We chat to Pandemic about their Sunday matinee style WWII title, The Saboteur.
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Strategy Informer: We know that The Saboteur is partly based upon a true story. What would you say are the key factual elements you’ve retained for the game?
Pandemic: The Saboteur is more inspired by a true story than based on. We were inspired by real life Grand Prix champion William Grover-Williams who was a real driver for the French Bugatti racing team and eventually became a saboteur in Paris. It was really the idea of this “larger than life” daredevil becoming a resistance fighter that really got our brains working. From there we took it in a very fictional direction and crafted our own character with Sean Devlin. We kept the racing tie in, Sean’s team is Morini which is inspired by Bugatti and our Doppelsieg racing team is a bit inspired by the Mercedes team of that era (they dominated the racing circuit and were building war machines for the Nazis). We also have some tie in with the British SOE like Williams but not the direct reason for Sean becoming a saboteur. So overall, the spirit of William Grover-Williams is there but Sean is very much our own hero.
Strategy Informer: And which parts of the true history have you tweaked or exaggerated for the purposes of gameplay and the overall fantasy?
Pandemic: In a way, like our inspiration with a real hero, we’re using history as an inspiration. In a lot of ways we think of the WWII setting as a backdrop for our game. There are elements of it there with the Nazis and this great historical time period, but our world is very much the set-up for a great over the top action story. We’re never adhering to historical timelines; in fact we often compress real world dates closer together to make some of the story points more dramatic. We use things like Nazi zeppelins in our world because they’re such a great piece of fantasy but (they) were not actually used in that fashion. Most of our game really is this exaggerated fantasy of the war to make sure we are still a fun action game rather than one that is historically accurate.
Strategy Informer: Where did the idea to gradually transform the game world from black and white to colour come from?
Pandemic: The idea of the Will to Fight came originally from thinking about the idea of Paris being occupied. When you think of the city you get images of this vibrant colourful city, which stylistically is a very different feeling than a Nazi occupied one. The idea to sell the occupation was to literally suck the life out of the world, that’s where the black and white came from. It really quickly sells the mood of the world without much explanation. Originally inspired by the Sin City comic book, we thought it would be interesting to have the reds and some colours popping out of the bleak black and white to help make things stand out in the world and add drama to scenes. The Sin City movie really taught us a lot of great tricks how to make black and white look right and have depth which is extremely important in a game where you can climb, run, jump, shoot, race, etc. You need to be able to see your environment. Then we wanted fighting the Nazis to have a meaning and change the world back to the colourful Paris it is meant to be. So as the player plays missions in the game, when they reach critical objectives where there is a “grand act of defiance” against the Nazis, we change the Will to Fight to colour, which represents the inspiration bleeding back into the world through your actions.
Strategy Informer: The game is all about the fantasy of being a saboteur in occupied France. Were there any elements of that overall fantasy that you wanted to include but couldn’t due to technical limitations or time constraints?
Pandemic: While there will always be things that you can’t put into a game because of technical limitations or time constraints we really laid down a few key fantasy elements of what it is to be a saboteur and made sure we had gameplay to support them. The fantasy we wanted for being sneaky was to use disguises. That’s something you see a lot of when you watch old WWII movies and we felt that was a very important element to being a saboteur. Using explosives is also one of the major pieces of this fantasy, so we made sure early on that we had those in the game. There are more gameplay elements to being a saboteur but we are not revealing these just yet, so stay tuned for more info on those.
Strategy Informer: Did you share any tech with the Mercenaries team or did you have to build the Odin engine completely from the ground up?
Pandemic: At the very beginning we were sharing our technology with the Mercs 2 team but quickly realised we were making a very different game than they were. Their game is about blowing everything up while ours was about a more intimate, up-close experience so it made sense to separate our tech. The Odin engine we then built does an amazing job allowing us to have a lot of small detail everywhere in the world while at the same time allowing us to climb up literally anything that looks like it could be climbed and lookout across the world and see an incredible draw distance. It’s a pretty impressive piece of technology that is built to really support the story and gameplay of The Saboteur.
Strategy Informer: What’s your favourite aspect of The Saboteur and why?
Pandemic: For me it will always be Sean. Sean is just the hero we all want to be. He’s got a tough edge but is also funny and quite relatable. I feel like I know him so well that I’ve had drinks with him. He’s the guy you’d want on your side and wouldn’t want to be enemies with. His daredevil, take-no-crap attitude really allowed us to create a lot of fun mechanics for him to do and a lot of fun situations for him to get wrapped up in. He’s a great action hero.
Strategy Informer: Have you any plans for additional downloadable content to expand The Saboteur in the near future?
Pandemic: We have not announced any plans for DLC at this point.
Strategy Informer: How did you achieve such an impressive draw distance in the game and was it important that you enable the player to see across the whole of Paris from on high?
Pandemic: The draw distance was very important for us to get right. Like I said, you can get up on the top of everything and we wanted the player to be able to look down off the Eiffel Tower and see all the different areas of high and low Will to Fight to see what they’ve accomplished in the world. It also is helpful because the monuments end up serving like stars in the sky as you’re racing down the twisty streets of Paris, you need to be able to use them to get your bearing in the world. The Odin engine was built from the ground up to deliver intimate up close detail and to still have the power to render these amazing views. It took a lot of collaboration between the art team and tech team to make it happen but the results really speak for themselves. I still often find myself impressed when I climb up a building and look out across the world.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of heights, can players commandeer one of those huge Nazi zeppelins that patrol the skies or is The Saboteur entirely ground based?
Pandemic: We talked about piloting zeppelins and even tried it briefly, and I can tell you there is really nothing more boring in a video game than a slow - scratch that - very slow moving vehicle in the world so we killed the idea of driving them. Plus Sean’s a racer, he loves fast cars so they make more sense for him to be able to use. That’s not to say that there won’t be a couple key points where you will be aboard a zeppelin for one reason or another.
Strategy Informer: How long has the game been in development for now? What have the team spent most of the dev time on?
Pandemic: We started kicking the idea for the game around right after we finished the first Mercenaries game. We spent a good chunk of time in pre-production trying to develop the character, the missions, the world, and the mechanics to support the story we were creating for the game. When you have a blank canvas in front of you there are so many directions you can go and we spent a lot of time understanding those directions. We knew a lot of the key concepts early (Sean, racing, Will to Fight, climbing, gunplay, etc) and knew we needed to create our own engine to support these features in the best possible way.
Strategy Informer: When the game ships this year, what’s next for the team?
Pandemic: Right now we are focusing on The Saboteur and creating a truly great action sandbox experience in an exciting setting for the players to have fun with.