THE BIG INTERVIEW: GUNFIRE GAMES
OXM visited Gunfire Games’ Texas studio to meet the folk behind the Darksiders series, and find out what Fury’s new adventure has in store for us
Late June is bringing humidity and baking sunshine to the Lone Star State, and it’s hotter than hell outside. But comfortably airconditioned within Gunfire Games’ Austin, Texas studio, OXM is battling hell’s own creatures as Fury, the third of the Horsemen—actually a horsewoman, of course—in a lengthy hands-on session with Xbox One’s first proper Darksiders game.
On the wall of Gunfire Games’ studio hangs an impressive replica of War’s gigantic sword from the first Darksiders, while a statuette of the Joe Mad-inspired Death from Darksiders
II sits on the reception area’s coffee table, next to a copy of OXM from last year featuring Fury on its cover. They are proud reminders of both the series’ legacy and its developers’ exciting present, following a phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the now defunct Vigil Games. That Darksiders III is being made at all is testament to both the developers’ grit and the cult popularity of the franchise.
Vigil Games was formed in Austin in 2005 by David Adams and Joe Madureira, a comic book writer and artist who had worked on Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men series, and whose style informed Darksiders’ distinct design aesthetic. But after Vigil’s parent company THQ went bankrupt in 2012, Adams plus John Pearl, now Gunfire’s Design Director, took a handful of other erstwhile Vigil staff and formed their own studio in 2014. Initially the team developed games for VR headsets, including Cronos and Herobound, and remastered Darksiders II— as The Deathinitive
Edition— for Xbox One. But they were not done with the Darksiders series. With THQ Nordic’s backing, they could now return to the concept of Darksiders III that they had already been discussing before Vigil closed. And so Fury was born, or rather reborn.
The Darksiders games found a strong fanbase; they resonated with gamers both for their strong visual identity and in their ambitious formula of exploration, puzzles, challenging combat, and unique, apocalyptic world filled with angels, demons, and other denizens of the underworld. And as fans of the series ourselves, it was a no-brainer for
OXM to accept an invite to spend quality hands-on time with the title before it launches this November, and meet Gunfire’s creative leads, game director David Adams, and design director John Pearl...
After Vigil Games closed, it looked like DarksidersII would never get made… at what point did you realize you could actually make it happen? David: At some point after we’d finished Cronos, which was the first big VR game that we did, we said we actually have enough people, and we’d just done the Darksiders II: The Deathinitive Edition port, and it just seemed like a good time to do the game. Plus everyone here was starting to get really excited again about making Darksiders III.
John: Another thing that sounded good was, the thing that we always wanted and that we never got, was a pre-production creative. For Darksiders I, we were just figuring it out; for Darksiders II we had this entire team from Darksiders, so ‘let’s do something with them’—we just kind of pushed forward and tried to get concepts and ideas; it just kind of happened while production was happening. So we were talking like, hey, we can actually get the time we want and really plan out the world. And that’s been a huge boon to us, we were able to lay out the world at a really early stage and get an idea of the size and the requirements of the game, and look at concepts for the characters and really take our time and go into full production with a really good idea of what we were making.
You mentioned in your DarksidersII presentation today that the Four Horsemen characters follow RPG-type class roles…
David: We imagined the line-up [of the Horsemen] as Warrior, Mage, Thief, and Necromancer. And the problem we ran into, when we got to doing Fury, was, okay, she’s going to be a Mage, but still a big part of the game is melee combat—the cool, visceral, doing awesome combos thing, so if we got
“I think you’ve just got to try stuff, and we didn’t want to be stale”
too Mage-y and spell-based or range-based, it would cease to be that kind of game. So we had to present her magical abilities through melee combat, and that really drove a lot of the direction. As far as the RPG aspect goes, I think we bounced around from project to project, the first one was super-RPG like, the second one was much more almost like Diablo, random loot, skill trees, the whole-nine, so this one landed somewhere in between.
Fury’s hair is a really big part of her character and her power…
John: We joked early on that it was like we’ve got three main characters, we have Fury, we have her hair and we have the whip, and those all have to look cool when they are put together, so definitely each one had to have that level of minute detail.
David: Her hair doesn’t really obey the laws of physics, every time we get concept art, her hair’s like ‘swooosh’, really swirling up and doing great stuff, so we wanted to capture that in the game. It’s not like her hair’s lying down like a typical person with long hair, it’s kind of got a mind of its own. So we spent a decent amount of time trying to do that, but not make it look weird like it’s a plastic hood. It moves around and reacts.
It’s a fantasy world but you seem to strive for a certain degree of realism.
John: Even with Darksiders I it was never like this is the real world, it’s a twist on that. This is not your typical post-apocalypse—it’s not human-caused, angels and demons have caused this apocalypse, so we wanted it to feel like it’s not just a Fallout world. It’s not nukes, it’s these unknown powers, so we had giant spikes coming through buildings and chains linking buildings together like, hey this is a demon’s playground now! It’s the fantastical elements on top of the realism that we’re trying to sell in the Darksiders world—this is not just a city, it’s a Darksiders city.
