If you’ve seen our coverage or listened to an episode or two of the DarkCast, then you’ll know that we really enjoyed Saints Row: The Third. A lot. Like, a whole lot. Over the top gameplay, hilarious madcap activities, a great cast and a sprawling open world to play in made Saints Row a pleasurable experience for us here at Darkstation. We got the opportunity to chat with Lead Designer Scott Phillips who took the time to give us a bit of insight regarding the development of 2011’s craziest video game. Saints Row: The Third has an “everything and the kitchen sink” feel to in-game content. Did you allow the entire staff to throw out ideas whenever they got them or was there a more ordered approach? In other words, who got props for suggesting a giant marital aid be made into a weapon? Driving around town with a live tiger in the passenger seat?
We definitely let everyone on the team have a voice but in general ideas are initially generated within the design group. We held a lot of brainstorming meetings early on in the project to develop every gameplay concept and many of the most ridiculous elements in SR3 came out of those meetings. We always request feedback and want as much interaction from the team as possible as we want to cast as wide a net as possible for great ideas to draw from, it doesn’t matter where they come from.
The tiger riding in the back seat mechanic came from one of those brainstorming meetings and was heavily influenced by the movie Talladega Nights.
As with a lot of great ideas the dildo bat started as not much more than one idea in a laundry list for melee weapons. As it was developed and passed from one developer to the next it began to take on a life of its own. Once we all saw what it had become -a big floppy weapon in the players’ hands- we knew that it was something that players would latch onto because it was just so ridiculously fun to use.
Saints Row: The Third had some of the most hilarious, insane, and eclectic levels I’ve experienced in a game of this genre. After everything you’ve done in the previous two games, how did you brainstorm some of the game’s craziest moments - specifically http://deckers.de?
The Cyberspace mission, as we usually called it here, actually was one of the last missions to really get finalized. We had a concept for it for several months that was pretty standard combat and a finale sort of battle with Matt Miller (the leader of the Deckers gang). However near the end of Pre-Production at the tail end of a design brainstorming meeting someone brought up the idea that the mission should take place in a cyberspace world because the only way to defeat someone as powerful in virtual reality as Matt Miller was to go into his world and take it from him. Almost immediately I knew this was a fantastic idea and we had to do it.
Once we had that concept for the mission it was an amazing avenue with which to integrate every possible idea we had for this context: a throw-back top down tank game, a fun text adventure mini-game, the player being transformed into a toilet, and a crazy boss battle with a giant dragon as well as plenty of others. This mission was really a great example of a great concept and the freedom allowed by Saints Row providing a catalyst for lots of interesting ideas to be squeezed into a single mission.
The reveal of Burt Reynolds as the mayor of Steelport was certainly surprising! Did you have him in mind for the role from the beginning or was he a last minute casting choice?
Burt was actually the first and only person we talked about being the real-world Mayor of Steelport. The idea came from our Producer who felt like that sort of ridiculous concept, a real world person being the actual mayor of our fictional city, would fit perfectly with the humor and style of Saints Row.
Johnny Gat has been a major character in the Saint’s Row franchise. Was it difficult for the team to kill him off?
Absolutely. We wanted to have a moment near the beginning of the game that would be the catalyst for the coming conflict with the Morningstar. Having them kill Johnny Gat was the strongest way we could think of to draw the Players’ hatred onto the Morningstar.
When we presented the story to the team there was certainly a sense of shock and surprise when we got to that moment. The team here is very close to the characters we’ve carried forward throughout the Saints Row games, with Gat being the obvious highlight. So talking about killing him off triggered a lot of concern and discussion on the team. In the end I think everyone realized why we did it and understood that it was a powerful catalyst for the conflict in the game. Though I’m sure there are still a lot of people who wished we hadn’t done it. Perhaps that will be resolved in some manner in the future…
Playing through numerous activities and diversions has certainly become a trademark of Saints Row: The Third (Insurance Fraud has to be my absolute favorite). Were there diversions that you wanted to include but were left out due to time constraints or, perhaps, they were “a bit much”?
There were definitely a lot of things we prototyped that ultimately didn’t make it into the game. Almost exclusively we had to cut things because we didn’t have the time to finish them properly as the idea just got too big.
