Interview | Creative Director Tells-All About Sunset Overdrive

Us super fanatics sat down with Sunset Overdrive‘s Creative Director Marcus Smith. We asked him a lot of stuff about the upcoming in-your-face adventure, which drops tomorrow on shelves. Needless to say, he was dropping some mad knowledge about Sunset City and everything in it.

The Game Fanatics: Hey Marcus! Thanks for sharing some of your time with us. When you walked us through Sunset Overdrive back at E3, we just couldn’t stop talking about it. Now that the release date is around the corner, we’re excited…fanatically excited….for Sunset Overdrive!
So with development nearing completion, what has been the most rewarding moment that you had when making the game?

Marcus Smith: Oh, man. You think you’re excited? My stomach is in knots. We’re all very anxious about everyone finally getting to play the game.
It’s kind of the worst part of development- the waiting game. In terms of rewarding, nothing has filled me with joy as much as watching people, in particular game journalists, who come into a play session fairly skeptical and seeing the looks on their faces as they go through the process of playing.
I can see them realize that the movement isn’t automatic as many believed. I can see them struggle to learn the core mechanics and finally see their faces as they start to put together the movement with the combat. It’s so satisfying to watch and hear from people who doubted that Sunset would be a fun experience. That’s validation.

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TGF: The style and art direction in Sunset Overdrive is phenomenal. That’s it…no question, just a statement. Pass that along to the art team will you? (Ok, so there was the question)

MS: I will! Finding the right style to fit the theme of the world took a lot of trial and error. I’m not sure if we would have been able to make a game like Sunset Overdrive had games like Borderlands and Team Fortress 2 had proven that stylized games can sell. So, in addition to the hard work of all our artists, hats are also off to those games for helping us pitch the idea!

TGF: One of the things about Sunset Overdrive that we loved was the amount of possibilities there are when creating the look and style of your own character. When people start playing the game, how much of the customizable clothing and items will be available? Will all of the clothing and items you guys created be obtainable from the get-go or will players have to obtain more through other means? If so, how?

MS: No, we don’t give your everything from the start. We have a decent variety, but more options become available as you play the game.You can get them from meeting new faction groups in the campaign or as rewards for quests, challenges and winning at Chaos Squad.
Our philosophy for character customization was in-line with the rest of the game: fast-action. So, we aren’t the kind of super-deep, “8 sliders to shape your ear” customization system. But we do much more on big parts by focusing on the head, torso, legs and feet, giving you a lot of options to create your own, unique look. You’ll definitely increasing your palette of options as you go.

TGF: The mutant OD’d look great, but we’ve also found that the Scabs in Sunset City were also pretty cool additions to the roster of enemies. Could you tell us a little more about them and how much of an impact do they make as players play through the game? Are there any major scab enemies such as King Scab himself? Do any of these characters end up helping you out in battle or are they just simply out to eliminate you so that they can take your stuff?

MS: The scabs started out first as a story point. We wanted to show different facets of humanity with our survivors and give them a deeper archetypal roll despite their ‘unique’ factor. So, for example, Troop Bushido are adult adventure scouts who have holed-up in Sunset City’s Japanese Heritage Museum and become obsessed with Samurai culture and Bushido code. That’s a little different, but they are also a group of people who follow rules and require structure to get on. It’s what allowed them to survive the mutant outbreak, but also what eventually holds them back. All of our survivor groups were created similarly, to be capable via some philosophical or ideological structure, but ultimately doomed and in need of help.
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Getting back to the Scabs, we wanted to have enemies in the world who are jerks who kill and steal. That’s a facet of humanity. There’s no doubting that if society breaks down, there will be those people out there. Thing is, at the beginning of the game, it’s only been 17 days since ‘Horror Night’, when the mutants took over. So anyone out there killing and looting were already pretty much criminals. The apocalypse just gave them an excuse. Anyway, we wanted to make sure the Scabs weren’t too organized, reflecting the thing holding them back- they don’t earn trust and can therefore never trust each other. If they would just stop killing everyone long enough to form allegiances, they could rule the world of Sunset City!

