"He's just being the clown so that people will like him. He doesn't understand why what he does is inappropriate."
After spotting Wolverine lying unconscious on the ground, a button prompt appears: 'Press X to bitch slap or B to be a quitter'. A questionable choice of words, I think to myself, but given the context of the character, perhaps nothing too unexpected. Next, Deadpool nestles himself between two unconscious women, whipping out a camera and snapping a picture of the three of them cuddled up. Again, I ask myself questions, taking particular note of the lack of laughter in the room.
Later, he's tasked with finding a well-endowed female fan, the camera focusing on her breasts as he reaches both hands out toward her. The joke's on him, of course. He's hallucinating, and has inadvertently grabbed the pecs of a character who wouldn't look out of place alongside Marcus Fenix and Augustus Cole.
To skip on the crudeness, of course, would be doing the character a disservice. After all, exploring the Merc with a Mouth's warped mind forms part of the fun. But how much is too much? And is Deadpool's outrageousness genuinely funny, or does the joke fall flat?
Straddling the line between irreverence and offensiveness, VideoGamer.com talks to Deadpool's game director Sean Miller as High Moon Studios brings the controversial character to life.
VideoGamer.com: Deadpool is so far removed from the industry's typical bald space marine characters - he's wacky, he's off-the-wall, he spits out humorous one-liners. Has it been liberating to be able to work on a character like him?
Sean Miller, Game Director, High Moon Studios: That's actually one of the things that attracted us to him in the first place. When we saw the opportunity and Marvel was interested in having a game based around him, one of the things for us was that we looked at Deadpool as this character who is so off-the-wall. He's got the hallucinations, he's got these voices in his head, and yet he's a mad genius. It all does make sense to him. It [would have been] less interesting if Marvel wasn't interested in exploring it, and they absolutely were.
So we talked about some of the things that we wanted to be able to do with the character, some of the wacky things and poking fun at not only video games but comic books and being free with that. Knowing they were on board - in fact, they were encouraging us to go and push certain things - was incredibly liberating. Because Deadpool is such a fractured personality, it's one of those few times in your career where you can let creativity run amok. It all has to make sense, but the team really got the chance to explore things that they thought would be fun. It's not all just about poking fun but that is a huge element of it, because everybody else, they're always these gritty action tough gruff, mean [characters]. And here's Deadpool, he doesn't take anything seriously. For us, it's something really fresh to the action-adventure genre and the superhero genre. We have this character who is a super hero but only in the loosest sense of the word. And that actually is defining. It's defining the rule by the exception, and I think that's why he's such a popular character.
Is there anything off-limits?
SM: Yeah, there is. We worked closely with Marvel to define what some of those things are. At the end of the day, you have a brand of characters that are really important to millions of people. That's something that as a developer we really do understand and appreciate. This is not just one person's baby. This is millions of peoples' baby. They care about these characters. Not just Deadpool but the whole X-Men universe, so you have to treat it with a certain amount of respect even when you're being irreverent. So we worked to identify some of the things that are on and off limits.
It was important to make sure that the X-Men characters are portrayed as themselves, because that is part of the fun. Deadpool is the only one who realises he's in a comic book, everybody else is the straight man, right? So you have to make sure that you're portraying those characters in the right light. But that doesn't mean that Deadpool can't do silly, weird things, like being able to grab Wolverine and slap him around like that. You couldn't do that in a Wolverine game. They let us do that. Things that are off limits are usually where we're putting those characters in a bad light, which we don't want to do.
A big topic of discussion in the industry last year was the issue of misogyny and sexism, but obviously that forms a part of the character.
How do you strike the balance between irreverence and offensiveness?
SM: With a character like Deadpool, because his irreverence is such a key part of him - it's not all of him, but it is a key part. He is a little juvenile, he is a man child if you will. The way that we approach it is, nothing in the game should be purely offensive, and that's one of the first defining lines. If it's fun or funny then it has value, but it's not being offensive for being offensive's sake. At its heart we define some aspects about Deadpool that I thought were really important. Deadpool is a guy who wants to be liked. This is one of the things that I think people respond to in his character. That's where the source of his comedy comes from. He's just being the clown so that people will like him. He doesn't understand why what he does is inappropriate, and again that's part of the humour.
But Deadpool loves women, and that's an important thing. It has to be coming from a place where this isn't dirty or ugly, he's just having fun. He loves women, he loves all women. In the comics he's all over the place with that, but he's never abusive. If a female character's going to fight him he'll fight that character, but it's not about being abusive. There's a very important distinction to be made there. I think you've got to be coming from a place where there's heart at the core of what you're doing and I think that's where comedy meets people. They can recognise certain things and laugh at the stereotypes, and Deadpool is about laughing at stereotypes. That is a fairly safe place because he's making fun of the fact that there are these stereotypes.
The fact that he knows he's a comic book character, he'll even call out some of those things, making fun of the clichés that we go through in video games.
How difficult has it been to maintain the pacing of the comedy?
SM: It's actually one of the most challenging aspects here. I think it's why you don't see a lot of comedy games, because being able to maintain that over a long period of time is difficult. It has to be a good solid game - if all it is is a bunch of jokes, it'll fall flat - and so we're finding the right balance of just how much Deadpool is talking. He's a character who in the comics almost talks too much. And that's fun in the comics because you can't hear it, but now you can hear all three of those voices, how do you keep that banter up? By keeping it contextual, that helps. Having him commenting on the things that are going on. You're in different situations throughout the game, so we use the comedy to be focused around the things that are going on. If it's the same one-liner that you hear over and over, it will go flat very quickly. We do have some running gags because the beauty of a running gag is that you do overplay it a little bit, and that's part of what's fun about it, so we have some of that.
We hit a lot of different kinds of humour. We have lowbrow humour, we have juvenile humour, we have a lot of pop culture, fun references, because that's something else Deadpool likes to do. So he's got a lot of different types of humour that we can mix in, but it's not just a constant stream. It's one of those things that we're very cognisant of and fine-tuning through user-testing both internally and externally.
It's a huge tonal shift from High Moon's previous titles. Has it felt like a natural transition or was there a learning curve?
SM: I've got a team that has a really fun sense of humour and that's really critical. If we didn't have that, I don't think we could have made this game. People would have gotten sick of it pretty quickly. But for us, we were ready to have fun with it. A lot of us knew the character and loved that aspect, so we all know all the clichés that we deal in, so this is an opportunity to point a finger at it and laugh at it, laugh at ourselves and laugh at our industry a little bit, all in a loving way. We love what we do and we love the people we make games for.
Will there be a Transformers game from High Moon this year?
SM: We don't have any announcements on Transformers right now. They're now focussed on Deadpool and getting that to the public.
This interview was conducted at an Activision press event held in London on January 8, 2013.
Deadpool launches on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 later this year.