Interview with Bryan Brandt, Lead Animation Programmer for Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Monday, May 2, 2005

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"Hulk...SMASH!" Ever since fans of the Incredible Hulk first saw or heard those words, we've wanted to step into his ripped pants and do just that-smash things. There's always been this fascination with being a gamma-radiated angered monster, running around smashing cars and throwing tanks that has a certain appeal to it. Bryan Brandt, Lead Animation Programmer for Radical Entertainment, answered many questions for us. And quite frankly, they seem to have as much fun making the game as we did playing it! Please, tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities with The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction?

Bryan Brandt: My name is Bryan Brandt and I'm the lead animation programmer on the Incredible Hulk team. My main focus throughout my career has been on 3rd person action gameplay and character-based animation. Along with several other extremely talented animators, designers, and coders, we're responsible for all of Hulk's locomotion and combat mechanics. This game is far more grounded in the comic books than the movie. What made you decide to take on such an enormous (no pun intended) legacy?

Bryan Brandt: Quite simply, we knew we had the experience and technology to create the best superhero action game ever. We also think Hulk makes for one of the best video game characters imaginable - it would be a shame to not make more Hulk games! His awesome abilities are exactly the sort of cathartic outlet gamers are waiting for. How will missions work? And why was the decision given to allow the Hulk to be "bad" as well as "good"?

Bryan Brandt: Players will have the choice to reveal the game's plot by playing through story missions, or they can load up on Smash Points (Hulk's version of experience points) by trying to complete all the side challenges they can find. If structure ain't your thing, then you can just have fun careening through the fully destructible city and badlands, waiting for the police or military to respond in force.

We all know Hulk is really a nice guy at heart, he just happens to be a lot angrier than most. While we allow players to cause mayhem and property destruction on a scale unheard of in video games, it was important to us that we maintain the fact that deep down, Hulk is actually a hero. But unlike most superheroes, Hulk is feared and deeply misunderstood. As a result, much of our story revolves around Hulk's battles with a city and military that don't understand or sympathize with him, despite the heroic acts he may perform.

Given this, the decision to allow Hulk to be "bad" or "good" wasn't really a decision at all, but really the only way to capture the iconic duality of his character. Players will get to experience both the unsung glory of using of Hulk's immense strength to save an entire city from destruction, as well as the simple pleasure of watching him elbow drop a police car off a hundred story building, all the while civilians run screaming in terror. Will there be times when we will see The Hulk show mercy? (That is when we're not using the city as a virtual playground)

Bryan Brandt: Players will get plenty of opportunities for mercy, that is, if they so choose! The Hulk can always elect to gently set down a grabbed pedestrian with a pat on the head (even though said pedestrian might be cowering in fear). Many of the side missions, if players choose to pursue them, will allow the Hulk to show both his heroic and destructive sides. Why was the decision made to remove the Bruce Banner stealth missions that featured in the previous Hulk game?

Bryan Brandt: We wanted to focus all our efforts on what we felt would be the most enjoyable part of the game, which is simply being the Hulk, and being very, very angry. We also knew that Hulk's locomotive and combat abilities would be greatly extended, such that there would be tons of variety and gameplay in just being the Hulk himself. Puny Banner still shows up in cutscenes to progress the story along, but it really means you get to play the fun parts, and watch the story parts. We've never seen the Hulk so powerful and destructive as he is in this game. What was the inspiration to make the Hulk so incredible?

Bryan Brandt: Well, the character himself! The sheer amount of power Hulk displays in the comics has never been fully captured in any other medium to date, but we're hoping to change all that. We've taken Hulk beyond anything you've seen on TV, in the movies, or in any Hulk video game ever made. If you've read stuff like Hulk's rampage through Manhattan in The Ultimates comic book, get ready to be able to do the same, but fully under the player's control! What was it like creating a fully destructible environment? Did you do any "real life" experiments for inspiration?

Bryan Brandt: I chalk up our producers' reluctance to offer their cars for testing to a lack of dedication. We tried on several occasions to run roaring down the street through traffic, knocking cars aside left and right, but the results were quite the opposite from what we'd planned. Sort of your typical day in video game development, I guess.

We did, however, have a recording session in a junkyard where trucks were dropped from cranes-even going so far as to rip a vehicle in half so that all our sound effects would be as real as possible. The sounds in the game really add that extra touch of "real life" that help bring the entire package together. There are a large number of rather explosive sound effects. How were you able to come up with this amount and still keep each one sounding distinct?

