Game Title: Fantastic 4
Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2, PC, GameCube, Game Boy Advance
Author: Stevie Smith

With the theatrical release of Fantastic 4 fast approaching, GamersHell recently hammered on Activision’s mighty doors and fair demanded that they answer a deluge of probing questions regarding the movie’s videogame accompaniment. Struck with fear, they duly obliged. Good job too, because our own particular site-specific super power, which is pleading and begging, would have left them deaf, dumb and bored to tears within moments. Here’s what they had to say:

1) Hi Jeff, before we get things started, can you outline for our readers exactly who you are and what your role has been in the Fantastic 4 project?

My name is Jeff Gardiner, and I am the Lead Designer on Fantastic 4.

2) The videogame incarnation of Fantastic 4 will not necessarily exist as an identical version of the eagerly anticipated movie, so what can players expect to receive from the game’s original storyline?

The game follows the general story arc of the movie, beginning and ending at the same points on the timeline, but also has side-plots featuring the rich Fantastic 4 comic book universe. This is great for comic book fans and also let us to put in more action than a typical ‘origin story’ allows. We think it will be extremely exciting and rewarding for fans of the original comic to encounter classic Fantastic 4 villains such as Moleman, Diablo, and Annihilus. For enemies appearing in the game but not in the movie, we used the Ultimate Fantastic 4 comic series as inspiration in updating classic villains to a more modern look. These side-plots also let us incorporate missions designed to highlight specific gameplay features. Basically, we got to use the best of both worlds!

Several additions to the story have the team travel to locations where they interact with familiar characters and enemies from the classic Fantastic 4 universe. In one mission, Reed, looking for enough cosmic energy to return Ben to human form, identifies a large, cosmically charged meteor crash in Tikal’s jungles. The Fantastic 4 head south to collect the meteor pieces. Unfortunately, they stumble right into the ancient alchemist Diablo’s home . . . We love that the Fantastic 4 blend high technology, cosmic, and even supernatural elements. This means they’re at home fighting in all kinds of environments—whether against aliens, demons, or overlords.

3) Did founding Fantastic 4 writer and creator Stan Lee play any part in the concept and evolution of the videogame? Our Marvel fans will be pricking up their ears at this juncture.

Conceptually, it’s impossible to separate any Fantastic 4 story from Stan Lee. So, for us, he was absolutely intrinsic to every step of the game’s evolution, from the way we thought about the story, the development of the characters, and the overall visual designs. We worked closely with Marvel in general to make sure that our game stays true to the feel of the classic, as well as updated Ultimate versions, of the Fantastic 4.

4) For those not in the know when it comes to the comic’s history, can you elaborate a little on each of the playable characters and their attributes? And will the game limit character access to the central four? (We’re fishing for secrets here, c’mon, give it up).

Each can hold their own in combat. However, we spent a lot of time tweaking and refining our characters to emphasize their unique powers. While all of them have a suite of light and heavy attacks, block breakers, and aerial maneuvers, each has specific strengths: Ben is the bruiser who can smash certain objects such as trees and light poles to use like baseball bats, Johnny is the ranged combat expert, Sue can employ stealth and force-fields to freeze enemies, and Reed excels at medium range using his rubbery arms.

There are also a lot of puzzles in our game that encourage using hero powers in combination with specific environments. For example, Reed not only uses his elasticity, but some puzzles require him to hack computers or reprogram enemies. Our characters have more than just literal strengths after all!

In terms of other playable characters, there are sections of the game that do not use the usual Fantastic 4. Beyond that, you’ll have to play the game to find out!

5) Do the character interfaces evolve throughout the game, or are they limited to a default set of moves and powers with which the player must juggle for any given situation?

Each hero has a suite of light and heavy attacks, block breakers, and aerial maneuvers.
They also have many combos and attacks based on their cosmic powers, such as Johnny’s supernova and fireballs or Sue’s force blasts. New combos are unlocked throughout the game, allowing the player to continually learn and uncover new mechanics. And every combo and cosmic attack can be upgraded with points accumulated during gameplay.

6) As well as the nefarious Doctor Doom’s inclusion, do any other recognizable Marvel heroes and adversaries pop up to help accentuate our quartet of heroes?

Fans will recognize a number of enemies including Doombots (naturally!), Moloids, Annihilus, Diablo, as well as some new, original adversaries. Where possible, we drew from the Ultimate Fantastic 4 universe to help re-imagine and update adversaries. However, many of the classic villains have not yet been featured in Ultimate Fantastic 4, and so we’ve had the pleasure of creating our own interpretations. Overall, the game features over 60 villains, each with individual strengths, moves, and abilities.

7) Outside of the single-player campaign, does the game expand its longevity through multiplayer modes and is it also fitted out for online play?

The entire game—including bonus modes and levels—is playable in co-op. We are very excited about this, as it brings a completely different dynamic to the game experience. While the hero AI is helpful and fully functional for team combos, there is just no replacement for another person playing alongside you. We’ve tried to incorporate a true team feel to all aspects of co-op. Super attacks, points, and even lives all draw from a shared pool, so players better watch their buddy’s backs! On the flipside, watching your friend use the last available Super attack when you’ve just cleared a room might cause a fight of Ben and Johnny proportions. We have all loved playing co-op and are really excited for people to experience this aspect of the game.

There is also a full Arena Fight area, playable in single player and two-person co-op modes. The arena environments and enemy sets are drawn from those encountered throughout the game, with a few bonus environments as well. Players can mix and match heroes, enemy sets, environments, and game types unlocked through gameplay.

8) As is becoming the norm with Hollywood movie tie-ins, will the Fantastic 4 videogame feature the film’s cast providing voice support to their established characters?

In addition to using the actors’ likenesses, we were extremely fortunate to get the actors from the movie to perform all the voiceover work. Michael Chiklis, Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd, Chris Evans, and Julian McMahon are all lending their vocal talents to the game. We believe all of this will enhance players’ immersion into the movie world and ensure fans of the movie won’t be disappointed.

9) Third-person games are often critically weighed by the make or break value of their camera work. What approach did Activision and developers Seven Studios adopt in order to engineer an unobtrusive camera system?

Fantastic 4 uses a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera perspective for the majority of the game. It is completely user-controlled, so the player is free to rotate, zoom and pitch the camera as they see fit. For the sections of gameplay where all four heroes are present, we pull the camera out a little more for a slightly more top-down look.

10) On a more personal note: What was the project highlight for you? Did you get to rub shoulders with the stars at any point? Did Stan Lee sign your forehead? Enlighten us.

The entire experience has been a dream! Visiting the set for photo references of environments and props, seeing animatics and effects work from an early stage to help us match the look and flow of the major action moments, and working with the actors during their voiceover recording sessions were all highlights. And, of course, talking to and seeing Stan Lee play the game during a visit to our company was incredible.

Many of our project members are huge comic book fans, and we have all been well aware that the Fantastic 4 set the mold for comic book teams: their issues have always been founded in character interaction, not just narrative concerns. They have endured so long because before they are superheroes, they are, first and foremost, a family. It has been a wonderful experience portraying the fantasy of being a superhero alongside a very human drama to which most people can relate. We hope that everyone enjoys playing the game as much as we enjoyed making it.

Many thanks to Jeff for his time, and the wonderfully informative answers provided to our QandA session. For those duly drooling at the prospect of getting their hands on Fantastic 4, the game will be release across all major platforms and is expected to ship on June 27th.

Look out for the imminent in-depth GamersHell’s review.