Saints Row IV – Interview With Senior Producer Jim Boone
Saints Row is one of the most ballistic and insane series around, with more audacious laughs and ludicrous action than you can shake a dildo baseball-bat at. It often seems like there’s nowhere that the series won’t dare to go, and with this chapter of the Saints Row story seeing you become the President and attempting to fend off an alien invasion, it’s certainly one of the more outlandish concepts around. With that in mind, I recently spoke to Senior Producer, Jim Boone, about naked cockneys, fire-breathing dragons and whether anything is truly off limits in the Saints Row Universe.
[Warning, the second question of this interview has a major spoiler about the end of Saints Row The Third, so skip that one if you haven't finished it and want the end unspoiled]
You probably get asked all the time what kind of drugs you’re on when you’re making this series?
We do get that quite a lot! I think the thing with us is that we’ve been working on Saints Row for so long that it’s almost second nature for us to be thinking in these warped, twisted sort of ways. Honestly, I think the biggest thing that helps us with Saints Row is that it’s so liberating to work on this sort of franchise where a lot of the serious games, well, we’re a fan of a lot of the serious games that are out there, but I think in some ways it’s almost restrictive. You’ve got to think like “I need to do things in a very particular way in order for everything to come together perfectly”. With us, our focus is just on “what is the funnest thing we can put together for gamers?” That’s the focus, that’s the whole thing. That way, when you’re sitting around in the design room and you’re just throwing random ideas to see what sticks, anything is fair game. It’s very rare, it’s almost never that something would come up that we would say “ah, that’s not quite right for the theme of Saints Row”, it’s usually we’re just restricted by how much time or effort it would take to do a certain idea. I think that’s the big reason why the series tends to be as crazy as it does, we just tend to be in that mindset, and we just have a lot of fun with it.
At the end of Saints Row The Third, without spoiling the plot, there’s the very serious and po-faced one, and then you have Gangstas in Space. Was there a point where you had to say “right, we need to treat one of these endings as canon”?
You are correct, we kind of went with the one where Shaundi lives; that’s the one that most of the fans ended up choosing from what we could tell, so we figured, let’s reward them that way with going with that one. That and, you know, she’s such a popular character that we also have been able to have a lot of fun with this in terms of, even bringing back Shaundi from Saints Row 2 as this virtual representation, she’s got some history, and being able to do things like that with her was just awesome and gave us a lot of possibilities; that’s why we went with that ending.
Holographic Johnny Gat, maybe?
[Laughs] You’ll have to see, yes!
Taking over a city is a bit different from becoming the President of the United States, isn’t it? What makes the leader of the Third Street Saints such a suitable candidate for the Presidency?
You will see an origin story when you play the game, so you’ll find out exactly how they got that role but, conceptually, we keep laughing about it. He’s just continued this upward climb! He was just some street punk, then he became the leader of the Saints, then he becomes a pop-culture icon, it just seems logical that he becomes the President of the United States! Then you have to think about the fact that this is what he starts out as when you start Saints Row IV, so just wait until you see what we do with him by the end of the game!
That’s the one that I always play! Sometimes what I’ll do is do a play-through, I’ll try and change between the male and female, but when it’s the male it’s always the cockney accent.
“I call chips ‘fries’, alright?”
I loved that. It’s fantastic. I love that we do change it up a little bit each time too, each actor brings a little bit of their own flavour to it, and it’s not literally the same line every time, but it’s getting across the same information and everything. That’s been really awesome, and the actors appreciate that too and give an even better performance when you let them just change it up a little bit.
There’s a lot of stuff that you throw into the games, is there ever a point when you go “No, we can’t do that; it’s too silly”?
No. The example that our design director often gives, and I love this example, there was a period of time where we gave the team a week to do whatever you want, like, literally anything you can imagine, give it a shot. A group of guys ended up putting together a dragon. A flying, fire-breathing dragon. Ultimately, it’s not in the game, but the reason why it’s not is not because we couldn’t find a way to make it work thematically, it’s just that it was going to take too much time for us to be able to do it, and it was taking up too much memory, and it was just going to take a lot of work to get it to work just right. But, there was literally never a point where we said “Yeah, I don’t know if this really makes sense in Saints Row”. That wasn’t even a concern, a flying dragon was not even a concern.
In The Third there was the really nice touch where you’d become such big celebrities that people would take pictures of you while you were punching people in the ‘nads. SO now that you’re the President, are people going to start copying what you do, so you might see more naked cockney people just walking around?
