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inFamous: Second Son’s moral tree will bring out your inner jerk – interview

Monday, 6th January 2014 14:08 GMT By Dave Cook

inFamous: Second Son is the first big PS4 exclusive of 2014, and it’s going to deliver a personal experience for every individual. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with Nate Fox from Sucker Punch about morals, tech and persecution.

“Our game is absolutely in response to the kind of ‘fear mania’ surrounding the hunt for terrorism. It’s not that terrorists aren’t real or they’re horribly dangerous. We should be worried, but to fear your neighbour, to fear every day society and not embrace people while keeping a watchful eye out is something we’re trying to talk about in the game.”

For a while in the last generation, moral systems were all the rage. Mass Effect posed players with a plethora of tough, head-scratching conundrums, Fallout 3 asked you either detonate or disarm that bomb, and The Walking Dead has reduced many steel-hearted gamers to blubbering wrecks. It was a trend that began with relatively simplistic choices, but has since grown more complex.

Over time developers have learned how to add depth to the binary nature of moral choices. It’s no longer a simple split between good or bad decisions, blatantly marked so that you know right from wrong. Real emotional weight comes with throwing players into a snake pit of shrouded options and blind-siding them with unforeseen consequences later on in the plot. Those are the real puzzles that tug at the heart and drill guilt into the mind.

The lines between heroes and villains has become blurred, and this is something inFamous: Second Son developer Sucker Punch has woven neatly into its PS4 sandbox. Stace Harman recently quizzed director Nate Fox about the game’s moral choices on these very pages, but we recently spoke about it a little deeper over the phone. While the game will make clear when you’ve walked the ‘evil’ path, the consequences will not become apparent right away.

Fox explained that we’re living in a very different world compared to when the original inFamous launched, and that Second Son was influenced by real-world terrorist threats. The enemy is no longer depicted as a rogue state or army marching towards its target, but perpetrators veiled in plain sight, indistinguishable from your neighbour. They’re ordinary people often fuelled by extraordinary circumstances, strong beliefs or oppression. They’re people like Delsin Rowe.

Second Son begins seven years after inFamous 2, and the world is gripped in a state of fear. Conduits are routinely hunted and punished like criminals by an organisation called the Department of Unified Protection, so that those with super powers can’t use their abilities for evil. Because Conduits are indistinguishable from other humans, everyone is a potential threat, leading to an existence governed by security checks, suspicion and control. It’s a poignant setting, especially after recent surveillance leaks out of the NSA and GCHQ.

“Our game is absolutely in response to the kind of ‘fear mania’ surrounding the hunt for terrorism,” Fox explained. “It’s not that terrorists aren’t real or they’re horribly dangerous. We should be worried, but to fear your neighbour, to fear every day society and not embrace people while keeping a watchful eye out is something we’re trying to talk about in the game.”

This theme serves as the foundation of Delsin’s relationship with his brother Reggie, an ordinary cop thrust suddenly into a world of super powers and conflict. It’s clear from the inFamous: Second Son trailers that Delsin actively begins a crusade against the DUP and the established order, bringing anarchy and terror to the city streets. Reggie’s beliefs and his commitment to both law and order in a world gone haywire will be tested depending on the player’s moral compass.

“Most of them play first as a good guy because we’ve been conditioned by society not to speed and help old ladies cross the street. But then they play through again, and they’re the most evil sons-of-guns you’ve ever met. They enjoy being evil, but they’ve got to get the good guy experience out of their systems before they allow themselves to be the jerks they are in their heart.”

Fox added, “The relationship between our hero Delsin and his older brother Reggie is very core to the story because Reggie represents the common man, and their attitude towards anyone who’s different – in this case – anyone with these powers who are kind of demonised in the inFamous world. Throughout the course of the game, depending on what sort of person you are, you change not only Reggie’s attitude, but the attitudes of society about anyone who’s different.”

You’ll see the pair squabble in the game, and Fox stressed that with the power of PlayStation 4 behind his team, Sucker Punch has crafted a visually arresting world filled with civilians that react tangibly to Delsin’s presence. If you prod the city, it will kick back in various ways, underlined by convincing facial capture from star Troy Baker and the rest of Second Son’s ensemble cast. All of this combined with a story about super powers should have resulted in a wildly abstract premise, but Fox stressed that the aim was to keep everything as grounded as possible.

“We’ve always said that the inFamous series is about an everyday guy who gets super powers and decides if he wants to use them for good or evil, “Fox continued, “and that’s still true in Second Son – except – we’ve tried even harder to make the world relatable, true and grounded so that these super powers are plausible, you believe in them. The game world does react to you. You make choices throughout the game with pretty serious consequences, so that serious choice and consequence theme is still there. You matter in that world.”

