Saints Row IV – Interviews With Audio Director Brandon Bray and Art Director Stephen Quirk
As one of the most wacky and madcap series out there, Saints Row IV has a lot to live up to after an adventure that saw a zombie outbreak, insane wrestlers, escort missions with tigers, DLC clones and Burt Reynolds as mayor. Effortlessly upping the ante, this fourth instalment now sees you trapped inside a virtual prison by invading aliens who ‘misunderestimated’ your prowess just because you happen to be the President of the United States. While at E3 I had the opportunity to talk to both Brandon Bray and Stephen Quirk, respectively the Audio Director and the Art Director on Saints Row IV, and asked them as much as I could about living in a nightmare Matrix, dubstep guns, and how to avoid being dead inside.
Brandon Bray – Audio Director
First things first: Dub-step gun. How brilliant is that?
[Laughs] Yeah, we’re pretty proud of it.
I just spent minutes having that on full blast! Was that one of your ideas, or did they just come up to you and go “we want this in the game”?
That’s pretty much it. It’s been kind of talked about since production during Saints Row The Third, but it came up late and we just didn’t have time to develop the idea and what we actually wanted to do. Then a couple of our systems designers came and said “okay, this is what we’re going to do, how are we going to make it work?”, and so me, systems designers, art, VFX, programming, we all sat down and said “how do we make this work?”. So we came up with a system that uses audio markers that we inlay in the wave file itself, so I put those in tempo with the music, so that’s why everything is in tempo, because those audio markers trigger both the visual effects that are firing out of the gun, they trigger the cars to bounce up and down in tempo, they trigger the pedestrians to dance in time, so roughly, in one of those audio tracks there’s around three-hundred audio markers to make sure everything is in tempo. Then there was the environment, and how that reacts with it, but we’re all really happy as to how it turned out.
I also really liked the idea where you can now have the radio playing even if you’re not inside a car and making use of your superpowers.
Yeah, that was a concern we had, just because when you have superpowers you’re not in a car very much, there’s really no need to be, and since we’re on foot a lot we just said “let’s give him an on-foot radio”. So we have that, and we’re also introducing an interactive music system, which is a unique score from our composer, we used him on Saints Row The Third, his name is Malcolm Kirby Jr., and we brought him back for Saints Row IV, so he’s done a score where as you’re traversing around the city and using these superpowers, it will react to the things that you’re doing. If you’re sprinting the music will change, as you change elevation the music changes with you, and it just gives another kind of opportunity for the player to react with the environment.
With the licensed soundtrack there’s quite a few big titles in there, like Blur’s ‘Song 2′, how much say do you get into what songs make it on to the final soundtrack?
Quite a bit, actually. We have a consultant that we use, and he helps us narrow down the giant field of what we could possibly use into something more manageable, meaning somewhere in the neighbourhood of two hundred tracks per station of what we could possibly use. Then we get feedback from both the audio team and some of the directors as well, but we really want to make sure that we’re giving the players current tracks, popular artists, new things that are really good from up-and-coming artists, and then just favourites. I can’t go too much into the radio right now, we’re going to do an announcement later, but I’m really happy with this play-list that we have.
There are, there definitely are. I can’t tell you what they are, at least not yet! But no, we have a limited budget for what we can use for the radio, but we want to make sure that we’re giving the player the best that we can. In the long run I think everybody was really happy with the final list that we put together.
Because having the ability to make your own mix-tape was one of my favourite features of The Third, the only problem is then you don’t get to hear all the adverts between songs.
Yeah, but the mix-tape is definitely one of the better features that we offer for sure, as far as radio goes.
You mentioned that you have a soundtrack that reacts with how the player moves throughout the world, how difficult is that to programme in?
It was a completely new system that we’d never done before, it’s brand new for the Saints Row franchise, and one of our other audio designers Kyle Vande Slunt, he worked with our programmer Shawn Lindberg with the code, and so it’s designing the stems so that there’s different layers of music that will come in and out depending on what’s going on, it’s a pretty intricate system, and it took a few months to develop, but I think we’re really happy with the way it turned out, I think fans will like it.
Do you get a lot of say in regards to how the voice acting is performed?
That’s more for our writers and creative directors, they tend to do the casting. They’ll get input from the leads and directors just to make sure everybody’s happy with the choices that we’re making, then it kind of just moves forward from there.
