In part one of our Saints Row: The Third interview with producer Greg Donovan and lead designer Scott Phillips we discussed the story behind last year's open-world crime drama. Now, in part two, we're going to continue talking to the developers about the story as well as dive in to questions about DLC and perhaps the next Saints Row title. Let's get started!
Empowerment Through Equal Treatment
More choice is definitely what players received, and on multiple levels. There's an odd disconnect though, one that I didn't notice in my initial play through. It was The Daily's Chris Plante, who played through the game as a female gang leader, who brought it to my attention. There are certain missions in The Third that come off as downright discomforting when played from the perspective of a female character.
- DETAILS: Saints Row 3 Interview With Producer Greg Donovan And Lead Designer Scott Phillips -- Part 1
I mentioned this during the interview, the negative connotations that certain in-game choices might summon up, curious to know if such concerns had been considered during the development process. "Actually, I'm a little embarrassed to say that I didn't think about it in that way," Donovan said.
"We're all about customization and player choice, and I SEE how it could have felt differently [with a female PC as opposed to a male one], but I didn't really think forward and say if you're playing as a male or a female, if this mission's going to come across differently."
"We never consider our player character as a male or female. It is what YOU make," Phillips added. "So it's more about what the player themselves bring to that character. We build it so that he or she is the leader of the Saints. It's not a specific gender or sex that we set out these missions to play against."
"Even on Saints 2, we got feedback that the game is empowering for women that play it. They can play as a female player, but beyond that, the people around them don't treat them differently because they're female. They are the leader of the Saints no matter what their sex is or what they look like. I think that's what I've heard most often people refer to is that whatever they choose to be, they feel like the leader of the Saints."
Throwing Turds At The Wall
Of the many questions I jotted down in preparing for this interview, the one that I most looked forward to hearing an answer to was: "What the hell were your brainstorming sessions like?" The Volition guys both laughed when they heard this, probably remembering moments that, for the sanctity of their jobs, we will never hear about.
"They were a ton of fun," Phillips said. "We had them very early on. The design group would get together. It was interesting because we had a lot of people come over from [the Red Faction: Guerrilla team]. They would come to these meetings and I would hear later on that they would go back and tell other people, 'What the hell is going on with Saints Row? What are those guys doing?'"
"It's really interesting, because this franchise allows an incredible amount of creative freedom. There's basically no limit to what we can try. Often we would come up with these crazy things [and] for us, the attitude was always, 'That's awesome. Let's figure out how to get it in the game and make it work.'"
With all of the crazy nonsense that unfolds in Saints Row: The Third, I also wondering what Volition's cutting room floor must look like. Phillips admits to one thing he would have liked to see in the game: dogs.
"I think dogs would have been great in the game. But they weren't to be, we didn't have the time to do them. There's tons of things we leave on the cutting room floor. That's where something like DLC comes in handy. There are certain things that I know DLC is doing that we couldn't get in at the very end of the game."
Donovan can't recall any specific elements that had to be canned, but he does lay out the general philosophy that every team member brought with them to brainstorming sessions. "We came to the table knowing [not to] come up with any ideas that were patently offensive to one group of people. For people on the team, it was hard at times to determine if what we're discussing is designed for the game or needs to be reported to HR."
Looking Ahead With 20/20 Hindsight
There's one feature missing in Saints Row: The Third that, above anything else, hasn't sat well with fans. A mission replay option. Volition knows you want it. It's not going to happen though.
"I need to bear responsibility for that; that was my call," Donovan said. "I wish we had the time to put it in, but the mission replay in Saints Row 2 was a QA nightmare, and when you add the additional complication of being able to play in co-op, it really, really was quite a beast."
"I know that the Internet is very angry, and I can understand why. I made a call to kill that feature and deal with the offshoot of it, and allow the team to focus on polishing missions without that added complication. It was a really tough choice to make and I still don't know if it was the right or wrong one because I can never go back and figure out how many bugs we would have gotten from that. It's certainly one that we didn't approach lightly. We know that SHOULD there be an SR4, that is certainly a feature that would be on the table."
Don't bother asking if the feature could eventually come to Saints 3 as DLC. I asked. It can't. "That would be a monumental undertaking," Donovan explained. "Our fans, who we listen to, I know that they're upset about it and I understand why. It's just a gargantuan amount of work and the majority of the team have obviously moved onto other projects and they have to focus our efforts there."
He's right that the team has moved on. There's a full calendar of DLC still to arrive over the next bunch of months. With all of that content incoming, Phillips and Donovan weren't willing to say much about the prospects for a fourth Saints game. Those who played through The Third, however, know that there are big developments in story for some of the major characters, and many fates are determined in the unfolding story by the choices players make.
I wanted to know how those situations are accounted for in future development efforts, whether that's DLC, a proper sequel or any kind of spinoff project. "In terms of that final choice [in the game] and how you continue from there, I think we look at Achievement and Trophy numbers and see what people tended to choose," Phillips said.
"I think we can also pick which narrative we feel like is more appropriate for where the series might go, or what we feel like the leader of the Saints would have actually done in that situation. In the end, we're gonna take what their choices tended to be based on Achievements and Trophies and then we'll figure out what we might do... if there might be a Saints Row 4 in some theoretical universe, of course."
One character's fate seemed quite clear even before Saints 3 was released. Johnny Gat. As most of us saw in per-release footage from the game, things don't go so well for him. SPOILER ALERT, I guess, but he seems to be dead.
I get nothing concrete from either of the Volition guys about Gat's fate, but Phillips must hear the despair in my voice -- more likely, he's heard the Internet wailing about Gat's apparent death -- as he shines a ray of hope on the situation. "It has been widely reported that Johnny Gat is dead," he told me. "But Phillipe Loren, he's a pretty dishonest guy. And we never saw a body."