The Saboteur Q&A

We talk to Pandemic art director Chris Hunt about the sights and sounds of 1940s Paris.

Later this year, Pandemic Studios will look to show that there's still room for creativity in the World War II genre when it releases The Saboteur, an open-world action game set in Nazi-occupied Paris. Perhaps no feature is more unique than the game's overall look, which begins in black and white and then slowly fills in with color as you restore civilian morale throughout Paris and a few other European locales. We recently spoke with art director Chris Hunt to get a few creative insights into the development and settings, as well as look at protagonist Sean Devlin's hideout, the Belle de Nuit.

GameSpot: How did you arrive at the decision to set The Saboteur in Paris? Did you look at any other European cities early on in the creative stage?

Chris Hunt: France was always a central location in The Saboteur because of the inspirational foundation of our story and hero. Our real-life inspiration, William Grover-Williams of French-British heritage lived in France when he conducted espionage against the Nazis for Britain. We considered using other metropolitan centers in France in addition to Paris. Ultimately, we realized that we were going to spread ourselves too thin creating too many cities, and Paris by itself [was] very daunting to build on its own. It's such a vibrant and interesting city that we knew [it] would make a great and exciting open world for a game. Therefore, we concentrated our efforts on Paris [and] a few other key locations that worked more closely with the storyline. Aside from Paris, there is lots of French countryside, the coastal town of LeHavre to the north, and Saarbrucken on the German side of the border to the east.

GS: What were the various advantages and disadvantages you faced early on in using a city where so few other games have been set?

CH: The main advantage is that we could break new ground building a city that gamers were not familiar with. Paris offered lots of potential [and] gave us wide latitude for creative freedom. However, nothing has been done previously to compare our goals with other than the real city. We couldn't say "This other game created Paris with less geometry, so we will add two to three times as much in ours." One unique situation we had to overcome is that Paris is not laid out like most American cities with a grid system. It has a large river snaking through it along with five to eight-way intersections! This was a challenge, but we developed several innovative solutions to deal with issues like these, and now, when you drive or climb through the city, it really gives you an amazing feeling while playing the game.

GS: Can you describe the processes you went through early on in researching the overall look and feel of both Paris and the game's other various locales?

CH: Early development for The Saboteur was a combination [of ] painstaking research, concept development, and eventually a trip to France. It was important for us to re-create as much of the breathtaking architecture, countryside towns, and landmarks as possible. Our most challenging aspect for developing the visual style for the game was the black-and-white versus color look for the "Will to Fight." This required a great deal [of] art conceptualization, 2D/3D prototypes, camera work, and graphics support from engineering to achieve the visual fidelity we set out to accomplish.

GS: As an art director, how much does your job change working on an open-world game like The Saboteur compared to a game with a linear series of levels? How is the creative process impacted knowing the player can go anywhere on the map?

CH: Working on an open world is all about allocating your resources wisely! It's like having a "budget" of money you can spend on the weekend. If you spend too much money on Friday night, you won't have enough left Saturday and Sunday. You have to constantly balance the visual quality with what you show onscreen so the game will run optimally and not slow down performance. You consistently have to make calculated decisions on how to balance geometry, texture memory, collision, physics, special effects, and animation data. It's quite a task to make sure the player can enjoy a great amount of detail in the things that surround him immediately and at the same time be able to climb on a rooftop and see all the way across the city and see the countryside. Our proprietary Odin engine uses a special occlusion system, which manages how objects are rendered based on distance. So when the player is standing in front of a building, it only renders what's viewable but not the buildings behind those in front. This saves a lot of memory and allowed us to get more detail into the world.

GS: One location in the game where the player is going to spend a lot of time is Sean Devlin's hideout, the Belle de Nuit. Can you describe what sort of establishment this is and why you decided to use it as a safe house rather than an isolated apartment like a lot of sandbox action games?

CH: The Belle De Nuit is one of those essential concepts and locations of that era since Paris was really the Las Vegas of Europe during that time. The idea for the Belle actually evolved from several locations. The art team wanted a sexy cabaret, a place to showcase burlesque acts and dancers. The designers wanted a seedy dive bar where the French Resistance could meet and scheme. And, there also had to be a place where the Nazis and French could be on neutral ground under the same roof at the same time without sparking confrontations. As the story and design became more solidified, these elements merged into a single location that could serve all of these functions simultaneously.

GS: What sort of inspirations did you use in designing the look of the Belle? How much of those were real-life locations and how much were movies and books?

CH: We began looking at traditional places in Paris for inspiration, such as the Moulin Rouge and Le Lido de Paris. Another strong influence was "Rick's Cafe Americain" from the classic film Casablanca. However, given the multiple roles the establishment would serve, we decided we needed to put our own touch on the building. We knew we wanted the Belle to have seen better days; it had to be old but still functional. The architecture had to be filled with 1920s art nouveau decor inside and out. The space also had to be large enough for show performances, for patrons to sit or walk around, and to house private areas that could be kept hidden from the Nazis. From here, the art team got started with preliminary design work.

GS: How did you go about trying to capture the sights and sounds of 1940s Paris nightlife? How important was it to reflect the tense atmosphere of Parisians trying to have fun under strict Nazi control?

