Saints Row IV Interview with Associate Producer Kate Nelson

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Saints Row IV has had to travel a long road in order to exist. Having initially started its life as DLC for Saints Row The Third, Saints Row IV is now finally approaching launch and looking more over the top and amazing than ever before. We were recently lucky enough to be able to sit down with Volition’s associate producer Kate Nelson to discuss the game’s tech challenges, trying to keep up an unexpectedly paced intro and even get a sneaky nod to a possible Saints Row 5. Want to know more? Then get your super power arsenal ready and find out everything you wanted to know about the new Saints Row.

Laura: Would you mind introducing yourself for our readers?

Kate Nelson: Sure. Hi, I’m Kate Nelson and I’m an executive producer at Volition.

Laura: And how would you describe Saints Row IV for anyone new to the game?

Kate Nelson: It’s an epic, super powered, open world game.

Laura: The first thing that’s likely to be obvious to fans of the series who watch footage of the game is that you’ve taken a very over the top series and managed to push it even further with this entry. Things have gone just completely insane this time around. At what point in this game’s development did that design aim first appear?

Kate Nelson: We actually worked very hard after Saints Row 3 to think about how we could push the series further because at that point you had this huge cultural icon and we had all these crazy weapons, we had to think hard about how we could push it even further. We thought, “Okay, the obvious next step is superpowered aliens.” It made perfect sense and just worked out really well for us. We latched onto the idea and once we set up the city it just worked out very, very well.

Laura: As the game started off development as a piece of DLC for Saints Row 3, how much of what you’d planned for that DLC ended up in what’s now Saints Row IV?

Kate Nelson: I think there has been some confusion from people on this topic. The idea is that we were working very hard on this DLC pack and when we were given more time we took the opportunity to step back and say, “Okay, what can we expand here? What can we make better?” While there are some elements that were in the DLC and are now in Saints Row IV, none of them are exactly the same as they were. For example, we originally had a couple of superpowers but we were able to add even more and blow them out more than we had originally. What was really exciting for the team is that we were able to take our core concept and just build it even larger than we had originally anticipated.

Laura: Was there anything that you had originally aimed to include in Saints Row IV that unfortunately didn’t make the cut or couldn’t be implemented in time?

Kate Nelson: There are always a lot of concepts and ideas that the team have and sometimes it’s difficult to say, “Oh no, we just don’t have time for that.” We were investigating Smart Glass integration but that didn’t exactly make it into the game. We’re always open for ideas though.

Laura: Was there a specific decision as to why Character Creation is left until after the first mission is complete, hiding your character under a suit and leaving them voiceless through the game’s opening?

Kate Nelson: Because Saints Row is centred around customisation we have to leave the character looking ambiguous during that first mission, because you can have any look, be any gender. We don’t want to start the game off in a customisation screen so we try to just start you straight off in the action.

Laura: During the opening hours we very quickly jump from one new idea to another, doing lots of things you’ve not done in previous Saints Row games. Was it challenging trying to keep up that ever changing pace, doing things the player won’t expect in Saints Row IV?

Kate Nelson: We try to make sure that we give the player a variety of experiences and we did have time to really iterate on the beginning of the game, make that feel natural for our players and make sure that we have enough design attention on the beginning of the game. We have usability tests in-house where we can see our players respond to what we’ve done and we’re able to react. So, we feel like the pacing of the beginning of the game is pretty strong at this point.

Laura: Were there any technical challenges that came up due to the inclusion of superpowers, and particularly those that change how you interact with or traverse the world?

Kate Nelson: That’s a challenge that a lot of games will face. Because we had introduced flying in previous Saints Row games we already had an understanding of ways to render the city whilst you’re in the air, so the transition to the Super Jump was very natural for our engine. We try to find the best balance between how fast we want the player to go and how much of the city we can render at a time.

Telekinesis, you have to figure out all the new physics behind it to make sure that you pick things up and knock objects over correctly. There was actually a weapon, the Gravity Gun, which sucks everything in and then explodes. We had to make sure that the player wasn’t taking in too many objects at once so that it didn’t affect the frame rate of the game. That was an example of a weapon we definitely had to dial back a little bit for the engine to cope, but it’s still really, really fun.

Laura: Many people who’ve seen the game played have latched on to certain weapons like the Dubstep Gun and Inflate-A-Ray, due to their unique nature. Are there any other weapons in the game that are going to surprise gamers in that same way?

Kate Nelson: One of my favourites is the Abduction Gun, where you zap any of the enemies in the world and they just get sucked up and you can watch them start to rise. We have a lot of fun with our weapon designs, we like to make sure we’re bringing a really fun experience to players in that regard. We really have fun with those.

Laura: You’re obviously not going to be able to talk specifics about the future of the Saints Row franchise, as the new entry is not even out yet, but do you see the fact that Saints Row IV has in many ways pushed everything so far being a problem for the future? How do you possibly go further than you already have for a Saints Row 5?

Kate Nelson: We surprised ourselves before, going from Saints Row The Third to Saints Row IV. I think that we’re up to the challenge. Like I said earlier we’ve got a lot of ideas bouncing about around the studio and if it did come to that then I think the challenge is one that we would welcome.

Laura: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

Kate Nelson: I really hope that you enjoy the game when it releases and remember to check out co-op. Really, just enjoy it.

 

Saints Row IV is released on 23 August for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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