Sucker Punch is riding the hype train to success. It revealed inFamous 2 at E3 2010 to an excited media, built upon that good work with strong showings at gamescom and PAX, and redesigned series star Cole MacGrath – twice. But now the hard work of crafting a visually stunning destructible sandbox really begins.
Here, Sucker Punch co-founder Bruce Oberg reveals to Eurogamer the truth behind Cole's double makeover, explains the benefits of PlayStation 3 exclusivity, and discusses the future of the independent studio.
Eurogamer: Why did you change Cole so that he looks more like he did in the first game?
Bruce Oberg: We had a pretty strong reaction to Cole after E3. We got a lot of feedback. I've got a working theory – I'm not sure I can prove this yet – we read a lot of reviews and the media reaction to the original Cole was lukewarm. We thought, well, we're changing so many different things, let's take a new look at Cole.
We knew we had cast a new actor for him – we have a new actor doing both voice and motion. So we redesigned Cole the character. We had no idea there were so many fans so emotionally invested in the old Cole. It's great that people could be so passionate about that character, given Cole had articles written like, 'Here's the 20 bald guys in every videogame.'
Eurogamer: Were you tempted to say, "It's just the vocal minority," and ignore the complaints?
Bruce Oberg: No. They were valid points. At first I thought it was a vocal minority, but it turned out it was a bunch of people. We run our own fan forums and there was a pretty big consensus there - 16 pages of Cole complaints. Ultimately we don't make the game for ourselves. You've got to listen to the fans. However, we put our own spin. We look at the best of everything. We wanted to get rid of the jacket because we want to see him move and fight.
Eurogamer: Is it like when a married couple compromise?
Bruce Oberg: No. No, it's not that, because there nobody wins, right? Here everybody wins.
Eurogamer: Good answer. Graphically the game looks a lot better. It must be a bloody nightmare to achieve the fidelity you're going for in an open, destructible world.
Bruce Oberg: One of the great advantages is we've got a team that made inFamous. We're building on the toolset. We know how to make a big city. When we started inFamous 1 we didn't know how to do that. Now we've gone through that once, so it's not quite as much of a learning curve, although we're creating more variety in the city itself.
We wanted the neighbourhoods to be very distinct, in addition to doubling down on the parkour – one of the cool things everyone loved about it. So, we have more things to parkour on in the city, the shapes of the buildings of different, so parkour is different in different areas of the city. There are now power lines on different parts of the buildings Cole can use to power glide through and better navigate.
Eurogamer: Is it an easier job because you're PlayStation 3 exclusive and you're focusing on just one platform?
Bruce Oberg: From the engineering side it definitely is. It's easier. I used to work at Microsoft years ago, and I worked on Word – maybe you've heard of it? We made Windows and Mac versions. It was very complex. Being able to optimise everything for the Cell processor, for the RSX, gives us a lot more freedom to be creative artistically. We don't have to worry about testing for the limitations of some other platform. I don't think we could make this game, from a technical perspective, on any other console or any other platform.
Eurogamer: By saying that you mean you couldn't make it for the Xbox 360. Why do you say that?
Bruce Oberg: We're using so much more of the Cell processors now, I just don't know if other platforms have the horsepower to pull it off. At the end of inFamous 1 we were using 30 per cent of the Cell processors at any one time. Now we're creeping up over 50 and 60 per cent, because we know how to put things on to the Cell processors. I don't know where we'd go if we were on some other platform.
Eurogamer: You're making a PS3 exclusive and Sony loves 3D.
Bruce Oberg: You know, we're not announcing anything besides the core single-player game. I will tell you though that I did the original 3D technology for the Sly series. If you played Sly 3, we shipped it with red green glasses for a regular television. This was five years ago. Since our guys are doing the Sly trilogy, the Sly Collection, they're taking that same 3D technology that I had done and making it work with the full HD and the shutter glasses and it's super awesome. I'm really excited about that and Heroes on the Move and the other 3D titles we've seen.
We're not talking about anything beyond the single-player game here for inFamous 2, but obviously 3D... Personally I'm a 3D nerd. I build my own 3D cameras. I did it for Sly 3 because it was just like a hobby. I was like, you know, I think I can do red-green 3D with our engine in Sly 3. And we got it working on the PlayStation 2.
Eurogamer: So what are you saying? Are you saying it wouldn't be technically challenging for your team because you've got the expertise?
Bruce Oberg: We've always been a small team, and we have to choose our battles carefully about what we're going to do beyond just a really great single-player game. So we're not making any kind of announcements about 3D or the Move controller or whatever. We've just got to make a great single-player experience then figure out what we want to expand on.