The only real example I can think of where we ditched an idea that simply wasn’t turning out to be fun was our ‘Pub Crawl’ activity. The idea was that you’d meet up with Saints around the city, get drunk (or otherwise intoxicated), and then have to get into your vehicle (car, helicopter, airplane, etc.) and do tasks around the city while in an inebriated state. I still think it could’ve turned into a fun activity, but at some point we had to stop chasing the fun and realize that we had a limited amount of time and needed to focus on activities that we already knew were fun.
The game doesn’t shy away from sexual content. At anytime did THQ suggest that some of the content would be unsuitable, forcing you to tone it down or were you given free reign to include whatever you wanted?
I don’t believe THQ stepped in at any point and said we couldn’t do something. There were definitely some things where we were a bit uncertain whether we’d get pushback, like the sex appeal slider, or the dildo bat. But ultimately THQ let us do what we wanted.
The one related thing that I am disappointed didn’t make it into the game was a swinging black bar for the players’, ah, ‘dangle’ as it were. We had a solution to the problem of being able to actually see a very roughly simulated penis, which our QA team had found. But ultimately we didn’t have time to implement it before the game had to go to the ESRB for rating, so we had to pull out the dangling black sensor bar.
How do you go about deciding on what kind of clothing and costumes to make available in the game’s many in-game stores? While bondage gear and lingerie was expected, I admit I was surprised to see steampunk themed clothing.
A lot of back and forth and Google Imagesearch is usually how we decide. The art team starts with a big brainstorming list of what they’d like to create, while also pulling ideas from the team and from the community. From there they widdle that down to what they think is going to be most versatile and coolest. Then design, production, and art get together and continue refining down to what is going to be best for the game and accomplish the overall goals and fit best within the themes being pushed for the game.
I believe steampunk came about because we wanted a couple off the wall/wacky clothing options. That one rose to the top as a sort of cult idea that has some growing popularity and mainstream acknowledgement.
Saints Row: The Third’s visual style was a nice blend between urban realism and cartoonish exaggeration. Will future iterations of Saints Row continue with this look or do you see a push for a more realistic-looking game world?
I’m glad you liked the visual style! It was a very intentional mixing of various styles so as to retain some realistic qualities while also not aiming for photo-realism. We coined the term Exaggereal internally meaning roughly “exaggerated-reality” to describe it. If you’re heading to GDC 2012 in San Francisco be sure to look for the talk by Frank Marquart, the SR3 Art Director as he’ll break down the style and how it was developed.
As far as what any potential future Saints Row games would look like, the only thing I can say is that I’m sure we’ll consider all of our options and then make what we feel is the best decision.
Saints Row: The Third had a colorful cast of great characters. The two that stand out for me the most are Kenzie and Zimos (and his amazing autotune voicebox). Was there a favorite character among the developers?
I think every developer has their own favorites. Definitely a lot of people here would agree with you that Kinzie and Zimos are two of the most popular. Zimos’ voice box was a great hook to give his 70’s pimp persona a bit of an edge and unique quality. It also made for some good jokes in-game.
It’s been fun for us to see the relationship between Kinzie and Oleg show up in some very interesting fan art. It’s always the goal to create memorable characters that people associate with and want to know more about.
The relationship between Pierce and Shaundi has also been a big developer favorite too. Over the course of SR2 to SR3 they have a fun brother-sister sort of relationship with the Player being the ball-busting parent in that mix.
Saint’s Row: The Third ended up being one of our staff favorites here at Darkstation.com, we are dying to know Is there a fourth game in the future or will you be concentrating on DLC?
Fantastic! I’m really glad to hear you liked it! SR3 was a labor of love for 3 years and took a huge team to deliver and I’m personally quite proud of the game.
Here at Volition we’ve got several projects on-going right now. Some are announced, like team creating SR3’s DLC (which should be hitting every few months over 2012), and several of which are unannounced. I can’t really say anything about any future games in the SR franchise, but with 3.8 million units shipped to date I think you can make your own assumptions about whether there’ll be more craziness yet to come.
A big thanks to Scott Phillips for his time!
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.