In time for the release of the movie, Iron Man 2: The Game is on it's way to store shelves. Question is whether this game actually improves on the original, which was pretty bad, or ends up being another movie game that is simply there to make a quick buck. I was part of a developer conference call with Producer Dean Martinelli and Development Director Mike McHale, and here's an excerpt of it:
Question: How closely does the game story go along with the movie story, and what percent of the game ties in with the movie?
Mike: This is a great question. Traditionally movie games have followed the movies beat-by-beat and filled in the blanks in-between or tell the story of what’s happening off camera. As we’ve worked on movie games here, I’ve developed a philosophy with our team (production and develolpers) where I don’t think following a movie point-by-point and scene-by-scene is the best way to make a game. In gamer terms, you can think of a movie as a non-interactive cutscene and that doesn’t make for a great game.
So what we’ve done is that we’ve written a completely new story, and we want to make the player feel that they’re part of the film universe and playing in the film universe. We’ve taken great steps to recreate the characters, make sure they feel like they’re part of the film, make sure it feels like Tony Stark’s world, but it’s actually a completely new story. That way the user doesn’t know what’s coming up next, they’re not treading old ground, and we can actually design all the content for great gameplay rather than trying to shoehorn great gameplay into scenes from the movie. I really think this is a better way to make movie games.
Q: So what is liberating or daunting to create a movie tie-in that doesn’t actually tie-in with the movie?
Mike: It’s completely liberating. Marvel’s been great to allow us to do this. We definitely stepped off the movie plot and expended on the movie universe, so that’s been a lot of fun. One of the things is that we wanted to stay true to the film, and make sure it felt like it was happening in Tony Stark’s world as it’s depicted in the movie. It is truly liberating to be able design scenarios and missions around something that’s good for an interactive game rather than trying to build from scenes in the movie that may or may not make for good gameplay. I really think that Iron Man as a character is a very gameable character as is War Machine. It’s a great IP with the fact that it has this suit you can modify and add new technology to, and really make it your own, is awesome for a game. We basically took the vibe from Iron Man 1 and what we knew about Iron Man 2, and tried to build a new storyline in the world. I think it’s worked out really well.
Q: What were the challenges you had for improving on the original Iron Man?
Dean: Flight was the first thing we thought of. The team took all the feedback that they read online and heard from the reviewers, and we said how we could make the game better than the first. Control was the first thing for flight. Control usability to get the flow of the game within the first 10 -15 minutes. To control Iron Man and War Machine easily and modify the weapons. Basically it was looking over the stuff that we failed in the first one.
Game content, melee fighting, weapon configuration to combine to the suit to make better weapons, AI in the fights, there was a big laundry list. It was kind of like a reboot if you want to put it in different terminology. We were really serious in making a better game. We took all that stuff to heart and hopefully, people will know it right out of the box that the game feels better and it’s a lot easier to understand on what to do. We did a lot of steps to make the gameplay better than the original.
Q: Could this title stand on its own without be based on a movie?
Mike: There are advantages to being attached to a movie. I do think that Iron Man IP is so strong that this game and other Iron Man game can stand on their own without a movie. The character itself is pretty well established, and again, it’s such a cool universe and a cool character that I don’t think you need a movie to be excited about Iron Man or Tony Stark. So yes I do think it can stand on its own. We do certainly gain quite a lot from being part of the movie release and be a part of their marketing campaign to be tied to a big movie like this.
Q: Besides the villains and heroes already announced, are there any more up their sleeve that will make an appearance in the game?
Mike: On Tony’s side, obviously we got Iron Man and War Machine as playable characters. As NPCs we got Nick Fury, Black Widow, members of S.H.I.E.L.D. that are helping you out. As far as villains, we definitely mined the comic books to find villains at are popular. We actually have different villains depending on which version you buy. There’s the 360/PS3 game, and the Wii game that was designed from the ground up. For example, Ghost, Mauler, and Firepower are in the Wii that are not in the next-gen game. We also have a really massive boss that we don’t want to tip our hats to, but it’s pretty awesome.
Q: Being a multi-faceted title in terms of mechanics, hover and flight modes were an awkward transition before. What has the team done to make the transition a smoother one?
