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The Darkness, or "How I learned to leave the Sun and Love the Nordics"

3rd Eye Studios' Gregory Louden finds inspiration in Starbreeze's first-person shooter that lets players inhabit the protagonist for quiet moments as well as firefights

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This edition was contributed by Gregory Louden, Lead Designer at 3rd Eye Studios on Downward Spiral: Horus Station and previously Senior Narrative Designer at Remedy Games on Quantum Break, Crossfire 2 Single Player, and the early days of P7. As well as this Greg worked in the VFX and feature animation industry on Gravity, Prometheus, World War Z and more.

"I remember the night of my twenty-first birthday. That was the first time I died..."
- Jackie Estacado

The Darkness was a revolution to me when I first played it. It changed my perspective on storytelling in games and I also feel has changed interactive entertainment ever since. From the opening line to the conclusion of 2K Games, Top Cow Productions and Starbreeze Studios' The Darkness, it had style, impact, and didn't feel like any other game I had played. When asked what my favourite game is, I always answer The Darkness, as it has been so influential to my work as a designer, my life, and showed me that a game can be so much more than I ever knew.

The Darkness follows Jackie Estacado, a mobster who on his 21st birthday is betrayed and then goes on a violent path of revenge using newly found powers from a demonic entity. However, the game is so much more than just a revenge tale. It's one part first-person action, one part surreal World War I nightmare, one part romance, and all cinematic New York with its grime and attitude. It has so many amazing elements all driven home by incredible production values for its time, including a top-notch vocal performance from Mike Patton (Faith No More) as The Darkness itself.

You could use your Darkness power to grab, shred, and bite opposing mobsters, you re-filled your health through devouring hearts, and you could even spawn impish minions to assist you on your quest for vengeance. On top of this, the cinematics took the game from being a first-person shooter to first-person actor. Jackie's arms were emotive, gesturing and acting along with the story, which was amazing after years of static first-person storytelling.

"You could watch To Kill A Mocking Bird with Jenny, snuggling together on the couch. It's a quiet, lovely moment that could last for hours as you could literally watch the entire film"

While the action was inspiring and still feels fresh, it was the innovative approach to storytelling in the smaller moments that I truly loved. To meet your girlfriend Jenny, you had to find her flat in the neighbourhood by actually reading street signs and following realistic transit maps. You could watch televisions in the world, much like Remedy Games' work (and what we later did in Quantum Break). However, the key moment that has inspired me to this day, was that you could watch To Kill A Mocking Bird with Jenny, snuggling together on the couch. It's a quiet, lovely moment that could last for hours as you could literally watch the entire film.

As a designer this game motivated me to push for more, to tell stories that haven't been told that blend cinema, music, art and everything together to make interactive entertainment more than any other medium combined. As an aspiring game designer from sunny Sydney, Australia, playing atmospheric Nordic games like The Darkness, Kane & Lynch, Hitman, and Alan Wake left a mark. After working in film VFX and animation in Sydney and then London I wanted to try the games industry and wound up in Helsinki, Finland joining one of my favourite game studios, Remedy Games and now joining a new one at 3rd Eye Studios. Over the years in the Nordic darkness, I've learned so much from great colleagues, met my Nordic fiance, and got to collaborate in the Nordic community and now lead my first game, Downward Spiral: Horus Station, at 3rd Eye Studios.

Horus Station has a lot of subtle moments inspired by The Darkness, like radios that play music for players to enjoy at their own pace and a trippiness found in many Nordic titles. We even have a mode where players that only want more contemplative moments can remove the action entirely. I felt after playing that sequence with Jenny in The Darkness that there's a huge future for games without combat, and I'm proud to include a mode all about that influence where you can explore our world without hostile enemies.

Thank you to all of those who worked on this game. From my perspective, you changed games, and I will always love The Darkness in particular as a result. Luckily, since that game the influence has continued with Starbreeze Studios' Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, along with the two studios founded by former Starbreeze members: Machine Games (Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus) and Hazelight (A Way Out). We've seen this influence outside Nordic studios as well, such as in Naughty Dog's wonderful Uncharted 4 sequence where Nathan Drake plays Crash Bandicoot with Elena, or in Dontnod Entertainment's Life is Strange, where leads Sam and Chloe can lay in bed for as long as the player likes listening to Bright Eyes' Lua. Which I feel shows even outside of the Nordics, the moment as I have always felt was respected and revolutionary too.

So what's the next game to be influenced by The Darkness?

Upcoming Why I Love columns:

  • Tuesday, August 28 - YoYo Games' Russell Kay on Portal
  • Tuesday, September 11 - Snowcastle Games' Thomas French on Homeworld
  • Tuesday, September 25 - Sumo Digital's Emily Knox on Metal Gear Solid
  • Tuesday, October 9 - Perfectly Paranormal's Ozan Drøsdal on Worms: Armageddon

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

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Gregory Louden