WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!
I'm Roje Smith, I'm the associate producer at Volition, and I'm the lead producer for the multiplayer component.
WP: There's quite a big change in the multiplayer in Saints Row 1 to the multiplayer in Saints Row 2. Everything from the lobbies to the game modes have been switched up a bit. Can you give us a little insight as to how you guys attacked that? Did you look at the original and try to identify what you could make better? Did you look at the original, identify the problems and remove them? Did you start from scratch?
RS: One of our first goals was to create an open-world multiplayer experience without fragmenting a lot of our players. We had an early model, where we had the world pretty much open, and in the play test, everyone was getting lost, no one really knew where they were going. I got report after report after negative report about, "This isn't working." So we took a step back and thought about what we have here that works. We have activities, and each activity should be able to hold its own as a multiplayer mode. That was one of our first goals. Then we also had this tagging mechanic that didn't seem to really work. So we tried to marry the two to have activities that roll in and out like mini-modes, and a tagging mechanic, but we didn't really know exactly what to do with the tagging mechanic at that point. One of my designers, Lorcan Murphy, thought of abilities that you could assign to all the teams from the tag spots, and right there, we realized, that's the mode, we have it now. As far as actually setting up the levels instead of giving them the whole world, we took neighborhoods — and neighborhoods are big enough and feel open-world enough that we felt it would satisfy the open-world gameplay experience that we're looking for.
WP: What was the feel that you were going for? You've got the gang warfare, fighting for turf, and there have been lots of gang stories in movies and books in the past. Is this more "Godfather"? Is this more "Scarface"? What was your inspiration?
RS: Honestly, I'd have to say it's more like "Gangs of New York." It's chaotic. If you've seen "Gangs of New York," it's chaotic. Guys are just coming at you with all types of weapons, and guys are going at each other with any means necessary in order to take your enemy out. The action in that movie is reminiscent of the action in Strongarm [mode]. It's chaotic. One minute, you're shooting at someone, someone runs you over with a car, you respond. The next minute, someone blows you up. The next minute, someone is shooting an airplane from a museum, and the airplane drops down on you. It's all types of different things that can happen, all types of different ways you can kill your opponent, so to me, the best movie comparison would be "Gangs of New York." It is total chaos, and everyone is just out there, trying to fight for their teammate in order to take over the neighborhood.
WP: In a traditional deathmatch mode, everyone is just running around and shooting each other up, but in Strongarm, you've got a fully active pedestrian system. How do the pedestrians affect gameplay? Are there any NPCs? Will the police come and shoot at you? Are they just there to be extra targets, to score points? How do they affect the competition?
RS: As far as pedestrians are concerned, they're pretty much there for window dressing, basically, to add to the overall feel of an open-world environment. Now in terms of the cops, we have a "police" tag, which is part of our tagging system. When you acquire that tag, four cops show up in a cop car and it pretty much makes it an eight-on-four match because they are very brutal, like most Stilwater police are, and they will take you out. In my experience, I was doing a play test with QA, and the cops were that bad, and every time, I thought, "Wow, the cops are rough!" So we realized that this is pretty cool because the cops are there, and you guys can take the cop car if you want because more will show up anyway (laughs). They just keep coming and coming and coming. They don't stop chasing you until your team takes over that tag back, or whichever team owns it. That's how cops play into the picture. They won't actually be driving through in the vehicle system, they only show up if you summon them, almost like a strong-arm method, no pun intended.
WP: A lot of Saints Row is based on how much you've unlocked in the single-player mode. When you jump into multiplayer, do you have immediate access to all the weapons? Or if I don't have the rocket launcher in my crib yet, will I not have access to it in multiplayer?
RS: It's all there in multiplayer, all there. Every weapon you can think of, it's all there. You can set up your match anywhere you want. If you want to have annihilator rockets or regular rockets with satchel charges, or assault rifles with grenade launcher attachments, go for it. We're not going to stop you. You have all the weapons at your disposal in multiplayer.
WP: One multiplayer mode that you haven't mentioned: Is Protect the Pimp going to return in Saints Row 2? If not, why did you guys decide to cut it out?
