Interview: Chatting Saints Row With Volition's Brian Traficante

As we mentioned earlier today, we got to go to Las Vegas to preview the new Saints Row title on the way from Deep Silver. As part of that experience, we got to talk to some of the people who worked on the game right there as they watched us dive into the new city of Santo Ileso. Myself and other journalists got to chat with Brian Traficante, Creative Director at Volition, as part of a group interview. Here is our interview from that group session for you to enjoy, as Saints Row will be released on August 23rrd, 2022.

We Got To Preview Saints Row In Las Vegas, Baby!
Credit: Deep Silver

There's a lot of elements in the game that are very reminiscent to [current] GTA. So what was the work like trying to make sure that this game felt very different from that within the same genre?

Traficante: Interesting is that the nostalgia of Saints Row was closer to the target, and that comes from a careful balance. When you use the word "reboot," you instantly think, "they fucked this up." Right? "You've taken my thing and made it terrible." So part of the what's "new and different" and what is the same and recognizable. So there's a lot of spins or a lack of spins on some things that we wanted to keep very familiar to what players were doing. In terms of similarities to GTA, that's a coincidence. I mean, that's just a mechanic to engage a player or interact with a thing or, you know, consume an activity or something like that. It wasn't consciousness on our part to mock or mimic something like that. But there is a lot of, what I would say, is a nostalgic structure in the open world. And that was something we wanted to retain too. But then we put spins on like with ventures. We took activities, broke them into the side hustles that you grow over time from playing them, and then get more and more on the map. Then we took the classic activity of "going here and start this thing" and turned them into ventures where players get to choose which one they want. That's through four different tiers of ten ventures, 40 total.

Why not call it Saints Row 5? It does feel like a bit of an extension. It does feel like a natural progression of the franchise to me. So maybe explain a little bit why reboot? Why not 5?

Well, first of all, it's not a sequel in any way. It has no narrative connection to the original. I think we'd lead people on the wrong path if we said 5; I think there would be a large group of people being like, "So what happened after the universe exploded? But did we do a multiverse?" That's a big one. Now, internally, we had this very early on what kind of Saints Row are we going to make, and we said "2 + 3 = 5". That was essentially like an attitude we had is looking at aspects of what 2 did and did really well that we loved, which would be like a big city with lots of diversity and fun open-world things to do, a cool narrative. Then 3, the action, the real cinematic nature of life, and the antics that the Saints get into. So internally, we always did look at it as a 5, but we closed the book on that first chapter, and we're excited about the new scene through this universe and telling this story of these things.

We Got To Preview Saints Row In Las Vegas, Baby!
Credit: Deep Silver

I like how the way the world just kind of slowly changes, like how when you go help out the auto shop owner, and then all of a sudden now you have many locations to visit around. Talk a little bit about what it was like to venture into [making sure] that this world is more accessible and you don't have to travel great lengths to get back to this one location to do this one thing. How you made it so that everybody can do what they need to do no matter what section of the map they're in.

So a couple of different approaches. One, we have the fast travel, which is something really neat you probably didn't get deep enough into the game is that they'll turn into air fast travel. One of the rewards is dropping from the air in a wingsuit, and that'll give you even further abilities. to go along the map. I think like one good high dropped and get you almost a quarter of any direction, so you can get a lot of area through there. We wanted to make a bigger map and a bigger world, not to just say it's bigger and like look at us. Because everybody knows bigger isn't better if it's a big empty world and nothing to do. Who cares, right? So when we were expanding the world and looking at the desert biomes, how could we take and distribute all the things that the players would do? Particularly with ventures, how do we keep those lots out for the player, and then when you choose venture, how do we distribute that new gameplay that showed up in a nice comfortable way? And of course, the HQ that you earn in the mission gives you that centralized location. So between the fast travels and all the different opportunities to move around, it becomes much easier.

How do you feel this Saints game separates itself from the rest of the games in the franchise? Even to compare to Agents of Mayhem as well. What do you what did you guys learn from those games that you've really incorporated into this experience?

There's a saying we have that "the Saints games are games of their times." So they're byproducts of us as developers, right? You can see all the different similarities in those games and then all the little levers and knobs that get turned for each one. Some get more vulgar, some use different themes and different capacities. So as it relates to this one, that's exactly what it was. It was coming back to Saints Row after a decade. Who are we today? Who are we as developers, as gamers, as game fans? What do we want to do? What's the new spin on top of some of these parts and pieces? So I think that naturally brings this new game into a space that you hadn't seen before. In terms of other aspects of it, some parts we kept very close, as I said earlier, with it's something we wanted to do. We didn't want to just completely flip the table on everything. And then other aspects we just kept moving the needles further away, particularly in the narrative and the reset of the characters and having to understand who these people are. Why they're there, what they want, why can't they get the things they want? Which is really the crux of any motivation in there. I think all of that culminates into something that is quite different, but the same.

