Any Name But That: The History of Sucker Punch Productions

(Written as of 2014)

The history of Sucker Punch all began back in 1997, when co-founders Brian Fleming and Chris Zimmerman had been working for Microsoft. According to the company website, they worked in a variety of productivity and software development applications. They shared a love and passion for video games, despite the fact that they’d only had one video game development experience. It was later on in 1997 that they decided to leave Microsoft to become an independent games developer.

To pick the name of their outfit, they used a list of names that they had comprised, which they wouldn’t have been able to use during their time at Microsoft, due to their company policies. It was finalized after Chris Zimmerman showed the list of roughly ten names to his wife, who suggested that any of the names on the list would be fine; just as long it wasn’t Sucker Punch. They both decided that the opinion of a middle-aged woman would be completely contrary to that of their target audience; and so they went with Sucker Punch. Chris Zimmerman stated in a 2009 interview that after twelve years, he still couldn’t believe that his wife had forgiven him.

The company’s first game was a Nintendo 64 title released in 1999 called Rocket: Robot on Wheels, which is a challenging 3D platformer, but not quite as typical as what was being released by Nintendo at the time. It also had elements of games such as Rollercoaster Tycoon with the facility to build rides to solve puzzles, and there was even further emphasis on puzzle solving than in other 3D platformers released for the Nintendo 64. Although the game didn’t receive an overwhelming amount of commercial success at the time, it is still held in high regard by critics and fans alike, with the game even being listed as the 18th best Nintendo 64 game of all time by Nintendo Power.

Crucially, the game got Sucker Punch noticed by Sony, who saw potential in the upcoming outfit, and Sucker Punch subsequently signed a deal with them in 2000, and began work on their next video game series, Sly Cooper. Sucker Punch wanted the character of Sly Cooper and the world around him to look illustrated, as cel-shaded visuals were becoming very popular at the time. The first game in the Sly Cooper series was Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, which was very well-received by critics, but once again, were met with initially disappointing sales figures. Although it did go on to sell over 400,000 copies in its first fiscal year, many critics and fans still consider it to be one of the most underrated games of all time.

Then came two sequels; Sly 2: Band of Thieves and Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves. Again, both games were extremely well received by critics and their players, but the series overall continued to be marred down by low sales. However, it would be Sucker Punch’s next franchise that would see them find a new level of success.

Following on from the style of gameplay found in both Sly 2 and 3, Sucker Punch decided that for their next game, they wanted something more brazen and loud. They decided to develop it in the direction of a superhero game, due to their fascination with the comic book motif. Brian Fleming stated that they knew they had to develop this new game for the PlayStation 3 due to its much slower development time compared with Sly Cooper, and that he wanted it to compliment their previous series, similar to what Shigeru Miyamoto achieved with how the Legend of Zelda contrasts to Mario.

To create the game, Brian Fleming and Nate Fox drew influences mostly from DC comics and films, such as No Man’s Lands, DMZ and Batman Begins. Grand Theft Auto III was cited as an influence on gameplay, as the developers could see themselves as superheroes in the open world of Liberty City. The lead character, Cole MacGrath, was designed to be a kind of everyman, so that it would as easy as possible for players to put themselves in Cole’s frame of mind, and to be able to make the many important moral decisions found in the game. The decision to include morality mechanics stemmed from the development team wanting to include judicious use of power within the game. Fox stated that they wanted to lead players along a path of performing hard tasks believing that their actions were the right thing to do. They wanted the citizens of Empire City to initially turn on the main character in order for them to actually think about how they would want to be. Good or evil.

These changes in gameplay and more realistic visuals than in either Sly Cooper or Rocket: Robot on Wheels, led to InFamous garnishing outstanding sales figures as well overwhelming critical acclaim. In the game’s opening week, it had sold over 175,000 copies in the US alone, and became the 10th highest selling game of June 2009. As of the end of that year, it had sold over 1.2 million copies worldwide.

Capitalizing on their newfound commercial success, Sucker Punch went on to develop and release InFamous 2 in 2011, as well as a HD collection of the original Sly Cooper trilogy in 2010. InFamous 2 garnished even more critical acclaim as well as even better sales figures than it’s predecessor, selling over 360,000 copies in the first month in the US, and went on to stay in top ten sales lists in Europe for a few weeks, as well as selling particularly well in Japan, where it sold over 30,000 copies on its opening week there. Sucker Punch did go on to develop a spin-off game to InFamous 2 called InFamous: Festival of Blood, which went on to become the second most downloaded PlayStation Network title of 2011. But after that, they decided that the time was right to introduce a new character and setting to the InFamous universe.

Along with the PlayStation 4 back in February 2013, Sony also announced the upcoming game, InFamous: Second Son. At first it seemed that the main character, Delsin Rowe, only had the ability to control smoke, but once Sucker Punch announced that Delsin would have a much wider array of powers, boasting increased gameplay variety, it got a lot more excited for its release. On March 8th, it was announced that Second Son had even surpassed pre-order sales of The Last of Us in the UK, and after it’s release in the country, it was announced that sales of the PlayStation 4 had doubled. I won’t give away anything that happens at the end of the game, but after having played through it, I believe that the number of different directions that Sucker Punch can now take with this franchise is nothing short of immense. I think that after the release of an exceptional game like InFamous: Second Son, and being followed up by the successful prequel, InFamous: First Light, the future looks extremely bright for Sucker Punch, and I cant wait to see what they do next.

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