RS: Unfortunately, Protect the Pimp will not be returning. When we tried to take this new shift to the open-world multiplayer experience, we realized that we really couldn't bring back these modes by themselves. So we decided to try something new, and take the single-player activities, make multiplayer versions of them, and have them roll in and out so people can really get the continuity from the single-player going over to multiplayer. The thing about Protect the Pimp is, it isn't really a single-player element, so technically, we didn't really want to run with that. This time around, we wanted to present something new, a mode that the community has not seen yet, we have a lot of elements, like this huge mega mode, that's what we're really pushing for. Unfortunately, Protect the Pimp had to get cut for that.
WP: Obviously in the development of multiplayer mode, you must have played quite a bit of the single-player game. From a personal standpoint, what really stood out with you when playing through Saints Row 2? What was a really cool single-player moment or a really neat mission that you enjoyed?
RS: There was one mission in the Sons of Samedi mission arc that I found particularly interesting. It's pretty much wave after wave after wave after wave of soldiers. During that time, it's like you're drugged up, and you have this druggy haze around you while you're shooting around. It was pretty intense because you wonder when the waves will stop. It has to stop at some time. I found it very exciting because I like a lot of intense action. It made me feel like I'm at a choke point, I'm up against the wall and I've really got to protect my area, so that for me was a really exciting mission in single-player.
WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about in multiplayer that you wanted to add?
RS: We have a very cool, interactive lobby system. One thing we did not like was being in a lobby where it's just static text, you sit around, you're bored, and some young kid's typically talking trash to you. I just want to get in the game right now and blow him away. What we do is, we put you in a lobby right now, so he won't be able to just sit there and when the match starts, he just runs away from you. He's right there. So I can have a shotgun and he's talking a lot of trash, I don't like him. Boom, see ya. And then you can remind him that the match hasn't started yet, but once it does, the same thing's going to happen to him: shotgun to the face every single time. We found it to be a very satisfying experience while people wait. When people are sitting in lobbies and waiting for other people to set up a game, they get impatient when there's nothing to do. When there's something to do and people are running around, people almost forget that the match hasn't started yet because you're blowing each other to bits. That's something that we've found to be pretty cool.
Another thing we got is our ranking system. You'll notice 12 ranks: New Jack to King of Kingpins. You basically increase rank as you get more money in multiplayer.
We also have these performance badges. The way you play Strongarm, we award you with a certain badge that you can display on the pre-game load screen that show people what your true abilities are. So if you're really good at headshots, you get a Brain Surgeon tag. If you're like me and you shoot anything that moves, emptying out clip after clip after clip, you become Trigger-Happy. If you're someone who likes to shoot people in the crotch all the time, you get a Nut Job badge. If you're a person who likes to do a lot of vehicular homicide, running over people, we'll give you a Road Rage badge.
We have a bunch of badges to award people for the way they play Strongarm, so they can further expand their identity through that with the customization because they can choose which earned badge that they want to display in a match. When a pre-game load screen comes up, someone can see, "Oh that guy's Trigger-Happy, he's going to shoot all over the place." Or "That guy's a Brain Surgeon, and there's a sniper rifle on this map, too." This is bad. You don't want to have a sniper rifle on a map with someone who's known as a Brain Surgeon because chances are, your brain's going to be everywhere on the map. The badge system, especially the performance badge system, will be a very successful new element for our Saints Row 2 multiplayer.
Saints Row 2 is set years after the original Saints Row in a Stilwater both familiar and strange. The explosive conclusion to Saints Row has left the player wounded, betrayed and thirsty for revenge, and now it's time to take back the city that has forgotten him. A sequel to the first open-world title on next-generation consoles, Saints Row 2 features all new customization options, including gender, age, voice, crib and gang customization. The sandbox just got larger with a totally transformed and expanded city of Stilwater, offering all new locations to explore with new vehicles, including motorcycles, boats, helicopters and planes. Saints Row 2 will be playable online in 2-player co-op through the entire single-player campaign or in the all new open-world competitive multiplayer mode never before seen in the genre.
Saints Row 2, developed by Volition, Inc., will be available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC on October 14, 2008.
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