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Interview: Watchmen: The End is Nigh producer Andy Abramovici

Kevin Kelly

We didn't exactly love Watchmen: The End is Nigh, Part 1 when it came out earlier this year, and now there's a sequel. Although it was always planned to be a two-parter in order to avoid the shoehorn effort of rushing a movie/game adaptation into development, how do you handle building the second half of a game that got raked across the coals by critics on its first outing?

We spoke with Warner Bros Interactive producer Andy Abramovici about both halves of the game, the retail packages, and if we might ever see an actual Watchmen RPG, or indeed any other game at all. Watchmen purists and PS3 owners out there might want to pick up Watchmen: The End Is Nigh The Ultimate Experience to get the director's cut and both halves of the game. Read on for the interview, which does not include first-hand descriptions of WBIE employees reading our review and cursing our name.

Gallery: Watchmen: The End is Night, Part 2 | 17 Photos

Tell us a bit about your background. What else have you worked on? How did you come to this?

My name is Andy Abramovici and I've been a producer in the games biz since 1994. In past lives I've worked in ghd sports and driving genres at EA, action genres at THQ and platformers at a smaller developer. I've had the pleasure of working at Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for the last couple years, and as such I was lucky enough to be attached to an iconic property like Watchmen.

Was the plan always to split this game into two parts? What about more episodes after 1 & 2?

Yeah, with the digital download strategy (as opposed to the traditional boxed product at retail approach) we began with, it always made sense to create smaller chunks ... that became the vision for us pretty quickly out of the gate. As far as more episodes after 1 & 2, anything is possible -- that'll depend on our success and consumer demand for more original Watchmen content.

The game is out on retail disc with the Watchmen: Director's Cut DVD. What other formats is it available in?

Watchmen: The End is Nigh -- The Complete Experience is an innovative, retail Blu-ray Hi-Def game and film hybrid which will include Watchmen: The End is Nigh Parts 1 and 2 and the Watchmen: Director's Cut on Blu-ray. This new cut of the action-packed blockbuster includes an additional 25 minutes of footage not seen in theaters, available only on Blu-ray and DVD. The two-disc collectible set will also feature exclusive artwork in a premium package. The game will be playable on PS3 which can also play the Blu-ray disc. It was first available on July 21 for a suggested retail price of $49.99.

The game, both parts 1 and 2, will be released as a retail game disc available for the Xbox 360 on July 21 for a suggested retail price of $29.99, and as a download on PC on July 29 and PlayStation Network on July 30 for a suggested retail price of $14.99 and on Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 on August 26 for 1200 Microsoft Points.

Did the retail disc come up as plans for the DVD were solidified? Or was that always the plan?

I think that was always in the cards ... we felt that the digital strategy would be a strong initial point of entry, so that was our first priority. Next, we felt that when the project was going to wrap up (around the DVD/Blu-Ray/Game Part 2 release), we could deliver a compilation of all the gameplay, perhaps bundled exclusively with special assets from the motion picture. And thus, Watchmen: The End is Nigh The Complete Experience was born.

Does the story pick up immediately following the events of Part 1?

Not immediately, but not too long afterwards either. Part 2 delves further into the partnership of Rorschach and Nite Owl before the hero-banning Keene Act. As the story begins, Rorschach contacts Nite Owl to get his help in solving the case of a missing girl, Violet Greene. Along the way Nite Owl uncovers that a woman from his past is involved with the disappearance, leading to a significant conflict of interest between the partners. As the story concludes, we see that in a sense Part 2 will have served as a bridge between the status of the characters as they appeared in Part 1 and their state of mind as the movie narrative kicks off.

In Part 1 we could control Rorschach and Nite Owl. Who are we playing in Part 2?

Nite Owl and Rorshach, still.

The first installment was panned by a lot of critics. Did you take any of that into consideration in Part 2? It must be frustrating to work on an episodic game when the first installment gets a lot of negative feedback. How did the team handle that?

When we spoke about the first episode in the past, we talked about the game in terms of it being a straight-out, no-bones-about-it, balls-to-the-wall brawler. And we spoke about it having high production values. And most importantly, we talked about it being firmly and undeniably set in the Watchmen universe. I feel like the game delivers on all of these initiatives, and I think that the reactions of the players who shared these expectations were pretty fair and positive. At the same time, there are a lot of ways to go with the source material, and being that we always expected to be a fairly concise downloadable experience, other genres and directions were probably not a reality for the scope of the project.

So, for fans who played, they were often impressed that the world did seem true to the source material. And for gamers, those that could accept Part 1 on the basis of its strengths, got what they wanted out of the experience. But to be honest, those fans that in their hearts wanted a 'Dr. Manhattan simulator' or something other than a brawler were not going to get that experience from this particular product. It doesn't mean that they are wrong for wanting that ... far from it. But those fans have probably judged Part 1 for what it is not rather than for what it is, and to be honest the same might be said for Part 2. With all that said, we demoed Part 2 at E3 last month and got a lot of continued interest both from new players and veterans of Part 1

Are the actual actors providing the voiceovers, or did you use soundalikes? How involved have Zack Snyder and Dave Gibbons been in the development?

With Watchmen, we understand that there is a built-in fanbase whose judgment about the game, the movie, etc will be based around how closely it captures the look, feel and spirit of the source material. What I'd tell fans is that this game was produced by a team that put the source material on the highest pedestal. Plus, the folks who are inherently linked to this property today all had a major hand in the creation of this game: Jackie Earle Haley (Rorshach) and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl) did all their own voice over for the game.

Dave Gibbons, the one and only Watchmen artist art-directed cutscenes and vetted art design. Zack Snyder was involved with the game's fiction and tone at every step of the way. Tyler Bates, the film's composer wrote our music. Each of these folks covet the source material and have all played a hand in ensuring the game eats and breathes Watchmen.

What's the toughest part about a film adaptation like this?

In our case, we aren't strictly speaking an adaptation, but are creating an experience which we feel needs to fit smack-dab into the Watchmen universe. So, the most important part is ensuring we nail the right beats and are true to the tone and tenets of the source material.

What sort of access to the film materials did you have? We know it's not a sequel or prequel, but was there crossover?

We had access to quite a bit, actually. For instance, we got early access to a lot of the hardware (gadgets, the Owlship, etc.) and the costume designs. This was a great help because as you know they are themselves a creative adaption of the graphic novel rather than an exact rendering. We also got to talk to the film's fight and stunt director about the movie's combat scenes in order to understand how each character's fighting style would be portrayed on screen. This of course informed gameplay a great deal.

It was split up into two halves so the game wouldn't be "rushed," did that help?

From the start we knew that we wanted to make a brawler with a great look and feel. We wanted to be an impressive title in the digital download space. I feel like that's what we have in fact created, so no I wouldn't say it went through many high-level iterations. Of course there are lots of lower-level ideas that get tuned, tweaked or even scrapped over time, but that's game development!

Are there any plans to do another Watchmen game in a different vein? Like a Watchmen RPG or anything?

Sorry for the cliché, but never say never, especially if the demand is there!

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