It was announced a few years ago, but Crystal Dynamic’s Avengers game was finally fully revealed at E3 2019. Closing out Square Enix’s press conference, the presentation was a little vague on what the game was really like and how the multiplayer would fit in to a seemingly linear story.
At E3, though, Twinfinite saw an extended demo of what was shown in the Marvel’s Avengers trailer during the press conference and later that day got the chance to sit down with the game’s Creative Director, Shaun Escayg, and Lead Combat Designer, Vince Napoli, to talk about the structure of co-op and their vision for the game post-launch.
Tom Hopkins: Did you ever consider following an existing Avengers story, or was it always the plan to create your own?
Shaun Escayg: Yeah, it was always the plan to create an original story. We wanted to have that freedom, we wanted to choose a cast that could support the story –that’s why we chose the core five that we did. And we wanted to push, within the boundaries obviously, of Marvel, to tell our version, and what our favorite version of the Avengers is.
For me, personally, a lot of the stuff is inspired by the Marvel’s comic series, with the Phil Sheldon character experiencing these heroes as almost dangerous beings, and that conflict of well, are they superheroes or are they dangerous beings, so that was the intent from the get-go, to create something new.
Tom: With the heroes being so iconic, and considering the popularity of the MCU, how did you approach the creation of your own versions of them?
Shaun Escayg: Well, we had 80 years of history, obviously, from Marvel to choose from but we wanted it to fit our story. So, we started with the Avengers at their highest. They’re doing well, they’re expanding out to the West Coast. So, even the costumes and how they’re perceived, some of the hubris, comes across in that sense of where we think they are, in terms of our world.
And then we break them down, and of course costumes changes again. So, we approach it sort of collaboratively with Marvel, but we also wanted our spin on it, the Crystal spin as we call it.
But really, it’s tied to this narrative of: place them up high, they’re proud, they’re hubristic, and they take a chance that they probably shouldn’t have taken, leveled the city, and now we have dropped them and can take them up again on the adventure.
Tom: How different does each character feel to control? Can you, say, feel the weight of Hulk and the agility of Black Widow?
Vince Napoli: Yeah, that was one of the big goals, even from Marvel’s standpoint, and from ours, if we were going to tackle these characters, we needed each one to feel like it could be its own game, and that there was no cutting any corners, there was no sharing for sharing’s sake.
It was like, look at each of the characters, what do they need to do, let’s build that first and wrap up a combat system sort of around those ideas.
So it was like, if Black Widow needs to be stealthy, agile, fast, she has a grappling hook, she needs to move differently, she needs to defend and evade differently, so we’re going to do that. And then her ranged attack, she’s gonna have guns, and other guys don’t use guns.
So it was like, alright, let’s build a system that caters to her and go to the next character and do the same thing. So, it’s been fun, it’s been challenging, but the most rewarding part, I think it means that the combat system is unique and it is almost based off the characters, rather than the other way around, like we sort of let the Avengers design the combat system, almost.
Shaun Escayg: Yeah, and to add to that, I think we needed to do that, to stay true to the characters and to really stay true to the experience. The Avengers is a dysfunctional family, right, and to feel and play that on a stick is the most important thing.
Tom: Will there be a large set of playable characters, beyond the five you’ve already announced?
Shaun Escayg: I can say, certainly. This world, this single-player story-driven narrative, is just an introduction to this much larger world. And will the Avengers resolve to take on that escalating threat that’s in the larger world?
So, there’s the question of where are all your favorite heroes –where are they when A-Day happens? So, yes, we have now a new canvas, this larger world, to constantly introduce new characters and show their storylines within the context of our story.
Tom: Will there be any sections in the main story where you can choose who you play as? Is it a linear path or does the game make those choices for you?
Shaun Escayg: We think of the campaign as something new –there is a linear path straight through the story. There’s a jumping off point that sets it up and you can go all the way to the end.
However, there are these tangent missions that you would do once you’ve progressed with whoever’s driving the narrative at the time. You unlock certain heroes and you can go off and do missions with those heroes.
Now, you can choose in that world, on that, say, non-linear version of it, you can choose which characters you play as, you can choose up to four friends to play with and it’s still based on the same kind of narrative wrapper that’s connected to this main storyline and you can rejoin that storyline.