“Where we’re trying to break new ground on, frankly, is really integrated powers that are totally intuitive in how you use them,” he added. “We redesigned the control interface so that people who are not expert players can pull of spectacular moves, as well as putting time into trying to make our narrative as potent as possible. A lot of that comes from doing facial motion capture so we can get these very nuances performances from the actors. All of those things come together to make it easier to get sucked into the screen and lose yourself in the moment which, with anything next-gen, it’s got to be that, right?”

Fox revealed that Sucker Punch took its control cues from skateboarding games, which are known for gripping players in an almost hypnotic flow as they trick and combo their way across the environment. The same is true of Delsin’s smoke and neon powers – as well as some unannounced abilities that the team doesn’t want to spoil pre-launch. Fox wants you to feel like Spider-Man, swinging through New York at break-neck speed, feeling brilliant as you go. That fun, however, will hit moral choke-points now and then, dragging you back into a position of grave responsibility.

He explained that the branching narrative paths will result in a tailored personal experience forged by the individual. “The choices you make along the way will not only impact Delsin’s story, but also the way that his powers mature and evolve, and the way other characters around you evolve and change. It’s very, very different. You’ve got to play the game twice to see it all.”

Once you make your decision the game will let you know through various methods if your choice rested on the good or evil side of the moral fence, but again, just how this will impact your progress and the world state down the line won’t be immediately clear. That feeling of not knowing exactly what you’ve just done, and suspecting that something ugly or perhaps even righteous is about to happen out of nowhere will drive players on.

“We try and make it pretty clear when you’ve done something evil,” he added, “mainly because it really sucks when it’s nebulous. It’s not fun to feel like, ‘Well I think I did the right thing in that videogame,’ because there’s so much you have to understand about the rules of the world, your abilities, what the mission is asking you and all of that stuff. We try to cut down on ambiguity as much as possible, but at the same time we try to put situations in front of the player that are frankly tough, because that’s what games are good for; they can transport you to places you’ve never been and let you do things you’ve never done before.”

From what Fox has seen in play-testing, everyone plays nice at first. Once the end credits roll they hop back in and become total jerks. “We do our damnedest to make it fun in both directions, but in my opinion you’ve got to play the game twice to really experience inFamous: Second Son. I know from watching people play the game, that most of them play first as a good guy because we’ve been conditioned by society not to speed and help old ladies cross the street.

“But then they play through again, and they’re the most evil sons-of-guns you’ve ever met. They enjoy being evil, but they’ve got to get the good guy experience out of their systems before they allow themselves to be the jerks they are in their heart.”

As something of a tease, Fox recalled that when deciding which of inFamous 2′s endings to carry over to Second Son, the studio looked at the trophy data to see which of the two people picked most. The same practice will be used in the PS4 title and will inform the team where it goes next. He hinted, “We’re absolutely going to be looking at trophy data to see where we go next but I couldn’t tell you which trophies we’ll be looking at.”

While inFamous: Second Son labels its moral choices clearly, it’ll be interesting to see just how far they’ll impact the broader narrative. Fox promised two very different play-throughs depending on how you act, so it’s clear that though the initial decisions are well-signposted, the knock-on effects are not. I’m expecting many a plot twist already.

I had to close by asking Fox if he’d had a chance to play Saints Row 4 yet, primarily because of its melding of sandbox staples and super powers. He replied, “I haven’t had a chance to play it yet and I’m really excited to do it for two reasons. One, because Troy Baker is in the game and I love that guy, he’s a solid human being. Particularly, I hear that you get to play through the whole game with your avatar in the nude.”

He’s not wrong, but does playing nude make you good or evil? I guess that all depends.

inFamous: Second Son launches on PS4, March 21.

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22 Comments

  1. salarta

    Reading through this reminds me that I’ve had instances in some “moral choice” games where they were handled very, very poorly. The phrasing of a choice makes it look like it’s supposed to be good, but then once you pick it, the implication gets twisted into being the bad or evil one. Cases where the developers did it by accident due to oversight are annoying, but the ones where the developers do it intentionally just to screw with the player piss me off and I recall made me very nearly stop playing the game in the cases where it happened. Nothing sucks more than a game where the writer thinks they’re being clever by taking someone’s choice and turning it against them as if to make a statement.

    I couldn’t name which games because it’s only a vague memory, but I definitely remember my reaction.

    I’m keeping an eye on Second Son though. Not sure yet whether or not I’ll get it.

