Pre-E3 2006: Enter The Darkness IGN speaks with the Chronicles of Riddick design team about its evil new FPS. by Douglass C. Perry May 2, 2006 - The story behind The Darkness not only follows its namesake, but it's also murky, gritty, and evil. Based on the best-selling Top Cow comic book by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl, this Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 first-person shooter puts players in the shoes of Jackie Estacado, an intrepid Mafia hitman who works for the Franchetti crime family. The story tells how Estacado is suddenly possessed by the horrifying and stunning powers of The Darkness, with which he grapples throughout the entire narrative. Over the course of the game, players learn to control and manipulate the Darkness powers to confront the vicious mob boss and serve a much stronger power. We recently spoke with Starbreeze's design team about the game's direction, the technical differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, and how the designers are implementing their skills learned from the atmospheric Chronicles of Riddick. More specifically we talked to lead designer Jens Andersson (Enclave, Riddick), story and game designer Mikael Säker (Riddick), technical director Magnus Högdahl (Enclave, Riddick), and sound designer and composer Gustaf Grefberg (Enclave, Riddick) to get a keener sense of the game's development. IGN: Will you give us a little primer on the concept behind the Darkness? While some of our readers are very comic book savvy, some don't even know who Spider-Man is. Jens Andersson: The Darkness is about Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman. On his 21st birthday, Jackie gets possessed by the Darkness. This ancient and evil entity goes from father to son and gives Jackie spectacular powers whenever he is in the dark. In the game we've chosen to retell the story of the original comics about the day when Jackie receives the Darkness powers as well as the story about Jackie's only real family -- the mafia. IGN: In what way are you working with Top Cow? Are they purely consultants? Or is there more? Andersson: Top Cow has been really awesome to work with. They've allowed us to retell the original story and make the changes necessary to make it into a great videogame. Of course, having a guy like Paul Jenkins with us makes it much easier. Paul has written many Darkness comics and that really helps in staying true to the source. IGN: The Darkness is pretty evil little comic series, but it might be tough to translate that feeling to the videogame screen. Starbreeze was really good about creating an oppressive mood and a feeling of dread with The Chronicles of Riddick. So, what techniques will you use to capture the mood of The Darkness comic book? Andersson: The Darkness comic is dark, gritty and evil; basically all the things we love at Starbreeze. Also, the engine we've been developing since way back emphasizes light and shadows and that comes in really handy from both an atmosphere and gameplay aspect. This in combination with an in-depth story about the main characters creates the special mood we're after. IGN: What kinds of elements translate well from comic books to the videogame screen? Mikael Säker: The most obvious elements are the Darkness Powers that has been efficiently translated into gameplay. The "Resurrection" story, that the game is based upon, has some really strong dramatic moments that we have kept and tried to deliver as efficiently as possible. There are also a number of fun characters and villains in the comic which all come beautifully to life in the game. We have a really strong lineup of actors and they have all done marvelous performances. And then, of course, we have the Darklings -- so players can look forward to meeting Jenny, Butcher, Sarah and other character from the comic. They can expect Darklings running around under their command, raising hell, and they can surely expect being able to do really spectacular stuff with Jackie's Darkness powers. IGN: What will the music be like? Can you rip your own tunes? Also, how will you use Dolby 5.1 to your advantage? Gustaf Grefberg: The music is very dynamic. The main focus is on a cinematic soundtrack, influenced with choirs and rock in certain places. The score changes depending on what happens, and when the Darkness powers emerge. There will also be music playing from boom-boxes throughout the game as part of the urban setting. The entire sound engine is adapted to 5.1 audio. Every sound is mixed and positioned in a full surround environment, and any additional static sounds are mixed with a proper 5.1 speaker placement. We have no plans to support import of custom music in the game due to the complexity of the soundtrack that follows the mood of the game. IGN: What kind of first-person shooter is this? Slow-paced? Fast and frenetic? Stealthy? There are vast possibilities with this character and his serpent-like appendages. Will the game in any way resemble Chronicles of Riddick with its mixture of stealth, fighting, and