The Comic-Con International: San Diego Marvel Activision Ultimate Alliance 2 panel was held off site at the nearby Hilton Hotel’s new Indigo Ballroom. With anticipation building to a fever pitch for the Civil War-inspired game, the audience was given two posters; one encouraging them to “Register Today, it’s the right thing to do,” featuring an image of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Spider-Man, and Thor, and the other imploring people to “Fight the Registration Act, [and] stand up for your rights,” featuring Luke Cage, Wolverine, Captain America, and Storm. The posters served to draw clear battle lines, and re-invoked the “Whose side are you on?” question at the heart of the superhero throw-down.The panel was moderated by Ricardo Torres, editor-in-chief of Gamespot, and attended by; Dan Tanguay, game director of Ultimate Alliance design team Vicarious Visions, Evan Skolnick, the game’s lead writer, Guha Bala, studio head of Vicarious Visisons, Todd “T. Q.” Jefferson, director of Marvel games, and vocal talents Armin Shimerman (Green Goblin & more) and Fred Tatasciore, (Thing, Hulk & more).
Torres began the panel discussing how Activision and Marvel “fused” to make great games. The previous Ultimate Alliance was cited as a resounding success, giving both creators and fans the game they wanted to see.
Here, with the crowd on the edges of their seats, the games newest playable character was revealed. With a full trailer showcasing him in action, the crowd roared at the revelation of the fallen New Warrior, Penance.
Skolnick described the decision for the former Speedball’s inclusion as only logical, since his evolution into Penance and the path that led there is a story at the very heart of the Civil War. Skolnick thought it worked both thematically and narratively, but the playability and allowance for fusion was also a big factor in the decision. Lastly, he included, Penance just looks cool.
Torres pointed out that in publication, Civil War spanned a great many books, and so he asked how the team made the decisions they did in paring the story down.
Skolnick really wanted to focus on the key themes and signature scenes of the comics, but stressed that it all needed to work within the context of a 4 player co-op RPG. Even with that, some key scenes needed tweaking. Here the screen showed pages of Millar and McNiven’s Civil War, the last gasp at détente between Iron Man and Cap- the Geffen Meyer ambush scene, and then rolled out an in-game cinematic cut scene.
The scene played up the trap aspect of the scene, and the characters’ understanding that this was the last chance at amnesty. It played close to the books, while allowing greater spacing for drama and acting. The crowd went wild for the scene, and it closed with the two sides finally ready to go into battle face to face.
Tanguay discussed the changed made to the scene- that there were more background characters, and the choice to include more background characters. Tanguay also described the inclusion of elements from Bendis and Dell’Otto’s Secret War, and the importance of that as an early beat in the public’s turn on heroes. He stressed that while players chose their own sides and paths, there would beed to be a satisfactory ending for players no matter which side they choose.
Torres asked about the delicacy of decisions when straying from source material. Jefferson said that with the 10 year history between Activision and Marvel, a trust has been fostered. So for game play purposes, things like the inclusions of Hulk and Thor, who were not in Civil War, seemed necessary to optimize game play.
Torres asked the vocal talents about their history with the properties. Shimerman shared that he’s loved comics longer than most panel attendees have lived, and so the characters were always in his head. When he had the opportunity to audition for the game, for the part of the Green Goblin, the higher-ups liked it, and so things went forward.
Tatasciore had also been a longtime fan, and added that he didn’t mind doing long, hard research with the comics. Then, implored by the audience, he gave his “Clobberin’ Time” delivery, and the audience roared.
Torres asked about the variation in voices by the actors. Shimerman said he looks at the characters and their needs and wants in life, and goes from there. The challenge, he said, is recalling what you’ve done in sessions long past, and reclaiming that voice.
Torres asked Guha about the scope of the game, and any trepidation in the creators’ approach.
Guha went on that Ultimate Alliance 2 was not only a big game, but it was also coming off the heels of one of the most popular comic games ever. There were 120 developers at Vicarious Visions alone, over 100 outside workers, between artists, voices, cut scene teams, and the entire team at Activision that all contributed to the success. He added that they all strive to truly engage consumers in finding what they want in a game like this one. There are hordes of people involved, and , citing an example, if one counted the software code, there are 2 million lines of code. The closest thing to that he could cite was satellite defense codes. But the most vital thing in the creative process was finding the inspired teams looking to make the book its best, along with the concept teams, who took the source material, and really had to realize it to the game. There was an amount of alchemy in finding the best way to do this game. There are lots of, not just Easter Eggs, but special things for consumers of Marvel properties to enjoy with this product.
Torres asked Tanguay about the difficulty in serving the needs of both the fans who want the game, and the developers and their interests. He called it a difficult balance, as everyone might want different things. So after the first game, he went to message boards, brought people into the office, and looked for what could be improved upon from the previous Ultimate Alliance. It made it easier to really get at the heart of the best game.
He cited the difficulty in finding the characters, as there are only 24 spots available on a given disc game. They looked at polls, he said, and weighed that with their own feelings on who would best serve the game.
The imitable, esteemed, bombastic Stan Lee was then introduced to an adoring crowd.
Stan opened his segment playfully, saying: “You guys have a helluva nerve starting without me. Do me a favor, I don’t like to miss things, so start from the top.”
Clearly joking, he turned his conversation to the other panelists “You guys think these people are just artists, writers, no- these guys are magicians. Forget Harry Potter, these guys are it! And I love it!”
