Next week, Ghost Rider blazes his way onto the big screen, but fans of Marvel Comics' Spirit of Vengeance don't even have to wait that long to see him in action. Hitting stores this week is a new "Ghost Rider" video game for the PlayStation 2 and PSP, which allows fans to take control of Johnny Blaze's fiery alter ego. CBR News spoke with Mark Simmons, the game director on "Ghost Rider," about the game.
It wasn't very difficult for Simmons and the developers of "Ghost Rider" to turn the Spirit of Vengeance's adventures into a video game. "Ghost Rider is an awesome character for a video game," Simmons told CBR News. "In the comics he likes to roam from place to place hammering the hell out of those he seeks vengeance against before driving to the next location for his next brawl. A flaming head, a flaming chain, and a flaming Chopper from Hell, it doesn't get much better than that in video games."
"Ghost Rider" the game is similar to "The Punisher" video game from a few years back in that its story combines elements from both the silver screen and four color incarnations of Ghost Rider. It's also similar in that the game's story was also penned by the scribes who wrote the story for Frank Castle's last video game outing. "The story in the game is a totally fresh script developed by Garth Ennis ('Punisher,' 'Preacher,') and Jimmy Palmiotti ('Hawkman,' 'Punisher') which follows on from the movie," Simmons explained. "Sony Pictures gave us the movie script at the very beginning of the project so we were able to use it as the basis for our script to continue on from. We wanted the game to be 'for the fans' so we took the opportunity (with Marvel's permission) to weave in loads of key characters from the original comics series.
"We worked very closely with both Garth and Jimmy and Sony Pictures who provided the script from the movie," Simmons continued. "Initially we went out to New York to go over the plans over the initial week, and in all we spent about a month to'ing and fro'ing to get the final script for the story in-game. Garth and Jimmy had a lot of freedom over the script itself, with us helping to fit the script around the game's structure."
Simmons couldn't get too concrete with details about Ennis and Palmiotti's story. "Ghostie's daytime alter ego is taken from hell to the edge of apocalypse and back again to the tip of purest serenity in this game," he said. "I'm not giving anything more away about the story than that."
The exact details of the story in the "Ghost Rider" game may be secret, but one thing is certain, when players take charge of the Spirit of Vengeance it will be to deliver a beat down to evil doers or perform mind-blowing stunts. "'Ghost Rider' is a pure adrenaline-fueled beat-em-up with fast-paced bike sections to break up the pace of the gameplay," Simmons explained. "We've spent the vast majority of the development timeframe on the combat system and Ghostie's massive array of moves. We wanted to get something that was extremely responsive, so every time the user presses the button we want something to happen immediately. I'm pleased with the results; we've achieved a highly tuned combat system which provides great 'in the zone' moments that really get your heart pumping."
Ghost Rider will have a variety of ways to punish the hordes of enemies he encounters in the game. "Ghost Rider has over 40 moves on foot, as well as a whole series of special moves including custom grab moves on all the enemies and his legendary 'Penance Stare,'" Simmons said. "To perform a Penance Stare you must first activate 'Retribution'. During Retribution, the whole world turns devil red and is affected by cool full-screen special effects signifying Ghostie's inner rage coming out. To activate Retribution, the player must build up his Retribution gauge enough by pulling off stylish combat or taking loads of damage (to help the less adept players). When in Retribution the whole game is in 'turbo mode' and he's doing quad damage which is a great way of clearing enemies. Also, during Retribution he can do a Penance Stare on any victims nearby. Doing a Penance Stare clears the Penance gauge completely so it isn't the best thing if you wanted to use it to get out of a tough situation against a horde of enemies; but 'the stare' does suck extreme amounts of souls from a single enemy, which allows the player to unlock more stuff in the upgrade shop."
In the video game, when Ghost Rider isn't dispensing vengeance on foot he's riding hell-bent for leather on his signature flaming chopper. "The bike driving levels are separate from the on-foot combat," Simmons stated. "There are end-level bonuses for completing each level and these tie closely into the gameplay, so in bike sections you get bonuses for killing lots of enemies, crashing less, and doing it all in quick time. On foot levels you are rewarded for fighting stylishly, clearing enemies quickly, and taking little damage through defending responsively. You're rated on each aspect of gameplay and good ratings give you more cool unlockables and upgrades to your character or bike."
