Joe Madureira Interview: Uncut
After the well received Darksiders had hit shelves Play was given the chance to chat exclusively with the game’s creator and developer’s founding father, Joe Madureira. As a legendary comic book artist with credits on such publications as Uncanny X-Men and The Ultimates we were very excited to have the chance to grill Joe Mad, who was candid in his assessment of the Darksiders development process and his place in the industry.
Play: How did Vigil Games get started?
Joe Madureira: There was a group of us who had been working at NCsoft at the time and we became disgruntled and creatively frustrated and we just decided to form this company with four people. We’re kind of the original four horsemen I guess. And basically we started working on a demo, working on our own technology. We knew we couldn’t pitch a game these days with just some drawings and documents so we worked on a demo for about eight months, showed it around at E3 and THQ loved it almost immediately. They picked it up and that’s really how we started. By then we had a few more people, we had an office and we made it legit.
Play: Were the ideas for Darksiders already in the background when the company started?
JM: We knew what kind of game we wanted to make. We had a pretty generic character running around early on and we just started thinking about settings and ideas for characters. It didn’t really solidify until we hit on the idea of the four horsemen and setting it on Earth with angels and demons. Once we all got excited about that it was a lot easier.
Play: Darksiders really feels like your artwork brought to life. Was that one of the attractions of moving from comics to videogames?
JM: I love drawing. It’s its own reward, looking at a drawing afterward, but actually seeing it go a few steps further, get animated and have sound recorded and fighting these creatures that you’re drawing on paper is amazing. It never really gets old. Every single one is exciting to look at. A lot of the people we brought on board were already familiar with my work, a lot of them are comic book fans and it’s easy to communicate when you speak the same language and understand the visual goal everyone is shooting for.
Play: How closely did you work with the other artists on the game to keep it as close as possible to your vision?
JM: I’m there every day working with the leads and in some cases the individual artists, even the animators. It’s impossible to hand off a drawing and expect everything to go right with it. A lot of time even the drawing has to be revised, because there are problems with things that you weren’t anticipating. You start talking about animation and things and you realise you have to refine things. Rarely does something make it all the way to the end without being revised a dozen times.
Play: Did you find you needed to adjust your style to take into account the final 3D model for characters in the game?
JM: Not the style so much, but a lot of consideration has to be given to how things look from different angles. Sometimes things look fantastic from the front, but awful from the side so you just really have to take a lot of that stuff into consideration. And again animation comes into it. Like ‘that leg armour looks awesome, but when he bends his knee this thing goes right through the back of his calf, so that doesn’t work’.
Play: Have you found game development less fulfilling in the short term than making comics because of the comparatively drawn out process?
JM: Yes! I have to admit, personally, that it is painful how long it takes to make a videogame. I mean, even when I was in comics I definitely took my sweet time, but there is a sort of instant gratification that you know that when the book is done it will be on the stands in just a couple of weeks. Spending four years working on something is completely painful and luckily the game has been well received, but most aren’t, so when you put that much work into something and then it flops, I don’t even know how people can do it.
Play: But you’re not walking away from it just yet?
JM: No, not just yet. I’m stubborn.
Play: Back in your drawing days there was talk of your titles being delayed because you were getting distracted playing games. Was there any truth to that?
JM: I was definitely playing a lot of games around that time, but then I’ve always played a lot of games since I was a kid. So, I don’t know. It had more to do with certain things that were going on in my personal life and just creatively I think I hit a wall. I had been already looking into getting out of comics and that’s why when the game thing opened up I had to take it, because I just knew that the next few years in comics were going to be agonising. I had been doing it for a while and needed a change. Even though Battle Chasers was so cool and I still love the characters and I’d love to do it again someday, at that point in my life I just had to move on.
Play: You started at Marvel when you were 16 right?
JM: Yes, I was interning there and I got my first work published right before I turned 17. I was still in high school at the time.
Play: Do you see a lot of connecting threads between comics and games as mediums?
JM: As far as the consumers go I think there’s a lot of crossover. I’d be shocked if every single person who bought comics didn’t own at least one gaming console. I think that a lot of the fans that go to the comic conventions play videogames. As far as the professionals, I think it’s the same in any entertainment medium where the most successful ones only make up to the top ten per cent and everything else is mediocre trash that just falls off the radar. It’s so hard to get into that top ten per cent, but you do it because you love it and it’s hard to be deterred from it. People just want to make their mark and get some attention and hopefully we will do that with Darksiders.
Play: As well as God Of War and Zelda many people have picked up on what seem like Legacy Of Kain references in Darksiders. Is that a series you drew any inspiration from?
JM: It’s funny because Soul Reaver has come up before and it’s actually a game that very few people on the team have played at all. I played the first Legacy Of Kain and the last game, Defiance. It wasn’t really an influence, but stylistically Darksiders shares that dark fantasy, gothic, horror tone and I guess it just resonates on that same level.
Play: You’ve kicked off Vigil with a new IP, but have a Warhammer game coming next. Do you want to go back to doing more new IP in the future?
JM: Speaking selfishly and personally I think when creating something, the very beginning of it is the most fun part. I love creating new stuff. Finishing stuff is the painful part and creating new stuff is fun. I would like to keep doing that until the day I die. Hopefully we’ll be a studio that constantly churns out new ideas and new IPs.
Play: Your comic Battle Chasers seems like a world that could translate really well to a videogame, so is that something you would be interested in doing?
JM: Well, I do own the rights to it and it has come up before, believe it or not, but I think I would have trouble handing it off to any other studio. It would definitely have to be Vigil and at this point we have so much on our plate that there’s no way on Earth we could do it. It’s sort of on the back burner. We’ll see.
You can read our review of Darksiders in Issue 188 of Play.