For Yaron "Lonewolf" Levi, it all began with Counter-Strike. The Jerusalem-based freelance weapons designer began his career on a lark nearly a decade ago, designing custom shotguns and sidearms for the ravenously popular Half-Life multiplayer mod and earning hearty praise from the community in the process. Growing up drawing and sketching, modding weapons for fellow Counter-Strike players was just another fun, artistic thing to do – not something he expected to lead to a career working on several AAA shooters. When first contacted by a French studio to create weapons for a game shortly thereafter, he initially dismissed it as a gag. "Basically, I thought it was a joke. I didn't realize that you could make money off of it," he admits. "It's just so fun; I didn't think it was worth anything."
He knows now, and so will anyone who plays The Darkness II, 2K's upcoming comic-based shooter sequel, for which Levi designed all 12 firearms found in the game. Although anti-hero Jackie Estacado wields supernatural powers in the shadows that handily out-power any puny shotgun, he's more susceptible when illuminated, making a sidearm a worthy companion along the way. Despite the game’s fantastical elements – along with the more stylized, comic-inspired look of the sequel compared to the original – Levi says he modeled the weapons to spotlight the cold steel of each without significant wear or markings, and then spent ample time refining the realistic metallic texture on each.
Unlike many weapon designers who utilize real-life firearms to help model digital facsimiles, Levi only works from photos found online – but he'll amass a large number of distinct angles and lighting conditions in his reference shots, to make sure he's catching every possible detail. Despite relying on photos found easily through a Google Image Search, his attention to painstaking realism shows in the work, and it's why he was recruited to work on numerous weapons for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and also contributed work to games like Killzone 2, Saints Row, Section 8, and Microsoft Flight Simulator X in recent years.
Tasked with designing a dozen weapons for The Darkness II, Levi opted not to revisit those seen in the Starbreeze Studios-designed original (Digital Extremes is behind the sequel) or the original comics, instead starting fresh as he designed his own takes on familiar firearms like the Desert Eagle, a sawed-off shotgun, and the MP7 and UMP sub-machine guns. Each weapon took him about two full weeks to fully model, as he stared at the screen for seven hours at a time to add as many little details as possible before sending them off to Digital Extremes.
"My main goal when I'm doing this kind of art – whether it's guns or vehicles – is to get that photorealistic look," Levi proclaims. But while that's the base step that sets the tone for his work, he also believes that weapons must give off a mood; something that establishes its history and place in the game universe simply through sight. Levi cites the green tint given to scenes in The Matrix as an example of how a subtle visual tweak can deliver a lot of context and information about what's going on, and believes the design and condition of a weapon can say plenty about where it's been and what it's been a party to in the past. While his guns for The Darkness II highlight the gunmetal sheen, the tarnished weapons in Modern Warfare 3 looked like they'd been to hell and back. "The guns had to feel like they went through a warzone," he says of the MW3 creations.
While The Darkness II includes an array of firearms, like dual-wielded pistols and sub-machine guns, plus two-handed shotguns and assault rifles, Levi's favorite of the pack (and easily the most stylized) is the M1911 pistol. Marked by floral etchings in the cold steel, along with a worn wooden handle, it's a standout piece that looks like the reliable companion to a mobster who has fought his way out of – and likely into – a few conflicts in his days.
Levi went on to customize a version for himself, and joked that he might get it made into a physical replica someday. (Perhaps Digital Extremes can be convinced to send him one as a bonus, if The Darkness II packs as much of a punch at retail as its stylish firearms do within the game.)