Behind the Scenes - SAW

I think SAW has been out long enough that I feel comfortable getting into some of the behind the scenes of the making of that game. I talk a lot about my experiences with it in previous entries to my blog, so I'll try not to retread topics too much. But there are a few interesting things about it that I wanted to talk about.

Original SAW Creators' Input

The first thing that was done when it comes to SAW: The Game (hearafter just referred to as SAW) was to approach the film's original writers/creators. We wanted the story to be authentic to the SAW universe so it made obvious sense to go directly to the source. We paid Leigh Whannell and James Wan (the original creators of SAW) to come up with a story for the game. What we got in return was simply... atrocious. Not only was it awful in general, but it also did not fit with the films in any way. Here were some of their contributions that had us scratching our collective heads:

  • A giant Billy the Puppet robot boss battle.
  • People being controlled by Jigsaw through microchips in their brains.
  • The headless ghost of David Tapp's partner following you around.

I won't continue, but regardless... this stuff was just incredibly, amazingly bad. We felt that, in order to stay true to the franchise that people have come to know and love, we had to completely disregard their work and come up with something on our own. I won't claim that what ended up happening was good, but at least it wasn't a complete slap to the face of SAW fans!

Doctor Gordon

Over the course of the film franchise's installments, a running mystery thread has been what happened to Dr. Lawrence Gordon? Gordon was the main protagonist in the first SAW film played by Cary Elwes who famously cut off his own foot and crawled away. Nothing was ever spoken of again regarding his fate. Since it seemed like the films had disregarded the character and since our story took place between SAW 1 and 2 (so we couldn't, for example, kill Jigsaw) the story we eventually came up with (after cutting out the creators' version) was to have Dr. Gordon play a significant role and have his fate be revealed at last.

We were about 90% through production when we suddenly received the mandate that we could no longer use Dr. Gordon in the game because the film developers wanted to keep the opportunity to use him in later films. This was quite the blow for our story as, up to now, everything about all of the clues and story bits and hints and innuendo that had been developed and already recorded and voice acted had been completed! We had to scramble to come up with something different in a very small amount of time. This resulted in our using Melissa Sing, a character that we had already completed, as a rushed replacement.

We didn't have the opportunity to record more lines to explain this change and were instead forced to strip out all references to Gordon from the game and had Melissa's mouth suddenly become conveniently sewn shut after your initial encounter with her. The reveal that she was the game's ultimate bad guy was... to say the least... underwhelming to all of us on the game's development. I'm sure it was equally so to any SAW fan who made it that far.

Original Publisher

Before Konami took the publishing reigns on SAW, it was originally Brash Entertainment. Brash was a mediocre publisher who made a business model of snapping up movie licenses for games. Some of their gems included Jumper and Space Chimps. When Zombie started developing the idea, however, Brash seemed to perk up a bit and realized that it could be an actual good game. They were putting all their eggs in SAW's basket and wanted it to be a flagship title for them. Unfortunately, this also brought with it a ton of executive meddling. Some of their mandates were things like:

  • Multi-player. While not a bad idea on its own, it's so time consuming and resource intense that it soaked up a lot of bandwidth before the jump to Konami allowed us to cut the feature completely.
  • Pighead Bosses: The Pighead character is a more minor staple of the SAW franchise and we had our own version of the Pighead. However, Brash wanted a LOT of Pigheads to act as bosses in the game. So, we literally created about 8 different Pighead characters with different themed costumes: Policeman Pighead, Soldier Pighead, Cultist Pighead, Business Suit Pighead... all of which had their own back stories and so on. We were glad to cut them out once Brash was out of the picture.

When Brash went out of business and we effectively lost our publisher, we were hit hard with the layoff stick at the studio. Luckily when Konami picked the game up, many of use were hired back, myself included, but we lost several people who could have definitely made the game better who never came back for one reason or another.

Danny Glover

Not a big story, but a minor note that we actually modeled and textured a Danny Glover head based on his SAW character very early in development. However, it became apparent as time went on that Brash was not going to pony up the money to get the likeness rights to his face, so a more generic looking character had to be created to portray David Tapp in the game.

ESRB

Trying to get an M rating for SAW was very difficult. I mention this a bit in a prior blog of mine, but what it came down to was the violence and gore. If you were to look at the gore in SAW, however, you'd find it not that shocking. Especially compared to something like Dead Space or Resident Evil. The actual problem is that the universe of SAW is our universe. There is no magic or fantasy creatures. This is like GTA4 or Heavy Rain. Those games aren't very gory at all, despite the violence. Because of that, SAW was judged very harshly.

One interesting tidbit is that the content of the European version of SAW is more graphic then the North American version. For the 2nd attempt at getting an M and Pegi 17 rating, SAW passed in Europe but failed in America. Rather then changing the content for both to meet the needs of North America, the content locked for Europe and then continued to be edited down for North America. I'd be interested in seeing a side-by-side comparison to show people the difference.

