Insomniac Insider

Ryan Schneider is Insomniac’s Chief Brand Officer. He has been with the company since the PS2 Ratchet & Clank days.

I’ve seen many changes in games marketing and PR the last 12 years at Insomniac, perched atop my old-man porch here on the fifth floor in Burbank. We were there for the birth of AAA console community developers. We watched the near-extinction of enthusiast magazines along with the early rise of social media.

But perhaps the biggest shift we’ve experienced has been the emergence of YouTube and Twitch content creators. We’ve seen a gradual shift from press, to developers, and eventually players influencing other players on what to play through their own hosted channels.

Admittedly, Insomniac has been a little late to officially embrace this movement. It’s not because Insomniac hasn’t cared though. The truth is, we weren’t exactly sure how best to interact with content creators — even though we’ve been content creators ourselves for many years producing our own trailers, podcasts, dev diaries, screenshots, music videos and even community day events. We also were watching to see if YouTube and Twitch content creators would be interested in games besides League of Legends, Minecraft, Hearthstone, Call of Duty and Halo. Ratchet & Clank and Sunset Overdrive proved to us there’s room for games like ours to catch on with the streaming community.

That’s not to say we’ve been completely on the streaming sidelines all this time. We started experimenting with live streaming way back in the Fuse days almost four years ago, continued with Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault and even tried open development streaming with Slow Down, Bull. We learned how challenging and rewarding live streaming can be, and applied some of those lessons to our weekly in-game “Sunset TV” episodes within Sunset Overdrive starting a couple years ago. And PS4 Ratchet & Clank recently had its own Twitch stream series, hosted by Melonie Mac, to support the launch of the game and film.

Ratchet & Clank Livestream with Melonie Mac

While we knew the value of producing our own content, we still didn’t fully understand how to work with fellow YouTube and Twitch content creators. For starters, we weren’t sure if those relationships should be managed through our publishers. (Depends.) Did all content creators require payment to engage with us? (No!) We weren’t sure how to even refer to content creators. Streamers? Twitchers? YouTubers? Influencers? (Consensus from the folks we spoke with seems to be “content creators” so that’s what we’ll go with now.)

Then we stumbled upon a little secret… everyone, including games publishers, is still learning!

A few weeks ago, we hosted a media day event at our Burbank studio where several content creators joined us to experience our 2016 games lineup. We learned so much from our guests at that experience, along with a Ratchet & Clank streaming event hosted by PlayStation a few weeks prior at our studio.

After much discussion internally, we decided to focus more on building relationships with content creators directly. It’s one of the many reasons we love being an independent developer – we can have greater control in how and when we interact with the community at large. Perhaps more relevant, we are taking a closer look at how we make our future games more amenable to content creators wishing to stream our titles, along with players who simply want a fun spectating experience.

If you’re a content creator, how does all this affect you? First and foremost, we understand more how you prefer to be treated. We think we better understand your objectives, and your wide-ranging equipment needs when you visit us to capture content. Most of all, we know we must be flexible to help you produce the best content, treating each of you as unique producers – not merely relying on the same assets we provide more traditional games journalists.

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Content creators at the Burbank studio in April.

How to Engage with Insomniac

Here’s the tl;dr part…the best way to work with us. While we’d love to be able to support every content creator, it’s just not realistic for us. We will correspond with as many creators as possible, as we try to respond to every inquiry we receive. But we have to be judicious with how we’re able to engage. Therefore, we’ve decided to focus on content creators with a minimum reach of around 10,000 on their combined social media and content channels. Videos should regularly generate more than 1,500 views per episode.

In addition, we will not pay content creators a fee to attend our events or to cover our games. Honestly, we don’t have a budget to do that. It’s also a matter of philosophy. We believe our games and access to the development team is valuable for content creators, and hope that value is apparent. If it’s not, we’re probably not a good fit to work together. And we want fans who watch streams that involve our titles to know that Insomniac is not paying their favorite content creators to praise our games. This feels like the most genuine approach.

Sunset TV Episode from June 2014

Finally, we’ll place a slightly greater emphasis on west-coast based content creators coast since it’s easier from a logistics standpoint if travel to our studios is involved. Full disclosure: At our recent media day events, travel costs were covered for several content creators who flew to our Burbank headquarters from various parts of the US and Canada. This is exactly how journalists are treated for press events.

If you are unsure about where you might stand, please use this brief form (below!) and we’ll get back to you promptly with some guidance. You should also refer to our content creator policy online for our stance on how to properly use or credit Insomniac-generated footage and audio.