    #1 8 months ago
  2. KAP

    The best way to do the whole “Moral Choice” thing is to make every path/choice feel “grey”, that way it’s a way of truly messing with the gamer on a personal level, much like The Walking Dead did it.

    It’s much more interesting then ‘Delsin Rowe” chooses to kill X.. of course the gamer will choose not to at first… not much of a choice is it.

    #2 8 months ago
  3. fearmonkey

    I’m excited for this game, I have it pre-ordered, it’s my first Infamous game but It looks like I’ll love it. I really enjoyed Crackdown and the Prototype series, and it looks like it’s in that vein.

    #3 8 months ago
  4. JewyMcJew

    I must have played as both good and evil in Infamous 1&2 three times each (they are my absolute favorite games).

    Evil is much more fun because you can just tear the world apart. However, as strange as it sounds, you truly feel bad for your actions.

    Kudos to the team for making that happen!

    #4 8 months ago
  5. infernalism

    Moral choices? See: The Witcher series of games. ’nuff said.

    #5 8 months ago
  6. Clupula

    I find it very hard to play as “good” in the Infamous games. I just play as though I were in that situation and then games would tell me I was being “evil.” I’d try to replay, doing “good” choices, but they’d go so far against my nature, I couldn’t enjoy the game. Why should I care about the people of the Empire City or whatever they called New Orleans in 2? What have they done for me?And now that I have powers, what can they do about it?

    #6 8 months ago
  7. YoungZer0

    @6: I bet you think it’s cool that you think that way, but it would make you a really despicable human being if you think that way outside of videogames. I guess it’s always ‘me, me, me’ with you.

    #7 8 months ago
  8. Panthro

    Yeah Clupula your sounding like a right meanie right now.

    #8 8 months ago
  9. Legendaryboss

    @6
    Big Bully!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YsIyGgDUxg

    #9 8 months ago
  10. Clupula

    I’m good and kind and generous to people who are good to me. Been through too much in life, though, to believe the average stranger should receive my kindness. If I were to get superpowers tomorrow, you’d better believe the world would be in trouble.

    #10 8 months ago
  11. Gheritt White

    BLATANT SYSTEM SELLER.

    #11 8 months ago
  12. TOROi3

    I was only good because the powers were way better IMO.
    hopefully you get the same powers no matter what choices you make.

    #12 8 months ago
  13. Clupula

    @12 – No, that ruins it!

    #13 8 months ago
  14. pikafool

    @10: Stop acting like you’re the only one who has been through too much”in life. News Flash: It’s not just you but not everyone here is like you that he/she is only going to be good to a person if someone else is good to them. Have fun living a jaded life and you’re going to dead before you get superpowers lol

    #14 8 months ago
  15. Clupula

    @14 – Even longer than that, because, NEWS FLASH: They don’t exist in real life, you daft cunt, you. It’s called a videogame, you rampaging re-re. The point of the conversation is that I play the game how I’d act IF I GOT THOSE POWERS. I can play however I want. And you can lovingly cradle my balls in your mouth if you don’t like it.

    #15 8 months ago
  16. Telepathic.Geometry

    FWIW, the evil ending of Infamous 2 had a fucking awesome moment in it with Cole and his mate.

    I generally play good first time around, but the 2nd time, when you’re doing it on Hard, it’s nice to not have to worry about collateral damage. And it’s nice to have more destructive, loose cannon type powers.

    I hope they’ll get this right with Second Sons too. Give the good powers more precision and finesse, the ability to save people, and give the bad powers more power and less restraint, overall more brutality.

    Have this fucker preordered on amazon already. Not even sure when I’ll get a PS4 yet either, but it might be when this game comes out…

    #16 8 months ago
  17. Ireland Michael

    @15 Uuuh… wow. Just… yeah, wow.

    #17 8 months ago
  18. Telepathic.Geometry

    Clupula, any supervillain, no matter how powerful is susceptible to a vicious bite to the auld ballsack. If the enemy were to find some way to get close enough to execute such an attack…

    #18 8 months ago
  19. Clupula

    @18 – Well, not just a supervillain. Anyone. We all have exploitable weaknesses. I know exactly what mine are. But being it is not a situation likely to happen in reality, all of us can rest easy. Non of you need fear my evil electric powers anymore than anyone need fear me blowing up the bomb in the center of their town.

    #19 8 months ago
  20. Clupula

    Also, the teabagging was metaphoric.

    #20 8 months ago
  21. Ireland Michael

    Of course it was.

    We believe you.

    *crosses fingers*

    #21 8 months ago
  22. Clupula

    Hey, I’m trying to be a gentleman about Pikafool. ;)

    #22 8 months ago

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