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Desert Island Games: Sucker Punch's Bruce Oberg (Sly Cooper)

For this week’s 'Desert Island Games', Sucker Punch founder Bruce Oberg (Sly Cooper) picks his all-time most memorable games, from arcade classic Stargate all the way up to Rare's Banjo Kazooie and modern blockbusters like Grand Th
For this week’s Desert Island Games, a column that looks at the top five games of some of our favorite industry personalities, we speak to Sucker Punch Productions co-founder and programming lead Bruce Oberg. The company began in 1997, and released its first title, Rocket: Robot on Wheels for the Nintendo 64 two years later before going on to release Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus for the PlayStation 2 in 2002. The game proved successful enough to see two equally successful sequels, Band of Thieves and Honor Among Thieves in 2004 and 2005 respectively. The company has been quiet since then though, and remains so now, with Oberg stating simply that the company is keeping its next project “a secret”. “If there was anything I could tell you, I would,” he laughs sympathetically, “but there’s absolutely nothing I can tell you.” We spoke to Oberg recently, and asked him about his desert island, all-time, top five most memorable games – in no order, of course. Stargate (Williams, 1981): "It’s basically the juiced up, second version of Defender. That was the first game that I actually spent serious amounts of money on. I played it a ton when I was at college. It was also the first game I ran into in the arcades that had a pretty complex control scheme – playing it for the first time it wasn’t easy to figure out what to do, and it had all these buttons and kind of a weird format, but once you grokked it, it was super, super fun. The learning curve was steep but paid off in the end because it was a really great space fighter and it had a lot of speed to it. It wasn’t just ‘puzzley’, moving stuff around – it was really fast. I must have spent hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on this game in college. In fact, I actually own one now. I picked it up probably about ten years ago, when the arcades started closing down there was a pretty good secondary market for me to be able to buy that sort of stuff. You can still get it now, but it’s harder these days because there aren’t as many arcades that are buying stuff new. I have a Stargate box and a Defender box. It’s also a really great sequel, in that it added things across all axes. It added new powers – some kind of strange ones. You used to just have a gun in the original Defender, as well as the smart bomb of course, but they added this power they called ‘Viso’, which made you invisible, and anything that you touched died, but you only had it for a limited time. It was really great for escaping out of corners when you surrounded by bad guys. They were cool new bad guys too – there were ones that could only be killed using ‘Viso’, because they were really good at dodging your shots. You really had to learn the new control scheme to defeat the new bad guys. It also had this gate you could fly in if you’d picked up people and you could skip levels. So, where in Defender, if you put in your quarter you’d have to play through all the beginning levels and that was it, this had a feature where you picked up some guys and proved that you knew how to play the game you could skip levels to get to the hard stuff really quickly. It was also the first game I remember encountering where you could put in more quarters and start off with more men. So if you put in 50c instead of a quarter, instead of starting with three guys you could start with seven, which was a cool feature at the time, I thought. Because I was pretty good with seven guys I could play for a long, long time…" Funhouse (Williams, 1990): "Not a video game - a pinball machine. Is that okay? I’m a pinball collector, and the game that started me collecting was called Funhouse. This was the best example of what I call the ‘gadget pinballs’ that kind of came out for a while in the early ‘90s. A lot of them were designed by a guy named Pat Lawlor. Funhouse had this ventriloquist head in the corner that would talk to you, and you could try and aim in his mouth and get it in his mouth at certain points. At some points in the game he fell asleep, and it was just a really good use of the actual gadget. Other pins had gadgets, like Whirlwind had a fan that blew at you when the tornado hit, and Earthshaker shook. Pat Lawlor designed all of those, and my pinball collection is of Pat Lawlor pinballs, but I always though of Funhouse as being the quintessential one. He really established the idea of having multiple, asynchronous modes in a pinball – that’s a mouthful, but you could have multiple modes running at the same time if you kicked them off, which was super, super cool for the time. Very, very innovative. It made the replay value very high, because depending on what modes you started when, you could have lots of different types of effects. There’s also a ton of great little touches, like the dummy’s head, Rudy, could switch left, center or right, and depending on where the pinball was in the playfield, they would switch over to look at that part of the playfield. It was a really great use of all sorts of technology to make a really fun experience. I actually own 11 pinballs right now, all designed by Pat Lawlor. Some people would argue that Addam’s Family was his masterstroke – that one had magnets under the playfield. It was the best selling pinball of all time, for good reason. He also did Twilight Zone, he did one called Banzai Run, which had a pinball area in the backglass. There was a magnet that would pick the ball up and drop it, pachinko style, into the backglass. The guy is super, super creative, which is why I started collecting his machines. 