Bottling the Spirit of Seattle in Infamous: Second Son
Rebuilding the Emerald City
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Seattle, the Emerald City. In 1962, it was host to the Century 21 Exposition--better known as the Seattle World's Fair--which gave attendees from across the globe a glimpse into the high-tech World of Tomorrow. Now, roughly five decades later, this eclectic city is being fully integrated into the digital age as the backdrop for Sucker Punch Productions' upcoming third-person superhero adventure, Infamous: Second Son.
Horia Dociu, the game's art director and a Seattle resident since his youth, leads the team responsible for re-creating this rain-soaked, coffee-stained city. And while he's adamant about capturing the flavor of Seattle, and its numerous landmarks, Dociu isn't about to let petty issues like reality get in the way of making a fun game.
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While Infamous: Second Son takes place in Seattle, it's not a perfect re-creation. This is by design. In many ways, copying the city brick by brick and street by street would be much simpler, but the city wouldn't be nearly as much fun to explore. Seattle wasn't exactly designed for a kid with smoke-based superpowers to run around smashing stuff and climbing over everything. It was designed as a city, and now Dociu wants to transform it into a jungle gym. Delsin Rowe is the game's nimble protagonist, and his world, while based on reality, will become his playground.
"The line between fun and realism is our number one concern: every discussion we have, from the bad guys' uniforms to the smoke powers, is all within that balance between making sure fun and gameplay are king but it's also as believable as possible," Dociu said. "We're never going to let that stamp of realism get in the way of making an enjoyable experience."
While all the streets may not line up with their real-life counterparts, the team at Sucker Punch is confident it can still capture what makes this city feel like Seattle. The cornerstone of that feeling lies in its landmark locations, including The Crocodile, Elephant Super Car Wash, and Pacific Science Center (shown below). Unsurprisingly, when asked whether they'd like to have their establishments immortalized in a video game, the owners were excited to contribute.
Once a business owner gives his permission, Dociu's team can take an afternoon (or two) to scout out the location and take photographs for reference. However, just like with the city as a whole, the goal isn't to create a simple carbon copy. "Nobody is sitting there counting tiles on a side of a wall or anything like that," said Dociu. "What they're trying to capture is more the spirit of the location, so they'll shoot the building, but they'll also get its surroundings to see what people are wearing in those neighborhoods."
"I use the joking phrase, 'What does this place smell like?' I want those extra details, because if you just look at the buildings and the surrounding geography, you're going to get something that feels like you're looking at an architectural render--like looking at a mannequin instead of a real person."
With photos in hand, the team returns to Sucker Punch HQ to set about re-creating the structure within the game. And while their gameworld is based on reality, they always make sure to let the original owners know they may need to modify the original designs a bit. Say, for example, that Second Son's antagonist, the Department of Unified Protection, decides to transform the Space Needle into its new base of operations. The designers are allowed to stick a few extra armor plates and radio towers all over it--you know, to help give it that homely, totalitarian feel.
While the Space Needle may be Seattle's crown jewel, you may rest assured the rest of the city is receiving the same attention. "We have this guy whose job it is to texture roofs. And you think, 'Hey, what's on a roof, air conditioning? Whatever.' But he actually went on the tour of the Space Needle on his own time specifically to see roofs. He wanted to make sure the roofs around the Space Needle were exactly the right materials for that area. That's the kind of enjoyment people are putting into this project, because it is so close to home."
"If someone wants to do a one-to-one tour of Seattle, that already exists; it's called Google Maps. Have fun!"
This level of dedication from the team is something Dociu is immensely proud of, and he knows the game will only benefit from it. "I think that's something immeasurable. The technology is there, but if we didn't have these artists who pour their hearts and souls into this project, it wouldn't be as successful as it is--and the work shows it. When people see the game, and they say it feels like Seattle, that's the best compliment we can receive."