"I almost wouldn't recommend doing the things we do," Joe Madureira, creative director at Darksiders developer Vigil Games told a group of games industry colleagues at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week. "We're reactive and off-the-cuff."
But sometimes "reactive and off-the-cuff" game development works out in the end, even if it may cause some headaches along the way. Austin, Texas-based Vigil Games, founded in 2005 by David Adams and renowned comic artist Joe Madureira and acquired by THQ in 2006, released its first game this January. An original property, Darksiders is an action-adventure game based on one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Thanks to no small amount of passion and persistence, the game shipped 1.2 million units to retailers in its first four weeks according to publisher THQ. That success led THQ to invest further in the new franchise: the publisher has already confirmed a sequel.
While passion and persistence played a role in the creation of Darksiders, the duo of Adams and Madureira admitted that concrete planning wasn't their strong suit at the beginning of Vigil's existence. But the ideas for games were stirring in their heads, and they had the motivation to get those ideas out to publishers.
Adams figured the whole proposition of Darksiders must have seemed like "utter madness" to publishers listening to the studio's initial pitches. At the time, it was four guys who hadn't seen a console development kit wanting to make a game for a generation of consoles that had yet to launch. By the way, it was an original property about the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
To make their pitch seem less preposterous, the founders had to make adjustments to their strategy. "We really wanted to make an RPG, but it just seemed really hard to sell," said Madureira. "There's really no point in selling a game that no one's going to buy. ...We're making a game we want to make, but how can we wrap it so it's attractive to publishers?"
Madureira added, "Keep in mind at this point, we were funding ourselves. You really have to think, how long can you stretch that." In the beginning, the first members of the Darksiders team went on stints with little or no pay.
Although the team had very few resources, it did have its own tech. But even with that, there was little time to create a fleshed-out, technically-impressive prototype for pitches to publishers. "What we really focused on was gameplay," said Adams.
"Gameplay was one area we could demonstrate," he said. "It played well." According to Adams, some publishers who saw the initial demo admitted that at first glance, they "had no intention of talking" further about the game. But after they got their hands on the prototype, publishers were more interested in the project.
Still, some publishers didn't even want to talk to them, simply because there were only four of them – how could such a small unorganized group develop a triple-A multiplatform next-gen console game? Some publishers were willing to listen, but suggested Vigil try to make a cell phone game.
The team eventually got a deal with THQ, which helped the studio staff up and supply the time and resources needed for such an endeavor. Adams said they have a very good relationship with THQ, which bought the studio a new, larger building last year.
Now, Vigil is working on a sequel to Darksiders and the anticipated Warhammer 40,000 MMO. Moving ahead they'll be taking lessons learned and applying them to future projects. "When you're pushing a game around, it's kind of like fishing," said Adams. "We never gave up."