David Adams, general manager at Vigil Games, and creative director Joe Madureira took the stage at DICE and talked about developing Darksiders, taking it from concept to retail release.

Starting out, they had little in the way of concrete ideas, aside from a vague concept of wanting to make an action adventure game in the spirit of a Ratchet & Clank. Original character art showed off a lighthearted young elf, a character who could channel energy and tame beasts. The next revision, tentatively named “robot arm kid,” had a bulkier character with a mechanical arm that could be deployed similarly to the one in the Bionic Commando games. At that point, the team realized that they were skewing their designs too young.

Stepping back from the kid-friendly space, the next character sketches took on a more mature appearance. One version had a huge sickle, another wielded a tribladed weapon and yet another character had four arms—two held firearms and another carried a skull-emblazoned sword.

Internal discussions led to the concept of incorporating the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into the fledgling project, which made it easier to discuss with people unfamiliar with the project. Pitching the idea to various people made Adams and Madureira realize that they might be onto something. Originally, the game was going to be focused on Death, but War won out. Early versions included miniguns and a variety of equally huge swords.

Even though the game had taken a mature turn, Vigil didn’t abandon some of the original ideas. While the team of four tweaked gameplay, they turned to Ratchet & Clank as an inspiration for effective controls. A special focus was placed on playability from an early stage, so potential publishers would be able to get a sense for how the game felt and played. As Adams said, art could be added later, but if the game wasn’t fun to play no amount of graphical polish would make it better.

Publishers looked at the small team and dismissed the possibility that Vigil would be able to deliver a console game. Madureira says they were told several times to think about cell phone games. They were skeptical when they approached THQ, because they only thought of the publisher as a company that worked on wrestling games. Fortunately, they were wrong.

After getting a deal with THQ, they doubled their staff to eight. Adams joked that everything they did seemed to make their lives harder, from developing their own tech to staying so small. By the third year of development, Madureira says the team was finally expanded to a point to where they were able to actually work full steam ahead. THQ’s support was instrumental in those early days, he added.

If you'd like to see more on the history and development of Darksiders, check out our Afterwords and Creating Darksiders' Protagonist features.