Eurogamer: Let's talk about the single-player. How many hours of gameplay will people get out of it?
Bruce Oberg: It always comes out as a promise that doesn't exactly match up with whatever you said. A lot of times we honestly don't know because we're creating content right now we're not going to be releasing until next year. So what the actual hour number is, I honestly don't know.
Eurogamer: Gamers care because of the value issue.
Bruce Oberg: In inFamous 1 we had a lot of side stuff you could do. There were side missions for taking control of the city, we had the shards to collect, and getting enough experience to upgrade all your powers. We want a great experience for someone who's not a hardcore gamer, and we want a great experience for the uber collectible guy who wants to get the Platinum trophy. That's a pretty wide range of gameplay time. It's tough to make a prediction about that especially at the stage we are in development.
Eurogamer: Were you surprised by the success of the first game? It's one of the best-selling PS3 exclusives – 1.8 million worldwide, I think.
Bruce Oberg: We were cautiously optimistic. It's the entertainment industry. You work in such isolation for such a long time. It's always hard to know. You're trying your best to make something that both you like as a team and you feel is going to be a great experience for other people.
Before we shipped, probably in the last two months, we had a pretty good feeling it was going to be successful. We didn't know how successful. We were surprised hitting the million mark. It sold much better than any of the Sly series did – week to week sales. We were nervous because it didn't ship at Christmas time. But we did a pretty good job of being a summer videogame blockbuster.
We're happy that we're making a sequel. We started on the sequel right away. We took some time off – but we were working on the sequel from day one after we finished inFamous 1.
Eurogamer: inFamous 2 won't be out till 2011, but what happens next? Is this now a franchise? Do you have a long-term view?
Bruce Oberg: I don't think we have a super far vision. We work day to day, month to month, on trying to make the best game we can. A lot of times you put things together and get it presentable. Sometimes it's a bit of a scramble. We've always been a single-studio company. We just want to make one game at a time. We don't have mutliple teams. We're independent. We're not owned by anybody. We're going to try to make inFamous 2 the coolest experience we can.
We'll see where we want to go next. That could be with Sony. We have a great relationship with them. We love the PlayStation platform. I'm not lying when I tell you it's a really killer technological platform for us to work on. The support and marketing, and also their approach to us, to let us make the game we want to make, is really incredible. Our relationship with Sony has been just incredible, all through the Sly series and all through inFamous.
Eurogamer: Do you own the inFamous IP?
Bruce Oberg: We do not. It is owned by Sony. Sly is, too. The Crash Bandicoot experience kind of shook Sony a little bit, and ever since then they wanted for their exclusive titles, they own the IP. They're giving us the freedom to make the game we want to make. That's a small price to pay for us. We're very happy being able to make the game we want to make.
Eurogamer: If, towards the end of development of inFamous 2, Sony asked you to do a third game, would you say yes?
Bruce Oberg: We would give it serious, serious thought. We know how lucky we are. We're really lucky to have such a great relationship with such a top-flight publisher that lets us create original IP. The number of studios creating original IP is few and far between.
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Eurogamer: This year we've seen developer power emerge, with Bungie leaving Xbox 360 exclusivity and signing with Activision, and the Respawn guys signing with EA, and retaining the rights to their IP. The publisher is almost just a distributor.
Bruce Oberg: We've never thought of Sony as just a distribution arm. They've done a great job as a publisher for us, both giving us the freedom and helping us with marketing and decisions about how to make the game. They're providing us with a lot of great tools for making the game we want to make. Also, we get to call up the Naughty Dog guys and ask them questions occasionally.
Eurogamer: What did you ask them?
Bruce Oberg: When I was first getting the sound system working on the PlayStation 3, the Naughty Dog guys were using the same sound system so we asked them about some of the technology there. They came to our studio and wanted to see how our workflow worked, how our tools pipeline worked. And then a couple of our guys went down and got a tour of their stuff. They're super smart. The Naughty guys just know their craft inside and out.
So it's always great to be able to share ideas - maybe not technology directly all the time. Although, for the original Uncharted technology, they allowed anyone inside of Sony to use it, to see their code if they wanted to. It was like, oh, I wonder how the savegame system is supposed to work. I can go look at the Uncharted code. Those guys got it working right.
We've been very, very happy with Sony.
Bruce Oberg is co-founder of Sucker Punch and has a sweet hat. inFamous 2 is due out on the PlayStation 3 in 2011.