Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Darksiders

Game: Darksiders

System: Xbox 360

Developer: Vigil Games

Publisher: THQ

Player: Alex

Experience: Tony played some beforehand

Check after the jump for the article!

It is not everyday that new, epic IPs are developed and brought out with such great marketing pushes, in a sequel-driven industry.  Thankfully, there are times we do get to see a large-scale approach toward a new franchise; in this episode, we get to see the new franchise Darksiders begin its reign.  Its developer, Vigil Games, was founded in 2005 by David Adams, Joe Madureira, Marvin Donald and Ryan Stefanelli.  Each has their unique path to Vigil Games, and it shows the creative minds behind the Darksiders franchise going forward.

Co-owner David Adams began game development in 1997 by founding Stone Jackal Studios, known for producing the futuristic sports title Crush! Deluxe (published by MegaMedia Corp.).  Adams left Stone Jackal to co-found Realm Interactive, and the company worked on a new game based on the BBS door game Trade Wars, Trade Wars: Dark Millennium.  The game’s name was changed by publisher NCSoft to Exarch, and NCSoft eventually purchased the company and moved it to Arizona.  Exarch would eventually release under the name Dungeon Runners, but before it was finished, Adams had already left to form Vigil Games.

Creative Director Joe Madureira is not just a game designer but also a comic artist.  Starting as an Intern at Marvel at age 16, Madureira became the regular penciler of Uncanny X-Men, particularly during the “Age of Apocalypse” arc.  He eventually left Marvel and the series for his own creation: a sword and sorcery comic Battle Chasers for the Cliffhanger imprint (eventually sold to DC Comics).  He would put the series on indefinite hold nine issues in, and he helped create game developer Tri-Lunar.  Madureira focused on the concept art for a game entitled Dragonkind, but Tri-Lunar would go out of business before its release.  From here, he would join Realm Interactive and follow David Adams to Vigil Games.  He still produces art for comics, currently working on a series of comics entitled Avenging Spider-Man.

The game’s lead animator, Marvin Donald, began game development at Cinematix Studios, where he animated for the Eidos-published PC game Revenant in 1999.  Donald would eventually work with Artifact Entertainment on the MMORPG Horizons: Empire of Istraia.  From Artifact Entertainment, Donald would join Realm Interactive and subsequently to Vigil Games as a co-founder.  Ryan Stefanelli, the last of the co-founders, began game development with Realm Entertainment.

Vigil Games was founded in 2005, and in 2006, it was acquired by its publisher, THQ.  The history of THQ begins with Trinity Acquisition Corporation, which was founded in 1989.  It merged with toy-manufacturer Toy Head-Quarters in 1990, and by 1994, the name of the company had shifted to THQ with a focus toward video game development.  Over the next decade, THQ acquired a slew of developers and created many internal development teams to produce games for their multiple licenses and unique IPs.  The company’s first game was the NES version of Home Alone, developed by Bethesda Softworks.  Throughout the 1990’s the company was most known for its licensed games, including Wayne’s World (developed by Radical Entertainment) and Rugrats: Search for Reptar (developed by n-Space).  Other older, unique games from THQ include Imagineer’s Quest 64 and Volition’s Red Faction. 

While THQ still held many licenses into this generation, including Nickelodeon and WWE, the company had been making a stride toward unique franchises of its own.  Before the release of Darksiders, THQ had built a number of unique franchises, with mixed results.  The Destroy All Humans franchise, established by Pandemic Studios, follows an alien named Crypto and his exploits on Earth; after 2008’s Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon, developer Sandblast Games and the series were shut down.  THQ established the Tak series with Nickelodeon, an oddity as there was no television series associated with it; after working with Avalanche Studios initially on the series, it eventually ebbed away with Tak and the Guardians of Gross and Tak: Mojo Mistake in 2008 after the eventual television series failed.  THQ and Blue Tongue Entertainment established a unique color-platformer series called de Blob, based off a student project of the same name (the original class team became Ronimo Games).  As of Darksiders’ release, de Blob was being established into a television series and multi-game franchise through SyFy Kids.  The most successful original franchise for THQ was Saints Row, developed by Volition and inspired by the Grand Theft Auto series.  The game takes place in the fictional city of Stilwater, and it revolves around the conflict of the city’s multiple gangs, particularly when online multiplayer is involved.  The sequel, Saints Row 2, had garnered millions in sales and plenty of praise from gamers and critics alike.  By 2010, a third game had been announced to be in development.

