We're just a couple of weeks away from wreaking havoc with Agents of Mayhem, the futuristic spin-off of Deep Silver's popular Saints Row series, where we'll be taking on evil with the help of a number of unique soldiers, ranging from a Hollywood bad boy with a penchant for guns to a modern day pirate to a number of femme fatales prepared to deliver the goods. Oh, and series favorite Johnny Gat is along for the ride as well.
Before we get into the game, though, it helps to understand the many great characters that you can choose from, as each one brings their own perks and advantages to the table, whether you prefer straight-up speed or superior firepower.
So we managed to sit down with the lead Agent designer for the game, Ryan McCabe, to get an idea of what kind of effort went into the character design – and it turns out there's quite a bit.
The Nitty Gritty of Character Design
You guys have a knack for creating some of the most bizarre, most memorable characters in the industry. What are some of the traits you're looking for when it comes to creating an ideal hero for the Agents of Mayhem / Saints Row universe? The quirkier the better, or…?
Agent creation was actually a pretty arduous process for the team. When you are trying to come up with a memorable cast of characters, understanding the best way to go about generating ideas for them was almost as difficult a process as taking the characters we liked from the initial idea to a playable character.
You mention quirky, and that is certainly an attribute that an Agent of MAYHEM could have. But we wanted to be extremely careful not to just have a group of characters that all leaned heavily into a single trait. We knew that people were going to latch onto different details. We've seen people really love the gameplay of one Agent, while loving the attitude of another. Some are more virtuous in their reasons for fighting against LEGION, others are simply there to blow things up without consequence. Building this range, from serious to silly, was important for us every step of the way.prevnext
The Inspiration of the Agents
Are we correct in assuming that some of these quirks and this over-the-top heroic pageantry is inspired by comics? Can the team point to any specific comic book heroes as inspiration for any of our Agents?
You'd be correct, for sure. We've drawn inspiration from many different sources during the development of Agents of Mayhem. When we started development of this game, we took heavy inspiration from GI Joe and other TV shows from the 80s. For characters, specifically, it wasn't just a matter of looking at characters that already existed in other mediums and trying to make our own version of them, though.
To delve a little bit into the agent development process, we'd have meetings were we generated extremely high level ideas written on post-it notes. For instance, one of the very first characters we actually had playable in the game was Fortune, our dual-wielding sky pirate who fights alongside her trusty drone, Glory. She started out as a post-it note that read, "High-tech Pirate." Our job from there was to figure out how that idea translated into a character, both from a narrative and gameplay perspective. What type of piracy are we going to draw inspiration from, the classical romanticized version or more modern hacker pirate? What does it mean if we do a bit of both? How does this influence their attitude? And these are just a handful of many that we ask.prevnext
The Inspiration of the Agents (con't)
Of course, some of the questions have us wondering how close we may be trending to characters that do exist elsewhere, or if there are opportunities to pull from what exists to build upon expectations (or break them in certain cases.) If you look at a character like Yeti, an experimental soldier who has been augmented with ice/freezing powers and also happens to be Oleg from Saints Row, there are a number of comic book inspirations for us to look at for people with that kind of power set. Knowing which fit our universe and the character are what we work to figure out, as well as making sure what people think should happen actually happens in regards to the abilities we give him. For instance, if he has a freeze gun, then people should get slower the longer they are exposed to it, and eventually freeze. And if they're frozen, they should probably shatter if they get hit by a large attack. Those are the kinds of expectations we can piggyback onto to provide a satisfying character and gameplay experience.
So in trying to build a cast of characters that will resonate with a large audience, knowing what others have done and why those characters from other mediums have lasted as long as they have is important and definitely something we consider for our cast, too.prevnext
Building a Better Baddie
And what about Doctor Babylon? That's a comic book super-villain name if I ever heard one, and he looks like he came straight out of a twisted Saturday morning cartoon. Coincidence?
LEGION are the big, over the top villains that are the COBRA equivalent in the Agents of Mayhem universe, but with a slightly higher amount of successfulness. On Devil's Night, they launched a simultaneous global attack, taking out multiple nations' military's, as well as stealing all the nuclear weapons. Just like with the Agents, it was important that their villainous counterparts, specifically the Ministry of Pride that you'll be encountering in Agents of Mayhem, have the same kind of range from silly to serious.
The Ministry of Pride is run by, as you mention, Doctor Babylon, and is a technological genius. While he reports directly to The Morningstar, he has numerous lieutenants that report to him, all trying to help accomplish his goal, while also furthering their own. Last year people were breaking up the wedding of two of them: Steeltoe, who is obsessed with making himself entirely machine; and AISHA, an A.I. K-Pop group who want nothing more than to form the singularity with Steeltoe. At E3 this year, people got to fight against either Hammersmith, the premiere weapons developer of the world; and August Gaunt, technological genius and popstar who has absolutely no relation to any popstar that exists in real life. There are more that we haven't fully gone into yet, but you can read the list here and kind of get a feeling for which are going to trend more serious or be a bit darker in tone, and which are going to be ones you just really, really want to punch in the face due to their personalities.
