Dan Sutton on Saints Row 2
We've played it, and we've told you about it, now see us grill Associate Producer Dan Sutton, on Volition and THQ's new sandbox action title, Saints Row 2.
Dan, how much has changed since we last visited Saints Row?
Well I think the biggest thing is that we had a couple of things after the last Saints Row that we really wanted to do. We thought the first game lacked customisation, and we like customisation, so we wanted to add more on that front. Player customisation; cribs, gangs, vehicles... in addition to the characters. I think this is the biggest thing. We feel that our player customisation is now bigger than any game out there.
On top of that combat has changed. We really liked the free-roaming city stuff, we were like, hey, we can add more of the Gears of War, Resident Evil-type over-the-shoulder action for more precise aiming. We wanted so many more weapons - chainsaws, rockets, swords. So many elements of other games... we wanted to create an all-in-one game. Those are some the things we really wanted to change from Saints Row 1.
Having now played the game it seems as if you deliberately set out to focus on areas that your nearest rival (GTA) chooses not to focus on. Is this the case?
It definitely is in the long run. We thought, well, we're not scared - the first Saints Row went right up against them - but with Saints Row 2 we noticed some of the stuff in the other game. How realistic it is... not how slow it is, but how much they rely on a cover system than can slow the game down a little bit. With us, we knew that customisation was a big thing, but we also knew that something arcadey, over the top - huge explosions, etc - is something that people like. We wanted to go with the more fun things. You can jump in and play for an hour; blow a lot of things up, have some fun. Instant gratification is the biggest thing. Within 30 seconds of the game beginning you have a gun right away - this is instant gratification.
The emphasis is on fun over realism, then, but how do you ensure the game is engaging and still has long-lasting appeal?
I think the biggest thing is having a lot of features - we had a lot in the first game too - but you have to have a lot, and you have to do them well. So I mean, right away we toned our scope down a little. You can still do so many more than Saints Row 1, its ridiculous, but we had so many ideas. We thought, we can't do 150 things, but we can do like 70. So I think that's one of the elements... finding all the fun stuff. You can spray sewage on buildings, or set yourself on fire and chase pedestrians. Its just so much fun... ideas like that.
We don't want to do little subtle things, we want to this really crazy game, something over-the-top; that's what fans want, we think.
Is there a cartoon element to Saints Row 2?
I think so. That's the direction we're going in: over-the-top, hyper-realistic. We're not totally getting away from reality, you're still grounded by gravity, but we do want you to have fun. We don't want you to be arrested after shooting the gun once, we don't want you to chased by the cops relentlessly. You can go through the game and cause mayhem from the start, if you want to.
How far does SR2 push next-gen consoles, and was it a challenge realising a whole city in a game?
I think it was. Saints Row was originally intended as a launch title, but in the end it came out a little later. But the big thing was that we just didn't know how things worked. So in the first one we struggled with cars and trucks, and with this one we want to be able to fly. We want you to travel vertically as well. We wrote a new streaming engine; so many things, just so you can fly. New combat. New AI. More use of cover. Thousands of rules governing how NPCs behave and where they go.
Some characters will go to the dock and start fishing, others will join each other for tai-chi. There's a lot of advancements that have been made possible because we now understand the software better.
The game engine is your own I believe... did you have to build your own?
We could have licensed something, but I think we just decided we didn't want to go that route. We share a lot of information with our other game, Red Faction (Geurrilla). For that we have an open-world engine, and we also decided to emigrate some of the environmental destruction stuff. SR2 isn't fully destructible or anything like that, but you'll see water towers blow up, buildings destroyed. Since our studio focusses only on open-world games, it makes sense for us to make our own engine.
Did you understand why the first game was controversial?
GTA, first off, is hugely controversial. There's always a big controversy whenever they do anything. Being a clone of them draws us into the controversy as well.
Do you expect SR2 to create a similar storm, or do you think the cartoon tone puts the action in a different, less emotive, light?
Right. Well, I think our action is in a different light yes...
Not so gritty, or realistic...
Right. That's where we are. This is fun-focussed and arcadey, rather than being super-serious and very realistic. There were moments in GTA where I actually felt bad about what I was doing. It looks so realistic. I mean, I'm sure we'll still get controversy, I'm sure we will, that's the nature of the genre.
Are you expecting to achieve releases in Australia and Germany?