Here the team announced the there would be a Stan Lee cameo in Ultimate Alliance 2. Stan went on, “I don’t know why I only get cameos, aren’t I a star?” When shown the character model he said, “Is that me? He looks more lively than me. No, if I don’t say it’s beautiful they’ll kill me.”
The moderator asked Stan about his feelings concerning how the games focus on being the hero, not the man behind the mask.
Stan, after a “What the hell did he say?” due to the audio tech, went on, “The personality of these heroes is so good in this game. In comics you only have a static balloon, but you don’t get the timbre of these great actors’ performance! And in movies you never get to see all these heroes together, they can’t afford it. I don’t know how these guys do it!”
He was then asked if he had a single fantasy of himself superpowered. He said he’d like to be “As strong as the Hulk, as smart as Reed Richards, [but] can’t say as good looking as anybody, ‘cause- hey?” To which the crowd raucously agreed.
He has no fantasies, he teased, his life is cut and dried, boring, and generally unemotional. Clearly dancing around the answer, he said “I’ll show you to ask me tough questions!”
He was then asked if he ever imagined as serious a divide between heroes as the Civil War.
He called Millar and McNiven’s story "one of the best ideas ever in comics." It had a sensible reasoning that sort of tied to current events, and though he didn’t have anything to with it, he admired it. And he loved the choice to put it in a game. He said he never dreamt that these panels could be put in something so amazing as this. With Acitivison games, he went on, you’re part of the story, and creating the story, and playing the story. He doesn’t know what will be in 10 years, but he’ll want to see it, as he reiterated “You guys are wizards!”
Here Torres opened the floor to questions. Each question was prefaced by a loving tribute to the architect of the Marvel Universe.
A fan asked, out of the 24 playable characters, who is yet to be revealed, and also if they could shed light on who might later be released as downloadable players.
The panel couldn’t talk specifically about who will available, saying that there are 3 characters yet to be released, one of whom might not be known until the game itself is released. But for downloadable characters, perhaps someone like Howard the Duck, who could curse and make fun of those around him, could be fun. They stressed that this is not an official announcement.
A younger fan asked, in reference to the end of the last game, what happened when Galactus ate the planet?
It was mostly a tease, the panelists shared, but they do allude to the fixing of that. But the priority was really figuring out how to make Civil War fit the game. Never fear, they said, they haven’t forgotten about Galactus.
Someone asked about the most interesting part of doing superheroic voices. He called it “not acting,” and the crowd turned on the questioner.
Shimerman said the most interesting part is that all they have when they work is the director, a mic and a script, so it takes a lot of imagination to create the performance without any visual reference. It’s like carving, and you cut away what doesn’t work until you get there.
Tatasciore talked about how much they become the characters, and how they must create a lot more in one’s head to get there. It is acting, but it is a different kind of thing. And they don’t act off other people.
Stan came to the defense of vocal acting, saying that “An actor in a movie can use their whole body to convey expression; hands, face, eyes- but a voice actor only has his own voice. And it’s very difficult, and many don’t realize how difficult, or how good these guys are.”
Both voice actors said what an honor it was to portray these roles.
Bala said that a big breakthrough was the ability to bring out the personality of characters. That’s a huge part of gaming. And with Marvel characters, there are plenty of ripe vulnerabilities to play with as well, and Civil War really typified that.
Will players flip sides in-game?
The team explored the idea of mid-game defection, but thought it made too disjointed game play. But each player has its own arc, depending on who you play as in game.
Will there be titular groups (like the FF, or the New Avengers)?
Yes there are roster bonuses, as seen in the first game, and other team factors called “boosts” that allow for lots of opportunities for team play.
A fan asked about Black Bolt, and why he wasn’t in the game. Stan promised to raise hell for the Inhumans, saying maybe they’ll be in the sequel, “Revolutionary War.” Tanguay said they are staying silent on Black Bolt, and the audience groaned in approval.
Torres asked how they adapted the somewhat talky Civil War into an action game.
They felt the conversation points of the game made for a game more relevant to current times. But the conversations have a lot of variation, differences between characters, and really served to make players feel like the heroes they play as. There are lots of ways to create this world; cut scenes are one thing, in-game conversations are another, but it’s really the mission design that drives story. The storming of Doom’s castle to open the game meant to really make the players responsible for the issues at hand.
Bala described the difficulty in fitting personality things in game, so the hub games between levels allow for greater character development.
Here, before the panel closed, Activision unleashed a brand new trailer.
Or they meant to, but at first try there was no visual accompanying the audio, which someone called the “special Daredevil mode”
The final trailer was screened, filled with great action shows of Gambit doing his ragin’ Cajun thing, complete with staff and cards, Wolverine going berserk, Phoenix pulling telekinetic moves, Venom and Juggernaut doing damage, Thor bringing the thunder, Human Torch going supernova, Patriot throwing fists of justice, and Captain America leading the insurgent charge. It was pulse-pounding to the finish, when finally Deadpool mowed down a crowd in a blaze of gunfire.
Activision thanked Stan Lee, the crowd, and encouraged everyone to be on the lookout for Ultimate Alliance 2 in September.Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 will be available September 15, 2009 on PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and Xbox 360. The version previewed here is the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 edition. Cosmetic, character, and gameplay difference may be present in other versions of the game.Fans can interact with developers and producers at http://marvelultimatealliance.marvel.com/ For more on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, check our story here and watch the videos below.