Stace Harman speaks to brand director Ken Schramm and veteran performance actor Troy Baker about establishing the identity of Sucker Punch’s new favourite son.
“Our line for this game is ‘enjoy your powers’ and, sure, it’s a marketing line but at the same time we hope it really is what you’re going to do throughout the game”
Part of the appeal of video games is that they let us revel in the fantastical. Sure, our medium caters to a broad range of tastes and so if you want to explore the minutiae of running a rail network or try your hand at fly fishing, you can, but there’s far greater scope for utter escapism and larger than life adventure.
Even if Sucker Punch’s upcoming PS4-exclusive is your first introduction to the inFamous franchise, it will be abundantly clear where on this spectrum the series belongs: it has super powers, mortal peril and the scope for heroism or villainy – only some of which can be found in a public transport simulator.
Nonetheless, outside of these broad strokes, I’ve always found the personality of the series to be somewhat lacking. It’s a franchise whose narrative identity resides in the same part of my brain as the likes of Prototype and The Darkness; games whose mechanics work and are fun to mess around with but whose story and world otherwise leave me cold. I cared little for former inFamous front man Cole MacGrath, and happily led him down the path of selfish villainy; mostly due to apathy, rather than through any conscious choice.
However, with inFamous: Second Son, Sucker Punch is making a concerted effort to marry the spectacle of its comic book aesthetic and tone with a protagonist who better embodies the spirit with which the developer hopes players will approach this third entry in the series.
“Our line for this game is ‘enjoy your powers’ and, sure, it’s a marketing line but at the same time we hope it really is what you’re going to do throughout the game. And so Delsin Rowe is a reflection of that statement,” explains Ken Schramm, brand development director at Sucker Punch.
“I don’t know if we could have done the same thing with Cole MacGrath because he didn’t really enjoy his powers, he thought of them as a curse.”
It’s interesting how much this subtle but important difference makes to my appreciation of the tone of inFamous: Second Son. Initially, I was turned off by Delsin’s too-cool-for-school aesthetic and cocky demeanour and yet his willingness to embrace his powers and the freedom that they afford certainly feels in keeping with his freewheeling personality. There’s an element of him having fun alongside you, instead of begrudging the bombastic firework display that his powers are capable of instigating.
Fittingly, it’s this slightly unhinged quality that veteran performance actor Troy Baker suggests he found easy to identify with during shooting.
“There’s so much about Delsin that makes playing him a little bit cathartic,” says Baker. “I can see a lot of me in him, especially when I was 24 with that kind of devil-may-care attitude and not very responsible. Then all of a sudden you’re given some really interesting opportunities that you may not be ready for and so that was something that I could really easily attach myself to.”
Happily, there’s a bit more to Delsin than initially meets the eye. The Second Son subtitle is as applicable to Delsin’s role as the series’ new protagonist as it is to his status as younger brother to Reggie, who appears every bit the family success-story. Delsin seems willing to go to great lengths to differentiate himself from his brother and that doesn’t always manifest itself in the most productive of behaviour. Again, though, this leads to some more natural and believable choices, even if the consequences are more drastic than even the most extreme of sibling rivalries.
As before, these karmic choices lead to variations in the way you utilise the powers at hand and affect the manner in which you play as Delsin, with Schramm suggesting that the path of the righteous may indeed be nobler but it’ll also be harder to stick to.
“Playing ‘good’ presents a different challenge because you’ve got to be more precise, you can’t be just laying waste to everything; there’s going to be collateral damage that comes from playing that way,” comments Schramm. Meanwhile, Baker believes that this choice forms not only an important part of the experience but also serves to shape the narrative in a moment to moment sense.
“Whether you do the headshot or take them out at the knee, whether you subdue or you obliterate, that in itself is a narrative.”
“Whether you do the headshot or take them out at the knee, whether you subdue or you obliterate, that in itself is a narrative,” asserts the actor.
“Knowing that a karmic system is crucial to making an inFamous game I wanted to define early on what good and evil meant because I don’t believe that it should be moustache twirling Vs a halo floating above your head; you’re not a saint or a devil.
“You and I are capable of making good or bad choices, it’s the same person you’re just seeing that person in two different moments.”
No matter how good the writing or acting, it’s difficult for a game with a binary karmic system to maintain its consistency if the player chooses to flit back and forth between upstanding hero and lowlife scum – especially where that choice isn’t as a result of a dialogue option, just the way that you happen to feel like playing at that particular moment.
Baker’s assertion that Delsin remains the same person is valid, but he must also be a coherent whole or risk appearing to suffer from multiple personalities upon reaching the isolated decision points. This striving for a believable progression of his personality is something that Baker acknowledges was tough but that the actor believes the team at Sucker Punch has held at the forefront of its collective mind throughout the entire development process.
“We made a very conscious choice to fully understand why Delsin is making the decisions that he is, and the team were really gracious about giving me the time and explanations because sometimes I would say ‘well, I don’t get why he would do this’, explains Baker.
“It came down to not necessarily knowing how [the player’s individual choices] were going to parse together but knowing that if each narrative decision that we make feels honest to the character then it should feel honest to the player and that was the goal. That’s what I’m anticipating, that when you open up the box and put that game in that it feels honest.”
A week out from launch and inFamous: Second Son feels at ease with the tone, story and characters that it supports and I’m certainly finding it easier to buy into than I have previous entries. I’ll probably still cast Delsin Rowe in the role of an insufferable dick, but at least this time I’ll be playing that way as the result of a conscious choice and not due to apathy. I’m sure that both Sucker Punch and Baker can appreciate that when it comes to having fun, there’s a world of difference between the two.
inFamous: Second Son is set for worldwide release on PS4 on March 21. Dave Cook will have full game play impressions closer to release.