Summary: Superman Returns is set to hit store shelves in just a few weeks. JCal interviews the developers to find out how the game is coming along and what we can expect different from the movie (ie, any actual excitement?)
FiringSquad: First, the Superman Returns game was originally going to be released around the time of the movie's release in theaters. What happened that caused the game's delay?
Jeff Peters: Through a series of internal reviews and external playtests, we gradually came to the conclusion that a few more months of development could push our game from 'good' to 'very good' or 'great'. Playtesters really liked what they saw, but they wanted more - more stuff to do, more variety in the buildings, etc. The delay allowed us to spend the summer addressing the feedback received, resulting in a more polished and cohesive gaming experience. Our focus with this product was to always to create the best game possible, and this was a collective decision to allow us to do that.
FiringSquad: This will be EA Tiburon's first non-sports game in quite a while. Was it intimitating for the studio to work on an action game rather than a football title?
Jeff Peters: Think of it as expanding a successful portfolio. It was more a creative challenge than anything else with our goal to take the successful lessons learned while building Madden over the years and branch out into more action-oriented fare. The team was mostly assembled from the ground up by bringing together seasoned action-game developers from within and outside of EA. Most of our designers, for example, had previous action game experience, so these learnings allowed us to overcome the hurdles you face when developing in a particular genre for the first time.
FiringSquad: Superman video games in the past have had a reputation for not reaching their high expectations. Was the team conscious of the history of the previous Superman games to avoid the mistakes of the past?
Jeff Peters: Everyone was very conscious of the history of the previous Superman titles, almost to the point of excluding anything that had a remote association with a previous title! Anyone who brought up the word 'ring' or 'kryptonite gun' risked a possible cube ransack. Inevitably, we did have to include some elements from Superman's gaming past (melee combat, rescuing citizens, etc), but for the most part we stayed away from the clichés that sunk the earlier titles. The main problem with Superman as a video game character is that he's three-games-in-one-guy: flight sim, fighting game, and projectile-based action game. All of these play mechanics are part of Superman at any time (based on who the chararacter is) and creates some design difficulties with making sure none of these areas is more powerful than another, and, on the most simplistic level, you inadvertantly run out of buttons to make all this work together well. He's probably one of the hardest characters to translate successfully to a video game, but I think we found a good mix.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the storyline of the game and how it differs from the movie version?
Jeff Peters: The core storyline mirrors that seen in the film. However, there are several sequences added to the story, which fill in gaps in the film's timeline (for example, what was Superman up to during his time away from Earth?). There are also additional story threads which parallel the movie plot, specifically the introduction of various Supervillains attacking Metropolis. In the end, we finished with about a 50/50 split of movie content and original content, which felt about right.
Jeff Peters: Building Metropolis was one of the biggest challenges faced by our team. The scope of the city is absolutely enormous - 80 square miles, with thousands and thousands of buildings arranged very precisely to allow for various flight paths through the city. No game has previously attempted to deliver a city of this size and scale, and to this level of detail. You can land on the ground to interact with citizens and pick up individual light poles; and 20 seconds later, you can be 2 miles in the air, looking down on the entire city below you. The ability to support these highly divergent levels of detail took many, many months to get right, but in the end we're bringing something new to the table that gamers haven't seen before.
FiringSquad: What kind of powers will the player have access to as Superman?
Jeff Peters: Every major superpower you'd expect is represented in the game. There's flight and superspeed, which is necessary for traveling the city and quickly responding to threats. There's super strength, which allows you to uproot almost any object in the city, as an aid for completing objectives and defeating minions. There's heat vision, which is a highly-effective long range attack. And there's your breath powers, which allow you to freeze any object in the game world (including enemies), or blow any object into the distance. Each power is upgradeable as well, making them even more useful as you progress through the game.
FiringSquad: How interactive will the world be to the player in the game?
Jeff Peters: On the Xbox 360 version, almost everything in the world is interactable. You can pick up and carry people, cars, rooftop ornaments, statues, etc. With many objects (such as traffic lights), you can also wield them like a baseball bat, or throw them at a targeted enemy. Many objects have dual abilities and are awaiting the player to experiement and explore. For example, there are water towers that can be plucked off the rooftops to help extinguish fires, or tanker trucks that create an enormous explosion when needed. The interactivity adds a lot of variety to the gameplay experience, as you're always stumbling on new ways to defeat the minions attacking the city. The PS2 and XBOX versions have slightly fewer interactive objects, but still more than enough to make combat engaging and varied.
FiringSquad: Besides Lex Luthor and his minions, what other classic Superman villians and other enemies will the player encounter in the game?
Jeff Peters: The game is fully stocked with enemies, ranging from recognizable Superman villains such as Bizarro and Metallo, to EA-and-DC co-created baddies like the hulking Terminites and the winged, dragon-like Scoldfires. As you progress through the game, additional villains make an appearance, each bringing with them a swath of minions to terrorize the city. Even the perplexing Mr. Mxyzptlk makes a calculated appearance.
FiringSquad: What other interesting gameplay elements will the Superman Returns game have?
Jeff Peters: The metro event system is one of the gameplay features we are most proud of. Rather than having particular events happen at particular places at particular times, most events can happen anywhere in the city, in a range of possible times. So, for example, if you get to a particular part of the game, you may trigger an event involving a group of Scoldfires attacking the Suicide Slums. Another player, at exactly the same point in the game, may instead be faced with a huge Downtown skyscraper fire that needs to be put out. This unpredictability keeps you on your toes as you're playing through, and gives you a great incentive to replay the game. It also continues to build off of the sense that 'you' are Superman, and must save Metropolis whenever and where ever a problem occurs, as you never know what's going to attack Metropolis, until it does. You must always be watching the city and get to the disturbance where ever it may be occurring as quickly as possible.
Jeff Peters: The movie cast and crew were very supportive of the creative process that underlies the development of an action game. All of the leads from the movie reprised their roles in the game, so all of the spoken dialog matches what you hear in the film. We also received a lot of helpful feedback from WB throughout the course of development, which helped ensure that we were staying true to the progress being made on the film.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the graphical features of the game, especially the Xbox 360 version?
Jeff Peters: We are all extremely proud of the Xbox 360 version's visuals. As a start, the entire city of Metropolis streams in real time, so you will never run into a loading screen as you fly from end to end (or from ground to lower atmosphere). The game takes advantage of many of the 360's hardware features, such as multiple texture passes (which we're using to create reflection maps on the building windows, dirt and grime maps on the ground, etc). The game also takes great advantage of the 360's visual effect rendering capabilities, allowing for a ton of great looking weapon fire effects, motion trails, screen blurs, and explosions to co-exist on screen at the same time.
FiringSquad: Are there any plans for a playable demo of the Xbox 360 version of the game to be released via Xbox Live?
Jeff Peters: Yes, a demo is in the works and should be available shortly before the release of the game.
FiringSquad: What is the current status of the game's progress and when will it be released?
Jeff Peters: The game is currently going through the manufacturer approval process, and will be on shelves on November 22nd.
FiringSquad: Finally is there anything else you wish to say about the Superman Returns game?
Jeff Peters: It's been a huge challenge building a Superman game that has wide appeal, but we feel we've finally filled this decades-long void. The game can be played and enjoyed by players of all ages, but we've made sure to include enough optional content and hidden bonuses to satisfy both the hardcore game player, and the Superman fanatic. Even with the game now finished, we're still playing it, which is testament to the quality of the play experience.
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