Before Sunset: Creative Director Marcus Smith Interview
As we continue towards this Fall, we wanted to spotlight various members of the Sunset Overdrive team with some questions you hopefully haven’t seen answered elsewhere. Get to know the Sunset Overdrive team. To kick us off, we talk to the man himself, Creative Director Marcus Smith.
How did Sunset Overdrive come to be?
Well, sonny… pull up a rocking chair and let me spin a yarn from a bygone era… Drew Murray and I were finishing up Resistance 3 (I was the Creative Director and Drew was Lead Designer). We’d immersed ourselves in “end-times” themed entertainment both as part of R3’s thematic crux and because, frankly, we were thinking a lot about the apocalypse. It was all the rage, reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, Robert Kirkman’s “Walking Dead” comics, watching all the different film versions of Richard Matheson “I Am Legend”, etc.
And maybe it was because both Drew and I were about to become first-time parents pretty close to one another, but you might say we got kind of obsessed with post-apocalypse scenarios. (Drew more than me. He was a full-on prepper. Moderation isn’t even in his vocabulary). But after our daughters were born and the world didn’t end, we started to get pretty worn-out on the whole, “dark, depressing, monochromatic, just scrapping by” genre. Still, there was still *something* that attracted us to the idea of an end-times scenario. Seeing the character Jim walk around the empty streets of London at the beginning of “28 Days Later”, or seeing Charleton Heston cruise around the streets of Los Angeles in the whale of a convertible, even Will Smith hitting golf balls of an aircraft carrier in “I Am Legend”, there was something clicked about how you could have fun in the end-times.
We started looking at it less as “the end” and more like a new beginning. One where the laws and societal rules no longer control our behavior. The idea that we wouldn’t have to devolve into “Lord of the Flies” when society breaks down, but perhaps we could re-build based on more creative philosophies, like Burning Man. That was the spark, the impetus that drove Drew and I to create the basis for Sunset Overdrive. Luckily for us, (CEO & Founder) Ted Price, (Chief Technology Officer) Al Hastings and (Chief Creative Officer) Brian Hastings supported our crazy idea and everyone at Insomniac got behind it, turning it into something so much better than we could have ever imagined.
Can you talk about the inspirations that drove the creation of Sunset Overdrive?
I just did! What do you want from me!?!? Well, after we’d “turned the corner” and started thinking about “fun in the end-times,” Drew and I amassed a huge collection of inspiration- music, images, fashion, artists, pop culture, etc. Our very first pitch had literally no story, enemies, or gameplay. It was like we were a couple insane hoarders dumping a giant pile of ‘stuff’ on a conference table. Some of that included: Veladoras, vintage Halloween masks, the “Hyena Men” of Nigeria, pictures of young Keith Richards, H.R. Pufnstuf, Jean Paul Gaultier, Nanook of the North, Wacky Racers, Tank Girl (the comic, not the movie!), tons of artists (like Jamie Hewlett, Ashley Wood, Frank Kozik, Jim Mahfood, Geof Darrow, Rhys Owens, Banksy, Clement Sauve, Phil Hale, Raymond Pettibon, Rob Schab, Jeff Soto, Bill Barminski…), movies (Repo Man, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Idiocracy, The Warriors, Fight Club, Dogtown and Z-Boys, The Stuff, Streets of Fire, Turk 182, They Live…), The Gorillaz “On Melancholy Hill” music video, Harajuku fashion, Mardi Gras Indians, Devine & John Waters, Burning Man, British mods, Dia de los Muertos, Rude Boys, vinyl toys, and so, so, so much music.
Drew and I both grew up listening to punk rock and music is important in our lives, so when we first started talking about the energy of the game, we would make each other mixtapes with bands like The Misfits, The Saints, FIDLAR, Stiff Little Fingers, The Monks, Swell Maps, Bass Drum of Death, Dead Kennedys, Dickies, Slade, Le Tigre, Dan Sartain, The Birthday Party, Jay Reatard, Bad Brains, Killing Joke, Ty Seagall, Nation of Ulysses, Tricky, The Bronx, Youth Brigade, Buzzcocks, Fear, Cheap Time, Germs, DZ Deathrays, The Peechees, Gang of Four, Adolescents, D.R.I. Melvins, Iggy & the Stooges, Minor Threat, Thee Midniters… I could literally go all day here. In summary, inspiration came from everywhere!