It really isn't a coincidence at all that they all could come straight out of a, as you put it, "twisted Saturday morning cartoon" as that is exactly how they should feel.prevnext
Weapons Are a Soldier's Best Friend (Besides Teammates)
Let's talk weapons. The Saints Row / Agents of Mayhem universal mantra seems to be "the wackier, the better," but what was the vision here? Are we talking an over-the-top sci-fi arsenal, or were you attempting to design something more traditionally militaristic?
How far we took weapons and abilities that are specific to Agents was really dictated by what made sense for the Agency as a whole, then what made sense for the Agent given all the pieces I spoke about earlier. As an Agency, MAYHEM is sci-fi military tech, and that was a fine line to walk. I've mentioned the Freeze Gun with shatter with Yeti, but there is backstory as to how that all operates. Same with something like Red Card's power harness, that makes him more vulnerable to enemy attacks, but deals out area damage dictated by how long he charges it. Fortune's drone, Glory, was thematically thought of as her parrot, but in both form and function fits the Agency's level of technology.
Where we get REALLY crazy is with the GremlinTech that you are able to craft and use in the game. These are what I equate to the really out there weapons we had in Saints Row, so similar to the Chum Gun in nature. Gremlin can make all sorts of these, ranging from the Ball Pit Tech, which traps all enemies in the area in purple bouncing balls with silly physics, to Cabbit Bomb, which has a tiny cabbit track to an enemy, explode, and turn them into a cabbit which then tracks to enemies. Let's just say that can get pretty silly really quickly if used with a large group of enemies.prevnext
This Pirate Is Plundering
Let's talk about Hardtack for a minute. Someone's got a serious love for pirates on your team. How tricky was it to put together a pirate mentality into a modern crime fighter like him? Was his personality derived from his design, or was his design derived from his personality?
You got me! I'm a lover of all things pirate that aren't modern pirate, so Fortune was actually the first Agent I did development on. While Fortune is much more nonchalant and pirate-y in her entire kit, Hardtack is much more a traditional, gruff, badass sailor. That plays into his backstory, where he was actually was a naval officer during the Devil's Night attack and gets into a fistfight with the leader of another ministry in LEGION. We had to be careful not to trend Fortune and Hardtack too close to each other, and since they were both developed pretty early, it was during the stage where we were figuring out the best questions to ask. Having two Agents that could have been really similar and figuring out how to differentiate them that early in the process helped us later on when coming up with new Agents, though.prevnext
This Guy's Gone Hollywood (No, Really)
Hollywood seems, um, rather Hollywood. Is he related to Johnny Cage at all? Is he meant to be the personification of the Agents of Mayhem attitude or a mascot of sorts, or does that title belong to another agent?
Hollywood is totally the Mascot of MAYHEM. He was hired not only for his combat skills, but his ability to be the Face of MAYHEM, as you hear in his 2D animated intro cut scene. He's definitely a bit of a goof, but one interesting challenge with him was making sure that he had the goofy, self-centered personality and keeping that roped in enough to not be grating, as well as making sure that he didn't carry the goofiness over to his combat kit. He's incredibly capable while fighting against LEGION, and playing into the self-centered flashiness is where we went with him.prevnext
It's Not "Miss" Fortune
Fortune is a total badass, and the female agents look incredible. We're not seeing any boob-windows in their armor or any seductive "come hither" posture in this lineup, which is refreshing. Did you design these agents with female players in mind, or was the team just laser-focused on making the entire cast uniformly intimidating? Was female representation ever discussed or debated?
This is a fantastic question! First and foremost, we do want to do a good job when it comes to diversity in all of our games, so we definitely had that mentality when we went into developing Agents. What was important for us is that these Agents were individuals, and that they were all bad-asses. While there wasn't really debate, we did discuss how best to represent each character in those regards. We actually have an Inclusivity Panel in the studio where these types of subjects are brought up and discussed, and we used that group whenever potential questions came up.prevnext
Return Of the Gat
We see Johnny Gat is making a return to Agents of Mayhem. Any chance we'll see some other veteran characters make the cut?
While we haven't announced all of our DLC yet, we do have Yeti, who I mentioned above being Oleg from Saints Row; and Kingpin, who is Pierce Washington. So clearly we do have characters that are callbacks, and who is to say what the future may hold in terms of others joining?
Thank you so much for you time. One last question. After all of this time spent working and iterating on Agents of Mayhem, what are you most excited about fans seeing for the first time?
Really just seeing people get their hands on the entire experience and seeing just how much there is in the game. Playing through the crazy main plot against the Ministry of Pride, unlocking Agents and doing individual missions with them that delve deeper into their character. The literal insane amount of gameplay depth that we have available is something people are only going to truly understand once they are able to play around with it themselves. Personally, I'm really excited to see what kinds of combinations of Agents and their abilities our fans are going to come up with, and what broken combos they may create when the GremlinTech is added on top of that. It's going to be awesome to see.prev