Having seen the world’s first glimpse of Saints Row IV, we sat down with Volition. Inc. producer Jim Boone to talk next gen, alien invasions and the end of the Saints Row saga…
For the folks at home, please explain the premise of Saints Row IV.
The Zin, this alien race, have abducted you the President and a number of your cabinet members, who are of course various lieutenants in the Third Street Saints gang, from previous games along with some new people.
When you see Steelport in the game, that’s a virtual representation of Steelport, almost a twisted version of it, and that’s where they are putting you to break your will and to indoctrinate you into their world.
These aliens go around the galaxy conquering land, conquering planets and gathering these people to break and assimilate into their army. So when you see the Zin and when you see all the different aliens that are there, there’s a wide variety there in terms of look, their function and their A.I. It’s to represent the fact that it’s this vast empire, but it’s also a lot of fun to have variety within it.
Is there a limit to how crazy Saints Row can be? It certainly doesn’t look like it.
I don’t think so! [laughs] The thing about the over the top nature is that we always try to do it with a focus towards fun rather than just doing over the top for the sake of over the top.
Whenever we’re sitting around talking about ideas someone will say, it’s rare but it does happen, someone will say ‘That idea is going too far’ or ‘We’re probably crossing a threshold we shouldn’t cross’.
It’s usually along the lines of ‘I don’t know that is really going to be fun’ or ‘This is going to take so long to implement that we’ll have to sacrifice a number of other feautres to do it’. That’s about the only criteria we use though.
Do you feel limited in future games now? There’s not a lot else you can do
We talked a lot about that also and our feeling was basically, this is the end, this is the end of this saga at least as far as this telling of Saints Row goes. You never know what the future holds and certainly working with Deep Silver is going to be interesting, interesting to see where we go next.
In terms of where we’re taking this we realise there really is very little room for where we could go next.
The working title for Saints Row IV was “The Next Great Sequel in the Saints Row Franchise”, were you ever tempted to go all the way with that name?
We talked a lot about different names, even when we were with THQ we talked about a bunch of different names, and now with Deep Silver we did the same. So ultimately we decided to keep it simple because the game is so absurd that it’s almost funnier to go with Saints Row IV and let the over-the-top-ness speak for itself.
Was Grand Theft Auto V one of the reasons you decided to ramp up the craziness?
Honestly no. Our feeling is that with Saints Row the Third we were such a different game than any of the GTAs, and we love those games, but in our opinion they were always more about the vibe, the culture and great storytelling whereas Saints Row the Third, and 2 to an extent, is all about over the top silliness and humour.
When we talked about Saints Row IV we talked in the context of, ‘How do we take Saints Row the Third and make it better?’ because we always thought we were already distant from GTA.
The first Saints Row was fairly similar to GTA, there’s no doubt about it, but now we feel like another game in the genre rather than a direct competitor.
Differentiating the game enough from GTA V in the public eye is a job for the publisher, is that a concern at all?
The biggest concern we look at, in terms of GTA V and its timing, is that here’s this monster game, because no doubt it’s going out and sell a ton of units, so we’ve got to get the awareness out and do what we can to make people excited about our own game.
In terms of the content, honestly we aren’t terribly concerned. The way I like to think about it, it’s like back in the dark ages when Doom came out and when we came out with Descent, even then people were like ‘Oh my God you’re a Doom clone’ even though we’re in a ship flying around in three dimensions. But because it was first person it was deemed that we were a clone of that.
There are so many open world games now, and they’re so different from each other, that even though at the core we share similarities to GTA, our mechanics and God knows our tone, is completely different from them.
We are concerned about them, but only in the same way we’d be concerned about any competitor coming out, but not specifically because they’re an open world game.
Games like Crackdown have proven that when you give the player so much power in an open world game they often become too powerful and the game loses its challenge somewhat, how will you combat that?
That’s actually a really good question. The way we try to balance is that the abilities you have are slowly upgraded, so you aren’t fully armed from the very beginning, you slowly acquire these amazing super powers and upgrade them.
So you’re fighting some of the base alien units early on, there’s still a challenge but not too much because we still want you to feel like the badass leader of the Saints and President of the United States! Then as you progress through the game and your abilities get stronger we introduce new Zin enemies with a wide range of abilities.
I can’t get into too much detail at this point but you will encounter Zin that are significantly more powerful than their base units. Our approach was we want to have enough enemies that are suitably powerful so that you always feel like you’re being tested.
Despite the superpowers, Saints Row isn’t about heroes, how will you tackle the player perception that they’re playing a superhero?
We’re trying to tackle this in the tone and humour of the game. In a typical superhero game you’re concerned about your people and you want to be the protector, even in Crackdown you’re the police, you can’t just do what you want. However in Saints Row, because it’s Saints Row, if you want to kill pedestrians, just go for it! [laughs] You have these superpowers but you’re not a superhero.
It’s not mechanical obviously but we don’t want players to think that because they have superpowers they have to behave in a particular way.
Will Saints Row IV be a next generation title, and were you ever tempted by Wii U?
Alas it is not. We actually started Saints Row IV a couple of months before Saints Row the Third was even released. We’ve been working on this for quite a while, and we’re getting towards the end of production right now.
As for Wii U, not really, and I’ll expand on that. Going back into our history a bit, when we did Summoner – a PS2 launch title – it was one of the hardest games I’ve ever worked on. Ever since then, whenever we see a new platform come out, we want to do it early but not too early if that makes sense. With the first Saints Row we waited a little bit and did it right rather than rushing it to launch.
Wii U was kind of the same thing, we didn’t want to take Saints Row IV and quickly rush it and put it on that platform. We wanted to focus on what we do and make sure we can do it the best we possibly can rather than rushing something like that.
And the same goes for next generation consoles?
How have Deep Silver been, coming in as they have so late in development?
Its natural when you go through this process to have some concerns, we were sad when THQ went away but we were wondering what happens next. Then when Deep Silver bought us we thought ‘Okay, great, but what does this mean? Are they going to change things? Will they want to change our culture or processes?’ Luckily for us they have not wanted to change anything.
We pitched the game all over again to the various publishers who were interested in bidding on us and so that worked well for us, everyone got the chance to see what the game was about before they bought us.
Deep Silver have been nothing but supportive about it, they’ve literally requested no changes, they love everything we’re doing and, most importantly, they understand our sense of humour!
Saints Row IV is out August 23rd for Windows PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3