Do you think "Identity Crisis" would have been as big as a problem if you were in charge of the JLA? Think you can do a better job saving the world than the heroes of "Justice League Unlimited?" Well this Fall, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Snowblind Studios will give you a chance to take command of the members of DC Comics' premier super team with the release of "Justice League Heroes" a new video game being release for all major gaming consoles. CBR News spoke with Jason Ades, producer of "Justice League Heroes," about the game.
The seeds for "Justice League Heroes" were planted five years ago when Ades sat down and played the first console game entry in a hugely popular fantasy adventure series. "In the winter of 2001 I played 'Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance' and was hooked," Ades told CBR News. "All I could talk about around the office was this game. I remember internal discussions at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE) about how that style of gameplay would be a great compliment to the Justice League franchise. At the time, the Justice League brand was tied up with another publisher. Almost three years after 'Dark Alliance,' JLA emerged once again. After the previous Justice League game was killed, a series of fortunate events led to us to collaborating with Snowblind Studios. WBIE and DC Comics led the charge to get the game green lit. And that made me the luckiest producer on the planet."
Once "JLH" was green lit and Ades became the luckiest producer on the planet, he had the difficult task of deciding which members of the League would be playable characters in the game. "Some of the playable characters in 'JLH' came easy," Ades said. "Obviously we needed the big three. Everyone has been waiting to play Batman and Superman side by side. And of course there is no Justice League without Wonder Woman. Martian Manhunter was an easy choice since he is the backbone of the league. Flash and Green Lantern were no-brainers as well. We spent a great deal of time discussing our seventh playable hero. We wanted another strong woman in our group. Ultimately we decided upon Zatanna. First, she was a powerful magician and Snowblind has a great track record with creating incredible magical/particle effects on their engine. Second, she was beginning to pick up steam in the DC Universe. Since she had played such an integral
role in 'Identity Crisis,' we felt it was her time. Since our announcement of the heroes, it's been interesting watching the boards. Fans of the comics love Zatanna, but still miss Black Canary. Fans of the animated series want to know where Hawkgirl is. I love the passion of comic fans. I grew up with these heroes and you can only imagine the internal struggles while forming the team!
"The playable characters are dictated both by story and choice," Ades stated. "The first several episodes have players playing each of the seven main heroes. As the story progresses, the mission structures open up to allow players to choose their teams. We chose this style for a few reasons. First, it's a Justice League game and not a Batman or Superman game. We want to encourage people to experience all of our heroes. Second, by having characters selected based on the story, it allows for very specific experiences. You will fight in boss battles where the enemy speaks directly to the characters. So, if there is a history between the enemy and the hero, you can feel it. It adds a layer of detail that you can't get if you have to keep the encounters generic."
Since they were crafting a game featuring some of the world' most recognizable superheroes Ades and his team knew that "Justice League Heroes" couldn't be another generic action game. They worked hard to incorporate what they felt were the most important elements of the Justice League comics into the game - a sense of character. "Through faithfulness of character, we were able to establish a true sense of the Justice League Team and what they can accomplish together," explained Ades. "We put a great deal of emphasis on the uniqueness of each superhero and their powers in order to capture the feel of playing a Justice League game. These characters accomplish amazing feats, and this has to translate on a screen. Each super power not only had to be iconic and true to the character, but it also had to have an impact on the gameplay. For example, when playing with Batman and Superman together you quickly learn that Batman's Flash Bang will stun a large group of enemies leaving them prone to attack. This creates an opportunity for Superman to level the playing field with a Flying Strike. Or, if Flash was teamed up with Batman, he can now use his Pinball Attack or Whirlwind to take out the hapless enemies. The powers encourage players to work as a team. The same can be said for Superman using his Freezing Breath on a Robot Sentry only to be shattered by Batman using a martial arts kick or Wonder Woman using her Tiara.
