O’Connor, Paul (Darkwatch head designer)


Without a doubt one of the most anticipated action titles of the upcoming year, Darkwatch is poised to bust the boundaries between hardcore horror and bullet blazing action. Its spring 2005 release is still a few months away, but anticipation is rising as more information is revealed about the vampire western.

For those in the dark (pun intended), Darkwatch tells the tale of Jericho Cross, a half-vampire in the old west who becomes part of a secret organization. That organization, Darkwatch, is intended to fight the evil and paranormal forces that would dominate and destroy mankind. With the help of a ton of advanced weaponry and his undead horse, he”s going to put the undead back in their pine boxes…the hard way.

Besides a killer official site, the folks at Sammy Studios have also set up www.darkwatch.org, a “street team” site where game fans can sign up, promote the game, and win points towards all sorts of Darkwatch goodies. Speaking of goodies, don’t forget to enter our Darkwatch contest running this week, we have some t-shirts and nifty Darkwatch badges up for grabs!

To go along with today’s interview, we have some new screen shots to show you that demonstrate just how gorgeous this game is. Mind you, these are shots of actual game play, not animated cutscenes. You can click on any of the photos in this article to see the huge, full-resolution photos in all their grandeur. Be warned, these puppies are massive, so if you’re still using a dial-up connection you might be waiting awhile before they come down.

In the immortal words of Marty Bergman, enough of my yakkin’…let’s boogie!

Mr. Dark: The story of Jericho and the Darkwatch is obviously inspired by a number of possible influences. Marvel”s “daywalker” Blade comes to mind for Jericho, and the Darkwatch society are remniscent of the paranormal investigation groups of the PC horror classic Nocturne and Hellboy . What were your influences in the world of Darkwatch, and will we see any direct homages to those influences in the game?

Paul O”Connor: The original “high concept” for Darkwatch was “Blade meets Men in Black in the Old West,” but in the two years that the property has been in development, it has grown in other directions and taken on a life of its own. The game is quite a bit darker than Blade, and we’ve completely lost the tongue-in-cheek feeling of Men in Black. Don’t expect any direct homage to other properties at this point.

MD: The game is due to be released on both PS2 and XBox. What will be the significant differences between those versions, other than the obvious graphic power upgrade with the XBox version? Has a PC version been considered?

PO: We are developing the PS2 and Xbox versions side-by-side and specific differences that will exist in the release versions of the game have yet to be determined. A PC version of Darkwatch is possible, but right now our focus is entirely on console development. As the PC port of Halo demonstrated, moving a console game to PC isn’t trivial – beyond simple porting of game content, there are significant issues of game pace and style to consider when moving from one format to another.

MD: You”ve built an interesting “reputation” system into Darkwatch, where the player can choose, by their actions, whether they lean towards heroism or villainy. How did you create a single storyline that meets with both of these paths? Will there be multiple endings based on reputation and, perhaps, other crtieria?

PO: Yes, there are different endings. In fact, the whole third act of Darkwatch can be either “good” or “evil” depending on a choice you make at the end of the second act.

MD: One of the first things I read about the game had a mention of Jericho”s undead steed. That was the first thing that caught me about the game: ZOMBIE HORSE!!! At E3, the portion of the demo spent on horseback just looked like a hell of a good time. How much of the game will be spent (or have the option to be spent) on horseback and how much is spent on foot?

PO: We have multiple horseback levels, but we don’t want to reveal the final number of these missions in the final game. We will be including one of the horseback levels in the demo that we are releasing to the public early next year.

MD: The trend these days in gaming, especially console gaming, seems to lean towards very non-linear game designs, lead by Rockstar”s GTA series. From the details of the reputation system, it sounds like there is some flexibility in what you can choose to do or not to do during the game. How linear will Jericho”s journey be, and how much freedom will we have to explore his environs?

PO: Darkwatch is organized into a series of missions. Within these missions there is a reasonable degree of freedom in regards to how you go about completing your objectives. As an example, in the middle portion of the game we are considering letting players choose the order in which they embark on certain missions, as well as their starting equipment.

MD: Everything we”ve seen so far from Darkwatch has emphasized that it”s a fast-paced action title. However, we also know it has a very deep mythos. How did you balance story vs. action, and how important was it to you to emphasize the horror aspects of the game?

PO: Excellent question. If you think of horror films as being brooding and atmospheric on one end, say Resident Evil, and high action on the other, Army of Darkness for instance, then Darkwatch leans toward the Army of Darkness side of things, though without the slapstick. This is a high-action game. Jericho Cross has superhuman powers and really big guns – it doesn’t make sense to stick him in a claustrophobic horror situation where you’re stumbling around in the dark with a flashlight, armed only with a gun that has one or two bullets, as is commonly the case in straight “survival horror” games. But despite the high-action nature of our game, I’m still really impressed with what we have accomplished with light, sound, and production design to create some genuinely frightening and unsettling enemies, situations, and locations.

MD: On that subject, why a horror western? What attracted you to doing a title with so many horror-based elements instead of a straight-forward western action title?

PO: We have a deep love and respect for the Western genre, but we felt that a straight Western would be too limiting as a genre for the kind of game we wanted to make. We didn’t want to be fighting cowpokes and reloading our revolver after every six shots. We also didn’t want to play in a West that everyone has seen before. With Darkwatch, we can explore a twisted vision of the Wild West that is familiar and unique at the same time, and the presence of horror-based enemies really lets us ratchet up the action and violence from what would work in a straight Western game.

MD: We”ve heard and reported about rumors of a proposed Darkwatch movie, possibly with Morgan & Wong from “X-Files” and Final Destination fame. Can you tell us anything about this project, where it”s at in development, and how it will relate to the game?

PO: Darkwatch is a rich, deep and developing property. We designed it from the ground-up to work both as a video game as well as in more traditional storytelling forms such as film and comic books. While the game is the most visible and the most important form of the Darkwatch story, we intend to pursue other vehicles to tell the story. We want to tell not only the story of Jericho Cross but of the Darkwatch as an organization, from its origins in Roman times to its ultimate fate in Earth’s future.

MD: Your studio has three big projects in the works, a spy/action game, a martial arts fighter, and Darkwatch, an action-horror game. You”ve covered a lot of topical ground there. Considering our readers” interest in horror, are you interested in revisiting the horror genre in the future in a project outside the Darkwatch mythos, or perhaps in a gaming style other than shoot ”em up action?

PO: We have an unannounced project in development right now that could fit this description.

MD: And now, the most important question of all: what”s your favorite scary movie?

PO: Tough question! If I can only have one, I’d go with “Evil Dead 2,” with an honorable mention to “28 Days Later” and “The Exorcist.” If we include the classic era, then I’d include “The Bride of Frankenstein,” the 1925 version of the “Phantom of the Opera,” and the horror genre films of Val Lewton.

We have to thank Paul and his cohorts at Sammy Studios for their time and the cool swag for the contest. All you six-gun loving gaming junkies out there had better keep your eyes glued to Dread Central, because we’re going to keep on top of Darkwatch till it’s in your evil, twisted hands.

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