Monday 29th May 2017,
XP4T Brave.Bold.Banter.

Beautifully Stupid: The Story of Saints Row and Volition (Part 3)

GTA V vs GAT V - One shall stand, one shall be beaten down with a rubber willy.

In Part 2 of our look at the history of Saints Row/Red Faction developer DeepSilver Volition, we covered the period from the first Saints Row game in 2006, to the beginning of development of the third Saints Row in late 2008. But the Third Street Saints weren’t the only ones getting a sequel…

R.I.P. THQ

Meanwhile, Volition Producer Jim Boone was leading the charge on Red Faction: Armageddon. An April 2011 GameSpot preview of RF:A tells us that the move away from its predecessor’s open world design to a more traditional, linear shooter, was the result of player feedback. (Apparently, the players had grown tired of “trudging around” Guerrilla’s world). Also new was the upgraded Geo-Mod 2.5 engine, which actually sounds more like a polish and tweak to bring it slightly more up to date than a major new version of the tech. Despite best efforts, RF:A sold well but ultimately made a loss for THQ, and although it received generally good praise from reviewers and fans alike, it clearly showed none of the renewed promise that Guerrilla had, and even made the age-old RF mistake of not exploiting the Geo-Mod tech enough. Finally, just 20 days after the game’s release, THQ Director Brian Farrell announced that it had taken a bath on both the new RF games (to an unspecified amount), and that it had no further plans to carry on with the franchise. Still, at least we finally got something to make up for the long-abandoned Descent TV series: the actually-not-bad SyFy-produced TV movie Red Faction: Origins

Happily, Saints Row The Third (to give it its proper title) released to immeasurably better acclaim all around. It was nominated for Best Narrative at the 2012 Game Developers Conference, received an IGN Editor’s Choice award, and received perfect scores from several websites, including GamesRadar. Reviewers praised it for its vast array of customisation options, applicable to the player, their ‘homies’ and gang vehicles, and their ‘cribs’. Seeing and hearing your precisely-crafted avatar – which could be made to be absolutely any body shape, from obese to anorexic, with both male and female avatars having a choice of three entirely different voices – running around in their hand-picked clothes, driving their custom-built cars and seguing almost seamlessly from player control to cut-scene and back again, was truly awe-inspiring. The connection between player and avatar was further aided and abetted by outstandingly fluid mocap work, as well as Annosoft’s superb lip-sync technology. Still, the more philosophical reviewers were quick to pounce on the perceived misogyny and violence of the game. Edge magazine called it a “fratboyish endorsement of crime and female degradation, devoid of any conscience or commentary.” PC Gamer ’​s reviewer claimed that although he felt almost offended during much of the game, he was more happy than disgusted – SR3 may have a “huge purple dildo”, but it didn’t take the prostitute-killing liberties or “other moments of nastiness” associated with the GTA games. This may seem like a strange statement to make, since cops and prostitutes are all fully killable, but again it seems that the hard work done early on in defining the humour and tone of the game is what ultimately kept it from accruing the ‘Ban This Sick Filth!’-type headlines that the GTA series regularly attracts.

sr3 july 2012 fb foto

Volition, in a July 2012 Facebook photo. Love dem Facebook photos. Check out their page for pics from their traditional Pie Days too…

By January 2012, just two months after its release on all formats, THQ announced that SR3 had moved 3.8 million units, and by June 2012 it had brought in USD 4m. Even so, it was not enough to stop Volition’s long-standing publishing partner from crapping its financial pants in December 2012 and filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in the US. The company, established in California in 1989 and spending its first few years making licensed toy products (THQ actually stands for Toy Head-Quarters), had been having a gradually worse time over the last few years. First, it lost money on a whole string of games that it had rather expected not to. Then, there was the infamous uDraw GameTablet fiasco, and then they lost a lucrative wrestling game license to EA and were almost de-listed from NASDAQ in the process. Its President resigned and was quickly replaced by Jason ‘Naughty Dog’ Rubin, but the former Crash Bandicoot boss couldn’t avert the coming disaster, even with a successful Humble THQ Bundle in November (which Rubin famously dropped USD 1,000 on for his own copies). Finally, in January 2013, it began selling off its various assets in order to support its stated aim of being able to pay its core staff. It was in this divestment process that SEGA acquired Relic Entertainment’s epic Warhammer 40,000 series, as well as the Company of Heroes games. Darksiders, Red Faction and Volition’s old PS2 Summoner franchise went to Sweden’s Nordic Games GmbH, while Saints Row was given a new home at Koch Media for a reported USD 22.3m. (The German Koch would also take over the Homefront IP from Crytek earlier this year in 2014, who had themselves purchased it from THQ during the assets sale). Koch Media’s publishing arm, Deep Silver, had only just scored its first No. 1 hit a few years before in 2011, with Techland’s zombies-on-holiday epic, Dead Island. Predictably, Koch’s first order of business was stamping its identity on Volition with a rename – to Deep Silver Volition LLC. So, it was swings and roundabouts time for Volition: they had survived the loss of another publisher (not to mention the natural retirement of their founder and long-time boss, Mike Kulas, earlier in 2011), and one of their key franchises was not only effectively buried, but also out of their hands anyway. But their other big earner was taking off in a bigger way than ever before. And before it had gone boom, THQ had set the course for Volition’s next effort (sorry, DSV sounds too much like a submarine. Let’s just stick with Volition, Ok?), which would eventually be published by their new owners, Deep Silver.

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About The Author

Old London geezer, now resident in the Polish hinterland. Linguist, committed Trekker, old-skool D&Der and gamer since the Colecovision was cooler than yo-yos...

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