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Bringing Death to Life: Joe Madureira Talks About Darksiders 2

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Posted April 30, 2012 - By Kevin Kelly




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Darksiders 2

Many people know Joe Madureira as the talented artist behind comic book titles like Battle Chasers (which he created), Uncanny X-Men (including his stint through The Age of Apocalypse), and more recently, the new The Avenging Spider-Man. But to others, he is one of the creative principals at Vigil Games, which unleashed Darksiders on the world in 2010.

We spoke to Joe Mad (as he is known throught the world of comics) at a recent Darksiders 2 preview event, and he talks about the gameplay, the voice casting, and what you can expect from the other Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Read on for the full interview.

G4: This title feels like it is in the Darksiders universe, but it also feels more evolved, and just the loot system alone is pretty intense. What was the impetus behind bigger and different?

Joe Madureira: Well, a lot of it honestly was stuff that we had intended to have in the first game that we just couldn’t for one reason or another. We knew that if we planned it from the ground up you, we could actually get all of this stuff in that didn’t make it the first time around. You know, loot was a big one. A lot of it just ties back to customization. We dabbled in it in the first game, but for this one, it’s like obviously the more stats you can affect with items and weapons.

Using the skill tree and armor, it just allows you to customize your character a lot more. Obviously, it’s just fun, having loot pour onto the ground after you kill everyone. You not only have that sort of rush of having defeated a creature, but you also have treasure falling on the ground. It’s just a lot more fun. It’s immediately rewarding.

It feels like no one will have the same look or abilities when they finish this game. Everyone’s going to play it differently. So how much time has passed between the last game?

It is established at the start of the game that it’s taking place during that 100 year period where War was imprisoned after the Apocalypse, which was what you saw in the events of the first game. There’s the moment where War returns to Earth in the first game where he learns that 100 years have passed and the Destroyer has taken over. This game takes place right before that.

Many times you can see influences from your comic book days, like the automatons that we’re jumping on the backs of which are sort of Battle Chasers-ish. Do games give you a lot of chances to do things that you just couldn’t do in comics?

Yeah. I mean, it’s funny because someone else has mentioned that specific creature too, and I actually did not concept that one. That was someone else at the studio, but I think you know, as far as games go, having animation and sound, and just basically seeing the characters in the world that you have from a drawing moving around on the screen, it’s pretty cool.

There are limitations that come with that as well, you know, because on paper you can draw anything. It doesn’t really matter. You don’t have to take it any further than that. I think games, it is sort of a different kind of fulfillment that you get from seeing this thing that you imagined and then you put on paper, just seeing other people take it and just run with it, and get it working. It’s really cool.

Darksiders 2

So, from the first game did you guys look at critiques of the game and say “OK, we’re going to change that this time around,” or “We’ll address this specific address issue,” or did you kind of just ignore that stuff and build on your own system?

I think we had our own list of stuff that we wanted to fix or add, or change. Obviously you know, player feedback factors in as well. I think the list of stuff we wanted to change was even longer.

Death is such a completely different character. He just plays totally different. It demanded a lot of changes be made just because of the way he traverses the environment. We were committed to it, and we didn’t want it to feel at all like War, so we knew that from the beginning. It’s just the matter of, you know, planning carefully so we could get all that stuff in.

Did you always know it was going to be Death for the second game, or did you kick around a bunch of ideas before you went in that direction?

I mean, I think in our dream world we were still hoping that we’d get to do all four horsemen in the sequel, but once we decided we were just going to do one, it was like Death all the way. We almost used Death in the first game, but for a couple reasons, we decided to go with War instead.

We knew if we did another one it would be Death the second time around. He’s just the most iconic and well-known. I think people just get excited about it right away, you don’t have to explain too much about him.

How important was it that to had to make him completely different, and was it always the plan to make him this agile, acrobatic character?

