Marvel’s Avengers Director on Mission Linearity, Campaign Size and Structure, Loot System & More

Alessio Palumbo
Marvel's Avengers

Marvel's Avengers finally debuted at E3 2019, about two years and a half after the original announcement issued by Square Enix and Marvel in January 2017.

Not much has been divulged since, but that all changed at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Beyond the debut trailer released during the Square Enix Live Showcase, we of the press also got to see a behind-closed-doors gameplay presentation featuring the A-Day mission. That's the same one that leaked, so you might have seen it as well. It showcased a promising action/adventure game which is currently a bit rough around the edges, though that's to be expected given it has almost a full year of development left (as a reminder, Marvel's Avengers is scheduled to launch on May 15th, 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Google Stadia).

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After the presentation, we had the chance to interview Creative Director Noah Hughes, who's been with Crystal Dynamics for a very long time. It's a lengthy chat, but one that revealed several new tidbits of Marvel's Avengers - enjoy!

[Note - we conducted the interview alongside a colleague from Trusted Reviews. Thus, we have highlighted his questions with the tag TR to distinguish them from ours]

I was wondering just to begin with, did you reveal the engine that you're using for this game? Is that your own engine?

Yeah, this is the Foundation Engine of Crystal Dynamics. So we started developing this long time ago. But it has evolved through games like Tomb Raider. And some of the things we did, obviously, included a major overhaul to make this game both graphically improved and capable of supporting the variety of character types that we had and the degree of combat depth that we wanted with melee characters, flying characters et cetera. So that breadth of character delivery was one of our major motivations for benefiting from the engine we had, but taking the time for this game to make it as robust as it needed to deliver all those heroes

[TR] I suppose kicking off can you tell me a bit about the history of the Marvel's Avengers project?

I think I have less visibility on maybe the first business conversation. They came to us and said, we would have this opportunity to do this project, would you guys be interested? And I think a lot of people in the studio are passionate about comic books, games, movies, all of those things. So we immediately started to think of ways that you can turn the Avengers into a game and I think from that moment, we were very passionate about doing it and then similarly we've worked from that point forward with Marvel. We have people like Bill Rosemann who worked closely with the Spider-Man team and we collaborate with him so that we can create something that's true to the franchise that is created for fans but also is a unique vision based on our studio and our strength.

Okay. And, of course, it was announced that Marvel's Avengers will be on Google Stadia. How was it to develop for this new cloud-based platform?

We're not talking specifically about the platforms individually. I love to focus on the game, but I am excited to be bringing Marvel's Avengers to the Stadia platform.

[TR] With the Avengers, obviously the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the biggest movie thing that's ever happened. When making the Avengers and the likenesses of the heroes, were you trying to stick close to the movie or rather to create your own vision inside that universe?

We were definitely trying to bring all Marvel fans into the game world. Some of those fans are coming from the movies, and some of those fans are coming from comic books. So for us, we took inspiration from all of those places. I think the goal is to create a believable world and familiar heroes, but with a unique take on that and really take players on a journey they haven't been on yet. I think Avengers: Endgame was a great point of closure for the movies and we're excited to take players on that next journey.

[TR] With Marvel's Avengers being kind of a live service game, can we expect crossovers with the movies as new films arrive in theaters?

It's exciting to look at opportunities in the future right now. We are totally focused on launching the game right now. I think the part of the point is to recognize what fans want to see in the world as we can't possibly put everything in at the game's launch. That's kind of the dream for me for continuing this, if I built up these Avengers, I've got this roster of heroes and I don't want to just be done with that. I want to take them on new adventures and things like that.
We'll be adding new regions to the world and new heroes.

Is it possible to play the campaign with your friends, or is that just a single player campaign?

