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New city, new character, new game: Why Infamous is starting over with Second Son

Check out our review of InFamous: Second Son.

For the last five years, one of the most iconic figures relating to the PlayStation family has been Cole McGrath, the protagonist of Infamous, Infamous 2, and the Infamous DLC Festival of Blood. His visage appeared on PlayStation 3 boxes, advertisements, and he was even a playable character in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a fighting game starring Sony’s most beloved characters.

So why would developer Sucker Punch decide to abandon him and create an entirely new character, completely unrelated to McGrath?

Besides losing the visual recognition factor of the character, the switch to new protagonist Delsin Rowe also means abandoning the familiar control scheme and powers that Cole carried through two games and a standalone DLC. In many ways, that makes Infamous: Second Son a reboot of the franchise, and a potentially risky one. Cole was an iconic character. This new star is an unknown quantity.

It’s a new character, a new environment, a new platform.

We sat down with Brian Fleming, founder of Infamous developer Sucker Punch Studios and producer for the new game, and put those questions to him – as well as why the series shifted from a fictional, alt-version of America littered with fictional cities, to a more realistic world, and the setting of Seattle.

Be warned though, the discussion deals with potential spoilers regarding the end of Infamous 2. If you still plan on playing the game in anticipation of the March 21 PlayStation 4 exclusive release of Infamous: Second Son, consider yourself warned.

This is the third game in a well-known series – why change the lead character?

We knew we were going to do this. If you know the franchise well, after Infamous 2 we did Festival of Blood. That was about a three-month project for us, and we knew by the end of that project that we were doing a new guy. We had a couple months of Trophy data that affirmed what we expected, that people were going to sacrifice Cole [at the end of Infamous 2].

That sacrifice ending was the “good” ending. The Infamous games have always had a “good guy” and “bad guy” approach, so did people generally prefer the “good” path?

Overwhelmingly. Seventy-eight percent played the good Trophy first [to] sacrifice Cole. And that is backed up by … six years of focus groups, where we watch people play this game. You’ll have a room full of 20 people, three will be evil, and 17 [won’t]. It’s extremely common that the first playthrough will be good.

Cole McGrath in Infamous

We also knew we were doing a title that was right around the launch of the PlayStation, that was like a defining goal: Let’s be crazy early. Launch day. If not launch day, within the first couple of days, right where we are. When we knew that … the more that this game was Infamous 3, and it felt like you needed to have play the last two games, the less good we thought that was for the launch window. So we’re like, it would be nice if this had the sense this was something new. And you’ve got the launch of the console, and something new from us. So we wanted that.

The third reason was that by the end of Infamous 2, the control scheme had gotten so overloaded, that it was so complex, and that you’d be building on top of something already complex, we were like “I wish we could take a step back and maybe group the powers into sets or something like that, or maybe you’d have different power sets.” And so all those things really point you in a direction where you’re saying “Hey look, why wouldn’t we do a new character.” Not an easy decision, because you’re giving up a lot of incredibly hard won territory, and you’re risking the fanbase being super pissed off too.

Yeah, Cole is fast approaching iconic for Sony.

It’s a totally fine entry point for the people who didn’t play the first games.

And so you’re giving up a lot of that, but at the same time you’re getting a lot back. You get another character for the universe that I think adds another dimension and richness to what Infamous is. And then you look at some of the other characters they brought in with them, Fetch [the neon-based conduit we recently saw in our last preview] and some of the characters that are coming alive in this game, and the universe starts to feel a little more rounded out. It starts to feel a little more dimensional.

So I assume we’ll find out in the game why you use the subtitle “Second Son?”

You will not get an answer to that question.


I will give you the three answers that I’ve heard, and you can decide for yourself.

Sort of like a Choose Your Own Adventure answer.

The first thing that people have asserted – could be true – is that it’s in reference to the first sons, who are the people that discovered the Ray Sphere energy that is required to activate conduits, and was the foundation of the first two games.

Infamous Second Son Lift Off_1382631509

The second one is that Cole is the first son of Infamous, and Delsin is the second son. He’s the second character.

The third thing we’ve heard is that in a lot of royal families you might have the heir to the throne and then “the spare.” The second son is a diminutive position on the family hierarchy. And of course in this game, that’s very much who Delsin is, because his older brother Reggie is the National Merit Scholar, blah blah blah. And Delsin has always been a little bit of a trouble maker, a little bit of a malcontent. He hasn’t really found himself. And so he is, in fact, personifying the idea of being a second son. So all of those are good reasons.

