It’s going to take more than a company’s demise to stop The Saints – not even an Alien invasion seems to phase them. With Saints Row IV now officially announced, we’re starting to get a glimpse in to the crazy over-the-top world that Volition want to take us too next. We spoke to Senior Producer Jim Boone to ask him everything from Dildo Bats, to THQ and more:
Strategy Informer: Well, my first question was going to be how do you top dildo bats, having just witnessed Aliens, Virtual Worlds, Superpowers, Mech Suits, Dub-steb guns and god knows what else all in the space of ten minutes, I think that pretty much answers my question for me.
Jim Boone: (Laughs) You see what we’re trying to do, for sure! We always pride ourselves at Volition at being able to come up with some of the more... unique, weapons. I think it’s a theme for Saints Row in general, but we’re all big fans of “new” and “different”. There are plenty of games that I play that I think are great and really well crafted, but the kinds of games where I get really excited are the ones that give me something new that I haven’t seen before. Certainly in our weapons, that’s a great focal point of our thinking and our imagination of just trying to do crazy and different sort of things.
Strategy Informer: Can you explain a little bit about the genesis of Saints Row IV? There seems to be some confusion about a couple of points – specifically surrounding the Enter the Dominatrix DLC for Saints Row: The Third, which we now hear has been cancelled and incorporated into this game?
Jim Boone: I can definitely expand on that. We were actually starting on Saints Row IV a little before Saints Row: The Third was actually finished, and so we’re working full speed ahead on that as a full project, but at the same time we also started on this expansion pack for after Saints Row: The Third called Enter the Dominatrix. What ended up happening was that there were features in ETD which ended up working really well conceptually, but part of the trick was that we didn’t have enough time to fully develop them and give them the time they deserved to take these features truly to the next level. We were able to incorporate those features into the full game and I think it’s worked out really well for us that way – we’ve been given the time to really give it some polish.
But then having said that, so Enter The Dominatrix has kind of gone away now, that’s not happening, but we plan to release it sometime after Saints Row IV as DLC, kind of as a ‘Director’s Cut’, where people can get a chance to see what we were working on there. I mean there’s craziness in Saints Row IV, but I think people will still be surprised by some of the crazy stuff that we didn’t move over from ETD.
Then again maybe not, maybe we’ve used up our insanity now.
Strategy Informer: So that’s going to be DLC for Saints Row IV?
Jim Boone: Yeah that DLC is going to be for Saints Row IV.
Strategy Informer: So it’s fair to say then that there’s going to be no more DLC for Saints Row: The Third from now on?
Jim Boone: Correct, you’re absolutely correct. It’s going to be all Saints Row IV going forward.
Strategy Informer: Watching the video, we picked up on a few things... you mentioned a ‘virtual world’? Does the game take place inside a simulation then?
Jim Boone: Yeah, you’re exactly correct. So what happens is that when the ‘Zen’ abducts the President of the United States – which is the leader of The Saints – They’re like this galactic force that’s slowly taking over the galaxy. What they do is they kidnap these people and try to indoctrinate them into the Xen way of thinking and fold them into their empire. So what they’ve done is taken the player and put him into this virtual Steelport, which is a very twisted version of the Steelport they remember. With the intent of trying to break the player’s will and bring them into the fold.
Strategy Informer: What about the rest of the Saints? Saints Row: The Third had a pretty decent supporting cast, are they going to appear as they are? Are they going to be simulated? What’s the deal there?
Jim Boone: You’re going to have the actual Saints in there. The thinking is that as the President, you’re going to have a staff and a cabinet, all of whom are made up of your lieutenants. There’s a number of people returning from Saints Row: The Thirds, and we’re introducing new characters for Saints Row IV, and early on you’re in Steelport and ultimately you have to try and free all of your Lieutenants and bring them into your version of the simulation and ultimately take the battle to the Xen. So yeah, the ‘real’ people will be there.
Strategy Informer: I suppose being in a virtual world means you’ve got more creative license to do crazy things in this game, and it’s all entirely justified. Even the game itself... a game within a game...
