Q&A: Dissecting Dark Sector

Director of Digital Extremes' latest action game talks to GameSpot about what worked, what didn't, and what he wanted to do differently.

In late March, Digital Extremes and D3Publisher of America released Dark Sector for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A little more than a month after the release of his latest game, director Steve Sinclair took time out to assess the project's various strengths and weaknesses for GameSpot. Sinclair also gave some insight into where the developers got their ideas, how the project changed from conception to ship date, and what he thought of the game's mixed critical reception.

GameSpot: The Dark Sector that shipped bears little resemblance to the game announced in 2004. Was the game extensively redesigned at some point during development, or did the changes just come about gradually?

Steve Sinclair: The sci-fi demo was just a tech-demo. We had only rough ideas about gameplay at that point, but we wanted to get a head start on the technology we were building. When it came to making the game itself, we wanted to ground it more, and making it more contemporary seemed to work. We wanted to start the crazy superpower evolution in a more familiar place.

GS: Which aspects of Dark Sector worked the best?

SS: The glaive and the evolution powers. It seems players consistently enjoyed the different feel to using the glaive, and the evolution gave them something new to learn and master. Steering the glaive around a corner in slow motion and tearing someone in half...great gaming moment.

GS: Which aspects weren't executed as well as they could have been?

SS: We didn't tell our story as well as we could have. Definitely took it in the crotch on that one, and it's true. We didn't have time to try it out on people who were fresh, who hadn't read a script draft, so we glossed over things we should have spent more time explaining.

GS: Given more time, what extra features or tweaks to the gameplay would you have liked to make?

SS: Most of the core game-loop stuff works well, but I certainly would have liked Hayden to be more agile--more capable of moving through the game spaces in varied ways.

GS: What did you think of the critical reception of the game? Were the reviews basically in line with what you expected, as far as overall score and specific praise or complaints?

SS: Most of the reviews I agreed with, for sure. I don't think you'll find more harsh criticism of our work than from us. I found it telling of what is expected of a game now, seeing "this is tight and fun," but the disappointment with the fiction and the sparseness of storytelling really cost us more than we thought it would. It's not nearly enough to be damn fun; it needs to speak to escapism and immersion at a greater level than ever before. Makes sense to me; why else are you dropping $500 on the hardware when there are plenty of fun last-gen games?

GS: Dark Sector was the first next-generation game announced. How do you think the reception to it would have differed if it had been released closer to the actual launch of the systems?

SS: I would have loved to ship a bit earlier, but I suppose the market size is quite small at launch. We might have had a "best-looking game ever" for a while though! At that point though, it was pretty much impossible to ship more than a tech demo.

GS: A number of reviewers mentioned similarities to Gears of War. How much inspiration did you get from Epic Games' shooter?

SS: Camera and perspective are so similar. In 2004 we had been demoing a third-person shooter, and we were planning "passive cover"--where the character would adapt to the cover automatically. When Gears came out, we saw that it was working better than ours, and we figured it was creating a convention in a way, and it would be a mistake to not do it similarly. We drew from it the same way a first-person shooter game has to look at Halo and consider what is convention and what you must do differently.

GS: People have also commented on the similarity between the glaive in Dark Sector and that in the 1980s sci-fi fantasy film Krull. Was that an influence on the game? What other films did the creators draw inspiration from?

SS: Surprising to most fans, Krull was a hindsight similarity. We were working on a magnetic "stealing" gadget. It was going to be one small part of a larger arsenal. As we messed around with its flight and so on, we thought: Can we make it a weapon at the same time? It just stole the show when it ripped people in half, and we realized that had to be the focal point. [Originally], it was going to be a marginalized gadget. But the design became iconic, and it was something we knew people could latch on to, so we just kept folding our designs into some aspect of it--to the point where we added the off-hand pistol combat, so you can have the glaive out nearly all the time. We discovered the glaive about nine months into development and iterated on it until the end.

