E3 2013: Saints Row IV Interview - Scott Phillips Talks Aliens and Presidents
Written Wednesday, June 26, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Saints Row is back and it’s bigger, more ridiculous and sillier than ever. We’ve already published our hands-on preview from this year’s E3, with Dan suggesting that perhaps Volition has taken the series too far in terms of balls-out craziness. Now it’s time for the developers to be quizzed.
In this interview, we speak to Saints Row IV’s Design Director Scott Phillips about what we can expect from the upcoming, open-world insane-athon, why so few games attempt to bring the funnies, and what the future holds for a series that has already stretched the original series conceit to the limit.
So what are you showing off at E3 this year?
So what we’ve got here today at E3 is one of the early missions in the game where the player is in the White House, holding court with all of his lieutenants, and then all of a sudden Zinyak - the leader of an alien race called The Zen - shows up, smashes the White House and starts abducting people. The President - the player - tries to fight him off using multiple different tactics and then in the end Zinyak wins and Zinyak grabs the player and abducts him and puts him into a simulation.
Then we transition to the open world a little later in the game, where the player has a whole bunch of super powers, a whole bunch of customised weapons, he has a new suit on - it’s all fancy, and we get to show off a couple of activities, like Blazing, which is a super-powered, on-foot race and Professor Genki’s Mind Over Murder which is an activity where the player uses Telekenesis, one of the new super powers, to pick up objects and cars and people and throw them through rings in order to score points and beat the activity in the time.
You also just have the open world which is one of our biggest elements. It’s just running around, jumping, hopping around and having fun.
What did you want the media to take away from this, the guys playing the game? What was the objective when you planned this E3 demo?
The aim of the demo was first to set up the story and the structure, to introduce the fact that you start the game as the President and to get across the tone. You know, embrace the crazy and fun trumps all. You’re going to hear the dialogue that sets the tone and you’re gonna get some silly weapons... and then we’ve got the open world which is where we show off the super powers; jumping over ninety foot buildings and sprinting as fast as cars and using Telekenesis and Blast and Stomp and Buff. We want to show the variety of different things we have in the open world. That’s the core of what we wanted to show people. We’ve got these set piece missions, but then we’ve got this huge open world for you to go out and explore and have lots of fun and let go and have a great time playing in.
How easy is that to balance? You’re a super hero that can fly, you can jump, you can stomp people, you have all these crazy powers. How do you make it a challenge?
I think we had similar difficulties with Saints Row: The Third, where we upped it from just cars to tanks and helicopters. What we did there was bring in enemies. In Saints Row IV we’ve given the player all these amazing super powers, so a gang with AK47s is nothing to someone who can pick them up with his mind and toss them over a 90ft building. They’re not going to provide a threat. So we brought in the aliens to give us some unique weapons to play with, some great toys. They’ve got new units, they’ve got an enemy that we showed off previously which was the Warden, which is this superpowered superhero unit. Theirs are superpowers which are kind of a counter point to yours. The aliens come in and they bring a lot of heavy heat and our battles can get incredibly chaotic. It really makes you feel like you’re in a super-powered, super hero game and movie.
How far into the process did you decide on this alien scenario?
That was very early, yeah. The superpowers and the aliens came very early in the development of this game. At the end of Saints Row: The Third I remember telling people, ‘I don’t know where we go from here.’ We had zombies, a flying aircraft carrier, a mission on Mars, so we were like ‘What do we do?’ But then, inevitably, after a couple of weeks of vacation we got everybody back together and started throwing ideas on the board and we come up with stuff like this. It’s like, ‘Yes, it’s unbelievable but it’s going to be awesome, let’s do it.” The team really got behind it. What to other people would be a mod is a full, core feature of our game. We want to do what other developers don’t believe games can do.
You must be terrified about what you’ll have to do with Saints Row V then, if you struggled to top Saints Row: The Third.
Saints Row IV has a great trajectory to its story. You start off as the President of the United States of America and... where we end you is perfectly fitting for that. We’ve kind of treated this as the end of that saga. We started out the console generation and we’re going to end the console generation with this Saints Row having followed this crazy arc. Where we go from there, who knows.
Have you had the opportunity to play with the next-gen tech yet, or are you just concentrating on the current gen at the moment?
The team on Saints Row IV, next-gen wasn’t really something we got involved with, so our focus has solely been on Saints Row IV.
So when you look at all the E3 conferences this year, the one thing that came across more than anything is that nearly every single game is really serious. Saints Row is one of the very few over the top and wacky games at E3. Why do you think that is?
Games get made to be sold, so if there’s a market there for something people are going to make it. If you look at Batman and Superman and what they’re trying to do with them in movies, they’re trying to bring them more down to Earth, which is great, those are interesting things, but then what we bring is let’s have fun. They’re called video games for a reason. Let’s make this fun, let’s make this an enjoyable experience that you’ll want to talk to people about and when you have a bad day, you’re not necessarily going to want to play a game that bums you out or scares you, maybe you just want to play a game that makes you smile and laugh and kick butt. That’s the game we want to deliver.
What do you think everybody else is going the other way with all these serious games?
It’s a cultural shift. Zombies have been huge for several years now but 10 years ago there was nothing zombies. I think with culture, people get interested in this and then they’re interested in this... I think there’s a shift towards reality. If you look at something like James Bond, you go from Roger Moore which is this really over the top action hero with jetpacks and cars that go underwater and stuff, and now you jump forward and you’ve got Daniel Craig just beating everyone up with his fists and his mind and free running all over the place and they’re both great, but they’re a sign of the times, of where global culture is at a what people are thinking about.
We like to be the counterpoint to that. We are fun. Embrace the crazy, let’s make a fun game.
With the demise of THQ and the move from you guys to Deep Silver, you basically had to announce the game, PR it and ship it six months later. That’s very rare in the games industry, a lot of titles have at least a year to build up awareness. How tricky is that for you guys?
Actually, we announced at about the same time that THQ was planning to announce, that didn’t change, our launch date didn’t change from THQ to Deep Silver. It was exactly the same date. I think we lost some time when THQ went bankrupt and we were all just wondering what would happen, but we were right back on track as soon as we got bought by Koch and Deep Silver.
I can’t speak to why a game is marketed at a certain time. That’s just not what I do. But I think when we announced and when we started dropping gameplay and stuff like that has been the same passing from THQ to Deep Silver.
Are you concerned that releasing at the end of the generation might hurt sales? Last gen, Black released towards the end of the generation on PS2 and didn’t sell perhaps as well as it should have. Are you concerned about that, with the next generation coming just a month or six weeks after your launch?
Well, I think there’s also the counterpoint that next-gen consoles tend to only have a small install base, which when you look at the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 you have an enormous install base compared to where they were ten years ago. So there’s different schools of though about when’s the best time to release. I know with the PlayStation 2 they were still releasing games years after the PlayStation 3 arrived because the install was just enormous, 100 million.
So am I concerned about it? Not really. It’s one of many things that can happen that we don’t have any control over. So on our side, on development, we make the game that we want to make with the time that we have and the staff that we have, and we do the best that we can to deliver on that experience. Whatever the marketplace may be at that time, it’s impossible to predict. When we started on the game two years ago, I don’t think anybody knew when anything was going to come out. So we plan for what we want to do, we make sure we do it, and whatever else happens happens.
Saints Row IV hits North America on August 20th and Europe on August 23rd.