The time for the great Apocalypse of legend has come in Darksiders as you take on the role of War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and rain judgment and destruction down upon the Earth. However, not all is as it seems when you discover that you and your fellow Horsemen have been implicated for the premature destruction of Earth and are swept up in a conspiracy between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Banished and stripped of your powers, embark on an epic quest of revenge and redemption as you battle angels and demons to restore your awesome abilities and seek out who betrayed you.
-Official PR
[In regards to comic art vs. game character art…] there's a lot more thought that has to go into how the character moves, and what kind of attacks he's got to do. You know, like, if you draw short legs on a guy or goat legs, he's going to walk a certain way. There's certain limitations that we have that you just kinda learn by doing it. Like, 'the animators are going to kill me if I put tentacles on this guy, plus the wings and he's got a tail'. So you think about stuff that way, and comics don't really have that limitation, but on the flipside, you can do more crazy detailed stuff on the game, because you don't have to draw it a million times. For instance, when I [do] have to draw War and his sword it drives me insane, because there's so many faces and skulls and crap on it that it's impossible to keep track of, but in the game I only had to do it once, right, and then he's built and you don't worry about it anymore. Whenever I have to draw him now it's like 'aargh, I wish I'd made his armour simpler', it's impossible to draw this guy!
- Joe Madureira, Creative Director (IGN AU)

Darksiders is an epic action-adventure title which puts players in control of War, one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  In this world, a truce had been set between Heaven and Hell as ordered by the great Charred Council, a neutral being which uses the horsemen to maintain balance of the universe.  The great End War between Heaven and Hell would be decided in part by the newly-created Kingdom of Man at a given time.  However, something causes the apocalypse to begin early, dooming mankind and bringing Hell’s ruler, the Destroyer, to near-victory in the war.  War comes to the great battle but finds that the Seventh Seal, the seal meant to begin the apocalypse and call the four horsemen, had not yet been broken.  His early entrance is seen as treason by the Council, and in order to clear his name, War heads back to Earth without his great powers to stop whoever had threatened the balance and brought the world to a premature end.

The game contains a combination of exploration, puzzle-solving and action combat sequences.  Initially linear, the game opens up for exploration across the post-apocalyptic world.  Over the course of the game, War is tasked to venture throughout the world in order to get access to the Destroyer, getting closer to his former strength along the way.  In combat, players get to disembowel demons and angels alike, as both see War as a threat.  Thankfully, War has a number of useful techniques up his sleeve; beginning only with his sword, the Chaoseater, War gains an arsenal of magical weapons used to attack enemies of all affinities.  These weapons and other abilities allow him to traverse into previously unattainable locations as well, providing an expanded exploration element and potential puzzle-solving twist into the intense game.  The usage of special items for puzzle-solving in elaborate dungeons give the game the impression that it is similar to Zelda, but the battle system is more familiar to more Western action series.

Over the course of the game, players collect three different types of souls, each with their own purpose in-game: blue for currency, green for health, and yellow for magic, known in this game as wrath.  How War kills a particular foe ultimately determines how many souls of what color he will be granted, and as all three are important for survival and continued improvement on War’s part, fighting enemies becomes perhaps more important than running away to the next segment of the game.

Darksiders was met with mostly positive response, finding the new IP to have plenty of production value into it as well as a great game design reminiscent of other large-scale action titles including God of War and Devil May Cry, all with a hint of Zelda.  The game ultimately sold over a million copies, yielding enough of a response for the developer to greenlight a sequel.

