Injustice: Gods Among Us
Note: This interview originally ran in the E3 Hot 50 issue of Game Informer magazine.
Ed Boon has been a well-known name in the gaming industry ever since Mortal Kombat became a cultural phenomenon in the early ‘90s. Despite having almost two decades of experience in the genre, Injustice is his first fighting game that exists entirely outside of the Mortal Kombat universe. We had a chance to speak with Boon about his plans for the game.
How obscure are you looking to get with the character lineup? Are we going to get a lot of characters that only hardcore comic fans will recognize, or is it mostly going to consist of mainstream names?
I think the majority will be pretty mainstream, but we definitely have appearances that some of the more hardcore guys will be happy with. Obviously with a game like this when we’re launching a franchise, fingers crossed, we want to appeal to as many people as possible with recognizable characters. But at the same time, we certainly aren’t going to forget that these characters started out as comic book characters. They’ve expanded into a number of different media of course, but at their core these guys were comic book guys and we want to satisfy those fanatics.
Did DC have any input on what characters they wanted to include, or did you guys approach them with a list of who you were hoping for?
They definitely suggested some, but I don’t think they ever said to us, “This person has to be in it.” We started this conversation quite a long time ago and we were aware of the New 52 launch that was coming, and we knew which characters were being put center stage. We wanted to be consistent with that, because we’re definitely not going to forget the comic book fans. But they never said to us, “You have to have Superman in the game, you have to have Batman,” even though we would have done it for any other character.
Do you have a certain amount of freedom with the story?
The story for why they’re fighting each other is completely original. We aren’t following the timeline of the New 52 or any of the other timelines for the DC characters. The character designs are ours…the version of Superman is ours, the version of Batman is ours. It went through the whole DC approval process, certainly, and we worked with them with the story as well as the universe that we’re creating, which is a NetherRealm version.
How violent are you allowed to get with these characters?
Understandably, a lot of people ask, “are you going to have fatalities? Are you going to do this?” That’s specifically because we are NetherRealm Studios, we did Mortal Kombat, we have done a bunch of Mortal Kombats, and I think there is an assumption that this is part of every game that we do. But the real message is that this is brand new, that this game has its own identity and we don’t feel like we have to follow any kind of previous template of Mortal Kombat. While we are very proud of the Mortal Kombat legacy we have, it’s certainly not part of this game. This game has its own identity.
How do you balance the powers of the characters? Is the story going to explain why Bruce Wayne can stand up against Superman in this universe?
Absolutely. Since we are trying to do a realistic interpretation of these characters, we aren’t trying to make them look like the animated characters or anything like that. You see a game like Marvel vs Capcom and it has Thor, this gigantic, Superman-like character fighting someone like Ryu or Ken or Mega Man. Not many people question that, because it’s presented in such an animated way. But our stuff seems to be more like, “Okay, well seriously, how will Batman fight against Superman?” We definitely explain it in the story, and we try to keep it on some level of believability.
Considering that both the Arkham games and Injustice are under the WB banner, are you basing the look of the Batman characters on that series, or are you going your own direction with it?
We are going off in our own direction. The Arkham Batman is awesome, I’m certainly a huge fan of it, but we definitely did not want to say that this is the Arkham Batman that you already have seen.
Some longtime Mortal Kombat fans complained about the lack of fatalities and gore in MK vs. DC Universe. Now that the Mortal Kombat name and the characters are out of the picture, do you think that those fans are going to be a little more accepting?
I certainly hope so. You know, that game did well for us. It was unfortunate that it came out while Midway was falling apart, but the game actually sold really well. I think the expectations came from both sides. Certainly with any game that has the name Mortal Kombat in it, there is an expectation of violence that’s so strong it even warrants journalists to ask the question, “how violent are you going to make this game?” just because we made Mortal Kombat. While Mortal Kombat vs. DC had the name Mortal Kombat, it didn’t have the over-the-top violence because it was a teen rating. I don’t think any of us even wanted to rip Batman’s head off or cut Superman’s head off, you know? We were just answering the question “what if?” as far as the two universes colliding. From the Mortal Kombat side, I think there was an unrealistic expectation that we couldn’t fulfill as far as violence was concerned. I’m certainly hoping with this game that if you remove the Mortal Kombat from it, we just want to make a very intense, epic, superhero experience. I think we are on our way to doing that. As time goes by, I believe people will see this game as its own identity when there are more features revealed.
It seems that the violence is less blood and guts and more about comic book action. Tell us about how that plays into the environments of Injustice.
We replaced gratuitous violence, like blood, arms and limbs being cut off, and all that with spectacular, over-the-top events. In Mortal Kombat you might swing a sword at somebody, in this game you’ll throw a car at somebody. In Mortal Kombat you might see blood come flying out from somebody when you punch them, in this game the person could fly through a building when you punch them. That’s really the identity of this game – an over the top, extreme battle of the gods-type experience with interactive backgrounds. We want these arenas to let players perform these over the top events that have something to do with the fighting, that make you care about where you are in the arena in regards to what opportunities are existing and mixing up that whole thing. I think that’s going to really be what this game is.
