inFAMOUS: Second Son Interview with Brand Development Director Ken Schramm

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inFAMOUS: Second Son is my most anticipated title announced for the PlayStation 4 to date, so I scrambled especially hard at the EB Games Expo 2013 to secure an interview with Sucker Punch Productions Brand Development Director Ken Schramm to speak with him about the game. We talked about Delsin’s Native American background, the difference between superheroes and superhumans, just what the heck you may be able to do with neon powers and a whole lot more. Be sure to read until the end as Ken gave us some extra nuggets of information after we stopped recording…

Something I’ve always wondered about is the fact that Delsin Rowe is of a Native American bloodline. What was the inspiration for giving him this heritage? 

Well, the whole thing is he’s not just Native American, but the area that Seattle is in – the Pacific Northwest – there’s a big, big, big tribal culture and all that. I mean, look at Lake Sammamish… everything is named pretty much after Native American tribes. And there’s so many… that’s where Lewis and Clark were, in that area, so that’s where all the Native Americans were. Because they’re coming down from Alaska, and that’s where they first populated the United States. So we’ve got a lot of Native American culture in Seattle and it’s basically to pay tribute to those people – it’s their land! They’re a part of it, and what better way to pay tribute to them than by making our hero a representative.

And so did you find ways to integrate that culture into the story? I wonder if we might see a connection between his abilities and the spiritual realm in that culture?

Oh, we did. You start off the game in his village, and that transport vehicle that I talk about – it was on its way out of Seattle, but it just happened to be near his village when it wrecked. So Delsin goes in there and helps the first conduit out; he didn’t know what was gonna happen. So he absorbed that first power and he realised after the fact what happened, so he knows there’s a whole bunch of other conduits in that truck that went into Seattle… the DUP’s (Department of Unified Protection) trying to chase him and get him out of Seattle, so you’ve got your story right there.


So was that an early decision in the conceptual phrase to place the game in Seattle this time around?

Here’s the deal with Seattle; we made New Marais – an off-shoot of New Orleans, if you will, and Empire City everybody always makes it New York City – but, you know, how many development companies have an opportunity to make a game in their own home town? So instead of calling it Seaport or something like that, I mean we live there for goodness’ sake! If we can’t get this real city right, then we have no business making a real city, period! So, what better timing to go to a real city and to our home town. We were very fortunate to build our home town. Now, I’m not sitting here telling you that if you go on Google Maps you’re gonna take a tour of Seattle, right?

However, there’s sections like the Pacific Science Centre – which has the Space Needle, and the Monorail. If you go to Seattle, and you stand in there and you see all the dinosaurs, you’re gonna go ‘no way!’ because we got that right. We wanted to get certain sections… that Post Alley, we got the Elephant Car Wash in there, we got Lincoln’s Toe Truck in there. So you can start to understand the kind of businesses we went after – you’re not gonna see Starbucks, you’re not gonna see McDonald’s or anything like that…

Only the true identity of the city…

Yeah, we’re getting our Seattle, not the commercial Seattle. The Crocodile’s in there – which is a local bar – that’s where one of our boss battles happens. So, you know, the owner of the Crocodile was like ‘this is awesome! Yeah, go for it!’ It’s just exposure for them, it’s not like we’re making a terrible game or anything.

Did you feel more free to do all of that, and maybe feel a little easier with the option of creating a brand new protagonist?

Yeah, that’s certainly the case. Let me back up a little bit. Obviously it was the choice of the fans to whether we followed the canon – with the trophy data and all that, you’ve heard me say that spiel before – but it’s true, I mean they determined the outcome of how we were gonna make this game. And so, we knew we were gonna have a new hero now and were going to need new powers – we’re not gonna put him in the same playground, right? So, we thought of other cities; sure, Vegas pops up, right? Other cities pop up in the United States… Chicago, there’s a lot of cities that have a lot of flavour. Hey, we looked at international cities as well. But like I said, we got an opportunity to build a real city – let’s build ours!