----------------------------------

If any other interesting tidbits about the game's development comes to mind, I'll update this post. But I thought that this might give a little insight into the goings-ons of the making of a game, even a small game. Feel free to ask if you have any questions about anything!

14 Comments
15 Comments
Edited by mtmckinley

I think SAW has been out long enough that I feel comfortable getting into some of the behind the scenes of the making of that game. I talk a lot about my experiences with it in previous entries to my blog, so I'll try not to retread topics too much. But there are a few interesting things about it that I wanted to talk about.

Original SAW Creators' Input

The first thing that was done when it comes to SAW: The Game (hearafter just referred to as SAW) was to approach the film's original writers/creators. We wanted the story to be authentic to the SAW universe so it made obvious sense to go directly to the source. We paid Leigh Whannell and James Wan (the original creators of SAW) to come up with a story for the game. What we got in return was simply... atrocious. Not only was it awful in general, but it also did not fit with the films in any way. Here were some of their contributions that had us scratching our collective heads:

  • A giant Billy the Puppet robot boss battle.
  • People being controlled by Jigsaw through microchips in their brains.
  • The headless ghost of David Tapp's partner following you around.

I won't continue, but regardless... this stuff was just incredibly, amazingly bad. We felt that, in order to stay true to the franchise that people have come to know and love, we had to completely disregard their work and come up with something on our own. I won't claim that what ended up happening was good, but at least it wasn't a complete slap to the face of SAW fans!

Doctor Gordon

Over the course of the film franchise's installments, a running mystery thread has been what happened to Dr. Lawrence Gordon? Gordon was the main protagonist in the first SAW film played by Cary Elwes who famously cut off his own foot and crawled away. Nothing was ever spoken of again regarding his fate. Since it seemed like the films had disregarded the character and since our story took place between SAW 1 and 2 (so we couldn't, for example, kill Jigsaw) the story we eventually came up with (after cutting out the creators' version) was to have Dr. Gordon play a significant role and have his fate be revealed at last.

We were about 90% through production when we suddenly received the mandate that we could no longer use Dr. Gordon in the game because the film developers wanted to keep the opportunity to use him in later films. This was quite the blow for our story as, up to now, everything about all of the clues and story bits and hints and innuendo that had been developed and already recorded and voice acted had been completed! We had to scramble to come up with something different in a very small amount of time. This resulted in our using Melissa Sing, a character that we had already completed, as a rushed replacement.

We didn't have the opportunity to record more lines to explain this change and were instead forced to strip out all references to Gordon from the game and had Melissa's mouth suddenly become conveniently sewn shut after your initial encounter with her. The reveal that she was the game's ultimate bad guy was... to say the least... underwhelming to all of us on the game's development. I'm sure it was equally so to any SAW fan who made it that far.

Original Publisher

Before Konami took the publishing reigns on SAW, it was originally Brash Entertainment. Brash was a mediocre publisher who made a business model of snapping up movie licenses for games. Some of their gems included Jumper and Space Chimps. When Zombie started developing the idea, however, Brash seemed to perk up a bit and realized that it could be an actual good game. They were putting all their eggs in SAW's basket and wanted it to be a flagship title for them. Unfortunately, this also brought with it a ton of executive meddling. Some of their mandates were things like:

  • Multi-player. While not a bad idea on its own, it's so time consuming and resource intense that it soaked up a lot of bandwidth before the jump to Konami allowed us to cut the feature completely.
  • Pighead Bosses: The Pighead character is a more minor staple of the SAW franchise and we had our own version of the Pighead. However, Brash wanted a LOT of Pigheads to act as bosses in the game. So, we literally created about 8 different Pighead characters with different themed costumes: Policeman Pighead, Soldier Pighead, Cultist Pighead, Business Suit Pighead... all of which had their own back stories and so on. We were glad to cut them out once Brash was out of the picture.

When Brash went out of business and we effectively lost our publisher, we were hit hard with the layoff stick at the studio. Luckily when Konami picked the game up, many of use were hired back, myself included, but we lost several people who could have definitely made the game better who never came back for one reason or another.

Danny Glover

Not a big story, but a minor note that we actually modeled and textured a Danny Glover head based on his SAW character very early in development. However, it became apparent as time went on that Brash was not going to pony up the money to get the likeness rights to his face, so a more generic looking character had to be created to portray David Tapp in the game.

ESRB

Trying to get an M rating for SAW was very difficult. I mention this a bit in a prior blog of mine, but what it came down to was the violence and gore. If you were to look at the gore in SAW, however, you'd find it not that shocking. Especially compared to something like Dead Space or Resident Evil. The actual problem is that the universe of SAW is our universe. There is no magic or fantasy creatures. This is like GTA4 or Heavy Rain. Those games aren't very gory at all, despite the violence. Because of that, SAW was judged very harshly.

