In the new “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” video game from Activision (available on a multitude of platforms, as you’d expect), comic fans finally get the brutal, gritty Wolverine game they’ve been hoping for. While the film may have a PG-13 rating and be filled with plenty of violence and action of its own, the video game goes even further. Wolverine’s regenerative abilities are highlighted in a manner never seen before in previous games – if he takes a series of hits from artillery fire, skin and flesh are suddenly ripped from his body, and the bones of Wolverine are revealed, only to hide once again as his skin regrows. But it’s not just Wolverine getting ripped up that makes this game different; rather, it’s showcasing the feral quality of the Canucklehead. In a bloody display of some of Logan’s most aggressive action, there’s a moment early in the game where Wolverine jumps over a ravine and lands on the cockpit of a helicopter, beats open the glass, pulls the pilot out with his claws and raises him up into the helicopter blades, decapitating the goon. Yeah, this isn’t your daddy’s Wolverine game.
The team at Raven Software, the producers behind the previous X-Men games at Activision, are back, and this time they set out to make a Wolverine game unlike any other. While history has shown that movie tie-in games often fail to deliver, both in terms of story and action, the team at Raven has imbued this game with 40% new content not seen in the film and pulled additional elements directly from comics. This isn’t just another movie adaptation come to video games, and you don’t need to see the film to enjoy the game.
In this exclusive interview, CBR News spoke with Raven Software Project Lead Dan Vondrak and Senior Technical Artist Doug Smith about “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” out now from Activision.
One of the things most interesting about the game is that, while the movie is a PG-13 rated fature, if the MPAA were to rate games they’d have to give the “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” video game an R rating for violence alone. What sort of hoops did you have to jump through with the studio and Marvel to get a game like this approved?
Dan Vrondak: This all started before it was a movie game. Originally we said we had this idea for a Wolverine game that no one’s ever seen before. It has to be brutal. It has to be gritty. Let’s be honest, Wolverine has really sucked in previous games. So, right away we planned on doing something different. We came in and started to show Activision what we were doing and, honestly, some of the faces were pretty scared in the meetings, and we just said, “Trust Us. Don’t worry about it, trust us.” Even though there were times where they tried to pull us back a bit, we just had none of it, and said “This is what we we’re doing.” Marvel was actually totally cool with it from the get go. They said, whatever he does in the comics he should do in the video game.
Doug Smith: From the visual side of the development, we never really felt like we were limited. We just kept asking ourselves how far can we push this, what do we want to do and what best expresses Wolverine in the comics and hopefully the movie as well? So, no one really felt like they were burdened or being censored in any way.
I got to that point in the game where Wolverine launches the dude into the blades of the helicopter. Clearly you guys haven’t been told to hold back too much [laughs], but has there been anything they said you just couldn’t do?
Dan: Uhmmm [thinks] … no! [laughs] Yes, they tried, but the whole time we just kept saying no, we want to put it in there. Unless it’s going to make the game AO [Adult Oriented], let’s put it in there! You have to understand, we didn’t go out ever saying we wanted to make a mature game, we just asked what we could do that nobody has ever done before. Right away we thought, well, nobody has ever done Wolverine gritty. So we opened up the pages of the comics, posted those up on boards and could see what Wolverine was. The goal was to make a true Wolverine game, and if that ends up making it a mature game and too bloody for some, well, who cares. This is what we, as fans, want. It is what it is.
Doug: I’d add that we never tried to make it gratuitous. I want to say we ended up making it more true to Wolverine.
Dan: Right, we never intended to do the “Kill Bill” thing with showers of blood, but there’s something very Wolverine about taking that guy and pulling him up into the helicopter blades. That’s Wolverine at his most brutal.
You mentioned pasting pages from the comics on boards in your production office – do you remember specifically what some of those pages were?
Dan: It was all over the place. There are a bunch of fans on the team, and we all agreed that this has to be the Barry Windsor-Smith style Wolverine. The whole idea is, he hasn’t gone to Japan yet, he hasn’t been “domesticated” by the X-Men. This is that really feral beast that just broke out of that tank. That was our vision of the game.
