Paul Benjamin: Hulking Out on the Nintendo DS
Paul Benjamin Talks Hulk on DS
Five years after Ang Lee's melodramatic envisioning of Hulk, the new The Incredible Hulk has proven that it has box office moxie. And of course, with a new movie comes a new video game tie-in, courtesy of SEGA, the video game giant behind which has also published the Iron Man movie tie-in game and are currently developing Captain America and Thor video games.
The last time the Green Goliath went solo in a game was in 2005’s The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which was then developed by Radical Entertainment and published by Vivendi Universal, the same companies behind the video game based on the 2003 Hulk movie.
This time around, Edge of Reality developed the console versions of the new The Incredible Hulk video game. The handheld iterations were handled by Amaze Entertainment, makers of Shrek The Third and Eragon tie-in games. Paul Benjamin wrote and produced the Nintendo DS game adaptation of the Edward Norton-starring film.
Yes, the same Paul Benjamin who has recently concluded a 12-issue run on Marvel Adventures Hulk. We spoke with him about it.
Cycle through screenshots from The Incredible Hulk for Nintendo DS at right.
Newsarama: Starting things off Paul, how did you get involved in writing for and producing The Incredible Hulk video game for SEGA?
Paul Benjamin: During the time when my TokyoPop manga Pantheon High was my only paying gig, I was looking for a source of extra income. One of my friends told me that a local game developer was looking for a producer for a super hero based video game. The actual game title was hush-hush, but I had been hoping to get some video game industry experience since Austin has become a development hub in recent years. I love playing video games and figured producing one couldn’t be that different from editing comic books. I landed an interview and really liked the people at Amaze Entertainment. They were a great group of folks and the environment seemed to be a perfect mix of professionalism and fun.
After a very positive interview, things got put on hold. Amaze and Sega needed to make a few decisions about the direction of the game. In the meantime, I talked with the studio director at Amaze every month or so just to check in. Around six months later Rodney called me in for another interview. By then I had started work on Pantheon High (Volume Three), a new series for TokyoPop and Marvel Adventures Hulk. I was earning enough to pay all the bills and things were looking good, but I figured I should find out more about the gig. I knew the publisher was SEGA and by then they had announced the Iron Man license, so I deduced that I was probably looking at a game featuring old Shellhead. Much to my surprise, Rodney offered me a job producing The Incredible Hulk for the Nintendo DS. I asked him if he knew that I was writing a Hulk comic for Marvel and he had no idea. So by sheer coincidence I ended up spending a year soaking in Hulky goodness. And even though it was a lot of work to produce the game while writing so many books, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for such a perfect gig.
NRAMA: Going into video games was a new career move for you, but were you a gamer before this?
PB: I am a huge fan of video games. I like them so much that I don’t own any kind of game console. If I did, that would be the end of my writing career. I’d never get anything done. I relegate myself to playing at friends’ houses. Right now my favorite gaming is playing Rock Band most Friday nights with a group consisting of a local comic shop owner, several writers, and a comics convention organizer... and a minister.
NRAMA: It's interesting to note that while the current trend is reading news about Hollywood directors, screenwriters and actors crossing over into comics, you, and former Hulk writer Paul Jenkins and others have done the opposite, i.e. crossing over from comics to video games. Does it have to do with the both of you having the same first name?
PB: Yes, that’s it exactly. In fact, our next move is to form a band like Paul McCartney after which we’ll transition into salad dressing with Paul Newman...
NRAMA: Seriously, though, of course it doesn't because Brian Bendis was also involved with the Ultimate Spider-Man video game.
PB: Damn, you’re onto me. Maybe both Paul Jenkins and I figured Brian knows a little something about good career moves? Actually, from what I hear, both Marvel and DC/Warner Bros. are pretty good about bringing their comic book writers into the video game fold one way or another. Sometimes it’s a major assignment, other times it’s just a final pass over the material, but I think it’s great to have people with experience writing the comics involved in the game development.
NRAMA: So, what does it take to create a great video game?
PB: The same thing it takes to make a great comic book: time, talent and uh... I can’t think of anything else that starts with “T.” But really, the biggest challenge is time. I was lucky enough to work with a fantastic team of artists, programmers and designers who all did a fantastic job. Every extra week in the game development cycle makes a difference, and the people at Amaze really managed to put together a great game in a short period of time. Oh!! Teamwork, that’s the other “T”! My team was really passionate about the game and they did a wonderful job of making the player feel like Hulk, smashing everything in sight.
NRAMA: Breaking it way down – what's on the ground floor of The Incredible Hulk video game that makes it unique?
PB: My game is the Nintendo DS version so it’s a different experience from the console versions for Xbox, PS3 and the like. The DS (which stands for Dual Screen if you didn’t already know that) is a great handheld device. As far as I know, The Incredible Hulk DS is the first DS game with a fully destructible environment. Hulk can smash everything he can touch. We designed the game to be relatively straightforward for younger players. Hulk goes from one side of the screen to the other and smashes anything that gets in his way. You can knock soldiers around (and into each other), pick up cars and throw them at your enemies and tunnel through the ground and buildings with your incredible strength. There’s also a ton of skins to unlock. This is where the Hulk fans on the team really got to geek out. You can play through the levels as just about any version of Hulk you can imagine, from Mr. Fixit to the Green Scar to what I like to call “my” Hulk – good old purple pantsed Savage Hulk like the one in Marvel Adventures Hulk. Also, once you beat the game you can play as non-Hulk characters such as Hulkbuster Iron Man (two versions), Classic Abomination, Ironclad, Korg and more.
NRAMA: The Incredible Hulk plays much like the Paul Jenkins-written The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction because of its free-roaming gameplay. The free-roaming environment is also similar to the extremely popular but highly controversial Grand Theft Auto series and the subject on the effect of violent games on adolescent boys and girls is an on-going debate. Since you'd just finished a 12-issue run on the all-ages Marvel Adventures Hulk, what is your own take on this issue?
PB: Yeah, the console version of Hulk definitely takes some inspiration from the GTA series. While I think that playing violent games can have some kind of affect on kids, I believe it’s far from a silver bullet. I think if a kid already has severe emotional problems then a game might give them ideas for a specific action, but odds are that such a kid was likely to do something violent anyway. I grew up on comics, movies and television shows that theoretically should have turned me into a serial killer running around with a sword and guns and explosives blowing up everything in sight. Instead I’m just a geek who still likes reading comics, watching violent movies and playing video games. Most people know where to draw the line. I doubt that kids who read Marvel Adventures Hulk or play The Incredible Hulk video game are going to go out there and start hitting everything in sight because they think they are the Hulk. And if they do, well, they were probably going to act out in some other way regardless.
NRAMA: Finally, what other projects are you currently working on?
PB: Hooray for non-disclosure agreements! Right now I’m working on several projects I can’t discuss. I’m producing two video games and writing a third. I have a few unannounced Marvel projects that include a hefty amount of wall-crawling and web-slinging and I’ve finished volume three of Pantheon High for Tokyopop. It looks like that’s going straight to the web with their current difficulties, but we’ll have to see exactly what the future holds. Also from Marvel is the localization of the beautiful Denis Bajram series Universal War One. That’s a sci-fi epic not to be missed.
I do have one important passion project. It’s a standalone graphic novel featuring tales from my father’s life as he faces a terminal disease. And he has some great ones too, from going out on the town with Sammy Davis Jr. to drag racing in the 1950s. Working on those stories has really brought us closer together in his last days. I’m getting ready to shop that one to publishers soon. If I’m lucky, I can make a deal while he’s still around. If not, well, the whole family will just be glad to have the stories down on paper.