Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are like Savoir Faire-they're everywhere. Whether it's comic books, movies, television or games, one of the most prolific writing teams in all media is there. The spectrum of properties they've worked with is extremely varied as well, from "Jonah Hex" to "Shanna the She-Devil" to "Speed Racer."
So it should have surprised no one when it was announced that the guys writing the story behind Midway's new "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe" game were none other than Palmiotti and Gray. The game hit shelves November 16 and has been well received by both critics and fans. CBR News was able to corral the dynamic duo of writers for a conversation about "MK vs. DC," the art of writing for games, and what else they've been working on.
CBR: How did you become involved with "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe?"
Jimmy Palmiotti: DC Comics and Midway Games did a deal to do a company crossover and both DC and Midway felt they should get some people on the project that were familiar with not only writing games but with the history of the DC characters, so we got the call to fly out to the Midway offices in Chicago and meet with the legendary [Mortal Kombat creator] Ed Boon and his crew. From there, we dug in and worked on the project for a few months till we felt we have covered all the ground that was needed to make sure the spine of the game was a workable one on all the different levels involved. The rest, hopefully, will be video game history.
Did you consider it a personal challenge that many people assumed the story for "MK vs. DC" couldn't possibly be good?
JP: Well, yes I did, mainly because its fun to show people that always assume the worst that they are wrong over and over again. But past that little fun feeling, all we ever care about is that the game is the best thing we can create and involves the players so much that they never will put it down.
Justin Gray: I felt the opposite, actually. I expect negativity to come pouring through the Internet every second of every day, but until you play the game you can't make an informed opinion. We had an obligation to make the game enjoyable for DCU fans and I think we did that.
JP: Personally, I think its one of the best fight games on the market and just the plain number of people already signed up to play it live is pretty amazing. I got friends that actually turned the battles into a drinking game challenge. I love that people are having so much fun with it.
In terms of story, the trailers and previews for "MK vs. DC" showed the MK and DC worlds merging together and each side needing to fight for the survival of their planet. For people who haven't checked out the game yet, what else can you tell them about the plot?
JP: Two worlds collide and two villains merge and chaos is everywhere. There is so much going on, I really don't know how to begin... Justin?
JG: I don't think I'm spoiling it at this point to say there's a logical mash up of these two universes and you see surprising similarities between the two. A battle with Darkseid and a Boom Tube accident causes the merger of realities.
How much freedom were you given to take the core concept of the game and run with it?
JP: Plenty, and that was one of the most fun parts of working on the project. Everything had to be cleared by each company, and at the point of writing it and working with the whole crew on the spine of the story, the approvals came fast and furious and I personally was shocked how much we got away with. Anyone that has already walked through the game already knows what I am talking about.
JG: Ed wanted us to bring authentic DCU flavor to the game and he placed his trust in us, as did Warner Bros. and DC. At the end of the day, you realize you're making this game for fans and we were given enough freedom to focus on that.
Did you help determine the roster of DC characters for the game?
JP: They were figured out beforehand and we were given them and extras to work with. Had we had the chance to do it, it would have featured Jonah Hex, Terra, Power Girl, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I am sure you can figure out why. We think the decisions made on who is in the game makes a lot of sense on every level.
JG: Yeah, we offered a few suggestions, but the structure of characters was already in place.
How about Brutalities and Fatalities? Did you get to script any of the finishing moves for the DC characters?
JP: Actually, that was not part of our job, except to make sure they made sense with the characters' powers and personalities.
JG: That's all the realm of the amazing programmers and game architects.
Was there anyone or anything you wanted to see in the game that didn't make the cut?
JP: Justin and I came up with a Joker driving section that resembled "Death Race 2000," but in the end, most of everything we wanted was given to us and what you see on screen is a lot of our own personal wish lists. Honestly, if this game does well and sets the charts ablaze, I have a personal wish list all ready to go on which characters would be featured in the next one. I would love to see Lobo, Hawkgirl, Power Girl, and a few others kicking some ass.
JG: I think Hawkman would have been an awesome choice with the weapons and wings combination.
As the two of you worked on this project, did you tackle all of the story and characters together, or do you each tackle separate aspects?
JP: We work together and we worked with the Midway people and the Warner people at different times. Writing something like this involves a lot of layers that most people will never know about, and really, most people won't care about. Everyone involved was able to work on making this the best game they could and had a voice at all times to contribute.
JG: The whole project was collaborative as it should be, the interests of both Midway and DC were involved and, again, we aimed our sights on gameplay excitement for fans and people that may not have ever played this kind of game before.
Having written for both comics and games, how do the two genres relate in terms of structure, quantity of work, etc?
JG: Different in so many ways, and especially on a game like this where there are two different licensed characters interacting. With even the busiest of comics, there is a simple format to follow and a finite amount of pages to deal with. With the game, there are a ton of levels, battles and boss battles, cut aways; and since this is a game, there are things to take in consideration with the skill levels of the people playing the game. Writing a game like this is an involved process that can take up to a year to do sometimes, where a comic can usually be written in a week or two, and so on. I personally think the differences are huge and again, you need to have knowledge of what goes into a video game to make it work. I don't suggest on any level it's an easy thing to jump into if you can write comics, but the great thing about the experience of writing characters is that we get into the personalities.
Being gamers yourselves, were you fans of the Mortal Kombat franchise before? Which characters were your favorites?
JP: Yeah, I have all the MK past games and I remember playing the first in the arcade. There is a lot of history to the MK franchise and what's cool is they keep things fresh and groundbreaking each and every time out of the gate. Scorpion has always been one of my favorite characters and I got to work on him in this game. That's a pretty cool thing.
JG: I always liked Raiden. Hitting people with lightning is a power I'd like to have in real life.
Were you able to play the game throughout the development process?
JP: Actually, not so much till they had stuff in place for the premiere party of the game at the San Diego comic con. I got to spend a few hours messing around, and then when the event opened up I started challenging some reporters and guests and then the place became like a digital fight club, everyone there challenging each other. It's funny when you mix booze and video games. I was especially happy seeing people watching the players like a spectator sport.
In addition to "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe," you've also recently written the animated movie for EA's "Dead Space." What other game-related projects are you working on now?
JP: The "Deadspace: Downfall" movie was a pretty awesome thing to be working on, and if you play the game at all, you really understand how cool and important this project was. Justin just did some additional dialogue for a game coming out next year and also worked on the comic book-tie in, but by contract we cannot talk about it right now. We have been in talks with a major company about another project, but until the next gig, we are doing some consulting work. That, the screenwriting and the monthly comics are enough to keep anyone from catching any sleep, and I couldn't be happier about it.
JG: Jimmy answered that exactly, but what some publishers are becoming aware of rather quickly is that the gaming industry is limitless with a much larger audience. Just look at the "Gears of War" comic, it shows you that these kinds of multi-media campaigns are brilliant when you have the right product to back.
"Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe" is available now for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.