Yeah, that's an important question, because I think it's one of the more unique aspects of our game. Because at Crystal Dynamics, we're very committed to character-driven narratives that players expect from us. You can play through the whole campaign to the end of the story as a single player experience. You can also do the other extreme, which is if you don't care about spoilers you could jump into an online experience and have access to any of the heroes in any of the replayable regions. But I think it's played best as a bit of a mix, that you start in a level like this Golden Gate Bridge, with the A-Day experience that introduces people into the world sets up that world, and then the players are charged with rebuilding the Avengers in the face of an emerging threat.

Just referencing this mission, here we only saw one player character in action at once. So I guess if you had a party of four characters, there would have to be many more enemies.

In a level like this, you are introduced to the heroes in specific sections that are made for those heroes. But then as you progress, the story, new areas will open up. And a lot of those missions, you can play as any hero or team up with other players. So as much as you're allowed to play the whole campaign as a single player experience, a lot of the missions that aren't specifically focused around a particular hero, not only can you choose which hero you play, but you can team up with other players as well. There may be areas where you have to go back to a single player mission in order to progress the campaign and open up new areas. But then within those new areas, you have missions where you can team up with friends and progress your campaign as well.

[TR] Well, that sounds almost like multi-layered missions where you start together at the beginning and then the party splits, maybe someone has to fly over to do a puzzle to help to progress a little bit, things like that...

In most cases, the players that end up in the levels where you can play multiple heroes together, there are various options. Maybe we'll have that only flying characters can get here. Or if you are Hulk you can smash certain things and gain access to something maybe Iron Man couldn't. So there are opportunities for each hero to have access to certain areas. But in a lot of cases, the roles are a bit more flexible, which is within your skill tree and your gear customization, you can build the loadout of your heroes how you want. So you might make a sturdier Hulk, you might make a smashier Hulk. And then for example Iron Man could be taking out the flying targets while Hulk is attracting the attention of all these enemies. So we have a combination of areas that certain heroes gain access to. And then other times were heroes are just taking asymmetrical roles. There's a little bit of discovery too when it comes to finding those places that some heroes can unlock with their abilities.

I was wondering, you know, in the endgame, can you specialize your characters with your friends to maximize teamwork? For example, making one character a tank and another a supporting character?

Yeah, that's exactly it, if you play through the campaign, chances are you haven't unlocked all the skills. And there's probably lots of high-end equipment that you can earn. And through the selection of skills and through slotting particular pieces of equipment, you can very much tailor your hero in one direction or another. And then part of that is you're taking on things beyond the campaign that you need to be fully leveled up to take on. And then even beyond that, there are some things that are designed for multiple players to take on. And in that case, you're really having to play your roles. And that's where you might get in this situation of saying we really need a tanky Hulk in this situation.

Can you disclose the number of players that are in a party? Is it five?

It's four players.

[TR] Speaking of the endgame loop, why don't you talk a bit about the gear customization and the loot you'll find around missions?

We'll be able to get into more details later down the road. But it is very much the ability to tailor your build of a hero to a play style, and in some cases, gain additional abilities. One of the things that's a little bit different than some versions of the loot system or the gear system would be the visual look of your hero is defined by outfits that you've earned. And the equipment, your slotting is often something like a layer of armor inserts or technology upgrades or things like that. So you can choose your gameplay style through that gear but also still express your visual style. For us, we really felt like if you have a favorite outfit, you want to look right.
With the roster of heroes, part of the appeal is not only to customize a single hero but to customize the whole personal cast of Avengers.

Right. Adding to that, how important is the loot in the endgame of Marvel's Avengers? Do you have a rarity system? You know, like rare items, epic, legendary, etc.

Yeah, definitely the equipment, the gear that you'll be collecting. There's plenty of gear that is much more difficult to acquire and it's going to give you additional benefits. Part of the fun is to start as a very powerful superhero, but through the acquisition of skills and gear, I really feel like your tailoring that character. And part of that is a sense of difficulty to acquire that gear so that when you finally have it, it feels like a story. 'I did this and now I'm ready for this bigger fight'.

Though course, these heroes are so iconic. I mean, Thor is always going to wear his hammer, right? So it's not like a traditional RPG where you swap that for some other weapon drop.

Yeah. And that's the balance between the outfit and the gear. And in this context, we treat the design of the owner as part of the outfit. So he may have an outfit that expresses the beholder that was appropriate to that outfit, but he may have equipment that he can equip that is not visually expressed.

In terms of the length of the single-player campaign, can you tell us how many hours worth of content you're targeting?

I think that's a good question. We're not talking about hours specifically. But we're committed to having a full action adventure campaign. So even though we are expanding the game beyond launch, if you played Crystal Dynamics games in the past, the time it takes to get through the core campaign is often less than half of the content that you experience overall. There will be a lot of missions that are optional missions. And you can do them as you go along the campaign or you can wait till the end to sort of closeout, finish everything out. But there's a lot of content. And it's not unlike games we've made in the past in that sense. But in this game, we've promised that at no additional cost, you'll get additional and you'll get new heroes and regions is something extra to look forward to.

[TR] Obviously, Crystal Dynamics made the latest Tomb Raider trilogy. I was wondering if there is anything that carried over from that series in terms of inspiration to this one.

I mean, we benefited a lot from the engine, obviously, we've been continuously evolving our engine, we always push graphics, we push our character fidelity and the ability to deliver human performances and learning Why's that? I think that that blend of telling a very compelling, well-paced story, but also creating a world where you can tell your own story with Yeah, I think that's probably something we've been refining as a studio. And I'm excited because I think either one of those two things wouldn't do justice to this game. If you just made a single player campaign you wouldn't have that sense of assembling with your friends, but if we just dumped you into a multiplayer world, I think people would be longing for that storytelling and the character development and stuff like that.

This mission that was showcased today is a fairly linear affair. Are there going to be wider maps where you can choose multiple routes in Marvel's Avengers?

Yeah, that's a good point. We built flying characters. And even someone like Hulk who doesn't fly is doing these massive leaps and jumping off walls. And it was important to us that there's a sense of exploration in some of the spaces. So this is one of our more linear spaces. And then we'll have areas where you're actually searching for something and discovering things that are off the critical path and other things like that.

[TR] Obviously, when people think of the Avengers they think of Chris Evans as Captain America and so on. Was it a challenge casting these characters?

You know, I think for us it's less of a challenge. I think certainly, people who are coming from the comics might notice differences or people who are coming from the movies might notice differences. But we started by wanting to cast someone who brings these characters to life in interesting ways. And I think it's the actors who are fascinated by that particular hero and want to explore him or her emotionally. So to me, that process was actually one of the cooler things because you write scripts and in your head, it's a story, until it becomes a living and breathing thing with the help of actors. Now that has been an exciting and rewarding process.

I have one last question for today. During the fights, I noticed quite a few Quick Time Events. I’m wondering if these are going to be encountered often in Marvel's Avengers or perhaps they are just more prevalent in this mission?

They’re much more prevalent here than they are anywhere else in the game. This is an opening sequence. And we actually use in some cases what looks like a quick time event to train the player. So in the case where we see Thor smash down in the opening of the level, we’re really introducing you to those heavy attack buttons, and then onboarding you with that. And generally, there are a few exotic moments where you may have to express the effort of the hero or something like that. But it isn’t a core part of our gameplay, and it’s one that we don’t want to overuse, I think that we use them for both training and exotic moments. But we use them sparingly. And because I think they can be useful for us. But again, I think it’s like any of the tools in game design, which is we tried to do the best we can for our experience, we want the players to have them.

[TR] Given that it's most likely going forward, will players get free expansions and free content updates?

That's a good question. We have all the superheroes and all the regions coming free. When we talk about things like outfits, some of those can be unlocked from gameplay and some of those can be purchased as well. But in that case, it's not a gameplay advantage. It's just a sense of personality. And the other thing is, we definitely aren't using randomness in that. So if you see an outfit you like, you can buy it right away, no randomness involved.

Thank you for your time.

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