[Our own Kris Graft talks to Fred Dieckmann, lead designer on upcoming RPG Darkspore, about the re-emergence of the action-RPG genre and how "this whole genre ... is getting a new life again."]

With Maxis' release of Darkspore this week, the studio previously known for simulation-style games is embarking on new territory.

The PC-exclusive title, which shipped Tuesday, blends elements from loot-driven action-RPGs like Diablo with a character editor born out of 2008's more simulation-focused Spore.

Darkspore lead designer Fred Dieckmann told us in a phone interview that he thinks the top-down action-RPG genre is seeing a resurgence in popularity that has only strengthened over the course of Darkspore's two years of development.

"I would say this whole genre, just from my opinion, is getting a new life again," he said. "It's finding a new audience. I've always been a big fan of it -- I've played Torchlight and Diablo, and am looking forward to the new ones coming out. But it's definitely become one of those things where people are kind of rediscovering it, and enjoying it."

Torchlight in particular has done very well as a launch title for developer Runic Games. The game sold over 600,000 units as of summer last year, and that was prior to a console version that arrived on Xbox 360 as a download this year.

And Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo III is expected to be a breakout hit when it launches, as pent-up demand for the game has been built up over several years since the last Diablo II expansion pack.

It's not just the top-down style of action RPGs that seem to be finding a new audience. Gearbox's Borderlands and From Software's Demon's Souls are recent examples of popular games whose influences can be traced back to 30-year-old dungeon-crawler Rogue.

"I don't know [why the genre is finding new audiences]," admitted Dieckmann, who has credits on The Sims and The Sims 2, among other titles. "Personally, I think it's just one of those things that just kind of comes in waves, and it's one of the things that has always been there. To me personally, I don't think it's ever really left. I always play these games."

Darkspore is the first game to come out of Maxis since co-founder and industry veteran Will Wright left the studio in 2009. The game also fits nicely into an established genre, unlike previous Maxis titles such as SimCity and The Sims, which established new genres in and of themselves.

But DarkSpore still aims to incorporate a unique Maxis flavor. While Maxis and parent Electronic Arts have been marketing Darkspore as an action RPG ever since the game's unveiling last summer, Dieckmann said the cooperative game will constantly evolve after release.

"I'd say it's actually more along the lines of an MMO," he said. "So we're going to have servers up and running, and we'll be actively getting feedback from players, adding new levels, new heroes to collect and that type of stuff. So although the team is 'shipping,' we're going to actively be working on the game after it ships."

Looking back at the project, Dieckmann said balancing the game so it didn't feel "out of whack" was one of the main challenges with Darkspore, along with maintaining a sci-fi feel, fighting against the urge to take too much from the genre's sword and sorcery, fantasy-inspired roots.

For now, Darkspore is a PC-exclusive game, taking advantage of mouse and keyboard controls and the ability to update and patch the game at will. But the studio has considered bringing the game to consoles, he said.

"[Bringing the game to consoles] has come up, but right now the team is really focused on making sure the PC version is done and solid before we even look at anything to do with a console, because we're going to have to take all of our learnings from this before we even tackle that," Dieckmann said.