CH: Historically, Paris had a legendary nightlife, so there was an infinite amount of information to draw from. Ironically, showing this aspect of Parisian life during the 1940s is crucial to enhancing the sharp contrast of the Nazi occupation of the city; what we call "Low Will to Fight." The nightlife is on the other side of the coin of the Nazi control in The Saboteur. Players will definitely notice the effort that was put [in] re-creating Parisian nightlife once they play the game on December 8.

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44 comments
evaneself
evaneself

The Saboteur (PC) game has DRM, I do not buy it. EA has not learned anything, he must pay mockery that we submit. They sell time for gameplay, not games for collectors or owners.

ferntfactor
ferntfactor

actually a very interesting interview, with well thought out answers. Chris Hunt, you done good.

alexnollent
alexnollent

I hope pandemic don't ruin it like they did with mercs 2 cause this game looks quality

Patton435
Patton435

and i hope theres 2 sequels.#1 you are a russian resistance fighter in keiv .#2 back to irish roots and be a member of the IRA and fight for irish freedom a bit off topic but still i would like opions

Patton435
Patton435

this game is a mix of god father 1 and death to spys moment of truth

chrisg88wb
chrisg88wb

I know what you mean DFen about The Godfather2 game. The Godfather The Dons Edition game I have and loved it but when The Godfather 2 came out it sucked. The driving in the game was crap ,The Godfather The Dons Edition was far better. Anyway The Saboteur looks interesting, I have preordered my copy.

DFen
DFen

wow, looks like a good game, I hope its not a big let down like godfather 2 look like a mix between that and infamous

MarioVerkerk
MarioVerkerk

Wow, this looks very interesting and promising! Love the graphics-style!

charlesworth89
charlesworth89

looking forward to this a lot i love sneaky games.

ps3_hero
ps3_hero

sweet irish rule.................. i am definitly gettin this game on the release day

lefrogslam
lefrogslam

always nice to have a new take on the ww2-genre, but really! do we need another one??? i think we all have seen too many bad ww2 games, so why dig into that same old pile of crap-outline storyplots and bad klicheé nazi voice-acting.. that said - i´m actually looking forward to see how this one plays out. looks different.

hgc4real
hgc4real

cool just like Inglorious Bastards... nice :-D

chrisg88wb
chrisg88wb

Im sure he says top of the morning maybe because its 5 or 6 am .

chrisg88wb
chrisg88wb

This game looks cool, im from belfast and i am interested in playing this game as the guy is Irish, It looks class!!

sub-raid
sub-raid

We'll see the reviews, but the game looks interesting.

rht992
rht992

another thing, the french are perverts

rht992
rht992

its an interesting concept and i hope it works but the team making this haven't got the best track record

rns1016
rns1016

This game looks awesome.

blancobo
blancobo

I hope they learned from the lessons of Mercenaries 2... such a great first game and then dissapoing follow up. Perhaps this is a FRESH start to redemption.

LordBaphomet
LordBaphomet

This game has a sweet look to it, I'm just hoping the gameplay matches up.

CountGrafOrlok
CountGrafOrlok

Ah, now... this is the game that I've was kind of picturing it would be sweet to play. Now, I'm actually able to do it ;) very nice!

dasboy1
dasboy1

hey JJB03 maybe it was past midnight

pidow
pidow

I'm saying that this game wil be on the very top end of the scale...I personally, am looking forwarded to playing Saboteur on Dec 8TH.

JJB03
JJB03

this looks rather good although the charecter did just say top of the mornin ladies when im guessing its like half 11 at night lol

alastairf
alastairf

i dont really trust pandemic after what they did to lotr - just hope they prove me wrong cause this looks alrite

faceofmonkey
faceofmonkey

i can already tell that you are going to blow up the Belle du Nuit

blaze_adeel
blaze_adeel

i dont know i just feel this game will not be good just an other wolfstein with no magic. i hope i am wrong.i am starting to hate ww2 games now once i was a huge fan of ww2 games i played them all even HOUR OF VICTORY but now i think this will mot be good

kamizuka
kamizuka

this is the multiplat Heavy rain........

RobertBowen
RobertBowen

From the trailers I've seen (particularly the Gamespot stage demo earlier in the year), the game looks interesting to me. I like the period setting and the open-world nature of the game, and it looks like there will be lots of opportunities for sneaking around. As long as they get the gameplay mechanics right and have a decent story in there, I think it will be a good game.

SubZezo
SubZezo

This video doesn't tell much, but judging by the graphics and the whole detective theme I would say it'll be an 8.5 out of 10 game.

oliver655321
oliver655321

Looks like it might be a good paperweight!

thrasher510
thrasher510

Assassins Creed 2, then this, possibly a small chance i'll get Modern Warfare 2.

Patton435
Patton435

sorry for misspeling the hte it the and the sight is site

Patton435
Patton435

this will be good if you havent all ready go to hte pandemic studios sight and look at it

sweetpotatofry
sweetpotatofry

My 2nd most anticipated game of the year, right behind Uncharted 2

Serentor
Serentor

OMG i want this already!! -.-