Ask our interviewees about the level of critical acclaim heaped on their Xbox project Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and they admit to surprise. Taking a low-key property and turning it into videogaming gold could become the company's calling card if its latest project The Darkness, based on a relatively unknown comic book series, lives up to expectations when it's finally released in spring 2007. As they take a break from an increasingly heavy workload, we sit down with game designers Mikael Saker and Tommy Tordsson, lead level designer Jerk Gustafsson and art director Jens Matthies...
What was the draw of The Darkness? Why base this project on a cult comic?
Jens Matthies: There were a lot of factors that went into that decision. After Riddick we had numerous offers to do different things, including a next-gen game. Then we got this one offer for The Darkness. So we read the comic and found a lot of elements we really liked. It was the kind of project we wanted to do from a technological standpoint, so it was a good match.
With Riddick being such a critical success, did you feel pressure to deliver with this next project?
Mikael Saker: Of course! (Laughs.) For one, you're here. We've noticed a lot more press coverage around this project than Riddick, so there's definitely a lot more pressure.
JM: Every game we've done has been better than the last one, and we've improved each time, learning to be more ambitious as well. It would be both a professional and personal failure if it didn't do as well as Riddick. So that's what we're aiming for; to make it better.
MS: We're just hoping that our creative peak is still ahead of us!
Do you find while developing The Darkness you can employ unused ideas from the Riddick project as you're still using your own custom Starbreeze graphics engine?
MS: We had a prototype up and running pretty early on the Riddick engine, and so this gave us a starting point. As both games use a first-person perspective, we could use animations from Riddick to test out the engine and get things going, steadily progressing towards what you are seeing now. It looks and plays a lot differently from Riddick, but there are common elements that we have been able to use so development can progress more quickly.
JM: But there are some things you really can't take from Riddick, even though we and other people really liked them - like the melee attacks.
JM: In Riddick we had this guy in prison and it didn't seem realistic that he was carrying guns. But being a hitman for the Mafia, you're going to have access to weaponry, that's just the way it is. So if you have access to guns all the time, you don't just walk up and punch people in the face.
MS: We also have some storytelling ideas that we developed during the Riddick production that we pushed further. Because in Riddick we wanted to limit the number of cinematic cutscenes and bring as much as possible into the actual gameplay. In The Darkness we've gone even further. There are cinematic cut scenes, but all of them bar one are in the first-person. It's in the style of Half-Life, but far more dramatic.
Were any of you fans of the comic before you started the project?
Jerk Gustaffsson: I don't think anyone had read it!
JM: Only a few of us were, because The Darkness isn't really available in Sweden.
MS: I know when we started the project we had to order huge racks of the comic from America, because we went into town and had a hard time tracking copies down.