Play in the arcade now.
GoozerNation recently had the privilege of speaking with Darksiders' lead designer Haydn Dalton about his career, his thoughts on the industry, and some of his upcoming projects like Warhammer 40K Online and Darksiders 2.
Troy Benedict (GoozerNation): How did you get to the position of lead designer at Vigil Games, and what are some of the daily responsibilities and tasks of a lead designer?
Haydn Dalton: Vigil was hiring for the position and I was looking to move, so I sent my resume to them and soon after they setup a phone interview. They found it hard to understand my Northern English accent so, that swayed an internal interview with them in Austin. I went there, talked about how I design games and looked at a very early prototype of Darksiders. I received a call shortly after that visit, and the answer was good! Go VIGIL!
My role is about creating the "design" and making sure it gets done to a high quality. I'm involved in all areas of the game: level design, story progression, combat/encounters, concepts, vfx, audio, front-end/gui...pretty much everything. I'm very fortunate to have such a role, and to be working with such an awesome and talented bunch of people who actually make it all happen.
Game development is truly a team effort, and even though we don't "design by committee", we do encourage everyone to have a say and care about what we do.
TB-GN: What was the first game you remember playing that really sparked your interest in working for the game's industry?
HD: I don't remember there being one game that made me want to make games, I just loved everything that was coming out at the time. I played pong, but went nuts for Space Invaders, Galaga, Gorf, Asteroids, Defender, Robotron, Joust, Kung Fu Master, etc. I was at an impressionable age when the local pool halls quickly became arcades, and I was there all the time.
GZ: I know so many people who want to create and design games for a living, and getting into the business can be tough. Are there any specific toolsets, programming languages, college courses, etc., that seem to be popular amongst today's game development studios?
HD: Getting into the modding community is a good way to start to understand what's involved in making games. There are tools like Epic's Unreal Engine 3.0 which is FREE, so get stuck in there and start creating. It's useful to understand 3D, so if you can't afford or get your hands on Maya or 3D studio, download SKETCHUP from Google. It'll allow you to quickly model 3d levels to help visualize an idea. As for scripting languages, that'll vary. Having some knowledge of C++ or Lua won't be a bad thing to have in your toolbox of strengths.
GZ: Do you have any suggestions to those who would like to one day become a game designer?
HD:What you should do as designer is understand what you want, and how to communicate it. I'm not a great artist, and people don't like to read a lot of text so, try and use lots of images to get an idea over in your documents.
Don't expect to progress from a college course right into a lead design position. It doesn't happen! You have to earn your stripes in the games industry. You'll usually start as a Junior/Associate Designer and work your way up based on how you do your job. Coming from QA is also a very common route for designers, and it's a hard one. I have a lot of respect for the guys who have to test our buggy code over, and over, and over again. You have to really love or want to be in games to go via the QA.
GZ: Because there were some religious undertones to Darksiders -- the battle between Heaven and Hell, angels and demon, the Garden of Eden, etc. -- did Darksiders receive any religious opposition over its portrayal of these religious themes, objects, and ideas?
HD: To be honest, I don't remember any emails from corporate or the public about it. Other than the "idea" of the horsemen bringing the apocalypse to Earth, nothing in Darksiders tries to parallel any sort of religious texts. The game's content was pretty much a grab-bag of elements from many places, so nothing could be took too seriously. We just wanted to create a "comic book" version of some cool events, characters and places that have been mentioned throughout history.
GZ: They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it's obvious that The Legend of Zelda franchise was a big influence on you and the team during the creation of Darksiders. Has anybody from Nintendo commented about Darksiders?
HD: No, I don't think that's something that Nintendo would do. They tend to keep their heads down and do the games they're best known for. If they have said something though, I hope it was positive (smile).
GZ: Put an end to an age-old argument! Which one is the better Link: serious and older Link from Twilight Princess or the animated, wide-eyed child from Windwaker?
HD:I can't put an end to that! They both have their places for different reasons. I don't mind that Nintendo change what the game looks like as long as it feels like a Zelda game. I liked both those games, but of the two, Windwaker, in my opinion, was the better game. If you asked me about the best Zelda, I'd say OCARINA OF TIME.