Content creators are an important part of the games community and we now feel more equipped at Insomniac to build a meaningful relationship together. We’ll make mistakes along the way. But we’ll learn… and we’ll probably make new mistakes! Especially as we head into the new frontier of VR content creation (aka, help wanted!). We’ll work hard to continually improve though. Please come along for this crazy ride with us.

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Ratchet & Clank opens nationwide in theatres on April 29th, but many theatres have special screenings on April 28th at 7pm.

Our local theatre in Burbank, the AMC Burbank 16 at the Burbank Town Center has both a 3D and 2D screening at 7pm. Some Insomniacs and special guests will be stopping by the theatre to say hi to fans at the 7pm screenings, so if you’re looking for a spot to see it in LA, look no further!

We hope to see you there tomorrow night!

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We are truly humbled and honored by the outpouring of love and support we have received from Ratchet & Clank for PlayStation 4 this week. We are excited for our friends in Europe to start jumping in the game next week (April 20th in EU, April 22nd in UK)! But as we have said, this is just the beginning. On April 29th, the first ever Ratchet & Clank movie will hit theaters! This is an amazing moment for us, to see our beloved duo hitting the big screen, and we wanted to share it with you!

On April 28th at 7:00pm Eastern time, we will be at Silverspot Cinema in Chapel Hill, NC (near our Durham Studio) for an early screening of Ratchet & Clank (2D). We will be there early showing off the game and talking to fans, as well as, sticking around after the movie for Q&A, autograph signings, and maybe even a few giveaways.

If you would like to join us, you can purchase tickets to the show here (seating is limited by the theater capacity): Buy Tickets

We hope to see you there! If you can’t make it, we hope you can at least experience the movie at your local theater of choice.

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It’s been an exciting year for us at Insomniac. We started 2015 continuing where we left off with Sunset Overdrive and the Dawn of the Rise of the Fallen Machines DLC. We then moved on to something new and exciting in Edge of Nowhere, our Oculus Rift exclusive VR title. We followed that up with showing the world Ratchet & Clank (PS4) gameplay for the first time and more of the movie (including the great celebrity cast). Sprinkle in a few premium mobile titles and our first PC release, Slow Down, Bull (50% of net proceeds going to Starlight Children’s Foundation) and you have a busy year!

As we do each year, the time has come to take a little break and recharge. We will be on holiday as a studio starting today through the New Year. This means you won’t be seeing anything new from us, and responses on social media and support will be slower than normal. We are looking forward to coming back fresh in 2016 with Ratchet & Clank on PS4 AND in theaters in April, Edge of Nowhere hitting the Oculus Rift after the headset releases publicly… and maybe a few other surprises. Thank you for a great year and we will see you all in 2016!

We leave you with our 2015 holiday card based on Edge of Nowhere concept art.

Happy Holidays!

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We recently received a Facebook post showing off an awesome looking, fan-made Insomniac history book. We were blown away by it, and wanted to learn more about the book, its creator and his reasons for making it. We also wanted to see more images of what it looks like inside and out. We tracked down Jesus Valdivia of Spain and asked him about his creation.

First, a little backstory. Jesus writes:

This book started as a project at college. Despite studying English and German Translation and Interpreting, we have a subject (Book Graphic Design and Layout) where the final exam is a book that we have to build ourselves from scratch. In fact, before deciding to turn it into a complete book, my idea was to design a small brochure about Insomniac Games. I was going to give a little information about the history, games and studio, but then I started to write like there was no tomorrow and totally changed my mind. I had so much to write and say about Insomniac and even more about the games. My teacher gave me the green light. I remember his words, “This is big. It is a risky choice because of the time. You just don’t have to write it; you have to edit the text, correct your mistakes AND make a design. Then check that everything is correct and have it printed.” I just wanted to make it real. The idea of making a book about Insomniac Games that I someday could show to the people at the studio was motivation enough.

How did you compiled this?

In order to make this project I had to know how to use word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and we were asked to know their more advancing editing features. Once I had the text written and proofread, it was Adobe InDesign’s turn. I had never used it before, but I did use Photoshop since I was a kid and they are similar. Photoshop and InDesign have been my main tools. However, I also used Illustrator, Vector Magic and Snagit to make screenshots of the layouts and transfer them from one program to another. It was crazy. It was all about the timeline; we had less than five months to finish our projects. That is not a lot when you have to design every single page and adapt the text length, choose the right images and even design the small Easter eggs that appear over the 80 pages of the book.

Was it printed and bound by you?

We had that option, but you need a professional level printer and some printing/bounding skills, as well as time. We could also work with a printer and have it finished at a printing house, which is what I did. The final result looks pretty cool. The quality of the paper and the finish are great. The printing house glued it too. Next time I will probably have it bound rather than glued, it just feels more professional.

