In an interview with VideoGamer, the lead designer of Darksiders II, Haydn Dalton, discussed how he wants to be able to talk more openly about the Wii U and its power. According to Mr. Dalton,
“It’s awkward because when people ask questions about [Wii U] we’ve got to skirt around the answer. We obviously want them to come out with it because then we can just talk openly about the game. I’d rather just be open with people than spinning the answer back at somebody. As soon as they just come out and everything’s revealed it would take a little bit of weight off us as developers so we can be a little bit more open about the product.”
The interview is also full of interesting reflections on the Wii U itself, such as the GamePad’s innovation, developers continuing support for the console in the next generation, and all sorts of other interesting tidbits.
Another thing that is touched upon in the interview is how Mr. Dalton feels when Darksiders is compared to The Legend of Zelda, among other Action-Adventure titles, and whether or not he considers that type of comparison derivative or a compliment.
Below are the parts of the interview relative to the Wii U and Zelda.
Q: THQ was one of the very first third-parties to jump on Wii U. You’ve got Darksiders II coming up for Wii U. Do you find it frustrating that – on the consumer-side at least – Nintendo is being very shy about the console’s power? Is it frustrating to see people still having that argument when you know exactly what it can and can’t do?
Q: Do you wish Nintendo would just come out and say?
HD: Oh, of course. Yeah. It’s awkward because when people ask questions about [Wii U] we’ve got to skirt around the answer. We obviously want them to come out with it because then we can just talk openly about the game. I’d rather just be open with people than spinning the answer back at somebody. As soon as they just come out and everything’s revealed it would take a little bit of weight off us as developers so we can be a little bit more open about the product.
Q: You probably can’t answer this next question, then. Does Darksiders II perform better on Wii U than it does on 360 and PS3?
HD: You already knew that I can’t answer that question. [Laughs] I hate it, dude.
Q: That must be frustrating as well?
HD: It is, because that’s just like a line that Nintendo have said [inaudible]. THQ are just running it by the line now. We just don’t want to… I guess it’s because Nintendo have always been about the games. They’ve been about certain hardware – analogue stick and things like that – but they’ve never really pushed technically being the best.
They’ve always kind of rehashed stuff. The Wii Motion stuff, they just kind of took things in a slightly different direction but they’ve never been the biggest on the technology front. They would just want people to focus on the game. It’s like, if we give you a good game, is it really about how many polys this thing can push around or is it about what interesting new gameplay experiences we can give a player? Which is more important? Is it visuals or is it the experiences you can give the player?
Q: That’s the thing though, right? As a developer what do you opt for? If you’ve got the next-generation Xbox or PlayStation and you can make these gorgeous games, would you really want to develop for a console that perhaps can’t deliver that same level of presentation or scope?
HD: That’s true, but maybe Nintendo are giving you something that gives you a physical, tactile experience that you can’t get on those other two consoles. Something that’s compelling.
Q: I suppose I look back at what happened with Darksiders 1. That wasn’t on Wii. Going forward could that mean…
HD: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I just look at it as stuff like when we first heard about the analogue stick on the N64 and I was unsure about how that would happen. There had been analogue sticks before on consoles but they’d never really done that well. I was working for Software Creations at the time and we got an early version of Mario in, and the first time that I moved around Mario with that stick, I thought, this just changes everything. It was so utterly awesome.
Q: Do you think having the screen on the Wii U GamePad really innovates as much as things like the analogue stick did? Now you’ve got Microsoft looking at SmartGlass, and you’ve got the competition competing directly with Nintendo’s innovation.
HD: It does make it more difficult now, definitely. Because other people are doing more. They’re doing peripherals that can be added to existing or even more advanced technologies, whereas who knows what the Nintendo guys are doing. The thing that Nintendo are absolute masters at is that they harness their hardware like nobody else.
