Kick-Ass Interview

BOOM widget 126039 Inspired by both the existing comic and the upcoming movie of the same name, Kick-Ass--the latest downloadable effort from Wisconsin-based Metalocalypse: Dethgame and Zombie Wranglers developer Frozen Codebase--is saddling an odd line.

On top of paying homage to both sources--"we go towards the movie story, but a lot of the artwork goes toward the comic book," studio president Ben Geisler tells us--the game, an action-RPG, is being made under a "pretty darn expedited" schedule, one that only started in September.

Luckily, the company already had a combat system for the action-RPG ready and Geisler, a veteran of Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, is no stranger to the realm of comics.

But this isn't a quickie one-off production, as the company is already planning a downloadable add-on--one that will hopefully hit within 45 days of launch--to bring online cooperative multiplayer, new missions and a new environment into the game (at launch, the game will have offline co-op, eight missions and three playable characters).

For more, including when it'll hit PlayStation 3 (April 15), how much it won't be ($20), why it's not on Xbox 360 (there are hopes), and what the iPhone version will be like (a twin-stick shooter)--not to mention some new screenshots--just keep on truckin'.

Shack: How long have you guys been working on Kick-Ass?

Ben Geisler: It's only been since, like, September. It's been an expedited [development] schedule. Technically, WHA Entertainment --the publishing group--they've been looking at doing it for the past year, ever since GDC of last year.

So it's been pretty darn expedited. But thankfully, we've got our codebase, which is kinda tailored towards a fighting system. With Metalocalypse, we created this generic sort-of fighting system for the Vicious Engine so that we can do fighting style games with proper timing between combos and chains.

When you talk about three-hit combos or ten-hit combos leading up to twenty different hit combinations in Metal, we can do that. That's a difference from Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass is more like three to five-hit combos.

We made [the codebase] generic, so that any fighting game we do, we can just use the same system.

Shack: That system got its start with Metalocalypse, not Zombie Wranglers?

Ben Geisler: We started [the system] way late in Zombie Wranglers production and really carried it forward through Metalocalypse, where it really got to its prime. We're basically a Vicious Engine house--most of what we do is in Vicious and now we're upgrading to Vicious Engine 2--but the thing about Vicious, it wasn't originally made to be a fighting-based engine. So we just saw that we needed to make some enhancements because this is the kind of stuff we like working on--fighting games, God of War-type stuff, but obviously for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade [downloads], so not God of War III or something.

Shack: Yeah, I don't see Kick-Ass getting nearly as much time as, say, God of War.

Ben Geisler: Exactly. That's the funny thing. We're going into our polish stage [on Kick-Ass] now, we're happy to have three or four weeks. Which is cool, because Zombie Wranglers never had that amount of time. I've got good hopes for Kick-Ass. It is just a downloadable title, but my take on it is that there's not enough fun co-op Diablo-style games.

You had Arkadian Warriors on XBLA, you have [some other games that folks play] with their friends sitting down, sort of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance style or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance style, just sitting down and beating on enemies and leveling up your character and fighting wave after wave. It's definitely something that we tried to do with Zombie Wranglers, and I think the most successful thing about that game was co-op.

When we looked at this game [Kick-Ass], it's like a chance to extend that, really just focus on what we thought was successful in [Zombie Wranglers] and what we thought was successful in Metalocalypse.

We've got a little more time to polish, but you know, Sony approval processes are what they are [laughs]. Actually, Sony's been really great, I have to say. We've loved working with them. It reminds me of the good old days of Xbox Live Arcade [on Xbox 360]. They're just so pro-active with the developers. They've got someone you can actually call up any time you want.

Shack: That leads to a question I had. Why just PlayStation Network for Kick-Ass? Why not Xbox Live Arcade?

Ben Geisler: That's a question we're asking, frankly [laughs]. Obviously, when you've got a codebase that supports everything from PS3, 360, Wii, I mean...

I guess the thing about it is, Sony's support is so great. And our publisher, WHA Entertainment, have been looking at it. It just really made sense with the marketing tie-ins with Lionsgate, and they were offering to help us out with PS Home, so that you'll be able to have Kick-Ass costumes and capes and clothes and Kick-Ass's bedroom, that kind of thing, in Home.

For a publisher, it makes sense. All this extra marketing is gonna help move the product, and that way we just focus on PS3. I think if we went multi [platform] launch, neither of the first-parties would have really given us that same level of support, theoretically.

There's no confirmation at this point of if it will come to XBLA. I kinda hope that some day it will.

Shack: The nice part about movie tie-ins is that there are two marketing pushes--one for the theatrical release, and one for the DVD/Blu-ray.

Ben Geisler: Yeah. That's my take. I'd love to see WHA say "Hey, we've got a DVD release coming up. Let's see what we can do with that."

We already know for sure that we're doing some downloadable content. Right now, there's [same couch] co-op, but not online multiplayer co-op. We're going to be releasing a title update for multiplayer, and with that we're going to give a bonus of a whole new environment, a few different missions hopefully tailored to mulitplayer gameplay.

With the target, we didn't have time to get the networking stuff up online. But we're hoping within 45 days of launch, we'll be able to have that available.

The iPhone Version

Shack: Switching gears to the iPhone, how do you co-develop a PlayStation 3 and iPhone game? You mentioned that you only have two teams, and only one of them is on Kick-Ass, and you're dealing with hardware that's basically on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Ben Geisler: [laughs] You're right, it's a huge spectrum. I guess the thing that's kind of cool is that, like, our iPhone team, some of them, sit in the same room as the PSN team. We've managed to have the lead PSN team designer spend some time with the iPhone guys, so that it's not a totally different game.

That said, we really felt that you can't take an action game and just say, okay, here's a God of War style ...I guess this is more of a Diablo style game [on PSN], you can't really do that well on iPhone--I don't think you can, at least.

It's a twin-stick shooter [on the iPhone,] but it does have a melee component in it, which is kinda unique. Even though Hit Girl, when you see the movie, she steals the show. She's like a kick-ass, no pun intended, has a huge arsenal of weapon-- shuriken, throwing knives, and just crazy amounts of ranged weapons. But obviously, for a Kick-Asss iPhone game, you can't just be ranged weapons.

Kick-Ass Movie Trailer: Meet Hit Girl (Warning: Strong Language) BOOM video 4144

We took the twin-stick shooter idea and said, "Well, what if it was a twin-stick shooter but there was also the ability to do melee combat?" That's kind of a new approach we're doing with the iPhone. That said, it can't be totally different [from the PlayStation 3 version]. So we said, okay. Dan Koppel, one of the Call of Duty designers originally, great guy, he had the time and I kinda said, "Hey Dan, sit with the iPhone team a few times a week, just make sure that the levels are consistent, the storyline is consistent." Even though the gameplay is different, at least you're going to see the same bosses.

In Kick-Ass, it's all about this drug trade and they're trying to stop it. Kick-Ass basically says he's had enough, he lives in New York City, and he's just had enough of the street violence. Takes to the streets, puts on a mask, and fights his way to the top. All of that is brought over to the iPhone. That's the consistency--outside of that, the games are very different.

We didn't want to just put ...I think a lot of games that go to iPhone are just ports and they're suffering frankly--they try to basically be a mini little PS3 game. But the games I've always played on iPhone have been custom-tailored for iPhone.

Shack: For me, it's the ones you can play for either two minutes or two hours.

Ben Geisler: Right, right. You look at something like Pocket God, and obviously we're not going to be as simplistic as that, but you want it to be such that you can pick it up and just play it.

With the PSN game, just by the nature of it, even if you wanted to just pick up and play, the investment's always going to be greater. In our [PSN] game, you really are leveling up a character, deciding "Okay, I want to put my ability points into strength or agility or whatever."

The twin-stick shooter, by nature of what it is, you just want to get in there and start shooting stuff. Tear through waves and waves of guys, not really have to worry about balancing out how many points you're going to put into strength and which character you're going to choose for the next mission. For me, that's the fun part of the Diablo-style games, but it's just a different kind of game.

We figured out where our iPhone talent was, and put them on that--sort of a subsection of the team at this point. Luckily, a lot of the art we were just able to down-rez. [Making a PlayStation 3 and iPhone game] isn't impossible to do, you have to be clever about it.

Hollywood vs. Comics vs. Games

Shack: What about the differences between the game, the comic and the movies? The ending of the comic's first volume wasn't exactly a Hollywood-style ending.

Ben Geisler: The thing about that, and I don't want to ruin the movie at all, but it really speaks between what they chose to do in the comics versus what the movie does. They show a slightly different direction. That's the other thing about our game, we chose yet another direction. So all three Kick-Ass products have a slightly different ending.

Shack: What does the game draw more heavily from, the comic or the movie?

Ben Geisler: We're kind of in the middle. I mean, we're using some clips--a very light amount--from the movie. We didn't want to just have a promo piece for the movie, so we're only using a few different clips. For the rest, we're using a lot of comic book stuff to tie together scenes. In fact, you can collect issues of Kick-Ass through the environment--like what we did when I was at Radical with Hulk: Ultimate Destruction where you could collect rare issues of Hulk--and read them.

Shack: Is the entire mini-series in there?

Ben Geisler: Right now, that's up for grabs yet. We're working with them to see which ones we're going to be allowed to show. There's definitely going to be some content, but not the full eight [issues].

Luckily, those guys have been really cool at working with us. Marvel, specifically, they've been just great at getting us content. For that reason, I think we bend a little bit more towards the comic books [in the game]. We started out as a movie-based game, and as we got along, we realized there's a lot of stuff we can use from the comics. We tend to be somewhere in the middle, but the storyline is more movie-based. The storyline is also its own thing too, that we wrote, and got approval from the guys.

Kick-Ass Movie Trailer (Warning: Mature Content) BOOM video 4143

We had to change it to make sense [for a game]. [The game] should be more about the action, which drug lord you're going up against, so we had to make some [new] storylines and veer off in certain directions. In most cases, we go towards the movie story, but a lot of the artwork goes toward the comic book.

Shack: Initially, the comic is all about a kid learning why there aren't any real-life super-heroes, as he gets his ass handed to him and then finally starts to beef up. Even as an action-RPG, that's got to be a difficult premise, at least from a design perspective.

Ben Geisler: At first, [the game is] obviously harder. As you go along, you get power upgrades, you get new moves, new animations, new ways of killing guys, better attacks. You can choose any one of the three characters [Kick-Ass, Hit Girl or Big Daddy] at any time, we didn't want to limit players to "Well, in the story, you're on the New York City [streets], so you can only play as Kick-Ass." We actually said screw it, if I was playing this, I'd rather be Hit Girl. We didn't want to limit people, we figured that gamers would be pissed if "Oh, I can only play Kick-Ass? But I loved Hit Girl in the movie, or Big Daddy."

As far as the story goes, yeah, Kick-Ass really gets beat down. I guess our answer to that was, I don't really have an interest in getting beat in a video game [laughs]. I didn't want it to be too hard. It is a little harder, at first, but it's certainly not going to be [like] you walk down the street and you just have no chance.

Release Details and ....Demo?

Shack: I know you're targeting to launch the game alongside the movie, but do you have a specific release date yet?

Ben Geisler: We're looking at the Thursday before the movie. The movie is [Friday] April 16, I believe, so that Thursday [April 15].

Shack: Any word on price?

Ben Geisler: WHA Entertainment hasn't released a price yet. But I can tell you that they definitely are not going to come out at $20.

Shack: What about a demo?

Ben Geisler: We're talking about doing a demo. Sony doesn't have a standard demo thing, like XBLA does. We have time built into the schedule to do it. I want people to buy the game because it's good, not because it's some Kick-Ass property.

We have time in the budget to make a demo, we're just figuring out how.

Shack: Thanks Ben.

Coming to the PlayStation 3 as a PlayStation Network download, Frozen Codebase's comic and movie-inspired game hits the online PS Store on April 15.