You know, it was very important, because we were going through the trouble of tossing all of this work we had done in the first game. We already had an established character that people liked. If he wasn’t going to be different, it really wasn’t worth changing the character at all. We knew that if someday we get to have all four of them together, they have to fulfill different roles.

We didn’t want them to feel exactly the same. We kind of gave them archetypes, War is like the stoic tank. Death is more of like an assassin, or something like that, with spell casting. Carrying that forward you know, Fury and Strife would have their roles in combat as well. They’ll all feel really different from each other.

The scope and scale of the game seems so huge, especially when we’ve been told that the first starting zone is roughly as big as the first game. Was it important for you guys to grow it in scope? This first game was pretty large.

It was. A lot of it was trying to get back to what our original concept of Darksiders was, you know. I think for a number of reasons, we couldn’t make the first game as big and involved as we wanted it to be. Because we had a lot of the tools already in place this time, like we were able to sort of bring that scope and make it a reality, and just give players more of what they liked.

I think if you liked the first game, you’ll love this one. It’s got all of that, tons more of it, and lots of new, exciting stuff like side quests, optional dungeons, loot, skill trees. It’s just like completely blown out.

In the first game, there were so many moments where suddenly the game would completely change, and you’re playing a different way. Like, when you get to the Angelic weapons, or when you finally get your horse and the gameplay can shift. Are you going for that again in this title?

In a way, I mean it’s not as jarring this time, it’s a little bit more incorporated into the levels. You’ll activate things, like you’ll ride on some of the constructs to solve the puzzles and things like that. It’s not this jarring mini-game that you’re kind of locked into. It won’t feel like, “Whoa, all of a sudden I’m playing a totally different game.”

Will some things be explained? Like, why Death has Strife’s gun, and things like that?

I don’t know if we specifically explained that particular thing. It’s just that they’re a team, so you just assume that they have access to each other’s equipment and stuff like that. All of the information you need to make a logical conclusion for stuff like that is in the game.

As far as, well I know you guys don’t want to give away story points or anything, but I think at the preview event at San Diego Comic-Con last year, you guys hinted we may be seeing some of the other horsemen at some point in the game. Is that still the case?

[Laughs] I can say they’re not playable.

Darksiders 2

As far as the loot goes, Is that tiered like you’d find in a Warcraft-type game? Are there rare drops, and so on? Or is it random?

No, there are different sort of ranks of equipment, and they have a rarity associated with them as well. There’s some common drops, there are rare drops and so on. It is, yes.

What does Death do ultimately with stuff he doesn’t use any more? Can you just drop it, or is there a place you can sell it to get rid of it?

You can. You can sell it, and one of the cool pieces of loot that we’re excited about are rare weapons called “Possessed Weapons”. Basically they level up and gain new attributes by consuming old loot. Based on the type of loot and the effects that are on the things that you feed to your possessed weapon, as they rank up you can choose attributes to put on it. It’s pretty fun.

Rather than having to run back to a vendor to sell stuff constantly, it’s a cool way to just quickly, if you have a weapon that you really like, for instance, you can just keep powering it up, by just feeding it. They also look really awesome too. The possessed weapons are probably the coolest in the game, I think.

If someone picks up this game without playing the first one, will they get it? Do you reference the first game at all? Is there anything at the beginning that kind of ties it in?

We do. We made sure that if it’s the first time you’re exposed to Darksiders that it’ll make sense. But this is definitely a standalone game, and you can enjoy it that way. If you’ve played the first one though, there is a lot of cool tie-ins and moments that are referenced that you’ll remember, and even characters that make a cameo appearance that you’ll remember from the first game. It definitely would help if you’ve played it.

What we’re hoping is either you’ve already played the first one or if you haven’t, you’ll love the second one so much you’ll go back and play it, and you’ll still get the sort of little tie-ins that go on. You know, the continuity. You’ll say, “Oh, that’s what happened then.”

