Fresh off of the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a new type of Marvel Universe is on the horizon in the form of Square Enix’s upcoming Avengers game. The developer showed off the first bit of gameplay at E3 2019, and it featured an action packed race against time for the Avengers that ultimately ended in failure. But responding to failure is what superheroes are all about and the upcoming game promises to explore that quest for redemption in stunning fashion.
CGMagazine’s Alex Handziuk had the pleasure to sit down with Crystal Dynamics’ Studio Creative Director Noah Hughes at E3 2019 to talk about their excitement for the project, the type of gameplay we can expect to see, and what kinds of threats the Avengers will face.
CGMagazine: How did the Avengers game come about? Did Square Enix approach Marvel or did Marvel approach Square Enix?
Noah Hughes: I actually don't even know the details of how it all started. I know as soon as we were asked at Crystal Dynamics if we would be interested in doing the project, we immediately thought of all the things we might do with it. It very quickly becomes something where you're like 'oh my god that will make such a good game.' So for me it was a great opportunity to make two things come together that I love: comic books and games.
CGMagazine: Given the popularity of the Marvel movies right now, was there any story arc that was off the table, given the possibility that they might explore the same idea in a later film?
Noah Hughes: No, not really. It was clear to us that we wanted to appeal to fans of all kinds, whether it be movies, or comic books. We wanted to take people on a new journey, and that's partly where reassembling comes in, as the players are given that role of bringing the Avengers back together and being part of that story. So they knew we wanted to tell something original, and we're making sure that we are being both true to the franchise and making sure that there's an own-able originality to that.
CGMagazine: Speaking of that variety, the demo experience was very cinematic, full of action and fighting. Can we expect to see other kinds of gameplay experiences throughout the story?
Noah Hughes: Yeah, and I'm glad you asked that question because it's very difficult with such a limited footprint of content to give a holistic view of the game experience. We start with a very cinematic action adventure slice. We love those crafted moments that are really catered to each individual hero, and some of those rivalries coming to fruition. But as you progress through the story, the world opens up and there's lots of optional missions. Those optional missions can be played with any of the heroes, and that's also where you can team up with other players in order to complete those missions.
We tend to blend this sense of the cinematic story with a world where you can really play with your friends and be superheroes. I think that the non-linearity of an action adventure experience helps that. Beyond that, once you finish the campaign, you really have more progression to do with the characters, skills to unlock, gear and equipment to acquire, so you can really tailor those heroes to your liking. Visually, you'll be unlocking outfits, some of which are original outfits, fan favourites, but we really want to invest players in those characters, and we have additional stories to tell beyond the campaign.
CGMagazine: Taskmaster was revealed in the demo and he's definitely not a tier-A villain that everyone knows. Are there a lot of characters or story beats that will surprise players?
Noah Hughes: I think one of the things that's fun with taking an original approach to this property is working with Marvel to find things that are dying to be brought to life. So you'll see things that certainly seem more recently familiar, but some of the most exciting stuff to me is to really give this amazing back catalogue of characters, NPC's and villains a new platform. We'll be announcing more in the future but it's an exciting part of the project.
CGMagazine: You teased a higher villain or villains in the demo with the idea that Taskmaster isn't working alone. What can you say about the threats that the Avengers will face in the game?
Noah Hughes: It’s not entirely clear in the introduction that we're releasing today exactly who is behind this, but there is a bigger threat. And what we see is that the Avengers, through the tragedy of A-day, become blamed for the event itself. We pick up with them five years after A-Day, and they have disbanded as a group. There is an emerging threat within the world, so the player has a sense that when the world needs them most, it's their job to reassemble the Avengers.
CGMagazine: Avengers is going to have both multiplayer and single player components. Will players have the option to tackle the story both ways, or will there be exclusive single and multiplayer content?
Noah Hughes: That’s probably one of the more difficult things to explain about the game because it tries to blend the best of those two experiences. You can play through the entire campaign's story content as a single player experience, and you'll be playing specific heroes on certain levels and choosing whichever hero you want to play on other levels. And you can win the campaign in that context. You can also do the other extreme, which is, if you don't care about spoilers, you can just jump into online play, be able to play as any of the heroes in any of the repayable levels.
Those are two different extremes, but I think the way most people play is as an action-adventure game that opens up a world of content as you progress the story. In this case, you sort of choose, do you want to progress the story and dive into this character, or do you want to play some of these missions and solve some of these threats. And in that context, you can play in a in a co-op fashion.
CGMagazine: How does your relationship with Marvel function and how much access do you have to classic archives and other universe resources?
Noah Hughes: We get access to a ton of the material. Probably the things that is most useful is collaborating directly with people like Bill Rosemann. He was a collaborator on Sony's Spider-Man game as well. He both understands what it takes to make a good game, and also just has an encyclopedic knowledge base of all things Marvel. Some of the funnest brainstorms are when we're collaborating directly with Marvel and saying, 'ooh, who would be a good NPC for this?’ Or, ‘who would be good villain for this?’ Or, ‘oh, we need an enemy that really challenges this hero.' That brainstorming process is so fun with someone who is just such a wealth of knowledge.
CGMagazine: What has the Crystal Dynamics team learned from their past experiences with games like Tomb Raider that you're bringing to Avengers?
Noah Hughes: Our studio is very focused on character driven storytelling. One of the things that was exciting about the Avengers is that each of those heroes really is interesting and unique, but it's them playing off each other that's exciting to me. So we really brought that commitment to the narrative experience and in some cases, some well crafted set piece moments. Blending that with a nonlinear action adventure experience, it was important to us that moments felt as good as any set piece you've seen. But, if the player can't tell their own story in this world, we haven't done it right either, so we were trying to blend the best of those two things.
Additionally, it would be really difficult to make all of these heroes do everything they need to do if we had to start from scratch. So this is Crystal's Foundation Engine, it's a proprietary engine and it allowed us to leverage the things we had done and focus on the additional things we needed to do. Certainly, there's a depth of melee combat, for example, that we haven't experienced before. That being said, we have a robust shooter engine and the ability to deliver that range based gameplay with a lot of acrobatic, empowered movement and things like that. So there was a lot that we could carry forward from an engine perspective, and that allowed us to focus on this vast diversity of heroes.
CGMagazine: Who’s your favourite character to play as?
Noah Hughes: I am having the most fun with Black Widow right now. That being said, I go through phases with the characters. One of the nice things about having multiple main heroes is that you can really immerse yourself in one and get as awesome as you can and then jump into another just for a change of pace. As much as Widow's my favourite right now, the Hulk is one of the heroes that I always come back to. He's so unique in how he's able to manage a crowd of enemies, doing combos and things, and just being able to pick enemies up and crack them together like a coconut. It really makes you feel like the Hulk.
CGMagazine: What would have to happen for this game to be successful in your eyes?
Noah Hughes: I think most people on the team agree with me on this one, but when you see fans enjoy the experience that's what it's all about. Making games is too hard to do it just for a living, and so we do it to create experiences that people love to have. For me, the measure of success is seeing those smiles.
The game is set to release on May 20, 2020 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 PC and Stadia. You can read the full interview in CGMagazine #37.