THQ recently had media out to an exquisite castle in Darling Point, Sydney to check out Darksiders 2 and meet Jay Fitzloff from Vigil Games.
The event was macabre, classy, and fit the vibe of the intesne medieval action/adventure game perfectly. Media were in the cold halls of the castle in a serene environment suited nicely for gameplay, and waited on as royalty to hammer home the vibe. MCV took the opportunity to speak to Jay Fitzloff from developer Vigil about the risks and rewards associated with hammering home such a uniquely challenging franchise.
Tell us a little bit about the experience about the experience of launching and sustaining a new IP this late in the console life cycle.
Well, Darksiders 1 was a big risk for us and for THQ because, well – take a look at it: it’s a new studio, nobody there had made a console game before (all the core people were PC game designers) and it was a new IP. On paper, to be honest I don’t know why THQ went for it. I mean, the tech demo really nailed it, but I think any other publisher would just say ‘No way, but more power to you’, but they did.
And then the game itself was a risk – we’re talking about a game that has an almost old-generation mentality where we’re willing to challenge you and not spoonfeed you the whole time.
So why do you think, in spite of these risks, THQ came on board originally?
We had a strong tech demo and it looked really good, plus we had an engine. We created that engine, so I’m sure (and this is just me speculating here) that if Darksiders had failed, there’d still be that engine there that’s worth pursuing; still assets to be had within Vigil games which had value to them.
But it was a success, and other games are being made using that engine.
Yeah, Dark Millenium Online, for example, which is upcoming and uses the same (tweaked) engine, because it’s diverse enough to handle something like that.
Did the THQ restructure have any impact on the development of Darksiders 2, given that it was aimed at increasing focus on core titles like that one?
It didn’t at all. Vigil stayed exactly the same throughout all that. It sucks; no one’s happy about it. But for us, it all stayed the same. At a studio, it doesn’t matter if the stock price is $500 or $5 – you still have to make a cool game, so the job for us didn’t change at all.
There is a sense of that kind of anachronistic old-school cerebral gameplay, but also aesthetically it harks back to a time before brown as well. It’s been likened more to Zelda and its ilk than other modern titles…
…true, and (and this is a side not, but it’s just kind of my opinion), we’ve gotten to the point where you can create realistic graphics so people say ‘Well, we can create realism, so let’s create realism’, but they forget that we can also create surrealism. You still have that same capacity, but you can apply it to creating something off-the-wall. But off-the-wall isn’t necessarily something people can relate to.
So it’s a very risky venture.
Have you ever played El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron? I ask because it’s similarly unafraid to use current gen technology to create abstract visuals.
I haven’t, but I’d love to – I’ve been dying to play the shit out of that game. There’s another one the Playstation Network as well, Journey, which is another one. I like that kind of game, but I realise that I’m in the minority on that.
Then again, not necessarily, because think about Katamari Damacy and how popular that became.
But to get back to the question, Darksiders was a huge risk because it was an old game in a new shell. Our focus groups were just going bananas when people were playing it, because they were saying that people can’t finish it. So our response was ‘Can they really not finish it, or do you just mean it takes them 30 seconds or a minute to finish each challenge’?
Now, I was watching the media play the game today, and watching you all roll that ball around looking for where it goes, and of course I knew where it went. That time spent figuring it out for yourselves, though, is fun. But for a focus group, that’s a problem which needs to be fixed. They’ll come back to us and say ‘Make that target glow’ or ‘Put an arrow in there’, and we’ve had to allay them saying ‘No, no, no, no. They’ll get it. That’s not frustration you’re looking at – it’s a process. They’ll be receiving an invisible reward for figuring this out on their own.’
Have you started exploring opportunities around peripheral expansion to the universe, through merchandise, comics, novels etc?
Yeah, we definitely have. We’ve done some merchandising. There was this replica of War’s sword from the first game done by United Cutlery, and I know we’re going down the same vein with Darksiders 2. A lot of the things you’ve mentioned off the top of your head are things which are in the works. It’s entirely our IP – I mean, THQ owns it, so we get to look at all this stuff and say ‘As long as it’s cool’, because you can sometimes go bananas with this stuff and it dilutes the brand too much. So, as long as it doesn’t get to a stage where we’re seeing something pop up on the shelf and we didn’t know about it, it’s great.
Thank you for your time!
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