NetherRealm Studios’ “Injustice: Gods Among Us” fighting game was a big hit in the console space, easily the deepest DC Comics-based fighting games fans had seen in years. Launching alongside “Gods Among Us” was the “Injustice” mobile game, which took the core concept of DC heroes and villains fighting against one another and put it into a free-to-play brawler with customizable three character teams. Although downloadable content eventually stopped for the originating console game, the mobile game continued to pick up steam, thanks in large part to massive support from NetherRealm. New characters and new modes have continued to be released, all with the same level of polish fans had come to expect from the core game.
This month, NetherRealm released the biggest update to “Injustice” yet — so much so, that it’s been dubbed “Injustice 2.0.” The update added online play to the game — something fans had asked for since launch — and a new gear system that allows players to equip and level up special cards to enhance characters.
In order to get a better bead on the changes for “Injustice” mobile, CBR News spoke with the game’s producer, Erin Piepergerdes. We discussed the challenge of bringing “Injustice’s” multiplayer mode to a mobile platform, continuing support for the product far beyond the “Injustice: Gods Among Us” console game, the many characters that have continued to appear and more.
CBR News: Erin, Multiplayer was something that was definitely missing from the “Injustice: Gods Among Us” mobile game, but Multiplayer has traditionally been somewhat of a tough nut to crack for mobile gaming. How did the “Injustice” mobile team approach designing a multiplayer that worked within the constraints of the system?
Erin Piepergerdes: We’ve known for months that we wanted to add some kind of online play to the game. It was something that was really important to us, and it was also something we felt that — when we launched the game — was lacking. At the same time, NetherRealm doesn’t want to put out something that’s half-baked or not ready for prime time. We wanted to give it enough time and development to fully realize what was in our designers’ heads. It was certainly a challenge because Mobile is relatively new for us as a studio. We started with “Batman: Arkham City Lockdown” two years ago, and have been further investigating the platform, its strengths and weaknesses ever since. But it’s a fun challenge — it’s something new for us and something exciting for us, and it really got our designers’ imaginations sparked a little bit. We wanted to design something that was fun for the players and would be engaging and hopefully support the game for some time. It’s an iterative process, of course. We certainly tried out a number of different ideas for multiplayer until you see what’s available now. I will say that what you see now is what we’re even considering a 1.0 implementation. If players enjoy it, we’re just going to keep iterating and improving it and making it even more fun and better as we go.
For those who have already bested the single-player campaign and are blazing through the new challenge mode, what kind of new challenges and rewards await them in online play?
That’s a great question — obviously, I would consider myself in that category you mentioned, where I’ve been playing the game since we launched it. I’ve got a very mature team of leveled up characters and what not. What multiplayer offers you is a chance to test out your team against real-world opponents. When I play, what I find is those battles are actually much more challenging than the single player aspect of our game. You actually have to think a little bit more and put some more strategy in the makeup of your team, as well as how you play the game. I’ve seen people that never block in single player, and if you don’t block in multiplayer, you’re going to get knocked out pretty quickly.
We also added a whole new gear system, which adds a whole new metagame where you have to find and collect gear, which can then be leveled up and used and equipped on your character to give them new passives that will help you in your battles. There’s a whole new level of strategy and gameplay that comes with Multiplayer that you’re not going to see on the single player side.
Players put together a team of “Injustice” fighters that are available for other players to fight. Is the AI different for online play than it is for single player?
The AI for multiplayer is something we’re very cognizant about how it’s reacting and playing against players. It’s something we monitor very closely. We have hooks in the game that allow us to adjust on the fly, because we want to make sure it’s challenging but still fun. The game being fun is more important to us than anything else. We want players to have a good experience and actually enjoy what they’re playing. AI is something that we not only have play tested pretty thoroughly, but now that the game is live and in players’ hands, we keep a close eye. If players report they’re losing too frequently or it’s impossible to win matches, we go back in, take a look and maybe tweak things to even it out a little more. It’s definitely a very iterative process and something that we’re very aware of and keep an eye on in the live environment.
Having worked on both the console version of “Injustice” and the mobile client, what was the adjustment like for you in crafting a different kind of fighter multiplayer?
