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X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Studios / Amaze Entertainment

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'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Rainier on April 23, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

X-Men Origins: Wolverine, based on 20th Century Fox's upcoming movie, enlists players to experience the tormented origins of Wolverine, from his escape of the Weapon X facility to the jungles of Africa and beyond.

Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: May 1, 2009

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank, and occupation!

I'm Brian Pass, and I'm the senior producer on X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

WP: How long has X-Men Origins: Wolverine been in development, and how big is the development team?

BP: The game's been under development for about 2.5 years. At its high point, we had about 60 to 70 people working on the game. We were actually looking to put out this game last summer because Fox was originally planning on releasing the film in July 2008. They ended up pushing that out to May, so we ended up buying another 10 months on the development schedule. We kept our team size smaller than we would have. We would have gone up to about 100 people or so, but we kept a smaller team burning for a longer period of time. It also allowed us to add some extra polish to the game, flesh out some of the mechanics, like all the interactive cinematic moments that we have, which were originally thought of as Quick Time Events — just button-pressing sequences like you see in other games. We were able to pull all the button presses out and actually bring back live gameplay. We were actually able to do a lot more things design-wise with the extra development time. It's not often that you get [almost an extra year in development time], especially when you've got a product that ties into a film with a hard release date.

WP: You started making this game before the movie was announced, so what prompted you to make the game in the first place without having a movie tie-in? When the movie was announced, what changed in the concept of the game?

BP: This is a project that Raven started on right after they finished Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. They're just really into superheroes, they're big fans of all Marvel superheroes — X-Men, of course because they've done a number of X-Men games, X-Men Legends, X-Men Legends 2, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance — so it's a character that they've always wanted to bring to life in a game and do an experience that's tailored toward him. One of the things that everybody wants to know about Wolverine is what are his origins? Where did he come from? What's his past? How did he get infused with adamantium? It's always hinted, at least in the films that are out there, that he doesn't know where he's from. It's a mystery, and people want to find out what that mystery is, so we were set on making the great Wolverine game. We wanted to bring the character to life in a way that people hadn't seen it before, really show off that brutal nature of the character, let players experience the kind of things that you would expect to experience with Wolverine. Nobody's really done justice to the character in the past, so that was sort of first and foremost where they were headed with it. They wanted to tell the origin story, and then we found out that Fox is going to make a film, and it's going to tell the origin story, so we were already moving down that pathway. We were still in the early prototyping phase, so we were working on the combat system. We were really working on getting the character to feel right, so we hadn't started down the road of building out a lot of content, so it wasn't as if we had to switch. We just had to make sure that the story that we were telling was in line with the script and the same origin story that Fox was telling in the movie.

WP: To continue that, what kind of story did you have? It's probably not exactly the same as the one in the movie, so how did that evolve? Since it's a movie tie-in now, were you restricted in any way to more closely mirror the film, or did you have free reign?

BP: We wanted to take advantage of the fact that there's a major motion picture out there, and again, it's a story that we wanted to tell as well. I think you find in comic books in general that there's a lot of revisionist history that goes on. There's one backstory for a character, and then they'll have another backstory, so they're constantly sort or rewriting how these characters go through the universe. I think it's true when you look at the X-Men movies versus the X-Men comic books; the characters and story lines are slightly different. They're telling a story that is pretty well in keeping with the origins of the character from the comic book, but it also has its own twist and differences.

WP: I assume that when you started the game, Wolverine didn't look like Hugh Jackman, and now he's a pretty accurate representation. Aside from that, did the movie tie-in help contribute any more content to the game? Voice-overs from the movie actors, for instance?

BP: Yeah, we actually worked very closely with Marvel and Fox on this product, so we were able to get access to the set. We were able to visit the set and see some of the filming going on. We were able to bring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth, and we also have as [John] Wraith. We were able to bring those actors on board with the project, so we got voice-over and likeness rights for them. Those characters look exactly as they do in the film. As a matter of fact, we actually got full body scans for all three of those actors to build our 3-D models off of. We got a lot of reference photography, so the levels you play through in the game match the actual sets in the film because we have reference photography, and their clothing matches. We were able to tie in very closely with the things that you're going to see on-screen in the film.

WP: About 40 percent of the game content isn't from the movie. Is that content that you had already developed before the movie tie-in was announced?

