When Joe Simon and Jack Kirby created Captain America in March of 1941, there was no way they could have predicted what would come 70 years later — a major motion picture adaptation that would double as a key component of a movie franchise featuring the American icon’s costumed compatriots like Iron Man and Thor join him. But that’s exactly what happens when Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures’ “Captain America: The First Avenger” lands in theaters this Friday, July 22.
These days, no major comic book movie release can go off without a video game tie-in, and that’s where SEGA’s “Captain America: Super Soldier” comes in. Neither a sequel nor prequel to the feature film, “Super Soldier” allows the player to take on the role of Steve Rogers as he battles the Red Skull, Dr. Arnim Zola and hordes of Hydra agents in the days of World War II in an Eastern European castle. And while the game takes place in the world of the motion picture, it allows the player the freedom to play as Rogers on a mission, rather than retelling his origin story, which it leaves to its big screen counterpart.
During CBR’s visit to the set of “Captain America” last October, we spent some time with SEGA Producer Morgan Roberts, who walked us through the game and answered our questions.
CBR News: I want to start with the fact that this is, in a way, the first Captain America game. Sure, he’s been in games before, and he even had his own arcade game, but in terms of profile, this is likely the highest. Does the fact that there haven’t been many other Captain America games make it easier for you as a producer to bring this one to reality?â€¨
Morgan Roberts: I think it’s easier, because it allows us to be creative in the gameplay mechanics. Since the movie’s release date got pushed back, we had a little bit of time to sit with the core team — and by core team, I mean the designer, an engineer, the gameplay programmer who does animations and stuff and an animator who hooks it all together. Those guys are sitting around in a room like this saying, “What can Cap do?” What’s great about working with them is that we had a lot of involvement with this. How do we turn Captain America the comic book character into a game character? What’s his gameplay mechanics?
That’s where we came up with the idea that he’s a great melee fighter. He’s a great brawler. He’s one of the best brawlers in the Marvel universe. How does he navigate the world? Well, there’re all these great shots of him doing these sort of gymnast style movement. So, we’ve got combat, we’ve got platforming, what else? The shield! S,o you can throw the shield, you can hit multiple guys with the shield, you can walk with the shield, you can reflect shots with the shield. The question becomes, how do we make all that stuff work in the game? As we were talking with Next Level Games, the guys who developed the Xbox 360 & PS3 game, about the Wii version, we decided that the Wii version is kind of its own monster. We should design something specific for that, and then design something specific for the Xbox 360 and PS3. So, we went to High Voltage Software for the Wii version and gave them the gameplay mechanics that we’ve come up with, the vision of what Cap can do with gameplay, as a game character and said go make a Wii version off that. I think it allowed us to sort of be creative with it, then share that vision with other people. And it even translated to the Nintendo DS guys as well.
In your talks with Marvel, as you were developing the game, what were some of the “geeky” items thrown out there that you guys got excited about? There had to be moments in the development process where you said, “Oh, my God, we got to do that!”
Well, I think it was really when we had writer Christos Gage come in, I think we mentioned it. We talked with Ed Brubaker first, and showed him the game. He was interested in doing it, but he didn’t have enough time — he started to work on some TV stuff. We had a short list of people we wanted to work with, and Christos was next on the list and came well recommended from Marvel. He was so enthusiastic. When we brought him in, we said we were in a unique position. We’re not going to tell you to remake the story of the movie, we can make a unique, completely different story. The only constraint we gave him is that it all had to take place in this one castle.
From a development perspective, that’s a constraint we stick with. He was fine with that and started asking, “All right, well, can I bring in Madam Hydra? Can I bring in Iron Cross? Can I bring in this other guy and this other guy?” Sure! Absolutely. Then we told Marvel who we wanted to use and they said, “Okay, Iron Cross, like, that’s cool, we know who he is, obviously. But we don’t want people to confuse him with Iron Man. He looks a lot like a 1940s Iron Man.” We got with the designers and they started drawing this World War II walking tank with a guy inside of it, pressing levers and things like that. We showed it to Chris and his reaction was, “Oh, my God, this is brilliant. This is absolutely perfect. That’s Iron Cross!” [Laughs] That was an exciting moment.
I’ve seen other games, like Activision’s “Marvel Legends” games, where they have different moments where you kind of come out of the game, you play these little side-adventures. Do you have anything like that or does “Super Soldier” stick pretty closely to the movie and its lore?
Well, we want to maintain continuity with the movie, so, for example, if Red Skull shows up in the game, and you defeat him and he’s killed or whatever, then you see the movie — that wouldn’t really match up, right? Early on, we actually didn’t know what the movie guys were going to do. We didn’t even know if they were going to do World War II, or if they were going to do modern day. At one point, they told us they might just have modern day and then flash back to World War II. We decided to do World War II. We thought that made the most sense. People knew who Cap was and he represented a very clear sort of ideology back in World War II. So let’s run with that, and then let’s not get confused with the movie.
