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Comic-Con 2011: Taking The Darkness II from comic to video game


(DENIS POROY/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Originally slated for a fall release, the new game will be previewed San Diego’s Comic-Con this Thursday, letting players take control of possessed hitman Jackie Estacado.

But as the franchise started its life as a comic series, there’s also been a lot of buzz about the new game’s art style and storyline.

I had the chance to chat with the comic’s creator and publisher Marc Silvestri and the game’s project director Sheldon Carter about the Darkness II’s evolution from comic to video game, and some features to watch for from the new game.

Carter said that Digital Extremes, which took over the series from Starbreeze Studios, worked hard to stay true to the source material.

“The first game that was done ignored the style of the comics,” said Carter, whose studio Digital Extremes took over the project from Starbreeze Studios. The first game opted for a photo-realistic feel instead of adopting the style of the comics.

Digital Extremes wanted to return to the source, and to make the player feel as if they are playing a graphic novel, the team had artists hand-paint every part of the game.

“Hats off to them,” said Silvestri, who is the CEO of the comic’s publisher, Top Cow. The effect is absolutely stunning, he said, adding that anyone looking for a justification to classify games as art should look no further than The Darkness II.

“For me, coming from the source material, it’s a compliment to myself and everyone’s who’s worked them,” Silvestri said, adding that the game far exceeded his expectations.

The art is not the only part of the game that’s true to the comics. “Narrative’s a really important aspect of the game for us,” Carter said.

To get to the heart of the Darkness story, the team hired on Paul Jenkins, who worked as a writer on the first game and on the graphic novels.

With games based on existing worlds, cut scenes can often make it feel like you’re playing a movie instead of a game. But Silvestri said the game avoided that trap.

“Paul not only knows how a game is structured and is played, but he knows how to lead you and still give you control,” Silvestri said. “The cool thing about this game is that there are no cut scenes. Every scene propels the story forward and it’s playable. You can interact with that scene, but that scene does propel that story forward.”

One major difference between the storylines of the first game and the sequel is the way the player interacts with the Darkling, an imp-like creature that helps the player solve puzzles.

“In the first game, you had darklings, plural. And they were a gameplay tool that you solved puzzles with,” Carter said. Now, however, there’s only one companion and he’s a fully realized character.

“When you have  first-person game, nice to have a pal running around with you, talking about the things you’re doing and to help you understand what you’re going through,” Carter said.

And what about the gameplay?

Much has been made of the quad-wielding capabilities in the new game — players have control over their own arms, as well as two demon arms that sprout from the player’s shoulders.

“In the first game (The Darkness) was kind of a modal thing,” Carter said. “With quad wielding, you can do everything you’d do in a shooter plus what you’d do with these demon arms. So if you’re fighting down a street, you can grab a car door, shoot through the window and then toss the door. If the guy you’re fighting gets too close, you can slash him.”

“It’s really unique, not just run and gun and not just RPG,” Silvestri said. “It’s really a terrific hybrid where you’re being immersed in that world.”

Silvestri was careful to say that the game is definitely not for kids — the main character is a demon-possessed hitman, after all — but added that even the violence is a contextual part of the story.

“ I just think that people are going to be shocked at how good this game is and how much they’ll want to replay it when they’re done,” he said.

Related stories:

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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