Darksiders II is the game’s sequel, this time starring War’s brother Death during the same time period as the original.  Whereas War is trying to right the wrongs brought on him and the balance, Death ventures into the Nether Realms in order to uncover the conspiracy against his brother and get rightful vengeance as well.  The game is said to take place in a world twice the scale of the original, promising a greater experience than the first game in the series.  The game releases mid-August 2012 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, and it will be the first game to see a release on the Wii U console when it launches late 2012.

Meanwhile, Vigil Games has been working on another project, although its focus has shifted a bit since its inception.  Vigil Games is working on Warhammer 40k: Dark Millennium, originally a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game using Game Workshop’s Warhammer 40k universe.  The game was first demonstrated during E3 2010, showing the game’s in-depth fire fights and large, foreign landscapes.  However, the game’s focus changed in early 2012, when THQ and Vigil Games announced that the game’s MMO elements were to be scrapped, and from them on, Dark Millennium would be focused on a single-player adventure with standard multiplayer modes.  This change also led to layoffs at Vigil Games, but the company is still hard at work on that project with a slated release for 2013.

THQ’s choice to change Dark Millennium was one of many to strive toward saving the ailing publisher.  In 2010, the company had unveiled and subsequently released the uDraw GameTablet, a unique peripheral which allowed players to draw on and move the tablet to perform unique actions in-game.  Bundled with Pipeworks Software’s uDraw Studio, the tablet was a hit on the Wii, but this led to THQ releasing and overproducing uDraw GameTablets on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (bundled with uDraw Studio: Instant Artist) into 2011.  This ultimately cost THQ millions of dollars in losses, almost dooming the company in the process. 

THQ had also suffered other failures which shook the company.  de Blob 2 did not meet favorable commercial response, and BlueTongue was subsequently absorbed into THQ as de Blob ceased as a franchise.  The highly-marketed shooter Homefront from Kaos Studios sold well but not enough to match THQ’s expectations, and Kaos Studios officially closed June 2011.  The release of Saints Row: the Third helped lift the company from failure, and through a reverse stock-split, THQ was able to save itself from a NASDAQ delisting.  To further their cost-saving measures, THQ sold its UFC license to Electronic Arts, and the company brought in ex-Naughty Dog head Jason Rubin to help lead the company’s game development.  Currently, the company is prepping to release 4A Games’ Metro: Last Light, Homefront 2 with Crytek UK, and Obsidian Entertainment’s South Park: The Stick of Truth.

We had heard some good things about Darksiders, and considering we were into trying out new IPs and exploring darker games here and there, we took a gander at Vigil Games’ first release.  Tony had played the game to a point beforehand so he could help guide Alex through the world.  In the game’s first hour, we explore the apocalypse as it happens, explore the Crossroads to find Vulgrim, and subsequently go into The Scalding Gallow.  We do not go very far into the game, but we imagine the rest of the game opens up a bit more from what we played.

This episode could have ended up better quality-wise.  The humming of the Xbox 360 caused audio issues for us in editing, and because this video was captured in 2010, it was before we started capturing using full widescreen and HD capture.  Still, the commentary is good where it counts, and we do a good job covering what the start of the game is like.

As for Darksiders itself, it was a fun game, even if it had its rough edges.  The plot seems odd in the way it turns out, and it does come off as a little predictable even an hour into the game.  There is a lot of over-design on the characters, but there are very good environments and graphical effects throughout.  Vulgrim’s request for blue souls made me concerned that the game would be more fetch quest oriented than anticipated, but I feel the game will not use that too often in the main story path.  There are times the combat did not seem too invigorating, and I ended up getting hit more often than I would like.  Perhaps I was doing it wrong, but I was getting beaten up through most of the playthrough.  Still, I found myself attacking enemies when I could avoid them, despite my concerns over repetition in battle.  Maybe it was more intriguing than I expected.

Overall, outside of audio issues, the episode was solid, and the game itself is solid as well, at least for the first hour.

3RM Says: Woah! Woah! Now I know why that War guy
wears so much armor.  To keep his steed down! Woah!

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