“It was a brawler game. Go to a bar, pick a fight, smash a bottle over someone’s head” – Former Heavy Iron Studios artist
Work began on the title in March 2010 at developer, Heavy Iron. In partnership with THQ, the company sought to create the first Saints Row game controlled entirely by motion; a ploy to capitalise on the rising industry trend at the time.
Two versions of the game were planned initially: an Xbox 360 game using Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral and a PS3 port with Playstation Move support. The Xbox 360 was the lead development platform for The Cooler, as the team’s creative focus was very much on Kinect.
A team of around 40 people were put on the project, while the rest of the studio was occupied with another Kinect-centric project for Disney called ‘E-Ticket’.
We were able to get in touch with several people, a mix of both former and current employees at the developer, who shared some details with us on the game’s lifecycle. According to these sources, the title was a brawler set in the Saint’s Row universe and was, in contrast with the rest of the series, not an open world game.
“It was a ton of fun to work on because we got to use the original Saint’s Row locales as concept art, basically, and give them a redesign and a highly upgraded art treatment (since Saint’s Row was open world and our game was not, we could afford to devote more time and engine resources to artwork)”
Kinect lap dancing
Despite it ditching the free roaming traditions of the previous games, The Cooler apparently offered a myriad of activities to experience. Its main premise was of motion-controlled fighting in various parts of the Saints Row universe, but players would have also been able to compete in poker tournaments and other miscellaneous mini-games.
Examples of its gritty settings include a number of run-down bars and a slaugherhouse. The majority of these were based off places from the first two entries in the Sants Row series, in addition to some original environments of Heavy Iron’s own invention.
“Basically, the Cooler was meant to be a Kinect-based fighting game, similar to The Fight: Lights Out (PS3), but in the Saint’s Row universe with lots of fighting matches in about 8 of the Saint’s Row locales, plus a few new locations we crafted, and a bar ecosystem where the player could order drinks, get lap dances, gamble, etc.” – Heavy Iron Studios developer
The combat mechanics of the game seem to have been relatively straightforward – a combination of well-timed blocks, kicks and punches performed by the player via the Kinect’s camera. During fights, the camera would have switched to a first person view, displaying the enemy head on.
According to one animator, formerly of Heavy Iron’s Saints Row team, the subtitle of ‘The Cooler’ was the alias of the game’s central protagonist. The player would have assumed the role of a bouncer, “working their way up from the slums to higher class joints.”. He was given this label because “he was called in to COOL off problem situations”.
It is unknown whether or not players would have been able to choose the personality of the character, as they can with the avatar in other Saints Row games. However, one developer did tell us that there was option to customise his appearance and clothing.
What happened to it?
The group responsible for The Cooler worked on the project for a total of six months, before THQ abruptly stepped in and cancelled it. As verified by a key member of the dev team, it was approximately 60% complete at the time of termination in September 2010. One member of the development crew cited “quality concerns” as the reason for its cancellation. It was originally being targeted for a release in mid 2011.
To the public, the game never received an official announcement and fell into complete obscurity. It was not ever shown to members of the press privately either. Strict non-disclosure agreements installed by the companies involved prevented the game’s existence from being discovered.
One of Heavy Iron’s former animators claimed to us that the developer retained some of the project’s assets for another production – UFC Personal Trainer: The Ultimate Fitness System. Released in 2011, this game began development approximately around the same time as The Cooler’s collapse. It apparently repurposed and reworked some of the motion control framework developed during work on the Saints Row title.
Given the fact that UFC Personal Trainer’s gameplay is made up of punch/kick/block mechanics in a first person perspective, very similar to the ones described as being a part of The Cooler; this certainly at least appears to have been the case. Another commonality of each game was that they both required Kinect and Playstation Move on their respective platforms.
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