BP: We're obviously going to hit on all the major plot points of the film, but we're calling ourselves the "best Wolverine game that's ever been made," and we can't rightly say that without giving a little bit extra. We've got some comic book costumes that players can unlock, and we have level content as well that's outside of what the actual film is. It's sort of like, this couldn't plausibly have happened during the movie timeline. He was off for a few days in some other place going through this base. We have this whole separate factory level that players can work their way through that's outside of the movie story line, and there's some original content that we originally created and a side story that we've created specifically for the game. It's based upon the things that you've seen in the comic books and a lot of the rich history that Wolverine has. We brought some story lines that the team really wanted to tell and included those in the game.

WP: Since Wolverine has the adamantium skeleton and heals quickly, he's basically indestructible. How did you make it work in the game so that he's not overpowering, since he can't die?

BP: It's definitely a design challenge when you have a character like that, a Wolverine or Superman or someone who's considered to be indestructible. The thing about Wolverine is that he's not indestructible per se. He can take damage and he can heal, but that doesn't mean he can't be incapacitated. The way that we play it in the game, we actually went through a number of iterations in the design. He gets incapacitated and then he gets captured, maybe do a mini-game where he's got to escape. He would appear to be dead and all the soldiers would go away, and he would heal and then be able to stand back up again and fight and restart again. None of the options we explored really fit into the game design really well, so we just made the conceit that he can take enough damage to where he becomes incapacitated and thus fails his objectives. He gets captured by whoever is chasing him, or if he's got an objective that he's supposed to achieve, he's not able to achieve that objective unless he's failed at that particular moment, and then we take the player back to the previous checkpoint.

WP: Since movie-based games don't really have a great reputation, what do you think sets Wolverine apart from the rest of the pack?

BP: The one thing you have to understand about this game is that it's not a movie game. This is a Wolverine game, and we set out to make an original, authentic Wolverine experience for the player, and that was always the driving force for this game, and I think you can actually see that when you actually play through the game. This is a true-to-character experience for the gamer, and that was always our goal, and you have the added benefit of there being a film. Because we started it before we even knew there was going to be a film, it was never meant to be just a tie-in with the movie. It was always intended to be a true Wolverine experience, and then you have a team like Raven, who knows how to make superhero games, and they've got a great track record of it, they've got passion for this character, so all of those things add up so that this is not be your typical movie tie-in.

WP: Movie-based games are usually very focused on singe-player, so is there any sort of multiplayer in this title? If there's no multiplayer, what have you added to the game so that there's some more replay value, so that people get more from the game than a single run-through?

BP: It's a single-player-only experience. In terms of replay value, one of the things that we have is a leveling system. Players gain experience and they're able to use the experience to level up their character. Every time they level up, they gain points that they can spend on their character. They can charge up their attacks, they can increase their health, and they can give themselves different bonuses based on how they play the game. You can't level up the character completely with just one play-through, so you'll want to go back if you're going to continue to level up your character and unlock all the different moves and get all the different benefits.

We've got a lot of hidden things in the game. We've got idols that you can collect that then allow you to unlock the classic skins in the game. We have an original classic Wolverine screen and a couple more that you unlock as you play through the game. That's not something that the player might experience; he may not find all of them on the first play-through, so he'll have to go back and find everything.

We also have a lot of different backstory things. We have things that we call work logs, which give you additional story elements, not only for the film but also the backstory that we've created for our side content. You might not have found all of those work logs, so you're can go back and find all of those.

WP: What are the dog tags for?

BP: The dog tags give you experience, so again, that's another element that's hidden. They're not always right on the beaten path. You have to go around, do a little exploration, a little searching, and every time you find one of these dead soldiers, you can take their dog tags, and that gives you experience. That experience helps you level up your character.

WP: Is that in addition to the usual experience that you gain from fighting and killing enemies in the game?

BP: Yeah, it's in addition to the usual experience points. The dog tags give you considerably more experience over just fighting enemies.

WP: What was the most challenging task that cropped up during the development cycle? Which achievement are you most proud of?

BP: What's most challenging? It was some of the things that you talked about, such as how do you deal with the fact that Wolverine can heal and regenerate? In a sense, he is unkillable and unstoppable, so how do you come up with fiction or portray those things properly so that it's true to the character but also makes sense from a gameplay standpoint? Some of those were challenges that we had to overcome. The fact that we were able to put this character in the game in a way that the fans would expect — he's brutal, he's unstoppable, he's the kind of guy who goes into a room with 20-30 armed soldiers, and he's the one who walks out the other side and nobody else if left standing — being able to bring that character to life in the game is most rewarding.

WP: Do you play only as Wolverine through the whole game? I mean, there's Sabretooth, there's Wraith. Does he get any backup? Are there any cameos from other Marvel superheroes, apart from those two?

