The Flash Video Game – Interview
Through an inside source, Battery Acid was able to get some new details about the recently canceled video game adaption of the DC Comics character, The Flash. Read up to see what details we could dig up for you.
BA: How did Bottlerocket come to develop the game?
Brash contacted us directly. We had been signed on to do the Watchmen video game when there was a bit of a speed bump between WB games and Zack Snyder’s people. It looked like the project wasn’t going to happen.
The execs at Brash were huge fans of Bottlerocket and through their connections at WB found out that we were available and pitched the idea to us. They had a contract and were ready to go and there didn’t seem to be any reason for us not to sign with them.
The whole thing from talking to them to a signed contract and money in the bank went incredibly quickly.
BA: Do you know if DC Comics went to Brash Entertainment to make a new Flash game or if Brash went to DC?
I believe Brash went to DC. Brash’s operating procedure was to go after licensed IPs exclusively and make games about them. One of the executives was a former guy from Marvel and had ties to the superhero community and another one had been over at DC and had even worked on the Superman movie game with WB. Both of them were super huge Flash fans too so I’m sure their passion and enthusiasm about the property went a long way as well.
BA: How deep into development was the game in until it was canceled?
I believe we were about 10 months in, 3 to 4 months of pre-production (which included all the initial design and a visual target environment) and then 6 months of actual production. We had about a year left to go on the game when it was canned.
BA: Could you explain the basic gameplay of the game?
The gameplay was still evolving as tools were coming online and we were finding out what was fun and exciting. The basics were planned to go something like this: the game was broken down into chapters with each chapter culminating in a boss fight against one of the Rogues Gallery.
During the chapter the player would have been going on missions that he received either by intercepting police broadcasts or accepting them from various NPCs around the two cities (the player was confined to Central and Keystone cities; no world exploration allowed for the first game).
At the time we had three core principles for the missions: racing (going from one point to another as quickly as possible), moving combat (fighting against other speedsters or moving vehicles ALA Road Rash), and arena combat (fighting against criminals at a location). All the missions in the game would stem from these principles, mixed and matched as needed. We had enough scenarios planned out that no two missions would ever had the same story wrapper. Oh yeah and it is important to note that we were working with famed DC writer Marv Wolfman.
He was writing the overall storyline, the mission flavor, and the dialog.
BA: What were some details important to the design of The Flash? What was Bottlerocket really trying to emphasize about the character and world?
I’d say there were three important rules that dictated the direction of the design for Flash that we really focused everything on:
1. The game had to be accessible. One of the main goals of Bottlerocket was to make games that anyone could pick up and play and look like a superstar within a few moments. As such, everything about Flash had to cater to this. Combat was simple on the surface but had layers of depth to it. Controlling the character needed to be fluid, easy and enjoyable. Missions and storyline needed to be easily digestible even to people who were not fans of the character and the difficulty needed to ramp slowly. Our CEO would say, “Your best friend and my mother both need to be able to pick up this game and have fun with it”, and that’s what we shot for.
2. Stay true to the character. This was actually a bit harder than it should have been. For one reason I was the only one involved with the design who was an actual fan of the Flash and the only one who understood the character and what he could do. The other guys would throw out ideas and I’d have to say, but Flash wouldn’t really do that, to which the response was usually, but would it be fun if we did it?” Many times the answer was yes, so we had to find ways of balancing fun video game mechanics and still making sure the character felt like Flash and not Sonic.
The other reason was that with so many things that the Flash can do in the books, it would have been impossible to allow the player to do all of them. For example, vibrating through walls. A classic Flash staple. Completely impossible to do. You can’t take the time to create playable areas everywhere in the game that the player could choose to pass through whenever they wanted and if you only allow the player to do it in particular spots then they will feel ripped off that they couldn’t do everywhere. It’s a lose-lose situation. So there was no vibrating through walls. BUT since it is such an important part of his legacy we allowed vibration to still be in the game by allowing the player to block hand to hand attacks by vibrating so they passed right through him.
There were little tweaks like this all through the game, ways of making his powers video game friendly. In the end I did my best to make sure that the game contained the elements to make it feel like it was clearly from the Flash universe and not just some guy that runs fast.
3. Focus on speed in all aspects. Everything we did had to be based around speed and doing things quickly. All of the combat was designed with this in mind. The layout of the cities and their routes through it were designed with this in mind. The missions were designed with this in mind.
For graphics, this meant a less detailed world. There was no point in rendering things out to the highest detail when the character was going to be blazing past them.
For collision we had to figure out ways of softening it so Flash could be shoved around obstacles and pedestrians so he didn’t crash into everything as he ran. Animation had to make sure that everything happened in only a few frames but was clear enough to the player to see what happened.
Everything that we did had to take speed into account. This was both confining and liberating at the same time. It kept us very focused but also limited it what we could do. It also presented some interesting technical challenges.
This might be a bit of a tangent but I’ve seen numerous postings about why isn’t the Flash running faster? The simple fact was that there is only so fast he can go before you encounter a whole bevy of challenges. The three biggest ones were player control, draw rate, and collision detection.
Trying to navigate city streets became impossible when the Flash ran too fast. By the time you actually saw that you had to make a turn it was too late and you would plow right into a wall. So we were constantly playing with the acceleration and top speed and would have done so until it was time to ship to make it feel right but still be functional and enjoyable.
But this still had to work with draw rate and collision. If he ran too fast, the engine couldn’t stream in the sections quick enough and buildings and terrain would either pop in at the last second or wouldn’t load in time at all and you’d run off into the void. And then since he was moving large distances in short amounts of time there was always the potential that collision detection wouldn’t happen at the right time and Flash would go right through something and fall into the void or fail to activate something he was supposed to trigger. Speed was both our blessing and our bane.
BA: When speaking about the game’s story where did Bottlerocket look for inspiration? The comics, the television series, other television appearances?
Yes, yes, and yes. I had collected Flash for a long time, stopped, and then restarted when they brought back Bart as Flash. So I was able to go through a lot of the books that I had to show people who Flash was and what he should do.
One of my co-workers had the TV series on DVD so he brought that in and we watched a few episodes of that to see how they handled Flash in a non-comic book medium. And we poured through whatever animated appearances we could find of the Flash from watching old Super Friends episodes, to more current Justice League ones to even seeing what they did in the straight to DVD Justice League the New Frontier.
These helped us get an idea of animation and visual effects and how moves might be translated over.
BA: What’s the state of the game now? Have any publishers spoken with you?
As mentioned earlier the game was about 6 months into actual production with about a year to go when Brash went under and the game was stopped. We had just started to get some of the key things working too. We were finally able to start stringing things together to make missions. Combat and special moves had been implemented enough to see how fighting was going to look and feel. Moving combat was just getting put in with Flash fighting against other speedsters. Two huge chunks of Central City had already been built and work had just started on assets for Keystone. We had basic traffic and pedestrians up and running. The game was actually starting to feel like a game and not just individual mechanics.
When Brash folded, we did indeed try to talk to other publishers, but since Brash still technically owned the rights, no one wanted to get involved in dealing with buying them out from them. I was under the impression that many places were interested but just figured it would be easier to wait for the rights to revert back to WB/DC and then just deal with them. If the whole Splatterhouse fiasco hadn’t happened, I’m pretty confident someone would have stepped up and Flash would have gotten finished`.
You could obviously tell our inside source was very passionate about this game and I can say it just wasn’t because of the subject matter. Let’s just hope that somehow the game gets released with Bottlerocket being the part of its development.