Actually, we passed the censors board in Australia already, that's without any cuts. Germany... we're still waiting, but it's a tougher market so I'm sure there will be censorship there.
Does the story remain a focus?
Well, it definitely does. We know people like GTA because of the story - its a really good story that they have - and for us we want a real great story as well. We want satire, dark-humour, we want to make fun of ourselves and the industry, but if you want to play it gritty you can. The story is pretty dark with humour in there too. Of course, with the customisation you can play the game however you want. You can run around in hot dog suit if you want. You can be as silly as you want; pink hair; nude, everything is okay. You can interject your own humour, it doesn't have to be dark and realistic. We're hoping to embrace people who aren't usually fans of the genre.
You're hoping to help people create their own experience, to a certain extent?
Yes, oh yes. We thought that was a huge thing. We think that's what people appreciated about the first game. In this one, we're moving away from the whole gang-banger thing, we're stylising it more. Its more about multiple influences. There's trucker-brawling, martial arts, Caribbean... we're moving away from the hardcore gang thing - that turned some people off - we want people to be more involved; its more stylised.
The last game had a very 'open' ending. Can we expect something similar with SR2?
Well, we knew a lot of people were upset with the last one because they were playing it and it was like "oh gosh, I've got to wait for the next one", but in SR2 we tie-up a lot of loose ends. I think we tie it up deliberately. We've already started work on Saints Row 3, and we have a new direction we want to go in with that which we of course can't talk about. We wrap up a lot in this one. There's no frustration.
So... Saints Row 3 will take a very new direction?
I think so, yes.
DLC plans for SR2?
Definitely we have them, yes. We haven't announced them yet, but we are looking at bigger stuff definitely. Like we had the ho-ho-ho pack, clothing, that kind of thing, now we're looking at multiplayer maps, another story arc, new characters. We're looking at a lot more scope, and I know we're going to come up with a lot more.
Would I be right in thinking Tera Patrick arrives via DLC?
It could be possible [Chuckles].
Multiplayer. The Strong Arm mode looks rather different. What were you hoping to achieve?
Well, the biggest thing is that a lot of the stuff we did (with the last game) was like slapping first-person shooter modes on to Saints Row. Everyone had their favourite modes. It was a bit of a rush at the last minute. With this one we thought we'd do something no other game does: Integrate the activities you do in the story into the multiplayer game. So, you can do capture-the-checkpoints type stuff but while this is happening there are other activities going on; people disrupting each other in so many way. There's a lot more strategy. We spent months and months on this... its very different from the first Saints Row.
How do you stop it becoming complete anarchy? Or... is that what you're after?
No, we're pretty much looking for anarchy. Players won't be like "oh my gosh, what is happening", there's a lot of strategy - its easy to get into but its complex and rewarding. People will get badges, there will be things to unlock.
The singleplayer mode boasts a multitude of potential undertakings. What's your favourite?
Well, let's see. I like base jumping, crazy car jumps. I like Heli for Hire... when you're taking missions and it feels like Battlefield or something; gunfire; laser-guided rockets. Its very satisfying. We're really trying to embrace the flying in this game as well.
How much variety is there in the game overall?
I think its pretty big. I mean, we have 12 activities... but so many diversions. Its so fast-paced. There are so many crazy things you can do, stuff like base jumping. There are many hidden features too, assassins, many many more modes - stuff GTA actually got away from. You know, they did well in San Andreas, but we just wanted more fun modes - like Saints Row, Vice City, etc. You have 15 to 20 hours of main mission, but there's so many diversions. 30 hours at least through the whole game. I just think the customisation will also allow players to play through with an entirely different experience too.
I heard a rumour GTA cost 100 million USD to develop. Is it daunting competing with that? Have you spent similarly ludicrous sums?
Actually, we're not in the ludicrous! When we heard that number too we were surprised, you know, we thought 'wow, that is a lot', and when we looked out our game we felt we could compete. Now, I don't know if we release budget numbers, I can't tell you what it is, but its definitely drastically less. Its crazy when you have two programmers and they have nine or 10. Our programmers were like, 'wow, we're good'. Its the way things are going, that's for sure. With Saints Row 2 we're definitely going to have to go bigger and badder. Its cool too for us, because if the company wants us to do it we know they'll give us the money...
So, 100 million USD Saints Row 3 on the cards?
Great, thanks for your time.
Thanks, oh, the game is out on October 14th in the States, and October 17th everywhere else. Thank you!