Insomniac’s Next Gen Powers – Seven Things They’re Doing for the First Time

In the last week, Insomniac Games has lifted the lid on Sunset Overdrive, revealing its world, its gameplay, and some of its wild weaponry. The game represents a number of firsts for the studio: Insomniac Games’ first open world game, its first title built from the ground up exclusively for Xbox, and it’s also its first on this generation of hardware. Xbox One is the fourth generation of home consoles that many on the team have worked on, so I asked several folks working on Sunset Overdrive what they’re now able to accomplish that they never could before.

More of everything, both big…

This obviously is our first open world game, and we came in with some pretty high expectations. We wanted a very dense, very colorful world with a lot more detail than you see in a lot of games. We wanted a really high enemy count, our minimum we wanted to be able to load 120 enemies at a time. We wanted to be able to go a certain speed of traversing through the world which obviously involves loading things quickly enough. I think some of the less obvious things are a lot of the fourth wall effects that we have in the game… those aren’t cheap to do at all [in terms of system resources], and with the power of the Xbox One we actually are able to pull a lot of those off. Frankly I thought we set technical limitations that we weren’t going to be able to meet, like we’ll say 120 [enemies on screen] and 90 will be OK, but we actually hit all those things very well. – Drew Murray, Game Director

…and small

The exact opposite are the tiny details, so all of the clothes that you’re wearing react appropriately as you’re moving. Previous generations clothes were always really static or super, super expensive – prohibitively expensive [in terms of system resources], and now you’ll notice your vest is swaying in the wind or, like, the chain you have is flopping appropriately. Even the little tchotchke characters we have are dangling appropriately. There’s details like that in the world everywhere, and I think that adds up to something that just feels a lot more rich and immersive. That was not possible in previous generations. – Marcus Smith,
Sunset Overdrive Co-creator

Not just more enemies, more varied enemies

It lets us do things with animation where our animation counts can go through the roof. We can have our enemies react – have multiples of variants vs what we had on hit reacts. Our enemies have personalities, so you’ll see a bunch of OD [Overcharge Drinkers] coming at you, and they’ll all have different movesets for a lot of their basic moves and stuff. That’s something that our memory would never let us do before. It lets us put a lot of variety and a lot more of a lived-in feel and a lot more of a natural feel to things while also letting us do a lot more fun things. – Doug Sheahan, Lead Gameplay Programmer

New playthrough, new lines

We have a whole emergent dialogue system where we have all these custom events that ‘if this happens, then play this line, then if this happens, then play this line,’ and we can have a series of lines to play for whatever dialogue trigger happens during the game. When you get in the game and you play through you hear a certain set of lines, and then you play again and you hear completely different lines. It’s really gratifying to know people aren’t going to get bored, hearing the same things over and over again. – Jon Paquette, head writer

We Got EFX

Our game is very effects driven, very effects heavy – we want that to be one of our selling points. We don’t have to pull back on how big and complex they are as well. You’ve seen things like the TNTeddy, the roman candle gun… we don’t have to cut back on stuff like that as much as we’ve had to in the past to make sure it runs at a solid framerate… I think our style lends itself to kind of have that level of fidelity. – Bryan Intihar, Director of Production

No compromises

At this point, the art team is very experienced when it comes to optimization. So, whilst maybe a couple projects ago we’d make a bunch of stuff and have to chop it out and we’d be really sad. On this project I think we didn’t have to do nearly as much optimization as we had to in the past. – Jacinda Chew, Studio Art Director


Sunset Overdrive
has given us the chance to go farther than we have before when it comes to traversal and combat, and really, for the first time in a long time, start to change what we believe are the accepted rules when it comes to shooters. That would not have been possible had we not been through a number of different generations and tool sets and production cycles where we discovered what’s truly important to make great games. – Ted Price

Ultimately, as Lead Character Artist Gavin Goulden told me, this new tech is giving Insomniac “that freedom to go crazy.” As you’re firing explosive-laden teddy bears at a homicidal, expletive-spewing inflatable mascot high above a city swarming with energy drink-swilling mutants, know that Insomniac is putting the horsepower under the hood of your Xbox One to good use.