One interesting tidbit is that the content of the European version of SAW is more graphic then the North American version. For the 2nd attempt at getting an M and Pegi 17 rating, SAW passed in Europe but failed in America. Rather then changing the content for both to meet the needs of North America, the content locked for Europe and then continued to be edited down for North America. I'd be interested in seeing a side-by-side comparison to show people the difference.

----------------------------------

If any other interesting tidbits about the game's development comes to mind, I'll update this post. But I thought that this might give a little insight into the goings-ons of the making of a game, even a small game. Feel free to ask if you have any questions about anything!

Posted by LordXavierBritish

This is actually really interesting, I never thought about of the implications of creating a unique story within a popular fiction that is still being produced. I kind of want to go play through SAW now with this new information, should be a revealing an experience.
 
It's really sad to hear all these significant hurdles got in the way of development. SAW was an interesting game, especially for a licensed game.

Posted by mtmckinley

Thanks for the comment! I'll probably write up a post one day about what *I* would have done for a SAW game. I just felt going into that project that the game could have been so much more then it ended up being. I imagine a lot of games go that way though.

Posted by ShaggE

Nice read. I really liked SAW, and thought it was one of the better licensed games in recent years. It was certainly flawed in some big ways, but considering the difficulties in turning the movies' puzzles (which rely on overcoming great physical agony and near impossible moral dilemmas) into gameplay, the effort was quite admirable.

And thanks for inadvertently reminding me that I need to rent the second game sometime.

Posted by mtmckinley
@ShaggE
Thanks! I'm glad some people liked the game. I just wish it could have been a more meaningful experience. Saw II is a better game in many ways but also takes a few steps backwards too, which sullies the overall experience in my opinion.
Edited by HaltIamReptar

@mtmckinley said:

previous entries

This 404s for me. =/

Nice write up, by the way. Interesting stuff, duder!

Were you a fan on the franchise before you started work on the game?

Posted by ThatFrood

2 things: it super sucks that they just completely shivved you guys with that Doctor Gordon business.

and also, honestly, I'm really curious what that game made with the original script would have been.

Edited by CornBREDX

I really enjoy reading these. Glad you still write them from time to time. I haven't had the chance to check out the Saw games, but I found the idea intriguing when GB first mentioned them.

I actually find it interesting that the original creators idea for the games story was done so poorly. It comes across like they could care less about the game (a giant Billy Puppet boss? What?) Either that or they were trying to develop a game with their story (writing thinking more towards "what would a game do" rather than "whats a good story for this game") and don't really know or care to find out about what it actually takes to make a decent game ("in 2009"). Seems a lot like disinterest though.

@ThatFrood said:

2 things: it super sucks that they just completely shivved you guys with that Doctor Gordon business.

and also, honestly, I'm really curious what that game made with the original script would have been.

So is the way of developing around an established franchise. So many "what ifs". That's why they often tend to not use established characters I would presume. Either that or they end up coming across poorly.

@HaltIamReptar said:

@mtmckinley said:

previous entries

This 404s for me. =/

Nice write up, by the way. Interesting stuff, duder!

Were you a fan on the franchise before you started work on the game?

He's written a bunch (on his giant bomb blog) but they start at the bottom of page 7 here if you want to read it all or just the Saw part here

Posted by OllyOxenFree

I actually found the SAW game to be decent but if memory serves me right, I stopped playing near the end with one of the repeating puzzles. I had my fill at that point and did not really feel like continuing on.

Posted by ThunderSlash

It sounds like the original creators of SAW were trolling you guys hard.

Posted by mtmckinley

@HaltIamReptar: No, I wasn't a fan, actually. I'm still not! When I first started working on it, I had to take a few days and watch all of the movies up to that point. Ugh! ;) I do think the first SAW movie is pretty good, and the 2nd, while not as good, isn't terrible. But after that, they start going down hill quickly.

Thanks for all the comments, guys! Wow, I wonder if the SAW creators really were trolling us? That'd be a sucky thing to do. I've always just figured they were clueless when it came to games.

Posted by Redbullet685

You actually do find out what happens to Cary Ewles' character in the last film (Yes, the movies suck after the first, but I had to stick it out till the end).

Dr. Gordon ends up being Jigsaws "right-hand man". Jigsaw saves his life and in return, Dr. Gordon assists him in his traps/puzzles. In the very end of the last film he is the one to say the famous "Game Over" line as he shuts the same bathroom door on another series character.

Yeah, its really dumb.

Posted by mtmckinley
@Redbullet685 Yeah after the SAW games were all done that movie came out. We weren't impressed :)
Posted by mtmckinley

Added some info on the ESRB experience with SAW.

Posted by Skald

Man, that publisher (and the franchise creators!) really wanted tonally dissonant boss fights.