GZ: On the night before the release of a game like Darksiders, what is going through your mind? Is it mix of stress and excitement, like most people might expect, or is it more of a quiet and relaxed atmosphere?
HD: Our most stressful times were waiting on the first set of reviews. Sometimes they can set the tone for others to follow and can quickly solidify the views of the game to potential buyers... so it's very nerve wrecking for us as the people waiting on the judgment.
GZ: Vigil Games is working on Warhammer 40K Online, can you tell us more about it? Who is the more vocal about this product: Table-top Games Workshop enthusiasts or video game enthusiasts?
HD: I can't give any information out about the Warhammer 40k MMo, other than it already looks very badass. We had an updated demo of it during a recent studio meeting and its pretty impressive. As for the most vocal, I can only give my opinion, and from what I've seen, it's the video game enthusiasts who also happen to be table-toppers too. They've invested a lot of time and money into that universe and they want to make sure that we do it justice and seeing that we're the only ones doing an MMO in that Universe, you can see why they're so passionate about it.
GZ: How is work coming along on Darksiders 2? Will we be seeing any glimpses of it during E3 2010?
HD: The game is already feeling great, even at such an early stage in development. We had a lot of ideas that had to be dropped from the first game that we can now look at incorporating this time around. It's too early for us to show anything on Darksiders 2, but needless to say that we've made some tech improvements which allows us to do more with our visuals. We're going to need all this extra power!
GZ: At the conclusion of Darksiders, War states that he will not be alone in his further adventures, as he looks to the sky to see a cluster of three meteorites approaching the earth. Can we imply that this is a reunion of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and could we possibly see a 4-player co-op experience in Darksiders 2?
HD: You can imply whatever you like (smile). The ending does indeed suggest that War was going to be reunited with the other horseman, at the end of that particular story. As for it being 4-Player Co-op, I cannot say if it is, or if it isn't right now.
GZ: In the gaming industry, I imagine that fans of your work see you as something of a rock star, however it's the mainstream people, the ones who don't understand what we do, who humble us. When you are out at the barber shop or a local restaurant and somebody asks you what you do for a living, how do they react when you tell them you design video games for a living? Having worked on just about every system available within the last 20 years, is the perception of the video game industry held in a higher regard today, or are there still a lot of people out there who just don't "get it"?
HD: Luckily, I don't get asked that question too often, but when I do, I say I work in videogames and they're usually very surprised and inquisitive. They're either big gamers or their kids or friends are, so they ask lots of questions. I feel very fortunate to do what I do, and don't take it lightly.
Originally when I started, the general public, even friends and family thought it was kinda nerdy. I was never embarrassed by it, but it certainly wasn't as excepted and revered as it is today. It's all over our culture now in different shapes and forms.
There'll always be people who don't "get it" or care about games and that's fine too. A company like Nintendo look to those people as the ones they have to convert. They know game players will play their games, but they want the whole WORLD to play them.
GZ: If you could have worked on any one game in the entire history of video game releases, which game would it have been? In your hands would it be a much different game than it exists today?
HD: Damn, that's a hard question, but one thing's for sure, if I would've wanted to work on it so badly, knowing what I know, I wouldn't want it changing. I have two titles; 1) Space Invaders, because that really heralded the coming of the entire videogame movement for me. 2) Ico, because it's a game that made me "feel" differently about games. It was the first one that made me really care about a character in game, and emotion is a very powerful tool.
GZ: What are your thoughts on 3D technology in TV and video games? Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot recently stated that "I think next year we should maybe see 15-20% of games will be 3D on next-generation consoles. And then the following year it will be 50%". 3D technology in our televisions hasn't been a proven success yet, and to me, and 50% seems to be a bit ambitious in just 2 years, but as a game developer is it difficult to implement 3D technology into games? Is Vigil Games planning to support 3D gaming with any future releases?
HD: That statement does seem very ambitious, but new technologies tend to move very quickly. We have talked about 3D support at Vigil, but it's not something we're very passionate about. When the hardware can do great 3D without peripherals, then I'll be interested, and even then, there better be an "3D OFF" option in there somewhere.
Thank you very much for taking time out of your schedule to talk with me and GoozerNation.com about your career, your ideas, and your projects.