"I was in this riot, actually," says inFamous creative director Nate Fox. "It was awesome."
Fox and his team have just finished three-and-a-half years of work on their PS3 superhero action-adventure for Sony. We're sat in his informal open-plan office in Bellevue, across the water from Seattle - with spectacular views over the drizzly, wooded city - and he's in reflective mood.
inFamous is a very different game from Sucker Punch's previous work on the Sly Raccoon series for PS2. Those were tightly-controlled platformers in a clean-cut, family-friendly cartoon universe. This is a dark, chaotic, mature open-world adventure set in a ruined and lawless city; a huge electrical explosion has destroyed the city's infrastructure and turned bike messenger Cole McGrath into an electrically-charged superbeing.
It seems a world away from Sucker Punch's perceived cheerful outlook. But Fox is a cheerful sort of guy, always ready to see the silver lining. In his world, even riots are awesome. And that's partly why inFamous has taken the form it has.
"It was the WTO riots," remembers Fox, referring to the so-called Battle of Seattle of late 1999, when anti-globalisation protesters clashed violently with police during the World Trade Organisation conference in the town. "At some point, I was watching people bashing store-front windows, and it was lawless, right, because the cops were all off creating these kind of barricades.
"And they were chucking in tear gas, but people could do anything they wanted, because there was no threat of any kind of law enforcement inside of the riot itself; yet people were offering me food and water to clean out my eyes. And no-one offers me food or water around town.
"So when people were being nice to me inside this riot, it kind of said, like, humanity is really caring. Because there were no repercussions, you could be a total jerk and break someone's arm and no one's going to stop you. So making a videogame that had that theme seemed very attractive."
Fox knows better than to force this sunny-side-up view of human nature within the generally cynical world of mature-rated modern videogaming, however. For one thing, inFamous is squaring up against Radical's Prototype, an extravagantly violent and nihilistic take on the same theme (young man discovers mysterious powers in wake of city-wide catastrophe, jumps around a lot), and you don't want to risk looking like the Boy Scout.
Rather, Sucker Punch is staging its own little social experiment, modelled after that awesome riot. If you remove all consequences and repercussions, how do you react? Do you offer food or break arms? Cole's electrical powers make him a god, able to kill anyone on sight, or to help and heal them. Depending on the player's interactions with the confused and broken populace of Empire City, Cole's karma meter will swing towards good or evil, affecting his powers and the city's reaction to him. (You can read about this and more in detail in Ellie's hands-on impressions from GDC.)
"What kind of guy would fit into this city well?" muses Fox. "He should enjoy having superpowers, there should be fun, but at the same time it should be kind of a burden, because it would be a lot of weight on your shoulders. And also, just what would happen to you? If you really had powers right now, no joke, what would be the process that you would go through? And it kind of in a way wrote itself in that regard."