Sunset Overdrive: Marcus Smith Q&A
Sunset Overdrive hits XBox One on October 30th - and the creative director of Insomniac Games, Marcus Smith was in town for the recent Digital Nationz event. So, I got to catch up with him to discuss the much awaited game, why lunacy is the key element and what's next for Ratchet and Clank.
1) What can you tell us about Sunset Overdrive?
At its heart, Sunset Overdrive is a game built around ‘fun in the end-times’. What if instead of scavenging for single rounds of ammunition in a dark, depressing world, as we so often do in post-apocalypse genre games, we put the player in the role of someone who thrives after an outbreak that turns everyone into mutants? And what if that world was bright and colorful, even inviting? In short, Sunset Overdrive is about fun- it’s fast-paced, high-action, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Players will perform physically impossible moves to get around, jump, bounce and grind around the city and dispense enemies with unique weaponry while helping other survivor groups to fight against the giant corporation responsible for the outbreak.
2) How did the idea come about- you’ve said you’d been dreaming about this for many years, why it’s been such an obsession?
Drew (Murray, Game Director) and I had been working on Resistance 3 when we started talking about the type of game we’d make in the unlikely event that someone would give us the funds to make whatever we wanted. We started talking about the book, “I am Legend” by Richard Mathison. The idea of a single person surviving after everyone else turns in to vampire-like monsters seemed tailor made for an open world game- “scavenge by day, defend at night” was the early pitch for Sunset. But before we pitched the game to Ted Price, Al and Brian Hastings (owners of Insomniac Games), we added a twist by making it the “rock and roll end-times”, the idea of not just surviving, but doing it with style. We thought, “what would Iggy Pop do if he were one of the last surviving members of society?” We don’t have a definitive answer for that, but we’re pretty sure it’d be spectacular! We knew there was great opportunity for really unique gameplay and story opportunities, but the team really brought the amazing idea to the table.
3) The initial trailers for Sunset Overdrive suggest there’s a level of complete lunacy about the project.
Indeed. “Fun trumps realism” was a mantra. We’re creating a world that is filled with things you’ve never seen before in other games. As such, we created a few rules for the world, the player character, and the various factions and then just directed the chaos of ideas coming from the team. We told the designers that they needed to surprise us with any mission or quest. The results are entertaining and will make players want more, I’m sure.
4) How far did you reign yourself in terms of story / concepts – was there ever a chance of you having a moment where you said we’ve gone too far?
Not really. We told the stories we wanted to tell for this game. If anything, we pulled some stories that were kind of crammed in, feeling rushed. Hopefully we can expand on those for DLC or a sequel.
5) How did you get involved with Insomniac?
Well, I’d worked for Mark Cerny at his design consultancy group, Cerny Games, for several years. Insomniac and Mark had always had a great working relationship, sharing office space near Universal Studios and then moving into a larger space together in Burbank. I’d been involved in a startup development company that grew out of Mark’s company at a pretty bad time- when Sony was stretched trying to launch the PS3 *and* PSP. It wasn’t a good time to try something new and resulted in a cancelled game. When that company dissolved, Insomniac, our next door neighbor, came by to suggest we apply. It was dumb luck because I’d always been a fan of Insomniac since the days of Spyro and I sort of fell from one dream job into another.
6) What’s your favorite title to have worked on- and to have played on?
Sunset Overdrive is my favorite game to have worked on. It’s just stupid amounts of fun. In terms of my favorite game of all time, Zelda: Ocarina of Time is up there, for sure. As is Half-Life, Journey, and Final Fantasy X. Tetris was pretty good, as well.
7) I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had with the Ratchet and Clank games over the years; the perfect combination of platforming, shoot ‘em up and also puzzles – what’s next for that series?
Well, as one of the few Insomniac to have never worked on a Ratchet title, all I can say is that I share your enthusiasm for the Lombax and his robotic friend. But as a studio, we’re creating a PS4 R&C game to coincide with the feature film coming out in 2015. You can read more about it here: http://www.insomniacgames.com/
8) An Xbox One only title for Sunset Overdrive, are you massively excited for the launch of this exclusively on this platform?
Yes, absolutely. It’s a game that is a lot of fun to play, even for someone like me, who plays it every day as part of my job. We just really can’t wait for people to finally be able to play the entire game- experience the single player campaign and play Chaos Squad together.
9) What do you see the future of the next gen titles?
The latest hardware platforms give us a great opportunity to push more to the screen, from particle effects to physics, we can simply build more. The more robust specs give us additional horsepower to rev up and make player’s gaming experience all the more exhilarating.
10) How do you rate the current gaming environment – what’s been your favorite game to play in recent years?
I think we’re in a new Golden Age of games. With so many viable platforms- from the three big consoles to IOS, Vita, Gameboy, PC, browser games, etc, there are game playing experiences to be had for all types of tastes. I’m hoping that the diversity will push publishers and developers to create new forms of entertainment. For me, the most exciting games of late are barely games at all, but experiences- from the flowing beauty of Journey, to the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide-esque’ “The Staley Parable”, to the gripping “Papers, Please” and interactive storytelling of “Going Home”. These are games that developed out of the indie gaming community and hopefully these types of experiences can push the industry as a whole to pursue more than just the derivative.
11) As Digital NatioNZ has shown, there’s plenty of gamers out there- what advice would you give to those who want to get involved in the industry?
Don’t wait to get your foot in the door. If you want to make games, just do it. There are plenty of tools out there that let individuals build sophisticated games. Unity, Unreal, HTML 5 game creation tools, etc. Many people started in the modding community, showing that they could build compelling experiences in a playable format. Nowadays, it’s the best way to build experience. There are plenty of schools out there as well, but they might be as available to people as game making tools. So just do it yourself. Who knows? You might be the next great indie game maker.
12) And finally- give us a secret about Sunset Overdrive that you’ve told no one yet…
The butler did it.