Co-founder Chris Zimmerman looks back on the infamous studio's two-decade history.
All of us at Sucker Punch are looking forward to a big anniversary—we’re about to turn 20 years old! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough room to invite all of you to our anniversary party, so we did the next best thing—we added Infamous: Second Son to your Instant Game Collection this month! Have fun!
Long ago, in October of 1997, five friends and I left cushy jobs at Microsoft, sublet some crappy office space down the street, and got to work on our first game.
We’ve been on Team Sony for a long time, but our first game was actually for the Nintendo 64—Rocket: Robot on Wheels, a light-hearted physics-based platformer starring a plucky maintenance robot who has to rescue a theme park from the dastardly clutches of a criminally-minded raccoon. After two years of hard work, a smattering of critical success, and a somewhat tepid response from the game-buying public, we took one important thing away from the project: “criminally-minded raccoon”.
And that led us to the first game in our long partnership with Team Sony: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. By the way, I still can’t believe we put fake Latin words in the title of our first big game. Every time I start to type “Thievieus,” I have to look up how we spelled it. Just so you know, whenever we want to remember some detail about one of our old games (like how to spell “Thievious”) we search the internet. Those of you behind the awesome Sly Cooper and Infamous web sites have our eternal gratitude—we’ve relied on you countless times over the years!
Working on the Sly games was tons of fun, but if you make a game for kids about a master thief and his friends pulling off crazy heists, you can’t help worrying that the message you’re sending to the youth of the world is “Hey Kids! Stealing Is Cool!” Which would be the worst public service announcement ever. Eventually we decided that Sly was such a skillful thief that he only steals from other thieves, and explained this rule in the first five minutes of the game. We crossed our fingers—and managed to not trigger a tweener crime wave. Whew!
We’re proud of the first Sly game—it’s still fun to play, 15 years later—but sometimes we succeeded despite ourselves. During development of Sly, we’d held off on building the Panda King world (the first level players encountered) until the end of development. We figured after designing and building three other worlds, we’d be really good at it, and we wanted the first world people played to be exceptionally good. So that’s what we did—we built the first world last, then after it was done we held a focus test with real players. And it was a complete disaster—no one could make it past the first level! We’d been playing the game for years, so we thought the tricky jumping and sneaking techniques we’d added were great, but new players were completely lost.
This caused mild panic. We were only months away from shipping the game, and didn’t have enough time to fix all the problems with the first world. Luckily, inspiration struck—with a little bit of improvisation, we could change the order of the worlds! And that’s what we did—we invented a new move to learn on the Panda King world (the internet just reminded me that this move was Invisibility), moved it from first to fourth in the order of worlds, and managed to escape the mess we’d made of things.
After seven or so years of Sly Cooper, it was time for a new challenge, and we left toon shading behind. We set out to make a game that told the sort of super-hero story we all loved. Eventually, that game turned into Infamous, but that’s not how it started.
At first, we were building a superhero version of Animal Crossing. You roamed your city, tracked down criminals, helped out the citizens, and did some light zoning work along the way. The best superheroes have alter egos, right? So your alter ego was a property developer, deciding where to put the pet shops and tiki bars the citizens were demanding. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it wasn’t. After six months of experimentation we gave up on property development and focused on superhero action.
If you’ve played Infamous, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned karma yet. That’s the point of an Infamous game, after all—waking up with superpowers and deciding how you’re going to use them. Surely we switched from pet shops and tiki bars to karma? Um… unfortunately, no. We didn’t have parkour in the game either, at that point. Midway through development, the awesome French parkour action movie District B13 hit our local theaters, and we were inspired to spend a couple of years trying to bring it to life.
Karma was also sort of an accident. On the umpteenth time trying to explain our game, this time to our friends in Sony Marketing, we ran through the premise. “You wake up with super powers, and you’re a bike messenger, but you can climb around the city, and you have to decide whether you’re a good guy or not, and you throw sharpened bike gears at people, and you have a friend named Zeke, and …”
“Wait a second,” the marketing guys said. “You get to decide whether you’re good or evil? That sounds cool.” And they were right. Five Infamous games later, they’re still right.
Obviously, we made some good decisions along the way, too. Sucker Punch history isn’t an uninterrupted string of near escapes from dumb mistakes… but those stories are a lot funnier. And we can’t wait to tell you the stories yet to come.
Thank you for all your support of Sucker Punch over the last 20 years, we couldn’t have done it without you! Enjoy Second Son!