Ames Kirshen, Phil Ring, Nyambi Nyambi, and Dee Bradley Baker on The World of LEGO DC Super Villains
When you’re voicing a LEGO character as opposed to something more realistic, what do you do to make it lighter?
Baker: When voicing a LEGO character, it’s a tonal shift from… For instance, doing one of the animated series, or one of the more serious video game incarnations of a DC character. It’s gotta be light, it’s gotta be fun, it’s gotta have a good sense of humor; but it’s also gotta have an intelligence to it. That’s one that that always surprises me, actually, whether it’s a LEGO movie or a game, the humor of it is always very sophisticated, and it plays to an older audience. I mean, it’s stuff that I find funny. We just did the LEGO Aquaman: Rage of Atlantis little movie, and it makes me laugh! I did Aquaman in that, and they let me take it in a broad, wacky way, that just fits the tone of LEGO. There’s a feel for it that, I think, appeals universally.
Baker: Villains are heroic in kind of a flipped way. They have a grandiose plan of self fulfillment, and they’re very crafty and smart about making it happen. The nice thing about the LEGO universe is that you can dive into this with these villains, and you don’t feel too guilty about it because it’s such fun, and with such sweetness, that you’re really not too evil.
Green Lantern in LEGO is a bit different from other versions of the character.
Nyambi: Look, John Stewart is very serious about what he does. He’s very serious about being Green Lantern. I think, with this, he just takes it too seriously. You can laugh at someone who takes things too seriously. That’s the way I approached him. Go all the way in with it.
Kirshen: And when someone’s that serious in the context of a LEGO game, it’s immediately funny.
I’m suddenly thinking of Dan Aykroyd in Dragnet. Do you have a character, in particular, who you bounce off of? Do you have a Tom Hanks?
Nyambi: Ya know, it’s funny. When you’re recording, it’s just you in a booth. So, ya know, you don’t get a chance to really bounce off someone. You just have to trust that, when the game comes out, they’re gonna make you sound amazing. I’ve played all the LEGO games, and, ya know, the results are there. They make it super fun.
Do you see the LEGO games as a break from the more mainstream depictions of DC?
Kirshen: I think it’s nice to have a palette cleanser like this, all about irreverent humor, and having fun with the characters, and having jokes in there that the older fans might only get, and jokes in there that’s clearly targeted towards the younger audience, the 8-year-old boys and girls. That’s the appeal of the LEGO franchise, it appeals to that entire range. Eight to eighty. There’s something in there for everybody. That’s on a humor level, that’s on a gameplay level. There’s a character there for everybody. That’s the beauty of a project like this.
Nyambi: When I would finish playing any of the Arkham games, and I played them all – Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, Arkham Origins, and Arkham Knight – I went to LEGO. I played LEGO Batman 2 and 3, and just, sort of like, cleansed myself from Arkham.
That’s a great yin yang.
Nyambi: Yeah, that’s right.
Kirshen: That’s the amazing beauty of our universe, is that it is that elastic. You can have something that is more mature and the storytelling, the interpretation of the characters is more targeted to the adult crowd, but you also have a company like this. The characters are flexible enough to do it in a humorous way, as well. That’s the beauty of our universe, and why we can have games that hit both spectrums.
What are some of the big plans that are being hatched by the villains in this game?
Ring: We’ve got this idea that, right at the very beginning of the game, you create your custom villain, and it’s their story. But what’s happening with the villains themselves is they start recruiting. You’re going against The Justice League. So, the very first level, you’re going against the heroes. You’re playing as Joker and Harley and Lex. The very beginning is Lex breaking out of Stryker’s Island, and then, as the story progresses, you start recruiting more and more villains to boost and bolster your team. While this is all happening, the Justice League actually get pulled out of the story, they get put to one side. The Justice Syndicate turn up, which is a crime syndicate. They’re kind of pretending to be these heroes. They’re causing just as much mayhem and mischief as you guys are, so you have these villains going against each other. And while this is happening, there’s an over-arching story with Darkseid, who is coming in and doing things… In the latest trailer, we have Apokolips showing up. It’s basically all these villains just going at it in a big clash. As the story progresses, you learn what’s happening with these parties and who’s pulling the strings, and where the story is going…
Baker: There’s also a really cool customization aspect in the game, right? I’m just gonna interview him now, you can hang back. I’m actually interested in this part!