From a gameplay perspective, Scabs are the third enemy ‘type’ out in the world, so there will be times when all three are out fighting each other even without your involvement.

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TGF: When we first caught glimpse of some of the gameplay footage, we were amazed at how swift and stylish characters move around Sunset Overdrive. Part of it reminded us of Tony Hawk games back in the day, and of course the Jet Set Radio vibe is there…which is awesome. What was the inspiration behind all the grinding on rails and jumping on from one building to the next?
MS: In our original incarnation of the game, there was no ‘traversal’ moves. More vaults and clambering over things. But in one of our first demos, we had ladders leading from the ground floor of a fort to the roof and we had long discussions about how ladders are terrible. Never in the history of gaming has anyone said “Oh, cool! A ladder!”.
At the same time, Cameron Christian–one of our lead designers–was pushing to get in things like grind rails so it can speed up the action. We replaced all the ladders with small exercise trampolines and discovered it was way more fun bouncing around the space than clambering, so that really got the ball rolling. From there, it was “fun trumps realism.” We want this to be a self-aware video game fantasy come to life. You do a lot of things that are physically impossible, but fun.

TGF: Sunset Overdrive pushes players to stay on their toes and off the ground when dealing with the mutant enemies. But sometimes, it looks a little too easy. Will the game allow players to switch to a higher difficulty level and if so, how will players be rewarded for going to those extreme difficulty levels?
MS: The primary game doesn’t have difficulty settings. The game progresses enemy counts, enemy types, and weapon introductions in steady ramping of increased difficulty. However, we also have Challenges, where you’ll be competing with friends and strangers to get the best scores completing different… challenges.
As a person who has played the game a lot, there will be challenge for everyone.

TGF: The game sends a very clear message about commercial products such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi beverages, products that could harm you if consume them in high quantities. Through this, you birthed FizzCo. and OverCharge Delirium XT. Are there any other hidden messages in the game aside from “don’t drink this, it’s bad for you”? Aliens? Illuminati perhaps? Or..the actual existence of those Ant Overlords from that one Simpsons episode?
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MS: Man, who needs aliens when we have so much crazy fodder in terms of unchecked corporate power? We created Sunset Overdrive with a mission to make it an expanding universe. We want to have more to explore in sequels and comic books detailing other stories in the Sunset universe and anything else we can do to tell more stories that make-up this world we’ve created.
Expect many twists and turns in the storyline over the years. But don’t expect alien intervention. Humans are always the real monsters.

TGF: So true to form, Sunset Overdrive follows in the footsteps of previous Insomniac Games titles with its vast array of weapons, a lot of which are ridiculously awesome. What’s one of your favorite weapons in the game?

MS: I’m a sucker for support weapons, things that are fire-and-forget and–when used strategically–help you out of a pinch. Things like the turret copter, which shoots out a toy helicopter with a pistol tied under it.  Also, the Acid Sprinkler, a kid’s water toy modified to shoot acid all over.
I love that sprinkler when facing Muggers. Add the right Amps to those weapons and you can really have some fun!

TGF: The multiple game modes in Sunset Overdrive are sure to up the replay value of the game. The factions are a great idea, multiplayer looks solid…and though the game hasn’t come out yet the internet cries out for co-op free roam DLC. Care to comment?

MS: As I said earlier, we’re thinking long-term for Sunset. It’s not easy getting a new IP on new hardware done, let alone including everything you want. So while I won’t comment specifically, I will say that we’re looking to do even more in the future.

TGF: Please tell us you had a hand in that awesome Times Square takeover?

MS: I wish I did! The great minds at 215Mccann were the geniuses. I love those guys because they ‘got’ Sunset from the moment they heard about it and we connected like long, lost family. I often joke with Neil Bruce (creative lead ad 215) that he and I should switch jobs at some point- largely because he’s such a huge game nerd. We loved working with them.

TGF: Final Question! Can we expect to see any purple dragons in Sunset Overdrive?

MS: I can not confirm or deny the existence of purple dragons in the Sunset Overdrive universe, but…look closely.

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