As the creative director, is your creative vision more about the aesthetics? Is it all-encompassing? Do you touch everything?
JM: I mean, the gameplay always comes first, right? It influences the visuals. People have asked why Death looks the way he does. Regardless of how cool something is that you draw, it doesn't really matter if it doesn't fit into the game. For instance, I couldn't put a ton of armor on him, because that was War's deal. We knew Death would be a lot quicker, and more lightly armored, and more like an assassin.
And it just starts to create little limiters that you stay inside of, and it's actually pretty helpful to have that stuff in place -- otherwise you can just go nuts. I think our concept department does a lot more successful concepts when the design is really solid, and then they stay within a certain threshold.
But when the design isn't there, and they can just brainstorm, they just go nuts, and we can't even use most of the stuff. I think it's working within the confines of what we need for that level, and for the game as a whole.
Even like the Maker area [the first area in Darksiders II] I think happened because, yes, we do want to talk about that part of the fiction, and their role in the universe, but also we didn't want to have every area in the game be dark, and destroyed, and whatever.
You can have a nice lush, foresty area, just to balance things out a little, just visually. Your emotional state while you're running through that area feels different than being in a lava cave, you know? Sometimes it's like, "Hey, we do want visual flavor." Sometimes it's driven by the story or game design, whatever. It's pretty interesting; it's very different.
Since you're working on a sequel, did this add a certain layer of "Now I can really do what I want"? Or was it actually more pressure, based on the idea "We're following up a successful game; we better not screw it up this time"? Or neither?
DA: We definitely had the opportunity to add stuff in we wanted to get in the first one. I actually think in development, limits are good, so it was good to have a game that had an established gameplay style. Like when we didn't have that in Darksiders 1, we were just reaching all the time.
It even took us awhile to get a firm grasp on how exactly the game would play out. We knew what the kind of game we wanted to play, but it's really hard to take a high-level concept and imagine the moment-to-moment gameplay. You have the comfort of not having to think about that with a sequel. Once you have some rules in place, it makes everything way easier.
JM: Yeah, I think everyone was a lot more confident, if anything. I think the first one was more nerve-wracking because if it stunk, you know, there's no new IP; it's just one standalone game.
Is IP creation a creative drive? This idea of creating something that becomes a franchise? Is that a creative impetus, or is it a business impetus, or both?
JM: I think it was creative, for us. We didn't want to just make one standalone game. For whatever reason, in our heads, it was a series, and we always thought of it that way. We even ended the game with a cliffhanger. We were pretty confident we were going to do another one. I don't know -- we just always saw it that way, I guess.
DA: It's true.
Games are such a sequel-based medium that it at least pays to be thinking that way, anyway.
DA: It was so much work to make the first one; it'd be criminal to not make some sort of sequel. You do all the hard work and you don't get to do everything you wanted in the first one. [laughs] If you then moved on to a whole other new game, you'd have to do it all over again every single time.
It's funny that we see that so much in film. Sure, there are franchises, and there are sequels, and there are also reboots, but we still do see more new films come than new games; I'm not sure why. Is it because of technology, and the advantage of problems that don't have to be solved again?
DA: Well, I think on a macro level, a movie's way more likely to make money than a game. So if you make money on a game it's like, "Yeah, make a sequel. We want to make money again!" You have to make sure lightning strikes twice. Basically you're rolling a giant dice every time you make a game, whether it's going to make money or not. Whereas a movie? I mean, you can make a fairly crappy movie, and still make money; it's way easier to risk. It's true! [laughs]
Yeah, it's a shame, though. That's what's happened with this generation in particular.
DA: Yeah. I don't think most people realize, but most games don't make money.
JM: I have noticed that. A movie that's like a Metacritic in the 70s can still be like a huge box office hit, but in like a 70 Metacritic game rarely is a huge commercial success. The commercial success games are in the 90s, in almost every case, so you're just not going to see a 68 percent Metacritic score game sell. Whereas like any Twilight movie will make a bazillion dollars, and be terrible.
DA: Well, again, games are just a bigger commitment than movies, right? I'll even find myself much more likely to play a game I've enjoyed in the past, because I know it's a bigger time commitment, and a different monetary commitment. It's like, a movie's two hours. I don't care. If you go to a movie... Never even heard of it? I don't give a crap; it's two hours. If it sucks, oh well, it cost me 10 bucks, and I'll go see another movie.
I think just the commitment nature of a game makes it so that you're definitely going to gravitate more to stuff that you know is going to be good, and you'll be less likely to take risks. And that's why lower-cost games, people take a ton of risks on, right? It's like a dollar App Store game -- who gives a crap? Buy a thousand of those. [laughs] You don't even think about it; it's like not even a second thought; "Sure, buy. I'll try it -- that sucked. Buy, try. That sucked. Oh wait -- that one's good!"