It’s gotta be villains and it’s gotta be funny — Talking LEGO DC Super-Villains with Arthur Parsons

We’ve been eager to learn more about LEGO DC Super-Villains since we got to play it at E3, and amid the hustle and bustle of the San Diego Comic-Con show floor, I got one such opportunity. Tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of DC’s booth, I settled in to chat with Arthur Parsons, head of design at TT Games, to learn more about the game’s expansive cast, customizable character, the voice actors who are bringing these villains to life, and the concepts behind what has been promised to be the funniest LEGO game yet.

People are already going nuts about this game, did you anticipate this level of excitement, or is this exciting, surprising?

Yeah, when we first announced the game we got more, kind of more excitement than we thought. We knew we were onto something. You know, we’ve done three Batman games, three Marvel games, the superhero games are really popular, but we knew we got onto something with villains, because everyone loves villains, and the DC Supervillains roster is so good. But yeah, it’s having villains, and then having your own, sort of like, your own villain. You can make your own villain,and they’re integral to the story, it’s not just a throw-away, I think people really resonated with that, so E3 was great feedback, already at Comic-Con, people are kind of super into it.

This is the first time you really get to customize your own little character, what brought that around?

So, the customize screen, as a free play thing, has been in most of our games, but kind of always hidden away. This time ’round, um, we just really wanted to do something different. So being able to stick that front-and-center, um… we had a huge investment, so you can change everything, the color of everything. So even eyebrows, lips, torso, and then… abilities. You can be a speedster, or you can have laser eyes. It just–you know, kids love customization, um, you know, I’ve got, like, I’ve got five kids total, and I watch them play all the different games–they just love customizing! Kids love being able to put their own stamp on a game, so we thought, “Why not?” And already, people are like, “This is so cool! I’m going to make this character, I’m going to do this…” Um, so, yeah, that in mind, and villains, and then a whole new visual, you know, everything’s bright and colorful and quirky with the game. I think people are going to really love it.

It looks like the cast is huge!

Yeah, so the cast is really big, and obviously here, at Comic-Con, is the time when we get to start revealing other characters. So, we kind of revealed obviously the Legion of Doom and the Justice Syndicate, but now, while we’re here, we’re revealing some of the quirkier characters. So characters like Ventriloquist, Toy Man, cool villainesses, like Silver Banshee, um, who else have we got? Mister Mxyzptlk, there’s so many great characters! And that’s the great thing about the DC villain roster, it just keeps going, forever. You’ve got characters in there like Calendar Man, and Cock King, and Polkadot Man, and Condiment King, so there some really quirky ones, but when they’re in LEGO form, all the silly abilities … kids love finding the weird characters.

And that’s my favorite thing is, is putting in the weird–weird, and the wacky– we’ve got a character called B’dg — spelled B-D-G — which is like, it’s a Green Lantern squirrel. So that’s one of the–that’s–there are some hero characters in the game, that’s one of the hero characters, and it’s based on a squirrel with a Green Lantern outfit on. It’s weird. But I… I love characters like that–and then you’ve got Dex-Starr, who’s the Red Lantern cat, so there’s loads of weird stuff in there, but the game is, you know, I think I’ve worked on… I’ve lost count of the LEGO games, I’ve been at TT like, 20 years, so, but this one is… it’s so funny!

The first thing we wrote when we started coming up with ideas for the game, we just wrote “villains” and “funny.” And those are the two things that we kept going back to, it has to be funny, um, but villains trying to be heroic, and they can’t. They just–they don’t work well together, and they don’t work well with other people, and they’re a bit clumsy, and a bit silly, and it just makes for a fun game.

