Interview with Jim Deal of Airtight Games

At the most recent PAX show, I was fortunate enough to spend a bit of time with a game I had been greatly anticipating: Dark Void from Washington's own Airtight Games.

Produced in conjunction with Capcom, Dark Void is an adventure game featuring aliens and jetpacks inside the Bermuda triangle. With tight transitions between air and land on top of clever vertical combat, this title is definitely one to watch—it also doesn't hurt that the people behind it are some of the same folks who worked on one of my favorite Xbox titles, Crimson Skies.

Airtight Games' president and creative director Jim Deal was kind enough to spend a few moments talking with me about this upcoming title, and I'm quite glad to share what he had to say.

What should players to know about Airtight Games?

Airtight Games is a studio formed by several people from the core team that worked on Crimson Skies for Xbox. We banded together with Ed Fries, former Microsoft VP and Games Consultant and formed a studio whose intent is to make triple-A action adventure games. Right now we have two projects in the works, Dark Void and one other project that is as of yet unannounced.

Being based in Redmond, what are the advantages or preferable conditions that made you locate your studio in the Pacific Northwest?

We located here because the founding members were already here, having worked together at Microsoft. When the project we were working on got canceled, I went and talked to Ed about starting up a new company to do some action adventure titles, and Airtight Games was formed. The location is great because there are a lot of game companies in the neighborhood, so there is a lot of talent around. Also, it is easy to get people to move to the Seattle area. Housing is relatively cheap and the quality of life is high.

How did Airtight and Capcom connect on this project?

We met with Capcom 3 years ago to talk about another project and immediately there was a meeting of the minds between the two teams. The project in question ended up not going forward and we developed Dark Void instead.

What were some of the influences behind the game, both in terms of game design as well as the artistic style? (And how many times did the team watch or read The Rocketeer?)

Well, there were many influences. Rocketeer was one of them, of course. We liked the rocket pack and flight, but felt it had a little more of a pulp 30's look than we wanted in the end. We tuned our character to give him a little more grit that fit better with our fiction. Naturally, since the core team did Crimson Skies for Xbox, there was a lot of influence there as well. Again, though, Dark Void takes an entirely new direction and has a more sophisticated feel.

Interview with Jim Deal of Airtight Games on... Dark Void

In general, what were the overall goals when the game was first on the drawing board? Obviously, the flight mechanic is central, but what were the surrounding and supporting ideas?

The goal from the start was to do a game that featured flying, but that also had an on foot element. What we wound up with was, flying, on foot, and everything in between (hovering, vertical combat, and jacking of flying vehicles.) It is an ambitious project.

Did some team members’ experiences working on Crimson Skies inform the design or plan of Dark Void, and if so, how?

Sure, there was definitely influence there. We had experience doing a game that featured flying and dogfighting, and we wanted to play to our strengths. But, as stated above, that was only one of the goals. We wanted to blend in all the other stuff as well.

Besides Crimson Skies, what other games have the team members worked on?

We have a pretty diverse group here that includes experience on past games like NFL Blitz, Supreme Commander, Combat Flight Simulator, Metroid Prime, NASCAR Racing, Dead Space and too many others to list. All this experience blends together well to create an atmosphere of collaboration and creative confluence.

I may be wrong, but the game seems designed for American sensibilities… is that the team’s intent? Are there any concerns about how it will be received in other markets?

While the core feel and look of the game is definitely American, we have been well received in Europe as well. From past experience I know that games like Crimson Skies and Combat Flight Sim did very well in Europe. I think the flight element of the game may attract some of the same audience.

The game felt smooth and comfortable at the recent PAX convention. Was it difficult to create a good transition for the player going from air to land and vice versa? Also, how much of the game will feature flight and how much will take place on foot?

The smoothness you felt was definitely no accident and in fact took a lot of planning and development time. There was some very close collaboration between the tech team, the animators and the game designers to pull that off. In fact, we recreated whole huge systems for the camera and animation to get it right. I think the results bear out that the effort was worth it.

Interview with Jim Deal of Airtight Games on... Dark Void

Will the game feature choices or alternate paths/outcomes or endings?

The game-play is designed to give the player a choice in the way objectives are achieved. For example, there are a number of different ways to get though combat. You can hover and rain fire from above, or just forge ahead blasting away on foot, take cover and be systematic in your approach or even use the rocket pack and its superior fire power. There are a number of different approaches to each situation. The narrative itself is linear and it takes the player through an unusual ride that hits on the elements of the mythologies of many different cultures. The ending will always be the same, but I don't want to give it away.

Last I heard, there’s no multiplayer aspect to Dark Void. Personally, I don’t believe every game needs it, but was it a difficult decision to come to considering its popularity in the current environment?

We considered multiplayer for Dark Void but in the end decided to focus on the single player experience. With all the different game play modes and transitions from one to the other I believe it was the right thing to concentrate on for this release.

Will there be any differences between the different platforms, technically or in terms of potentially planned DLC?

All platforms will include the same content and gameplay. The only differences will be found a special PC build we are putting together with Nvidia featuring some of their high end particle physics. Otherwise all will be identical.

If you had to convince a player to buy Dark Void in just one sentence, what would it be?

Experience the freedom of flight, the fun of combat on foot and all modes in between, that's Dark Void.

Infinite thanks to Jim Deal and the rest of Airtight Games. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for Dark Void published by Capcom and hitting shelves in January 2010.

Read more on the Drinking Coffeecola blog.

Brad Gallaway
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