If you look at any of their titles where they’re using the touch screens on the NDSs and things like that, they use it in beautiful and creative ways that make you think as a designer and a game player. They’ve given me something that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Just simple things like finding something with dust on it and having to blow onto the screen to reveal what’s written. It’s just really simple things like that but they’ve used their technology in a unique way and forced the player to physically interact with it in a different way. There’s a magic about that. I only get that magic a lot when I’m playing Nintendo games.
Q: But that’s it. I look back at the Wii and the only titles I really played were the launch line-up because I was intrigued by how it would work, but after that it’s just the first-party Nintendo titles. There’s a concern that could happen again with Wii U, especially as the new consoles come out further down the line.
HD: Yeah, and the thing is, it’s all on how committed the developers are to embrace that hardware and use it in interesting ways. Obviously Nintendo are 110 per cent behind that hardware, so as long as the devs are also behind it, and the third-party guys are behind it in a very committed way then we’ll see some very interesting and exciting…
Q: Yeah. And THQ announced that Metro: Last Light was coming to Wii U, but now the official line is that it’s “not in development”. Now, obviously there’s Darksiders, but there are properties like WWE that I’d have possibly expected to see on Wii U but isn’t. Is that a sign of things to come, that people aren’t really sure?
HD: Games are in a unusual position right now with the advancement of iOS, Facebook stuff and social games in general, the PC… Look at where Minecraft’s gone and where Steam is going with Steamworks. Somebody who has to deliver a gaming experience to the player right now is kinda… who knows what’s going to be the thing that overrides them all?
Usually it’s stuff that you didn’t expect that comes out to be the winner. The big thing at the moment doesn’t usually sustain itself for too long. I mean, it’s big, it’s a behemoth for a certain amount of time, but sometimes there are things that come out of left-field that become the next big thing that no-one expected. So my take on that right now is, it’s just such a maelstrom of events that it’s hard to predict where it’s going to go and how it’s going to pan out.
On comparisons to Zelda and other games:
Q: I’ve played about an hour of the game today, but I’ve already noticed multiple elements from other great games. There are aspects of God of War in there, and Zelda and Prince of Persia. How do you balance the different mechanics? What’s the focus?
HD: The first thing you’ve got to get right is the feeling of the game, and a lot of that stems from combat because in most cases the combat fuels you to get to the locations. Getting the controls and the combat right is important. But the heart and soul of Darksiders 1 was the level design and the puzzles, so that was a big component that we had to think of; adding new elements to keep that interesting but also challenging enough so players will have some sort of mental problem-solving. And that’s always a problem, because you can get to stages where, even though the answers are right there, some players just don’t get it instantly.
It’s a real risk because you could stop someone from playing the game because they’re so frustrated that they don’t understand. Even though we’ve put lots of indicators in there and we usually train the player up on certain items, and you do all the things that you think you’re doing right, sometimes people might have just been looking another way when a particular thing happened, and you’re like, ‘Oh God,’ and then they’ve lost it for two hours and get really frustrated. So doing anything essentially based around the player solving an equation - taking A and B and they’ve got to find C - that is a problem.
We spend a lot of time testing that on ourselves. One thing we’ve always said to the designers is play it with fresh eyes. That’s a big thing when I play a level. I always come in as if I’ve never played the level before. I know what I’m supposed to do but I’m always trying to look at it as a new player would when he first comes in. A level designer should never play a level like a level designer. That’s the worst thing that he could do. You do that to make sure functionality works, but when you want to know if your level actually works you’ve got to play it like a new player.
Q: Is it frustrating when you’re compared to other games? A comment made by Joe Madureira [Creative Director] recently suggested that you didn’t want to be compared to games like Zelda, but given the content I guess it’s difficult to avoid it. In the small section I’ve played this morning, I’ve already been introduced to Death’s horse Despair who’s comparable to Epona, the Tree of Life, the Tri-Stone…
HD: It’s pretty frustrating because I think it’s been ingrained into journalists and the public now. Like, they look at that and it’s okay for a certain set of games to continually do that and just refine on something that they’re not really going anywhere [with] and doing anything different. They’re just doing very slight changes.
