This week in gaming brought the release of one of the most anticipated titles of early 2012, the sequel to 2007's critical hit, The Darkness. To the mark the occasion, we sat down with Michael Schmalz, president of Digital Extremes (the team behind The Darkness II). Our wide-ranging discussion on the eve of the game's launch touches on topics such as Digital Extremes' relationship with publisher 2K, the creative forces driving The Darkness franchise, potential scenarios for The Darkness III, and much more. But waitâ€¦ that's not all! We'll have a follow-up interview with Michael next week shedding more light on the inner workings of London, Ontario's own Digital Extremes. Enjoy!
Gaming Union: Can you describe your partnership with 2K on The Darkness II?
Michael Schmalz: The Darkness II is an amazing game, and that didn't happen just by Digital Extremes alone. It was a great collaboration with 2K, bringing great voice-actors and writers to us, so together we could make a great game.
GU: What's your role been on the project?
Michael: I look in from time-to-time to make sure that the schedules are on track, that the proposals are realistic, that we have the right staffâ€¦ In some cases we have to hire out for certain positions, so I'll assist with that. My brother [James Schmalz] is the lead creative person at Digital Extremes, which is the way things should be because it's his company. From my perspective, I work with the producers on the production side of things, ensuring the right resources are in place for the creative team so we can really take advantage of their talents. Once those requirements are met, the creativity and the magic just seems to come together.
GU: Is Digital Extremes starting to take creative ownership of the series?
Michael: I wouldn't say that. When we first started doing The Darkness II, we met with the series' writers, the comic book IP owners and 2K, and we basically said, 'What can we do here? And what can't we do?â€¦ What are the untouchable things that need to be preserved for this to be a legitimate Darkness game?' We got that list from them. We also brought in some aspects from the comic book, which many of us were already familiar with. What is The Darkness? Who is Jackie Estacado? What's his struggle? What's the drama? It's really important to understand where you're coming from before you can get a solid idea of where you're going.
Along the way we decided to do the graphic noire art style, which I think is a really great thing. We also did certain things to change-up the Darklings. All of that came out of very long discussions with all three partners on The Darkness II. That being said, I wouldn't want Digital Extremes to take the credit and say, 'We're the ones driving this franchise.' It's really been a team effort.
GU: Now that you've got a Darkness game under your belt. Do you see your team taking on more of a leadership role in the future?
Michael: Well, a few things have to happen first. The Darkness II has to be successful. We need to know that what we've done has been accepted and appreciated by the gaming public. The first one was a bit of a niche hit. People who liked itâ€¦ well, they really liked it. For a lot of other people, the game was simply off their radar. With this game, we hope to expand it so it's a lot more mainstream and has a bigger audience. To the extent that we're successful in doing that, I think it bodes well for the franchise as a whole.
GU: What constitutes success for The Darkness II? What does the game have to do financially and/or critically for you to reach those goals?
Michael: We have our own internal targets. For us, it's very important to get a strong MetaCritic result, and that means we're competitive with the other top-tier titles coming out in 2012. What that exact number is?â€¦ Well, I'm not going to say. I'll leave that for you to infer. In terms of sales, we also need to be competitive with the triple-A games in our genre.
GU: Have you been collaborating with Starbreeze (the team behind The Darkness) during development?
Michael: No. Not at all. I met some of their team a while back when we had just started work on The Darkness II, and I desperately wanted to go say something to them, but I didn'tâ€¦ That was probably the closest I came to any contact with them. They've got their own projects and have a great team. They really set up The Darkness well, and it's up to us to honour that legacy in the sequel. In short: they haven't been involved at all.
GU: Would Digital Extremes like to work on The Darkness III?
Michael: Yeah. I think we'd be receptive to that, as we would be getting the opportunity to work on any great project. Ultimately, it's up to the publisher to pick the right talent for their franchise going forward, but we'd certainly be interested if the situation was right.
GU: Thanks for your time, Michael!
The Darkness II is on store shelves now for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.