I was impressed by how every character has a distinct way of moving. Some run around on all fours, some hover…

Yeah, that’s a really big undertaking, because, if you think, we’ve got over 150 characters, and we go through, and what we do is we look at every single character, and we’ll design each character in terms of their personality from the comics… how… how’s that gonna translate. And then the animators go in and sort of layer on it. But it’s basically a whole team of people that just run through that. So even someone that’s really… like, no offense to him, but Ventriloquist is kind of bottom tier, but his moveset is so unique, bespoke, and it all comes down to the work that the team put in. They don’t want any character to kind of, just be a carbon-copy skin. They want them to be a unique. But it’s great, because it means after you unlock the character, you’ve gotta see what the character does. What happens if I hold this button? Do this? What happens if I jump? What happens if I run? What happens if I punch someone? And it’s all unique and special.

Obviously, at this stage, there are things you can’t talk about, but of what you can talk about, do you have a favorite new feature?

Oh, that’s a tricky one, because I love the customization, I think that’s really, really cool. I love the fact that your character can be upgraded throughout the game, and at the end of the story, they’re pivotal in the outcome of the game, I think that’s really cool. I remember when we came up with that, we thought “Is this going to work?” and thankfully it does. The customizer’s great, um… [sigh] There’s some stuff that I–it’s kind of like–when you finish the main story and you unlock, that’s pretty cool, but I can’t–if I talk about that, someone will shout at me.

I love the season pass that you can get. So if you like, get the season pass, there are some really cool character packs, because I–I love all the DC TV shows. So there’s like, a couple of DC show packs, and I don’t even know if I can say something, but I think we’re gonna talk about it this weekend. So like, there’s a hero one which has got Arrow and Flash and it’s a terrific–Supergirl and like, all the cool TV heroes, Vibe’s in there as well, and Black Lightning, so that’s really cool.

I just–for me, I think the thing I like most about this game is the voice cast. If you look, top to bottom, you’ve got [Mark] Hamill’s Joker–it’s like, you’ve got the best Joker. You know, Kevin Conroy is Batman–you’ve got the best Batman. All the way through the list, it’s top tier. Tara Strong is Harley [Quinn], they’re the best of the best. And it is, I think, of all the games I’ve worked on, the voice casting is the best of the best. And they’ve kind of taken that on — and we did, we said, “This has to be the funniest LEGO game we’ve ever made,” that voice talent brought into that and they’ve kind of raised their game and brought their own game.

It’s funny, the story–we wrote the story a long time ago, and then having now seen it in it’s virtually finished form, it’s funny. It could be a stand-alone story. I’m–I’m just excited for people to play it. You know, it’s coming out on October the 16th, it seems like a long way away, we’re wrapping it up now, and I just want people to play it! So I’m looking forward to watching people play over the weekend, actually.

Have you had any really exciting or memorable fan reactions so far?

People hit me up on Twitter all the time! I kind of, I invite that, which is great. Tell me what characters you want to play. Tell me what characters you want to see in the game. It’s a really good temperature check to see what they get excited by, it’s great watching people sort of looking at the footage people get. You know, they go through this stuff really really finely, just sort of, see stuff in the background. There’s a new trailer that we released today at Comic-Con and it’s just got a load of new things in there that people will just hopefully sort of dive into. Yeah, I just like hearing from people that are actually gonna play the game. If they’re happy, I’m happy. If they’re happy, we’re doing the right thing.

It’s not an entirely destructible environment, but I was surprised by how many things within the game you could actually destroy.

Yeah, we have an unwritten rule in the office where if it’s LEGO you can interact with it, if it’s not LEGO it can’t be. When really young kids play our games, that really works with them, because they know if they see the LEGO they can interact with it, whether they can break it, or whether they can move it, or whether they have to interact with it to make it move, they know that it’s interactive. And it just works really well, you know. You look at a lot of games, there’s not a lot of environment interaction; we try to put a lot in there, whether it is the stuff you interact with regularly, the vehicles, but I think it’s something that’s really important to have, with all those characters, they need something to interact with. Whether it’s Poison Ivy making plants interact and grow, whether it’s Batman blowing stuff up with his sonar drone; whatever it may be, it’s all really, really vital. But yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in there.