It’s a very different experience, obviously. On the console side, it’s very straightforward: you have to match the two players and obviously the console fighting experience is going to be very different than the mobile fighting experience. Console is definitely geared a little more towards hardcore players — the real true fighting game fans — whereas our mobile game attracts a much wider audiences. We’ve got people that want to get in and out and want to have bite-sized gameplay. When approaching multiplayer, you’ve got to keep in mind your core audience and what’s going to appeal to them. We feel like we came up with a pretty good balance for the mobile version as compared to the console versions.
Obviously, multiplayer and gear were the biggest features in the most recent update, but what other major fixes and changes took place with the patch?
There were quite a few, actually. This is almost a relaunch of the game. In addition to multiplayer and gear, we actually had seven new characters that came out in the store. There’s the animated Harley, the New 52 Nightwing and some other new characters we made available for the first time. These are all character that, previous to 2.0, had never had a gold version before. They may have had a bronze or silver version, but never a gold-tier version. Now for the first time, if you wanted to — Nightwing is a good example, because he has a power drain as one of his specials. Because he didn’t have a gold version available, he might not have been valuable to your team previously. Now, there is a gold-tier version available, so if you want that special ability to power drain, you can add him to your team.
In addition to that, we actually upped the level cap from 40 to 50 on all the characters, so you can continue to evolve them and level them up to a much higher level than previously. Characters can now be promoted all the way up to level 7 now, and we added a whole new bracket on the single player side. Obviously, multiplayer was the big push, but we don’t want to forget about fans that just like the single player experience, so we added a whole new bracket from them with some pretty challenging battles to fight through.
The mobile client seems to have the freedom to add more and more different versions of characters — almost to the point where it has just as many costume swaps as the console version. What’s the challenge of bringing those different models over to the mobile client, and developing some of the original skins for mobile?
We’re actually in a really fortunate position because we work so closely with our console team. We’re able to utilize all the same costumes they brought to the console market for the mobile market, but in addition to that, the game’s been successful enough and players have been supporting it for so long that we have had a lot of freedom to create new characters and introduce them as mobile exclusives well past the original release of the game, which has been really exciting for us as a team. This is the kind of game where you sit down in the early stages in pre-production, and you try to whittle down that roster and come up with the 20-plus characters that you’re going to launch the game with. There’s obviously always characters that get cut that the team wishes they could include. The nice thing with the mobile market space — and because our fans have been so great and so supportive — some of the things we wanted to include, but didn’t quite make the cut, we’re now able to bring forward as mobile exclusives and let players take a shot at them.
While the original “Injustice: Gods Among Us” console fighter received a next-gen version late last year, the mobile game continues to get updates to keep it fresh. How much continuing support does NetherRealm have planned for the mobile client?
As long as people are playing the game and enjoying the game, we have every intention of supporting it. It’s a small team, but it’s a dedicated team. Again, thus far, every time we’ve released an update, people have embraced and supported it, so there’s no plans to stop that any time soon.
You’ve tackled online play, you’ve tackled the gear system — what’s the next big hurdle in your mind? What’s the next big feature that people want to see?
Throughout this project, we’ve had a number of ideas for features and gameplay additions that — it’s always like, “Next update, next update.” I would expect to see us add more features to multiplayer in the near future. We have a lot of really great ideas about how we can improve and enhance the multiplayer experience. As you’ve seen, Challenge Mode is a good example of something we didn’t have when the game first launched, but we had it after launch. We’ve got a number of ideas of things like that, that we would like to add to multiplayer to make it a little deeper and more engaging.
There has also been quite a bit of fan outpouring about a possible sequel for “Injustice.” Can you tell us anything about the future of the franchise as a whole, especially when it comes to expansion on console and mobile?
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to give an extremely vague answer — as a studio, we’re obviously very cognizant of what our fans are asking for and what they want. We always take that into consideration when we talk about the next project and the next thing that’s coming up. “Injustice” was a little of a departure for us — obviously, we’re the studio that’s known mostly for “Mortal Kombat” — it’s a universe that we as developers love being in. Who doesn’t want to design a game that stars Superman and Batman? These are classic iconic characters. It was a great opportunity to try something a little bit different with these characters that everybody knows and loves. The fan response was overwhelming, and it was awesome to see people embrace both the console and mobile game, to see them do really well and people enjoy playing them. We’ll certainly take that into consideration as we look to the future. In terms of what’s actually coming up, though — I can’t tell you. [Laughs]