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.