I love watching Lex Luthor build things!

Yeah! I like watching the speedsters build, because it’s just so quick. There’s a really great mechanic which we haven’t shown yet, because we haven’t shown the level with it, but any of the speedsters can get on the cosmic treadmill, and they basically go back in time, collect loads of lego bricks, and then you come out, they do this cool–we call it flash-to-build, where you build really big and really fast, and those are cool. And, again, there’s so much stuff people haven’t seen in the game, so we’re kind of playing catch up, I think. Showing all the mechanics, where are we now… July? So it’s only three months, it’s not a huge amount of time, but yeah, we’re trying to make sure we’ve regularly got stuff to show people.

Is there anything this game has done that previous LEGO games haven’t?

I think what we’ve done with this one is, we’ve made sure that everything is as good as it can be. I think in the past, maybe, we wouldn’t necessarily have the time to refine everything perfectly, so we’ve made sure we have a lot more time on this one to go through and make sure every level’s the right length, the right pacing, the right drama, the right music; really iron out all the kinks, make sure that nobody encounters any weird bugs or anything. But in terms of stuff that’s never been in a LEGO game, it’s all the subtle stuff that people won’t notice.

So as you’re booting up the game for the first time, it will actually ask you to select a difficulty mode, we’ve never done that, and you’ll find that you’ll be the rookie villain or the veteran villain. And the rookie basically means that the hints come up a little bit more often, it puts the difficulty levels lower down a little bit, it’s just more assistance for the player. And then the veteran is going to be a little bit tougher, and less guidance, because we know that some people think our games are really easy, because–we do! We aim them mainly at the kids, so we’re trying to make sure we’re catering to both, so that’s really new. The thing that we’ve got with the twist in the stories, there’s loads of new mechanics, so you can goons, um, different characters can control goons. So there’s a lot. When people play it, if they’re familiar with LEGO games, they’ll be like this is cool, there’s lots of little new things.

And there’s–we’ve never done an open world this size in a DC game. You’ve got Metropolis, you’ve got Gotham, you’ve also got Arkham, Smallville, where else have we got? It’s basically the whole of the DC universe in one open world, so we’ve never done that before. Yeah, anyone who likes the LEGO games, or anything DC, they’re gonna wanna buy this game.

I was impressed by how expressive all the characters are, even though they’re just little LEGO blocks.

Yeah, and I think that’s testament to the team; they can make a little plastic figure that’s so expressive when there’s not much to use. A couple of eyebrows, one mouth, you know, cup hands, but it is! And everyone has their own personality, it’s really really cool.

Was there anything you managed to get into the game that you didn’t think would make it to the final version?
Yeah, Lobo! Lobo is one of those things, um, and he has a role in the game that we haven’t revealed yet, but he’s a really cool character. Um… yeah I don’t… I don’t think there is, really. Yeah, DC and LEGO are great partners to work with, when we go and we pitch the ideas, those guys get it, really. They’re like “Ok yeah, that’s going to make a great game, so, we go all in with it. And again, with the season pass concept, there’s a few things that I didn’t think we’d get, which we have–I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about that yet, but, trust me, it’s awesome stuff in there.

Anything you’d like to tell the fans?

One thing is if you’ve got a question about the game, and you want an answer to it, you can find me on Twitter! I’m there @arthur_parsons, and failing that, pre-order the game! There’s some great exclusives at GameStop, you get a cool, um, like a steel box version, with a, I think it’s Harley Quinn, like one of these [LEGO character] faces on the front. To me it’s a case of, if you preorder it, you get some cool stuff, but just make sure you pick the game up, because if you like anything we’ve ever worked on, this game’s for you. And if you like anything DC, this game’s for you. I just hope everyone really, really engages with the game. We had an absolute blast making it, and I hope people will really enjoy playing it.

LEGO DC Super-Villains will be coming to PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Switch on October 16th. Check out our E3 gameplay footage, and learn more at the official website.

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