BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Paul Benjamin is no stranger to the Hulk. He's accurately scripted the jade goliath's antics in the pages of Marvel Adventures for several issues. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that he was asked to write the Hulk's saga for the Nintendo DS system. Benjamin scripted The Incredible Hulk over a ten month period. He told us what it was like having the Hulk SMASH in this very different format.


THE PULSE: A lot of our readers know you for your work in comic books, but how was working on a game like Nintendo DS' Incredible Hulk different than scripting an adventure of the Jade Goliath in the pages of Marvel Adventures?

PAUL BENJAMIN:
With Marvel Adventures Hulk, the goal is to create an entertaining story. Creating the Incredible Hulk for Nintendo DS was a very different process with very different goals. The main goal for a video game is essentially to create a fun, interactive toy. Also, when I write a comic book, thereís only a handful of people involved. Itís me and a team of maybe around five or six others including the penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, editors and a few folks in production. Making a Nintendo DS video game requires at least a dozen artists, designers and programmers working together towards a common goal. With more people come more challenges, but instead of a few minutes of reading time you get hours of gameplay.

THE PULSE: With a game, I'd imagine you weren't going panel by panel. How did you decide how to tell this particular story? Was it based entirely on the film or was it based on an amalgam of elements?

BENJAMIN:
The story for the game was primarily based on the story of the Incredible Hulk film. In fact, many of the gameís cinematic cut scenes are identical to scenes in the actual movie. I should mention that I did not write those actual cut scenes. Those came from Edge of Reality, the development studio that made the Incredible Hulk console games.

Building a game around the movie story and existing cut scenes is a tricky business. The purpose of the game is to create something that is fun and engaging to play. That doesnít always make for a good story. Also, our main focus for this game was really on Hulk smashing everything in sight. As the writer on this particular game, my job was to take the gameplay and build a story that served the gameís levels and progression but that also fit the existing cinematics based on the movie.

THE PULSE: What was it like getting to tackle a character you enjoy scripting in this different medium?

BENJAMIN:
It was a real challenge. In comics, the writer really drives the story. In this case, I had to bring the story together from the game play design, the movie story and the existing cinematics available from Edge of Reality. In the comic book, I have to figure out why Hulk is doing what he does. But in this case, Hulk smashes because thatís what Hulk does and thatís how the game was designed. The story was there to provide some framework, but it was not in the driverís seat.

THE PULSE: I know this is the first time you've worked on a video game, what kind of expectations did you have before you began scripting?

BENJAMIN:
LOL. I thought I would be doing a lot more writing! I figured there would be all sorts of information to get across to the player about Hulkís missions and motivations. But that takes players out of the game. Ultimately, there is a lot that is implied in the game rather than spoken. For example, in the course of every level Hulk can grab onto floating satellites called ďRage VaultsĒ and hurl himself through the air to smash through enemies and buildings alike. Heís totally invulnerable when he does this. At the end of each level he smashes a satellite dish to proceed to the next level. The implication is that the Army is using these satellites to track the Hulk and by smashing the satellite dish youíre getting them off your tail. However, we never actually say that. Part of that is for purely practical reasons. We didnít have a cinematic cut scene to communicate that information. More importantly, thatís just not the point. Youíre playing this game so you can feel like Hulk smashing stuff. In this game, the writerís real job is to get out of the way and let people have fun and play the game.

THE PULSE: Are you a big gamer? If so, how did that factor in to the type of story you delivered here?

BENJAMIN:
I love to play video games. In fact, I donít own a console system because if I did it would be the end of my writing career. I play console games at friendsí houses or at the Amaze office (yeah, I have to go to the office to play video games...) and play World of Warcraft on my own computer. Iím also a big fan of story-driven RPGs like the ones Bioware makes so well. As a general rule though, I like action games with fantastic elements. That kind of gaming experience definitely helped when it came to making a fun, side-scrolling platformer starring the Hulk.

THE PULSE: Did the game publisher give you some elements you had to include, like scenarios and situations or were you left to your own devices about what you wanted to do to further the story?

BENJAMIN:
SEGA gave both freedom and direction on the story. The game had to follow the movie and the console game storylines. We also had to make use of the cinematic cut scenes from Edge of Reality. Beyond that, SEGA gave me plenty of freedom. In one particularly amusing way, I had too much freedom. The Incredible Hulk movie script I read opened with Bruce Banner turning into the Hulk in Alaska. That scene was in the movie trailers as well. However, it got cut from the final film. That probably leaves many people scratching their heads and wondering why the first ten levels of the game are set in Alaska. SEGA was totally down with the DS game being the only Hulk game to feature Alaska game play. Unfortunately, none of us knew it would be cut from the film. Still, you get to fight a Yeti in the game, so who cares if itís in the movie. What more could you ask for than Hulk versus a Yeti? (And for those hard-core Hulk fans out there, Wendigo wasnít an option due to licensing reasons.)

THE PULSE: Did you get specific powers and abilities you had to factor in? Like did they say Hulk can get more powerful if this happens so make sure you include a lot of this or something?