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How much of this work is your work and how much is taken from other sources?

This is an interesting point. I cannot give you a clear percentage. The book is divided into three chapters: ‘History of Insomniac Games’, ‘Games’ and ‘The Studio’. We do not have much information about Insomniac in Spanish so I thought that making this book was the best gift to the Spanish-speaking community. Most of the information I used in the making of the book is reliable information (taken from the official Insomniac site, Moonlighting with Insomniac and Baker’s Dozen blogs, PlayStation, IGN.com, etc.) translated into Spanish and rewritten so as the style is always the same. I call it the ‘Insomniac Style’. Casual, close to the reader, sometimes irreverent, festive and full of humour. Rewriting the translations was such a hard job but it turned out totally worth it. And the puns… ah the puns! Also I looked up some info in Spanish (reviews, posts, my own game boxes…) just to make sure that what I was writing made sense and was accurate.
Regarding the images and photos used, I have a list of sources in the bibliography.

Did you do any of the art?

I made some of the artwork. For example, the time machine (second chapter) that allows you to travel through the history of Insomniac and the games. I also vectorized many silhouettes (I love working with them, it is totally my style) and then designed new artwork like the Captain America / Superman Insomniac logo. I even vectorized North Carolina and Burbank’s building skyline for the last page! The design of the cover and back of the book was also an idea of mine, again with silhouettes.

How long did this take you?

5-6 months. At this point I think that you can figure the amount of work behind this project. Also I had to deal with the other subjects. German is challenging!

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For a deeper look at Jesus’ project, check out the full gallery of pics here: https://www.flickr.com/gp/135374984@N04/89DY36

We love fan art, writings, images, cosplay and anything else Insomniac (or our games) may have inspired. Please don’t stop sending them to our Twitter and/or Facebook page, and swing by our Community forum for a chat!

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A note from Carrie, Insomniac’s Chief People Officer.

Little did I know when I came to Insomniac Games 11 years ago that I was joining such an incredible company. Sure, I was amazed by Ted on my first meeting (just like everyone) but I really had no idea in September of 2003 how truly special Insomniac was, is, and will always be. What I instantly realized was that from day one, Ted, Al and Brian created a studio with a culture of inclusion, creativity, collaboration and FUN. I don’t think this was done with much thought toward “what is our culture” but is rather a reflection of these amazing individuals and their passion for making games. As we’ve grown and the industry has evolved, we’ve never deviated from the most important aspect of who we are – Insomniacs! To know us is to know that our heart and soul is a tremendously talented and vocal team that creates amazing games for our fans. I’d be bold-faced lying if I didn’t say that we have our challenges and that some problems are easier to fix than others. We still have a long way to go but, no matter what needs to be addressed, the foundation of our studio is solid and if you ask anyone here, they’ll tell you that we’re part of a unique place that cannot be duplicated.

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Being recognized on Fortune’s 2014 Best Small & Medium Workplaces list marks our 15th award in nine years and, yes, I’m bragging right now. How many companies, especially in our industry, can wear that badge? Even more important, these awards are the direct result of survey feedback received anonymously from Insomniacs. There is no buying your way onto a list like this and if we weren’t doing an amazing job focusing on our employees we wouldn’t be recognized year after year. Here’s a little-known fact, the only two years we didn’t make the list is because we chose not to apply so we could just focus on the feedback we’d received and wanted to address employee concerns. Hindsight being what it is, I realize we short changed everyone by not applying and not soliciting feedback because everyone here takes great pride in this accomplishment. Even during times where we’ve had our biggest growing pains – new tech, new IP, new publishing relationships, new consoles — I’ve wondered if we’re really doing all we can to create a culture that can withstand and evolve change. But our employees have said that we’re doing almost everything right and when we’re not, we admit it!

Insomniac Games turned 20 earlier this year and I can honestly tell you that I hope I’m here when we celebrate our 40th!

*Update*: You can now watch the trailer here!

Hey everyone,

Marcus Smith, the creative director of Sunset Overdrive here! We’ve been working hard to put the explosive final touches on our live action trailer. This has been a huge shoot for us, involving taking over the backlot and turning it into a real-life version of colorful Sunset City.

To give you a sneak peek of the trailer, we wanted to share some photos from the set. You can see how amazing it looks. We’re totally going to put that Sexburger sign in the office when we’re done.

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The props are perfect too, including the dozens of innocent teddy bears eagerly waiting their turn to be launched into dynamite-propelled heaven. And wouldn’t you know it, Fizzie demanded screen time too. Talk about an inflated ego.

