Mike is a veteran of both Golden Axe and Iron Man titles so he was the perfect fit to submit questions for the conference and he will be handling the eventual first hour and full reviews of Iron Man 2. Look for those in mid May.
Dean Martinetti - Producer, Sega
Mike McHale - Development Director, Sega
Questions were submitted by each attendant to the conference call. Questions were previewed by the moderator and asked in the most efficient order. All answers are paraphrases of the actual answers typed by me as I listened.
Brief Overview of the game
Mike McHale: Iron Man 2 is an extension of the film, it allows you to
further explore the universe. You can play as Iron Man or as War Machine.
There are fully customizable suits and lots of destructibility. There
are multiple villains both from comic books and the film.
1. How close are the game and movie content?
Mike: Following a movie point by point isn't the best way. Movies are essentially two hour non-interactive cutscenes. Doesn't work for games. Iron Man 2 is a completely new story with emphasis on making the player feel like part of film. Doing this keeps the player guessing and avoids retreading old ground. We didn’t want to try to shoehorn gameplay into the movie.
2. Was it liberating or daunting to make a movie tie-in that doesn’t tie in?
Mike: Very liberating and fun. Sega was cool. The emphasis was on making the game feel like it could really happen in Tony Starks world. Iron Man is a very gameable character, with the suit and upgrades. The very interesting characters and the vibe make it much easier to build a new storyline within the world.
3. Are there any elements from the movie/comic that you wanted to include but couldn't?
Mike: Not really. You can do things in a game that would be too expensive in the movie, particularly the enemies and bosses are "bigger" than in the movie. Example, the Helecarrier. In Iron Man 2, you’ll see the biggest bosses in any video game ever made.
4. What were some of the challenges on improving the first game?
Dean Martinetti: Flight was the first thing. We took feedback from online sources, magazines, etc. We asked, how can we make the flight better? Control was a huge issue. Some things we improved: usability, getting in and out of the game, improving accessibility. We wanted to make moves easier to use. We allow you to modify weapons more easily. We made big improvements to game content, melee fighting, weapon adaptation, combining weapons. AI was also a big focus. People will notice immediately that the game is better. It’s more easily understandable out of the box with a greater implementation of Jarvis.
5. How long has IM2 been in development?
Mike: You never get as much time as you want. No game is ever done. The Game was in development for about 2 years. Iron Man is gameable but challenging. He has enormous ability, which makes gaming a challenge when they can fight at range and can also fight hand to hand. It comes down to Shooter vs. Brawler game design. But it wouldn't be Iron Man without all those elements. Because of the success of Iron Man 1, we knew there would be a sequel so we jumped on development out of the gate.
6. Is there a formula to a successful movie superhero game? If so, how did that apply Iron Man 2?
Mike: Somewhat. You have to be responsible about the scope and the content to make sure the game is on schedule for movie release but you have to have enough time for polish. That’s what caused Iron Man 1 to suffer. The formula for a movie game "for me", jumping off the script but within the universe is the way to go. Following the movie is too restrictive and doesn't work well with interactive content. Users don't want to retread the storyline. They did a lot of research on gamer expectations. Core gamers want a new story, rather than replaying what they saw in the theater.
7. What’s the most important element in the game that you wanted to accomplish?
Mike: Tony Stark. It’s about his lifestyle, his attitude, his genius. We discussed how cool Tony was as a character and what that would mean to play as him as a character. He's constantly inventing. His greatest asset is his intellect and use of technology. For us it was, "lets build Tony in and get that sense of the character". We also prioritized making the player FEEL the power behind these characters, Iron Man and War Machine. High destructibility was key to this.
8. Could this title stand on its own without being based on a movie?
Mike: There are advantages to being attached to a successful IP. Yes, it could stand alone. The universe and character are enough, even without the movie. But we do gain a lot by drafting on their marketing campaign.
9. Besides heroes and villains that have been announced are there any other cameos?
Mike: Heroes include Iron Man, War Machine (James Rhodes), both playable. NPCs include Nick Fury, a new character in Iron Man 2, Natasha Romanov ie. Black Widow. Members of Shield also show up to help you out. As for the villains, we mined the comics for popular villains. Villains will partially differ based on platform.
Also, the platforms game design
broke down as follows: PS3/360 are a single development platform meaning those games are essentially
the same. However, the Wii version was build from the ground up as a different
game. Ghost, Mauler, and Fire Power are exclusive enemies in the Wii
version. The DS includes Wilbur Day, Stilt
Man, and Dynamo. There is also a Massive Boss we can't tell you about. The final boss
10. With a bunch of other super hero movies, how does it stand out?
Mike: Iron Man had its flaws. The day after we shipped, we started talking about what we wanted to do in the sequel. Strengthen and expand on what people like, flying in a bigger space, suit customization. Controls of shooter vs. melee.
11. How has the game been designed to deal with the go-anywhere nature of Iron Man?
Mike: Open World is big right now. But it’s a huge challenge without huge amounts of content. Environments are unique. It’s not a fully open world. There is a different environment per mission, but those environments are huge. Interior and exterior environments stand out. Some are up close and force more melee. It’s a good mix. It makes the player feel more varied.
12. What has the team done to improve the transition between flight and hover mode?
Dean: Hovering in interior is good. It’s a simple button press to switch between the two. It works well. We made it simpler, no holding buttons down now. Simplicity and ease of use were important to us.
Mike: We held lots of usability tests and go lots of feedback. We moved the flight control to the right stick from the left stick. It fixed the problem of dive bombing when you switched modes. We tried to maintain consistency of control between each mode.
