Sucker Punch’s Nate Fox on bigger brothers & inFamous: Second Son’s “reality bubble”
Remember in school when you found it impossible to imagine your teacher having any sort of existence outside the classroom? It’s easy think that way in most open-world videogames – there might be life in the city, but not a pulse, a sense that any inhabitant continues to exist when they leave your field of vision. inFamous: Second Son dev Sucker Punch actually has a term for this: the ‘reality bubble’.
“We have a term inside the studio called The Reality Bubble,” says the game’s creative director Nate Fox. “We don’t want it to feel like when [our hero] Delsin leaves the block, everything goes away. So we actually have things going on. There are more systems running concurrently than ever before – the urban ecosystem, all these pedestrians interacting with each other in ways that fill out their attitudes about what’s going on in the city. This is something new to Second Son that we’ve never tried in the previous two inFamous games.”
A location change sees Second Son pack up and moved to the real-world setting of Seattle, which conveniently happens to be in the developer’s backyard. You could argue that this is the inFamous series undergoing the same mainstream friendly migration that superheroes have undertaken in the wider media landscape, typified by the decision to leave Wolverine’s yellow jumpsuit in the closet in the X-Men films. That way Hugh Jackman doesn’t have to look like a grown man intent on year-round trick-or-treating when he should have be saving the world. In the same way here Cole’s game character like design – clear colours, backpack and distinct melee weapons – have been replaced by Delsin’s more down to earth ensemble and chain. Arguably a sign that PS4 is able to render a worlds and its inhabitants without the overt visual language needed in the last generation.
When you arrive in Second Son’s Seattle to find it locked down by a governmental agency known as the Department of Unified Protection, the motion comics of the first game begin to feel like a distant memory. But don’t worry – just because the tone is a bit more serious doesn’t mean Sucker Punch wants you to feel like you’re being force-fed vegetables at the dinner table. The studio’s virtual city will be a superhero’s playground first and a coastal seaport second.
“We take reality and change it to make a fun game. All landmarks, all aspects of architecture go through the lens of game design to make them function perfectly against Delsin’s powers”
“We prioritised making the game as fun as possible,” says Fox. “So we don’t model buildings just because that’s what they look like in reality. We take reality and then change it to make a really fun game. All landmarks, all aspects of architecture go through the lens of game design to make them function perfectly against Delsin’s powers”.
“Seattle has a pretty dramatic landscape. There are big mountains and clouds that come in and streak through the sky, and rainfalls that arrive, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s a place that’s constantly changing, which makes it feel like a good landscape for a superhero.”
The game’s protagonist Delsin Rowe is the second son in more ways than you might think. In terms of the larger inFamous series, he’s the successor to Cole MacGrath – the lead from the first two games – but the title has a much more literal connotation as well. The sibling relationship between Delsin and his older brother Reggie will be the emotional fission reactor at the story’s narrative core. Reggie is handsome and successful, while Delsin is a struggling artist who looks like he hasn’t changed his knit cap, denim jacket and trousers in at least a week (come to think of it, lethal body odour would certainly be an original, if not particularly endearing, superpower).
The inferiority complex that goes along with having a close friend or sibling consistently outperforming you is one that players can relate to, and the game’s creative director is himself drawing on personal experience. “I too have an older brother who’s the winner in the family – a successful attorney,” Fox confesses. “Even if you don’t have an older brother, you know what this is like, it’s just human experience. It’s not like you hate him. You love him, but man you just want to succeed.”
If you’ve seen a single trailer for the game, you know that actor Troy Baker – best known for his work as Joel in The Last of Us and most recently as everyone’s favourite villain The Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins – will play the role of Delsin. And you know this because, for the first time, Second Son’s impressive capture tech has bottled the man’s likeness, not just his voice and body behaviour. This is an exciting step given the fact that cutscenes will play a significant role in Second Son, and ought to make fuller use of Baker’s acting talents. Adding to the dramatic chemistry is the fact that he and Travis Willingham, who plays Delsin’s brother Reggie, also happen to be best friends in real life. Convenient, that.
“The thing that’s great is that these guys have a relationship that goes back years and years,” Fox adds. “They trust each other, they love each other and that comes off really well inside inFamous: Second Son. It was an absolute pleasure to be on the mo-cap set with them. You were constantly surprised at what these guys were bringing to the table. It was a buffet, man. There were just so many good takes to choose from later on.”
Open-world games are vast, sprawling places and can be difficult to really get your arms around. For Second Son to succeed it needs to not just get Seattle right, it also has to be able to make you care when it’s zoomed all the way in, too. Hence our tale of two siblings.