Ring: The DC roster is incredible. You’ve got some amazing villains. But we thought, what if you could make a villain and put that into the story? But if you say that, you have to have enough customization options to really make who you want to be. So there’s a huge amount of cosmetic options. You can really change your character. You can give them fairy wings, or make her look like a giant hot dog, or individually change every single part of your mini figure. But then you can customize your powers, as well. If you want to fly, or be as fast as The Flash, or if you want to have blue bubbles which come out of the end of a plunger which you wield that destroy gold LEGOs, you can do that. And you get to constantly change your character, as well. That character really is part of the story.
Baker: That sounds as fun as the rest of it! That sounds fantastic… I haven’t played it, but I genuinely really want to do that. That sounds like fun. I love customization! That’s an awesome idea!
What would be your powers, Dee?
Baker: I think I’d like to be able to shoot deadly soda pop out of my eyes. I think that would be kinda cool. (laughs)
Ring: My personal favorite is the ability to grow your mini figure to be giant. So, you get to be your giant villain, stomping around Gotham, picking up cars and smashing the place up. Then, the realization that you can dress your character as a giant hot dog, so… A giant hot dog walking through Metropolis, picking up cars and throwing them around…
Baker: That just sounds fun.
Could you tell us a bit about the roster of DC characters in the game?
Ring: We wanted to make something that was not just kind of set within, “oh, this is just comics, this is just TV.” We could mix and match wherever we want. We have some characters, some villains… It’s a huge roster. We haven’t revealed the final number, but it’s easily over 150 villains. It’s one of the largest rosters of bad guys we’ve ever assembled. And there’s some really quirky ones in there that people are going to go, “really, you managed to put him in a game?”
Could you tell us about the LEGO games and how they contrast against the darker tones of the movies?
Ring: When we’re looking at the DC villains, we have some very dark characters. What’s great for us, though, is, when you’re playing in that world and you have these characters that are really dark, it means we get to play up the humorous side of that and do something that’s – while always very family friendly – gets to play up the humor of who that character is. You want to take these characters and inject as much humor as possible. A lot of it is about the voice over. We write the scripts and send it over, but the actors bring it to life. That’s always really important to us. We want something that is very true, very unique to the intellectual property. If you’re a DC fan, you know who these characters are. But they’re done in a way that is still very accessible, very family friendly, and has a humor so they’re a new vision for people.
Baker: It puzzles me, when I play these, that, a lot of the times, fans are very serious about these stories. Some of these stories are very serious. Anything from The Dark Knight with The Joker, to the Harry Potter series, which has been done with LEGO. Star Wars, certainly. These aren’t really “wacky” stories. So, you think, maybe there are fans who would play this and be offended at the humor or making fun of this precious thing that they love. But every time I play it, it’s like, no, I’m totally on board. I’m not offended in any way as a fan of this franchise. It makes it fun. It’s an affectionate kind of humor that it throws in there. And it compliments the franchise and a true fan’s expectations, rather than running against it.
Ring: We make these games because we’re genuinely fans, in the office. When we have a roster, we want to determine what each character will do. We ask someone in the office because there will be someone in the office who is a massive fan of these characters. We like to have fun, but not make fun of the world. It’s about doing it because we’re fans.
Baker: I think the key is that it comes from a dedication and a love for the source material. If you have that, you can bend it, and play with it, and it’s still okay.
LEGO Batman and LEGO Marvel games, in addition to all their unique levels, have had big open world segments. Does this one have that as well?
Ring: Very much so. Everything we’ve learned about making open world games, we’ve put into this title. You get to explore Gotham, Metropolis, Smallville, and Apokalips. You can actually take a Boom Tube up to Apokalips. Having this huge open world then meant we needed to fill it with things to do. If this game lets you be a villain, what does that mean? It means you have to ask questions like, “How hard is it to steal candy from a baby?” And you can do that in the game! And you’ll interact with other characters, as well. You’ll bump into villains and they’ll send you on quests and missions around all these locations. You’ll bump into Ares, who’s randomly standing in a diner in the middle of Metropolis, you’ll wonder, “why is he here?” and then you’ll go off and do a mission for him. This open world is very expansive. There’s loads of bits and pieces you can interact with. You can ride cable cars, jump on the monorail, ride roller coasters in Amusement Mile. You can go to the Daily Planet – it wouldn’t be Metropolis without it! You can go to Ace Chemicals, Wayne Tower, LexCorp. Everything you would expect. And so many quests, characters, villains… There are a few bits and pieces where you play as the hero characters, as well.
Baker: How much of what you play in the game can you go buy?
Ring: Quite a lot.
Baker: That’s something that confounds me. Normally, it’s like, ya know, ‘oh, the crass commercialization of everything,’ but with LEGOs, it’s like, I want to buy everything! I don’t care if it’s commercialized, that’s why I love it! I can buy all of it and put it together and have it!
