It seems games journalists rarely miss a chance to work a Python reference into their headlines. Hence, with Arkane's action-slasher, there was a nationwide rash of: "He's not the dark messiah, he's a very naughty boy." It was enough to make you want to change jobs and drink yourself stupid. Anyway, DM's lead character may have been less memorable than the slinky demon who lived inside him, but the combat was novel and visceral enough to draw considerable attention. RaphaŽl Colantonio, the CEO and creative director of Arkane Studios, spoke to us from Texas, where he's working on Arkane's new game, The Crossing...
"We collaborated heavily with Ubisoft on the story - as you know, Might & Magic is a Ubisoft franchise. We met with the producers and had to make a story which came from, and was in accordance with, the entire universe. But this was mainly in Ubisoft's hands; there were a few writers who came to visit us and we integrated the story. It was a collaborative process, though - we pushed the story in different directions with our levels, and sometimes the plot demanded certain things from the levels."
"Art direction was a very different process, and Ubisoft were very demanding in that respect. To begin with, we were going with a very traditional design, but Ubisoft wanted something far more fantasy and unique, so there was a lot of deliberation before we finally found our look. In terms of where we found our inspiration, we first turned to The Lord Of The Rings - we love the treatment of that, the materials and lighting in particular. Monsters that aren't too cartoony; our orcs are very human, we didn't want to shy away from that.
"The section with the buildings on the side of the cliff was inspired by something our art director had seen on his travels around the world. So it was fantasy, but it was also real. That's part of the paradox when designing a fantasy universe; you have to design believable things and structures. Everything has to feel possible."
"We don't regret using the first-person - for me, it's a huge victory. In making Dark Messiah, we put a huge focus on the combat. Maybe too much, perhaps highlighting that to the detriment of other aspects of the game. That's what we decided upon though, and it took a long time - in our case, a year to get a prototype.
"The main thing was that we had to believe it would eventually work. People would point to these possible problems - like knowing where to aim and knowing where an enemy was attacking from. These were important questions, and the only way we pulled it off was to work really hard, keep believing that it was possible when some people were telling us it wasn't, and look honestly at what did and didn't work."
CAN'T GET THE STAFF
"At times, we had to fight against the natural reflexes and habits of players. Many people will see it's an FPS, that they're holding a sword and they'll expect it to work like the crowbar out of Half-Life 2. But you don't want that - you wouldn't play Half-Life with the crowbar and nothing else - at some point, you'd get bored.
"People wanted a very reactive sword, but at the same time it had to be tactile, so you feel the weight of the sword. The staff is much slower, but then some people like it because it's a lot more powerful than the other weapons. It's more challenging, but again, it goes more against the gamer's natural habits. Often, we'd change the rhythm and flow of the fighting, and it just didn't feel right. It was difficult to get right."