Fury is hunting the Seven Deadly Sins, that have been unleashed on earth— how did you approach the character design for the Sins? David: It was mostly trying to capture what the sin represented. We didn’t want anything scary or grotesque, it was more, hey what’s a comic book interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins? Wrath’s obviously in a giant suit of armor, you probably at some point [in the playthrough] could have seen Sloth across a passageway, and he’s a giant, fat insect-like thing on a throne. We tried to capture their particular weakness, their sin, as much as possible.
You’ve reworked the mechanic of the hub-world with dungeons leading off it, this seems to be kind of one big dungeon?
John: Before, it was very hub-based, but there’s something very interesting about a world wrapping back on itself, it feels more natural and less contrived and it gives you a perspective on the world. In
Darksiders I you go off to this world, and then you come back and you don’t have any relative perspective on, where is that church? It’s the typical Metroidvania game design, where you’re using tools to traverse areas you’ve been through before in a new way. There’s something really cool about making it one big dungeon, about the whole path-through feeling like this seamless environment where one area transitions into the next.
How much does making a sequel allow you to be able to take on board fan requests and/or problems people found with the first games?
David: You’ve definitely got to be true to the franchise, right? There’s got to be exploration, cool melee combat, puzzles, and some sort of progression. That’s
Darksiders in a nutshell. And I think that we’re pretty risky in that we do change it up quite a bit. When we were working on
Darksiders II, even internally, the development team, there were guys that were like, “Man, random loot? Skill trees? I just want an action game, why are you putting all this weird RPG stuff in?” There were a lot of fans who were like, what did you do? We liked Darksiders I way better, then you got a lot of fans who were like, “Darksiders II is way better than Darksiders.” So at the end of the day it just increased the pool of fans because we brought more people in. I think you’ve just got to try stuff, and we didn’t want to be stale. Let’s keep it interesting and make sure every game is different.
You were able to work with Unreal 4 this time, what kind of a difference did that make to what you could do with the game?
David: Darksiders I and II were on our proprietary engine at Vigil, so we were super-excited to work on Unreal 4. Not dissing the engine which I made a lot of myself, but it’s hard to maintain a complex engine. We did okay with what we had, but
with this one we were like we’ve got Unreal 4, we’ve got all the cool tools, and that was super-exciting. Plus just being able to do all the next-gen stuff. There’s a lot of stuff that’s way easier now than it was when we did Darksiders I and II, for sure.
The combat in DarksidersII seems quite challenging this time.
David: This gets back to one of the major changes; there are no more gated fights. With Darksiders I and II it was very much, you come into a room, a barrier pops up over the door, old-school God Of War style, right? Then you fight six waves of guys, and it’s like duh-duhhh! You beat that combat, and you go to the next one. Devil May Cry was the same way, and when we worked on
Darksiders I that’s just the way you did it, every game was that way. A lot of games have come out since then, which I find refreshing, where you don’t need to do that. You can organically present players with enemies. But what happens when you do that is you have to up the challenge a little because when you’re not stuck in a room you can just run past the enemies, and so it’s much more important to create situationally difficult things. Our game organically has blockers. You might run into a puzzle, or a door you can’t open, so that adds another layer of strategy, and you can’t just run through the game because you’re going to run into a puzzle you have to solve and that’s going to slow you down— some of those guys you ran past are going to come in and kick you. But I think as to specifically the difficulty, it’s a side-effect of the fact that you’re not fighting 20 guys any more, so you have to consider that the difficulty that was previously five waves of five, like 25 enemies, is now encapsulated in one or two enemies.
We like the way that those enemies are presented as just getting on with stuff, not waiting around for you.
John: Some of them are in the world to just be there, and you’re going to attack them, and then they’ll get mad at you for attacking them. The skeletons, for example, are quite passive if you run past them, but people naturally are just like, “I need to hit that! It’s a bad guy, I’m going to punch them!” Particularly the bomb bugs— you’re going to kill the bomb bug, and he does no harm to you! We wanted to create more of a living breathing world. Because it’s not a gated fight, we can place enemies in the world doing things, it makes it feel like there’s a reason for them, they’re not just there to punch you in the face! It’s a fun thing, because then you can take the combat a little bit more at your own pace. It gives you a lot more options in combat in how you engage them, and it offers up a lot of variety from encounter to encounter.
“A lot of stuff is way easier now than it was when we did Darksiders I and II”
Darksiders III is coming to Xbox One on November 27.
BELOW LEFT Fury also wields a pair of flaming nunchuks.
left and above Concept art including Wrath, one of the Seven Deadly Sins that Fury is tracking down
Left Fury’s hair changes to reflect the power she’s currently wielding, eg: Fire.
Below Concept art of one of Darksiders III’s dungeons.