GS: Another frequently mentioned aspect of Dark Sector is the level of violence in the game. It was actually enough to prompt a ban from the Australian government, but it didn't generate the level of media frenzy that Manhunt 2 did. In retrospect, did you go too far with the violence? Not far enough?

SS: A lot of this came from people play-testing the game. We had ridiculous amounts of violence in the prototype, but when we set it up for the game, we toned it down. We didn't want it to be a comic level of violence. So when we took that and put it in front of people, they were disappointed; they expected the chopping in half because of how the weapon looked and felt. So we endeavored to remove the "subtle" from the glaive. The ban in Australia was surprising, especially after similarly--if not more--violent games had previously shipped before us, but ultimately their rating system is slightly different than the one in North America, which provides them with a wider reach to wield their censoring swords at will.

GS: Has the game's Evolution engine been licensed out to other developers?

SS: We're talking to people about it. It definitely turned out far better than I expected, and based on the critical acclaim to our visuals and performance on both systems, it would be silly not to consider licensing. Creating the Evolution engine was certainly something that wasn't easy and often not enjoyable, but we wanted technology that was balanced and was designed with a specific philosophy of development. Developing technology and a game at the same time is not something I'd wish on my worst enemy, but we're extremely proud of what we accomplished, and the engine is an amazing piece of technology now.

GS: Finally, when can we expect a Dark Sector sequel?

SS: I'd love to do one. In many ways I think we scratched the surface with the character and the glaive. But there is nothing definitive at this point.

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Discussion

50 comments
ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

Digital Extremes has never done anything noteworthy enough to warrant a sequel. Pariah was pretty lousy, and this game was only marginally better. I don't think they'll be making any more games anytime soon.

vaejas
vaejas

Best post-mortem dev interview in forever. SO TIRED of hearing Dyack and Jaffe and Factor 5 piss and moan about how nobody "gets them". KRITISIZM! UR DOIN IT RONG! You can indulge in your art like the rest of us, when it doesn't have shareholders attached.And yet Dark Sector is a shining light compared to Fall of Liberty: "Here's a great idea we have, and, oh what, it's time to ship already? Damn, thought we could flesh it out more." And then that other WW2FPS that I can't even remember because it was so awfully buggy... Compare that with Timeshift, which actually turned out pretty great because they let it cook for an extra year. Really publishers, you can't expect these devs to make us a cheesesteak if you don't give 'em any whiz. Nothing has changed with unsuccessful development in 20+ years, just the teams and the budgets are bigger to cope with the technology. The failings in design are the same regardless of the technology or platform. Bad mechanics, bad control, bad storytelling. Good graphics won't keep your game popular 5 years from now. I hate deadlines, but they're a necessary evil. Every time I hear about a game delay I'm thankful because it means somebody is not just thinking but in fact deciding "this could be better". And that makes Gaming better.

Grandstream
Grandstream

I liked the game. The story was stupid, though. But I loved how it controlled. It was like playing a not-as-scary Resident Evil...or a very actiony Silent Hill...it's just a mix of RE and Gears of War. Story sucks, but action is awesome.

drangel_jam
drangel_jam

I wonder how much this game cost to make including the new engine. This game looks like it's appealing enough to reach at least 350K units sold. That would make a revenue of more than $20M at an average price of 60 bucks. Oh, and I actually bought the game, and I find quite good, with onlly major very distracting issues: a) the middle of the campaign is very blank, dull, sometimes the user has no idea about the relevance of the surroundings and what's taking place, and it feels like a pratice battleground for a major event, and not really like survival--in which every level should feel like it doesn't get any worst than that--RE4 had so many moments like that; b) Broken and laggy multiplayer, where it's only fun when you're kicking ass with the super suit.

Kensei_Kitsune
Kensei_Kitsune

So... you asked the Krull question, but not the Guyver question...? Ah, very nice interview. Refreshing to see that sort of honesty from a developer who realised their game wasn't what it could have been. In this light (provided he learned from his admitted mistakes) I wouldn't mind a sequel either.

