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THQ/Volition's open-ended gang promises a great deal but can it live up to the mighty GTA: San Andreas; TVG chats to the team to find out...
Although Saint's Row may have recently slipped from its original spring release to September 2006, TVG caught up with the team to find out a little more about their Hip-Hop flavoured gang title.
Can it live up to the likes of Rockstar Games seminal GTA: San Andreas or match the popularity of 50 Cent: Bulletproof, find out as TVG spoke with Volition's Chris Stockman (CS) Lead Designer and Matt Flegel (MF) Art Director about the focus for Saint's Row gameplay ideas and also the 360.
Do you see Saint's Row as part of the second wave of releases from the Xbox 360, as many of the first batch of titles disappointed from a next-generation perspective? Has the extra time given the team any advantage in creating new ideas and maybe pushing the system a little further?
CS: The extra time has allowed us to really polish the game to a glossy shine. Making open-world games is very challenging and that difficulty is compounded when we're talking about a next-generation look and feel. It's allowed us to really fine-tune and balance the game to make sure each element is as polished as can be.
Volition has been working with Streamline Studios in Holland who supplied the team with assets used in the development of the game's highly detailed city environment. Can you explain more about these assets and how interaction has worked between the team?
MF: The interaction between Volition and Streamline studios has worked great. Having the extra man power has really helped us develop the extremely detailed city, and create very unique and great looking areas. The assets they provided ranged from interiors to building exteriors. Much of the city work was still completed in house, but they definitely provided us with important man power to create the enormous city of Stilwater.
"The extra time has allowed us to really polish the game to a glossy shine."
In the design stage what were some of the objectives for Saint's Row and with a number of 'gang' related games already released what do you see as its unique selling points and possibly innovations? What will Saint's Row bring that GTA doesn't?
CS: When we started Saint's Row the Hip-Hop genre hadn't yet reached the level of penetration that we're seeing now. It was just starting to get popular with the mainstream audience and we saw a potential to create a game that we hoped would ride the Hip-Hop wave that was about to crash in. Then we saw San Andreas and a variety of other gang games and thought to ourselves "wow, we were really on to something".
Saint's Row is an open-world game with a key emphasis on the word open. We don't force the player down any one linear storyline for the player to progress through the game. Instead, we allow the player the freedom to play the game how he wants to. We noticed that most people really don't play the story in GTA and instead go around doing random things. Well in our game these random things actually matter to the player.
Please expand on the locale/s in the game; is it based around a real world setting and could you run through a number of the situations the player can engage in his quest for respect and progression?
CS: We decided early on that Stilwater was going to be a fictious city set in the state of Michigan. Its look and feel is very similar to Detroit, Chicago, etc.
The player can earn respect in a variety of ways including participating in any of our 13 activities and killing rival gang members.
Saint's Row features a persistent world where the player's actions have a lasting effect. Could you please elaborate on this feature for us and the depth to which this extends?
CS: As the player progresses through the game the citizens of Stilwater (and his own gang members and cops) will react more positively to the player. They may compliment you more or at least gradually show you more respect. By the end of the game people will admire you and your gang will have 100% control of the city.
" We noticed that most people really don't play the story in GTA and instead go around doing random things. Well in our game these random things actually matter to the player."
Will Volition's Geo-Mod technology feature in the game? Tell us about some of the next-gen technologies utilised in the game.
MF: No, Geo-Mod technology will not be featured in the game. It wasn't a core element for our gameplay, and wasn't something that was viable for this particular engine. We were really concentrating on other next-gen technologies such as realistic physics, texture shaders, player creation/customization, vehicle creation/customization, real time vehicle damage models, and most importantly, next-gen gameplay.
What form do missions take in Saint's Row? Is there a variety in their objectives, and how non-linear are they? Do players have the opportunity to explore their surroundings?
CS: Missions are a key feature of the game. Completing them earns territory and ultimately to beat the game you need to own 100% of the city. Our missions are scripted for the most part but there are definitely a variety of ways to complete them.
Saint's Row is said to redefine online gameplay. Will you expound some of the exciting options and ideas that have gone into the multiplayer gaming experience which we are told will include lots of downloadable content?
CS: SR Online is like a whole different component that is basically a game all by itself. We have a separate but integrated Online team that is dedicated to making a wildly entertaining Online experience. We have 6 different modes (some featuring co-op play!) that are designed to be experienced with up to 12 friends (and foes!). Players can create online gangs and challenge other rival gangs for dominance. We have tons of leaderboards as well as a full matchmaking service. Early on we decided that the MP component would not just be an afterthought of the game but as equally important to the overall quality of the product as SP is. We do have plans for a fair bit of downloadable content including clothing, vehicles, levels, and other surprises.
What have your thoughts been on developing for the Xbox 360?
CS: It's been a smooth process. Microsoft has been very supportive and has provided us with the necessary tools and assistance to create Saint's Row.
How important are licensed soundtracks and famous voice actors in Saint's Row?
CS: I would say music is a vital component to the overall vibe and feeling of our radio stations. We've been working with Cornerstone in NYC and they've been instrumental in putting together a stellar soundtrack. We've also been working with David Lawrence to put together our store commercials, radio DJ recording, and laying out the foundation of our radio system.
As for our voice cast well I've been extremely happy with not only who we got to play our main characters but also their acting. One of the benefits of working on a new franchise is we pretty handpicked our cast based on our characters and who we thought would play them properly. I would say we were right on the money.
TVG would like to thank both Chris Stockman and Matt Flegel for answering our questions. Saint's Row has slipped into September 2006, so expect TVG to be hitting up the neighbourhood shortly...