first-person shooting? Andersson: The variety of ways to play the game that you saw in Riddick are exactly what we are looking for, but in The Darkness things are a bit different. You are a professional hitman so guns will be plentiful, whereas in Riddick we devised ways to control the player's access to weapons. This leads us in other directions regarding what the player would expect to do in a specific situation. This is where the Darkness powers come in and they are really what will make a difference in terms of actual gameplay. The powers will grow during the game and constantly give the player new ways to play. We've also taken the adventure aspects further, since this gives great tools to mix up the pacing and to have a chance to tell a story that will make people involved in the game and gives the player a greater sense of freedom. IGN: What is it like to program and design the game for Xbox 360 versus the PlayStation 3? We're not looking to start a blood war here. We're more interested in what it's like to program for each, and what each one's strengths and weaknesses seem to be. Also, how do you foresee the two versions differing in the final product visually, gameplay-wise, and sound wise? Magnus Högdahl: The PS3 will have a content size advantage with Blu-ray and a CPU advantage for titles that are able to utilize a lot of the SPUs. The Xbox 360 has a slight GPU advantage and its general purpose triple-core CPU is relatively easy to utilize compared to SPUs. I expect that it will be near impossible to tell Xbox 360 and PS3 screenshots apart. IGN: Does the game follow any particular story path? In other words, how does the game relate to the upcoming movie? And how does it glean story bits from the comics? How does it fit into the universe of the Darkness? Säker: The game tells a self-contained story which is based on the "Resurrection" comics written by Paul Jenkins. It is a separate and unique storyline that takes the player through some of the defining moments in Jackie's life. There have been some changes in the adaptation process, but we have worked closely with Paul and made sure that the story of the game captures the core spirit of the comic. When it comes to the movie, we cannot really say what that will be about. You will have to wait for news about that. IGN: Does the game reveal anything new or different about Jackie Estacado, the lead character's history or unveil any new kinds of powers or moves? Or was anything slightly reinterpreted? Säker:Yes, with our interpretation and adaptation of the comic you will see some new exciting stuff. Jackie's supernatural powers have been carefully defined and made into consistent gameplay. How Darklings come into the world by Jackie's command is one of those things, but there are others. The relation between The Darkness entity and Jackie is also something we have dug into, and the same goes for the story of Jenny and Jackie. IGN: We know you want to talk about the online portion of the game, but apparently you have to wait until later. What can you tell us? What kinds of achievements or unlockables are you thinking of including? Säker:The game will of course feature online material. There's the multiplayer component, which is really exciting, and there will be loads of collectibles and achievements, pre-production stuff and also a few surprises. We also have TV sets with movies in-game and those are absolutely awesome. IGN: How do the Darklings work? Are they simply optional? Or will you need them to complete missions? Andersson:These small, mischievous creatures will accompany Jackie. The player can find them in the bodies of really evil people and they are scattered throughout the game for the player to find. Once found, each specific darkling can be summoned from patches of dark, and they will help Jackie with the means of their disposal, be it a golf club, hammer or an industrial jackhammer. The game won't force the player to use them, but they will be extremely effective in certain situations. And they are extremely funny to watch! IGN: What kinds of weapons will be available? What kinds of powers will be used? Andersson: Even if The Darkness is to its core a first-person shooter, Jackie's powers are key. But rather than tone down the shooter elements, we've spent a lot of effort designing darkness powers that will complement the gunplay rather than replace it. The Darkness powers in combat are therefore used to cause havoc to your surroundings, and destroy the cover of your enemies, as opposed to directly killing them. IGN: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter created a seamless experience and in doing so delivered a new feel for a game of that type. Given your drive to be a top-flight technology developer, in what ways will The Darkness create a next gen feel, look or gameplay experiences? Andersson: We have always had a lot of focus on believability in our games. The world should look real and the characters should feel real. There are a lot of examples where we've tried to take this to the next level with