Ghost Rider might not be as flashy with his chain on his bike, but he's still capable of pulling off some spectacular and deadly maneuvers with his ride. "On bike his chain combat is limited, as driving and fighting at the same time is a lot to think about, so it's more about getting your speed and position right, as opposed to choosing the right combo," Simmons said. "The bike has lots of abilities of its own that you unlock as you go through the game such as rocket jump, double jump, boost, riding on water, and power-down.
"The power-down move is where Ghostie slides his chopper sideways, cutting down groups of enemies or to slide under things like trucks," Simmons continued. "Often you have to combine power-down with rocket jumps in the more platform-y sections of bike gameplay to get through the tough obstacles."
In "Ghost Rider" the video game players will be fighting and driving their way through a host of the Spirit of Vengeance's toughest enemies. "The main villain is the final boss so we don't want to give that away however it is a main player in both the comic series and the film," Simmons explained. "The other bosses are taken from key battles Ghostie's had in the comics, such as Vengeance, Lilith, Scarecrow, and Blackout. Any self-respecting Ghost Rider fan will know who they are. None of the characters reappear multiple times as we wanted to get in as many as possible for the fans of the series."
When he's not going toe-to-toe or wheel-to-toe with the game's boss characters, Ghost Rider will be dealing with hordes of their minions, which will also be familiar to fans of the Spirit of Vengeance. "These are all based on characters from the comic book series," Simmons stated. "We've got loads including Death Watch's Ninjas, Muck Monster, Lilin Scythe Beast (Lilith's Minions) and Scarecrow's Crows."
Ghost Rider encounters these villains as he fights and drives his way through a number of recognizable locales. "There are five chapters in the game with six levels each," Simmons explained. "Each chapter is in a different locale, some locales taken from the film such as Quentin Carnival (although we've torn it up completely as the game nears apocalypse) which we've recreated using reference we captured on a visit to the film set; while other locals come from the comics, like the Military Base that's been overrun by Death Watch's ninjas."
Players of "Ghost Rider" will be given a brief respite from the intense fighting and hard driving action in-between levels as the game's cut-scenes unfold. "The cut-scenes in the game appear at the start and end of the levels and act as natural book-ends to the structure of the game," Simmons said. "Marvel wanted to stay true to the comics so they pushed for a comic book style. They are very stylized and we're happy that they convey the script from Garth and Jimmy in a way that really suits the game."
Since players of "Ghost Rider" play the entire game as Johnny Blaze's skull-faced alter ego, Simmons and his team wanted to make sure they provided an appropriate and chilling sounding voice for the game's title character. "The film actually combined the voice of Nick Cage and another voice actor, and we combined Nick's official sound-a-like with the actual guy they used in the film for the deeper voice," Simmons stated. "Using reference from the film, we combined the two voices, added some effects and some subtle animal noises to get something that both sounds really cool and matches Ghostie's voice in the film."
When a player successfully makes their way to the end of "Ghost Rider," the thrills don't end; new opportunities for furious fighting and hard driving action open up. "On completion of the game you unlock another Marvel hero who has his own gameplay and move set," Simmons said. "You can unlock Vengeance, Ghost Rider Classic (his spandex comic book version), and Ghost Rider 2099 (a terminator version of Ghost Rider that's featured in one of the issues)."
New characters aren't the only things for players of "Ghost Rider" to discover. "There are loads of unlockables: the characters mentioned above; over 150 pages of comic to read on the in game viewer; all the concept artwork from the game's development; photos taken from the movie set; movies from the developers; fun cheats such as 'turbo mode' and 'one hit kill'; and an 'extreme' difficulty level," Simmons explained. "You must complete the game to unlock the other Marvel hero and complete the game on 'Extreme' to get 2099. The other Marvel hero has all his own moves, a completely different style of combat, and instead of putting his head into flames to gain health as Ghostie does, he bites his enemies. You have to clear enough space to bite an enemy to gain health. He has his own chopper, too. The game's a lot harder as this other character, as it's been tuned for the players who have completed the game already."
Simmons and his team were aware that when it comes to video games, comic book characters have a mixed record at best; so they worked extra hard to make "Ghost Rider" something special. "We wanted to break the recent mould of mediocre super hero games with 'Ghost Rider' and put a game out that has a feeling of polish and focus," Simmons said. "We've honed the development on doing a few things really well so we hope we've achieved our goal, and that the faith in comic-book superheroes in film and video games will be restored."
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