There’s not so much in this one, because the thing you have to keep in mind is that when you get abducted, you get put in this virtual version of Steelport, so it’s essentially like a prison. So what we tried to do with it was to steer everything kind of away from that in a lot of ways. To give you an example, your penthouse is totally destroyed, all the Planet Saints are now Planet Zins, because what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to break your mind, break your will and indoctrinate you to make you become one of the Zin. So that’s one of the ways they’re trying to mess with your mind – by doing all this stuff. That’s why we’ve kind of steered a little bit away from that on this one, because it’s more about showing how you’ve lost everything, but what they don’t realise is, their thinking was “this is just some politician, he’s the leader of the United States, let’s just abduct him and take him over”, not realising that you are actually a psychopath killing machine, and they messed with the wrong guy.
It’s weird, it ended up being almost serendipitous because we already had ‘Enter The Dominatrix’, which was the expansion pack that we were working on, and that’s when they were really trying to push some of the superpowers. What we were finding there was that everyone was going nuts for it, and at the same time we were working on the full version of Saints Row IV, and we ended up marrying both of those projects and bringing it over, we brought a ton of the superpowers over to us as well. I think that it was ‘Trouble With Clones’ that we added our first little bit of it, and we definitely saw something in that, but I have to admit, I don’t think we looked at that and thought “that’s it, let’s go crazy with that”, it was more like “that was pretty cool…” and I think that was the stepping stone to thinking grand and doing all of the crazy superpowers we have.
What’s one of your favourite new additions? Mine is clearly the dub-step gun… and I don’t even like dub-step!
I am pretty much the same as you there! I love that one, but I think it’s the superpowers that’s the biggest thing, because the way I tend to look at it is that, from a mechanics standpoint, the two things you do more often than anything else in Saints Row is you drive around, and you shoot people. Now you have superpowers, it totally changes the way you do that, so if I want to get from point A to B, I can still grab a car and drive there if I want, but it’s so much more fun to just glide through the air or super-sprint down the roads. Or, if I’ve got a group of bad guys there I can still shoot them if I want, or I can take my Ice Blast, freeze them solid and then use the stomp to shatter them all into a thousand pieces. It basically, to me, freshens up the two most often-used mechanics by being able to introduce the superpowers that way. I feel like maybe I’m cheating because I’m just including all of the superpowers, but that’s my favourite part of it.
Saints Row is kind of the only AAA game that can do comedy properly…
It seems to be, yeah! I’m surprised at how few other people are doing it, because it seems like we’ve had a lot of success with that, which has been great, but I don’t know why other people don’t do it. It feels like there’s clearly a desire for people to get that kind of humour, and we’re happy, we love to do it and so we’re happy to be the group that keeps on doing these crazy things, but I’m surprised there aren’t more.
It’s really natural, I’d say, by this point. Our writers are fantastic and they can write up some really great dialogue, but then even our designers coming up with the scenarios and what kind of missions we’re going to do, the artists even get into the mix in terms of coming up with a lot of cool things, the whole team is in the mind-set now, and I think it’s because we’ve been working on it for so long. They’re already thinking about crazy, zany stuff, and that’s helped a ton.
The GTA comparison was really overdone in the early days, but they started off as really goofy and have now gone quite serious, but you started a tiny bit serious but now you’re the other end of the spectrum. Was that a really natural transition to go “let’s just make it crazier.. crazier… crazier… let’s just get some guys from a mental asylum and ask them what they want” “I want monkeys!” “Right, throw in some monkeys!”?
It’s funny, because one thing we were prototyping was a monkey gun that would shoot monkeys out when you fired it, and it was another one with technical issues, but it would have been amazing. I would say it’s totally natural because what happened with us is that when we did Saints Row one, people really enjoyed it but some of the things that they responded best to were some of our bits of humour. So then we added more humour in Saints Row 2 and again, people were like “we love this”, like Septic Avenger you go around spraying poop on everyone, it was crazy, right? But people loved it, so then we went totally crazy in Saints Row 3 and people loved it. It was definitely kind of a natural progression for us where it felt like the response of the fans felt like it was more liberating for us. Okay, people like the humour? Great! Let’s do more, because we’d love to do more humour, so it’s safe for us to keep doing that, so it’s definitely been a natural progression.
Do you worry that now you’ve gone to the President, where do you go from there?
We talk about that a lot, actually, but it’s a problem we’ll solve after this, and what we’ll do next.
Intergalactic? We’ve already had aliens! Saints take over the Galaxy? Like a horrendous Star Wars where you’re the Empire! If that happens, I want royalties!
[Laughs] You never know!
Saints Row IV releases in the UK and Europe on the 23rd August.
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