After bullets are fired and blood sprays, The Darkness II rewards players with experience points. Dark Sector developer Digital Extremes added a skill tree system to The Darkness II and a hands-off demonstration had four branches. The player picked gun channeling as one of his abilities, which channeled the power of the darkness into his guns. In this interview, Sheldon Carter, creative director, outlined the game’s skill trees and revealed its possible to respec Jackie.
What can you say about the skill tree system in The Darkness II? I believe the demo had four different tiers.
Sheldon Carter, Creative Director: There are four different tiers we’re showing now. Sorry, that doesn’t come out clear in the way that we laid it out. There’s stuff we’re not revealing yet, but we can talk about what you saw.
The gun channeling ability can turn a machine gun to a deadly weapon is one of the abilities we saw.
Yeah, that’s right. What happens when you activate gun channeling is you’re channeling the darkness through your guns and that amps up the damage for a limited amount of time. So, it really is like quad damage for your guns for a limited amount of time.
With gun channeling, the path we took [on the skill tree] in the demo is we went up and down one branch. There is another branch we didn’t show you, but the branch we went up eventually got up to the Heart of Darkness. While that’s activated, you can see through walls and shoot through walls at the same time. That’s just taking gun channeling and going through one branch of it.
Jackie also has his demon arms, which I guess will have their own skill tree. What can you tell us about that?
I can… just say there is one [for the demon arms]. I mean it works into a lot of different things. Instead of telling you what they are, I’ll just say if you could imagine what could we work with. When you grab an object maybe we could have a power that works with that or maybe different ways of slashing would give you powers depending on how you combo. Stuff like that.
Was the seeing through walls ability difficult to develop for the game? How did this effect level design?
I think for us, the difficulty wasn’t actually designing the feature, it was more the visualization of it. We needed it to be true to The Darkness. Everything about our art style is about being true to the comic books and having that feel to the world. With Heart of Darkness the difficulty came in making sure the way enemies were highlighted in the world didn’t ruin our art style.
Luckily for us, we had our design with what we wanted to do quite early. We built levels knowing you were going to have that ability so it actually wasn’t too bad. It was just a constraint on the level designers when they were making it.
The vortex power at the end looks like the black hole, but it appears the mechanics have changed.
That was our version of black hole, which is a returning power from The Darkness 1. If you notice the way the demoer got that was from eating a heart. Once you’ve gone down the skill tree and bought black hole, there are certain enemies that drop [items]. When they do drop, they have a chance of dropping a black heart and that’s interesting because hearts don’t last forever. You kill a guy, heart drops, and after a few seconds it’s gone. Sometimes you’re in the middle of combat and you kill a guy and you see it and you think "Oh god, there’s the the black hole heart I’ve got to go get it!" You’re sprinting across the battlefield, spike it, and then get the black hole.
In Darkness 1 we felt the Black Hole was overpowered because you could sit back, cast it, sit back, and cast it over and over again. For us, it goes in directly with the eating heart system.
That’s interesting to have a powerful random drop, but you still have to invest experience into going down that skill tree route.
I want to be frank with you, for the demo we made sure that one guy dropped it. For the actual game, it’s not [scripted]. You could have a fight where you go through and don’t get it. Chances are… we’re trying to encourage you to be up close and personal with combat. That’s just another tool in the belt. Once you get black hole you’re looking for enemies to see what they drop when they die. It’s like – "Oh, that heart! Oh God, that’s the black hole heart!" There’s a big effect that comes off the heart so you know if you race in there and get it before it expires you’re going to be good.
How do you balance experience for The Darkness II? Is it possible to replay levels to…
No, it’s not. You can’t mine, in essence. There’s no way to rack, but there is the ability to respec. Your Jackie will be most definitely different than mine in the game, but if you are unhappy with your choices there are a couple of opportunities in the game to kind of respec a little bit.
Can you tell us more about this? Are there any penalties for respecing?
We’re not at the point of discussing the intricacies of that yet, but there is the ability to do this.
When you’re thinking of building your Jackie, what abilities would you pick?
For me personally, hmm… that’s interesting without telling you want the trees are… I’d take a lot of base powers because I like having a lot of variety. I’d take starting points of a couple, but I really like using the demon arm. So, I usually go up the demon arm tree because there are so many cool things you can do with both slashing and grabbing.