You said the hero characters are gonna be playable. Are they in Free Play? If so, are there any differences to them compared to how they played in the LEGO Batman games?
Ring: When you’re playing as the villains, you’ll actually encounter heroes and fight against them. So one of the boss encounters we have, you’re actually fighting against Beast Boy and Raven from Teen Titans. Once you’ve done that, you can unlock them in Free Play. Every character we put in the game, if they’ve been in a previous game, we revisit them, update them, give them new cool things. Even the villains, as well. Harley Quinn has been in the LEGO Batman titles, but this time around, she’s on roller skates, she’s got her boom box, she’s got her mallet. Joker, as well. One of the great things about villains is they have goons. Heroes don’t, since they have their team. But Joker can go up to his Joker goons and go, “right, you four, come help me!” and you can use them to help you in some way, making a bridge, or a trampoline for you to jump up. But when they’re goons, they’re disposable. Joker doesn’t care about them. Joker is just like, “yeah, you guys are done now,” and something will fall on them and take them all out, but it’s just like, “yeah, carry on!” But yes, returning characters all have brand new mechanics.
The DC universe is endless and goes back nearly 100 years. Tell us about pulling from this rich history of DC lore for humor and inspiration.
Kirshen: You have to have something in there for everybody. These games are so widely successful, they hit a lot of different audiences. And, ya know, whether it’s for the core fan, or the mass market, or a little bit of both, you have to work in some “insider baseball” jokes, as we call it. We have some pretty deep cuts on this roster. Your knowledge of DC needs to be pretty deep to know who some of these characters without hitting up Google. So, we just want to run the gamut of… The writers are amazing on these games, and they’ve been working on the LEGO franchise for a long time. It’s a natural, organic process. It’s not like we say, “okay, we need five insider baseball DC jokes.” Depending on the situation we’re writing for, who’s in the scene, ideas just come naturally. That’s the beauty of having worked together for so long. The team at TT has a symbiotic, organic relationship.
Speaking about these inside jokes, Does the buck stop with you if someone comes up with something edgy? Do they ever come up with something that you just have to go, “C'mon man, you can’t do that!”
Kirshen: Not usually. This is not the first time we’ve been working with TT. It’s been a ten-year partnership. They know where the DC boundaries are. There are certain things LEGO is sensitive about, too. We’ve been working together for so long, we all kind of understand where the lines are. And we typically know not to cross those lines for various reasons. It’s never been a problem, to be honest. Especially now, with the fourth LEGO DC game. We know where the boundaries and the borders are.
When I played the game at E3, I was playing Harley Quinn, and I was told, “hey, push this button.” It was the Pat Benetar button. Does that have a gameplay function, or is it just awesome to hold a boombox and have “Hit Me with Your Best Shot?”
Ring: Both. You can actually use it in combat. If you’re skating around and playing that music, any police who are chasing you will break into dance, because when you hear that music, you just have to. So everyone starts dancing around you, and they stop attacking you.
Baker: Music is a great mood regulator when you’re at home… Or when you’re fighting villains – or good guys!
Are there any other flourishes like that?
Ring: Oh, there’s so many. When you unlock any character in the game, we really recommend playing around, seeing what all the buttons do. One of my favorites is The Ventriloquist. He has Scarface. If you ever wanted to know what a ventriloquist’s dummy looks like in LEGO… But if you press and hold the circle button, he pulls out a little toy player piano, and Scarface sits there playing this piano, and it’s dragging Ventriloquist along down the street, and it’s just ridiculous. The team, when we set out, we really wanted to make this the funniest LEGO game we’ve ever done. We know, when you’re doing villains, you can get very dark, so we decided to play up the humor. Everyone on the team really took that and went wild with it. This is why all the characters have so many amazing animations and little quirks. We have Granny Goodness in the game. She can fly around Gotham on a rocket-powered zimmer frame, a walker. She can throw sweets from her handbag and they blow up. Just really quirky things with all the characters.
Kirshen: There’s certain characters that are kind of on the… They’re not well-known. They haven’t been in some of the animated series, or some of the movies, or TV shows, or at least not in a prominent, featured role. But the personality they were able to bring through with the gameplay that goes along with that particular character, and bringing that extra special attention to detail on what would make that character unique in a fun, comedic way, as a gameplay mechanic, is just… When you see it and play the game, you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are so many characters I picked up and played, who were implemented for the first time while we were in development, who just made me laugh out loud. That’s what I want the fans to have, too. To have that specificity about these characters in a fun, irreverent way: that’s what these LEGO games are all about.