The joy of playing The Darkness II doesn't come from just killing people, it's how creatively you dismantle their mortal coil. But the folks behind the game think there's meaning, and joy, to be found in the why of killing as well.
At least that's the idea behind the upcoming shooter's take on multiplayer. Instead of packing in the ability to play as a slew of Darkness-possessed Jackie Estacados, quad-wielding your way through swaths of bloody deathmatch destruction, the developers decided to create a character-driven cooperative campaign.
While gamers can play through the single player campaign and never touch the Vendetta cooperative campaign, or learn about it's four new characters and their weapons, it would be a bad idea, publisher 2K says.
You can play through all of the single-player campaign and never touch Vendettas or play Vendettas and never touch the single player, but both get richer if you play both," Seth Olshfski, producer at 2K Games, told me. "Itʼs not just about killing a dude, it's why you are killing a dude. If you know why youʼre doing it and who you are... it gets so much cooler. Thatʼs why we are weaving narrative into the coop."
And that's why they had comic book writer Paul Jenkins create the story and four characters for Vendettas. Jenkins, who has worked on everything from early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Wolverine and The Darkness comics, also wrote the main story for The Darkness II.
When they came up with the idea of Vendettas, developers Digital Extremes, gave complete creative control to Jenkins, telling him only that they wanted four characters that used four different Darkness-imbued weapons. He did the rest.
"Paul Jenkins really enjoyed writing these," Olshfski said. "Their origin stories are ten times more rich than what we fed you in the game, and we feed you a lot in the game."
Instead of just handing players the entire backstory for each of the characters, the players learn about them through dialog delivered in missions. So you only learn about the ones who are played in Vendettas. If it's just you, and you can play these missions alone if you want to, you'll only learn about the character you control.
That's not only a great way to build in more replayability, it also allows the developers to strip away those traditionally non-interactive cut-scenes that can pull a player away from the immersion in a game.
Playing as Inugami, for instance, I learned early on that he loses a year of his life every day he doesn't claim a soul with his cursed sword.
"All of us really care about narrative," Olshfski said. "Telling a story in a game is different than in a movie. You have to tell a story by doing. If youʼre in the world learning about characters while doing things, everyone stays
The fact that we won't learn everything there is to know about the four new characters and their weapons while playing The Darkness II's Vendettas, makes me think we will be seeing more of these characters down the line. But Olshfski wasn't ready to talk about that yet, not really.
"We haven't done anything (on using these characters outside of The Darkness II)," he said. "Weʼve had to hold back from branching out because we havenʼt been able to talk about them publicly yet.
"Now that we've been able to announce them, we can figure out how can we flesh these guys out. Part of the bar was that each one of them had to be so awesome that you would want to go play a game just about them or read a story just about them."