inFAMOUS Second Son hits stores in just a few days, and we were lucky enough to ask Billy Harper, the animation director at developing company Sucker Punch, a few questions. He was also nice enough to give some staggeringly in-depth answers, so we’ll just shut up and let the interview do the talking for us!
entertainment.ie: It's been almost three years since InFamous 2 was released, but how long has InFamous: Second Son been in development?
Billy Harper: About 3 years, including Pre-Production. While our Art and Design team worked on Festival of Blood, the Programming team started putting together our engine and tools for PS4 development because we knew from the word go that Second Son was going to be developed solely for that hardware. We worked closely with Sony to give them insight into what we would like the hardware to do for the type of engine we wanted to develop. We feel the decision to work with Sony and make an inFAMOUS title be our first PS4 game was instrumental in us being able to make Second Son a true Next Gen title.
e.ie: How difficult was it to leave Cole McGrath behind, and move forward with a new hero/antihero?
BH: It was difficult to say goodbye to an old friend, but we wanted to make the sacrifice that 82% of the players (Spoilers: most players of InFamous 2 choose the "good ending", which resulted in the death of Cole McGrath) made with Cole actually resonate. We also knew we would be able to have multiple power sets and that meant introducing a new conduit to the world. However, in a great deal of ways it was easier to create a new protagonist from the ground up with the new console in mind. Every detail of his character design, from his vest to his shoes pivoted around what was going to be unique about this new chapter in the inFAMOUS universe. We also knew that we wanted the protagonist to mirror what the player would be feeling. We KNEW they would be enjoying themselves with the cool new powers, so we wanted Delsin Rowe, our new protagonist, to be the type of person who would enjoy using his new powers as well.
e.ie: After the series' take on New York and New Orleans, how did you come to the decision to set this new game in Seattle?
BH: We knew we were going to have quite a few new rendering techniques in our pocket this time around. We were going to be able to create a lush city like we’d never been able to before. We had developed new texturing, weather, and reflection tech that we wanted to capitalize on. Therefore, we decided to do our version of Seattle. We are a Seattle based studio, so it’s our backyard. It’s OUR city that we love and we knew that capturing the essence of our city would totally take advantage of the new tech. We also knew that we’d be able to pay homage to our city in a way no one else could. That was exciting to us. We have iconic symbols, like the Space Needle, Mt. Rainer, and the Monorail. At the same time, we have unique local businesses and hangouts that folks who frequent the city or are residents will appreciate seeing. Places like Sonic Boom Records, Pink Elephant Car Wash, Latte Owl Coffee where our PR Manager proposed to his wife, and the Post Alley "Gum Wall" all make appearances in Second Son.
e.ie: Everything from the conduits being referred to as "Bio-Terrorists" to Delsin fighting with a chain wrapped around his arm, it seems that Second Son is going for a much more realistic, grittier take on the series. Was that a conscious decision? And does Second Son step away from its comic book-like origins?
BH: inFAMOUS at it’s core is a comic book inspired series, so we’ll always draw from this medium. Second Son is still an origin story where an everyday person acquires powers and The Player gets to decide how to enjoy those powers. This is a comic book hallmark. However, we did make the conscious decision this time to apply a layer of grounded realism and more sophisticated story telling than we have in the past. This was mostly due to what we could do on the PS4 and the rendering, FX, and facial capture tech we developed from scratch.
e.ie: Technically speaking, what was the biggest or most difficult development over the previous incarnations of the game?
BH: Since I’m the Animation Director, I’m going to draw from what I was the closest to...the facial tech. We hired Spencer Alexander shortly after inFAMOUS 2 wrapped. Outside of helping us improve our body animation rigs and tools, his main objective and focus was putting together a facial capture pipeline that would satisfy our desire to really capture what the actors did on stage. During the production of inFAMOUS 2, we would see fantastic performances by our talented cast go to waste because we weren’t getting all the unique subtle nuances that really make an audience engage and believe in the characters. We knew from day one that we wanted to get beyond that. The technology that Spencer and Lead Programmer Adrian Bentley worked together with various groups to make that dream a reality. Even though I’ve been heavily involved in every single cut scene we have in Second Son, I still find myself awestruck when watching a scene play out.
e.ie: When it comes to the actors, such as Troy Baker, how collaborative is the process? Do you know exactly what you need before heading on set, and do you need exactly that? Or is there room for a certain amount and type of improvisation?
BH: This is a great segue from the previous question. Troy Baker and Travis Willingham, who plays Delsin’s brother Reggie, were HUGE collaborators in this process. Because of the tech that we were developing, it was very important for us to cast actors that we felt would be good collaborators. Troy and Travis went above and beyond our expectations and needs. A key part of our story is the simple, yet very deep, relationship between the Rowe brothers. After we cast them, Troy and Travis revealed to us that they were best friends. Troy was the best man in Travis’ wedding--ironically enough to Laura Bailey who plays Abigal "Fetch" Walker--and Travis was set to be the best man in Troy’s upcoming wedding. The way we would work on set would vary. We would come to set prepared with what we knew about the game at the time. We always showed up know what we expected. However, due to the nature of how we iterate a great deal on our games...things were always changing. Sometimes this required some creative adjustments on stage, by both Nate Fox, the director, and the cast. Other times, we’d come to stage thinking we knew exactly what we’d want and Troy or Travis would suggest some great adjustment during read through or stage blocking that was just too good NOT to do.
e.ie: In terms of the morality system, playing as a potential super-hero or super-villain, how different an experience do you think players will get from playing the game down those two routes?
BH: We went deep and worked really hard to make sure that the player would get a totally unique game play experience playing Good or Evil. This manifests itself in multiple ways, but there are 2 really distinct examples:
Number One - The Narrative. During key cut-scenes, players will be faced with the choice to "Redeem" or "Corrupt" the conduit that they absorb powers from. This choice will influence the conduit’s behavior and change the way that other characters, like Reggie, react and interact with Delsin. From that point forward, The Player will be able to see how that conduit is effecting the city and how the city is reacting to the conduit. Ultimately, they will be able to embark on an ally mission with the conduit that will be a totally unique Good or Evil mission. An example is Fetch, the Neon Conduit. If you choose to Redeem her, you will notice that she’s non-lethally taking down drug dealers throughout Seattle and helping clean it up. Eventually, you play an ally mission with her where you take out drug dealing strongholds at a marina. If you choose to Corrupt Fetch, you will notice that as more deaths stack up, an anti-conduit activist group target Fetch as the poster child for the Bio-Terrorist threat. Eventually, you play an ally mission where you seek out activist rally points, execute the activists and tear down their signage, and ultimately track down the leader of the activist group and execute him.
Number Two - Moment to moment combat that The Player engages in. Certain decisions a player makes during combat can earn them extra "Karma Points" if it is in alignment with their Karma Path. These Karma Points will fill up a meter that ultimately unlocks a huge "Karma Bomb" that gives the player access to a huge power. These are unique per power as well. An example of a Smoke Karma Bomb is giving The Player the ability to launch Delsin up into the air and turn him into a human missile. How we pay off karma is unique to Good or Evil as well. If you are going down the Good Path, we pay off The Player taking their time, not causing casualties, subduing surrendering enemies, and healing the sick. If you are going down the Evil Path, we pay off The Player wreaking pure havoc, quickly chaining together Evil deeds like executing surrendering enemies and taking head shots on defenseless victims. This turns Karma into a combat strategy, which is pretty cool.
e.ie: Are there any particular moments from Second Son that are so particularly shocking or eventful or surprising that you know it will be a scene that fan will continue talking about long after the game has finished?
BH: Yes. There are a few missions that I think will have people talking. However, most of all, the gorgeous city, rendering techniques, and FX will continue to be a hot topic on the message boards. People are really going to be grinning from ear to eat the entire time they play the game.
e.ie: Do you have a particular favourite part from the first two inFamous games?
BH: In inFAMOUS, my favourite parts were the twist at the end and the Call Lightning power. In inFAMOUS 2, my favourite parts were the melee, the Ionic Vortex, Zeke’s closing speech in the Good Ending, and Killing Zeke in the Evil Ending.
e.ie: We haven't played through the finished game yet, but are there any hints for the future of the series in there?
BH: Honestly, being a small team of just over 100 people, we tend to keep our heads down and crank on one project at a time. Second Son was a HUGE undertaking and we’re proud of what we accomplished. Now that we’re finished, we’re going to revel in this a little...get some rest, and percolate on what we want to do next.
inFAMOUS Second Son will be available to buy in stores exclusively for the PlayStation 4 from Friday, March 21st.