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TVG continues our chat with Saints Row 2's Associate Producer, this time focusing on some new additions to customisation, PS3 Trophies, and Xbox Avatars...
Heading to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in October, Saints Row 2 is set to inject an invigorated return to the gang-ridden streets of Stilwater City. In development at Volition Inc, the game takes customisation (of pretty much everything) to new levels, and with a raft of improvements over its original, is looking like one of the early stand-out titles of the Autumn.
Here, TVG continues our chat with Associate Producer, Dan Sutton, to discuss some of the new additions to the game allowed thanks to its 8 week delay, and why Saints Row 2 is trying not to be schizophrenic...
TVG: During the presentation, you announced that customisable facial expressions have been added; can you explain more about them?
Oh yeah, we've added this really cool thing where you can add a dopey look or an angry look - you just have these default settings that you have on your character as you go through the game. If you want to change those, you can go to the plastic surgeon shop and do that as well; it's just a way of inflicting more personality.
It's just a little thing, a little late addition, but our animation guys were like 'Hey, this might add another personality element to our game,' so we did that as well.
TVG: Additional fighting styles will become unlocked as the game progresses; how do these become available?
When you fight certain gangs as you go along, you'll adapt your style. You won't have to beat them entirely to unlock those; we don't want them to be only for people that complete the game. We made it so that when you complete a certain amount of missions against a gang, you'll start to unlock those extra combat moves. You'll then be able to go to a plastic surgery shop and apply those to your character.
It's just another fun, hidden element that you can actually adapt. I think they're very rewarding because you get to see some very cool finishing moves, especially sword-combat finishing moves; things like stabbing animations up a person's throat or through their gut - it's gore, but it's cool stuff.
TVG: Saints Row 2 also includes dynamic weather; how does it affect gameplay, or is it all just a visual effect?
Well it's there to look nice of course, but for example, we have dynamic water, so if it's raining hard then waves will affect how your boat steers, how your vehicle does. So yeah, the weather will affect it [the gameplay].
TVG: Up to this point, Saints Row 2 has been pushed as a hyper-realistic, over-the-top, and 'arcadey' - we've seen this in the trailers too. But the game also seems to have a darker tone as well; can you discuss the balancing act involved between the two sides?
Well, I think the 'over-the-top-ness' fits the story style. We knew we wanted to do a dark story, not like a depressing dark, but more like a Pulp Fiction dark humour. So you have interjections of comedy with a dark revenge storyline as you try to find out who blew you up [at the end of the first Saints Row]. But in the meantime as you go back to the city, you'll also find that this huge corporation has taken over, and with that you have a lot of comedy elements as well. You also have gangs playing off each other.
The biggest thing is that we don't want to be schizophrenic at all, it fits in together well. We have activities like Mayhem, where you wreak violence across the city basically - that's with our dark humour - where you're having fun but also doing stuff to destroy property. It's the same thing with a new activity called Trailblazing, where you put on a fire-retardant suit, get behind [the wheel of] an HGV and drive through the city and blow up stuff, or setting fire trails through the city.
I don't think that's schizophrenic at all, I just think it's another way of adding our sense of humour into the genre.
TVG: One of the other dynamics from the first Saints Row was the idea of taking over other gang's turf; do the NPC gangs fight amongst themselves and over turf in Saints Row 2?
You're not going to have things like 'This gang has taken over this district', but you'll see gangs fighting each other. That's one of the things with our new ambient life system out there. You can actually see people do random things; you'll see cops go after gang members without you provoking anything; you'll see gang members fighting other gang members - you can be driving down the street and see a gang war and you won't even have to get in there if you don't want to.
So we have some cool environments like that; it's not just people walking from one point to another, people have a mission in this game. You'll see people fighting or doing tai chi in the park - fun things like that.
TVG: There's a lot of customisation in Saints Row 2; you've got character customisation, facial customisation, gang customisation, car customisation, combat customisation, crib customisation - what's too customisation?
That's a good question. I don't think there's too much customisation, people can do what ever they want to. They can just jump into the game if they want to; they can just have a ratty crib the entire time, or a crappy car the entire time if they want to. I don't there's ever too much; for us, we always want to giving people more options to do.
It's just fun to see people's creativity, its fun to see the YouTube videos that come out. We can't imagine what's going to come out of this; you're going to have people do zombie movies by putting on the zombie suit in the game, or running around in hotdog suits. It's just fun to have user creativity, and I think that adds replayability; you can say that a lot, but you have to let a lot of people's imaginations take over to see replayability in its true quality.