Bryan Brandt: Every sound effect in the game is original. We did not want to go with a stock sound library so we created each sound from scratch whether it be smashing melons to smashing cars, we did it all so that the audio canvass would help bring the destruction to life. Brandon McGuigan our lead sound programmer and Scott Morgan, our sound director did an amazing job and the audio in the game is certainly a highlight. What was it like working so closely with Paul Jenkins and Bryan Hitch, both of who have done extensive work with the comic book?

Bryan Brandt: We've been extremely lucky to have gotten the chance to work with some of the greatest talents in the comic book industry. To boot, the creative working relationships we've established are some of the most collaborative and productive we've ever had.

Paul Jenkins is simply one of the best writers in comics today. His story arcs in the Hulk series were major inspirations for both this and the previous Hulk game. The really exciting thing about Paul is how passionate he is about bringing his writing into other media, especially video games. This is extremely valuable, given the organic and chaotic nature of video game development.

We're all big fans of Bryan Hitch's work, especially his depiction of Hulk in The Ultimates comics. His vision of Hulk is more visceral and detailed than anything we've ever seen, and his concept sketches have resulted in what I consider to be the coolest looking Hulk model you'll see on your TV. Also, many of the enemies in our game, most notably the heavily armored Hulkbusters, were completely original designs by Bryan Hitch. Is the storyline used for the game a completely original creation, or will fans of the comics see some familiar aspects to it?

Bryan Brandt: The story is a completely original one, penned by Paul Jenkins, but players will see plenty of familiar material if they're fans of Hulk. We've definitely tried to maintain the epic and tragic tone of a Hulk story, while touching on many of the characters and settings from the comics, such as Doc Samson and General Ross. The story itself is a re-envisioning of the origin of Hulk's greatest arch-nemesis, the Abomination, with secretive military forces trying to capture them both. While facing these threats from without, Bruce Banner has to face a new threat from within, as his disease takes a turn towards something sinister. If any of this sounds familiar to long-time comic fans, it's because we're trying to capture the essence of the classic Hulk story, but get ready to be surprised! There are twists here that will shock comic fans and gamers alike. The Hulk has a seemingly endless number of moves in his arsenal. How were you able to come up with so many and yet still balance that with having the character easy to control?

Bryan Brandt: A key part of what makes Hulk such a great video game character is that on a broad level, he is conceptually very simple: He's big, he's green, and he breaks stuff. We wanted to make sure this translated into streamlined controls for his character, so that anyone would be able to pick up a controller and immediately start having fun wreaking havoc and seamlessly running and jumping across the city.

On top of this foundation we layered additional depth through the use of dozens of combo moves and plenty of unlockable locomotive upgrades. The great thing about Hulk's moveset is that you won't really get to experience everything until you've played through the entire game. You start out with running, jumping and climbing, but once you've mastered those, there's wall running, air dashing, hitching rides on helicopters, and surfing through the city on flattened busses! The list goes on… Explain the "Hulkbusters" and where inspiration for them was gathered?

Bryan Brandt: The Hulkbusters are inspired in part by the robotic machines created to hunt down the Hulk, invented by Bruce Banner himself, in the pages of the Hulk comics. In The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, it is the military, headed by General Ross, who has commissioned the creation of the Hulkbuster armor suits in order to take down the threat known as the Hulk. Some of these Hulkbusters are as tall as a building, with agility and flight capabilities to match Hulk's running and jumping, and firepower to defeat Hulk's strength and healing. They make for formidable enemies indeed. Meanwhile, a secret branch of the government known as the Division have created their own brand of armor suits, only this time they don't have the destruction of Hulk in mind, but instead, his capture.

The visual design for the Hulkbusters came from Bryan Hitch, who gave us some amazingly original concept sketches to work from. The action portrayed in his drawings heavily influenced both the behavior of the Hulkbusters and the player's ability to interact with these enemies. Picture Hulk leaping onto the massive Titan Hulkbuster to destroy mounted weaponry piece by piece, or grappling Hulkbusters out of the air and pummeling them into the ground, it's all in there. What is this I've heard about Hulk golf?

Bryan Brandt: Oh, it's in there, along with dozens and dozens of other side missions. These challenges give the player the opportunity to master the locomotive and combat abilities they have already acquired, as well as gain additional Smash Points to purchase even better moves. Plus, they're just damn fun. Imagine what it means for Hulk to perfect his baseball swing or practice kicking a field goal. Hulk doesn't bat tiny little baseballs across a field, he smack soldiers out to sea. He doesn't kick footballs through posts--he punts pickup trucks hundreds of yards. Do you own a pair of the "Hulk Hands", the large green fisted "gloves" that made a resounding crunch when you strike something, and have you ever used them to "inspire" someone?

Bryan Brandt: We do, and I have nightmares from the daily pummeling our designers give us!

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