the new character, new combat items, the skill trees etc, this feels like a much bigger project than the first Darksiders. Was that the case?

HD: Making this game was mostly about sheer size of the game and making sure there was enough content to fill it up. In the first game we had to create the base content from scratch – the collision detection, making sure the frame rate was high, the AI, the controls etc.

With Darksiders 2 we already had the base to work from and build upon. It was difficult figuring out what would make level design work with the game, but we have some of those principles already figured out for this game.

So our focus was the new elements and the bigger world. We’ve got a new game plus option as well, so we had to make sure that the design would work for multiple playthrough and that there would be new loot to find that you didn’t find the first time. I think that’s actually worked well for us.

IG: When you were designing the RPG elements like the skill trees and the loot, how careful were you to keep it in line with the kind of game that you were making? I presume you didn’t want to go down the route of walls of digits like you see in the likes of Baldur’s Gate or Diablo

HD: Yeah, we did try to keep that relatively simple visually. That’s why, if you look at the skill tree itself, we have four active skills in each tree that acts as the core functionality if you like. And then everything is about buffing that skill and making it work how you’d like it to.

For example, you can give yourself the ability to summon ghouls from the ground to fight alongside you. After that, you can complement it with passive skills that increase its effectiveness. So you can add extra ghouls, give them more health, cause them to explode when they die or when they kill they harvest wrath for you. That keeps it simple to understand but lets the player personalise skills in the way that they want to.

IG: Would you advise players to stick to one side of the skill tree, or spread your abilities evenly across them?

HD: I think it’s always good to specialise, but each side has skills that can turn out to be very important. What most people will probably do at the start is experiment to see what works for them and then do a re-spec – wipe the points clean and build them up from scratch again. That’s what I would expect, at least.

Because there are two different main play styles, the Harbinger side is mainly melee focused and the Necromancer is focused on range and magic. If you really want to get dirty and brawl, then the Harbinger skills are going to suit you better. Conversely, if melee isn’t your thing then the Necromancer side is going to be better.

IG: Which style do you prefer to use?

HD: I’m going to go against what I just said now, I’m a big brawler guy but.. I find the Necromancer side offers a lot. Summoning the ghouls lets me focus on the tough enemy while they take care of business with the other enemies elsewhere. Splitting up the enemies like that helps my style of play a lot.

IG: Moving on to the puzzle and platforming elements, how difficult did you want to make those aspects? Would you like to see a player get stuck for 20 minutes on something you’ve created?

HD: No, we never want players to get stuck like that. Our goal is just to challenge them mentally. There’s never a case where the answer is outside of the area you’re in, and the puzzles are usually an extension of something you’ve already done or learned.

For example, you know how to work switches. But then you come up against a switch that’s across a long gap that you can’t jump across, but you’ve also learned how to use bombs and how they can be used to activate switches. So it’s about getting players to work to put two previously distinct elements together and for them to work out how they can work in tandem.

That’s not an especially difficult leap to make, but it’s not as easy as you might expect for someone that’s never done it before or isn’t used to doing it. With playtests we’ve found that some players will get it instantly, and others will take absolutely ages to figure it out. There’s usually very little middle ground.

IG: There are four horsemen, was your plan to do four separate games? Is that still your plan?

HD: Originally, Vigil wanted to do a four player co-op game. Realistically, though, we didn’t have much console experience and it was a whole new genre for us. So instead we went down the less risky route and focused on a single one of them.

With the second game we thought of doing some form of co-op, but that was still very risky. Plus, people liked what we did with the first game and we didn’t want to take that away from them. I guess we’ll find out when this comes out whether they still like it [Laughs].

I wouldn’t necessarily assume that if Darksiders 2 does well that we’ll move straight on to the next game with the next horseman. I think it would be time to really think about what we want to do with the franchise as a whole, and maybe that would be a big overhaul and total rethink. That would depend on how well Darksiders 2 does and which platforms we’re working on at the time.

IG: Does the four-player co-op idea still appeal to you guys?

HD: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s anyone here that likes Darksiders and doesn’t like the idea of causing destruction with three buddies. The puzzles would have to change quite a lot, because we design them with a single person’s perspective in mind. Co-op puzzles would be a whole new challenge for us, and how the game would work if someone decided that they wanted to play by themselves.

IG: Can you see yourselves doing another Darksiders for the current generation of consoles?

HD: Our tech is always advancing, from Darksiders 1 to Darksiders 2 the tech has changed a lot and been upgraded. I still think we could squeeze something more out of the current generation, but we certainly wouldn’t complain if the bigwigs told us that we’re going to be doing something for the next generation.

That would be a new kind of challenge, but it would surely allow us to do something that we can’t do on the current gen.

IG: The hype around this game is fairly enormous, much bigger than it was for the first Darksiders. Are you worried that it’s going to be difficult to meet expectations?

HD: It definitely adds something new to get worried about. With the first game we were a small company and we did the game that we wanted to play, we set out to prove that we could do something that was genuinely fun.

The public and the media reacted really positively to Darksiders 1, which was fantastic. But, obviously, because of that there’re many more eyes on this game which increases the pressure on us and the expectations from the players. Basically, this has to be better than the first game.

It’s a little bit worrying, but it’s not a bad kind of pressure. It’s the kind of pressure that you want. It’s our job to make a better game than the first one. That’s absolutely our job to do that.

IG: Are you worried about the financial difficulties THQ are going through and the impact that that might have on their status as a publisher?

HD: Not really, no. We’ve got a job to create a game and that’s what we’re going to do. Those issues are an external problem that it isn’t going to do any good worrying about. If we do a good game, it’s going to be a good game no matter what. We just worry about our own product and making it the best we can.

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