The Darkness 2 isn’t cel-shaded

Darkness 2 PS3

Cel-shading is the effect that makes 3D renderings appear to be hand-drawn, like a living comic. The Darkness 2 is a game set in the graphic novel series of the same name, like a living comic. You might think it’d be a no-brainer to apply that cel-shading effect over the game, but Digital Extremes’ Sheldon Carter explains why it’s not.

“There are a lot of hardcore darkness fans [at Digital Extremes], so many of us had the art books already. We had a lot of the collection, and when we were flicking through the pages we were like, ‘How can we make the game look like this? How can we get to that comic book route?’

Cel-shading wasn’t the answer, Carter continues:

“That took a really long time to figure out. We’re calling it graphic noir because instead of just going cel-shaded or going straight with a high-detailed, photo-realistic textures, there was this blend and it took about a year to come up with properly.”

The result looks pretty staggering, if the game’s existing screenshots are anything to go by. As Carter mentions, there’s definitely a graphic novel influence to the visuals, but it’s understated. It’s also the result of plenty of trial and error, Carter reveals:

“ We tried a lot of things. We tried to concept it out and show it to our graphics programmers and say, ‘Hey guys, we need a shader that’s going to make the game look like this’. They tried and they failed.

For the nuance that we needed, it was not something that we were going to be able to spot over everything. We were going to need to raster and hand-paint everything to have that hatching look, so that was the biggest challenge. I’m sure our art director aged a few years, that’s for sure.”

So why avoid the cel-shading approach in the first place? Ultimately, it came down to matching the Darkness universe’s art style and the game’s existing graphics engine:

“We’re using all the things that you expect from a modern console game from that perspective, you’ve got normal maps, you’ve got specular maps, high-detail, there’s a really broad colour palette that we use.

Normally with cel-shading you’re talking about cutting down your colour palette and the differentiation within that colour palette becomes levels of saturation.

So that’s probably why when we we’re talking about it, the impetus for it also was, ‘Hey we want it to feel to the player like they’re playing a graphic novel’.We had this big collection in front of us and we wanted it to feel like that, not feel like a cartoon, you know?”

you can find out more from The Darkness 2‘s creative director at our Darkness 2 info hub.