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Agents of Mayhem Interview – Building a Franchise & Not Being a Saint

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Given that developer Deep Silver Volition has spent much of the last decade working on the Saints Row series, it’s not surprising the studio’s ready to play in a new sandbox. What’s unexpected though, is their latest open-world romp looks a lot like a hero shooter, minus the competitive multiplayer elements that typically define that genre.

As we learned during our deep-dive interview with Studio Design Manager Anoop Shekar though, there’s a method to this perceived madness. On top of elaborating on Agents of Mayhem’s unapologetic single-player focus, Shekar shared details on the game’s massive cast of misfits, their G.I. Joe inspiration, and what elements the game borrows—and leaves behind—from its popular predecessor.

PlayStation LifeStyle: For those yet to be acquainted with Agents of Mayhem, can you tell us what the game is all about?

Anoop Shekar: It’s basically a third-person, open-world action adventure game. You get to run an organization called Mayhem, a bunch of super agents. You get to control these agents and fight against an evil organization called Legion, who are operating in Seoul, South Korea

PSLS: It seems to share some elements with Volition’s Saints Row series. Why did you and your team decide to create a new IP versus making another Saints sequel?

AS: There are key differences that make Saints Row very specific, and one of those is customization and being able to create your own character. But for Agents of Mayhem, we thought it was very important that you get to play as these iconic agents that are very recognizable and very defined. On top of that, we don’t have the co-op aspects, and the world is just different enough that we felt that it was better to say, “This is a whole new game with elements of the Volition brand.”

PSLS: Does it take place in the same universe as Saints Row?

AS: It is not the same Saints Row universe, but for people who might be familiar with the end of Saints Row: Gat out of Hell, Johnny Gat is presented with the choice from God. Essentially, one of the options is to create a new universe and to restart things. That ending, while not directly based from that, takes inspiration from that idea.

PSLS: Given all its character’s and their various powers, the game looks like hero shooter, yet it’s a single-player game…

AS: This was a very deliberate decision, partially because there aren’t a lot of these hero shooters…you’ve got Overwatch or something similar to that, but nobody has made a game where you get to play these agents and fight against an actual evil organization. When we came up with this idea, before we even knew about Overwatch or other games like it, we were like “Nobody else is doing this, so let’s do it.” And as far as we know, nobody else is doing a single-player version of that, so we felt it was a really good space to explore.

PSLS: Can fans expect any competitive multiplayer or co-op modes in the game?

AS: We do have an online element. It’s not necessarily a big part of the game, but it’s pretty cool. You get these contracts that you can sign up for and have your agents complete these challenges. You also get rewards for them. Some of the contracts are what we call “shared contracts”, so people on your friends list, or even just random people on various online services, can work with you to essentially complete these goals for bigger rewards.

PSLS: Co-op seems like a potentially good fit for the game. What was behind the decision to not include it?

AS: Yeah, it’s definitely something we considered, especially because we have the history with Saints Row. But given all the things we are trying to do, we felt like it was better to just focus on getting a really strong single-player game out. And on top of that, we also wanted to make sure that we weren’t shortchanging the feel of, as an individual, “I can control these agents and control this agency and not feel like to really succeed, I have to have a friend or a couple of friends with me.”

PSLS: Was there anything you wanted to retain from the Saints Row games?

AS: I think the big things are the humor and the tone of the game. Hopefully that shows through. Just like Saints Row is like the Volition take on gangs or gang warfare, we wanted to do the same thing with this genre, the GI Joe type game. And so, having those elements of humor and tone was a big key to that.

PSLS: Conversely, what sort of stuff did you want to do in Agents that you maybe weren’t able to achieve in Saints Row?

AS: While we have very similar humor, all of the humor in Agents of Mayhem, for the most part, comes from the characters or the situations themselves. It has context. It’s not just random and out there. Which is totally fine…that’s why we like Saints Row…but we wanted to do something different in that sense with this game. We also wanted to make several well-defined characters that people can identify with, but also have very specific personality traits, play styles, and back stories to them. It was much harder to do this in a Saints Row game, because you were essentially creating your own character.

PSLS: What was behind the decision to include a dozen characters? It seems you could have probably achieved your intended goals with a handful of fleshed-out heroes.

AS: It goes back to the inspiration of GI Joe and things like that, where if you have an agency with a team, you’ve got to have a bunch of people who can operate in that agency. So we wanted to do as many as we could, while still making sure they were of high quality, were differentiated, and that they played well and were exciting to work with.

PSLS: Are there one or two specific agents you think players might gravitate towards? Any early fan favorites?

AS: The cool thing is, through our play testing, when we ask people their favorite agents, we actually get no consistency in that response. We get a pretty wide variety to that answer. That is how we know we actually succeeded in building our agents. The whole point is, we don’t want to make one favorite agent; we want everyone to have one favorite agent or two favorite agents that they can gravitate towards.

PSLS: In choosing your three agents for a mission, is the idea to find the perfect, balanced squad?

AS: I wouldn’t say the perfect squad, but the squad that best suits your style and how you like to play. We don’t want there to be a singular answer to any situation or any challenge. We want players to basically find what works for them and what they enjoy doing, and experiment and try new things.

PSLS: Open-world games are obviously pretty popular right now. What is Agents of Mayhem doing to stand apart from all the competition?

AS: For us, it’s about the agents and the swapping of the agent abilities, as well as the challenges, the humor, and all the fun with the game. We don’t take ourselves or the world seriously…we just want to make sure people are having a good time playing it.

PSLS: Are you hoping to build on new sequel-spawning franchise with Agents of Mayhem?

AS: We built the game with the idea of expanding the universe. We have a lot of ideas of what else is happening around the world of Mayhem. You only get to see the Ministry of Pride in this game, but there are six other Legion ministries that exist. Additionally, the 12 agents that you see in this game aren’t all the agents that exist in Mayhem, so we know we would like to explore more, but we want to see where things go here first.

Agents of Mayhem is set for release this August 15 for the PS4, Xbox One and PC.