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Saints Row: The Third: How A Giant Purple Dildo-Bat Set The Tone For Saints Row 3

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Posted March 9, 2012 - By Guest Writer






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Saint’s Row The Third Postmorte

Love it or hate it, Saint’s Row: The Third was one of the most over-the-top, bat-crap crazy games of 2011. An SR 3 level of finely tuned insanity doesn't happen by chance; it comes from careful planning, tons of hard work, and the kind of eureka! moment that can only spring from a giant purple dildo bat used as a weapon.

Design Director at Volition, Scott Phillips gave a talk at the Game Developer’s Conference 2012 about how they managed to go as over the top as they did, without going too far. The talk covered three main sections: Setting the Tone, Raising the Bar, and Scope Control; making for one of the most interesting panels we’ve seen so far.

Saint’s Row: The Third was worked on for over three years by 125 full time staff, THQ and Volition’s largest project to date. Saint’s Row and Saint’s Row 2 both did pretty well, selling 4-5 million and holding an 80% MC. The problem, as is usually the case with sequels, was how could they make something similar to the first two while also making it new? In Saint’s Row 2, they were commended for their over the top, fun gameplay, but they sent too much time trying to add additional features that they didn’t polish everything, and it was riddled with bugs.

He talked about how big of an impact tone has on the way that we experience a story. With Batman, the tone that is conveyed depends on which Batman you picture. This wasn’t the case with Saint’s Row 2. Everything was so different that it didn’t feel like a cohesive experience. It was then a decision between making it so over the top that it is near self aware and unashamed or serious but silly occasionally; it’s a trade off. The team on Saint’s Row: The Third was so large that only 20 percent of the team had worked on a previous Saint’s Row title, meaning that they didn’t know where the line was.

In the first iteration of SR3, the player was set to be an undercover agent infiltrating the Third Street Saints. This was a fun idea, but it wasn’t Saint’s Row. It was scrapped and they reset to the original track, confusing the team about what they were supposed to be making. They went about fixing this by adopting the design mantra of “Embrace the Crazy; Fun Trumps All”, which really directed the team to what Saint’s Row was actually about. The team went to movies together to get in the spirit of being over the top; with the new A-Team movie being the most inspiring.

Saint’s Row: The Third Postmortem

Phillips provided a ‘tone video’ to the team to help them understand what they wanted exactly; combining clips from Shoot ‘em Up, Bad Boys 2, and Fast and Furious among others. The dildo bat was the next step and was the first of the ‘AHA!’ moments for the team. With this, they came to understand that they are in charge of how the player perceives their vision. They are responsible for the tone and while it is tough to control tone, it’s vital to the experience.

The main idea to Raising the Bar is to have these ‘Holy Crap Moments’ that players would be impressed by. However, the problem with that is that just because you wrote your idea down, it doesn’t guarantee that this moment will be received that way to the player. This was solved using pre-visualization, which is very common in the film industry. It makes things easier to understand when you can actually visualize the situation at hand. It was vital to the team understanding what they wanted to get done in the next two years, before starting in and becoming overwhelmed.

The problem with videogames is that it can be very difficult to define what the scope of a game should be. In Saint’s Row 2, they put everything that they could in there, but with SR3, there were scheduled cut dates in which content would be cut. In the end, almost 4,000 man-hours of content was cut from the final game. There was a mechanic cut from SR3 called ‘Freegunning’ that combined the combat of SR with the free running aspects of Assassin’s Creed; sliding across cars and constantly moving.

Phillips finished off the talk by stressing the importance of locking down the vision and tone of the game at a deep level before getting too far into it. It makes it so much easier to cut something that just doesn’t fit and wouldn’t work well in the overall scheme of things. His final remark is to embrace your content, but be ready to let it go if it doesn’t fit.

--Alex Rubens

Saints Row: The Third: How A Giant Purple Dildo-Bat Set The Tone For Saints Row 3
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