Ivo: We’ve spoken about the music and the writing/humour that are clear pillars of your game, but the other thing that’s apparent is obviously the art style itself. More a pixel/retro style that still has a lot of atmosphere. I’m a big fan of pixel art. I know, Paul, you’re recognised in the industry as a talented pixel artist, as recently highlighted by 80 level. Generally the art you create is very detailed, much more than in Darkside. What were your considerations when forming this distinctive style?
Paul: The original style was what we really nailed early on in the process. It’s a really low-res style mixed with HD lighting on top of that. It was mostly because it was a game jam game, so we had eight hours to do the initial game. More detail just couldn’t be done; my base resolution was very small, original characters being like 30 pixels by 10. It was kind of a quick style to get a very flat background, and as soon as I started adding a few more bits and pieces of light and colour to the background, I felt I had this 'aha' moment where the atmosphere was there. I really liked the art style. Then when we posted it online, we got a lot of positive reactions to the style. It was interesting that people kept saying it looked like the old LucasArts games; if you put them side-by-side they wouldn’t stack up at all. The old LucasArts stuff has much more character and scene detail, but I’ll take the compliment.
We debated it for a while, changing the art style with a higher resolution. Did a few tests with higher resolution and character faces and all that. But it felt wrong to change it. We kept getting positive reactions to the style; people loved the art. The game evolved into essentially being an icon of what adventure games looked like, rather than the exact style of those adventure games. The characters having no faces put a few people off, but they are only three dots so there is really no space anyway.
Ivo: If anything it adds to the uniqueness of the game.
Paul: The art style is really useful for a quick turnaround. We’ve always been able to do quick reactions to get funny jokes out on social media to remind people we’re still here and engage with our audience. It’s also let us create more locations and characters than we might have otherwise been able to given the timeframe we had. I think overall the game is better due to that. The world is more alive, it feels more like being in a city, because there are a lot more people and things. It just feels more real.
Ivo: And talking about more 'real' in a way, if you look at the game itself there’s the clear X-Files inspiration you’ve already talked a bit about. What I’d like to get from you, Dave, is the entire idea of Twin Lakes and the Darkside Division. Was that clear from the get-go or did things evolve, like due to the trip you mentioned before?
Dave: I don’t think there was a lot of Darkside initially, right Paul?
Paul: The only Darkside part we had was really the parallel dimension.
(Paul and Dave debated on what there was and wasn’t in the beginning. Can’t remember.)
Dave: I can definitively say that, when we started planning and making a list, it described the city a bit, and iconic bits of Americana and other American icons. Once we got to the Darkside and agreed that we were doing a Division, there had to be a chief who had some idea what was going on. People didn’t really know about it; his job was more about sweeping these types of things under the carpet. So some of it just naturally grew from having to answer questions: why does this actually exist, what do people know? We’ve seen (in the demo) magical books and contraband so there has to be some sense of people in certain positions knowing what’s going on. That’s sort of a standard thing if you look at Twin Peaks, Supernatural; there’s always a handful of people who seem to know what’s going on, so we kind of figured out who goes where and so on.
A lot of it grew organically and as we kind of figured out what the different cases were, we thought 'oh okay, we do want a library; there is a library in a city so let’s detail the library – who works there, what is its status?' Because we have a case that’s set in the police precinct, at that point we need to figure out who is there and how they feel about things. Again there is a Darkside Division, so clearly other officers must know that this is what his [McQueen’s] job is. Sort of a Fox Mulder type of guy, so we had to figure out their relationship to him and how people treat him in that role. I think it grew very organically, first detailing things on a large scale and then filling stuff in as we needed it.
Ivo: You mentioned having drawn inspiration from the ‘80s horror scene; what do you really have with the occult, if anything?
Dave: Like am I a member of a cult? (laughs)
Ivo: (laughing) No no, I mean is this something that has always fascinated you, that whole concept?
Dave: I’m an avid role-player, did a lot of things like World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu and all that sort of stuff. I watched all those TV shows as a kid, I’ve read the Lesser Key of Solomon and the works of Crowley. You know, I have dictionaries on the occult; I find it all exceptionally interesting. All that and I have years of, I guess, reading weird stuff, researching things like the Templars. We didn’t end up using that, but it was interesting that when Tracey and I were traveling we were able to see Templar castles while traveling in Portugal and those things. There’s a lot of fascination with magic and the supernatural; I’ve been a big fan of folklore and mythology and fairy tales as long as I could read. It’s really like a perfect storm of a lot of things for me as a project, the influences from things like TV shows I loved growing up, the genres that I played growing up, and it has all the weird and mystical stuff that I’ve spent a lifetime playing around with and find fascinating.
Paul: Those are the kinds of things that automatically fit well into the world of Darkside, with a Division that’s on the lookout for the occult.Continued on the next page...