13: Open World games have received a lot of praise for being more free form. But they often lack compelling story. Was it ever in the cards to do open world?
Mike: It could be fantastic, but we'd have to be outside a movie schedule. In the games, the technology and gameplay are built around the open world. Following a movie lacks flexibility necessary to really do it right. Doing it our way allowed us to make more unique missions rather than generic open world style missions.
14: What have you done to differentiate Iron Man from the average action game character?
Mike: Let’s get a great story teller to work with us: Matt Fraction, the Invincible Iron Man comic guy. We talked to Marvel and they reached out to Matt who had never worked on a game. He was very excited and did some consulting on the movie as well. We had already started the story outline and Matt came in and rewrote big chunks of the story to fix potential logic flaws. He also wrote the dialog for the cutscenes. Pro writers really elevate the quality. Matt would even edit the mission dialogue content to keep it true to the universe.
15. Where do you see the Iron Man franchise heading from here? For example Spider-Man is being used to make games even without a movie.
Dean: I'd like to see a true open world Iron Man game, one that goes more toward the darker side.
Mike: That would make a great game, sure. We don't know what we're doing with him after this. We're not ready to talk about it. But Iron Man is a strong enough character to make a game around without a movie. He's not as big as Spider-Man, but he's one of the best known solo characters. We've only touched the surface of telling great gaming stories with him.
16. As changes to the movie script were made, were you made aware of them and changed the game also?
Mike: We avoided the trap of having missions built exactly on the movie. So script changes didn't impact us much. What WOULD impact us would be how Iron Man/Tony interacted with the technology in the lab, or things they did with Tony specifically. We wanted to include the technology of the movie in the game. We loved from the comics, the suit he carried around in a suitcase. There’s dialogue back and forth and we got lots of great feed back, but the most important thing was to make everything really feel like it fit with the universe as created by the movie.
17. In addition to Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson, are there any other big name actors?
Mike. We worked with Robert Downey Jr. in the first game. Loved it. Triple A film talent is very busy and hard to get. Iron Man is played my Eric Loomis. He does Iron Man for all the Marvel animated movies. He did a great job. You hear about film talent mailing it in on games. These guys took it seriously and blew the doors off the performances. We were really happy.
18. How closely did you work with the movie director?
Mike: Jon Favreau would look at the game from time to time but the movie was his main focus. Mostly we met with Kevin Feige, head of the studio and other producers about builds in progress. So I felt very connected, but via the producers more than the director specifically. We met and exchanged ideas because we both have similar challenges with the character.
19. The first Iron Man had several main boss fights but the battles were never toe to toe, weren’t really like a battle with a nemesis. Will that change?
Dean: Yes. We emphasized melee. But the end result will be decided by the player. Do you want to go in for the battle? Do you want to use the weapons? "Its a UFC fight between Iron Man and Crimson Dynamo", really gratifying melee. You can customize melee moves and make them more powerful and brute force.
20. Are levels linear and repetitive like the first game?
Dean: The first game was very linear. With Iron Man 2, we've opened up the interiors and exteriors. Level 7 in the game is a favorite of mine. I can actually complete that mission 3 different ways and still get to the end result.
21. The original Iron Man game featured some very intense action sequences that really struggled with frame rate. Does this game address that in any way? How is the performance in comparison to the first game?
Dean: It's a lot better. Things have gotten more strict at Microsoft and Sony with regard to certification. I can safely say that its much better. Frame rate issues are almost completely eliminated.
Mike: By capping things at 30 FPS, it does wonders to address that issue. We can focus more on development of the level and the gameplay, rather than worry about frame rate so much. It overwhelmingly adds to the quality of the game.
22: Is there any online playability?
23: Does each game platform have unique content?
Dean: Yes. PS3/360 is one development thread, DS is one. Wii/PSP is similar. There are lots of cool things from High Voltage on the Wii version.
24. How are gameplay meachics different between Iron Man and War Machine?
Dean: You can play as either Iron Man or War Machine on all but 2 missions. One is specific to Tony and the other is specific to Jason. War Machine is all about brute force. Iron Man is a bit more acrobatic and utilizes energy weapons. Flying, running and melee are similar, but weapons and strategy are different.
25: Will the game feature the new suit? Will there be special suits?
Dean: Yes, but I can't give away too much.
26: Whats the campaign length
Dean: 7-11 hours. If you run and gun, you’ll see a solid 7 hour campaign. If you play more strategically and explore all the suits and content, you’ll see 11 easily.
27: What was it like working with Matt Fraction?
Mike: Matt is a gamer, which was important to us that he understands the medium. He plays in a group so he's familiar. He knows our limitations. He’s very understanding, based on what’s possible on a game. It was great, lots of back and forth. He educated us on what Tony would and wouldn't do and what was his level of technology. We would write dialogue and he would rewrite it and we would make sure it was fun and not too long (writers love to write) that people start skipping cutscenes.
28: How much customization is in the armor research system? Is it linear?
Dean: In the lab area, you can customize your suit, your weapons, your melee. You can make weapons of your choosing, with dozens of options on each weapon module. You can make hybrid of munitions and energy weapons. Its really cool.
29: IS there any co-op play with Iron Man and War Machine?
Mike: No. Doing co-op requires tons of extra balance and QA time. etc etc etc. We were looking at it, but didn't do it.
30. Achievements and trophies. Are they accessible, or for hardcore gamers?
Dean: There are easy challenges but there are also some that will really push the total amount of content to the user. Many are suit based, completing missions with specific characters and suits