What’s your favorite video game of all time?
Me? Oh, man. That’s a tough one. Tetris was pretty good… I’m not sure I could say one game. I’ve so many good experiences playing games and it varies so much by what was going on in my life when I played. Like, maybe I was going through a bad breakup when Mario Sunshine came out and I really never gave it a real chance, you know? Ok, let’s see… Ocarina of Time is certainly up there. For some reason I think back on B-17 Bomber for the Intellivision all the time. Marble Madness was an incredible *experience* when you played it in an arcade, artful, but stress filled (plus, I love Mark Cerny). I got completely immersed in Myst and Doom right around the same time. Spent way too much time with Super Mario Brothers. And GTA3. Jumped ship after Vice City (GTAV got me back, but I could also complain about it for hours) Loved Ico. I work at Insomniac because I loved Spyro (added advantage: it was the only game my girlfriend at the time- wife now- asked me to play so she could watch). COD: Modern Warfare was such a well crafted experience. Peggle is a phenomenon. Lucasarts had a western called, “Outlaws” that was incredible- such a good soundtrack. Years later, “Red Dead Redemption” equaled the feat (loved just riding a horse around and hearing the sounds of cicadas coming out at dusk). Minecraft is so damn addictive!
Some of the most memorable gaming moments came playing Counterstrike & Marathon in office environments (i.e. day jobs. I’m old.). Beyond Good and Evil didn’t get the respect it deserved. Last of Us was incredible. Arkham Asylum was a perfect game. This is hard. So many good games! If I had to choose… I’m going to go with Half-Life (first one). It changed my perception of what a shooter was and I completely fell into the world of being Gordon Freeman at Black Mesa. Plus, I had a really powerful PC at my job at the time, so it was super smooth. I’m going to be up all night now, thinking about the games I should have mentioned…
If your city was overrun by mutants who had drank OverCharge, how would you survive?
First of all, I live in Los Angeles, so nothing would probably change. However, I would take over a 7-11. It’s stand-alone and well stocked with supplies that take a while to expire. It could be easily fortified and I could build means of moving around to surrounding buildings above the heads of any mutants. Plus, they’d probably stock OverCharge, so if things got really bad, I could just join the rest of ‘em!
Describe your ideally dressed Sunset Overdrive character?
Let’s see. I usually start with hats. Maybe a pith helmet. One with a built-in fan system. Then some aviator sunglasses to protect the eyes. UV rays are no joke, people. Maybe a marching band jacket with the arms torn off, a color-coordinated baseball jersey under that. Get me some of those MC Hammer pants in garish color, a pair of painted-up wrestling boots, some wings made of Raven feathers and a pimp cane. Just add an ice-cold a mint julep silver goblet and chill. That’s my Awesomepocalypse.
Your Sunset Overdrive Weapon of Choice?
I’m a sucker for the TNTeddy. Everything about it- the animations on the little bears trying to get away, the voice of the bear Teddy Ruxpin wanna-be, the giant, satisfying teddy bear flame effect that shows up when you do a lot of damage… Plus, it makes big explosions. Which is always nice.
Favorite Amp for your character?
You’ve put me in a tough spot because we haven’t shown many amps yet, so I’d normally answer something that I can’t talk about yet. Let’s just say that my favorite is one we’re currently calling “Grim Reaper.” I can’t really tell you about it, but I’ll add that I loved Mr. Zurkon in the Ratchet games and I’ll let you piece that together. (note to self: I sure hope we don’t cut the Grim Reaper..)
Give us a couple songs on your current playlist (from the Bus playlist?)
I’m at this moment listening to DZ Deathray’s new album, “Black Rat,” which is incredible. Maybe it’ll be released in the States at some point… Checking my recent listening: “Hussy Woofer” by Pink Mexico, “This Town” by Kid Karate, “Yellin'” by Cy Dune, “You Are Dead” by Mind Spiders, and everything by Sleep Maps (check out their Band Camp!). Was that a couple? I really like music…
Check out all of our Before Sunset interviews here.