inFAMOUS 2 Preview
Until 2009, Sucker Punch Productions was known mainly for its cute, cartoony Sly Cooper series. That year, with the release of open world action game Infamous, the Seattle developer effectively sucker-punched those of us who'd come to think of them as a one-trick pony. Infamous's dynamic climbing mechanics, intricate “Karma” morality system and cool electricity-based powers were a hit with players, making the game one of the best titles to appear on PS3 to date. At this month's Game Developer's Conference, Sucker Punch gave the press a sneak peek of its new project, Infamous 2, which builds on the success of the company’s fledgling superhero franchise by adding, of all things, player-generated content.
The idea, as Development Director Chris Zimmerman told it, is to create a collection of intuitive, visually-oriented tools and invite Infamous fans to use them to create their own missions. After viewing a trailer of these tools and various missions created with them, a couple of Sucker Punch reps stepped up and showed us just how easy the process is by designing, a couple of small, two-minute levels on the fly.
The process starts with a Core Objects, Core Logic and UGC (user-generated content) menu from which you choose objects to place within the game world. We were told it's possible to make any kind of mission you can think of: survival, shooting gallery, defense, escort, search and destroy—but what we saw was a basic racing mission. Using various visual nodes, the demoer placed a series of simple, vertical, ring-shaped placement nodes on buildings and along rooftops to indicate the path of the race, and showed how these could be grouped for easy reference and selection. She then set up and authored a mission briefing and set conditions for both mission fail and mission complete. Finally, just to make things more interesting, she peppered the rooftops with mobs of angry swamp monsters and once everything was in place, demonstrated how quickly you can run a test of your mission, make changes and test it again.
From what we saw, the editor makes it feel as if you're creating real in-game missions, not only because it enables you to create inter-mission character dialog and instructions, but because your missions are integrated into the main game. Yup, instead of your mission being relegated to some external downloadable no-man's land, any mission you create will be available to other players the minute you publish it. All user missions will appear in the Infamous 2 world right alongside dev-created missions, differentiated by green exclamation points and the mission author's name. Sucker Punch is hoping that players will dive into these tools and create amazing individual content and work collaboratively, building upon one another's ideas. To prevent gamers from stealing credit for one another's creations though, if one player “remixes” another player's mission, both players will be credited in game.
Now, this user-generated content idea is cool but many of us at the demo were skeptical. Why shouldn't we be, when the downside of user-generated content is well, user-generated content? Thankfully, Sucker Punch seems to have already considered that some of us might not enjoy having our open world cluttered up with hundreds or even thousands of mediocre user missions and so they're putting in a filtering system to prevent that. A bit like the “heart” system in Little Big Planet, Infamous 2 will have a rating system that allows gamers to vote for their favorite user content, landing the best in the “Featured Content” section and the up-and-comers in the “Famous” tier. By default, at launch all user content will be available in game but with missions rated from one to five stars, the game will allow you to filter for only the best of them, or if you're an adventuresome glutton for punishment, to filter them by category.
According to Sucker Punch, Infamous 2’s expansion into the realm of user-generated content is every gamer's opportunity to “become famous”. Designer Karl Deckard even sounded a little envious as he pointed out that gamers (unlike in-house designers) also have the advantage of being able to go totally nuts and ignore the game's fictional canon in the interest of complete creative freedom. He also mentioned that what was worst about the first Infamous was that it had to end and that user-generated content is a way for Infamous 2 to “never end”. While this infinity-reaching communal strategy has proven extremely successful in an inherently creative title like Little Big Planet, it remains to be seen if open-world gamers will embrace the idea. We'll find out soon enough—Infamous 2's limited open beta begins in early April and gamers can sign up for it on the Infamous 2 website now.