G.I. JOE Rise of the Cobra Developer Blog By Matt Marsala, Sr. Producer
Working on a licensed movie game based on a brand that you grew up with has its pro’s and con’s. On one hand, it’s an incredible honor to be a part of the team responsible for delivering G.I. JOE to modern day gamers of all ages, some with vast knowledge of the brand, and others that have no idea what G.I. JOE is all about. On the other, I’m starting to realize that no matter what you do or how hard you try, you’re never going to please everyone. Knowing this, it was very important for us to include as much content as possible from the last 45 years of G.I. JOE history to appeal to the older fans (like myself), while also trying to be true to the re-launch of G.I. JOE as envisioned by Paramount in the upcoming film, and Hasbro through their new toy line and G.I. Joe Resolute animated series.
From the very beginning, we knew we didn’t want to make G.I. JOE The Rise of Cobra a “play the movie” game; it’s never very fun reliving a movie beat for beat, and there is no element of surprise if you’ve seen the movie and much of what you see in a movie does not translate very well to gameplay (at least not the game we wanted to make). Getting approval from Hasbro to ditch this concept was our first hurdle, but after a few discussions, they quickly got on board with our reasoning, and we were set free to go down a different path of development. The next step for us was to define the look and feel of the game, of which we ultimately took a lot of inspiration from the film since this would be how many new G.I. JOE fans would be introduced to the brand. My initial instinct was to make a game based on the look of the 80’s cartoon series (did I mention that I was a child of the 80’s?), but after some lengthy discussions with Hasbro and knowing that we needed to have a meaningful connection to tie the game to the film, we abandoned this retro style idea and tried to match the film as best we could while still including bits from the past G.I. JOE Universe whenever possible.
If you’ve seen any of the movie trailers or photos from the film, you’ll notice that most of the core G.I. JOE team is wearing black “liquid armor” suits. Unfortunately, this posed a challenge for us – we wanted to be true to the film, but for gameplay reasons, we had to diverge a bit to make the characters more readable and distinguishable from each other on screen, especially in co-op mode. After proving our case to Hasbro with in-game assets, they understood the issue and allowed us to stray a bit from the film for the sake of in-game readability. It was at this point that Hasbro “opened the vault”, granting us access to reference not seen in a very long time. Once they understood what it was that we were trying to do, they were very accommodating in giving us access to the reference we needed, including some of the more obscure reference that we found almost by accident…
First up was the character list – G.I. JOE is all about the team, so giving the player a full roster of awesome playable characters and enemies was absolutely critical. The beauty of this is that over 45 years, Hasbro has created a pretty incredible roster of really cool characters to choose from. The most difficult part was settling on the final 16 playable characters that will ship with the game. Given endless time and budget, we could have done much more, but given the time constraints of being on shelves when the movie is released, I’m quite happy with the final character roster. In addition to the five core G.I. JOE characters from the film (Duke, Scarlett, Heavy Duty, Ripcord, and Snake Eyes), we also included four COBRA bosses (Storm Shadow included) that unlock as playable characters after you’ve defeated them. The rest of the character set is rounded out by some other classic characters, including Kamakura, Shipwreck, and Gung-Ho, among others. There are also about a dozen more supporting non-playable characters that will help keep the story moving along, provide you with support in sticky situations, and give you info on the enemies you’ll encounter along the way. This includes characters like General Hawk, Tunnel Rat, Breaker, and Wild Bill, to name a few.
(Gung-Ho is a team favorite – his primary weapon does knock-back damage, and his cluster grenade special action can devastate several enemies at once.)
Next was the story. We knew we didn’t want to make a “play the movie” game, but we also wanted to maintain some of the main threads from the film into the game for some consistency. Our writer, Brian Reed (an accomplished comic book writer), came up with the idea of pulling the main story plot from a three-part G.I. JOE cartoon mini-series released in the early 80’s. Those of you die-hard fans out there that are very familiar with the cartoons will likely recognize the story as you progress through the game.
