Open world games are a natural fit for Co-Op, and while games like Crackdown got it right, while some other big name games sort of missed the boat. This why we are excited about Saint's Row 2 from Voilition which features a game designed with co-op in mind from the get go. We got to ask James Tsai, Saints Row 2 Lead Designer, a few questions concerning the over the top open world game and it's co-op aspects.
Co-Optimus: So what made you decide to put co-op in Saint's Row 2? Was this planned from the beginning, or did you see it as a natural fit somewhere through development?
James Tsai: Putting co-op in Saints Row 2 was something we decided to do pretty early on in development. It was a natural fit in the sense that there was a lot of enthusiasm for it and we felt that it was where open world gaming needed to go as a genre, but we also were working with the game engine from the original Saints Row, which was decidedly not co-op friendly at the time. Our programmers spent a lot of time adding support and rewriting stuff to get two players in the game.
As for why we decided to put it in, it was something that had an obvious and personal appeal to us as gamers. I can’t tell you how many times my brother and I played co-op games together on our NES growing up. The fun was undeniable…working together towards a common goal was far more fulfilling than competing against one another in races. We must have blown up that freaky heart thingy at the end of Contra or fought our way all the way through River City Ransom a thousand times.
Co-Optimus: Why do you think we've seen resurgence in cooperative modes in games?
James: Co-op is growing because as a community, gaming is growing. As gamers, we’re becoming increasingly social about our passions and are looking for more ways to share our experiences. Co-op has flourished the same way fansites, forums, video sharing, trophies, achievements, on-line names, and gaming news sites flourish. It taps into the fundamental truth we all know: games are too fucking cool to not share with others.
Co-Optimus: Is the co-op seamless? Will you be able to join a buddy's game at any time and play?
James: Yes, you can join your friend’s session in progress in Saints Row 2 for co-op play. You can hop right in at wherever they are in their campaign and get into the action. Your individual progress is always saved since so any rewards and cash earned while playing with someone else won’t disappear, and you won’t have to replay missions or activities that are already completed if you don’t want to.
Co-Optimus: Are there any co-op specific mini-games? What about the vehicles, any vehicles that play particularly well in co-op?
James: There are a few special co-op mini-games where players will be able to compete against one another. When two buddies want to start blowing off steam, they can enter our Death Tag or Cat and Mouse modes. Certain missions and activities also have a special role for the second player, so both players will have to work together to succeed as opposed to us developers just tossing another gun into the mix.
My favorite vehicle in co-op is the assault helicopter. The pilot gets to fly this agile, fast moving chopper through the city and the gunner gets access to a chain gun and some very nasty laser guided rockets.
Co-Optimus: Are you tethered to your partner in co-op? Or can each player explore the city separately?
James Tsai: There’s no co-op tether in Saints Row 2 – I can be on one side of the city, hanging out in a strip club while my friend is on the other side buzzing skyscrapers in a helicopter. When specific missions or activities start, we’ll ask the players to confirm their readiness with one another and then they can warp over to the start point so they don’t have to go searching for one another.
Co-Optimus: Is the entire game playable beginning to end in co-op?
James: Yes, Saints Row 2 is playable beginning to end in co-operative mode. You can begin the first mission with a friend and play all the way through to the final moments, or you can drop-in and drop-out of each other’s games freely at any time as we discussed earlier.
Co-Optimus: Does co-op make the game easier? Does difficulty scale at all?
James: We definitely took whether or not there was a second player into consideration when balancing the action in Saints Row 2. If you’re playing with a friend in co-op the difficulty of the enemies will scale up accordingly to account for the extra firepower and vehicles at your disposal. Co-op truly makes things a lot more fun, but we were careful to maintain the same degree of challenge so that the game didn’t become a cakewalk with two players.
Co-Optimus: What's the most outrageous thing you've seen in a co-op session?
JT: I’ve seen lots of crazy stuff, but one my favorite moment was more about the game’s freedom than anything insanely outrageous. I was playing with one of the other designers, and we were halfway through a mission that required us to stop a van that was fleeing us. I was trying the traditional route of chasing it down with a car, shooting at the tires and the driver, hoping for a lucky shot with my pistol. I had no idea where my partner was and was cursing him out a bit, calling for help and all of a sudden this plane comes diving out of the sky and slams into the van and takes it off the road. And these bodies of some bystanders go flying up and bounce off the hood and windshield of my car.
That’s what’s great about co-op – a human player is always going to be infinitely more creative and flexible than the AI. We had always envisioned this sequence being a pursuit through the city, swerving around traffic, guns blazing, typical action movie stuff. But co-op play and the freedom of an open world gives players so many more options to do some really crazy shit. It’s incredibly fun, and gamers are going to love doing this kind of stuff with their friends.
Co-Optimus: Thanks James and Volition for taking the time to answer our questions.
Saint's Row 2 will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on October 24th, 2008. The game features 2 player drop-in/drop-out co-op via the XBL,PSN and the Internet.