LOS ANGELES — In a somewhat secret room at the back of the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment booth at the E3 show last week, we watched the "Watchmen" video game.
Under a cone of silence and the watchful eye of developers and WBIE studio head Martin Tremblay, we saw something entirely unexpected: "Watchmen" heroes Nite Owl and Rorschach beating up bad guys in a game that looked sharp enough to be a full-scale production built on a modern gaming graphics engine but which will actually be a downloadable, episodic game for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC next year.
In the gameplay demo MTV News witnessed, the ink-blotted anti-hero Rorschach bull-rushed a gang of attackers in a dark alley. A bronze-costumed Nite Owl backed him up with a more technological attack, using not just his fists but gadgets to electrify his foes. The developers first played the game for us as a single-player brawler and then in split-screen co-op.
The "Watchmen" game is a prequel to the saga first chronicled in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' legendary 1980s DC Comics miniseries. Its release will be timed to coincide with the March 2009 premiere of the film adaptation, directed by Zack Snyder. But how do you do a prequel as a video game without Moore's involvement?
Warner Bros. has brought in "Watchmen" comic editor Len Wein to write the game's story. The narrative is being kept secret for now, though we were told the game takes place in the '70s and will be "subversive." What are the '70s like in the world of the "Watchmen"? Readers of the comic will recall that Richard Nixon is president for life, there's no Watergate scandal, America wins in Vietnam, and there are riots in the streets of the U.S.
Game producer Andy Abramovici told MTV News that Nite Owl and Rorschach will be the main characters of the game, though he didn't rule out the possibility of other "Watchmen" icons appearing. The developers have tried to give Nite Owl and Rorschach distinctive fighting styles and mannerisms. One example: Rorschach skulked around part of a level with his hands stuffed in his trench-coat pockets. Nite Owl moved more like a hero. The story will be told between combat scenes, though in what manner is still being kept secret. The fighting scenes will be programmed to merit the game an M rating and, Abramovici said, the developer is striving to have players fight up to 20 onscreen enemies at a time.
Watching a "Watchmen" game brings all sorts of ideas to mind about how to turn trappings of the comic into a game. Maybe part of it could be depicted in a nine-panel grid? Maybe Rorschach could run around dropping or collecting sugar cubes? Abramovici said the developers have thought of it all, and while some aspects of the comic won't translate, he guarantees that any sugar cubes that do appear will be properly branded as "Sweet Chariot" sugar.
The "Watchmen" game is being developed by Danish development team Deadline Games, the studio behind "Chili Con Carnage" and "Total Overdose."
MTV News will be at the San Diego Comic-Con this week for even more "Watchmen" coverage, including interviews with the cast. Check out our brand-new comics blog Splash Page for updates.
And for a lot more E3 games coverage, check out our Multiplayer blog.