How influenced are the power by the environments themselves? Because with inFAMOUS, we had electricity which is a very urban power, and then in the sequel we had fire and ice, which were more elemental. Now, it seems like a more industrial route…

I’m not sure whether it was/is the environment; the environment is definitely a part of it, and it weaves into those details. But, you get into most open world games, you’ve got guns and rifles and all that stuff, but we’re shooting things out of your hands, right? So we’re trying to find powers that… it’s our job as designers to be creative. We don’t want to do something that you guys all know. If you’re familiar with a power, say, from a superhero that’s been an IP forever or something like that, you’re expectations are almost to ‘okay, did it play better than that?’. But we’re trying to find powers that you’re not normally common with. When’s the last time you heard of a neon power?! Okay, you see what I’m saying? Smoke, fire – you can understand that a little bit – but even with smoke, you’re seeing the transitions and stuff, but neon?! ‘What the hell are you gonna do with neon?!’ Well it’s coming… wait ’til you see the other powers, you’re gonna go ‘what?!’

That actually ties into a thought I had, which is – with Delsin being an absorber of powers – you have license to explore so many abilities, but you also don’t want to ‘dry up the well’, so to speak. Because for future iterations, you guys will have to be even more creative to do something that hasn’t been seen before, and you’ll be competing against yourselves in that regard.

Oh yeah, well we only have two years to make the game too, right? So we can’t throw every power we can think of in our imaginative bank at ya, right? So we gotta be very due diligent in what we do for this title, and make sure that it plays well. The key thing is the power sets; you’ve seen smoke, we’ve teased neon… we’re gonna have other powers. And these power sets act differently. To get these power sets to begin with… you know our drain mechanisms; if you drain smoke from a car or whatever – you can think of all the ways you can drain smoke – you’re gonna have the smoke powers.

If you drain neon signs, or whatever has lights, you’re gonna get the neon powers. It’s all about the environments and sucking out of the environment, so if it doesn’t work well with the environment, it’s not gonna be a power! So you can probably predict a little bit, if you think about the environment and uses and how it can be a power – that’s the line of thought that you should be thinking about for what’s gonna be the other powers. It’s not gonna be elemental powers; you’re not gonna see water or something like that. That’s too common.


And how much the did the capabilities of the PlayStation 4 free you up to explore something so hard to nail down, in regards to physics, particles and such, as smoke? Is it something you couldn’t have done, realistically speaking, on the PlayStation 3?

Well, when you think about it, in inFAMOUS 1 and 2 we had electricity. You just got different variants of the power of electricity. That’s all we could do… not all we could do, but that’s the parameters we were set within that game. Here, we don’t have those same parameters. So, different power sets means what? Different particle effects, different explosions, different FX, different gameplay type. Traversal, parkour – a main staple in our game… can’t play an inFAMOUS game without climbing all over. But who’s to say with smoke and neon, you have to traverse in the same way?

There’s very unique ways… you’re gonna traverse in smoke one way, but with neon there’s several other ways. Smoke, you’re gonna be able to go up a pipeline. You think you’re going to be able to do that with neon? Probably not! But that’s not to say there’s not a special thing we’re doing with neon too, right? Trust me, with each power set you’re going to be able to get around in our environment in a very unique way and a very fun way. Just because you can do it in different ways, it still has to have that underlying common denominator – fun!

I’m very intrigued to see more about neon, because on first consideration, some may think of it as a fairly passive power…

Yeah, neon… light. Light’s not so passive if you… there’s lots of things you could do with light; there’s speed, there’s power. I mean, you could imagine… you’re trying to get me to say more about what’s going on with neon! [Laughs] I get it. Good job, good job.

I’m just really intrigued is all! So you mentioned the draining mechanism; I assume it’s like a cycling of powers where only one can be equipped at any given time? So if I currently have smoke powers, but would really benefit from neon in a given situation, I need to find a source of light and once I’ve drained that, my smoke powers go away until I decide to do the same process?

That’s absolutely how the mechanism works. And you can pretty much bet that our level designers are gonna put you in situations when you probably have smoke, and you go ‘shit, I really wish I had neon right now’, and you go to find neon. You can definitely bet we’re gonna put you in situations where you’ll want to switch out your powers.


With the direction of the narrative being influenced by fan choice, what would have happened if the ‘bad ending’ was picked as canon in inFAMOUS 2?

Well, we’d have Cole!