Jim Boone: You got it! I mean Superpowers are a literal example of that the reason you have those powers is that you’re in this virtual simulation that allows you to bend the rules and do all these crazy things within the simulation. So yeah it’s allowed to be a bit more lateral, and maybe even a bit crazy even by Saints Row standards. Strategy Informer: How many Matrix references will there be?
Jim Boone: There’s more than a few. What’s funny is that we’ve always had fun poking at other games and properties out there, and we’ve definitely done it in Saints Row IV. Without giving anything away I think you’ll see a lot of touches here and there. We love modern culture – we love a lot of the games and movies out there, so we’ve planted a lot of seeds that I think players will get a bit of a kick out of.
Strategy Informer: You also mentioned indoctrination and Galactic Forces, I’m sensing a hint of Mass Effect here as well.
Jim Boone: Well... you will see some things there that I guarantee you will pick up on there. There’s this one bit that I cannot wait for people to play, but I think we may never reveal it until you guys play it for yourselves. We giggle all the time about it. I think you’ll be amused.
Strategy Informer: As I said, my first question was going to be how do you top Saints Row 3, essentially, but looking at what you’re doing here, I have to wonder how you’re going to top all this for a theoretical fifth game?
Jim Boone: We talk about that all the time. I mean the way we look at things, and we were talking about this with THQ before and now Deep Silver, is that we see this as the end of this ‘Saga’ of Saints Row. In terms of what that means for the future, there’s still a load of possibilities, but in terms of this story of Saints Row IV, we’re taking it as far as we possibly can. Short of being Space Pirates or something I don’t know what the hell else we would do. So yeah, we’re conscious of the fact that we’ve take it to the brink of what we would do.
Strategy Informer: Speaking of THQ, I assume the transition from THQ to Deep Silver was as smooth as it could be under the circumstances?
Jim Boone: You’re exactly right. It was an interesting time for us – we have a lot of friends at THQ, many of whom didn’t end up getting picked up so it was pretty sad. But then from the Volition perspective we were just interested in which publisher was going to pick us up and what would that mean. With Deep Silver they’ve been awesome – they totally get our culture, our processes, they’re not interfering with that, and the games they totally support them, they haven’t asked for any changes... it couldn’t have gone more smoothly. I think for the majority of our team, other than the process of who’s going to ultimately win – which was kind of stressful – I don’t think they even noticed the difference between working for THQ and working for Deep Silver.
Strategy Informer: What was it like internally watching this bidding and buying process going on? I mean I assume no one actually asked you guys if you wanted to be bought by Deep Silver. You and the other former THQ studios were basically sold off like you were furniture, instead of people.
Jim Boone: It was interesting you know, because we met with a lot of different publishers obviously that would come out to do their due diligence. It felt like we were pitching to a million people! On the one hand it was fun, because we’d been working on this game and it was good to finally show people outside the company, so that part was cool, but it was interesting from our perspective because each publisher that would talk to us – just like they were trying to figure out if they wanted to purchase us, we were looking at them and trying to get an impression on them and thinking about what it would be like to work with them. I think the good news, at least for us, is that there wasn’t anyone talking to us that I thought “oh god, I really hope they don’t pick us up, that would be bad news!” So that was comforting from that stand point – it made things a little bit easier. The biggest issue was always going to be – once they’d picked you up, would they keep to what they said? “Oh we really like the game, we wouldn’t want to change it” things of that nature.
It was different in the sense that, like you said, it would have been nice to weigh in on it, but we’re also professional enough to understand that’s not the way the world works, and we could have been much worse off. We think of people like Vigil – that’s brutal, a great bunch of people and they weren’t picked up. I almost feel like we’re not in a potion to complain because we still have a job.
Strategy Informer: Was the writing on the wall for you guys? Did you see THQ’s demise coming?
