Darksiders 2 Interview with Haydn Dalton

If you could be any character in an action adventure game who would it be? Assuming your goal is to kill your enemies, there are few who would be as ruthlessly effective as the physical embodiment of the act of killing, Death. With the second horseman of the apocalypse being the focus of the Darksiders series, Death’s adventure in Darksiders 2 makes several important changes compared to its predecessor. Today we are talking to Haydn Dalton, Lead Designer on Darksiders 1 and 2, about the new game, his advice for aspiring game designers, the future of the series, all those Zelda comparisons and more.

Laura: For those who don’t know you, could you tell us a little about yourself? How did you first get involved in the industry and how did you get to where you are now?

Haydn: I’m Haydn Dalton and I was the lead designer on Darksiders 1 & 2. I’ve been in the games industry for about 25 years. I started as an artist on the C64 demo scene, went for an interview at Ocean, and got my first industry break. Since then I’ve worked on many game genres, moved from art to design, founded two separate game development companies and transplanted myself here in the USA from England.

Laura: What’s your quick pitch for Darksiders 2? What is the game about?

Haydn: Heavy action, high adventure and player choice. “Choose your own Death” was our catchphrase early on in development. The game revolves around Death, the oldest of the four horsemen, trying to clear War’s name. It’s essentially a parallel story to the first game. We asked the question “What was Death doing when War was in trouble?”

Laura: What did you prioritise when designing Darksiders 2? Where did you begin?

Haydn: We prioritized the important elements first; player control, gear items and loot. As we progressed and story fleshed out, NPC’s and side-quests were the focus of our time.

Laura: What were your influences when designing both the Darksiders games?

Haydn: We love the action/adventure genre. We grew up with them and it’s a single player genre that is dying out. These game types inject a great feeling of wonder, exploration and discovery in players.

Laura: What did it feel like having your game constantly compared to The Legend of Zelda? Do you think those comparisons are going to be made for the sequel as well?

Haydn: It’s a compliment, of course, but the experience, from a player point of view, is very, very different. I still think the comparisons will be there, but less so this time around. Some of the elements we’ve added have distanced even more from those comparisons, in my mind at least.

Laura: Darksiders 2 has more RPG elements in it than the original, including things like loot drops. At what point in development did those changes first appear? What do you think you gain by adding them to the experience?

Haydn: There was talk of adding loot/more rpg elements into the first game, but in the time we had, it just wasn’t feasible. So, when starting the second game, we knew loot would play a big role in its development. Loot has added an additional incentive to explore, to fight and to experiment in what works for the player. Our additional NPC’s have added addition routes to sub-plots, lore and optional gameplay for those that want to keep in the world we’ve created. All in all, we’ve added more choice to the player and they can chose how deep they want to explore those choices.

Laura: What challenges did you have working with a brand new studio for Darksiders? How has the experience of designing the second game differed?

Haydn: With the first game, it was all about creating a framework/structure to base all the ideas Vigil had for the game. Taking into account what they had, what they could do, fed into where I thought we could do with the design. With new tech, team, tools, platform (not much console experience) etc. everything was a high risk. Thankfully, we hired some great people and got great traction from THQ to propel forward. With the sequel, we had a base to work from, so that helped immensely, even though we had a lot of new challenges to figure out too; loot and side quest implementation, for instance.

Laura: What advice do you have for aspiring game designers?

Haydn: Learn by experience. Get into learning tools that are out there, like Unreal. Some developers use these tools, so start experimenting, meet like-minded people and create games. Above all else, when creating content, understand why you made the choices you did. Figure out why something is fun, why certain things don’t work and explain them on a blog, show you’re work, sell yourself, be enthusiastic and work hard. All these things are free – they just require time, effort and dedication.

Laura: What is your favourite game you have worked on?

Haydn: I had a lot of fun on Darksiders 1, it was a hectic time with some great people, those things fuse you together as a team. You go into battle together, you watch each other’s back….you get a victory against the odds, it means something. I also had a great time developing and learning things on Star Trek: Invasion (PSX) back at Warthog too. That was a studio that was brimming with talented people.

Laura: Do you think we will ever see the discussed Darksiders game with all four horsemen, and a co-op campaign? What do you think would need to change to make that a possibility?

Haydn: I’ve said it before, but the chance of another Darksiders lands heavily with what happens with Death’s adventure. If fans want to see a sequel as much as we do, the answer is simple; buy the game and tell your friends to do the same!

Laura: I know you are going to be limited as to what you can say, but can you make any comments regarding the Wii U version of the game? Have you had much time working with the system?

Haydn: I can’t really talk about the WiiU version right now, other than we’re working on it.

Laura: Lastly, do you have any final words?

Haydn: I’d like to thank everyone who supported Darksiders 1; our fans are awesome. I hope we’ve done you proud with our second outing. We want to entertain and engage the player, and most importantly, have them think of the word “FUN” a lot while they play.

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