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inFamous: Second Son

Posted on November 6, 2013 AT 02:19pm

Second Sons of Anarchy

Change. It’s the promise our sitting President offered during his initial campaign, and it’s the promise that Sucker Punch is making for their first PlayStation 4 title, inFamous: Second Son.

Like the debates between political parties over that first assurance of change, emotions may be mixed on whether course adjustments are what’s wanted or needed for Sony’s action series about superpower-wielding everymen. Beloved protagonist Cole MacGrath has been replaced by a cocksure upstart, fictional cities have given way for a videogame interpretation of real-world Seattle, and our concept of what constitutes a superpower is now being directly challenged.

The men and women of the Emerald City who make up Sucker Punch believe in the change they’re bringing to Second Son—and the idea that you shouldn’t be afraid of taking risks.

“I think you just decide that, if you’re going to make mistakes, you want to make mistakes in the right direction,” producer and Sucker Punch co-founder Brian Fleming tells me. “You don’t want to be too conservative. If you’re trying to decide if it’s OK to change this thing, then the answer is: Why not try changing it?”

Riot Act

Making changes to the inFAMOUS franchise might make players a bit nervous, given the importance it holds to both Sucker Punch and Sony—especially when that change is directed at a new chapter of the series intended to help lead the charge of the PS4. Gamers around the globe need to be convinced that they can’t live without Sony’s shiny new hardware, so why not go with something safe that would be a guaranteed success?

“We have the opportunity now to push the gameplay further than we would’ve been able to on the PlayStation 3, so we couldn’t have left the gameplay the same and moved to a new platform,” Second Son lead designer Jaime Griesemer explains. “Speaking specifically to being on new hardware, it’s an opportunity to reach a new audience, so we wanted to make sure that Second Son was a good entry point to the franchise.”

Not Just a Pretty Next-Gen Face

It’s clear that one obvious advantage the PlayStation 4 will be bringing to next-generation games is far more power when it comes to crafting gorgeous, detailed visuals. Beyond that obvious point, however, I wondered what some of the smaller, less-obvious benefits inFAMOUS: Second Son would be getting from Sony’s new console.

When I asked game director Nate Fox, his response came quick and with an almost childlike glee.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he begins. “In God of War III,  at one point, the game asks you to push your thumbs through another guy’s eyeball sockets, and it does so by having you mimic the exact move by pressing down on the two analog sticks. It’s spooky, man. It’s spooky, because you feel like you’re doing the thing that’s in the game screen, but you, in your body, you feel it. It’s so analog. For us, with the touchpad, it’s an opportunity to have the player doing the exact same thing—for occasional, very specific hits—that Delsin is doing with his arms.”

Meanwhile, lead designer Jaime Griesemer had a more technical answer—yet one that will no doubt be music to the ears of those who took issue with two particular buttons on the PlayStation 3’s controller.

“A great example is the L2 and R2 buttons. We couldn’t even use the DualShock 3’s triggers for the main attack in the first two inFAMOUS games, because it just wasn’t comfortable to use them repeatedly under pressure. But the new triggers are fantastic, so that’s where our main combat powers are going.”

Everyone at Sucker Punch emphasizes that sentiment of trying to craft a “clean break” for the series so that new fans can come along for the ride. Of course, that isn’t to say that longtime inFAMOUS players aren’t going to find a lot to love here. Griesemer references revisions and refinements to gameplay both big and small, such as the push to blend world traversal and attacks together in a more seamless, natural way.

There’s another reason for all of the newness that players will find in Second Son: the team’s desire to keep the series feeling fresh and fun.

“I think we were in a spot where we wanted to make sure if we did a third game, we had a great reason to do it,” Fleming says. “I didn’t want to make a game—and I don’t think the people here wanted to make a game—just to crank out a third inFAMOUS game. We wanted to have a good reason. So, when you’re looking at a new character on a new console, and you get to go do a new origin story—which is one of the best things you can ever do in this genre—that’s a good reason to go do a title.”

Delsin in Chains

The biggest, most central change instantly apparent in Second Son is its new hero, 24-year-old graffiti artist Delsin Rowe. It’s hard not to think back to the development of inFAMOUS 2, where fans of the first game had very mixed reactions to the redesign of thenleading man Cole. If players were that outraged by a revised character design, wouldn’t it be crazy to completely replace him?

Turns out, it’s the players that made that decision.

“The real insight came when we started looking up player Trophies,” explains Second Son game director Nate Fox. “At the end of inFAMOUS 2, we asked players if they wanted to kill Cole or keep him alive, and we found the majority of players decided to sacrifice him heroically. That told us, as the makers of the game, that it’s all about choice and consequence, and we wanted to honor that—so we decided to make a whole new hero.”

“Everyone has shot every possible gun that you could possibly invent, and everyone has driven every car that you could invent. Our job is to find new things to challenge”
—Producer and Sucker Punch co-founder Brian Fleming

The team knew they had certain needs and desired directions for that new main character, and ideas started to formulate. Whereas Cole had always felt the burden of his powers and the responsibility that came with them, Delsin would instead bring a very different mentality. He’s excited by what they can do, the opportunities they give him, and he holds a more youthful, carefree attitude about everything. “What if Johnny Knoxville got superhuman abilities? What would that guy be like?” Fleming asks with a laugh.

He then points out an aspect of Delsin’s development that might not instantly be obvious. While crafting a whole new character definitely brings a list of challenges, the fact that Sucker Punch could work that new protagonist into an already established series certainly helped the process.

“When we were designing Cole, we didn’t even understand the universe,” he explains. “If you’re trying to develop all of that simultaneously, it can be tough. This time, we understood the universe.”

Drain You

Understanding the inFAMOUS universe also means understanding superpowers and how they work, and one surprising reveal for Second Son was the move away from the more stereotypical mutations towards less familiar options, such as Delsin’s smoke abilities. That won’t be all that our new hero can control, however, as Delsin’s true gift is being able to absorb powers from other superhuman Conduits.

And if you thought smoke was an unexpected superpower to have, Delsin’s next skill is even more out there: the ability to control neon light, taken from a female Conduit named Fetch Walker. I mention to Fox that Delsin’s superpowers feel very modern and unique in their design—he agrees—and ask why Second Son is going this route versus the more traditional offerings such as fire, ice, or electricity.

“One thing we’re always bringing in inFAMOUS is having the powers be part of the urban landscape. We’re making a game that takes place right now, not 300 years ago. And what are the things you see around you when you walk outside your door? What are the elements that make up the urban world?”

“Part of our job in making this game is not to do things that everyone has seen before,” Fleming adds when I ask him the same question. “Everyone has shot every possible gun that you could possibly invent, and everyone has driven every car that you could invent. Our job is to find new things, to challenge ourselves creatively and narratively to come up with new powers, new stories. It’s the foundation of this game—the powers the hero has. It’s the most important area for us to be creative.”

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got started via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as can realistically be crammed in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk Eric on Twitter: @Eric_EGM. Meet the rest of the crew.

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