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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 27, 2009 at 8:54 AM

More from “inFamous” boss on Xbox rivalry, comics and the PS3

Here’s a fuller version of the Q&A with Sucker Punch’s Chris Zimmerman than the abbreviated one in today’s paper. Among other things, he talks about the PS3-Xbox rivalry covered in Sunday’s story:

Q: Do you ever get any grief, being a Sony shop in Microsoft country?
A: We have good friends at Microsoft – friends in positions of authority at Microsoft now. They’ve actually been really good sports about the whole thing. When we started Microsoft wasn’t really an option – our first game was an N64 game. We were really excited about doing PlayStation2 stuff – that was before Xbox really got off the ground. And I think they understand. There’s a little bit of good natured ribbing that goes along with that.
Q: Microsoft has apparently cut back first-party game development?
A: It’s hard. I can’t comment on it because I’m not part of those decisions. I know that we’ve always been really impressed with Sony’s commitment to using first party to get really great, unique innovative content out in the marketplace. You know, they keep pushing on it. They keep spending a lot of money to do really great games, like Killzone 2, games where they didn’t need to do those, but they want to push the envelope.
Q: Do you think Sony has to be bold because it’s in last place among the current consoles?
A: You could make that argument but I wouldn’t, because they’ve been consistent. They had excactly the same strategy with PlayStation1, where they had dominant marketshare, PlayStation2, same strategy, dominant marketshare. This time, it’s been more of a scuffle, obviously. But it’s the same strategy – whenever we get around to doing the next generation (of consoles), I think there’s going to be that same corporate, organizational commitment to pushing the envelope – to doing games and giving you experiences that you’ve never seen before. I think it’s great.
Q: Has Seattle benefited from Sony’s quest for new ideas, because it’s out of range, off in the corner of the country?
A: I don’t know. It’s a very technical city, we’ve got the UW here, it’s a place where lots of people want to live. When I’m recruiting at Sucker Punch and when I was recuriting at Microsoft, the fact that we’re in Seattle was a huge plus no matter where you went.
I think that helps. And then I think there are just network effects. You get to the point where you’ve got an area with a lot of technical talent, companies will start up there – whether they’re spinoffs, startups or new companies or old companies getting bigger, there’s going to be a positive feedback loop. I think that’s happened here.
Q: With the economic situation, could we be in the twilight of big-budget, triple A game development here?
A: Oh no. I think it’s just a bi-level market right now, meaning that there are lots of games that are getting built cheaply. More power to them, those are fun games to play. Then there are games like inFamous, that are just inherently big-budget games. The thing that seems to have disappeared are mid-range games – doing a game for $6 million, it’s hard to do that and compete.
Q: You have to spend $25 million or $30 million?
A: You have to push the budget up. The thing that’s really fun about being a producer of games is that it’s a global game, it’s a global business. When people are buying your game, they’ve got hundreds of choices. They can buy whatever they want when they walk into the game store. The fact that they bought yours is a pretty gratifying thing. The flip side of that is you’ve really got to keep up with everybody else because if you’re not as good as those other games – if you’re not better than those other games – no one’s going to buy you’re game. They’re going to buy someone else’s game. So there is this push to keep making the games bigger and better.
There are natural economic limits to that – you can only afford to spend so much money on a game before you’re not going to break even. It is a business and people need to make money on the game. We may be close to that limit, but I don’t think we’re close to the end of triple-A games – they’re going to keep coming.
Q: How did you push the envelope with inFamous?
A: Our envelope got pushed a lot. What we tried to do here that was a little bit different was take an open world game – where you can go anywhere and do anything anytime – and provide content that had the quality of a linear game. Linear games are a lot easier to do in some ways – you know the player’s going to be walking down a series of rooms, through this corridor, coming around this corner – you’ve got control over the whole experience. You don’t have that in an open world game.
A lot of open world games have devolved into what we call walk and adopt missions – where it’s like, go to this other part of the world, go to this dot on the map and throw a brick through a window. And that’s the mission. Is it fun? Well, yeah, usually it’s pretty fun to go through the game. But that’s not what we did with inFamous. We pushed the envelope saying we want to have the same scripted setups, we want to have the same rich scripted experience, but we want to have it in an open world environment where we’re really not controlling what the player does. We’re just having the game react to the player’s choices so they get that quality they get in a linear experience, no matter how they play the game.
Q: You had to get that right – that must be why you didn’t add mutiplayer to inFamous right away.
A: That’s certainly part of it. It would be fun to do multiplayer but honestly we had our hands full with all the other big shifts we were making with platform and genre, etcetera.
Q: Is inFamous good enough that people will go out and buy a PS3 to play it?
A: There certainly are people telling me that tonight so let’s hope. I think that’s why Sony has spent so much time and effort working on these original titles, is that each game is going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for someone, right? It’s not like everyone across the country is going to say ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got to play this game, I’m going to buy the PS3.’ I know some people are, and if we keep doing games like that, I think we’re going to sell more and more PS3s.
Q: When will your technical accomplishments be used in other Sony games or online experiences?
A: Games all borrow from other games. We certainly have things in our game where we’ve tried another game and were like, we really like this aspect of it, we like this emotion from the game, how do we get that into our game? That will continue to happen. Since we’re just doing games for Sony we were able to share some technology with other parts of Sony and that’s been a big help to us. We like to think we’re helping the other studios at the same time. So I think that continues to happen both informally – stealing each other’s best ideas – and more formally, with people sharing technology.
Q: It seems like inFamous could be a comic book or graphic novel.
A: That was a big influence on us. We grew up reading comic books, we love superhero stories. They kind of evolved over the last 20 years. Comics, graphic novels, are very different than they were 20 years ago. We tried to be contemporary in what we’re doing – it’s not truth, justice and the American way, tights and capes, underwear on the outside, that’s not what we’re doing in inFamous.
Our goal with the game was to say what would you do if suddenly you woke up and you had superpowers? How would you react? That was really our touchstone question when we were building the game, and how would the characters react, how would they react to you? What if you were a bad guy – how would you react? It really helped us ground every decision we made because we could go back to that question – we call it the razor – and compare us to that, to help us make decisions, or checkpoint our decisions, to make sure the game was something you could relate to.
Q: The razor?
A: The razor being something you use to cut stuff – Occam’s razor, say. So in this case it was what would I do if I had superpowers? The answer was, if I had superpowers, I wouldn’t immediately run out and design myself a costume. I’d try to figure out what the hell is going out, why everybody is shooting at me and just get out of whatever it was – just get control of the situation. That’s really what happens in inFamous – it’s about Cole coming to grips with what happens to him and dealing with it the best he can. He’s an ordinary guy, he’s got an ordinary guy job, he’s got an ordinary girlfriend and suddenly all this stuff starts to happen to him – he’s like, ‘well, I didn’t ask for any of this.'” It’s not like he tried to become a superhero, it just happened and he has to deal with it during the game. I think that really makes the game resonate because you can imagine yourselves being this guy.
Q: So will it be made into a movie or comics?
A: I hope so. It would be really gratifying to be part of that. We’ve tried in all the games we’ve done to do a game where the characters in the story are rich enough and dirty enough that you could imagine them becoming tv shows or movies. Whether they do or not is sort of a separate question. But the fact that you imagine them becoming that speaks well for the guys weve got working on the story and the characters and it helps the game be a better experience for you, right?

Comments | Topics: Games & entertainment, infamous, Microsoft


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