Interview: Horia Dociu Talks About ‘inFamous: Second Son’ Graffiti, Games As Art And Attitude

VIBE had the distinguished pleasure to speak with Horia Dociu, the Art Director of inFamous: Second Son, which is shaping up to be one of the most interesting PS4 exclusive so far.

Happily, we have been waiting for Sony and Sucker Punch Productions to lift the embargo of their action-adventure superhero video game. Now that it has expired, we can begin to laud how wonderful inFamous: Second Son is to play and experience. Ever since seeing the title at last year’s E3 and Gamescom, we’ve been wondering just how this title would be different that its predecessors.

While our breakdown of those merits will be featured in our in-depth review (coming shortly), we were also equally intrigued about the art and landscape of the next-gen offering. For those unaware, the inFamous: Second Son plot finds the title shifting from imagined locales of New Marais and Empire City to real-world Seattle. Set seven years after the ending of inFamous 2, the Department of Unified Protection was formed to monitor Conduit activity, better known as “bio-terrorists”. Players no longer experience Cole MacGrath’s story, in favor of a new character named Delsin Rowe (mo-capped and voiced by Troy Baker). The 24-year-old rebel with a spray can wants to help his community to protest against the government, but when he unknowingly helps a Conduit out of a jam, Delsin wakes up with powers of his own.

Throughout the game, Delsin showcases his anti-authority vibes through the art of graffiti and for the Seattle-based Sucker Punch Productions, it meant an opportunity to explore the culture that flourishes right in their backyard. Helping to breakdown the art and graffiti littered within inFamous: Second Son is Horia Dociu, son of Daniel Dociu (Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2) and Art Director for Sucker Punch.

As Seattle’s VAIN studios (painted by the DVS graffiti crew) make its way into the game, we rap with the former Environment Artist at Valve Software about graffiti influences, how karmic choices influence the art in the game, and more in this exclusive chat. Enjoy and read the full transcript below:

VIBE: When you and the team were developing the art for inFamous: Second Son what were some of the graffiti influences that inspired everyone?
Horia Dociu: Our main influence was the stencil style which was primarily made famous by BANKSY. While aesthetically this looks cool, it was also a good way to distinguish Delsin’s graffiti from the typical stuff that’s all over Seattle. The player can more easily recognize their tags throughout the city. But most importantly, the influence we took from BANKSY was in his freedom loving renegade attitude that the lead protagonist Delsin embodies. That’s a trait Delsin shares with the famous street artist.

How does the art in the game compare to the real world graffiti the team came across when conducting level design?
We really tried to make the graffiti in the game feel as real as possible, not just how it looked, but where you’d see it. You’ll see tags repeated all over the place, like a kid marking his territory. You’ll see back alleys, where the cops aren’t around, completely tagged. You’ll see huge burners on prominent walls that we imagine the virtual artist in our game put up on display for all to see. And as the player, you’ll get to do some graffiti yourself!

How does the anti-authoritarian art that’s littered throughout the game reflect the karmic choices made by Delsin Rowe?
We encourage you to play the game and find out for yourself! But we can say that the graffiti reflects Delsin’s attitude in the game and ended up being some of the most comical and fun art.

How were the discussions to decide what sort of tagging made it into the game?
The game takes place in Seattle, which coincidentally is where our studio [Sucker Punch Productions] is. Our environment team went out and shot hundreds, if not thousands of pictures of architecture, skylines, clouds, anything you could imagine. There were a lot of photos taken of different types of graffiti from around Seattle, but while we certainly took inspiration from those tags, but all of our artwork is original.

Can gamers who love exploring open world settings be treated to any artful surprises?
inFamous: Second Son is full of surprises, and we made sure the world is fun to explore. But the most artful surprises really come from the things we may take for granted in the real world. There are lots of quiet moments in the game where I find myself taking in a scene after a big battle. The raindrops will ripple a puddle’s reflection of a neon bar sign, and it’s the type of thing that in the real world I’d be compelled to whip out my camera phone and snap a pic. Luckily, the PlayStation 4 has a share button for those occasions. And of course here are lots of gorgeous vistas to take in from angles you’d never get to see in the real world, because you can’t dash up the side of a hundred story skyscraper at your will like Delsin can.

How does the team see inFamous: Second Son adding onto the discussion that video games are art?
To me, there is no question that video games can be considered as art. I mean what is art? Art is not strictly defined as a painting on the wall or a beautiful marble sculpture. Experimental electronic music is art. Interpretive dance is art. Even an installation piece comprised of literally trash can be art. The reason is that art, in any more, is meant to evoke an emotion. Art can elicit a response from the viewer that is extremely cerebral and intellectually ponderous, or just a primal, gut feeling.

It would be easy for us to point to our beautiful cityscapes bathed in the digitally simulated golden light of a setting sun or ask you to listen to the music that tonally paints our game with excitement or anguish, and state that the game is obviously art. But it’d be unfair to stop there. I think the truly artful part of games is that they do something no other medium does. There is no viewer, no listener, but rather an active participant — the player. Each experience with a game is truly unique because of what the user brings. At our play tests, emotions ranging from sheer exhilaration to disbelief and eventually catharsis are more palpable in our players’ reactions than in any high end museum or opera house. And isn’t drawing out emotion the very reason art exists?

Yes, that is a very true and valid point. But we must know were there any graffiti legends such as Futura or Cope2 who were asked to consult on the graffiti used in the game? If so, what do you think their reactions to the final version of inFamous: Second Son?
We have a number of talented 2D artists in-house, and we asked them to create art that was reacting to the game world. Sure, we studied a lot of great street art and took it all in, but graffiti is a reflection of society in a lot of ways, so who would better understand our virtual version of Seattle than the artists that live in it every day here at Sucker Punch.

The game aside, which has been a delight to play by the way, what would the team consider as a favorite or a Mount Rushmore of Artful Video Games?
A huge majority of our team is comprised of fanatic gamers, so we recognize that a good game can come in any shape or size. If you were to draw a through-line of all of our individual favorite games, from fantasy RPGs and open world simulations to gritty action shooters and candy-colored mobile distractions, the one thing you could say is that a great game grabs you and doesn’t let go. Whether it’s rushing home to jump online with your buddies, or fondly recalling an adored 8-bit classic, our favorite games become a little part of us, and all of us tried to put a bit of what we love into inFamous: Second Son.

inFamous: Second Son stars Troy Baker (The Joker, Batman: Arkham Origins) as Delsin Rowe and will be in stores exclusively for the PlayStation 4 on March 21, 2014.