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How Insomniac learned from Fuse and got its groove back with Sunset Overdrive

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Insomniac Games, beloved for its Ratchet & Clank and Resistance games, hit a career low with Fuse, the 2013 cooperative shooter formerly known as Overstrike. It was a game that debuted with a positive reception, unveiled with a stylish, cheeky trailer at E3 2012. A year later, when Insomniac and publisher Electronic Arts re-introduced the game as Fuse, it was more serious, more grounded, but drained of the personality that attracted many potential players.

Reaction to Insomniac's new direction was generally negative. Fuse was a commercial and critical letdown. It is, according to Metacritic, Insomniac's lowest rated game.

Insomniac developers and executives look back on Fuse as a learning experience, an important step in the veteran studio recognizing what it does best.

"Fuse was a tough experience," said Ted Price, president and CEO of Insomniac Games. "It really was."

"Fuse helped crystallize who we are as a company," Price said. "It helped me realize that basically what it is that we all love to create. We've taken a lot of different paths as a company, whether it's Resistance or Fuse or some other games that didn't even see the light of day, and always have come back to games that are in the ilk of Sunset Overdrive. It's the colorful, vibrant games with an edge. Games that allow us to express ourselves in a way that's sometimes unusual."

The reception to Fuse, was a validation of sorts to Insomniac. The company is best at making a certain type of game, staffers say, the type of colorful, playful experience that's loaded with unusual, sometimes silly weapons.

"I think Fuse taught us to trust our instincts, and that was our first new IP outside of the Sony cocoon," said brand development director Ryan Schneider. "And in order for Sunset Overdrive to live on its own the way that it is, you have to have the guts to put out something that stands completely in the face of what is currently happening. So, I think Fuse was critical for our growth."

"It validated our own self-confidence a little bit," said lead gameplay programmer Doug Sheahan. "In this weird way, being knocked down a bit, validated what we as a company do well. We feel like we did a lot of good things on Fuse and it wasn't as well received as we would've hoped, clearly. But we think some good things came out of it, but there were some changes that, looking back, we should've stuck to our guns."


That's what the Burbank, Calif.-based developer promises it's doing with Sunset Overdrive. And, the studio said, publisher Microsoft is allowing them to do just that: make the game they should, without compromise, fulfilling the promise made at last year's E3 with Sunset Overdrive's colorful, manic debut trailer.

"We know what the reaction from Overstrike [changing] to Fuse was," said producer Bryan Intihar. "We understand. The common thing was, when the Sunset Overdrive E3 trailer came out, everyone was saying, 'Oh, is this going to be another Fuse in a year?' We knew that.

"We showed you what we showed a year ago and we're improving on that."

With Sunset Overdrive, Insomniac is doubling down on what it believes the company is best at creating: fun, irreverent, colorful games that ooze personality.

"We learned a lot on Fuse, no question about it," Price said.

"There are some ideas that energize people here at Insomniac from the very beginning, and I think Sunset Overdrive was one of those ideas," he said. "There's some other ideas that you struggle to crystalize. You struggle to make them work, and you try to fit them into your perception of what a game should be. And those are the ones that tend to die before they ever make it to production, but Sunset from the very beginning had a tone and a concept for gameplay, and a story that captivated the team here at Insomniac.

"When I think about why people come to Insomniac, they come because we've been making stylized games for a long time. And even though Resistance and Fuse were much darker games, in general, fans know us for the bright colorful, in many cases irreverent, franchises that we've built. And I think part of the lure of being in a company, or part of a company that builds those kinds of games, is that you're less constrained, in terms of what it is you can create. Therefore, you can be more creative, which is why a lot of us get into the games business in the first place."

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