The recently held Digital Nationz event had a media only day, where among other things ,such as exclusive hands on with upcoming titles from Xbox and guided tours, we also got to sit down with developers for a chat.
Probably one of the most fun interviews I have ever done in my career as a Games Journalist, I had a 15 minute window of time to put some questions to Marcus Smith, the Creative Director at Insomniac Games, for the title; Sunset Overdrive.
Marcus is the Creative Director of Sunset Overdrive and couldn’t be happier about it. Over the past nine years working his dream job at Insomniac, he’s been checking off most items on his career bucket-list: shipping a launch title, selling over a million copies of a game, creating original IP, and having a job at Insomniac Games.
Having “fallen into” the games industry after attending CalArt’s film school, Marcus was lucky enough to land a job with Mark Cerny at Cerny Games, where he cut his teeth on console development. Since landing at Insomniac, Marcus has worked on Resistance: Fall of Man (Project Manager), Resistance 2 (Project Manager), Resistance 3 (Creative Director), and now Sunset Overdrive, a project that he and Drew Murray (Game Director) have been dreaming about for many years.
Shane: We have seen the trailers, the chaos and full on carnage within gameplay vids for Sunset Overdrive. What inspired this form of gameplay as opposed to, say, making an action hack ‘n’ slash?
Marcus: That’s a good question. Insomniac have always been known for making action games Ratchet and Spyro sort of youthful oriented games, but the one thing about those was they were fun for fun’s sake, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and I was Creative Director on Resistance 3 and Drew Murray was the Lead Designer. He and I just got talking about what games we would make in the unlikely event that some one gave us a lot of money to do that. We started talking about this idea of almost a Day Z like thing inspired by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the book. So we started riffing on the idea and after a while it just became apparent [that it was] derivative of everything else. Things that we have seen and heard before. We thought, okay, what would happen Iggy Pop were the last man on Earth. What would happen. And we thought, well, he would probably die really fast, but it would be spectacular. So that became our idea, like the Rock n Roll end of times. you get to do whatever you want. Like, the flipside of everybody being turned into mutants is you don’t have a Boss or bills, you can do whatever you want to do. So when in Mega Man and Charlton Heston is driving round empty streets of L.A. or 28 Days Later where the Jim character is walking the empty streets of London, I look at that and go that looks like fun, I’d totally dig that.
And so that’s kind of the way we went, the right hand turn from what you’d expect from a zombie apocalypse kind of thing. And from there, everybody on the team just brought in something new including the first demo, where we did have this Gas Station where you had to manage a Tower Defense soft of thing. We had ladders leading from the top to the bottom. The first time we played it we were like, man ladders suck. There’s nothing fun about ladders. So rule one is no ladders and we started putting trampolines everywhere and then you were bouncing everywhere and then it just lead to more and more of that traversal. Just being fast and then it was like, fun while fighting doing this and so it just evolved from trial and error. Building demos and seeing what felt good.
Shane: Insomniac have been responsible for Resistance, Ratchet & Clank and going further back, Spyro. Why was there a change of pace, as Sunset Overdrive is obviously alot different from previously developed titles.
Marcus: I think more than anything alot of us who work there now, worked there before because we loved those games when we were younger, and we are just getting older and kinda want to play games that have that same sort of lighthearted and didn’t take themselves too seriously. For me Resistance kind of took us in a different direction for what Insomniac were kind of known for. I think to Drew and I Sunset Overdrive is much more in the DNA of the company, it doesn’t take itself too seriously it’s high action but also a level of mastery that you can get better and better and need to be strategic to be really good at it. So it just seemed like the perfect kind of game that Insomniac should be making and so we just kind of rolled with that and then Ted Price (the owner of Insomniac) believed enough in it to bankroll an, you know, do all of that kind of stuff.
Shane Following on from that question, Insomniac primarily developed for PlayStation but now have developed an exclusive title for Xbox. Is this a trend that we can expect to continue?
Marcus: I don’t really know, I… From my perspective, obviously I don’t own the company [so] I don’t make these decisions, but if you look at independent studios, Insomniac is an independent studio, most other independent studios have been bought out by other companies or folded. So, I think Ted Price (owner of Insomniac Games) is very pragmatic about business decisions. This made the most sense financially and just, like, forging new relationships because it’s in our own best interests to not burn too many bridges with publishers. There’s not too many of them around, so I think it makes a lot of sense and we still have a relationship with Sony. We are doing a Ratchet and Clank game now that’s been announced so I think that it’s just keeping our options more than anything else, as an independent studio.
Shane: How long had Sunset Overdrive been in development from it’s initial concept? Had it been considered for the previous gen of consoles or were you waiting for the gaming power of the Xbox One?
Marcus: Yes, okay, so Drew and I started working on the game. We actually did a pitch before Resistance 3 came out, which would’ve been 2011. And we really didn’t know what to expect for the next gen, when they were going to be coming out. At the time we were just coming up with the idea of a game and then rolling with that and it was sort of up to publishers to decide what made the most sense, if it was for current gen or next gen, whatever. So it was kind of a window because had we come out a year earlier the previous hardware would have been more viable but now it makes alot more sense [for the current gen].
Shane: If you were to sum up Sunset Overdrive in only a few words what would those be?
Marcus: Chaotic fun. That was two words!
Shane: It was, well done!
Shane: Bonus question: What was your favourite toy or game as kid?
Marcus: Oh, as a kid? Hmmm… oh man. I grew up in a small town in the North West and we had a lot of land near my house, and I would just go down to the woods and make believe, and you know, just dream up worlds. That’s kind of what I do now. So I think maybe it was training..?
But if it’s a toy I’m going to go with a Drum set. Okay, so that’s not a toy either, but it sure was fun!
Shane: Awesome. Well thank you Marcus for talking with me on behalf of Shane the Gamer today. Really appreciate it.
Marcus features in this Live Action Trailer for Sunset Overdrive: