Marvel Heroes are what we've all dreamt of being. We want to websling through the streets of New York. We want to strike down swaths of villains with unibeams and repulsor rays. And dammit, we want to cut some evildoers up with six unbreakable adamantium claws.
When the new MMORPG from Gazillion Entertainment, Marvel Heroes ships, we'll get that chance. Taking control of the superheroes from the House of Ideas, players will fight well known supervillains in a very different type of MMORPG. For more on the game and how it changes things, we talked with David Brevik, Gazillion's CEO, at a recent press event at their headquarters in San Francisco.
Newsarama: Aside from the fact that it's about comic books, how do you think Marvel Heroes will appeal to fans of the medium?
David Brevik: Well, I think it does a lot. It'll let them play as the characters that they know and love, and we have a huge variety of characters to choose from. Even obscure characters you wouldn't normally find in video games, we're releasing some of those, and that's exciting. There's also the fact that the story is being written by Brian Michael Bendis, and that it will revisit and retell a lot of classic stories, which is something I think fans will really enjoy.
Nrama: So by obscure characters, you're saying that the Great Lakes Avengers will be in this one.
Brevik: (laughs) I cannot confirm nor deny whether the Great Lakes Avengers will be in Marvel Super Heroes.
Nrama: You definitely have to have Squirrel Girl in there.
Brevik: Most powerful character in... centuries, right?
Nrama: Tell me a bit about how you choose the characters that will appear in Marvel Heroes.
Brevik: The process pretty much comes down to a cage match in the middle of the office (laughs). There's a lot of debate and a lot of tears. The fact is that, in the end, it doesn't really matter the much, because we have a giant list of characters we would all know and love to put in. And the ones who make the starting group of characters... it's not the end. Because it's an MMO, we will have new characters, and it will continually be updated all the time. We may let the fans choose them; those things we'll be able to do because it will be a live game and we'll be able to add to it all the time.
Nrama: In revisiting previous storylines, will you guys be playing into summer events? For example, if you had launched before Avengers vs. X-Men, would you have quest lines based on that?
Brevik: I don't know if we'll have a quest line associated with it, but we'll definitely be able to do things like costumes. We'll be able to tie in costumes and things like that with movies, and other things that are happening with the Marvel universe. We'll be able to use some of the storylines and stuff and they will inspire what we are doing.
Nrama: How will you pull off the classic storylines? The Danger Room maybe? Have them take place in the present?
Brevik: That's part of the story. But it's like, you can imagine that with the [cosmic] cube, you can do all sorts of things.
Nrama: Tell us a little about the strategy involved with these characters. You can equip four powers per character, for instance. How many powers are you planning to have available per character?
Brevik: Well, it's a library thing, so it'll vary depending on the character. Some characters are able to do more things than others, but it's all within theme of what the characters can really do in the comic books. The idea is that I'm going to be able to create my Spider-Man or Wolverine or whomever, and the way they actually move around the screen and attack enemies will be different than other people's. So we will give you a guided path basically on how to create these sets, and play the game in different ways. Not just the gameplay style, but the stats I choose to collect and work on, as well as the look of the costume.
Nrama: We're guessing you're having to dig really deep to find some of the powers for these characters. Can you give me an example of a really obscure power you've found for, say, Iron Man? From some story that no one remembers?
Brevik: Well, Iron Man is pretty easy to write for. He's done so many little things in the comics that it's easy to come up with a bunch of different ways to create powers for him. With the more obscure characters it's much more difficult.
Nrama: Like who, for instance?
Brevik: Well, with Scarlet Witch, for instance, we had to kind of use our imagination. We can't just say, "No more mutants and you win," or something like that.
Nrama: That's too bad.
Brevik: (laughs) Well, people might like that, but it doesn't make for much of a game. So we had to be a little bit more creative in what "psychic" meant, and how it's different. We've taken a few liberties really with how it all works. It's all still very much in theme and approved by Marvel and whatnot. Having her have a giant field that just destroys things isn't necessarily verbatim from the comics, but it is in character with what she can do.
Nrama: Talking about the costumes, could you talk a bit about the crafting system? How does that work exactly?