So, in a sense it’s both, it’s both linear and non-linear, in some senses, but the beauty of it is that if I wanted to play through this as Captain America, I’m playing through the story and I’m like “man, I really want to play some Hulk,” I can go, at certain points in that linear narrative and branch off and say “I’m gonna play this mission and level up Hulk and make my version of Hulk, get him to where I want and then come back into the story.”
I can also play this very differently. I can get the set up and say “I don’t want to see the story, I don’t want to go through this linear fashion story,” I can jump out and play with Vince and Steve (the PR representative sitting in on the interview) and say “hey, we’re gonna play this game in co-op, up to four people,” or I can say “I going to play the whole game by myself, with the co-op and the linear story.
So, there are many options to the player, to play this game, and it’s all kind of wrapped in this one narrative.
Tom: As we saw in the demo, quite a lot of the moments are driven by one character, how does that work with the co-op?
Vince Napoli: Yeah, so this beginning level structure shows off how the wider game structure will work. So each character sort of drives the objective, and the objective is set, I guess, by which character is pushing that.
So, where in this case you’re switching between the characters rapidly, there may be other times where, in this mission, it is really about this character and that’s the one you’ll play for this mission.
But as Shaun said, the idea is that it’s one storyline where it is like one character, and this character, and you follow that one, but as you change those, the idea is that that’s where the side stories start to come out and that’s where you can dive off.
And, once you’re off that one storyline thread, it’s all choice. So, basically, we have one we’re calling the campaign story and one there’s the multiplayer story that all character selection.
Shaun Escayg: And I still consider that the campaign, like that linear fashion, with the branches if you will, is still the campaign. It’s not fully co-op.
Tom: So what’s the plan for co-op in the future, in terms of post-launch updates? Are you planning on adding new missions as well as characters?
Vince Napoli: Yes, absolutely, not just new mission but new storylines. So the post-launch stuff is really about the story, so the mission structure is really based around ‘we’re going to tell a new story,’ that’s where the characters come from, that’s where new characters come in.
And then, all of the missions and everything around that is sort of built around pushing that larger story, which is escalating threat, and sort of why I would continue to level up my Thor and why I would continue to progress that, because the threats are getting more severe, more significant, and that’s really exciting to me as a fan of the Avengers stuff because I want to work my way up to defend earth, basically.
Shaun Escayg: Yeah, it’s hard to get into the details, obviously, but Vince is right, we’re setting up a world, and in that world you’re going to gather with your heroes and defend earth.
You’re going to constantly to have new threats, have new characters added, storylines are going to be affected by that and it just expands and expands. The details of it we can’t go into but it is something we hope you play in for years.
Tom: You mentioned about upgrading Thor, which I guess you can do for all characters. Are you able to switch out abilities, changing to what you like, or will there be set abilities for each character?
Vince Napoli: So we have a skill tree. There will a couple of different parts of character progression, one of which is the innate character skill tree stuff which is new abilities, we call them heroic abilities, new attacks, basic moveset stuff.
So, there’s an expansion of those, an unlocking of those, and there’s also, within that tree, a speccing of those I guess, where you can kind of customize within a couple of different playstyles.
So if you want to be sort of more of the team commander Tony Stark, who has support abilities and leverage attack to help his teammates, or the like super selfish, I just want to do as much damage as possible with my ranged attacks Tony Stark, you can do that.
Then, we also have a gears system that allows you to supplement that as well. So that sort of gives you two kind of ways to kind of spec the characters as you want.
Tom: How would you compare the online co-op to other multiplayer action games, or is it more of an entirely new idea?
Shaun Escayg: It is sort of a new idea. I can tell you where the idea was born. To actually do a game like, or to even capture what it’s like to be an Avenger, that’s what led us down this path.
How do we create this sense of being able to play all the characters, being able to play the characters as you like them, and having an assembly of them, and still grounding this in a very strong narrative, like all the Marvel books, films, and comics that you know? So, just in and of itself, just a property kind of defined how we designed this game.
Vince Napoli: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s comparable to any other kind of shooter, cause it’s not just a shooter, it’s not just a melee brawler, it’s both basically.
And it’s heavily cooperative as well, which is something I haven’t… I’ve worked on similar versions of single-player stuff that’s used elements of these, but I’ve never worked on anything that is this comprehensive in terms of supporting such a wide and varied combat system.
Marvel’s Avengers is due to release on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia on May 15, 2020.