BENJAMIN:
SEGA just wanted the game to be as fun as possible for as many people as possible. They primarily let my team decide what Hulkís powers and abilities would be. As Hulk you can attack in all different directions from a regular punch to an uppercut to a down smash. You can also increase the power of your attacks and double the height of your jumps by pressing the Rage button. The entire world is destructible, so Hulk can smash through just about anything. Punching your enemies into other enemies also lets you take out two soldiers with one haymaker punch. Plus you can use the Rage Vaults to hurl yourself through the world.

Thereís also a function called ďGamma BoostĒ that turns Hulk into a living engine of destruction. It makes Hulk move even faster and destroys anything he comes in contact with. I know that in the comics Hulk doesnít project a glowing force field of gamma destruction, but itís a fun mechanic and a good representation of the way Hulk smashes everything in sight when heís really angry. SEGA also approved our use of a bunch of alternate skins as unlockables. You can play as Marvel Adventures Hulk in the purple pants or as Mr. Fixit or even Maestro, the evil future-Hulk. Once you finish the game you can play as Hulkbuster Iron Man or ZZZax or the two-headed Hulk villain Bi-Beast and plenty of others.

THE PULSE: How long did it take you to script the game?

BENJAMIN:
The production of the game took about ten months from start to finish. The writing on the game was a constant process because the story had to be subtly communicated through game play. In fact, the cinematic cut scenes were the last thing to go into the game due to their scheduled completion date, so that meant the story couldnít really come together until the very end of the production cycle.


THE PULSE: Did you have any peers or friends who did this before who you turned to for advice on the best way to make things flow smoothly or was it a solo learning curve type of deal?

BENJAMIN:
I wish Iíd had friends to whom I could turn. Because the game was tied so closely to the movie story, I couldnít really talk to outsiders without leaking story elements. I didnít want to break my non-disclosure agreement. If information leaked, I would always wonder if it was because of my loose lips. If I donít talk about it, then I know the story didnít leak from me. That said, I did get plenty of advice from my team at Amaze. They were an incredible resource and definitely helped me along my learning curve.

THE PULSE: A lot of comic book readers have high hopes for superhero games. How well do you think the Incredible Hulk game is living up to the hype?

BENJAMIN:
I think the Incredible Hulk DS measures up quite well. If you want to feel the power of Hulk and smash everything in sight, itís a very rewarding experience. Iíve heard from friends that their kids wonít put it down. Thatís all I need to know: kids are having fun playing with the toy my team and I put together.


THE PULSE: Have you had a chance to play it yet? What did you think of the final product?

BENJAMIN:
I have! I love playing the game!!! Iím just about done playing through and unlocking all of the alternate Hulk skins and extra life energy. There are several other people on the team who also really like to play the game. For the record, thatís pretty unusual. Most people donít want to sit down and play their games after nearly a year of living with it all day long. You know the music, sound effects and level design like the back of your hand and youíre a little sick of it. But the Incredible Hulk DS has been an exception to that rule at Amaze and Iíve very proud to have been a part of that.

THE PULSE: How do you think working on the Hulk in the pages of Marvel Adventures Hulk gave you a kind of edge when you were scripting him in the DS game?

BENJAMIN:
Being a Hulk writer definitely helped me do a better job of bringing a bunch of disparate elements together into something that represented the core of the character. I think it helped me even more as the gameís producer than as the writer. My knowledge and passion for the Hulk helped inspire my team and keep them excited about the project. Even though we had our share of weekend absorbing crunch time, the teamís morale was generally very high. I think my love of the Hulk was a little bit contagious.

THE PULSE: Speaking of Marvel Adventures Hulk, what's coming up in your final issue # 12?

BENJAMIN:
Marvel Adventures Hulk #12 is a big blow out issue! Itís essentially Ultimate Fighting in the Marvel Universe as the Eternal known as the Champion comes to Earth looking for a good fight. He goes up against guest stars galore, including Juggernaut, Thing and Doc Samson. And he fights a certain Jade Giant.

Also, thereís some interesting movie tie-ins in that issue. Because I read the film script in advance and I knew this issue would be out the same week as the film, I was able to include a few nods to the movie. Itís nothing huge. Donít expect Thing, the Kree Supreme Intelligence or the Champion of the Universe to show up in the Incredible Hulk movie. But letís just say the story for issue #12 starts in a familiar setting.

THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?

BENJAMIN:
Remember what I said earlier about non-disclosure agreements? Well, right now Iím working on several projects I canít discuss. I think itís safe to say that my upcoming Marvel work includes plenty of web-slinging. Iím also writing a video game based on a comic book movie and producing two others that are based on popular comic book properties. Volume three of PANTHEON HIGH is done at Tokyopop. It looks like thatís going straight to the web with their current difficulties, but weíll have to see exactly what the future holds. Iím also in charge of localizing (making the English translation sound good) for Marvelís English language version of the beautiful Denis Bajram series UNIVERSAL WAR ONE. Thatís a sci-fi epic not to be missed.

I also have one important passion project. Itís a standalone graphic novel featuring tales from my fatherís 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. Iím getting ready to shop that one to publishers soon. If Iím lucky, I can make a deal while heís still around. If not, well, the whole family will just be glad to have the stories down on paper.


Anyone who wants to find out more or send me an email can do so through my website: http:// www.thepaulbenjamin.com