BP: You play from start to finish as Wolverine. A lot of characters from the film as well as characters who aren't in the film make appearances in the game. We hit all the major ones, as you mentioned, Wraith and Sabretooth. We also have other characters, like the Blob. We're hitting all the main players from the film. There are a few in there that we can't talk about, since they're spoilers for the actual film. Then we have characters that we introduced in the content that we talked about that goes outside of the scope of the film story, so we have additional characters that we introduce in those levels.

WP: The game will come out on just about every platform under the sun. Obviously the PS3, X360 and PC versions will be identical, but what will be the difference with the NDS, PSP and Wii versions of the game?

BP: We've got the X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Uncaged edition, which is the PS3, X360 and PC version. That's the game that Raven is making. It's uncaged, so I's a very visceral, brutal experience for that character. We also created the game for the Wii and PS2, for example, and the demographics on those consoles is a little bit different, so it's a different experience. It was designed by a different development studio, Amaze Studios up in Seattle, and it was designed specifically for those consoles from the ground up. It tells all the major plot points of the film, but it's a different experience than what you get on the next-gen systems. The same holds true for PSP; there's another team at Amaze Studios, and they designed that game specifically for the PSP, and the NDS is another, separate design team as well, designing specifically for the NDS.

We'd like to say that we have a game for the various demographics, so each of those different titles is appropriate for what we feel is the demographic for the different consoles. They all follow the major plot points of the film, but they all tell the story in slightly different ways, so you could buy four different versions of this game and get four different experiences from a gameplay and storytelling standpoint.

WP: Wolverine has a lot of special abilities. He's got the lunge, and he's got his feral sense. Can you give us a quick rundown of his other special abilities and moves?

BP: One of the coolest things we have is the Quick Kill mechanic. This is a move where you can grab an enemy, and it's all timing based. You hit a button to fire this move off, and based on the actions on the screen, you have to time your button presses to match the actions on the screen. Then you can pull off a very visceral kill that's basically a one-shot kill on most of the enemies in the game. We have custom animations for each different enemy type. Each of them has two, three, even four different custom animations for these Quick Kills. It's very satisfying, it's very cinematic. We slow down the action, and we spin the camera around and really highlight those moves. The Quick Kill is a really special aspect of the combat.

We also have rage-based power, so every time you kill an enemy, you're going to get rage orbs from that enemy that's going to fill up your rage bar, and then you can spend those rage points by pulling off special moves. We've got a corkscrew maneuver, where Wolverine basically launches himself at an enemy, claws forward and spinning around. He basically takes them apart. We've got another one where he spins around like a tornado with his claws out. It's a move that's very well documented in films and comic books. You can pull off moves like that, and there are a couple more rage-based moves that unlock as you go through the game. If you want to, as you level up your character, you can spend points and you can power up the moves to make them last longer. They can do more damage, things like that, so there's a ton of different moves aside from just basic combat.

WP: We saw an impressive boss fight with a Sentinel. Is that the biggest boss fight? The Blob is big as well, but in comparison, he's completely dwarfed by the Sentinel. Is every boss fight that impressive, or does it gradually build up as you play through the game?

BP: All of our boss fights are impressive for various different reasons, but when you're fighting a 200-foot-tall Sentinel robot, that's visually impressive. It's a David and Goliath kind of situation. How are you going to take down this huge robot? Each different boss has its own different challenges in how you approach it. We have seven different boss encounters in the game, so we get to fight all of the major characters from the film, and the Sentinel is not the last one, but that final boss in the game is one that we're not able to reveal.

WP: So there's a boss who's bigger and badder than the Sentinel?

BP: Supposedly. We'll have to find out on May 1.

WP: Can you tell us a little bit about post-launch support? DLCs are all the rage these days to not only extend the life of the game but also add revenue, which is always welcome. Are there any plans for DLCs on any of the platforms?

BP: At this point, we haven't announced any plans for DLC, but we feel that this game is going to revitalize the Wolverine franchise for us, and again, we haven't made any announcements, but I think that Activision is definitely looking to continue support for this character.

WP: There's also a demo planned for the game, and it'll come out on the movie launch date, May 1. Which platforms are going to get the demo?

BP: That's going to be on the Xbox 360 and PS3. There won't be a PC demo.

WP: How many hours would it take an average gamer to finish playing X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

BP: From all the focus testing that we've done, it takes 10 to 12 hours, so it's a pretty long game.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

BP: There's definitely a stigma that surrounds any movie-based game, but I'm very sincere when I say that this game is not your typical movie tie-in. This is a Wolverine experience that is what the fans are expecting to see. It's a great game that ties in with a great franchise and what's going to be a great motion picture, but again, it's a Wolverine experience first and foremost. Raven has really brought that to the table with this game.

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