Brevik: Sure. We have a bunch of patterns in-game, and the patterns are dropped as loot. When you get a pattern, you memorize it into your costume closet, and that's basically your collection of all sorts of costumes. Then another object that drops is something called an "element," which can combine with the costumes. It determines a whole bunch of things about the costume like stats, and then you get to choose the look that you want. One of the things we wanted was that, I've been sad in the past when my favorite look for a character is the look for levels 1-5, and now I can't play the favorite look for that character. So being able to separate looks and stats was something that was really important to me, and making sure that people could decide how their hero looked.
Nrama: How have you drawn from the costumes in creating the loot?
Brevik: We have a bunch of stuff in the game that are in essence relics. We will have a variety of things from the comic books that are very rare and people can wield.
Nrama: So there will be epic loot?
Brevik: We will have endgame and special loot for the endgame. But a lot of the stuff is randomly generated. So trying to find the best item is part of the gameplay, right? It isn't like everyone is going to have the same chestpiece or sword or anything like that. Instead, it's all subjective. It all revolves around your build. What are the best stats for me? Because of that, the randomness will allow you to keep playing and continue to upgrade yourself over and over at any given time.
Nrama: Having worked on similar sorts of games in the past, such as Diablo, how have you drawn on that experience for Marvel Heroes?
Brevik: In a lot of ways, I don't think this game would have been possible without [Diablo]. All the experience I have learned from making those games, the way that loot drops, the way that random levels are created, what makes things interesting, balance, all sorts of stuff I have taken from that. Not only that, but taking all those lessons and converting them into an MMO, which really hasn't been done. So I'm excited about that kind of evolution.
Nrama: It's so divergent from the traditional "World of WarCraft" MMORPG. What was the hardest thing to have to adapt from the classic action RPG?
Brevik: A lot of this comes from experience I have doing other projects, so I think that there have been a lot of lessons learned, a lot of technology we've developed since Diablo II. A lot of people on the project worked with me on Diablo and Diablo II. So I think that we have a great team that can draw on a lot of experience to create a very unique thing. There have been a lot of challenges, but I think we've overcome a lot of them simply because we've experimented with this kind of idea before in the past. A lot of this was the original inspiration we were going to go in for Diablo III. We decided not to go with it in the end, but we had thought about turning it into an MMO. It's really time to change "MMO" and what that means. MMO for a lot of people means Everquest and World of WarCraft... so many games went down that path. But MMO is a way that you play with each other, it isn't necessarily a type of game. So I really want to break out of that mold and make an MMO that's more about the social aspects, the way you interact with people, and less about being a World of WarCraft clone.
Nrama: So you've said that you want the quests to be longer and more meaningful. What we take that to mean is that you don't want people to have to go out and find five power crystals for Professor X. So based on that, it seems like you really want to have a lot more iconic situations, iconic battles with villains, that sort of thing?
Brevik: When it comes down to it, a lot of these quests are all the same. Whether it's kill a boss, or kill five dogs, those kind of things are the same in essence. It's just presentation, and story, and difficulty, and things like that. We're not going to have people go out and collect five wolf pelts though, because that's not the kind of thing that super heroes would do. There's ramifications to what they are doing, there's story, there's meaning, and that makes it a much more compelling experience than, "I'm going to go out and pick some cactus apples."
Nrama: Circling back to the original question, which of these features do you think will be the most appealing to Marvel fans, in your opinion?
Brevik: Playing as Marvel characters is definitely one. I think we just have such a great story, and it has a lot of references to things in the past that I know and love. And being able to see those stories come to life and play through them from the perspective of my favorite character is really going to speak to Marvel fans. It's very authentic, Marvel is helping us a lot, we're constantly interacting with them, and they're giving us access to all these great artists. It's a partnership with the people who are in charge of the IP, and I think that it is going to make it feel very true to life. And it's not just about what makes Marvel "Marvel." It is the personalities, the character, the story, that make it so interesting. It's not powers, it's not about that. There are real relationships between these characters, and we're trying to emphasize them. If you get into a party and I'm Wolverine, and Cyclops joins, they're going to banter. They're going to interact with each other in the comics. And those are the little touches that will make it really special and make it feel like a Marvel experience.
Nrama: Last thing. One of those most exciting elements of the Avengers was seeing heroes like Thor and Hulk being pitted against one another. Will there be player vs player?
Brevik: That is a very traditional thing with the Marvel license, so I can't imagine a game without that. So we're not officially saying that there will be anything there, but you can well imagine that it's something we'd love to have.