Injustice: Gods Among Us was practically an instant hit when it released in 2013. Developed by Netherrealm Studios—makers of Mortal Kombat—it was considered by many to be a near perfect fighting game, with plenty of hard-hitting action and some of the most iconic characters from the DC Comics universe, including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Both heroes and villains battled each other in an alternate world where they took on different roles. For example, in this reality, Superman and other members of the Justice League rule the world as the oppressive Regime while Batman helps the resistance. Both fighting game and comic book fans were pleased with the story, and Injustice went on to inspire a comic book series of its own.
The sequel, Injustice 2, launches in May, and with last year’s relaunch of DC’s entire comic book line with Rebirth, the Wonder Woman movie coming out in June, followed by the Justice League movie in November, and the continued success of DC Comics superhero TV shows, the timing couldn’t be better. Netherrealm is stepping up the action by expanding the roster to include some lesser-known characters such as Doctor Fate, Swamp Thing, Atrocitus (accompanied by the supervillain feline, Dex-Starr), Gorilla Grodd and more.
The game is also taking a big step with its Gear System, which rewards players with armor pieces and weapons that enhance both the look and abilities of characters, including fighting moves. Netherrealm combed through decades of lore to create the look of some of these armors, so comic book fans might decide to return to the Golden Age using a 1940s-style armor, or stick with a more modern look. The game lets players use characters how they want to, but Netherrealm explained that gear and the in-game currency (which is used to purchase Mother Boxes that contain rare gear) can only be obtained by playing matches and not by purchasing with real-world money.
Brian Lebaron, senior designer for Injustice 2 at Netherrealm Studios, talks about the superpowered brawler with AListDaily and discusses how the developer remains true to iconic superhero brands while presenting alternate versions of them.
Lebaron described the sequel as, “a continuation of what we did in the first game, where we wanted to establish the Injustice world and used more well-known characters to do it. This time around, we really wanted to step up our game and bring in characters that are a little less known like Swamp Thing and Grodd—characters who aren’t from the Batman or Superman worlds.”
He continued by discussing the Gear System and how it is a key element of the game. “The Gear System is a huge feature,” said Lebaron. “A game like this has never really done something like that, where you’re adding stuff to the characters to give them abilities, new moves and buffs. As far as Injustice 2 goes, we’re trying to step up our game all the way around with bigger and better everything.”
When asked about what lessons were learned from launching the first game and Mortal Kombat X, Lebaron said, “I think that the biggest thing is that the story mode is evolving—it’s evolving every game. In Injustice, we established our big, elaborate story and in MKX, we went a little further with more involvement with the universe by bringing in characters from outside the game. With Injustice 2, we’ve really stepped up the story mode. It’s very elaborate, and we’re focusing on single-player content for casual gamers for an overall hardcore/casual balance.”
Although casual players are important, Netherrealm also keeps a close eye on the professional competitive scene. “We’re adapting to what we see in tournament livestreams—the whole company watches them,” said Lebaron. “The design department is watching, paying attention to the community, and learning from what we see there in addition to catering to the casual gamers.”
Lebaron then discussed the process for selecting which characters from DC’s tremendous collection end up in the game. “Basically, the whole studio, in working with DC, comes up with ideas for characters we’d like to see and it goes back and forth,” he explained. “It’s a long process, but it’s really rewarding once we get a character. Characters that we couldn’t get into Injustice ended up getting into the second game—like Supergirl, which was a big thing for me because she was one of the characters I really wanted to work on.” Some players may be seeing these characters for the first time, thereby growing the awareness for them.
“It’s about everybody working together to come up with good ideas and say, ‘what can we do to make this unique?’” Lebaron continued. “When we brought Atrocitus in, we said, ‘we’ve got to use Dex-Starr.’ We asked DC what they thought of us using them, so it’s a collaborative thing where we come up with cool ideas and pitch them to different people in our company through DC Comics. There’s so much cool content out there, and it’s a great pool to pull from. If one idea doesn’t work out, you can find another one. Dex-Starr is a great example of an idea we had and people seemed to love it. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it.”
Since Injustice takes place in an alternate reality, we asked Lebaron how much freedom Netherrealm had with the characters to diverge from the lore people know. “We try to stay within the lore,” Lebaron replied. “Most of the creativity comes with the story, but as far as character designs, we try to keep them close to what they look like in some iteration—whether it’s the 1940s version of them or another version. We always try to keep it within something that’s been established. We’re not going to just make Superman a completely different looking character. We keep it close, but we have a lot of freedom.”
Lebaron then recounted the inspiration for the Gear System, saying: “A lot of people in the company are big fans of gear and collecting, and it’s never really been done in a fighting game before. So, we wanted to try it out and it turned out to be a great idea, and we kept running with it until it got bigger and bigger. Eventually, we realized that we had to do elaborate, big sets of gear. It kind of just felt right and it worked out very well.”
Netherrealm decided not to monetize the Gear System because the studio didn’t think it was fair to charge money for items that could change the stats of characters. Lebaron further elaborated on this philosophy. “I think the idea behind it is that it just seems right,” he said. “We don’t want to let you buy your way through the game. We want you to actually play the game to get all the equipment and items.”
However, the studio is aware of the potential impacts of the Gear System on the professional tournament scene and is accounting for it. “We’re going to have a mode for the pro scene,” said Lebaron. “For competitive tournaments, there’s a mode that will nullify all the buffs, but still allows you to change how your character looks. Everyone will start on an even playing field, and there won’t be any extra damage. None of that will work in that mode. So, we’re definitely keeping pro players in mind and we work closely with them. We’ve actually hired a few of them now.”
So, out of the huge roster, which currently features 28 characters in total, which is Lebaron’s favorite? “Supergirl,” he said immediately. “Maybe because I designed her, but I still love her. I’m very happy she’s in this game.”