Your team introduced environmental attacks in Mortal Kombat: Deception in which opponents could be instantly killed if they were kicked into the right trap. Are there any instant-kill environmental attacks in Injustice, or are they strictly about doing damage?
I don’t think we’re going to have ring outs so to speak, where you hit somebody over the edge of something and you’ve basically won the match. With Deception allowing 3D movement, it’s not like you could be instantly backed into a corner and killed, because you could walk in 3D and remove that threat. In this game, it is a 2D fighting plane. There are edges, and while we definitely want opportunities and danger zones, we probably won’t go as far as to end the round when you kick somebody into something.
Tell us about the custom abilities that are tied to the B button for each character.
We wanted to have a feature for each character that was unique to that character. We didn’t want everyone just to have the Batman version of this thing, the Wonder Woman version of this special move. We wanted a button that was completely accessible, right on the face of the controller that would be something that was custom to all characters. Each character almost feels like they are from a different game in regards to the function of that button. For someone like Grundy, it will be like this throw button and he has all of these chainable throws that can beef up his defensive or offensive features. There’s this whole kind of metagame inside of this button for Grundy. With Wonder Woman, it changes her fighting style. It literally changes from a floating fighting style to a sword and shield style with its own set of attacks. With Batman, he has a number of ways of controlling these bats that kind of fly around him that can be used in combos or for creating a shield around him. With Superman it will power him up. We have gadget characters, we have power characters, they interact with the backgrounds differently, and they have different functions for that button. We are looking for extreme variety in this game. These characters are just so radically different from each other, not only in their abilities in the universe, but also their abilities in this game.
Tell us about the super meter. Will we be seeing things like enhanced moves and breakers again?
Yes. Absolutely. Pretty much both. We definitely don’t want it to use the exact rules of Mortal Kombat, but our kind of super moves are the equivalent of the x-rays that were in the previous Mortal Kombat.
At one point during the demo, I saw the clash system that lets you wager bars of your super meter. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
When you’re playing a game with a super meter that has these kind of segments in it, they become a kind of commodity that you’re saving up. You can either use them in increments as you get them to enhance the move or breakers or whatnot, or you can use the strategy of saving them up. We’re introducing this new mode where you basically have to bet, in a sense. If you have four bars and I have four bars and we go into this mode, it’s kind of like, “okay, well how important are those bars to you? Is it worth losing this clash? Is it worth taking the damage that you’re going to take from losing this clash?” We really wanted to mix up in the players heads what are you willing to bet to win this clash. I think people will obviously make different choices. If you’re saving up for a super and all of a sudden you go into a clash and you have very little power, it’s like, “okay, can I withstand the damage of this clash and continue fighting or do I sacrifice this super and bet all four?” That’s the kind of mind game we want to introduce with that mode.
What kind of tweaks have you made to the Mortal Kombat engine?
It’s running off of a highly modified Mortal Kombat engine. Another thing that this game has that Mortal Kombat didn’t is multiple arenas. With this game the physical arena that you’re fighting in has something to do with your fight. Like, if I’m in the Batcave I know that there are these rockets I can use on the left side. I can use these grenades. But then there’s a whole other arena in the Batcave that has a different palette of things and functions that you can do scattered throughout. To allow us to switch between those two, we obviously modified our engine to accommodate that.
The demo didn’t feature the standard “round 1, round 2” format we’re used to seeing. Tell us about the health system.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with a game called Killer Instinct, which came out many, many years ago. It’s kind of similar to that where, story-wise, this game isn’t a tournament, so it’s not as much like rounds. Basically, you can almost think of it as two health bars and whoever depletes the other’s two health bars down wins the entire match. We have a pause in between when you lose one, just to kind of break up the monotony and let yourself regroup and re-orientate yourself and whatnot. The version that we had at E3 doesn’t represent the entire experience in terms of what event is going to happen when you deplete the person’s first bar and what’s going to be happening in between all of that, but the idea is that we’re not resetting everything when someone loses a bar. We’re just kind of giving them a moment’s pause, a little breather.
One of the things that people really liked about the most recent Mortal Kombat was the huge assortment of modes. Can we expect to see that same wealth of single-player content in Injustice?
Absolutely. One of the messages I’ve been trying to communicate and talk about with this game is exactly that. I think that was probably one of the things that we were very much given positive feedback. You know, telling an elaborate story, giving very long missions to someone who plays single player. We aggressively attacked that with Mortal Kombat and we certainly feel like that was a positive lesson to learn that worked out well. People appreciate that and we plan on continuing that tradition.
For our hands-on impressions of Injustice: Gods Among Us, check out our E3 preview.