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Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is getting some pretty good reviews.  And before the it was officially released we got a chance to query the good folks at Sucker Punch -- the minds behind the thieving raccoon.  Like all our Q&As many different topics are covered including the use of cel-shading, Sly as a "flagship" character, the importance of story, and at least one power-up that was left on the cutting room floor.  Thanks for your time guys!

 

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Sucker Punch (Sly Cooper) Q&A

Conducted by Omni

 

Graphics

 

Cel-shading it pretty cool to look at but why use it? Was it in response to other recent (and upcoming) games that use the technique?

We wanted Sly and his world to look illustrated, but one step away from a flattened graphic style. Sly uses some elements of cel-shading, like visual borders, but it doesn’t look flat and simple like many other cel-shaded titles. The bottom line for us was giving our artists tools for creating the look they wanted. This involved the cel-borders we do, but also encompassed a custom lighting model and flexible ways for creating special effects.

 

Does the cel-shading technique allow more small details or less as it seems to wash-out any textures with solid blocks of color?

Our lighting model was designed to keep details visible, even in darkness. Since Sly works at night most of the time, we had to carefully ensure that Sly’s world didn’t look black all the time. One way we did that was to turn colored surfaces more monochrome (not darker) when they are away from lights. This lets the game appear very detailed, while still having "dark" and "lit" areas.

 

How hard was it making a vibrant colorful game with lots of going on but keeping the framerate acceptable?

Performance is an ongoing challenge for any game. All sorts of artists and programmers are making changes to the game all the time, and any one change might kill performance. The first thing you have to do is keep your eyes open, constantly tracking how the game is doing. Then you need to have analysis tools for finding the problem areas and fixing them. We had at least one engineer working on nothing but performance for the entire development of Sly.

 

How many conceptual drawings of the main character, Sly Cooper, were done before the final design was approved?

Sly went through many incarnations. He was originally more like a real raccoon – somewhat pudgy. He went through six or eight major revisions before we settled on the lithe and agile raccoon you see today.

 

How tight was the communication between the level designers and the animators/art directors?

Well, their desks are about ten feet apart, so I would say the communication was very tight. The design team and the art staff would demonstrate new stuff to each other on an almost daily basis.

 

Sound

 

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With an obvious emphasis on thievery, how important are the audio cues? And do these cues add more elements to the gameplay?

Sly incorporates a pretty cool interactive music engine, so the soundtrack actually changes depending on the game situation. This makes the levels very immersive and gives Sly a very cinematic feel. That said, you can’t really make the gameplay depend on too many audio cues, because you want people to be able to enjoy the game with the sound off.

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Is there any specific musical inspiration for Sly Cooper’s soundtrack?

I’ll let Ashif Hakik, the composer of Sly’s soundtrack to answer this one: "The artwork in the game was a was the big inspiration. As well, the interactive music engine we used made us consider the gameplay for each specific level a sort of starting point that would influence the way the music would be written. Stylistic influences came from a combination of instrument choices and musical character defined and inspired by the locales in the game, and similar composer works like Yoko Kanno and her work on Cowboy Bebop, Henry Mancini, and Carl Stalling."

 

How much dialogue was recorded for Sly Cooper? (And how much was left out?)

We recorded about 700 lines of dialog, and really didn’t leave out anything.

 

When designing the sound effects, how much of it is all-new material as opposed to rooting through a sound effects library? (And what are the pros and cons of each method?)

About 20 percent of Sly’s sounds came from effects libraries, but those were very often heavily modified. The other 80 percent were all originally recorded. Obviously, original sounds can be more, err, original.

 

 

General

 

What separates Sly Cooper from other platformer type games? Basically, why should PS2 owners plunk down hard-earned money to play your game?

Sly Cooper is fun and different. You get to be a raccoon thief and break into the lairs of super-villains. There’s a bunch of yummy platformer action, plus stealth elements and all sorts of cool power-ups. And to top it all off, the game looks amazing.

 

Most projects start with ambitious designs. Was there anything about Sly Cooper that looked good on paper but never made it into the game?

There were a few power-ups we implemented that ended up being bad ideas. Like the "die immediately and lose all your progress" button. Just kidding. We actually did cut a "warping" power-up because getting around our worlds ended up being easy enough.

 

Could Sly be made into a "flagship" character for Sony?

I think flagship characters are decided by players, not corporate executives. We’ve had great reactions to Sly so far… I’m sure that if enough people enjoy playing the game, flagship status would be close behind.

 

What hardware and software was used for the game’s development?

Our artists use Maya and Photoshop and Flash. The programmers use SN’s ProDG system and Visual C++.

 

The highway of Life is full of bumps and potholes. What bumps/potholes were encountered during the development process? (i.e. Losing a programmer, re-writing code from scratch, bug hunts, etc.)

Believe it or not, there weren’t too many surprises during development. Our team has a lot of experienced people, so we were pretty good at tacking problems before they got too out of hand.

 

What research was done before development began?

For visual reference, the art team collected hundreds of photos and drawings of areas that looked like the worlds we wanted to create. In addition, the artists did a lot of conceptual drawings that really inspired how our lighting model and characters were designed.

 

Were there any extracurricular activities that development team took part in as a group to blow off steam or get new ideas?

For several months, we played 2-on-2 Mario Tennis non-stop for hours at a time.

 

Healthy body, healthy mind. What was the general diet during development? (Or more specifically, has anyone on the team eaten fruit in the last 16 months?)

With a team of 25 people, it’s safe to say that were eating everything, all the time. We have vegetarians and carnivores and everything in between.

 

Are there any Easter Eggs in Sly Cooper that the average gamer might miss?

In Sunset Snake Eyes, you can find a few subtly hidden images of Rocket, the hero of Sucker Punch’s first game.

 

How was level design influenced by real-life architecture?

Our designers definitely wanted Sly’s worlds to feel like actual places, not just random videogame levels.

 

How important is the story in Sly Cooper? Will gamers enjoy the story more than the actual gameplay?

Sly’s story is cool – it really holds the whole game together. There’s a reason Sly is breaking into the lairs of super-villains, and that reason is the Thievius Raccoonus. At the same time, the story doesn’t overpower the fun of playing the game. For example, immediately after pressing the START button, a new player will be playing the game. There are no cinemas at the beginning – you just get a little instruction and you’re off and running. Later, there are movies to fill you in on all the background. We thought it was important to get the player playing right off the bat.

Will the design team stick together to produce other games or a Sly Cooper sequel?

It’s always hard to predict the future. Everyone is taking a well-deserved vacation right now. Once we’re all back in the office, we’ll start tossing ideas at the wall and see what sticks J .

 

Thanks for your time, Sucker Punch!

(October 16, 2002)

 

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