We Got To Preview Saints Row In Las Vegas, Baby!
Credit: Deep Silver

Something I really loved that I think will keep some players coming to the game, is that there is a community of net gain within the system. Like with the money transfer, you're always accumulating money; even if you're not being able to do jobs, you're always earning experience by just doing average things. I spent 10 minutes driving in the wrong lane just to see if I could set up a new record and stuff like that, which continually gave me XP. So there wasn't this feeling of, I was stuck having to wait and get better at completing a new mission. What was the antithesis of making sure that that system was in play?

We try to cater to a lot of different player types, whether you're the collector or the completionist. And so we always try to think about what that player wants to do. What is their motivation in this particular play? We got the narrative loop and that kind of resolves itself with each mission, start to end. But then outside of that, do I want to expand in the open world? Do I want to buy clothing? Do I want to collect cars? So there's always an effort and energy into thinking about what does that player need to have to accomplish that goal that they've set for themselves. And then also try to move them apart. Like this is an XP loop, right? So if you want to do XP, there's lots of ways to get XP. Then there's the challenge loop and perks. If you want to get more perks, go ahead and start completing challenges. Then there's the cash loop. So we kept those things intentionally separate and just paid attention to them as they went along to make sure that the opportunities are there. The big one is letting players kind of have the opportunity to choose which path they want to go into.

The setting is amazing, it's massive. Can you talk about like what inspired the world and just what went into coming up with it?

So, first of all, has to start with an S. That was no ship, right? Like Stillwater, Steel Port, Santo Ileso. So that was one of the running jokes. But the first two cities were based on Detroit and Pittsburgh, very industrial and very kind of samey in that regard; I think in Saints Row 2, I absolutely love Stillwater. My favorite city. Or was my favorite city. We definitely took a lot of inspiration from how the variety in Stillwater, and we intentionally took out that variety in Steel Port. So coming into this city, part of that a previous question about what's different is, what is just something that Saints players have not done before as it relates to the setting and the character of the world. And then how would that setting create a new experience, even if it's just set dressing or a moment of storytelling, on things that you do and certainly do often in the game. The American Southwest, this fictional version, was where we landed after a bit of exploration. What really drew us to that is the biomes that we can use in the desert, and then pulling from Las Vegas and pulling from Sedona and pulling from parts of Mexico and Joshua Tree National Par. Pulling all of that in and doing that theme park take on a city was great. Saints Row has never had a palm tree in it. Like, that's crazy to think of because, like, come on, really? But like, honestly, those sunsets and those like pinks and the buttes and mesas. Then that bled into things like just a gunfight on the street feels like a Western, and the story goes deeper into some of those themes as the narrative grows.

We Got To Preview Saints Row In Las Vegas, Baby!
Credit: Deep Silver

I was I really enjoyed the setting because I'm from Salt Lake City, so a lot of what was out there felt like Utah.

If you went on to the arid desert, there were actually parts of it like Arches. That area has some very direct—the smoother rock that kind of perches out from the ground of the more bleached earth that is absolutely like parts of Arches and things like that.

What are your plans down the road for the game? Obviously, there's going to end up in DLC and expansions. Are you looking to make this a long-term game, like this is a thing you're going to build on for the next like five or six years?

Absolutely. This is the starting line. When I said new chapter, I mean the first page of a new chapter. We do have a robust DLC plan for 12 months. We can't get into too many more details after that, but seeing this game, we are absolutely not walking away from this title after release. We're planning on having multiple free content updates. There are things we didn't get done that we want to continue to feed in for the community and opportunities to keep playing the game. One really amazing thing coming that I've never seen an open-world game do after release, and we're doing it multiple times. So yeah, I think people are going to have plenty to do and lots of ways to kind of reengage with the game and keep their interest going.

We Got To Preview Saints Row In Las Vegas, Baby!
Credit: Deep Silver

Will it be more DLC based, or is our season pass?

There's a season pass plan that'll come with the Ultimate Edition. But then all the packs that we do and the different size packs and opportunities to just have more, do more, see more, experience more.

Was there something you wanted to include, but for whatever reason, you couldn't?

Yes, and I can't tell you. Because it is so fucking awesome. So awesome. … Our teams fought really hard for the right amount of things, and that comes with sacrifices and numerous ways. That steel mission that you played, which was the robbing of the payday loan, that was the late add. And we realized we just didn't give the player enough time to see these people at home and see who they are and what's going on with them and how do they work in a crime together. Like… they're criminals! What is it like? That was a later addition. So we just kept pushing for what we thought was the right thing, and in terms of what we have sacrificed. There's things we left on the table, but those are all opportunities that we're going to come back to.

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Gavin SheehanAbout Gavin Sheehan

Gavin is the current Games Editor for Bleeding Cool. He has been a lifelong geek who can chat with you about comics, television, video games, and even pro wrestling. He can also teach you how to play Star Trek chess, be your Mercy on Overwatch, recommend random cool music, and goes rogue in D&D. He also enjoys hundreds of other geeky things that can't be covered in a single paragraph. Follow @TheGavinSheehan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vero, for random pictures and musings.
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