Kit_Sakurazuka
Kit_Sakurazuka

I was kinda looking forward to this one, but I just tried the demo and not only did the gameplay not thrill me, it gave me a motion sickness headache in under ten minutes...If the director himself is dissatisfied with how they handled the story, I think I'll just assume it's not worth the pain and take a miss...

lamprey263
lamprey263

I thought original concepts of the game, which was supposed to take place in space, looked more interesting than the setting they took up for the final game. But still, I want to try this game out, maybe a rental just to be safe. The degree of mixed opinions surrounding this game has me intrigued.

coold_steam
coold_steam

its a good game but its too dark and its difficult to do a close combat

the_greenzero
the_greenzero

I liked it up until they decided to add new features, I mean duel wielding was just some lame concept. The gameplay seemed more balanced when you had just a pistol and more fun, the shooting looked so plain and just boring when shooting the pistol with the glaive. I think it has a lot of potential though and more work can be done with a sequel.

imortiferus
imortiferus

The game was flat, though it did have it's moments. The bosses were lame and the environments were largely uninspired. The glaive and the chase camera however were awesome, the repetitive death animations and target points were not. A sequel if done right could be awesome, but they have to do a lot of fixing!

Pete5506
Pete5506

THis game was all around bad

Vodoo
Vodoo

Dark Sector Sucked!!!

killpop13
killpop13

i liked this game a lot more the second time through and i hope that they do come out with another one and that they work on the story more with this one because there is nothing else major that they did wrong because the engine works great the graphics were good and it ran smooth on the ps3

holenjd
holenjd

I liked the game, but they really need to focus more on story next time. So how many units of this game were sold?

AnthraxAngel
AnthraxAngel

If they ever planned to make a sequel... I would definately say two things need to be worked on quite abit; 1) Hayden has to be alot mre agile in how you can control him... and 2) (which would be inevitably agreed on) the storyline needs much more depth and concept.

andyrae11
andyrae11

I wish in multiplayer you had pile o' Hayden's running around instead of those useless soldiers. The game could have toned down on the racism too. Other that it wasn't too bad.

Montrealien
Montrealien

@JohnnyNeat DO you even know how many years Digital Extreme and epic games worked together?

LiLLaRkIn
LiLLaRkIn

AHH man id LOVE a sequel.......

joeymew
joeymew

cool engine, lame story, awesome final boss battle, too easy = good rental

airsoftmanic
airsoftmanic

they created the Evolution engine which runs silk smooth on 360 and damn near perfect on PS3 so id give them a badge just for that. and Dark sector was good. yes the way the story was told was a pile but the actual story itself is brilliant. so many possibilities come from it. i hope they do a sequel and put more effort on the storyline and more creative uses for the glaive, that for me would be at least a 9/10 in my books. and no matter how gory, i will buy it. thumbs up to Digital Extreme, a superior dev!

JohnnyNeat
JohnnyNeat

This game is nothing more than a rental. I rented it and I think it's not polished or fun enough to have been released. I guess all the push backs killed the team's motivations. Forget Multiplayer and totally disregard anything to do with having no fun achievements on the 360 version. Note to any Devs, STOP with the annoyingly ridiculous achievements. Didn't Epic's 10k kill Gears of War achievement teach you anything of annoyance? You guys over at Digital Extremes and D3Publisher of America, for examples, obviously rubbed some of that Gears' style on to your work, which is fine, but why not learn from their annoying mistakes? Most of your achievements feel like after the fact forced homework. Couldn't you have seen how IW's lack of online achievements in Call of Duty 4, if anything as an example, show how no online multiplayer achievements are a possible option in avoiding forced lame achievements and in allowing any enjoyment or lack of in playing with perfect strangers? If you have to add achievements to online play make them reasonable, jeez. Oh and please, no more insanely annoying gamerscore achievements that take months upon months to acquire. I also don't think anyone loves playing for achievements geared at forcing us to play your one trick pony, one time through type of games. Good example, GTAIV's kill a Rockstar dev online achievement. Are they serious?