You said before we started the interview you told me the cockney was back and that you can change the pitches on the voices now, did you design a lot of that system as well?
Yeah, there was just kind of something that was actually new with some of the software that we’re using, and we figured why not try and get this in the game? It’s a great feature, and adding it to the player voice seemed like the best thing we could do in terms of enhancing customisation, because people spend a lot of time on their characters, and a lot of people make these gruesome and really weird looking characters, and so now you can give them a helium voice or a really low, deep, monstrous kind of voice.
Not this time around, no. We did it in the last game, we gotta do something new for this game. And in the last game, that was just on a story character, it wasn’t on the player, but now we’re giving the player the opportunity to play around with their voice. One of my favourite things to do is use a female voice and then pitch it way down, it’s absolutely awesome.
Stephen Quirk – Art Director
We’ve come back to Steelport, but it’s all a simulation, so one of the things I noticed is that now people start de-rezzing instead of spewing blood, was that a deliberate design choice by you?
Oh yeah, you’ll start seeing that the simulation is an imperfect simulation, and as you progress through the story you’ll see – without revealing too much – this is more of a prison, so this is more like the Plan B, it’s hastily put together, so you’ll see that it has weaknesses and there’ll be ways for it to de-construct further throughout the game. There’ll be different things revealed, so you’ve seen the flashpoints throughout that you can go in and convert to blue throughout the world, and you can start taking them and thus the stability. So you’ll start seeing people start to glitch out a little bit, you’ll see buildings starting to shift and textures sliding around, and it’s just stuff you’ll catch out of the corner of your eye, and it’ll start to increase with frequency throughout the game.
So it’s like a nightmare Matrix!
Yeah, exactly! We have a lot of fun with that actually, because you’ve got to assemble your gang, and you’ve seen throughout mission one that people will start to get pulled away and abducted from you, so naturally to rescue yourself you have to rescue your crew and get the band back together, and take the fight back to the Zin.
That opening in the White House, there was loads of stuff going on in the background, there was even a stripper pole! How much time are we going to be spending in the White House, or was that all stuff you just chose to add in cut-scenes as a bit of humour?
That’s just a bit of the early game, of course you’ve got to show “how does one become President in the Saints Row universe?” and then “how does one exercise his executive power?”, so you see that there’s lots of nods to the previous Saints Row games, so if you play through you can see the tiger from the escort missions in the third game, a little scale model of the Saints Row 1 church, Thermopylae from the STAG corporation that you fought at the end of Saints Row 3, little things like that. Even the little voodoo doll from the Sons of Samedi is hanging on a portrait, it’s kind of like these trophies from all the enemies you’ve beaten in the past.
Of course; you can look out towards some of the signage in the city and it’s reacting and giving you messages like “Obey the Zin”, and you can look at some old movies from the eighties like They Live, or The Matrix, or any one of a number of pop-culture references, I mean, as you get through the game you’re going to start seeing more and more of those. Some subtle, some not so subtle, but all of them showing the love we have for them. Not just the visuals, but the audio; music kind of really brings back memories, and it’s stuff we all grew up with, and there’s some stuff in there I can’t wait for people to get their ears and eyes on. If you love the eighties, and from the nineties you’re going to find a lot of cool stuff to make you smile, and if you don’t you might be dead inside.
What was your favourite part to design in terms of the overall city?
One of the coolest things is just making the city react to you; as you’re taking it over and seeing it change, and you see it reacting at you and getting angry at you. It gets like this red colour where you’re fighting back, but then it starts getting desperate and then you start taking it over and then you see it start progressing more to the Saints’ colours as you’re taking over. I think just getting in with those systems, working with the rendering programmers and the different guys and just like “how can we make this city come alive?”, there’s some cool stuff going on, and it’s all stuff I’m pretty proud of.
We’ve already been to Steelport before, so is there a lot of stuff you’ve had to swap around and change and make it completely fresh to those who’ve played the third one to death?
Oh, yeah. And a lot more of it is – now we’ve got superpowers – a lot of it is about verticality, so I’m getting up on rooftops and finding new ways to move through the city, and vehicles become ammo, the skyscraper now becomes something you can launch off of, and just bring the pain to the aliens.
Saints Row IV releases in the UK and across Europe on the 23rd August.
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