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Tuesday May 5, 2009 9:30 pm

Exclusive Interview: Tom French, The Saboteur Lead Designer

It’s no secret that I am a big supporter of Pandemic Studios’ . Earlier this year, I was exposed to the game in its early development stage and even then—It looked extremely promising. The Saboteur is the story of a car racer in Nazi-occupied Paris looking for revenge. Now, I know what you are thinking, “Not another World War II game!” However, The Saboteur offers you an intimate experience with the characters, while World War II is only the backdrop of the story. In previous interviews, I have been able to get a little more background information of the game, if only to get a glimpse of what this world looks like. Recently, I was able to sit and chat with the Lead Designer of The Saboteur, Tom French, and find out some more background information of the game and what it has to offer us.

Tom, tell us a bit about your background.
My first game at Pandemic was Mercenaries, which was my first job as a designer. I have been in the videogame industry for about 12 years and most of my history was at Blackout Studios. I worked a little bit on Fallout, and a lot on Fallout 2, and I worked on some prototype that got canceled before they shut down.

What has been the difference between working with those other titles and working with The Saboteur?
There are a lot of similarities when working on role-playing games and sandbox type game. Pandemic focuses more on action rather than the RPG elements, but there is definitely an overlap—especially in The Saboteu. We are trying to do a lot of story telling. This was definitely a good background to have while working on this title.


So tell us about the character inspiration. A Car Racer? Where did this idea spawn from?
The initial spark came from one of the owners of the company, Andrew Goldman. He was flying back and on the plane he read a book about William Grover and two other resistance members. From there, we went nuts and changed a couple of things to fit the game. For example, we knew we didn’t want to tell a soldier story. We also had him go from being an English man to an Irish man to give him no real tie to the war. We wanted him to be a neutral, that way our story is not about the war—but a story that is going on with World War II as a background.


From then to now, how much would you say the character has changed?
Pretty early we locked down a lot of things. Lots of his background and origin went through some changes, but pretty early we locked down Sean and were pretty happy with the character at that point. From then we kept rolling out the back, down to all his abilities like climbing around, to using his melee, shooting guns and driving cars.


We know that The Saboteur runs on an a brand new engine built from the ground up, which you are calling Oden. What can you tell us about this engine?
The open-world experience is something Pandemic has been doing for a while and it’s part of who we are in the marketplace; we make action open-world games. We started with that as our base. We knew the kind of game we wanted to make and we knew we wanted to make it an open-world sandbox game. From the get-go, the Oden engine was designed to be a next-generation (now current generation) open-world sandbox game engine. We focus on a lot on up close details for the player. We really wanted to make a more intimate experience. It’s not about large scale environments and big destruction. This really focus on the game that we wanted to make—a more intimate experience with a lot of detail in the environment.


What where some of your inspirations for other aspects of The Saboteur while the game was still in its early stages?
One of the big inspirations for the game was the Indiana Jones movies. The idea of telling a Nazi antagonist story that was not a World War II movie, was a huge influence in having as bigger than life hero. We also watched a lot of weird french films to figure out the happy, color feel of our world. Other character references came from a very low key and intimate movie called the Train, that was about the french resistance. Some other character inspiration for Sean was Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series. A hero that can take a beating and laugh about it and keep moving, was a huge point of influence for us. Finally, Sin City definitely helped us to visually solve the idea of a black and white world. We knew we wanted the black and white element before that, but it’s more than just taking the color out of the world; because then it becomes very flat. So by watching those movies, especially watching the DVDs and the making of, gave us ideas and lighting techniques we were able to apply to our game and help the characters that lived in that world and have environments with depth.


Unlike many sandbox type games, It sounds like the player will be able to enjoy an open-world experience, but at the same time have a personal, in-depth relationship with the character they are controlling.
That’s our goal. We really want Sean to be a relateable hero that people like. We put a lot of time into crafting the character and working on the story and giving it life so the player would feel connected.  We also achieved this by making everything in the game about the character and relating it back to them. We also gave the player the ability to influence the world through the will fight—fighting back in missions and changing the the color of areas and making the people inspired.

Tom, thanks for your time. We appreciate you giving us a look inside the development of The Saboteur.
My pleasure.

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