For years licensed properties have met with suspicion. Whether film or comic, many have been smothered by creative restrictions imposed by cautious license-holders; unique abilities and familiar events shoehorned into existing game design.
But, as the current generation of consoles winds down, we're starting to see bolder designs. One of this Christmas's most encouraging works is film-based King Kong, in the hands of visionary designer Michel Ancel, which isn't so much restricted by its subject matter as inspired to think in new ways by it.
Another game that has the potential to change our perceptions is Radical's The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Due out on PS2, Xbox and GameCube this Friday, September 9th, it looks at what made the big-screen Hulk in particular such an awesome spectacle, and transfers that to an open-ended environment with help from comic writers and artists.
We recently spoke to Tim Bennison, the game's internal producer at developer Radical, about what distinguishes Ultimate Destruction from its licensed forebears, how it's been shaped and inspired, and the difficulties inherent to working with such a well-known property.
Our main goal was to make you feel like you’re the Hulk. We’ve captured the feeling of actually being the main character better than any other comic book game. Someone said you feel like an Unstoppable Freight Train of Annihilation in this game, and I think that’s true.
Probably both... Technologies are improving so that we can now give the player the full range of Hulk’s powers and abilities set in a free-roaming world with very few constraints. At Radical we really listened to the response to our first Hulk game and tried to improve upon it in every way. Our partners at Vivendi-Universal Games and Marvel were heavily involved to ensure that the quality of this game far exceeded people’s expectations.
Not true. The game industry isn’t that cynical! Our first Hulk game was successful in many ways, most notably in the basic concept of letting you smash the crap out of the environment and enemies. We built on that feeling a thousand-fold in Ultimate Destruction. We also made mistakes in the first Hulk game, but at Radical we have a saying: “Never give up.” We analysed and learned from them and this made Ultimate Destruction a much stronger experience.
Ultimate Destruction is based on the Marvel Comics Hulk universe, so it was important to work with world-class collaborators to make sure we were pushing our game quality to the highest level, and that the game is a truly authentic comic book experience. This was a real creative collaboration... both Paul Jenkins and Bryan Hitch were heavily involved in this game’s development, and made huge contributions. Paul is an award-winning comic writer whose credits include The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man. Paul wrote the story, cinematic script and in-game dialogue, and provided many suggestions around gameplay. Bryan is currently the artist for The Ultimates from Marvel, and he did the visual design for the main characters, hi-res concept art and box art. We’re very happy with how all of this turned out.
Hulk is the strongest one there is. You can’t contain him. We realized we had to put the player in a free-roaming, open-world environment in order to really give the player all of his abilities. Spider-Man 2 clearly has a similar game structure, and for similar reasons. We’re big fans of that game, but we like to think we’ve taken things to the next level with free-roaming games of this nature: namely in the destructibility and interactivity of the world, variety of gameplay, depth of combat and raw sense of power you get from simply running around causing mayhem. One example of this level of interactivity is our Weaponization feature, which allows you to take objects in the world and transform them into deadly weapons. With the Steel Fists weaponization move, you can rip a car in half and transform it into giant boxing gloves which turbo-power your punching attacks.
The first Hulk game taught us that we had something cool in terms of the destruction, combat style, environment interaction and general feeling of Hulk SMASH! We wanted to build on that feeling you get in the very first gas station level in the first Hulk game where you’re throwing cars at helicopters... only magnify it by a thousand. We also learned that people don’t like being contained in corridors when they’re the Hulk, so we made Ultimate Destruction a free-roaming game in a vast environment. Finally, nobody wanted to play as Bruce Banner, so in Ultimate Destruction, it’s all Hulk, all the time.
We were definitely trying to achieve a varied mix of experiences for the player. We designed the control mechanics very carefully so that you can pick up the controller and within five seconds you’re bombing around smashing the crap out of everything. Yet there is also a ton of depth in the move set (you acquire more than 150 moves during the course of the game), combo system and move charging system. We’ve created a fun game that plugs right into the reptile portion of your brain, yet still requires a ton of creative thinking to master.
The story missions tend to have the bigger action set-pieces, with even larger scales of destruction compared to the free-roaming aspects of the game. In addition to destroying stuff, you’ll also be attacking massive enemy vehicles, retrieving large machinery components, and defending installations. Plus, the boss fights are part of the story, and many people are saying these battles are some of the best in recent memory. Completing story missions also gives you large amounts of Smash Points, which are the basic currency of the game that you spend on upgrading your available move set. We have many, many awesome moves in this game like the Shield Grind (using flattened buses as giant skateboards) and Ball and Chain (using the wrecking ball from a construction crane as a giant club).
One of the best things about the game is that there are so many ways to use the Hulk’s powers and objects in the world to complete your objectives or defeat enemies. We give you so many options that you’ll soon be creating your own hugely varied gameplay as you tackle each situation. We’ve also got forty side missions scattered throughout the game worlds with a really varied set of challenges including Hulk Golf, Hulk Football, race challenges, combat scenarios and even hang-gliding. We’ve also hidden a huge amount of unlockable content in the game including collectible Hulk comic book covers, smash point bonuses, multiple playable character skins, an extensive “Making Of” feature, and tons of concept art.
We think we’ve got some great technology when it comes to destruction, character animation, physics, dynamic world loading and special effects. We built a custom engine from the ground up for Ultimate Destruction, and we’re pushing all of the platforms to the max. I don’t think you’ll find any other free-roaming game on current-generation systems which pushes all these elements at the same time.
There’s no doubt that next-generation consoles have the power to take a game like Ultimate Destruction to entirely new levels of turbo-charged smashing. There’s not much more I can say than that for now...
One thing that’s never been done is a free-roaming, open world action game based on a team of comic book characters. If you could create a diverse, complimentary set of powers and a great multiplayer story mode, you would have an amazing game.
The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is due out in Europe on PS2, Xbox and GameCube from September 9th.
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