Creative Director Marcus Smith Talks Sunset Overdrive

Three questions, three answers.

Today marks the release of Insomniac Games and Microsoft Studios’ new Xbox One-exclusive title, Sunset Overdrive. We’ve played the game (and been left wanting more for the past month), we’ve laughed at the tragic glory that is the live-action trailer for the game, and when presented with the opportunity to ask a creative director Marcus Smith a few questions about surviving and thriving in the Awesomepocalypse, we leapt at the chance.

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Q: Sunset Overdrive is a lot more colorful and cheerful than a lot of other games on the market now, especially those with an M rating. What influenced/inspired this direction?

A: The central theme for Sunset Overdrive is “fun in the end times”, the idea being that we take the classic post-apocalyptic setting and turn it on its ear– instead of everything becoming desperate and every man for himself, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Mad Max, the hero of the story recognizes it as a new beginning. Overnight, societal norms and laws are gone and they are free to be who they want to be and do what they want to do. It’s liberating and exhilarating. This central idea dictated everything about the game, including the look. What better way to illustrate exhilaration with vibrancy? What better way to differentiate ourselves from the classic post-apocalyptic genre than being bright and inviting?

More importantly, the world of Sunset City is designed to not only to look fun and inviting, but to play that way, too. The city needed to be like an amusement park, offering interesting places for people to explore and exploit. It’s a game, like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, where the player will be using the environment to get around, using objects in the world to gain height and move quickly, so the city needed to be built to support all the player’s available move options in mind. What we ended up with is visually unique and works super well with moving around (or getting into combat!).

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Q: A number of aspects of Sunset Overdrive feel reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank, such as the variety of wild and wacky weaponry. Was this a deliberate choice, and if so, are there other elements which carry over?

A: It was. Originally, Drew (Murray, Game Director) and I had in mind a much more ‘straight’ zombie apocalypse type game and part of that idea was to move away from the wacky, inventive weapons. It would have been awful. In fact, we moved away from that direction even before pitching the game internally. But, I think we just wanted to not perpetuate the idea that Insomniac *has* to do crazy weaponry. However, as we moved on with production and figured out the proper pace and feel of the game, it was clear that more exotic weapons were required. Our ‘normal’ weapons got phased-out and now we only have a couple. Of course, with our weapon upgrades and Amp systems, even the normal weapons become extraordinary, so we can’t even do that right!

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Q: In my preview of the game, I noted that playing it made me feel like a teenager again. Granted, I was a teenager back in the 90’s, while the game is being released in 2014 and takes place in the not-too distant future of 2027. As such, I was curious if there was a certain sense of time period that you were trying to evoke in the game– then, now, later, or just an overall sense of timelessness?

A: Indeed! To a lot of us, the general sense of ‘fun’ and ‘unexpected’ in games has taken a back seat in console games. We’re in a period where reality is all the rage. And while that’s great as a part of the spectrum, many of us here at Insomniac miss those games that were just fun/funny/exhilarating as games. SEGA games of the 90’s (especially the Dreamcast era) like Crazy Taxi, Jet Grind/Set Radio, Sonic, etc. were just nuts! So fast and frenetic. Hell, no matter your age, you probably played some form of Mario Bros. in your formative years– those games taught us all that games should be fun and don’t necessarily need to be grounded in reality. Mario’s universe is like one big acid trip, but people don’t sit around picking apart the mythology (This is where I would have lowered my head, avoided eye contact, and slowly sidled away… –Ed.)! Anyway, philosophically those games were a big influence on us, but so have more modern indie games. We’re just looking to make something interactive and fun and not necessarily an interactive movie, which so many modern console games feel like. So, yes, we want to be timeless. 😉

With that, we’d just like to thank Mr. Smith for taking the time to answer these questions for us! Sunset Overdrive is available now, both a la carte and as part of the Cirrus White Xbox One Sunset Overdrive console bundle for $399.99!


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.