rendering, sound, animation and lighting. For example, one thing that worked really well in our previous game Riddick was that each character had a unique model and voice which directly gave them a sense of personality. To take this further in Darkness we've doing something we call VoCap, where we simultaneous record both voice as well as full facial and body motion capture for every line in the game. This gives a tremendous improvement of the believability of the characters in the game. E3 2006: The Darkness Starbreeze AB lights up the next generation with a wild new take on the FPS genre. by Douglass C. Perry May 11, 2006 - Behind closed doors today IGN was able to get a front and center look at The Darkness, the Top Cow comic book first-person shooter chronicling the newly possessed Jackie Estacado. Plain and simple, The Darkness was rad. As in, I got excited seeing it in action and learning about its crucial details. I also got a smile on my face simply knowing that the Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay team was at bat. The Darkness is a first-person shooter that, just like Riddick, blends genres. You take on the role of Jackie Estacado who is part of a family that's plagued by an evil curse that comes around whenever anyone in the family turns 21 years old. The comic series has been around a while now, so the game draws on special chapters from the series while adding in elements that make sense in a videogame (but which may not necessarily make sense in a comic book). Your job is to learn and master the demon that possesses you but also to fight the corrupt police force and the evil Franchetti family. After watching the demo and witnessing conversations between characters, I instantly thought back to the impressive RPG/job system in Riddick and how Starbreeze created an environment that was both ominous and compelling. The one example I saw included you and a mafia henchman in a scene where you both carried out body bags to a car. He is a big-bellied man with a wild beard and a deep, rough New York Italian accent. Starbreeze explained that they worked hard to pick just the right people to get the voices right. But also, instead of using tradition voice talent, Starbreeze implemented what they call Vo-Cap, voice capture. By setting mo-cap units on talent's face and body, the team captured their voice and their movement simultaneously, creating a more believable, more thorough experience. At last that's the idea. You'll learn the Darkness powers as you progress, powers that range from calling up Darklings, to accessing your two black serpents, and other variations of the two. The Darklings are interesting. They are the embodiment of raw evil, suited up in a freaky little demonic body, and they're pure unfettered evil little bastards. Following the conversation with the henchman, you run inside, knock out lights -- which incidentally powers up your Darkness strength -- and summon a few Darklings. When the police raid the house, one Darkling, which looked like a mutant frog wearing a backpack, pulled a gigantic drill off his back and punctured the policeman in the chest. He then went on his way, without being commanded, to attack other policemen. He would take a gun shot or two, then knock them over with a sideswipe, indicating his arms were stronger than the look, and then pull off the jackhammer drill that was longer than he was and drill down into the closest body part. It looked both brutal and absurdly funny. While trapped in the same house, the police raid grew desperate. They broke in though the windows, busted down an entire wall, and started in. After your darklings took out almost everyone, a police captain hid behind a back wall. At this point, your character looks up at a vent shaft, and using his two serpent extensions, one extends through the entire shaft, about 50 feet long, sneaks up behind the captain and munches him whole. The Serpent extension can also pick up and throw enemies or large objects such as cars and bikes. Starbreeze has designed the game with multiple ways to solve problems and obstacles. You'll also collect unique items and search out special locations to unlock additional Darklings. In some sections of the world, you can call up several Darklings at a time, while in others you may only be able to summon a mere one or two. Starbreeze learned some lessons from Riddick. The biggest criticism was that the game was short and didn't have multiplayer options. We laughed about a particular review that mentioned both of these criticisms and the team acknowledged that Riddick was a different game than the Darkness, though it had some faults. The Darkness, however, does have an online component though Starbreeze wouldn't talk in detail about it. What they did say was that you can play as a variety of Darklings against one another in an unannounced multiplayer mode. They also pointed out that they have spent an enormous amount of time working on the story and the characters. The game is more open-ended and less linear, creating a bigger, deeper narrative to dig into.