Creating New Marais: City Design in Infamous 2
In a lot of games, the environment is just a backdrop for the action. Sucker Punch knows that the city in Infamous 2, however, will need to serve a great purpose. It needs to be a part of the action. Since Infamous 2 is an open-world game, and since players will be repeatedly passing by certain landmarks, its city needs to have a unique visual identity that feels fresh even after several hours of exploration. And since players will also be climbing over every window and chimney in Infamous 2’s fictional New Marais, Sucker Punch has to make sure its city is solidly constructed. How does the team balance all the challenges of making a fictional world against ensuring that its game will be fun? We talked with Sucker Punch’s art team, and they ran us through the elaborate process of building a city from scratch.
When the team first started work on Infamous 2, they knew they wanted a city that was visually distinct from the first game’s Empire City. The team looked at some international cities like London and Johannesburg, but ultimately settled on the city of New Orleans because it offered a good diversity of urban districts and unique architecture. New Orleans is alive with its array of vegetation and swampland, but it also offers some vibrant culture zones such as its above-ground cemeteries and the colorful French Quarter. The team also felt that New Orleans’ verandas and small alleyways would offer some unique platforming opportunities.
Painting The City
After a location is picked, the team immediately starts collecting art reference materials for all the various city districts they’d like to see in the game. Whatever can’t be referenced with photos will be sketched out by internal artists. The fun part of building a new city is combining various art styles. A traditional gothic structure might not fit perfectly into Infamous 2’s world, but if they team mixes gothic traditions with Victorian or Spanish flourishes they might end up with something that is visually striking and fun to climb over. Another challenge will be blending the various districts within New Marais. In a real city there are several miles between a city’s slum district and its financial center, but for a game the team will have to blend these two zones together in only a few blocks, and they’ll have to do it in a way that doesn’t seem jarring to the player.
Hex Marks The Spot
Since Sucker Punch is a relatively small team, it has to creatively use its manpower to create a city where every district feels different. New Marais is broken up into a grid of hexes. These hexes are modular, so they can be moved freely around the city. Roads and alleys generally run along the sides of each hex, with the buildings, shops, and other structures taking up their center. What this means for practical purposes is that Sucker Punch can duplicate a few base hexes then move them to other parts of the city; after both sections of the city have been built up with additional aesthetic trimmings, players won’t notice the duplication.
Bringing It All Together
Once the city has been roughed out, level designers will come in and start placing missions within the environment. At this point, the team will add extra accessories to the buildings, such as extra platforming pieces or wires for Cole to grind between buildings. In some cases buildings might have to be reworked to accommodate a specific mission. In this way, artists and designers go back and forth, lowering and raising a structure or adding more platforms for Cole to climb on until they feel that the game has reached a fun balance. Sucker Punch told us the whole process to create a city from scratch takes about two weeks. Of course, they started laughing at us immediately after that.