Some people graduate from college and dream of becoming rock stars, or founding a breakthrough Internet company. Mark Doeden, Andres Reinot, and Jeff Russell started 8monkey Labs during the summer of 2005 while “looking for an outlet for our passion for real-time software,” Doeden, who’s currently the Art Director, recalls. “We were a band of ambitious, aspiring developers straight out of college and searching for their first crack into the industry. It was an inimitable crew.”
As luck would have it, they were introduced to Phantom EFX, which at the time was focused on developing PC casino games. Doeden remembers: “One sunny afternoon that summer, we visited the guys at Phantom and spent the day in the office, showcasing existing demos, talking tech, and simply bouncing ideas around. Near the end of the brainstorming session, Aaron Schurman, CEO of Phantom and designer of Darkest of Days, pulled out a few pages of paper. It was a scribbled outline for a time-traveling shooter that he’d been hashing over for the past few years.
“We all took a read, sat back, and the rest is history. We struck a partnership with Phantom EFX, formed up 8monkey Labs, and got to work right away on what came to be Darkest of Days.”
Doeden notes that at the peak of the game’s production there were just 10 full-time employees on staff, and few of them had past experience creating games, but “8monkey excelled at making the most of the available resources. Most members of the team wore many hats, and folks generally went above and beyond the call of what a mere job would command. Darkest of Days has the unique feel that it does because of the team that created it.”
He elaborates: “Things like the sniper mission, the stolen Zeppelin level, and the grimly satisfying microwave un used in the endgame all grew from the ground up during our production process. Most players and reviewers have described the game as unique, and we love to hear that.”
Dreams Running Wild
As Darkest of Days’ development got underway, Doeden and the team sat down to determine which historical eras their unique first-person shooter would visit. The game begins with a seemingly typical first-person shooter battle that puts you in the boots of Alexander Morris, a soldier fighting under General Custer during the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn. After Custer meets his ignominious death, you’re saved from the save fate by a mysterious man wearing futuristic armor.
Soon you find yourself traveling throughout history, visiting the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War and the Battle of Tannenberg during World War I, as well as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii. Your goal is to protect people who have played key roles throughout history, thus preserving the time stream. By the end, you’ll discover why those people were placed in jeopardy and you’ll learn more about Kronotek, the mysterious organization that has enlisted you.
“With time travel on the table, our dreams for what the project was going to be easily ran wild,” Doeden says. “We had one rule from the very start: no World War II. The market was so saturated with World War II games at the time, we knew we didn’t want to touch what was already well done, and done all too often. With the format already decided on, a first-person shooter, we knew we had to keep our focus on events that would easily cater to the classic appeal of combat with firearms.”
He continues: “Eventually we culled the list down and went with five atrocities that we felt most of our consumers would relate with, but had not yet experienced in a video game. We’ll be honest, those five time periods were also what we, ourselves, wanted to experience in a video game. Taking an assault rifle into ancient Rome was something not to be ignored.”
Mining History For the Look, Feel, and Story
While the 8monkey team didn’t have the resources to fly around the world and visit historic battlefields, they were able to get creative and use the Internet to their advantage. Doeden recalls: “We would browse through individual’s Flickr accounts of their personal vacations through European battlefields, download little-known television series, and sift through the Library of Congress archives to collect the data, imagery, and literature we needed to give us insight into these historic events and help us shape the levels.”
The team also shaped the story during that time, Doeden says: “The story of Darkest of Days takes on the archetypal theme ‘great power requires great responsibility.’ Whether it was the Book of Luke, FDR, or Spider-Man, who made the theme famous, it’s a theme that has held true throughout time. Darkest of Days visits some of the bloodiest days in history and shows how each of these historic events would have been quite easily avoided if the powers that be could have sunk their egos, dropped their pride just a bit, or even just exercised a little patience.”
He adds: “The one exception to all this being marching into Pompeii in 79 AD with futuristic special forces at your side and an endless arsenal of firepower. The story is a powerful device to carry on an interactive journey, but we wanted to open the gates a bit and let the player take out some frustrations by the end of his journey. For those gamers who do seek out the backstory and really take in each turn of the plot, we hope they enjoyed their experience.
As for the possibility of a Darkest of Days sequel, Doeden says nothing is in the works right now. He explains: “The task of jumping headfirst into another two-to-three-year development cycle for a sequel was quite daunting and not very high on anyone’s wish list. We took some time to regroup over the past year, diving into smaller game projects and further developing our Marmoset technology, as well as launching our Toolbag software to the public.”
Doeden and the rest of the team holds out hope, though: “There was some good interest in Hollywood for a film adaptation of Darkest of Days, so we’ll wait to see what comes of that. Hollywood always want a game to release alongside the next summer blockbuster. So if it’s a Darkest of Days sequel based on a movie that’s based on a game, count us in!”