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The live-action trailer will be out soon! So keep an eye on Insomniac Games and Sunset Overdrive on Twitter for the exact moment we unleash it on the world!

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We had an awesome time last week seeing many of you at San Diego Comic-Con. Whether we played Chaos Squad with you on the showfloor or in the Xbox Lounge, revealed brand-new content to you at our SDCC Panel, or caught you in line to buy Mondo’s Sunset Overdrive poster (their first-ever videogame print), it was fantastic to hear about how excited you are for the game.

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If you missed our panel, and the coverage of it on Polygon, we focused a lot on Character Customization at San Diego Comic-Con. Polygon announced a contest where you can design an outfit for the game that we will make after we ship to be in post-launch DLC! The prize is a trip to Insomniac for a one-day apprenticeship with us. Check it out and submit your entry here.

If you need some inspiration, Polygon also interviewed Lead Character Artist Gavin Goulden (who we interviewed on this blog last week!) about the customization in the game. You can read that piece here.

And finally we released a BRAND NEW video showing off tons of new customization. Check out some of our favorite customization pieces from the game and see LOTS of new gameplay footage.

That’s all for now, it was great to see you at Comic-Con this week. And be sure to stay tuned to Sunset TV for some footage!

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.

The Herker OD is one of many different enemies you'll face in Sunset Overdrive.

We’ve filled you in on how combat and traversal were intertwined in Sunset Overdrive like two young lovers, but what good is that if there’s nothing to shoot at? So, let’s chat about enemies!

We wanted to do two main things with the enemies in Sunset Overdrive: make them threatening and make a wealthy variety of them. And, to be honest, this wasn’t exactly easy. In the game, you’re always quickly moving up, down and every which way – so creating admirable foes to match that speed and freedom took some work.

But, it got worked. And here’s a few of them and how play.

OD: These guys have a horde mentality and will wreck you if you’re sticking to the ground. We’re going to throw a lot of them at you all at once and they actually have a lunge that’s both quick and unexpected. So, while they aren’t the toughest to kill – the sheer amount of them makes them dangerous.

Plus, OD are pro at blocking your traversal paths. They climb on grind rails and even block you from bouncing on objects. So, you’ll have to be keep moving and adapt your traversal path and style when facing off against hordes of these.

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Blower: These folks are going to attack you at range with messy Overcharge bile that lingers around and damages you if you stay in it. And we’ve worked to make sure the consistence in which they fire is random and doesn’t feel too “patterny.” That plus the fact that Blowers usually position themselves on perches on the outskirts of battle, mean that you’ll have to strategically hone in on them with traversal to get the kill.

Herker: You’re not going to like the Herker. I mean, you will – but repeated bulldozer fists to the face will bruise your friendship with it. On a basic level, the Herker is a tank. He can take a lickin’ and keep on kickin.’ However, he’s also endowed with some speed. One of his attacks is a beeline rush towards the player that will take out a huge chunk of your health if hit. So, the best way to defeat him is to keep your distance and stay above him.

However, he’s not just limited to close-range melee attacks. He can also throw large pieces of concrete or OD at the player, which can both hurt you on impact and force you to now deal with another enemy at close range. So, overall, he’s a versatile enemy that usually becomes your primary target to take out first in a fight. If you don’t, you’ll be the first thing taken out.

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Scabs: Scabs are humans, but that doesn’t make them any less threatening than their more mutated brethren. Plus, their presence will actually make you switch up your play style. The normal Scabs fire assault rifles at the player from a distance. This constant ranged damage is a style that the mutants don’t fill. It will force the player to stay in constant movement in order to dodge the barrage of fire – all while trying to line up their own shots to take the Scabs down.

And that’s just a few of the enemy types! There are more types of OD and Scabs, as well as a whole other variety of foes like the Fizzco Security Robots. But, for now we hope you see how just a few of the enemies really differ from each other and force the player to approach them in separate ways.

And it’s important to note that you’ll be facing these guys all at once. Imagine turning the corner and seeing a huge horde of OD running towards you. As you slide on a rail, you have to club off OD that are trying to block the way. You jump on a grind rail only to have a Blower spew bile at in the path. You jump on the nearest car and suddenly bullets whiz by from a band of Scabs on the roof to your left. You land on the street to gather your bearings, but a chunk of concrete knocks you back. A Herker has joined the party. Better get moving, buddy. And shooting!

Hell, the Scabs and the OD will even fight each other – making the fight even crazier.

That’s the experience we want you to have in Sunset Overdrive. We want to surprise you and constantly make you re-evaluate you combat situation. Sound fun? Good!

Unless you said “no.” In that case, bummer.