The lights are on
Coming out of E3, one of the biggest surprises was Insomniac's flashy and fun trailer for Sunset Overdrive. Sure, we didn't get to see any gameplay, but as a demonstration of concept, Ted Price and team managed to capture our imagination. We had a chance to speak with Price today to learn more about his studio's latest project.
It's important to note that because Sunset Overdrive is still very early in the development cycle (Price wasn't even comfortable committing to a broad release window), our conversation about the game focused largely on concept. If you've had a chance to watch the 45-minute trailer breakdown hosted by Price and Sunset Overdrive co-creative director Drew Murray, you'll have some idea of what the team has in store.
"The trailer we presented was a vision of the game," Price told us. "But it represents very much who Insomniac is in terms of its style and tone and it shows of a world we are building right now that has been subjected to a catastrophe."
In many games that are set up with world-ending calamities as the impetus for heroics, protagonists are thrust into action grudgingly. In many cases, they lament their lost existences and struggle for a way back to that lost sense of safety and self.
That's just not so in Sunset Overdrive. "You, as the player, have formerly worked in a dead-end job. You are not looking at a city that has been destroyed and is dark and gloomy. You're looking at a playground." Price calls the world of Sunset Overdrive an "awesomepocalypse."
Price is confident that when we do see gameplay for Sunset Overdrive, that the vision put forward in the E3 trailer by Murray and his co-creative director Marcus Smith (who were lead designer and creative director on Resistance 3 respectively) will correlate to how players interact with the world.
The agile movement, climbing and parkour are critical. And finding a balance between that deft traversal and combat with firearms and other tools is tricky. "It isn't an easy thing to pull off," Price said. "We're breaking away from the standard 'lock you to the ground' gameplay that we think is the norm for third-person and first-person shooters today." A crucial part of that formula is Insomniac's skill at creating fun and unique weapons.
We were told that in addition to a single-player, offline campaign, multiplayer is going to be an important piece of the experience, as is communication with the players. Part of what will facilitate the dialog with the community is a shift in Microsoft policies regarding content updates.
"On this generation, it's difficult to have a connection to players where we are getting information including likes and dislikes or actions and then respond quickly," Price said. "The hardware and the publishing policies prevent that kind of response when it comes to consoles."
Price told us that things are changing with the Xbox One for the better. "We are seeing a lot of the barriers, mechanical and in terms of policy between developers and players, are coming down," he explained. "This gives us a chance to make more regular changes and updates to the game based on what players are telling us and what we are observing them do. We'll have an opportunity to create a much more living world."
We asked if the changes to Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade patch fees is indicative of a more fluid (and cost effective) approach to growing game content. "That is what we understand, but I can't comment on Microsoft's policies," he shared.
A key aspect of Microsoft's strategy has been "the cloud," which Titanfall's Respawn Entertainment recently demystified, explaining how it's helping the development process. Insomniac is planning on using Microsoft's data farms, too.
"Some of the hardcore data collection, correlation, and translation that we expect to do is difficult and takes a lot of horsepower, and that is one aspect of the cloud that is attractive to us," Price told us. As for whether they'll be tapping into that power for single-player, he is confident it won't happen.
"Our intent is that you will be able to play the single-player without an online connection," he explained. "The game will be updated with content we expect that all players will want. You won't be able to access that without an online connect." In other words, the way you access new single-player content now is how you'll do it when Sunset Overdrive arrives.
Price did share his thoughts on the benefit of offloaded processing. "When people say 'cloud' it's one of those broad terms that mean many things," he said. "How we use the cloud depends on the genre, depends on the audience, and it depends on the state of the hardware behind the cloud. We're learning that new opportunities and ideas are popping up every month when we discover how we can take aspects of the game offline [to the cloud]. We are going to be relying on heavy backend services to churn through the data we get from players to understand what they're telling us and what they're doing in the game."
Price sees a bright future in cloud computing and Microsoft's vision for how developers will use it. "The potential of the cloud for console developers is pretty large," he stated. "Over the next five or six years, it's one of those technologies that will change in meaning as we see more games come out and take innovative approach to the more and more offline processing that's available."
"It is proven that cloud services can improve products and services in other areas, so it's cool that games are starting to take advantage of it," Price told us, explaining that other industries have successfully integrated cloud computing to the benefit of industry and consumer alike.
"Looking at the world's approach to this now-massive amount of hardware we have that can be taken advantage of, these are things are going to change faster and faster. Not just for games, but for every industry. It's ultimately good for all of us who consume entertainment."