"It's also important to note that each of our seven main heroes has their own unique set of animations and fighting styles," Ades continued. "While Batman has a whole slew of martial arts maneuvers, Superman is a straight forward brawler. Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter can pick up cars and
use them as fly swatters. Or they can fly in the air with them and throw them at hordes of enemies. They can also uproot lamp posts and trees and use them as baseball bats. Zatanna, Flash and Batman don't have that kind of strength so they must rely on their other abilities. The Flash can vibrate through enemies and objects causing devastation in his wake. Zatanna can slow time, heal teammates and turn enemies into rabbits. When you team up Zatanna with Flash, you get a devastating team. Zatanna can stop time while Flash throws flurries of punches in Super Speed. Flash is more prone to melee attacks when enemies connect with him, however, with Zatanna there to heal him he is an unstoppable wrecking machine."
Ades and company knew they had to craft a story that not only allowed the players to become unstoppable wrecking machines by showing off with the JLH's powers, but be compelling on its own. "Snowblind Studios and our game writer, Dwayne McDuffie, collaborated on what I would call an ideal video game superhero story, complete with megalomaniacal villains and exciting twists and turns," Ades stated. "When we began the project I was insistent of having absolutely no text boxes. We were aiming to create a more action driven game and didn't like the idea of stopping the action for three novels worth of text. Instead, we wanted the story to unfold via in-game banter and quick, succinct cut-scenes. Somehow, the characters still needed to develop and relationships would have to be forged within these parameters. So, being that animated shows like 'Justice League Unlimited' have very active story telling, Dwayne was the perfect fit. Basically Dwayne had written a 'JLU' episode where he turned the entire DC Universe upside down, spun it into a pretzel and somehow managed to put it all back together again. Three weeks later, Dwayne was writing 'Justice League Heroes.'
"All I can really say about the story is that you can expect plenty of exciting villains including Gorilla Grodd, Queen Bee, Killer Frost, The Key, Doomsday and Brainiac," Ades continued. "You can also expect a few surprises."
Players shouldn't be surprised to find these villains plus hordes of their underling standing in the way of the Justice League and victory. "You can expect plenty of minions," Ades explained. "Grodd has his Gorilla Troopers. Queen Bee has her Drone Slaves. Killer Frost has her own pets of course. And Brainiac… well, what can't a 12th level intelligence do?
"Since the game has some Role Playing Game (RPG) elements, it's important for the player to feel like they are becoming more powerful throughout," Ades continued. "Therefore we have some enemies that make appearances throughout the game. These enemies always have the same difficulty. In the beginning they will feel difficult. By the end you'll be blowing through them."
The action in "JLH" will be fast and furious, but it won't always involve blowing through waves of supervillains and their henchmen. "I would classify 'Justice League Heroes' as a progressive action game with RPG-style customization," Ades explained. "There are times where you will battle wave after wave of enemies. There is some puzzle solving and a few mini-games (related to the puzzle solving elements). We have a few levels of difficulty so the game will be as challenging as you can handle."
One of the features that will help players handle the variety of challenges in "JLH" is the ability to customize their characters super abilities. "Each hero has their own unique set of super powers which you can 'level up' throughout the course of gameplay," Ades explained. "So, for Batman, depending on your play style, you can level up your Batarang, Flash Bang, Bat Swarm, Grapnel, etc. Once you have leveled up your power, you can choose to add various boosts (tokens you collect throughout the course of gameplay) to them which will give your powers additional properties. You can add a damage boost to your Flash Bang which can make it cause more damage. Or you can add a luck boost which increases the chance of a critical strike with that power. You can add up to five boosts with each fully leveled Super Power. So, if you are playing with Green Lantern and you want to play him as a more defensive character, you can add five duration boosts to your 5th level Detainment Super Power. This will allow you to detain multiple enemies up to five times longer than normal. While the enemies are detained you can use your 5th level Sledgehammer (complete with 5 damage boosts) to finish off the enemies. Wow, that felt very 20 sided die of me. Yikes!"
Some people might be wondering with a host of powerful customizable super powers available to the other league members, why would they want to play "Justice League Heroes" as a non-powered human like Batman? "If you are a fan of gadgets and martial arts, you will want to play as Batman," Ades said. "His brains and skills make everyone around him a better fighter. Batman has the ability to cripple his foes and make them vulnerable to larger attacks by using his gadgets. He is also a precision specialist capable of doing more critical strikes than other heroes. While Superman can send a foe flying off the screen, Batman can take him out just as quickly with a well placed kick. People will also have a great time upgrading Batman's gadgets. It's really fun to throw five electro-Batarangs at once. However, I think the scene stealer Batman power will be his Batswarm."
