The developers at Insomniac Games — which made the post-apocalyptic Resistance first-person shooters for PlayStation consoles — were bored with the gray environments and dreary stories of games about the end of days. So, they came up with Sunset Overdrive, a colorful, unpredictable, and funny title about all of the cool stuff you can do after the apocalypse happens and there are no more rules, chores, or jobs.
In the game, you can blast mutants with style. Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac, let his designers run wild with their imaginations.
Sunset Overdrive is set in the year 2027, when corporations control almost everything that happens in cities. Fizzco, a giant company, is about to release a new energy drink called OverCharge Delirium XT in the fictional Sunset City — which features elements of Los Angeles, the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, and San Francisco.
To make its ship date, Fizzco skipped some Food and Drug Administration testing. It debuted the drink, and everyone who imbibed it turned into a hideous mutant. You play a temp worker who is so busy that he doesn’t get a chance to try the drink. He survives, but the city is overrun with mutants who want to kill him and get more OverCharge. We talked with Price about the exclusive Xbox One experience at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big video game trade show in Los Angeles last week.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: Did you go into E3 with a certain intent, a message you wanted to get across to people?
Ted Price: The easy answer is that we want to show how the game’s different. One of the key differences is that we’re changing the rules from traditional shooters. This game is about velocity. It’s about moving through this giant open world by grinding, vaulting, bouncing, somersaulting, wall-running, and bringing a different style of combat to shooters.
GamesBeat: You can see a bit of Tony Hawk in it, riding around on rails.
GamesBeat: Your designers seem to be having a lot of fun being creative. You can do so much in this world.
Price: Exactly. I’ll mention one more thing about the mechanics, and then I’ll talk about why we’re having so much fun. We’ve made traditional shooters at Insomniac. We played a lot of traditional shooters. The paradigm that has been commonly accepted is that you hide behind cover, you pop up and shoot a couple of enemies, you scuttle like a crab to the next burned-out car or concrete barrier, and you repeat that. We wanted to throw that out the window and try something very different, giving players a lot more freedom of movement and rewarding them for using it.
Now, the way we reward them for it in the game is creating a style meter. As you’re moving through the environment very quickly and using a wide arsenal of weapons, you start to build up style. The more style you build up, the more amps you trigger. Amps are part of our progression system. They’re elements that you craft in the game, that you can attach to the character or the weapons. They create different abilities. It builds this very layered experience that’s much faster and more agile than what you see in traditional shooters.
About the team, having an irreverent tone is part of our soul at Insomniac. Because the game is all about fun trumping realism, we get to let loose and be self-referential, be irreverent, break the fourth wall. These are the things we have a blast with. The respawns are a great example. When you die in this game, we make it fun to die. You always come back in a different way.
GamesBeat: You gave an interesting talk at DICE about lessons you’ve learned over the years. Do you think you’ve applied some of those broader management lessons to how this game is turning out?
Price: The biggest lesson I tried to convey was the importance of delegating creative authority. We have two creative directors on this project who came up with the vision for Sunset Overdrive, Marcus Smith and Drew Murray. From the beginning, I felt it was very important to stay out of the way and not try to make this my vision, but support what they believed in. The team rallied around Marcus and Drew, and their vision and began adding to it. As a result, we have one of most unique games we’ve ever made at Insomniac.
GamesBeat: The trailer made me think that maybe setting traps is a lot of fun.
Price: As a matter of fact, here tonight we’re showing off part of Chaos Squad. This is our multiplayer mode. In the culmination of Chaos Squad, you work together in a night defense. This is where you’re defending vats of Overcharge against marauding enemies. At that point, you begin to use traps you’ve earned in the game. There are lots of different kinds, all with different strategic uses. Depending on what you as a player have earned in the game, you can lay down lots of traps to defend your base.
That’s important because you bring with you whatever you’ve earned in the single-player game, bring it over to multiplayer. Whatever you win in the multiplayer game, you can bring that back to the single-player game.
GamesBeat: It seemed like some players might be so accustomed to serious shooters that they’ll have to be retrained to get into something like this. I’m wondering about that short description you had — teaching people that the apocalypse can be fun.
Price: We made a decision to move away from this societal obsession with the apocalypse. We wanted to focus not on a gray, brown, rubble-strewn end times vision but instead make this your awesome apocalypse. An end times where you’re actually having fun, where you don’t have to work that dead-end job anymore, where you don’t have to worry about what you wear or how loud you play your music. You can be yourself and have a blast.
GamesBeat: Does that sound like it’s resonating with folks?
Price: Given where we are in the maturation of games, I think shooter fans especially are looking for something different, something unique. Certainly we hope so. What we’re doing as players ourselves is sharing what we believe is a new path for shooters, in terms of both mechanics and tone.
GamesBeat: Everyone has a firm idea of what a zombie’s supposed to behave like. You need to create something that behaves in a way that people haven’t seen before.
Price: We’re taking advantage of the irreverent tone of the game to come up with what appears in the game. A good example is the Hurker, which is one of the larger enemies. We’re showing him off tonight in Night Defense. He’s an [OverCharge Delirium drinker] who has a giant digger arm. The story behind him is, he was a normal person, a construction worker, but he drank Overcharge, and he became this mutant, formed around this giant shovel — which he uses to good effect. He can actually block shots. He’s so big that he has other smaller [mutants] riding on his back, which he can throw into your bases. He’s a really versatile character.
The other thing we’ve done with him in particular is we’ve bucked the paradigm of making a big, slow enemy. He’s very agile. He’ll chase you down, jump around, climb on buildings. He’s a tough enemy to fight. You have to use a lot of weapon strategy to take him on.
Going back to your point about doing something non-traditional with the mutants, all of … the OverCharge Delirium drinkers in the game, were created in this one night of revelry where Fizzco, the mega-corporation in the game, released a drink that wasn’t quite ready for public consumption. After a few hours of nonstop drinking Overcharge, the citizens of Sunset City began becoming [mutants]. The only thing the [mutants] want more than to kill you is to drink more OverCharge. So, you see hordes of them roaming the streets, and they’re vicious, but they’re also very entertaining in their own Sunset Overdrive way.
GamesBeat: It’s good to have a game that has a chance to surprise us.
Price: Sunset Overdrive, for us, it’s all about expecting the unexpected.