“Young Justice” fans cried out in despair last week when Cartoon Network’s Fall season up fronts did not include the fan-favorite animated series as part of its DC Nation block. The animated series has found acclaim from both critics and fans alike, and the network’s lack of comment on its renewal or cancelation has led to fans taking to social media and petitions in an effort to ensure its eventual return.
While “Young Justice’s” reign on television may have concluded for now, the adventures of the animated teens aren’t over yet. Video game developer and publisher Little Orbit is wrapping up development on “Young Justice: Legacy,” an action-role-playing game based in-continuity with the animated series for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Not only does the game include all of the show’s voice talent, it features a story by “Young Justice” heads Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti that takes place during the five-year gap between the show’s first and second seasons. The game allows players to control 12 characters, including Nightwing, Superboy, Miss Martian, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Artemis, Robin, Batgirl, Rocket and more.
The game was announced last year with a target date of February 2013, but the official “Young Justice: Legacy” website states only that the game is “coming soon.” Game producer Reed Livingston and story lead Sharon Scott said last November in a ComicBook.com interview that the game is now slated for a Spring 2013 release.
For an update on the game and how production has been affected by Cartoon Network’s recent announcement of its Fall 2013 schedule, CBR News contacted Little Orbit CEO Matthew Scott, who gave us an update on the progress of “Young Justice: Legacy,” describing the unique nature of the game and its importance to the fledgling publisher while providing details on when fans can expect further updates on the status of the action-RPG.
CBR News: Matt, one of the major stories on everyone’s minds at the moment is the lack of “Young Justice” on next fall’s DC Nation programming block. How does the news impacted development on the game?
Matthew Scott: It hasn’t. We’re late-stage between beta and GMC. The game’s done and the story’s done. The creators of the show were heavily involved. The game is, for all intents and purposes, done. “Young Justice” not coming back for a third season has no impact whatsoever. If anything, it gives us a little more freedom to do some of the stuff we’d talked about with Greg and Brandon as a possible sequel or other stuff we’d like to do. We have this license for a long time, so it’s possible we’ll get to play out some of the stuff they had planned in interactive form instead of on Cartoon Network.
The concept of “Legacy” is more of a season 1.5, bridging the 5-year gap between season 1 and season 2. Little Orbit brought Brandon Vietti onto the project — with “Young Justice’s” return up in the air, how much pressure is there around the office to actually make this game the show’s Legacy, so to speak?
[Laughs] The pressure’s gone up. We’ve always taken this particular project — and all the properties at Little Orbit — very seriously. There were a lot of negotiations early on [about “Young Justice”]. We were in talks with Warner Bros. — the history of Little Orbit has always been as a developer, so we were developers since 2003, recently opening our publishing arm in January 2010. We had done some development previously for Warner and had been in some talks to do a property with them back and forth. We all gravitated toward “Young Justice.” It’s a smartly-written show, has great characters, is part of the DC world and Universe. Almost immediately when we started talking with Greg and Brandon, that’s where the ideas started forming. They had this big block planned between the two seasons, and we felt like this was a chance to do a licensed game the way we felt they should be done, as opposed to throwing something out there, slapping some images on it — that’s not doing anybody any good.
We wanted this to feel important. Honestly, I don’t think Greg and Brandon would have been as on board if we didn’t have these show hooks at the level of integration that we got. As “Young Justice” winds up, and obviously there’s still episodes airing every week right now, I think for us, the importance of getting this right has gone through the roof. This will likely be one of the last things that fans get to play and experience that’s got an epic, cool storyline with all the voice talent from the show. It’s important for us to get it right.
Superhero action RPGs have been done before — they’ve even been done before with DC characters in “Justice League Heroes,” and “Marvel Heroes” has been gaining a lot of buzz in anticipation of its release. What makes “Young Justice: Legacy” stand apart from the pack?
From the start, we started with the idea of just an action-RPG. I think there’s a lot of love in the studio for “Balder’s Gate” and for “Gauntlet” and for even “Diablo” — the genesis of the action-RPG genre. When we looked at this and we talked to the guys, it makes a lot of sense when you look at “Young Justice” and you start talking about the characters and they’re younger in their development. These are characters you can level up and influence. You can give them new skills, you can outfit them a certain way. When you talk about larger superheroes like Superman, trying to change any of those characters and develop them just doesn’t make sense. They’re fully-fledged heroes. One of the things I think is that we wear our inspiration on our sleeves in this game. We worked heavily to develop and define these ancient, cool, dungeon-crawly sort of environments. The storyline involves traveling all over the world to these various locations. It definitely has a “Gauntlet”-y, “Balder’s Gate”-y feel to it and that’s intentional. What we wanted to do was have the roots of an ARPG game that we all loved and had fun playing as we came up through our own experiences, and then layer in this fantastic epic storyline that ties in with the characters and the cool abilities of the characters, you can level them up and change their costumes and collectibles — all that other stuff that goes along with it.