A lot of companies like Dark Horse have been doing some game related things, like with Mass Effect 3 and with Prototype 2 coming up. They’re doing comic book tie-ins, usually just digital editions now. Are you guys talking about doing anything comic related with Darksiders 2?

We are. We do have a comic book series in development right now with Dark Horse. I don’t know if we’ve announced it or not. Oops. Yeah. There’s like a novel, there’s the comic book series.

Did anything happen with the first game that surprised you? What sort of feedback did you get? Does anyone have Darksiders tattoos?

I do, actually. I don’t know. I have seen a few, a few Darksiders tattoos. I think a lot of people were kind of surprised by the ending, I guess. They just wanted to resolve the cliffhanger that happened there. Some had favorite characters that they were hoping would come back, like the Watcher, Mark Hamill’s character. The sequel is very different in many ways, and of course you know, Mark Hamill’s not back in this one. We don’t have the Watcher this time. I’m curious to see if fans will embrace Death and put War aside for a little bit and take on this new adventure with a new character.

Speaking of Mark Hamill, did you go after any big names for voice casting in this one?

I don’t think we’ve ever gone after a celebrity just for the name recognition. It’s always been like, “Man, this guy’s voice is perfect.” We knew Mark Hamill would do an amazing job with the Watcher. You know, Michael Wincott, who does the voice of Death was our first choice. Actually we thought, “We should get a guy that sounds just like Michael Wincott, because his voice is all gravelly.” Then we were like, “Why don’t we just call Michael Wincott and try him first?” He was available, and he was into it, so we were all, “Wow.” Like, super excited.

James Cosmo was another one, who’s like this big, gruff guy in Braveheart. I think we even put in the character description for that character, for the Elder. We said, “Someone like James Cosmo.” Again it was like, “I think we can get a hold of James Cosmo if you want to just get him.” He was filming Game of Thrones at the time, and l just love him as an actor. I was excited.

But again, it’s not really a name thing. It’s just that he has a really cool voice that is Scottish. You know, all of our makers have a Scottish accent for some strange reason.

At what point did you guys know Darksiders 2 was going to happen? Was it immediately after the first game, or did it take a little while?

I mean, we know from THQ that the desire was there to work on the sequel, but obviously I think we weren’t far enough into the second game that if the first one sucked or did badly that they could have just stopped us at any moment. I think the plan was always there to keep going, unless we had reason not to. We always just sort of thought of this game as a series or a franchise. We never felt like it would just be a single game.

It even ends like sort of on a cliffhanger, the first one. We always planned for success, I guess.

THQ made an enormous sword that you could hang on the wall for the first game. Will we get a giant scythe this time around?

Might be. Might be. Stay tuned.

Darksiders 2

So give us an overview at Vigil Games, this is your second game that will be published, and I know you guys are working on a Warhammer game as well, but we’d like to hear about the aspect of working at the studio. Is this the first game company you’ve worked at?

No, I worked at a couple. I worked at NCSoft for a while. I actually was part of another start-up way back in the day called Trilinear, and that was my first foray into games. We didn’t make it very long on our own. I actually worked for David Adams, our general manager, in a company called Realm Interactive. I was their art director for a while before they got bought out by NCSoft, which is how we all moved to Texas, and founded Vigil there in Austin.

I’ve been around the block for a few years on stuff that just either didn’t come out or you know, we didn’t really feel like putting our names on. Vigil is definitely what I would consider my first serious attempt at game development.

Why did you pick the name Vigil?

Because Vigilant was taken [laughes]. I don’t know. It’s always weird when you’re naming something, whether it’s a game or a character, or a company. It’s like, let’s do legal searches, web searches. Oh, that website’s taken. It’s one of those things where like, I don’t know.

I think eventually, we had lists and lists and lists, and then one of the guys’ wives was like, “Why don’t you just call it Vigil?” We were like, “Okay.” I think she literally just flipped a book open to that word. That’s pretty cool, actually.

Bringing Death to Life: Joe Madureira Talks About Darksiders 2
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