We started talking about which characters we wanted to bring in, and one of the first was Dr. Arnim Zola. I thought that would be cool, because he could be running the whole castle and he could be doing these crazy experiments the further you get into the castle. It could have all kinds of crazy enemies, and not just your standard Nazi soldiers and stuff. And then, we found out from the movie guys that they’re going to have Arnim Zola in the movie! [Laughs] So we had to be careful with how we treated Arnim Zola so we didn’t break continuity with the movie. But we didn’t have to retell any of the elements or moments in the movie, which is a good decision, I think.
Captain America is a character wrapped in the American flag. Does that present challenges in developing this game to make sure that it appeals to people outside of the United States?
I think it’s more of a challenge for the film guys, because they’re kind of leading. They have to establish Captain America as his own identity and appeal to that market. Once the mainstream kind of buy into that, then the gamers, I think, can tie into this. We left the origin story to Marvel, and then we told a mission that Cap goes out on. But what we also said is, you know, there’s this group, the Howling Commandos, the Invaders — they are the Howling Commandos, but they’re called the Invaders — and we thought, what if they were a multinational crew? What if you’ve got Fallsworth in there, who’s the British guy. What if you had [Dum Dum] Dugan in there? What if you also have Bucky in there and you have to go rescue these guys and deal with these guys, and then they come out and help you. There’s a moment in the game where you rescue Dugan, and there are crazier guys sunk deeper in the installation, undergoing these experiments. Some of these guys have giant guns and Dugan’s like, “That looks pretty cool, I’m going to pick up one of those!” So he actually helps you out in the mission, taking people out from a distance while you’re cruising through.
The game differences are pretty dramatic between the Xbox/PS3 version and the Wii — the experience of playing those games is pretty different. Is this the kind of thing where you went out and said, “Hey, we want people to play both. We don’t want people to choose one or the other.”
I would love for people to play both, and I know that all the studios would love it, too. [Laughs] The way it came together is, we actually sort of nailed down the core mechanics, something I was talking about a little bit earlier, and then we took that over to High Voltage and said, “You got to stick to those pillars, and you got to tell this outline of a story where he’s going into this castle that Christos has written. But then you can do your own level design, you can do your own implementation or execution in those mechanics, come up with whatever you want.” So they’re actually focusing on a younger audience. They did more puzzle-based elements, so you might walk into a room, there’re no guys in there, but there are three switches. So the puzzle is more, how do I hit all three switches in a row with my shield, at the same time, to unlock the door and move forward? They created a lot of unique sort of experiences like that. I think, if you’re a big Cap fan and you play the Xbox 360 or PS3 one, you can easily play the Wii one, and have a whole different rewarding experience.
How soon in the game are we introduced to Red Skull? How big a player is he throughout the game?
Like I was saying before about Arnim Zola, we want him to be the guy running the castle. We want him to be sort of the guy who’s directing everything behind the scenes, right? So he shows up a little later in the game, and he starts the end, the cataclysmic events at the end of the game, due to what he does. But you don’t actually face him mano-y-mano. You are fighting guys that he’s sending out. My analogy has always been, as the Emperor is to Darth Vader, Red Skull is to Arnim Zola.
How many games have you worked on over the course of your career?
Oh, geez, I don’t know. Four, five — six, maybe?
Actually, when I first started in development, I worked on the “X-Men: The Movie” game for Activision. I also worked on the “Full Auto” games at SEGA, the first one for 360 and then the second one, which was for PS3. Then I worked on some of the Aliens titles that SEGA’s done. Then “Samba de Amigo,” which was a music game. I’ve kind of done everything from racing games to action games to music games.
In what ways has “Captain America: Super Soldier” been a different experience for you than games you’ve worked on in the past?
I would say it’s challenging in that we’re trying to do the three different games. A lot of my work is trying to coordinate the three different development studios and make sure that everything’s firing on all cylinders. When we get reference for one, we share between the others, like when we hire a music composer. We make sure that Christos is ready to do the dialogue, because he had to write dialogue for each game, because they’re separate. They have the same outline, but totally different dialogue. That’s the part of my job that’s been the most challenging, but I think that worked in our favor, early on. We nailed the core mechanics and then we replicated those across each platform, to make sure that everyone was sticking to the same sort of vision for what it’s supposed to be.
Is this the best superhero adaptation to a video game ever?
No, but it’s a really good one!
[Laughs] I appreciate your honesty! What would you say is? Because super heroes in video games have a history, especially Superman — there have not been many good Superman games. But “Captain America” looks pretty damn good.
Thank you. I’d say “Spider-Man 2” was really good. I would say my favorite is “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” I’m so glad we’re coming out before “Arkham City,” because “Arkham Asylum” put it to this level [waves hand high in the air], and “Arkham City” is going to put it to this level [waves hand higher in the air], and there’s like no way anyone can compete with that! [Laughs]
“Captain America: Super Soldier” hits stores today, July 19