We pulled from everything. I loved the attitude he had in the “Wolverine: Civil War” series written by Marc Guggenheim. Marc came in and did a bunch of our script for us and he took that attitude he brought to the comic into the game. Some of those pages were hung up on the board.
40% of the content in this game is outside the movie – what process did you guys go through to write that stuff?
Dan: Guggenheim came out really early and, again, this was just as it was becoming a movie game, but we wanted to make sure it had the comic influence the whole way, so Marc came in and threw a bunch of ideas at us. Funnily enough, some of the ideas we were pitching originally we moved way from because we just didn’t know if we wanted to introduce that character, or if they were or weren’t going to appear in the movie, but then we started getting script drafts coming in and we’d see storylines and characters that were similar to what Guggenheim or us at Raven had written! It all kind of ended up working out. In the end we pulled ideas from classic Wolverine storylines, Guggenheim brought a bunch of crazy stuff on his own, and we knew the whole time we had to get a Sentinel in there.
The great thing about all this is, if you just play our game, you’re going to not even know what is the movie and what’s not. It’s really seamless. If you’ve seen the movie, it only enhances the experience.
Doug: We took some license when making this game to see how we could give gamers more. How do we bring players into locations smoothly that the movie may not have visited? How do we make it so you may see some characters and enemies that really dig deeper into the comics? That’s what caters to fans, and that’s how we made it so everyone can enjoy the game equally.
Comic fans are very much looking forward to Gambit’s turn in the movie. How quickly does he show up in the game?
Dan: He’s actually more towards the end of the game. That was a pretty big switch. Originally he was one of the earlier guys, so we had him in the first two hours of the game, then we had to rethink how we did it when we saw where and how the movie would be using him. Gambit was a big fan favorite at Raven, too.
How important is it when you’re crafting these games to satisfy both hard core gamers – your core audience – and also comic fans? How much consideration do comic fans get when developing a game like this?
Doug: It’s actually a whole lot easier to balance those two elements with a game like “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Wolverine, at heart, is about the action, so that puts you in settings and scenarios the hard core gamers want to see, but those are the same settings and scenarios comic fans want to see as well. We’re giving them the action and we’re giving them the story they want.
Dan: Wolverine’s a little more hardcore already, by definition. Everyone knows Wolverine. When we went to Activision, we noted [that] Wolverine’s arguably one of the top two most popular characters in Marvel history, and his games have sucked! We asked them to give us a chance to do it right and said the mass market will eat this stuff up! The second we show Wolverine cutting someone’s limb off, that’s mass market and that’s the comic book market.
There are a lot of characters and moments from Wolverine’s history that comic fans will want to see in the game. What are some of your favorites that made it into the game?
Dan: Busting out of the adamantium tank, that was a big one. You, as a Wolverine fan, want to know what it feels like to be in that first moment he got those claws. And when you start out in the game, in the flashback sequence in the jungle, you start out with the bone claws. The transformation is set-up so beautifully as you bust out of the tank, he’s ripping soldier after soldier apart, Stryker’s yelling in the background. You really get a feeling for what the character goes through.
And then I have to go with the Sentinel and fighting him. That’s what people have been asking for – how do you take out a 200 foot dude with a six-foot guy? Wolverine finds a way to do it!
The regeneration of Wolverine is also big – when he gets hit by shotgun blasts you see his ribs or his skull show through, and then he regenerates. That’s big. You’ve seen that in the comics and now you get to see it in the game.
Can you change costumes in this game?
Dan: Absolutely. If we didn’t do that, we’d get killed! The way you get the costumes is you unlock these special action figures in the game and once you’ve found enough of them you unlock a special challenge match and you get to fight a Wolverine in the very costume you’re trying to unlock! So it’s Wolverine Vs. Wolverine, and if you beat him you get to switch into that costume whenever you want to.
Doug: We have, for almost every location, a distinct Wolverine model, so it ends up that fans will never be bored with the same static Wolverine in the game. So, like, when he’s in New Orleans, he’s got the jacket on and what not.
Oh, so when you’re playing Wolverine in New Orleans, can you destroy the French Quarter?
Dan: (Laughs) Oh, no. After Katrina, we couldn’t do something like that.