Gaming for Grown Ups
7th February 2013 09:47:00
Posted by Lewis Brown

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time - Sanzaru Interview

Unlike you we've been playing Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for ages! Ages! And, annoyingly, we still can't tell you what we think of it, although the internet should be awash with the opinions of our cousins from across the pond by now. Anyhoo, we did the next best thing and virtually cornered Mat Kraemer (Lead Game Developer) and Glen Egan (President of Sanzaru) from Sanzaru Games and threw a load of questions at their faces. Great stuff.

The last time people were talking about an original release in the Sly franchise was way back in the dark ages of 2005. Thatís a long time in the mind of the gaming fan used to annual iterations of their favourite games. What is it about your take on Sly Cooper thatís going to draw the fans back in and even introduce this rapscallion racoon to a new audience?

I think we would say; "Come for the characters, stay for the gameplay!" The Sly Cooper universe is a fun and whimsical world that has been enjoyed by millions over the years. We are building on that with a whole new adventure, with new characters and tons of new gameplay to enjoy.

Taking over a franchise from a company such as Sucker Punch was never going to be easy - what message would you send out to fans who may be worried that they wonít be seeing the Sly they know and love in Thieves in Time?

Taking over the Sly Cooper franchise is a great honour and to be honest we were more excited by the opportunity than worried. I think the reaction from the fans to the demos we have released is a huge indication that we are hitting the right notes with how Sly should look and feel. We read all the forums and the fan reaction, especially during development, and that coupled with our experience creating the Sly Collection has informed a lot of our design choices along the way.
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Your work on porting the HD remasters of the previous Sly games obviously gave you a fantastic grounding in the world and characters that Sucker Punch had created. How involved were Sucker Punch in the development of this game, and apart from your monkey face logo popping up every now and then how much of Sanzaruís DNA has made it into final product?

With the HD remasters of the Sly Collection we really focussed on increasing the visual fidelity of the games without sacrificing the core gameplay. We added a few things here and there like camera tuning but mostly it was about bringing the series over to PS3 with HD resolution, 3D TV support along with Move controller minigames to boot!

The time travel mechanic offers not only a fantastic way for players to revisit Chapters and individual Jobs, but also a mechanism for you to bolt on additional content if you so wished. Do we have any chance of you extending Slyís time travelling capers through DLC?

Sanzaru would love to add more content via DLC or stand alone extensions to expand the Thieves in Time story and beyond. Right now we are just focusing on the core game, but who knows what the future may have in store for the Cooper Clan.

The first couple of chapters in the game demonstrate quite a shallow learning curve and very generous checkpoints, so much so that many gamers who have been around since the birth of the franchise may find parts a little too easy. This is evidently a design choice on your part to step back from some of the more recent platformer offerings such as Super Meat Boy and instead offer an experience where failure frustration is dispelled and fun rules the roost. What were the reasons behind this? Were you looking to make the game as accessible as possible or is it simply a function of the narrative-driven plot?

We always wanted to make sure the game was as accessible as possible to reach a wide audience. We did this because we wanted the widest variety of players to experience the entire game. Many times players come up to a frustrating part of a game and turn it off never to return, so we made a core experience that is accessible but then layered in a whole slew of challenges to really test the hardcore player that wants to capture the platinum or 100% the whole game. Fun, accessibility and an exciting narrative to drive the experience was our main focus.

As you travel through the various time periods you have the chance to meet Slyís ancestors from that period. Were there other Cooper ancestors that were discussed in the design phase that didnít make it to the final product? If so, who were your favourite ones and why?

We looked at all the Cooper ancestors and if we had the time, we would have added them all. We choose the ancestors we did based on the time period they came from, personality, and the play style each would bring to the game. It was important that each time period and ancestor had a drastic contrast to each other to keep things fresh and exciting. I do really wish we had gotten Slytunkhamen in the game he is by far one my personal favourite ancestors. But who knows, maybe we will get a chance to bring this character to life in another Sly Cooper adventure. I know myself and Sanzaru would love to see this happen!
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Thieves in Time is a beast of a game to squeeze onto the Vita; could you tell us a little more about some of the development challenges you had to overcome in order to replicate the PS3 game exactly?

The biggest challenge was getting the hub worlds to fit, these are massive spaces filled with all kinds of enemies. We spent a lot of time fine tuning the assets to maintain the visual quality bar but still be able to run smoothly on the Vita - it was a big challenge but the game turned out looking great!

As players you can probably appreciate the frustration we have had in waiting to access a game that we know has been complete since well before the turn of the year, let alone one that some people have been waiting over the best part of a decade for. Could you let us know what itís like to be a developer in the same situation Ė how does it feel holding onto this giant ball of fun and not being able to share it with anyone?

Hahahaha! It is frustrating, but the wait is almost over!

Whatís the next goal for Sanzaru Games then? Can we expect more original developments or are you returning to your porting roots?

As an independent studio we are always looking to grow our original developments we have been working together for the last 10 years making original games but sometimes if there is an opportunity to work with another cool group to bring a title from one platform to another we will take it.

And that's your lot folks. We would just like to thank Mat Kraemer and Glen Egan for taking the time to answer our questions.