By: Adam Thomas of The Gamer Studio
Movie games have earned a tough, although in most cases well-earned, reputation for bringing gamers a bad experience through underdeveloped story lines, gameplay struggles and terrible presentation.
To be fair, this cannot be blamed on the developers themselves, as movie games tend to have a small window of time to get things done. Most AAA titles spend years in development, and benefit from the love and care that a video game deserves before it reaches your console.
That’s why it was a treat to play Captain America: Super Soldier which just released on July 19, 2011. It’s smooth, features tactile gameplay, and actually plays like a real game. We contacted Brandon Gill, Game Director at Next Level Games, to have a few words about Super Soldier and why it feels so right.
How long has this game been in development?
Brandon Gill: In total we’ve been working on the game for just under three years. A large part of this was a small three-person team that was focused on the creation of our core combat mechanics and the general gameflow for the product. The majority of the game was built over the last year and a half, but the long lead up and early prototyping has paid off in the final product.
Three years is a huge amount of time for an IP. Games [in conjunction with films]tend to be expected with a year or less turnaround. How did the team at Next Level Games get the chance to crack at this for three years?
BG: It was pretty unintentional, as the movie’s original date was pushed out by the writer’s strike a few years ago. This is part of the reason that we pared down to such a small team and pushed hard on game mechanics, rather than focusing on content. What it really gave us time to do was think about what we were building, and analyze the core principles of the game before going into full production.
When I had a chance to play a near finished build of the game, the combat felt pretty refreshing and the mechanics were fluid. Mentioning a realistic playing style, how deep will a player be allowed to sort of mess around and get complicated and complex with Cap?
BG: The fighting system is highly contextual to create variety, but at its core it functions as a set of distinct choices. In normal difficulty, most of these choices will work if the player uses them at the right times. In hard difficulty, the player will be required to select the correct defense and offense for any given situation, and will have only a few moments to make those decisions.
I’d say playing on hard difficulty will allow players to truly learn the fight system in all of its complexity.
There are some influences from games like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia when it comes to Captain America‘s agility and combat style. Why was this decision made, compared to other games where the heroes seem a tad more invincible?
BG: When we began development of our combat prototypes, they resembled the feel of games like DMC or God of War. After trying this out, we made the decision to move in a more grounded and almost realistic style. Something that made you feel like the Super Soldier that Cap is, but requiring you to think and react appropriately as well.
When you clear a room of Hydra Soldiers you know that it got done, because you did it through good choices and tactics, just like Cap.
With three people, a very small team by gaming standards, I can imagine the white-boarding sessions were intense. What were some of the mechanics that really stuck out through some of these meetings?
BG: Well to be clear, this small team had a very specific task. We were attempting to prototype and create the core fighting mechanics for the game. I’d say the greatest thing to come out of the rapid iteration was the grounded contextual style of our fight system. This core remained solid, and every person that joined the team was able to understand it as we grew to full size.
Where are the tie-ins to the movie? How much did the script inspire the game’s story?
BG: Early on in development we were informed that we did not need to follow the movie plot at all. We still set the story in the same region and time period as the movie, but we were free to tell our own story.
We created the game-flow first, and then Christos Gage came on-board and wove an awesome story into the existing flow, adding a roster of villains from the comic books. We still have characters from the movie in our story, and we got lucky with a few of the characters that we chose from the comics, as they play parts in the movie as well.
With the freedom of story, along with the boost of Christos Gage, how do you think this title will resonate with comic fans as opposed to movie fans?
BG: Christos brought a lot of wonderful comic-specific tie-ins to the game story, and inspired a lot of art choices as well. The game is full of nods to the Marvel universe outside of the movie plot. Comic fans should pay close attention to the environment for Easter eggs; some of them obvious, and some of them subtle.
Movie fans will enjoy the story and characters for who they are and how they relate to Captain America. We adapted the comic-specific characters to fit within the more realistic movie continuity, allowing non-comic fans to still enjoy these larger-than-life characters.
Compared to other movie games, this feels extremely polished. What do you attribute to that?
BG: I’d say that being given the time to prototype early without being held down by the story of the movie itself is the reason why things are feeling polished now. A solid core in your game design allows the team to stay focused on what is important.
What are the chances of this becoming a franchise?
BG: As developers we are always open to the possibility, but it really lies in the hands of publishers and whether the fans want more. Hopefully, the fans will want more. Next Level Games has really enjoyed adapting this character to the video game world.
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