We spoke to The Darkness comic creator, Marc Silvestri, and Project Director at Digital Extremes, Sheldon Carter, while on the show floor at PAX Prime to find out more about the gruesome surival horror game coming to us on February 7. We talk quad-wielding demon arms, art direction, and the future of the franchise.
 
The Darkness is kind of your baby. How do you feel about the progression that has been made?

Marc Silvestri: My baby? I don't have kids, I have dogs! [Laughs]
 

...in my business - which is creating an IP - you always worry about taking it to another medium because the odds are against you.

 

What we create are pretty much my babies. You want to take care of them. These guys are not only taking care of my baby, they've nurtured them into a beautiful young man. In all seriousness, in my business - which is creating an IP - you always worry about taking it to another medium because the odds are against you. They really are. The odds of making a great movie based on a video game are stacked. So we've been really, really lucky. The first game was awesome. I was playing it all the time. The second one that Digital Extremes is doing takes everything that was great about the first one and brings it a whole other level.

It's the same publisher today. You've got new developers coming on line. The first time I saw Darkness II, I was sitting there watching it because the look is so different. I just couldn't get over how beautiful it looked. It's not easy to say that for a game like this. It's literally poetic. Each frame is almost a piece of art. And the narrative is amazing.

Sheldon Carter: Story's such a big deal in this game. We had Paul Jenkins, who wrote the first game, and he actually wrote a lot of the comics as well. He's written some great comics, so he's our writer on the game and it's been nice to have that connection. We've got this spiritual knowledge of all things "Darkness" he's writing and then on top of it we've got all these comic books. Paul has read them all now at this point. We’re drawing inspiration from a lot of different places. So making the game has been a real pleasure in that way.

And how do you feel about the gameplay? Particularly with the quad-wielding - it seems like some people take a bit of getting used to it, but I personally love it because it gives you so many options as to how to fight.

Sheldon: Thanks! We've really been working on refining the tutorials to make sure that people can get it right away and can use it right off the hop. For those that don’t get it, we try to layer it on, where you’ll still be fine even if you don’t use your demon arms during the first couple of levels. You're still going to be able to get through it. As you progress in the game, the enemies start escalating, so you’ll eventually have to get accustomed to them. We found this method of a tutorial to work pretty well.

Marc: Personally, I’m all thumbs. Look at the size of these mitts. [Holds up hands and laughs]

Sheldon: Yeah. You need to get an uber-controller.

The original Xbox controller?

Sheldon: Yeah, remember those? You need the big ones to get your hands on.

Marc: I totally got a handle on the quad-wielding. I remember watching the game and going, "How the hell am I going to get a handle on this." But it's so intuitive. And within minutes, you're fighting and slashing and shooting.  

Sheldon: We've all played the game where you've got grenades on a bumper or another ability, so it's just mentally mapping yourself so that, "Hey! I've got two triggers and two other triggers."

It's a little bit cooler than throwing a grenade though.

Sheldon: Oh, yeah! I agree. Thanks.

Marc: And significantly more gruesome.

Oh, yes. The more gruesome, the better.

Sheldon: We're right up your alley!

Obviously the art direction has changed a lot; it incorporates a graphic noir feel. It definitely fits its derivative comic book, but what else was a priority in going into the sequel?

Sheldon: I think for us when we looked at it, we weren't sure at first where we wanted to go artistically. The art style basically came as an evolution of us looking at so much of the comics. We didn’t set out to change the art style, the change in art came eventually when we were deciding on where we were going to take the sequel.
 

We wanted to have that end part of Darkness 1 be the beginning of Darkness 2, and so it was making the demon arms and all the things that you could do in those scenes be the whole gameplay.

 

Do you remember the end of Darkness 1? You had mini cut scenes where you were doing everything. You were ripping out stairs, throwing black holes and it was kind of like a power fantasy that we thought was great. It’s awesome. So one of the things that we looked at right off the hop was: how do we make that be the game? We wanted to have that end part of Darkness 1 be the beginning of Darkness 2, and so it was making the demon arms and all the things that you could do in those scenes be the whole gameplay.

That was our real gameplay goal. The other big goal was story, obviously, because we love that story. For us, conserving the story was the highest priority. We thought that that was what set it apart. I mean, when you think about Darkness 1, yeah, there’s some of that visceral stuff that was great, but what really set it apart were these emotional beats that were created. You had the quiet moments; you care about a character and then she’s killed and it’s like “whoa, what just happened? Now I need to get revenge.” And so for us, we felt like we needed to make sure we were hitting those same beats, because that’s what the fans of the game want or are expecting from us. They expect us to give them an emotional experience.

Sometimes you have to make sacrifices from what’s cannon just so it fits the medium transition. What was changed? Do you feel like anything has been sacrificed negatively?

Marc: I don’t think we made sacrifices at all to be honest with you. Again, it’s like you kinda hold your breath.

Sheldon: The nice thing about the Darkness as a franchise is that there are so many books, so much source material that we can pull from. We wanted to make sure we had an enemy that understood how the Darkness worked, that could actually use light as a weapon against Jackie.

The first game was all mobsters. So what’s the evolution? We deferred right to the books. We looked at the brotherhood and put our own spin on it but, like we were saying, we’ve got Paul who’s writing these characters. It all fits in the way that we’ve created the video game world. So I don’t feel like we’ve had to make any of those sacrifices that sometimes you do have to make. It’s not that would be a bad thing if there was something, but the story is so rich that you can just go, “oh we want this, or we want this” and we can just pick what we wanted that worked.

Marc: It was nice that we had actual fans working on the game.

Looking at the game, what do you feel like is your proudest quality? What fits the best?

Sheldon: For me, it’s the art style and the quad wielding. It’s a gameplay aspect and graphical aspect. Those are the things I’m most proud of because I think they are jumps in the genre. Right now you’re gonna see a sea of monochromatic shooters. We’re gonna stand out in that way, and I really feel like we are respecting stuff that has inspired the game.
 

And then the quad wielding. I feel like there’s nothing like that right now, and it’s something that hopefully other developers will see and say, “How can we incorporate more of that type of stuff into our game?”

 

And then the quad wielding. I feel like there’s nothing like that right now, and it’s something that hopefully other developers will see and say, “How can we incorporate more of that type of stuff into our game?” I love playing it, so I’m hoping other people will build off that.

The one part that’s so hard because we can’t really talk about it is where our story is going and the twists and turns we take. I think when people get that deal it’s gonna be exciting. I kinda went for three there, but those are the three I’m most proud of.

Imagine what happened in Darkness 1. You knew, Jenny dies. Which is a huge impactful moment for her.I got to sit and watch To Kill A Mockingbird on the couch with Jenny for an hour. Even describing that to someone, it’s not the type of thing that if I told you that, imagine we were rewinding. Yeah, so there’s this scenery, it’s a sit with your girlfriend on the couch and watch to kill a mocking bird for an hour . And so our story needs to add those same type of emotional hits. Again, I can’t say much yet. I’m looking forward to people almost after it comes out, the post-release. And being able to talk about, hey, here’s what we thought when we were making this scene.

Are there plans to extend the franchise beyond this sequel?

Sheldon: That would be awesome. I don’t have any problem making, we don’t have any problems making the game. We love the character. Like I was saying, the lore is so big and so rich, it’s just like, where do you go? I don’t know. There’s a hundred-plus comics. There’s a lot of places we could go if we wanted to.

Marc: Jackie is a great character that you can really write a game around. It’s got such a detailed story to be able to make into even a movie. Writing these games around Jackie is very easy.

Sheldon: Yeah I think the characters are really interesting and the character being so interesting, is awesome because it lets you have a self-contained story. Because if the character is great, we can say we’re going to make a self-contained story around this character. I don’t feel like we have a game where at the end of the game they are going to feel like – Oh, there’s Darkness 3. That’s what Darkness 3 is. You know, it’s going to be like, it ends. It has a nice uptick – and we’re not worried about that. Because we know that, hey, we can just pick something else out of the lore for Darkness 3 if we want to. I don’t mind if we put in cliffhangers. I don’t mind if we run a cliffhanger once in a while. But I’m just saying that we don’t have to do that because the character is very strong. You can build stories around him.