TVG: You haven't got direct feeds to YouTube have you?
We don't have that at all, not in this one. We're looking at doing something like that, but it's a tougher system to implement into an open-world game. Halo can do that because it's level based, but when you have to stream the entire city and record video on that...it's something that we're trying get over, and hopefully it's something that could happen in Saints Row 3. It's something that we're looking at because we see how effective things are when you share video online; we're looking at it as a studio, but we just have to figure out how to do that with just a massive world and how you have enough memory to do that.
TVG: So taking Saints Row into 'Game 2.0'...
It really is; it would be amazing.
TVG: What targets have Volition been set by THQ for the game to achieve in order for there to be Saints Row 3?
I'm not sure. I know our target is better than Saints Row 1 when we started off, but when we've heard estimates, they've just gone up because I guess the PRs have really done a good job with Busey [the 'Uncle Gary' trailers], with the 'Would you rather' [trailer]. We're just trying to do as much viral stuff as possible, and I think that's going to help push us over the top. I think the awareness is out there because of the first one, and now because of GTA. I think GTA only helped us if anything, because it got the awareness out about fun open-world games, and people are looking for the next thing now because it's been so many months since GTA came out.
TVG: Regarding the integrated online co-op, how have you resolved the issue where the two players are in different stages of the campaign?
Well the biggest thing was that we didn't want a system like Halo, where if you beat level four and your friend was only on level one then you had to beat level one together. You'll get rewarded, and you can beat the missions - if I'm halfway through the game and I start, and my co-op player joins in, he can join in with me.
Some people may want to play through the story all the way, but some people may just want to jump in and play with their friends. We make that an option on there. So you'll get your achievements for beating things on there when you're playing through together on co-op. So yeah, you can do what you want to.
Will there be Trophy integration in the PlayStation 3 version of the game?
I know that we're looking at it right now, but whether it ships with the game or whether it's a downloadable later. It's so new that we have to figure out exactly how that works, and we may be like a lot of games out there that are going to integrate it into a patch later on. But it seems like games like Drake's Fortune are able to go in and reward you for things that you've already beaten in the game. Hopefully we'll be doing something like that; so we're definitely looking at that and we've been talking about Trophy Achievements too.
TVG: With a game that so heavily pushes customisation, I also have to ask about Avatars; are you looking at throwing in clothing drops and stuff like that?
You mean the Microsoft Avatars? That's a good question. Now that you've thought about that, I think we should. I don't we've talked about that...
TVG: I was thinking that some gang strips and cool Saints Row 2 would be cool...
I'm going to hire you I think for that idea! I'm serious, I'm going to tell them about that when I get back - that's actually a great idea. For the first one, we did some DLC that was a clothing pack, but we could actually do something like that with the Avatars. That would be a really good idea.
TVG: For a game that so heavily pushes customisation I think something like that would be immense...
I totally agree. The Avatars have only just been unveiled so that's probably one of the reasons why we haven't talked about it before, like the Trophies. That's actually a very interesting proposition!
TVG: Well as long as l get my name in the credits, I'll be a happy man!
Exactly - if we get that, we will put you on the credits for sure.
TVG: And everything now remains on course for the October release?
Yeah, we're actually very comfortable with that now. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions [to be] released at the same time, which will be great. It's very encouraging to see where the PlayStation 3 is, and that's why we're very excited that we can come up so many months and say 'hey, you've seen it at E3, you've now seen this, and they're both [the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions] are at the same level'.
TVG: Is the PS3 still considered a bit of a lame animal with developers? I ask because people seem to bring up the point that the PS3 versions of their game is one-to-one with the Xbox 360 versions - shouldn't that be a given since on paper it's a more powerful machine?
Well, I think right now you're seeing people get their heads around the CELL technology. I think one reason why we didn't release Saints Row on the PS3 was because it was so complex. We had our Xbox team do that, and we thought it would be easy to port over. [This time] we decided to have the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 teams start at the same time.
I think it's powerful [the PS3] in a lot of aspects. In theory, the CELL is a much more powerful thing, but then again it also uses a lot of multi-threading technology, which people aren't adapted to. In the next two years, you may see it develop into the leading platform. You never know, they do have the blu-Ray capacity, which is very nice, but the Xbox 360 still is - at least right now for us - at least as good as the PlayStation 3.
TVG: Excellent, I think that's everything - thanks.
TVG would like to thank Dan Sutton at Volition for sitting down to chat about the ongoing development of Saints Row 2. The game itself is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in October.