Raghall
Raghall

Well nobody can expect perfection in a game (yes this includes the likes of Halo). Now consider that they developed a pretty good game AND Created the Evolution Engine at the same time. And for all that effort I commend them in the way I would commend the likes of Blizzard,and Insomniac

jknight5422
jknight5422

I may rent this game or wait for it to show up in the bargain bin.

EPaul
EPaul

The game was good not great just good

peeweeshift
peeweeshift

the game was still pretty decent. some good sp moments in there

hbrickwood
hbrickwood

' We didn't have time to try it out on people who were fresh' Sorry,but 4 years isnt time!! Bol!*x Wasnt this one if not the first Next Gengame to be revealed!

sirvampalot
sirvampalot

Iet's hope the online gameplay is better in the sequel.

Scroll-Lock
Scroll-Lock

I hope the second time round they can concentrate purely on the game rather than the engine they built all at the same time. The first was really quite enjoyable and I think they'll learn from their mistakes.

BioShockOwnz
BioShockOwnz

Dark Sector definitely had its fair share of problems, but the overall game was very good and it's definitely worth a look if you dig 3rd person shooters. I hope Digital Extremes will turn this into a franchise, so we'll see a sequel that improves on the issues and makes the story a more important part of it.

nazraq
nazraq

most of the time i dont even pay attention to the story in action games. i didn't notice that anything was missing. it was a lot of fun to play. beat it in two days and returned it to my friend. a great rental. not worth buying.

Warhearted
Warhearted

It's good to see developers with a grounded view of gaming. That means we can expect a lot of improvement from these guys in the future. I only played the demo, but everything seems pretty accurate thus far - pretty good gameplay with the sweet glaive, great visuals, but an expectedly weak plot.

True_Blu3
True_Blu3

If they made the story-telling a lot better, the game would have been less repetitive. Through out six chapter of the game, there wasn't a single cut scene. It was the right moment to demonstrate more about the story, but sadly the developers didn't have time. I sort of feel bad for these guys. They worked their asses off on a beautiful engine and had go through a reptitive process of trying to develop a game, only to see that their sales for Dark Sector to be very low. Time Shift went through the same thing, and I am quite puzzled on how these two developers are able to continue on to fix their flaws.

cjno13
cjno13

i love it that Sinclair knows and can admit to what was wrong with Dark Sector. Here is hoping that they can improve on an already great game if there is sequel.

aarow82
aarow82

stoopid aus government denying me my rights to some gore!!

Tsuchikage
Tsuchikage

I thought the game was OK. Chopping people in half with a power throw from the Glaive, preferably while steering it with Aftertouch, was fun for the duration of the game. But, it's really shallow. It's a one-trick pony. Outside of the Glaive and the violence, there's really nothing to distinguish it from other games. And, yes, the storyline is pretty weak.

peacenutman
peacenutman

I thought the game was great, don't know why so many criticism. The only thing I would like is the briefcase like RE4 and upgrade weapons by money not by finding items

theGrynch
theGrynch

I loved the game, I thought it was great. I agree that the story-telling was kind of vague and passive, but the gameplay was a lot of fun.

dmish82
dmish82

Demo was cool but seems like it'd get repetitive. Glad to see developers listening to the criticisms though.

unreal_master
unreal_master

rented got to like lvl 5 or 6 got bored easily.

ligerz76
ligerz76

Wouldn't mind a sequel. Sinclair sounds like he knows what he's doing and is aware of what was wrong with the first game so a sequel would be fine in my book.

Zaatin
Zaatin

A sequel good be great just some little things got on my nerves but im sure if they had the time they could make a great game :)!

desert_e_909
desert_e_909

BL1NDS1DE great game, very underrated ---------------------------------------- yes indeed,it was one of those sleeper hits.heres hoping to a sequel.

Legolas_Katarn
Legolas_Katarn

Decent game, would like to see what could be done in a sequel.