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The Digital Extremes building and Dark Sector Concept Art

New World Nightmares - Discussing Dark Sector With Digital Extremes' James Schmalz
2000-03-31 - Kristopher Abel - Interview

Fans of Unreal Tournament looking to make a pilgrimage to its birthplace might be surprised with where such a quest would lead them. The pleasant countryside of London, Ontario is very reflective of much of Canada's northern exposure. Small, chirping birds swirl about semi-barren trees and rolls of grassy ground. (it's springtime here). Along with the small creek that passes by, it's impossible to tell from the outside that the stone and brick building in the centre of it all houses the sinister game makers, Digital Extremes.
Digital Extremes, the dark lords of gaming who have twice now taken over the gaming world with their work. Not just in the infectious popularity that both Unreal and Unreal Tournament has enjoyed since both were released, but also through the influence effected through the game engines developed specifically for Unreal and Unreal Tournament. Both have been widely licensed by other developers looking to reach the same high levels of quality the Unreals have set in place.
What the birds, the breeze, and the creek don't know, but we do, is that Digital Extremes is hard at work on their next infectious nightmare, a persistent online universe of dark assassins and competitive bounty hunters called Dark Sector. The next evolutionary step in the first-person shooter genre, Dark Sector expands on the dueling arenas with an ever-changing universe full of diverse characters, locations, syndicates, and a regular dose of expansion sets, mods, and upgrades.

James Schmalz is the Lead Designer and founder of Digital Extremes. This week I was fortunate enough to be given a window of time during Dark Sector's development for a quick interview with him.


KA: A dark universe full of competitive Bounty Hunters and Assassins. When I first read about Dark Sector I had this immediate vision of a universe of players, each with a bounty on their heads, some more then others, and a select few having survived against the odds for so long that they've acquired astronomical bounties. These hunters would be dream targets for every hot shot in the lower ranks looking for a big pay out. Is that the kind of Bounty Hunter system we can expect?

JS: It will be somewhat like that except that the guys with massive bounties on their heads will still probably get killed and their bounty will reset to 0, but since they have a large track record of previous criminal activity, once they start doing evil deeds, the bounty will ramp up very quickly to where it once was and beyond.

KA: Successful first-person shooters like Unreal Tournament have found their appeal by reducing itself to a purified form: Hunt or be Hunted. Dark Sector sounds like it will be a strong contrast from that with it's expanding universe of characters, plots, and alternate game modes. Will there be a loss of intensity? Will it matter?

JS: There will be even more intensity because you will fear dying more. In UT, if you die, you respawn and it's no big deal. Dying in DS will have consequences such as having your body looted. Thus it will be more intense. We will also have areas with arena matches where you can challenge someone to a deathmatch or CTF or other new games where you respawn over and over with no lasting consequences. So we get the best of both worlds.

KA: How much of a role will the space combat mode have?

JS: It will play as much of a role as the user wishes it too. There may be some people who avoid it altogether because they dislike that mode of play and there may be others who focus exclusively on space combat, pirating, smuggling, begin hired by others to protect them as they transport important people, etc.

KA: How are you developing it? Are you creating a separate engine or are you working some magic on the Unreal Tournament engine?

JS: The UT engine is 100% suited towards space flight dynamics. We already have it up and running and almost entirely functional.

KA: I've read on your site that the Dark Sector universe will be a persistent one, with regular expansion sets, upgrades, and added mods from the mod community. How much of that expansion are you detailing at this stage? Have you already set plot twists and new alien races that may not appear for another year or so on paper?

JS: Yes, this is going to be one of the big focuses of our product. We want huge dramatic events to unfold after the product is released. We are laying the groundwork for what we want to happen right now, but it wont be entirely defined until later.

KA: Where there is dark entertainment there is often a touch of light. Can we expect Dark Sector to be laced with humour?

JS: I doubt it. There may be some small things that we put in that may bring a smile to your face, but we currently have nothing planned along those lines.

KA: With its diverse themes and broad canvas, I can see Dark Sector being a big draw for the already large community of female first-person shooters. Is this something that you take into consideration during development?

JS: We want to draw in as large an audience as possible. We are targeting the hard core audience first and foremost, but we also want to make is as easily accessible as possible to anyone. We had this same philosophy on UT.

KA: We're already in a very big ol' world of weapons, weapons, weapons. How will Dark Sector expand it?

JS: We will definitely have a vast arsenal of weapons, and we are prototyping new designs right now. But it's still too early to say what we will have or wont have.

KA: Do you think a version of Dark Sector will ever make it to a next generation console like the PlayStation 2 or the X-box?

JS: It's in our plans in some form. I can't what direction we will go, but we are looking at all potential platforms.

KA: Even with a commercial project like Dark Sector, artists can often be "haunted" by certain themes that rise through their work. What kind of themes haunt the Dark Sector team?

JS: We always like the gritty, hard future you see in Aliens and similar movies as opposed to the clean, nice future of something like Star Trek. So, you can expect to see a gritty, dark future in our game.

KA: Does it ever feel weird, creating such a darkly violent world in such a peaceful place as London, Ontario?

JS: Not at all : )


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