Post Script

Nate Fox, game di­rec­tor, Sucker Punch Pro­duc­tions


Nate Fox joined Sucker Punch in 1998, months af­ter it was founded, to work on the light­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal art of N64 plat­former Rocket: Ro­bot On Wheels. He moved on to co-de­sign­ing the Sly Cooper se­ries be­fore be­ing pro­moted to game di­rec­tor for In­fa­mous. We meet him in Lon­don to dis­cuss Sec­ond Son’s as­ton­ish­ing vi­su­als, get­ting com­bat just right, and why ev­ery­thing good stems from Half-Life 2.

Sec­ond Son is a beau­ti­ful game, but it’s the light­ing that stands out. What did you do to cap­ture it? We were very for­tu­nate, be­cause Sucker Punch is lo­cated right next to Seat­tle, so we’d go into town and take light read­ings at dif­fer­ent times of the day and put those di­rectly into the game. We have shaders that have true phys­i­cal pa­ram­e­ters of how light bounces off of an ob­ject to try to make it as real­is­tic as pos­si­ble. We’re al­ways draw­ing on the world as much as pos­si­ble, ei­ther through sam­pling or cre­at­ing mod­els that rep­re­sent the way the ac­tual world around us looks. I’ve got to give credit to [ren­der­ing/tech art lead] Ja­son Con­nell. He’s a mas­ter at fig­ur­ing out how to best bring into fo­cus the emo­tional qual­ity of light in the world. It’s a weird, sub­tle spe­cial­ity – I mean, there’s ‘I’m a ma­jor in light­ing’, but he un­der­stands it on a city­wide level, and you’re re­act­ing to one guy’s great work.

The en­emy AI is a pleas­ant sur­prise. Was it a chal­lenge to get the DUP’s be­hav­iour right? From my van­tage point it was easy, be­cause we hired some re­ally tal­ented com­bat de­sign­ers who had a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence – largely from FPSes. They worked very hard weight­ing en­coun­ters, with ev­ery fight be­ing au­thored for dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and to take ad­van­tage of the ter­rain, mak­ing sure the en­e­mies main­tain ideal dis­tances from the player. I think it works in the game, but it’s be­cause we had people who knew what they were do­ing. And in the past, we haven’t had that on In­fa­mous games.

With­out his pow­ers, Delsin doesn’t feel very con­nected to the world you’ve built. Are you dis­ap­pointed with this as­pect at all? We cer­tainly wanted to keep that core climb­ing abil­ity that we had in the first two games, but be­cause we wanted to make build­ings of much greater height and vari­a­tion, we wanted to give you pow­ers that gave you the free­dom to move very quickly up and down them. And while you can climb, we didn’t think it was go­ing to be a pri­mary mode of in­ter­ac­tion. I mean, par­tic­u­larly once you get Neon, it just stops hap­pen­ing. So we de­cided that people would prob­a­bly get more joy, ul­ti­mately, if we re­fined what we call ‘su­per­nav­i­ga­tion’ – moves like when you smokedash through a vent and

“I think Naughty Dog, frankly, is the best at it, and they keep mak­ing these great ex­am­ples for the rest of us to learn from”

it pops you out – and make that feel good. We thought that would bring people more sat­is­fac­tion than try­ing to metic­u­lously scru­ti­nise ev­ery win­dowsill, al­though we did try to make them good. As you can imag­ine, there are many, many thou­sands of win­dowsills.

The per­for­mance cap­ture is par­tic­u­larly nu­anced. Was it done in-house? Yes. Re­ally all credit goes to pro­ducer Brian Flem­ming, who hired some tal­ented people to find a way to take the raw data from all these points on ac­tors’ faces and cre­ate an al­go­rithm that would then in­ter­pret that in­for­ma­tion into some­thing you no longer view as points on a mesh, but start think­ing of as a per­son – some­one who’s sud­denly en­coun­ter­ing self-doubt or scep­ti­cism. I love it, be­cause I think it helps draw people into the story. It’s a more hu­man con­nec­tion, which I think a lot of videogames lack.

How do you feel about the state of writ­ing in games? I think story in games is just get­ting bet­ter, right? People recog­nise it now as an in­te­gral as­pect of an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s not some­thing that’s slapped on to make level one, two and three hang to­gether; now it’s the cen­tre of what you ex­pect the in­ter­ac­tion to be. Now it’s, ‘What’s the emo­tion of the level? Not the theme, but what I am sup­posed to feel while go­ing through this level?’ And it’s im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine a fu­ture of videogames where we don’t see im­prove­ments and nar­ra­tive in­te­gra­tion mov­ing for­wards in big strides. I mean, the tech­nol­ogy for the fa­cial cap­ture you see in Sec­ond Son isn’t some­thing that we alone have ac­cess to. All games will be do­ing that, and that’s great, be­cause it means ac­tors will have more pres­ence in games and there will be more great ex­am­ples of in­ter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling. I think Naughty Dog, frankly, is the best at it, and they keep mak­ing these great ex­am­ples for the rest of us to learn from. The in­dus­try will fol­low. But, for me, Half-Life 2 is the Bi­ble; ev­ery­thing good comes from Half-Life 2, and [Valve is] ex­cel­lent at mak­ing in­te­grated nar­ra­tive.

The way the DUP’s con­crete struc­tures en­croach on Seat­tle makes it feel a lit­tle bit like City 17. Oh, yeah! And our kind of face­less mar­tial law guys, who you can’t un­der­stand what they’re say­ing some­times? I’m not bull­shit­ting you, I had never thought about them in re­la­tion to the Com­bine be­fore, but cer­tainly they have a sim­i­lar feel. But we went with the con­crete, be­cause we thought it’s a strong thing that you can­not break. And, frankly, it’s every­where in the ur­ban land­scape, so if you had com­mand over it, you would have com­mand over cities them­selves.

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