Jim Boone: Yeah, it’s interesting. What really got us thinking long and hard was when Saints Row: The Third came out. Because here’s this game, we’re so proud of it, and it’s a huge success... but that’s also the same time where the UDraw came out for PS3 & 360, and we lost about $100 million on days. When you have a failure of that magnitude coupled with a success of that magnitude, I mean basically all our success was invalidated by that, it was tough to look at that and think “Is it just business as usual then? Or did we just get dealt a death blow?” That was where I think the... it wasn’t clear at that point, but that’s when Jason Ruben came in and things started to change, because we were worried that things maybe weren’t going to work for THQ, but Jason was awesome. He had some really clear strategies on a corporate level that seemed like they were going to work, so that made us think everything was going to be alright. I mean he got outside investors who were willing to invest. But it didn’t work out at the end of the day. But that’s a long way of saying that, yeah, we kind of saw the writing on the walls, but started to feel a little bit better with Jason, but ultimately it didn’t work out.
Strategy Informer: There appears to be a few more ‘big’ changes in Saints Row IV as opposed to Saints Row: The Third, which was more iterative than revolutionary – are there any more elements in the game that have undergone radical change?
Jim Boone: It’s pretty much the [big announcements] you’re seeing, so much of the rest of the game will be pretty familiar in terms of the tone, the humour, the customization aspects etc… I think people will still be comforted with the fact that it feels like a Saints Row game, even with these more exotic additions. The driving force behind these changes though really boils down to us saying, how can we add things to the game that changes the gameplay itself?
We have two main mechanics that are in all Saints Row games – Driving and Shooting. There is other stuff as well obviously but you’ll always end up doing a lot of those two. Now with Superpowers I can navigate in a completely different way if I choose too. I could drive if I want but… the same with Combat too. I could shoot if I want, but I could also use these offensive powers. We wanted to look at it from a mechanical standpoint so we could freshen things up, instead of from a “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we had superpowers” standpoint. I think that’s helped out a lot, because once we did that, we like “Right, now we need an enemy that can handle these superpowers”, and so we came up with the idea for the aliens. The President one was probably the most story-narrative driven idea, and that was mainly just to poke fun at American Politics more than anything else – we have a pretty whacky system of Government. So it’s fun to just poke some fun at it – here’s a psychopath leader of a gang who – admittedly a celebrity now – who’s now the President of the United States. It feels silly in a good way. And we’re continuing his trajectory so – he goes to a new city, conquers it, he goes to another city, conquers it, why not have him conquer the whole country?
Strategy Informer: Why is it not “Saints Row: The Fourth”?
Jim Boone: It’s funny; we talked about that one too. When we were at THQ we went through a ton of different suggestions for the name. When we got acquired by Deep Silver we went through a similar thing, and eventually we settled on such a simple name because our game is so out there, as it is, we almost didn’t want to do something different with the name. Let’s just call it Saints Row IV and let the game speak for itself in terms of the OTT nature of this sequel.
Strategy Informer: It’s an interesting time to be announcing new games, as the next generation is basically imminent. Obviously I imagine the whole THQ thing would have disrupted things slightly, but did you consider next gen? Or is it basically this gen-or-bust kind of thing?
Jim Boone: We’ve been working on Saints Row IV for a couple of years now, and we’ve been working on it with this timeframe in mind. I mean we heard the rumours back then that this is when the next gen consoles might also be appearing, but if we look back at our past, when we did Summoner as a PlayStation 2 launch title, it was one of the most stressful things we worked on. It was incredibly difficult to do. We always thought we could have done better on that game if it weren’t a launch title, so the thought is we wanted to do something here where we gave ourselves the right amount of time and focus. If we had done it for next-gen, I think the fear is we wouldn’t have done it right, and with a franchise that we love as much as Saints Row, we didn’t want to jeopardise everything we’d worked on.
Thanks go to Jim Boone for his interesting and illuminating answers to our questions. Volition seem to have come out of THQ’s demise relatively unscathed, and it’s now full steam ahead on what looks like a very wild and whacky time. Don’t forget to check out our First Impressions of Saints Row 4, and keep an eye on the site for more news and coverage leading up to its late August release.