Infamous 2 gets a makeover

Comic-Con 2010: Sucker Punch developers detail their superhero franchise's secret origins and explain the reasoning behind Cole's new look and voice.

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Who was there: Infamous 2 animator Billy Harper, designer Darren Bridges, and graphic cutscenes lead Edward Pun.

What they talked about: With Infamous 2 on the way next year, key developers from Sucker Punch visited Comic-Con to take a victory lap for their previous game. The panel kicked off with a trailer showing a combination of gameplay and cutscenes for Infamous 2, giving the audience a good long look at the newly redesigned Cole in action. The character's look isn't the only thing new: the clip showed off an electrified melee weapon (tentatively known as a cattle prod, or "the amp") and new powers, with Cole discus-throwing an electric tornado at an enemy helicopter.

Infamous 2 sees Cole in new digs with new duds and a new delivery.
Infamous 2 sees Cole in new digs with new duds and a new delivery.

After the applause died down, the developers started discussing their reasons for making the jump from Sly Cooper to the original Infamous. One of the hardest things with superhero games is that they're often tied to film releases, Bridges said. Infamous didn't have that restraint and was all the better for it.

Pun said the eureka moment for the original game was when they decided to make the main character a bike messenger. Bike messengers tend to be a little crazy anyway, he said, weaving in and out of traffic for a living. So the team wondered how a bike messenger would react if given a tremendous amount of power all of a sudden.

While the team has a big arc planned out for the franchise, everything started with the gameplay. Bridges said the team didn't get into the nitty-gritty of the story details until the gameplay was coming together. Without that approach, Bridges said it could be like making a game out of the Marvel character Black Bolt, who can destroy the world with a mere whisper. It's an interesting character, Bridges said, but the story of Black Bolt would limit the gameplay.

Even the setting of Empire City derived from the gameplay. Bridges said that when Infamous was in development, most open-world games had consisted of dudes with guns who drove cars. For Infamous, they didn't want to do cars. As Bridges noted, "You don't feel much like a superhero if you're driving a car."

The trio talked about Cole's weakness to water and how it worked narratively, thematically, and for gameplay as well. Putting the game on an island restrained the player in an acceptable way, while Cole drew upon Empire City for power, in a literal as well as figurative sense.

Moving to the second game, the developers talked a bit about tweaks on the way, one of which is a new style of cutscene. The clip showed a city like a post-Katrina New Orleans, overrun with redneck mobs looking "to keep their town pure." Cole's voice-over suggests he's there with his pal Zeke in search of more power.

The first question in the Q&A part of the session dealt with the new look for Cole, and Bridges said it came about partly as a way to make Cole fit within his new city and in the new backdrop. Harper mentioned that some of the most prominent feedback they received on the original game was that people didn't like Cole. The character's new voice was adopted for the same reason, as Harper said the team caught a lot of flack for the original's gravelly tone. He mentioned throat cancer and Christian Bale's Batman as a couple of the more common phrasings.

The look isn't the only change that had some fans concerned. One audience member questioned the presence of the new weapon in the trailer, saying he liked that Cole was basically unarmed in the original and that made the game stand out from its peers. Harper again pointed to feedback from the original game, saying some gamers played the original Infamous almost like a beat-'em-up, wading into mobs to pummel enemies without ever using his other powers. The developers decided to add weapons in order to facilitate that style of play.

As for the new city, Pun pointed out that Empire City had been destroyed pretty good in the first game, and the developers wanted someplace new to set the game. They also wanted to pick some setting that would be instantly recognizable for players, something that would stick in their minds so they knew from even a single screenshot that the game was Infamous 2. Harper also pointed out the diversity of environments offered by a New Orleans-inspired setting and the various implications that has for gameplay and destruction.

Those environments should also be quicker to navigate in the sequel, Harper said. The team is giving Cole more abilities to increase the fluidity of traversing the city. He said the goal is to make the game feel more like parkour, so players look at an area less like a normal city block and more like a collection of ways to get from point A to point B.

Quote: "If you want to find out the make of a man, give him power."--Harper, explaining the idea behind Infamous' karma system.

"I'll just say we love [Infamous]."--Bridges, when asked if there would be a third Infamous game.

"Cricket, cricket."--Bridges, when asked if there would be a fourth Sly Cooper game.

The takeaway: The original Infamous was hugely influenced by its own gameplay. Infamous 2 will be hugely influenced by the feedback on the original.

Who knew?: Infamous was not Harper's first superhero game. He had previously worked on a Superman game, which he said was made difficult by the character's lack of weaknesses.

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