So you would’ve had to find new ways to make him fresh too, and bring him into the next-gen…

Yeah, who knows what… we’re talking speculation because that’s obviously not the canon we went with, but, if the trophy data had said the bad canon, obviously Cole would be in this game. Now, would he still be an electrical superhuman? Ehh, we could always write things – I mean he probably would! But who’s to say he couldn’t take something else. We could always draw some canon… superhumans, I mean, c’mon! Don’t get me wrong though, everything in our game – and this is the key about inFAMOUS games – everything in our game is pretty much grounded in reality, except the powers. If you take that out of play, it’s just a city… it’s just environmental stuff. But he’s just able to draw from it and use the environment to his advantage. Key to the game, right? I mean, that’s what an inFAMOUS title is – it’s about an everyday guy who suddenly gets superhuman powers and he has to figure out what to do with them. That’s where Delsin’s at, and so was Cole.

Speaking of the pillars of inFAMOUS, I’m assuming we’ll be seeing the morality play and karma system make a return?

Yeah, I mean I haven’t talked about it much at all to be honest with you. But, it’s a staple of our game just like parkour is – karma is another pillar of our titles. So even though I haven’t talked about it, you can bet that it’s gonna be in our game some way, somehow. Now, whether that’s through progression of powers, through storyline, through gameplay… who knows how we’re gonna do it. We’re working on it right now. In our development processes, we’re building up all the stuff that’s going on in the missions and stuff like that and then we’ll decide how it flows from there. Gotta get that storyline, those missions, all that stuff correct and then we’ll worry about all the “fluff” if you will.

And then of course there’s the expected side missions and such…

You bet. It’s an open world, so yeah, you’ll have your collectibles – what they are right now, I can’t tell you – but yeah, you’ll have your collectibles. Will you have your side missions? Sure, of course.


And how big can we expect the map to be? Obviously it’s Seattle, but surely it’s scaled down…

Fair question. Well, we’ve got about 4 or 5 months left in development I think, so right now I couldn’t tell you exactly how big it is, but you can tell your fans and let them know that it’s gonna be similar in size to the first two games. I think inFAMOUS 2 was very similar to inFAMOUS 1 in size and scope – it’s gonna be along that scale, if not bigger.

As much as this is the third title in the series, Second Son does feel like a refresh or restart. Does it feel like that to you guys in the studio?

It’s important that your fans should know – and I hope they know this – yes, this is a brand new game, and yes, inFAMOUS is in the title and yes, it’s the third game in a franchise. However, by no stretch of the imagination do you need to have played inFAMOUS 1 and 2 to play this game. The canon that we’re talking about, yes, that’s from past players determining how this game was built, but just because of that the people who are buying new PS4’s and new gamers who are coming into the fold are not gonna sit there and say ‘what the hell is happening here? Why am I jumping into a story that is half-baked already?’. We can’t do that – that would be suicide!

I think that might be it for us, thank you so much for your time! We can’t wait to see more.

Oh, no worries. I can’t wait to show you more.

So, as alluded to in the opening paragraph of this article, the conversation continued after we shook hands. We didn’t want to keep Ken from his busy schedule as he literally had minutes before he had to go on stage and present the game over at the EB Live! Arena, but he was just so enthusiastic about speaking on it. He proceeded to clarify that Delsin does not steal powers from other conduits in the traditional sense, as they themselves do not lose their abilities.

He also stated that – using the DUP agents you may have witnessed in the E3 demo, who could manifest concrete platforms, as examples – just because you encounter a conduit who utilises their ability in a particular fashion, that doesn’t mean when you eventually absorb them, Delsin will use them in the same way. He has a special, individual interpretation of each power he comes across. And that woman who is seemingly in charge of the DUP, who featured in the first reveal trailer and then whose silhouette was seen again in the Fetch trailer… Ken hinted that she is the source of the concrete ability and may just be the boss whom Delsin absorbs said power from.

So, thanks again to Ken Schramm for making the time and to Sony PlayStation Australia for allowing us the opportunity. inFAMOUS: Second Son has a tentative release date of February, 2014.

I am a graduate of the Bachelor of Interactive Entertainment (w/ major in Games Design) course at Qantm College, Sydney.

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