11 of them – they don’t even fit in my house. I have to rent space!" Banjo Kazooie (Rare, 1998): "I’ve actually performed improv in the past, and done comedic acting, so I really enjoy humor done well. I thought Banjo Kazooie was the first platformer to really be hilarious. Beyond that, they took a lot of the stuff from Mario 64, and polished the same kind of ideas and made them shine in a really great way. The game was completely addictive, it had tons of really huge, spectacular environments. It came out right when we were starting Sucker Punch. I can’t say it was a direct influence on what we did, but it made me think and argue for doing a platformer. We eventually did Rocket: Robot on Wheels, which, for me, had some influences from Banjo. It certainly wasn’t in Banjo’s league in any way, but we looked at Banjo and admired a lot of things in it, and tried to be as fun as it was. Being funny, having a ton of great moves and upgrades for those moves, and it’s a funny game without having any voice acting. It had just that kind of ‘wahh wah whahh whah’ stuff, and they did stuff that very few games have done, like a quiz show! You go through the whole game and then, before the final boss battle between you and witch, she puts you through a board game quiz show and she asks you questions about the game, and you do fly throughs of different areas where she asks, ‘What did you do here?’ or ‘What was this guy’s name?’. It was really fun. A great way to wrap up the whole game – it was a guided tour of the whole game before you were done with it, and I thought that was a really cool, innovative feature. I’m a programmer, so sometimes I’m paying attention to technical stuff, and it was also the first game I remember that had really great use of dynamic music. They would be playing the theme song, and as you walked from one area to another they would dynamically change the instrumentation – you would start walking toward the winter wonderland level, and the music would continue to play in the same way, but the music would change to Christmas bells playing the same music. That blew my mind the first time I heard it. It was kind of eye opening in a way. I didn’t know you could do that with music, and they did it. Tons of great characters, too. They did so many great characters – it was weird, with a team of, I think, 15 people." Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004): "It’s by far the best of the GTA’s, and that’s saying a ton – they’re all super great games. San Andreas blows them away, on multiple axes. It’s way huger, but not just in a size for size’s sake way; it’s big because all the different areas they introduce are so diverse, and they introduce just oodles of gameplay elements, using all the different stuff they build. 70 hours it took me to get through the main gameplay, and even at the end they’re teaching new gameplay elements. They’re still teaching you how the simulation works, and what you can do in the game world. It’s crazy how much stuff was crammed in there. I think people, when they talk about GTA as a series never talk about how fucking funny it is. I mean, the game is hilarious, and it makes me laugh 90% of the time I’m playing it. The radio stations and the names of everything in the world, or the cut scenes - it’s one of the few games I actually look forward to the cut scenes. They keep them short, they keep them sweet, and they’re always entertaining. It’s not just ‘blah blah blah’, they’re just focused on making an entertaining cut scene. They use the voice actors well; James Woods in San Andreas was great, not just because they used him well and he was doing a great voice, but also because they used his characterization for the animation of the in-game character. It was super well done. I always think of it as the greatest satire of America ever made. They also do a great job of putting in tons of really great cinematic scenes just during regular gameplay. They’ll tweak the camera, like for the first time I remember driving through the desert seeing the really big radar dish, it was like driving through the desert and seeing it in real life. They did a great job of cramming tons of those moments into the game. The size and the number of fresh experiences right through to the end were incredible. I was playing San Andreas there was a mission where you flew to Liberty City. It’s about two thirds of the way through the game – you fly out over the ocean and then you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m at Liberty City’. But while I was flying, I was like, ‘Oh my god, they’ve included GTA III in this game. I completely thought that was a possibility. That turned out not to be true, and it was just one little scene in a restaurant, but because it had been so surprising and so insanely cool up to that point, I honestly believed for a few seconds they were going to have done that and pulled it off. That’s how great it was." Burnout: Revenge (Criterion, 2005): "I’m kind of an arcade racer – I’m not a simulation racer guy. Burnout is so fun that it has almost ruined other driving games for me. In other games where I can’t slam other cars off the road or see damage or inflict damage, it seems to be not as fun any more. The whole battle mode of Burnout: Revenge kicks ass. It was one of those games that the first time I played it, I looked at the clock and it was 5am, because I had been playing it all damn night. It’s different from other ones in that it’s such an adrenalin rush. It’s where I go when I want have some driving craziness. Technically, they’re doing some amazing stuff, from the camera and the clockwork where they slow down the clock and have the camera in real time go figure out what to look at and show a really cool crash and then put me back in racing in real time. If someone had told me that in a meeting, I would have said it couldn’t be done. It doesn’t seem right on paper, but they totally pull it off. It feels like you’re driving and then you take two seconds to turn around and look at the other car crash out the back window, and then you turn around and you’re racing at 100 miles an hour again. It’s a really, really, really great feeling. One that I honestly didn’t think anyone would be able to pull off. It looks great, and the sense of speed is just killer. It looks as fast as or faster than any other game. Being able to destroy the other cars has this cathartic pull for me. The fact that in so many other games, the cars don’t take any damage, I think that’s a really big mistake for car companies to demand that, if that’s what’s happening. Being able to beat up your car is something you can’t do in real life. It’s so emotionally satisfying for me. That’s they get the win, and they pull it off – you can say that could destroy cars and not do it right, but those guys do it so right. I get bored when I play other racers. That’s all I can say. It’s ruined a whole genre for me."

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