Saints Row 4 Interview with Jim Boone – Part 1
After a presentation showing off some of the ridiculously wacky things we’re due to expect from Saint’s Row 4, we got the chance to sit down with Jim Boone, Senior Producer at Volition, to ask him some questions.
In part one we discuss inspirations, aliens and super heroes, how the development has focused around building the open-world, and multiplayer.
When you started out with the design for Saint’s Row 4, was there a limit where you said ‘we can’t do this…’?
Not really, we really didn’t restrict ourselves too much. The only real thing was that we didn’t want to be doing ‘over the top’ for the sake of ‘over the top’. We wanted to make sure that there was purpose to it and that it was a fun. So that was the basic criteria we started off with.
One of the earliest things we did were the super powers. That was the first of the three big crazy things that we’re showing that we started to develop, and those were awesome. As we started to put it into the game and get a feel for it, the whole team just clicked and it felt like “ok, this is cool… this feels like something someone would mod into the game and it feels awesome.”
When we’re looking at the super powers, obviously there are nods to the Matrix in there. Was that your main inspiration – this guy has to look this cool, he’s got to have these powers etc?
Definitely. There are a number of different influences that we have, but that was definitely one of the big ones. Currently the way it works is that when the aliens grab the president of the Saints and abduct him, they put him into this simulation – a virtual representation of Steelport – so that’s how you have your super powers.
How have you used those powers to balance the gameplay for what the player can do, because if you make your guy so powerful, like the Superman complex, you’re pretty much invincible?
That’s a big reason why we have the aliens now, with the Zin. They’re these galactic conquerors that go around and capture planets. The thought is though that in the game these guys have a pretty wide range of powers amongst them, so unlike the previous Saints Row games where you have three different gangs to fight against, this one is just the Zin. Well… there are a few others that you’ll see from time to time, but the principle enemy is just the Zin. The range and variety though that we have is actually quite a bit more than having three gangs in the past. What it means is that we’ve got a number of enemies that are super-powered like crazy, but we still have the cannon-fodder type ones because we still want you to feel like a badass and kill everyone. We’ve got that, but it goes all the way up to ones that are incredibly challenging, even with all the super powers that you have. That’s our way of balancing it out.
We also like the fact that, fictionally, you’re this psychopathic leader of the Saints, so its not that you’re a super ‘hero’, more that you’re super powered. I always feel bad, because I love super hero games too, but a lot of the time when I’m playing them what I want to do is destroy everything – destroy cars, kill people – but I’m playing Superman, I can’t do that. Superman would never do this, right? But in ours… play a psychopath, go kill whoever you want if you choose to, or you don’t have to – you can play it like a super hero. You can almost essentially role-play through it, so it’s solely how you want to do it. We like that sort of freedom as well.
In terms of the three gangs that you’ve mentioned from the previous Saints Row games, one of the fun parts was going around and recruiting the different leaders etc. Because you’re the top guy now, is there still that element of recruitment or do you just have these guys to call on from past Saints games?
It’s a little of both, actually. What happens is the game starts off and very quickly gets you into the presidency. Of course you bring a bunch of your tenants from previous games with you as your cabinet, so you’ve got those guys at the beginning. Then when you’re abducted, the notion is they want to break your mind, and essentially assimilate you into the Zin Empire. Each individual person is having that done to them, so what ultimately happens is you have to go and rescue those guys, because your whole cabinet has been abducted with you. I’m not going to get into details, but there’s people that you’ll be able to rescue and there’s different ways you can augment them to bring them into your simulation throughout the game.
Wow, because in previous games you could call people up to help you – can you do that, and do they have different types of powers or abilities?
Nothing too different to what the player has. Our goal ultimately is for the player to feel powered, so we didn’t want to give them a situation where maybe they had something that the player might look at and say “I wanna be able to do that, why don’t I have that?” So we tended not to give them anything too unique, but little twists here and there.
In the previous games, you had a bit of a choice in some situations – for example you could destroy a building or you could keep a building – is that going to be expanded on, or will this game have the same sort of level?
We kind of went in a different direction, but took that same principle. To give you an example when you start to get these people that you rescue from their simulations, what you can do is you have loyalty quests (a bit like Mass Effect). You can go and take them, but they are totally optional to you. We’re trying to provide choice from more of those kinds of angles from more of a narrative standpoint, if that makes sense, and it helps you with some of the mechanical rewards you get from having done that with those characters.
But then we’ve really put in a lot of variety in terms of the open world. Put it this way: one of our designers, who’s in charge of the open world, showed me a map the other day of all the optional things you can do with icons. You almost cannot see the map, from adding all the icons for all the things you can optionally do in the world.
So for someone like me that has to complete everything…
… it’s going to be insane. QA is already complaining, because of course they have to test everything, and they’re looking at is saying “are you serious? We’ve got to do all that, how? That’s a lot of work for us!” It’s a tonne.
We tried to do it more in that way, as we feel like it’s a little more appropriate for our game, being open world, to put our efforts there, than it was necessarily in the missions. So we liked in The Third having A-B choices within the mission, but it felt like we should put more effort into the open world, while having those optional missions with your homies.
What about multiplayer, because a lot of time I spent in Saints Row The Third was playing Cat and Mouse – it was just loads of fun. Being a golf cart and being chased by a tank…
… and now imagine what that’s like with super powers!
Co-op is still there; 2-player, drop in-drop out, just like with Saints Row The Third, but of course now you have super powers. A lot of those are designed to compliment each other – for example if I’m playing with you, I might freeze someone while you’re already timing your ‘death from above’ to slam into them. There’s loads of other examples – it’s a tonne of fun to be able to play it with someone, because now you’re almost co-ordinating your attacks, and they’re all the more powerful for doing it in that way.
Do you have things like the mechs in the multiplayer?
Yeah, the mech is ultimately something you’ll be able to get as a reward, so you’ll be able to have it in the world, go around in it wherever you want. Both of you could actually have a mech if you get to that point.
So do you have it like in Saints Row The Third, where once you’ve finished the game you can go to your crib and you have absolutely everything there waiting for you?
Yup, that’s exactly right!