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X-Men Origins: Wolverine Dan Vondrack Interview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 08:43pm 16/04/09 | Comments
AusGamers was given a chance to catch up with X-Men Origins: Wolverine Project Lead, Dan Vondrak over the phone this week to grill him about the upcoming release of Raven's take on the solo Wolverine experience. As hardcore fans, we also made sure to ask the right questions, but we walked away from this one with a renewed sense of hope for Wolverine to be an awesome game...

AusGamers: Hey Dan, let's get right into it. Can you tell us what your goals with this title were from the outset and just how much access did you have to the movie, Hugh Jackman and Marvel?

Dan Vondrak: It kind of really just started as a passion project for us. We'd heard Activision were interested in making a Wolverine game but we didn't know if it was tied to the movie, the comics or what and of course every Wolverine game so far has been crap so a lot of us weren't even sure if we wanted to touch but, but we sort of took the approach of saying "well screw that! Let's see if we can make the best Wolverine game ever" and looked at what hadn't been done properly in the games before; how they [the games] didn't capture the character, how they didn't make you feel as though you were playing as Wolverine. So that was pretty much our goal from the top – to make the Wolverine game that no one's ever made before.

Then once the Fox guys came onboard we were, like, "that's cool you guys make the movie, we'll make the game" but we made sure they knew we weren't going to censor it, we still really wanted this to be a brutal, visceral game and that's kind of how the license came about.

And then from there we just started feeding each other, you know, we were getting screenplay updates every day and then when they were shooting we were getting shots from the movie every day and if anything they were doing worked with the game, we added it. And actually we went out to Australia last May and watched them film some of the scenes with Creed and Gambit and got to met Hugh Jackman which was really cool. And while we were there we did all the voices and Hugh came in and was just awesome, you know, most of the actors come in and they don't want to do a lot of the rough screaming and yelling (they don't want to ruin their voices), but Hugh just kept doing take after take until we were happy with it and he was happy with it, and so yeah, that was awesome.

AGN: Awesome. So did you guys use much source material not related to the movie or the X-Men: Origins series? I mean the Origins stuff is sort of a retelling, and you mentioned you wanted the game to be brutal - did you look at Weapon X at all? That's one of the most highly regarded stories in the Wolverine universe and it's incredibly brutal...

Dan: Yeah for sure. We looked at Origins and I guess, as you said, it's a bit of a retelling so we did have a lot of conflicting feelings about it, you know the Wolverine we grew up with had been retold but there were definitely parts of it we liked. So we took a little from both; the Barry Windsor Smith Weapon X is what we used as our basis to relay who this guy was – you know, let's make a Wolverine before he never went to Japan, never got the training and never got domesticated by the X-Men – this is like that beast that was lurking inside and was just killing and slaughtering those guards and nobody really knew who he was.

So then the stuff we took from Origins was a lot of story involving him [Wolverine] and Creed, you know the relationship with Sabretooth was important and good so we used that.

AGN: Did you find Marvel difficult to deal with in maintaining the aforementioned brutality? It's one thing to have a book like Weapon X already out in the market and much loved by older fans and another to create a viable product in this videogame that will need to sell in the market. And as you say, Wolverine game – even other comic book games in general – tend to fall by the wayside because they're being pitched to the younger crowd. So how hard was it for you guys to come in and say "this is what we're doing and this is how it has to be because it hasn't been done this way before"?

Dan: Well I think what really helped us were a few factors – One: No one had ever really captured Wolverine in a game before, and Two: We had a lot of experience with Marvel games having worked on Marvel Ultimate Alliance I and II and whatever, so we already had a strong relationship with them, and we said to them the same thing we said to Activision and that was "you know what guys, this is going to be a little bit scary for you but what we'd love to do is make Wolverine THE Wolverine – the guys from the comics. And you know what, to Marvel's credit, right from the outset they were all about it. And they loved the idea of doing a mature game, so they sent us a bunch of images, like, 200 images from a ton of comics and in these images Wolverine was running around with bullet holes in him and their only stipulation was that if we had anything like that, we had to have his body regenerating any torn off flesh or skin, so we rewrote out skeletal code to do that.

AGN: So did you guys create your own tech for this, or did you use existing middleware?

Dan: We used Unreal 3.0. You know, we'd seen Gears of War come out and now we're using the engine for our own IP Singularity, and we saw what that team were experimenting with, you know it has these great shaders and the materials system, and we saw that and what else they were experimenting with it with and just knew it was what we'd need to use to get the regeneration system working to fully recreate Wolverine, so we just jumped at it.

AGN: So how long have you guys been working on this?

Dan: It's been a little over two and a half years. And you know the funny thing about that originally this movie, as far as we knew, was gonna come out May 2008, so we'd been working to that deadline and then in November/December of 2007 the word came down the movie had been pushed back and suddenly we had, like, a whole year – which never happens in development. So we're sitting there with a 90 percent finished game and a whole year up our sleeves, so that's when we went back through and added more to the Sentinal boss battle and got rid of all the quick time events (QTE) and made them huge and cinematic and stuff like that.

AGN: You got rid of the QTEs?

Dan: Yeah 100 percent! You know we'd originally had, like, a year and a half to put this thing together and we never really felt like the QTEs fit. And so when the opportunity to polish the cinematic fight events came up, we just thought it would be better. Because the action flows so well from one move to another and you're watching this insane sequence then all of a sudden your 10 feet up in the air and forced to push a bunch of buttons, and so we just thought this stuff never felt right but we never had enough time to take them out but once that extension came through, they were the first thing to go.

AGN: That's awesome! So did you guys only have Hugh come in and do voices? Or did you manage to grab the whole cast?

Dan: Yeah we had Hugh come in and Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth) and Will-I-Am came in and did John Wraith, and they all even through the full 3D bio scan and body scan so we managed to get them really looking like they should – the likeness of them in the game is pretty accurate.

AGN: All of this is sounding really good Dan, but no matter what you say, because of this style of game's track record people are always going to be dubious – how do you pitch this to the number one Wolverine fan out there?

Dan: First of all our combat is a big element. We spent months and months tailoring it to how you'd play as Wolverine: The Speed, the smoothness and the responsiveness of Wolverine are all there. We didn't just take this as a project to slap a big name title on, we came at this with a goal to create one of the best action games of all time – it doesn't matter if it's Wolverine or not, if this guy has claws the action is going to play fantastically.

A lot of games just don't get combat, but we're really big fans of games like God of War, Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden – so this game is going to be all about speed because that's how Wolverine fights. And regeneration, we didn't want that to just be a gimmick – his shirt gets blown away, the skin, the muscle, all that sort of stuff. And that's why we went to such effort – the bulk of our guys were working on stuff like this to really make sure it was the Wolverine it should be.

And then attitude. You know, so many people just don't get how to give him attitude, whether it's a cool line or a funny line-you know I had it on my white board the whole time through the development process: "Do you feel like Wolverine?" And that's kind of the thing we kept at the forefront; if Wolverine is jumping at a truck, he needs to do it exactly the way he would. And so it really is a game being built by fans for fans.

AGN: So putting this together, did you sit down and just try and come up with the most ridiculous action sequences you could. Like, that helicopter section is nuts, and one of my favourite vids released so far...

Dan: Yeah, one of the things we did when compiling our list at the beginning of the development process of 'What would make the ultimate Wolverine game' was come up with the "unstoppable moment". What that is, are moments anyone would want to see Wolverine do like taking down 767 by jumping through one of the engines or surviving a nuclear blast – we had all these really crazy moments and how that helicopter sequence came about was we originally had one helicopter and then we kind of realised it's always just one helicopter, and Wolverine should be jumping on them, not it! And then months later we saw some footage from the Fox and they had Wolverine jumping onto helicopters and we were like, "holy shit! We had that idea months ago!" after that we kind of hoped they'd seen some of our game and it had inspired them.

And then the truck stuff, we were just looking through a level and we had these trucks just sitting stationary in a spillway and someone said "man, I wish I could ride that truck like Indiana Jones and jump from truck to truck" and so that's what inspired that and we sort of just did these fly-throughs of levels and looked for stuff that would make cool action sequences.

AGN: So later down the track how viable is Wolverine as a continued property? DLC is the 'in' thing these days, and you could pretty much continue to add to his life indefinitely, and are we looking at a strictly single-player game? Did you consider letting players use other characters?

Dan: Yeah, early on we'd actually toyed with letting people play as some of the other characters at different parts in different levels but then we just kind of threw it out. You know, it was a case of if Wolverine doesn't end up looking as good or playing as well as he should we're going to look back on wasted development time with these other characters, so we made a decision early on to just maintain a single focus on Wolverine.

As far as DLC is concerned, I'm of course not allowed to comment on it, but let me tell you we've had ideas going all over the board and everyone in the team would love to see the game expanded upon in new ways because now that we think we've nailed Wolverine and what he is, it's just a matter of expanding on that and introducing the player to other things.

AGN: So is there anything you left out of the game you wish you could have had in either due to license restrictions, time-frames etc?

Dan: Not really. I would have been saying yes if we didn't get that big extension, but apart from the other playable characters thing, which we weren't that sold on, we're pretty happy with how everything turned out. And looking back on it, we're not really sure how we would have handled additional playable characters - we looked at Dead Pool and another character who I probably shouldn't talk about so it is something I'd like to see, and it's something that could happen at a future point with this title or within a sequel.

AGN: Well I'm throwing my request hat in the ring - bring on Hulk! They just had that awesome Hulk Vs Wolverine movie and they have an awesome history...

Dan: (Laughs) that would be awesome. Okay, so that's one more vote for the Hulk, I'll chalk that one up on the board.

AGN: We'll hold you to that Dan, thanks heaps for your time dude, we're really looking forward to the game.

Dan: No problem man, my pleasure.