Vehicles are also important in the world of G.I. JOE – the game has a number of drivable vehicles, all built for two player co-op (one player drives, the other mans the main turret). Some of the drivable vehicles include the Armored Panther (formerly known as the “Armadillo”) from the toy line, the Cougar from the film, and the Snow Cat, also from the toy line. Enemy vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, including the Mole Pod from the film, the COBRA Gunship from the toy line, and perhaps the most iconic vehicle of all, the classic HISS tank from the cartoon series and toy line. What would a G.I. JOE game be without the inclusion of the H.I.S.S. tank?? As an added bonus, as we were combing through some of the reference sent to us by Hasbro, we stumbled upon blueprints for a modern day version of the H.I.S.S. tank that had never been manufactured as a toy. I’m not sure how long these plans had been sitting around, but once we saw them, we knew we had to add it to the game. So, for the first time ever, you’ll see a vehicle designed by Hasbro that has never seen by the outside world. I have to say, it’s pretty bad-ass!
(The Snow Cat was first released in U.S. toy stores in 1985 and is the G.I. JOE team's most reliable cold-weather assault vehicle)
(The Cougar is an updated vehicle inspired by the film and has machine guns and a laser cannon that make it dangerous – but the G.I. JOE team knows that its real advantage is its quickness and handling.)
Many collectors of the action figures were pretty nuts about also collecting the file cards from the back of the action figure packaging (our Lead Designer, Dax Berg, was one of these guys). Knowing this, it was important for us to deliver a large volume of filecards as pickups for these fans in game, also satisfying those completionist gamers out there. The file cards include detailed info on each of the characters (G.I. JOE and COBRA), as well as info on the vehicles, play sets, and even some items that don’t appear in the game but will show up in the toy line or film later this summer.
The fast paced and high action nature of the game also worked to our advantage when trying to incorporate some other elements of G.I. JOE’s history. Remember in the cartoon how there was always tons of tracer fire filling the screen that never seemed to hit anyone? Well, we felt it was memorable enough to include in the game, so when enemies go off screen, many of them will continue to fire at you giving the perception of a bigger fight, but none of their bullets will actually connect unless the enemy is on screen when he fires. It may seem minor in print and maybe not even worth mentioning, but it’s one of those little details that was inspired by the history of G.I. JOE and I’m happy we got in the game. We also included a power-up sequence where after defeating a certain number of enemies, the player can earn the ability to trigger the “Accelerator Suit”. This is a suit that the characters wear during one of the film’s big action sequences, allowing them to run faster with an arsenal of weapons strapped to their forearms, including a rocket launcher and chain gun. When the player triggers this sequence in game, the classic G.I. JOE theme song plays and the player becomes all-powerful and near-invincible for a short period of time, allowing him to take out a number of smaller enemies, or defeat a mini-boss with little effort. We had to get that song in there somewhere, and it fits quite well with this particular power-up sequence.
Finally, we managed to add some bonus unlockable content to the game that fans will instantly recognize and hopefully appreciate. Remember the Public Service Announcements that played at the end of the cartoon that taught kids valuable lessons like “don’t light the house on fire”, or “playing with electricity can end badly”? Well, we managed to get four of them in the game as unlockables, so a whole new generation of kids will understand what you mean when you say “now you know!” to them in your best G.I. JOE voice. Keep in mind that these are the original PSA’s – as much as we would have liked, we were not able to include the dubbed over PSA quo;s in the game for obvious reasons.
So there you have it – G.I. JOE The Rise of Cobra is chock-full-o’ JOE-ness from start to finish. We tried to make a game that reaches a new audience inspired by the film and is true to Hasbro’s G.I. JOE brand, while also paying attention to the fans as much as possible. We spent an awful lot of time selecting and building the content that as G.I. JOE fans we wanted to see in a game, and we hope you’re happy with the end result. That’s it for now, but we’ll have more to come soon.
Matt Marsala is the Sr. Producer working on G.I. JOE The Rise of Cobra video game releasing August 2009 alongside the live-action movie from Paramount Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment, in association with Hasbro. Launching on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PSP, G.I. JOE The Rise of Cobra is an accessible third person action-arcade shooter that allows players to recreate and relive the greatest moments from the film, cartoon series and action toy line.