So what’s the real reason?

If we’re going to do Seattle, let’s call it Seattle, let’s go talk to the Space Needle guys and get the license and put it in.

The real reason is whatever people like after hearing all that.

So did you choose to use a subtitle instead of calling it Infamous 3 to signify that it is something of a reboot?

Yes, absolutely. In truth it really shouldn’t be Infamous 3. It’s a new character, a new environment, a new platform. I gotta give credit to a all the people that worked on that decision. We kind of struck the right balance. It’s very much an Infamous game, but it is something new, and it’s a totally fine entry point for the people who didn’t play the first games. It is in the same fabric, but it’s not like, oh my gosh you’re going to be confused. This is a very entry point for people.

So why call it “Seattle” when the last two games were both set in fictional cities?

It’s a good question. I think we felt at this point we can do a really good job at some of our favorite things about Seattle, and it seemed like why are we dancing around it? To be clear, it was originally “Seaport.” And we’re like “wait a minute, why are we dancing around this?” Like, what needle are you going to put in there? Are you going to put in the “Galactic Needle?” That doesn’t make any dang sense. Like, if we’re going to do Seattle, let’s call it Seattle, let’s go talk to the Space Needle guys and get the license and put it in. So let’s just do it!


So it is still the same universe though, where New Marais substitutes for New Orleans, and Empire City is a pseudo New York?

It is, very much so. Yeah.

So what was the process of creating the new character? How do you avoid just making Cole 2.0?

That wasn’t really the problem. There were two really important touchstones for us. I think fairly early we decided this was a kid from one of the nearby Native American reservations –

Which one?

The “Okomish,” it’s a fictional tribe. And I think that’s partially just to make sure… we don’t want to accidentally – and certainly not on purpose – be insensitive to a tribe. It’s not our heritage, so I’d be afraid of making an unintentional blunder there. So we just decided it was better to make a fictional tribe. And we did meet with people from the tribes to get some ideas, you know, just to make sure we weren’t being totally stupid about stuff. But I don’t represent us as the foremost experts on this though.

Infamous is about an ordinary guy who goes on to become superhuman.

So this was a kid that grew up on a reservation, and we really liked that idea. Again, Infamous is about an ordinary guy who goes on to become superhuman. And so we were trying to find somebody, you know, a bike messenger or a kid from a reservation, who if I tell you that about them, you almost round down on them, fair or unfair. It’s someone for who the journey is particularly big, because they started from meager beginnings. And so that was part of it, we knew we wanted him to be from one of the reservations. And then we really were looking for a different overall personality type. We didn’t want a guy who echoed Cole McGrath in terms of his personality. The two are interesting because they are different. So fairly early in the process someone said “What if Johnny Knoxville got superpowers?” Like literally, what would happen? And we’re like, OK, that’s interesting-

It might be kind of hilarious…

And it would be funny. The game isn’t trying to be a straight-up comedy or anything like that. But it was like that’s a really interesting difference. Here’s a guy that’s like “Sweet!” He’s excited to have the powers and that really makes him very different. So I think it started with a background and a bio, and an attitude. And then we started just working.

Horia [Dociu], the art director, and the rest of the team started working on who could this guy be. And we started working on details like his outfit, and I think part of it was driven by some technology. We wanted to have a guy who had a facial structure similar to Troy [Baker, the voice of Delsin] once he was cast … we didn’t want it to look exactly like Troy Baker, but it certainly shares some facial structure features with Troy. And the same is true for Laura [Bailey, who plays fetch] and Travis [Willingham, who plays Reggie] as well. So that’s part of it.

So do you already have a canon ending in mind for Second Son, or will you just let it play out?

No, I can’t say that I think we do. We’ll see how this goes. It’ll be interesting. There are significant differences … We’ll find out how people go.

So you guys are based in Seattle and know the area well. How accurate a representation of the city is it? Sneak in a favorite restaurant here and there?

Like any work of art is how it feels. We’re not trying to do Google Maps. It’s not a literal transcription of Seattle. The important part is that people from Seattle are like “Wow, this feels like Seattle, I can’t believe how much it does.” And there’s landmarks, and there’s architectural styles and the widths of streets, and the presence of foliage in the environment, and the light standards.

There’s a lot of little details that bring the Seattle-ness out. But the locations of things we take fairly significant liberties with those. It is kind of an homage to our home city, but it is not a transcription of our home city.

(Images and video © Sucker Punch Productions)

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