Development for the Xbox One exclusive began after Resistance 3 where Creative Director Marcus Smith wanted a change from working on bleak worlds. Before the Resistance series, Insomniac Games was best known for Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank, two more lighthearted games. Smith’s change of heart came from having a daughter and a post-apocalyptic game they were working on evolved into Sunset Overdrive. "Instead of it being the end of the world, what if it was the start of a new beginning," Smith said to Siliconera.
Sunset Overdrive takes place in 2027 when Fizzco, a multinational corporation launches energy drink that turns people into monsters. Described as a "Mcaccident," you’re an apocalypse survivor who has to defend yourself the OD and looters. There are other survivors like the Fargoth, LARPers who believe the module they were playing became a reality, and the Bushido, "Adventure Scouts" that became obsessed with samurai culture. Insomniac designed weapons like a fireworks shooting gun, a teddy bear strapped with dynamite, and an Overcharge energy drink shooting gun called Captain Ahab which distracts the OD.
While Sunset Overdrive looks like a shooter, moving through the world is more like Jet Grind Radio. Players can grind on rails and bounce on all kinds of objects. The key to staying alive in Sunset Overdrive isn’t taking cover or going in guns blazing, it’s constantly moving around. Levels have rails to grind on and bouncy canopies, which kind of gives it a Jet Grind Radio feel.
How did Insomniac design the OD? Did you try to differentiate them from the Chimera in Resistance?
Marcus Smith, Creative Director: I don’t think we are consciously thinking of making them different from Resistance or not. The process we do is we have a core move set, we know what the player is going to be doing. Resistance is a first person shooter so it’s pretty limited what you can do. You interact with a gun. The end.
In this game, it’s a lot more about traversal. We first came up with enemy sort of archetypes. We went through and said we have to have an enemy that impede your traversal and then you build an enemy towards that. After filling out this sort of bestiary of ideas, we started getting concept art of what those needs are. Usually, at that stage we’re thinking of the emotional response should be. Should the player be fearful of these guys? Should they laugh at these guys? Although it’s fun in the Awesomepocalyse, it’s an awful experience for everyone that’s not you. The world is still dangerous, so we wanted them to be hideous and have that element that they’re pretty gross up close.
We found that when we made them more humanistic, you start to feel bad because you’re killing a guy in a suit. We had clothing on earlier versions and then people thought – oh that guy had a family. In essence, everyone comes together from the concept artists to the animators to suit that need and fulfills that emotional response. It’s a team effort and a lot of iteration.
How did you create Fizzie who became the mascot character for Sunset Overdrive?
As with most good ideas, it was a total accident. We were building a world where we had a lot of advertisements. We knew Fizzco would own everything. One concept artists built a super temp billboard that said Drinksy Snacks. It was just the head then.
One of our environment artists had the idea to make a whole body and use him on balloons. As soon as he built it, everyone was like "oh my god, let’s get that!" We got the voice in there and basically a lot of the game started revolving around him. Then he became the mascot inside the game and outside the game because everyone loves a foul mouthed corporate mascot. [Laughs]
Sunset Overdrive seems really self aware unlike other shooters that take a more serious or cinematic approach.
I love games that are really cinematic, but I also really love the Sega games of the late 90s. You know Crazy Taxi was just fun, you just jumped in and did it, and Jet Grind Radio. Those games were fun for the sake of being fun. You didn’t sit there going – if Nathan Drake was doing this… you’re not questioning why you’re picking up people and driving like a madman. The end. It’s a fun game.
Games are kind of like uber-serious right now. In a lot of cases, people are trying to make interactive movies more than things you are entertained by. For us, we just wanted to divert and go back to our roots. Insomniac has always done games that were pretty self aware, always had a sense of humor, and are fun for different groups of people.
It’s interesting that you brought up some of Sega’s back catalog. It feels like most boxed games go for a serious route and a wacky game would have to be a downloadable title. Do you feel there is a shift towards making more cinematic games over the years?
I think people are looking for something with a point of view. More than anything, the last thing you want to be is derivative. For me, the worst thing in the world is to read a review that says "it’s like this game." Especially video games from the coin-op days, they had to be different. At Atari, if you came with a game that was close to some other game they would be like, "It’s too close to the other one, start something new."
In games, there’s that tradition that you want to see new. With Sunset Overdrive, it’s not so much we’re creating this whole new thing out of thin air, we’re building on the shoulder of all of these other experiences. This game is really like the mashup. Jet Grind Radio for sure in terms of the visual style, but you’ll see things in there from different movies and pop culture.