When unleashing customizable powers like Batswarm or Sledghammerr, players will always have another team mate to fight along side with them in "Justice League Heroes," regardless of whether they're playing a single player or 2 player co-operative game. "When you play a single player game you have the player you are controlling and a bot/computer controlled character," Ades explained. "You can set the AI of your teammate on the fly between Aggressive, Defensive and Balanced. Also, you can swap between your heroes at will. In fact, you will need to swap between heroes in order to maximize your efforts and solve puzzles.
"A player can play 'JLH' and not use a lot of teamwork, but it wouldn't be as rewarding an experience," Ades continued. "But if you learn how to work together the results will be much more favorable. There are a number of puzzles in the game which require teamwork. The other day Andrew, Ricky (my production assistants) and I were testing the missile base level with Wonder Woman and Zatanna. There is a section where three massive cannons barrage the player with unstoppable gunfire and it seemed almost impossible to pass. Andrew, playing as Wonder Woman finally figured out that if he used his bracelets to deflect and distract the cannons, Ricky (playing as Zatanna) could get close enough to unleash a bunch of Fireballs and pick off the cannons one by one. So, in a nutshell, it's not just the iconic powers that make this a Justice League game, it's using them together that sets this game apart."
In "Justice League Heroes," players will be using their iconic powers together in some of the DC Universe's most interesting locales. "'Justice League Heroes' will take players from the streets of Metropolis to the surface of Mars," Ades said. "You will get to explore Alternate Dimensions, Outer Space and many other locations."
Players will journey across many exotic and exciting locations in "Justice League Heroes," but the action is set entirely in the present. However, Ades is considering letting players explore the past and the present of the DCU in future installments. "It would be a blast to mess around with the fabric of time," he said. "I'm making some notes for the sequel."
"Justice League Heroes" doesn't have online play, but it does have plenty of fun features that will keep players occupied until a sequel is released. "With the launch of the 360 and the upcoming PS3, we felt that online play didn't make sense as an end of cycle launch," Ades explained. "Instead we wanted to put all those resources on making the core game as polished and balanced as possible. We decided to step up the action side of the game more than any previous Snowblind games and that required additional resources on programming unique super powers, boss battles and enemy AI instead. We also have created a number of unlockable missions, characters and costumes. Many of the costumes are entirely new models. There is also an additional mode of gameplay that I think fans will enjoy. But I can't talk about it quite yet."
The characters in "JLH" all talk and the voice talent for the game was selected with great care. "Brigitte Burdine (our Casting Director) and me spent weeks reviewing demos and auditions," Ades stated. "We also held a lot of callbacks. It's a huge responsibility bringing icons to life. We were more concerned about the right performance over anything else. I think Batman and Superman were the most challenging characters to cast. Everyone has a voice in their head as to what Batman should sound like. And it's usually Kevin Conroy or Christian Bale. Since we were wiping the slate clean for this game I had the task of finding the right voice and performance which could both match people's expectations as well as bring something new to the role. Ron Perlman as Batman was perfect. I remember watching 'Teen Titans' and listening to Slade and thinking, this guy would be the perfect Batman. Well, that and the fact that he's great in everything he does. Crispin Freeman was a wonderful surprise. He came in and gave an amazing audition as Martian Manhunter. During the callback we asked him to read for Superman. We were getting down to the wire and I wasn't completely sold on any of the auditions yet. Well, Crispin did his audition and was exactly what I was hoping for. Then I had the tough decision of deciding whether to cast him as Manhunter or Superman. Fortunately, there was another great performance for Martian Manhunter that we loved, and that was Daniel Riordan."
Ades and his staff knew that with "Justice League Heroes" they were dealing with some of the world's greatest heroes and they wanted to create a game worthy of their protagonists. "I think the most difficult aspect of working on 'JLH' is simply the fact that you are working with a property that millions of people revere (me included)," he explained. "You want to do justice to the League. Anything less is unforgivable. Fortunately, Snowblind knows a thing or two about making great games."