Dean: Hovering in the game now, in the interiors, is better than flying around because you can hit the walls. The transition is really smooth, it’s a simple button press and a push on the joystick. The first game was kind of convoluted when it did things. You don’t have to hold buttons down anymore. Hit it once, push forward and you’re flying.
Q: What have you done to make Iron Man different from the run of the mill action character?
Mike: One of the things in the second game that we looked at was to bring talent in that can work on a great story with us. I had been reading the new Invincible Iron Man comic from Matt Fraction at the time, and I really liked his treatment of the character. It felt very much like a solo superhero comic. It felt very much like the movie’s Tony stark. We talked to Marvel about it and they reached out to Matt Fraction. He never worked on a game before, but he was very excited to get involved. At the time he was doing some consulting on the movie itself. It was a great match. We had already started writing our outline and had some strong ideas on where we wanted to take the story. Matt came in and had some great ideas of his own, rewrote big chunks of the story, and helped us fix some logic flaws on how the characters deal with each other. Also, he wrote the dialogue for cutscenes which is great. When you get a professional writer in, he really elevated the quality.
Q: In addition to Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson, were any of the other actors from the movie lending their voices to their characters in the game?
Mike: We worked with Robert Downey Jr. in the first game, and he was really awesome. I was actually at the session and I loved working with the guy. We ended up just working with Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson for a variety of reasons that I don’t want to go through on there. The part of Iron Man is voiced by Eric Loomis. We’re very fortunate to work with him. He does Iron Man for all the Marvel animated movies. He did an absolutely great job for it. It was fantastic to sign up Don and Sam. They were really fun guys to work with and they took their jobs very seriously. You hear sometimes when companies sign film talent to do games, and they just show up and mail it in. Both Cheadle and Jackson came in and blew the doors off. They’re very serious about their characters in the movie, and absolutely want to own their characters. They absolutely gave us a great performance and I was very happy to work with them. You’ll get to see that in the game.
Q: Did you work with the directors or others involved with the Iron Man 2 movie?
Mike: The director is Jon Favreau, and from time to time, he would look at the game. As you can imagine, he’s a fairly busy guy and the movie was his main focus. We would go down to the Marvel Film Studios in LA, but most of the time we would meet with the film producers. Kevin Feige is the head of the studio there, and a number of the producers would come and we would review the game builds and progress. We talked to them about what they were doing, so I feel that we were very connected with the team that was making the film. More often than not, it was the producers and not the director.
A benefit to us was that we can show them what we were doing, we could fine tune-it with what was happening in the film, and we got constant feedback from those guys. The other thing that was interesting was that a game team and a film have some of the same challenges and issues in the way of animation, weaponry, and combat themes. Being that Marvel really cares about their games and the film guys care about their medium, we’d meet quite a bit and exchange ideas. They’re just as interested in how we’re animating our character and how we’re solving the problems. So not only are we syncing up with the film, but we’re helping out those guys as well as get feedback on our game.
Q: How will playing as War Machine be different than playing as Iron Man regarding gameplay mechanics? Will War Machine be a selectable character thoughout the single player mode or just on select missions?
Dean: You can play as either Iron Man or War Machine except for one or two. Those are specific are to Iron Man and one to War Machine. The obvious difference is that War Machine is a walking/flying war machine. It’s all munitions rockets, bullets, gatling gun and that kind of stuff while Iron Man has energy based weapons. War Machine is more brute force with melee attacks and tearing things apart with your hands. Iron Man is more acrobatic in the way he does his melee, and he can use his energy weapons with his melee moves. Obviously the way they fly, move around, and those kind of moves are the same because we don’t want the player to relearn how to use a character. As far as the way they attack things, it’s much different. It’s night and day.
Q: Will the game feature the new suit and will we have access to extra suits?
Dean: Yes and that’s all I’m going to tell you about that. We’ve been saying way too much, and there’s a lot of great stuff. I think people need to go into this game without even thinking about the first game. Honestly because there’s that much of a difference and it’s that cool. Of course there’s going to be the new suit from the movie and more suits to unlock. It wouldn’t be a Marvel property game if we didn’t do that stuff.
Iron Man 2: The Game will be released on 5/4/10 for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii.