You probably know that Saints Row The Third is madder than a bag of rabid monkeys. Or at least, you should know after reading our recent preview of the open world parody game in action. But it never used to be like this.
When the original Saints Row
was released oh so many moons ago on Xbox 360, it was trying to beat Grand Theft Auto
to the next-generation scene. It's a time that Saints Row The Third
senior producer Greg Donovan and lead designer Scott Phillips remember well, despite not working on the series until its sequel.
As the franchise moved forward it went away from all the serious stuff and started offering dildo bats and midget zombies. This... this is the sort of madcap insanity I like. Read on for a most interesting discussion between myself, Greg and Scott.SPOnG: Do you feel that games are getting way too serious? Do you think a game like Saints Row is needed for all of its humour?Greg Donovan:
Is it needed? I donít know. I think that if you have a realistic war game, youíd want it to be serious and realistic. Thatís just what it is. The over-the-top style in those games will come from the explosions and gunfights. I like the fact that weíre a good alternative, and I think players are resonating with that, but needed? I think it depends on what kind of game you make.Scott Phillips:
I think itís a must-have game. You have to buy it [laughs].SPOnG: I remember when the first Saints Row came out, and it was quite different to the craziness that weíre seeing in the third game. It was still a bit wild, but had more of a serious undertone to it. Trying to go a bit more toe-to-toe with Grand Theft Auto. What made you change direction to be more comical from Saints Row 2 onwards?Greg Donovan:
Scott and I didnít work on Saints Row 1
- we were on SR2
- but Iíll give you a bit of history about it all. The whole goal for Saints Row 1
was to create an open world game on the Xbox 360, because there was nothing else out there at the time. We had no idea that San Andreas
was going to be this urban contemporary simulator - and when we found out we thought Ďwell, shit.í We could do very little about going up against GTA
at the time though, so we kept on at it.
In Saints Rowís
defence though, it did have activities like Insurance Fraud, and other mechanics that similar games didnít. And from there itís seen a natural evolution, I would say for Saints Row 2
. We still had some serious moments with it - we had long discussions in development over whether the Ronin should have swords on their backs or not, thinking that players would care about that stuff. But they donít.
With Saints Row The Third
, weíre doing a complete reboot of the franchise, with new technology and everything else. Everythingís just going to be over the top this time around. It works for us, it differentiates us from other open world games, we do it well, and players love it.Scott Phillips:
I think itís had a continual refinement. Insurance Fraud was in Saints Row 1
, and the team realised how fun and popular that ended up being, so with Saints Row 2
it built on top of all that particular craziness and promise that the Insurance Fraud segments had.
The story for SR1
were semi-serious, but with The Third
we got to look at the whole package and decided that we wanted it all to be cohesive. The art, the city and the story to match that insane gameplay that players are responding to. So I think the game weíve developed now is a much better refinement of the idea of Ďover the top.íSPOnG: Youíve probably been asked this all the time, but some of the stuff in Saints Row The Third is batshit insane. Iím curious as to your inspirations - or at least the amount of acid that you guys must have taken whilst designing all of this!Greg Donovan:
[Laughs] You know, itís somewhat disturbing that a group of corn-fed, mid-Western guys came up with the ideas that they did. The design team nailed it. I always say itís about capitalising on about eight years of experience with this franchise.Scott Phillips:
Yeah, our art design guys are pretty awesome. We had a good time - we met several times a week for several hours during the start of the project and we were brainstorming different things... but really, there were no limits. Everyone was encouraged to just throw out whatever they wanted. About the only things we wouldnít do would be patently racist, offensive or misogynist stuff. Weíd stay away or kill that sort of stuff immediately.
Almost everything else went forward and we would continue refining those ideas more and more. But we definitely had some people who came onto the team from other projects, and they were wondering what the hell was going on with us [laughs]! We had a blast, basically.SPOnG: Something that caught my eye in this press document youíve written is that every mission in a game like Saints Row The Third has to have Ďa holy shit moment.í Do you think that Saints Row, because of that, raises the bar for open world games?Greg Donovan:
I think the Fed Ex delivery type of missions can work in games, depending on what the vision and tone of it is. For us, the tone was Ďbigger, badder, faster, over the topí and you canít really do that by having those kind of drawn-out point-to-point missions in there. Not speaking for other games, but we personally donít like those kinds of missions and we went out of our way to make sure we didnít really have many in there.Scott Phillips:
Iím sure they have their place. Sometimes there are mechanics that you really love - the idea of swinging around the city like Spiderman, youíre okay with being able to do that to deliver a letter. The problem comes when all youíre doing is delivering mail for the whole game. Thatís going to get really tiring. But if youíre swinging around a city, chasing a supervillain or doing something that matters to the story, thatís when you feel most engaged.