In some respects, we had one eye on what everyone else was doing, but the other eye was really looking backwards and saying we wanted to make a cool game.
Obviously, this is a game that a lot of fans have been looking forward to. Not only is it a DC Comics action-RPG, it’s also based on a much loved animated series. When the game was initially announced, there was a target February 2013 release date. The official site has since changed to “Coming Soon,” but candidly, is there any update you can give on the game’s release?
All I can say is — and I know fans, and we as well, hate to see games get pushed back — but as a publisher, this is an important title. We have definitely pushed the title back out from the February date. It’s not coming out on February 28. All I can say is that it’s for the best for the game. There were a couple little things that happened in the multiplayer — this game has full online network multiplayer and special challenge modes — just going out with that content and making it work correctly and having a smooth launch and all those things just conspired against us to push the title back.
I’m not at liberty to say when the release date is — we’re still getting that nailed in with retail. I think what fans don’t often get to see is what happens behind the scenes. Part of our Facebook campaign has been to pull the curtain back a little bit, show them what’s happening and talk a little bit about the development of the game, show them screenshots — these are not Photoshopped marketing screenshots. These are real, this is what’s happening with the game. Like it or not, we’re going to be honest about the fans about where it’s at.
But in this case, it’s important we get retail to buy-in about the game as well. I know fans don’t think about that, but it doesn’t do any good to rush the game to market, show it to retail and have them say, “Hey, that’s not good enough.” They’re going to put it on shelves and fans are going to be unhappy, retail’s unhappy, nobody’s happy. I’d rather flip that all the way around and come out with a great game. Maybe it’s a little farther out, but they’re happier, the retailers are happier and we do the property justice. Oof. Bad pun.
Little Orbit’s been around for a while, and “Young Justice: Legacy” will be one of its first major releases as a publisher. Speaking as the company’s CEO, how much importance do you place on the success of this release with regard to the company?
I think this is an ambitious game for us. We just finished releasing “Monster High: Skulltimate Roller Maze” for Mattel. Little Orbit has been a developer for Mattel for the past seven years. We had the unique opportunity to go in during 2010 as a developer to reinvent Barbie. The previous game had been published by Activision and sold a total of 120,000 units — some really abysmal number. As a developer, it sounds weird — we’re a bunch of guys, we went in, we talked about Barbie and said, “Nobody’s really treating this with respect.” If you did a Barbie game that was really geared toward playability, the girl demographic and the fans and the things people like to do with Barbie, we think it would do much better. Fortunately, Mattel agreed with us and we came out with a title “Groom and Glam Pups.” That title’s gone on to sell more than 1.5 million units. When you go back-to-back with a game that’s previously come out and then a new one where we got to go reinvent the model, have some fun with it and make a real game for that IP, we take that very seriously. I think the numbers showed, literally, a ten times increase. The fans liked the game and engaged with that sort of thing.
With “Skulltimate Roller Maze,” we were able to go in as a publisher and we integrated heavily with the [Monster High] brand team. “Skulltimate” is a game that was in the “Monster High” IP. When you watch the show — there’s a new film coming out in March called “Friday Night Frights” and in the movie, they play the “Skulltimate Roller Maze” game. So this was a great opportunity to take that game, make it a real video game and let girls play it. That whole story, I think, is really all about where Little Orbit’s at as a publisher.
“Young Justice” is an ambitious project for us. It’s our first 360 title, it’s our first PS3 title, it’s our first network multiplay — it’s really important for us to get this right. We want to send a message to fans: we’re not here just to shell out crap or turn over projects. We don’t do a lot of projects every year. I think we have 4 projects on the slate for 2013. We’re not EA or Activision or anything super large. In this market, where there’s so much doom and gloom about retail publishing, we’re embracing it. We’re a retail publisher, we do licensed properties and we love to believe we do them right. We treat the fans with respect, we treat the IP with respect, we go with our best ideas and we do the best we can.
When can fans expect more information about “Young Justice: Legacy’s” release? You’ve updated Facebook pretty frequently, but the game’s official website stopped posting any major updates in October.
I think we had a wave of all new screenshots go up on the official site, and we’ve put the teaser trailer up on the official site, so I think it has had updates since October, but you’re right. Really, Facebook is the place we’re trying to communicate directly with the fans, we’re trying to give them more periodic updates. It’s easier for us to go and put information up on the weekends or as the show’s continuing to air without giving away spoilers. We have to be conscious that the show is still revealing things about this season. That’s definitely the place we’ll talk about the release dates. If nothing else, we’re honest and not everyone’s going to be happy to hear the game’s going to be pushed out from February, but it’s where we’ve had our consumer conversation. It’s where we hope to keep that dialogue going with everybody.
What else is in store for Little Orbit moving forward?
There’s more coming. We have some great stuff planned for late 2013, so all I can say is keep your eyes peeled. We’ve got a wave of announcements coming up about really cool, very special projects to us. These are near and dear to our hearts, so there’s more coming.
“Young Justice: Legacy” is slated for a 2013 release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.