But the way we look at it is, you don’t look at the driving in GTA and say, ‘Well, there was better driving in Gran Turismo’. There was better driving in Burnout Paradise but that game was completely and solely focused on that one mechanic and that’s why it was so good. Now, we’ve done that and again we get, ‘Well, it’s not as good as this and not as good as that’. But that’s all that product focused on. We’ve been focusing on a lot of things and trying to bring an experience that you can’t… I don’t think you can get a Darksiders experience anywhere else because there’s not a game anywhere else that gets so many different mechanics and things that people enjoy doing in one place.
Even when we were doing the first one, we were looking around and going, ‘These guys are only doing melee combat and drops, and it’s relatively simple, but we want to do this traversal and this puzzle solving’. Even hiring people to do the sort of level design that we do is very difficult because most games nowadays are relatively scripted. It’s point X and point B and it’s relatively linear. So when we tried to give designers tests to do the stuff that we wanted to do, they really struggled with it because they weren’t used to doing that. The industry has gone in a certain way now where players like their hand held and [being] fed a lot of things. Then something like Dark Souls comes along and really blows people away because, you know what, the effort’s been put back on the player again. It’s not been taken away from them. It’s [not] like, ‘no, this game’s bloody hard and you’re going to have fix it’. Ours is not to that extreme but we certainly have mental challenges in the game that a lot of other games won’t have.
It’s frustrating, it is very frustrating. If it was one rule for everyone we’d be completely fine. If everyone was like that, we’d be like, ‘Fine, everyone judge it like that’. But it’s not. It’s only certain titles. We apparently seem to be the target of this derivative comment at every single turn, but if someone can point me to another game that does the sort of things that we do in one game then I’d be like, ‘Right okay, that’s fine, you can compare us to that.’
Q: I would have thought being compared to Zelda would be seen as a compliment.
HD: Well, the word ‘derivative’ is always used in the article. If anyone says it’s like the games that you talked about, of course, anything like that we see as a compliment. But it’s a curse as well because they see it as, like, you haven’t really done anything to earn that. Everyone has seen [Zelda]. Why isn’t everyone else doing it? People have tried to do things like that but they’ve completely failed at it.
We seem like we’ve done it right but we still get a little bit whipped for it. We’re trying to do something that we think is fun in a genre that I think is dying now. It’s hard to do and it costs a lot of money and we’re still trying to keep the idea of that action-adventure genre going. It feels a little hurtful sometimes when people are hurting us for doing that.
From a critic’s perspective - and maybe it’s lazy of us to do so - I guess the easiest way to describe a new IP is saying, ‘Oh, it’s a bit like this and a bit like that’.
HD: Referencing, yeah, absolutely. I can see that. But when it definitely feels like remarks are derogatory and basically saying, ‘Well, it’s just this’. I never understand when people say it’s just like God of War. It’s like, ‘Have you actually played the game, gone through the levels and understood how it works?’ I can understand saying this one bit’s a little bit like that. But when you see people in comments saying it’s just a carbon copy of God of War, I don’t understand that.
Q: Yeah, I can understand that.
HD: So I definitely get a feeling that some people maybe don’t play the game as long as they should do, maybe they’re not finishing it or getting far enough to see where it diversifies to make a proper judgement call. But like I said, I don’t feel like there’s another game that does the sort of things that we do. You might see games that do elements of what we do and that’s fine. There’s a lot of games that do that. There’s FPS shooters doing a lot of very similar things and that’s fine. That’s a microcosm of the actual game but the experience is completely different. I believe that we’re giving players a different experience.
Certainly some interesting information in that interview! I understand how comparisons to titles like Zelda may be frustrating, considering it is very difficult to differentiate yourself when so many different things have already been done in the industry. However, I personally think Darksiders II looks great!
To see the interview in its entirety, click here.