Before Sunset: Game Director Drew Murray Interview

As we continue towards this Fall, we wanted to spotlight various members of the Sunset Overdrive team with some questions you hopefully haven’t seen answered elsewhere. Get to know the Sunset Overdrive team. This week we talk to Game Director Drew Murray.

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There is a rumor that you were standing on top of a chair when pitching Sunset Overdrive to Microsoft, can you confirm or deny?

Confirmed. I was telling the story of what we thought would be a typical experience in the game, and as I reached the culmination of the story, I was building up the performance, talking louder and gesticulating more. At the end, I jumped up on my chair, switched to yelling, and acted out the last 45 seconds or so. I’d actually been practicing jumping up on a conference table, but the table at Microsoft seemed a bit flimsy so I decided to go with the chair, not really considering the fact that jumping up on a swivel chair maybe wasn’t the best idea. Thankfully, Noah Mussler at Microsoft snatched his arm out and held the chair for the rest of my performance so I wouldn’t flip over.

Describe your ideally dressed Sunset Overdrive character?

As part of our pitch, I described what I pictured me and Marcus looking like in-game. My character was wearing nothing but a Speedo, a kangaroo codpiece, and sneakers. Add a black-eye or a bloody nose, and I’m good to go!

What were some of your first design rules for Sunset Overdrive?

After seven years of Resistance, “no rubble, no grey” was our first rule!

Our best rule, though, was “Less talk, more rock!” (which we totally ripped off from a Superbrothers article based around a Jordan Mechner quote). The core idea is that most developers spend a ton of time talking and talking and talking about how to translate their basic, essential inspiration into a game, and then start working on it, but the best way is to go directly from inspiration to making, or “rocking.” As the article said, “Don’t think it through. Don’t talk about it. Don’t plan it. Dive in and start making it happen.” As soon as something is playable, you find consensus much quicker, even if it’s to go a completely different route, and you also get people focused on improving a feature instead of arguing against it as a theoretical concept.

All game designers should read this: http://boingboing.net/features/morerock.html

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Sunset Overdrive inspiration concepts

What’s the hallmark of a well-designed game for you?

I think it’s how well a game reflects its inspiration and intent. “Fantasy-based melee game” could be used to describe both God of War and Dark Souls, but those games have completely different inspirations and intents. One is to make you feel like a total badass the moment you pick up the controller, the other is to oppress you and make you work for every inch of ground you gain. And they’re both fantastically successful at evoking the feeling that they intended.

You’re a stickler for terrific controls, can you talk about the process? How do you know you nailed it?

The process really just comes down to tons of iteration. We do a rough pass to get the overall experience feeling vaguely correct, and then drill into the details. We’ll look at a particular thing like camera turn speed and really drill into top speed, acceleration and deceleration, how the stick-input-angle relates to different speeds, how the turn speed is affected by zooming, and tons of other details. Details like whether acceleration to top speed is going to take 5 frames or 6 frames are huge decisions, and there are heated debates about them.

Then we start playing the game and looking for cases where the controls don’t feel right, and we decide whether to adjust the core controls or set up special-case adjustments.

Along the way, we’re doing constant usability tests – first internally and then bringing in outsiders who have never seen the game – and seeing how players handle the controls. We get a lot of feedback from players telling us what they like and don’t like, but we’re also watching them play and will pick up on a lot of details that players may not consciously realize but that they’re having problems with. We take all we’ve learned, adjust what we need to, and run more people through it.

It’s a balance, though – your intent for the game has to stand firm. A game like Dark Souls could be considered non-responsive by a lot of players in a usability test, but those delays and slow, heavy animations and losing control after a big hit from an enemy are what make that game great at realizing its intent and inspiration. For Sunset Overdrive’s high-action, immediate responsiveness is what we aimed for, and so making sure that the controls are fast and tight was our goal.

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The One-Handed Dragon from the E3 2014 trailer. Drew’s favorite Sunset Overdrive weapon.

What’s your favorite video game of all time?

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal. I already loved Ratchet – the colors, the weapons, the combat, the tight controls, the humor, the minigames, the variety of mechanics, the different planets – and Up Your Arsenal took everything that was already great about the franchise and made it so much better. It cemented my desire to come to Insomniac to figure out how they made such great games. We’ve described Sunset Overdrive as “the game for adults who grew up loving Spyro and Ratchet,” because that’s who we are.

If your city was overrun by mutants who had drank Overcharge, how would you survive?

I’d steal an ice cream truck, cover it with pinwheels and roman candles, and blast T. Rex from the truck’s speakers while cruising around the city in order to gather a group of like-minded survivors. Then we’d drive to the Santa Monica Pier while eating ice cream novelties and create a post-apocalyptic pagan nudist colony in the amusement park there, surviving on funnel cakes and beer while we watched the sun set into the Pacific from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

Your Sunset Overdrive Weapon of Choice?

The One-Handed Dragon. I love the whistle-sounds of the fireworks, I love the risk-reward of the delayed-explosion, I love the dragon fireworks effects, and I love the gun model itself. I also spent a lot of time defending its early implementation, so I think the One-Handed Dragon and I bonded over other people’s mutual disdain for us.

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Drew and Conan O’Brien at E3.

What was it like demoing to Conan O’Brien?

It was fun. I knew in the back of my mind that I might look like an idiot on national TV, but I’m the guy who was jumping around on tables and chairs when presenting the game and asking concept artists to tweak the ears of the in-game kangaroo codpiece for the fifth time so it would look just right; it’s not like I have a lot of shame. I know how lucky we are to have people interested in the game, so I’m just trying to enjoy all the cool and unique experiences that are coming up, and this definitely fit the bill. Conan and his crew were very cool and, despite the appearance on TV, they all seemed to really dig Sunset Overdrive. As a bonus, my mom now thinks I’m famous.

Check out all of our Before Sunset interviews here.

  • Evan Andre’ Williams

    I always thought of Resistance: Fall of Man and 3 to be Ratchet & Clank for adults. Nonetheless, SSO looks great and I’m glad my Xbox friends can finally see why I love you guys so much.