Marvel’s Avengers Interview – Future Hero Teases, Inclusivity, Dialling Down Screen Shake, And More

We got the chance to speak to Philippe Therien, War Zones director at Marvel’s Avengers, ahead of the game’s official launch on September 4. In the 15 minute chat, we touched on inclusivity, readability, invisible loot, screen shake, and what heroes might appear in the future.

TG: War Zones are your co-op missions that people can jump into with friends – how do you make sure they’re infinitely replayable if people are doing them over and over again?

Philippe Therien – The big thing is, is to make sure that people are doing what they want to be doing. The War Zones don’t force you to play them in a specific order – so that’s the first thing. You’ve got some missions that rotate in and out, and you get to choose the missions you want to play based on what you want to do on any given day. So whether you’ve got five minutes or two hours, we’ve got different types of War Zones for that. On the low end you’ve got the Drop Zones that you’ve seen in the beta. On the higher end we’ve got Threat Sectors, which can be about half an hour. Then there are some more challenging War Zones that can take an hour and a half to complete.

So there’s that factor, but there’s also the rewards that are attached to the War Zones. You could be going after outfits, you could be going for resources, trying to find artefacts. On top of that, we have some War Zones that you can only access if you find some secret areas, for example. And there’s some War Zones that randomise their enemies and reward placements. We try to do our best so players don’t feel like they’re going through a grind that forces them to play the same things all the time. It’s really up to you what you want to do, and the War Zones support that. Plus, we have 80-something different War Zones for you to play at launch so I don’t think people are going to get tired of going through those – at least I haven’t so far and I’ve played them all at least a dozen times.

I didn’t realise you had some that are an hour and a half long. All the co-op missions I played in the beta were quite short – there was one that was just a corridor and I was like, “Is that the end of the mission?” I assumed they were all like that.

PT – Not at all – you’ve played some of our quick snack Drop Zones. They’re fun if you just want to get a quick session in our you’re just trying to play with a build. There’s one – Tundra Vault in the beta – you may not have played that one, but it’s a little bit longer. You haven’t seen the really long ones yet, that’s something we’ll be talking about really soon.

There was a secret level that you could find by completing a special event in a mission called Stark Realities. It would open up a large, open space tundra that you can explore, and that is a quite big level.

Is there a lot of secrets like that in the game?

PT – It’s a Marvel game so we wanted to make sure we have a lot of easter eggs, and this translates into every aspect of gameplay. It’s in the art – I would tell people to look at all the little street signs, license plates and all that. It translates into gameplay – there’s some really cool moves that people can combo, there’s some funny modes and interesting things people can find. Then there’s even some easter eggs in the levels, as we were just talking about – there’s secret areas you can find. We tried to layer as many secrets as we could because easter eggs are so much fun to us and it’s such a cool Marvel thing to do. If you like secrets, we have a lot of them.

How do you make sure the challenge scales up along with the heroes?

PT – You’re looking at superheroes, right? So they’re inherently already very powerful. A little bit of story background for that: when the Avengers got put out of commission, we imagined they got a little rusty. Some of their equipment might not be top notch anymore, and you see some of that in the campaign. But really fundamentally, for a game that has a lot of levelling, you need a good reason why the heroes are getting stronger.

We contextualise it as this sort of internal… in the case of The Hulk, for example, you’re seeing it’s his spine and muscles. We try to contextualise it in a way that makes sense but also accommodates for a lot of growth. So as the threats grow in the game, the Avengers are going to get stronger and they’re going to face these bigger threats. You see this in the comics and movies all the time. The heroes train, they get better equipment. We wanted to have a game where you’re levelling up, you’re getting loot, you’re getting gear, but it’s hard to contextualise that with heroes who sometimes have inherently strong powers. We try to make it make sense within that concept.

Mechanically speaking, we give players the choice between four difficulty levels, which should give everyone room to play at their pace. If you’re ultra casual, Easy is great for the story, it’s fun, it’s mellow. If you’re really wanting to test your skills and your gear, you can play on Brutal – or Challenge 4 for War Zones, which will put enemies about ten levels above you, which I personally find super fun to play. So there’s something for everyone.

One of the levels I played was an Iconic Mission – Green Threat or something like that?

PT – Condition Green?

That’s the one. Because it was an Iconic Mission, I was expecting maybe an iconic boss at the end of it, but there wasn’t. Do you have Marvel bosses that people would expect to see at the end of these co-op missions sometimes, or is it always, like, big robots?

PT -The iconic missions, in some cases, do have some villains. What you played is the beginning of an Iconic Mission chain so you didn’t quite get there, but if you play it again once the game comes out, you might find out who you’re going after. So the answer to your question – I’m being vague on purpose because I don’t want to spoil the story – but yeah, you will run into some villains.

I think you should just spoil it. Just go for it.

PT – These two fine people [the PR on the call] are going to stop me from doing that.

The main objective of War Zones is to get loot, but one of the criticisms I’ve seen of the beta is that loot is invisible. It’s part of the loop of other games like this, to change the look of your character constantly. So why did you decide against going that way?

PT – The look of your character is really different to the functionality of your character. It’s always a design decision to choose how you’re going to address that, but the heroes have such cool, iconic looks that it would be nearly impossible to make something that stays cohesive with the amazing look these characters have. There’s so much thought and detail that went into these outfits that it would be really difficult to break these apart. Then if you did, it wouldn’t be the same heroes anymore. It would just be this weird mix of different outfits. So we decided to split it up.

We also decided to split it up because not all the heroes get their strength the same way, right? Some of them have gadgets, some are inherently stronger, some of them are gods. So it’s, “how do you make equipment that works for all of those?” That was an extra challenge. We looked for a layer that would be easier to manage and that would afford people the ability to just look the way they want. It’s also the thing where in a different type of game you might have a character who’s very tanky, so you’re playing with heavy equipment and heavy-looking armour. But why not just let that be a choice for the players? There’s so many of these games now that just added a cosmetic system on top of the game because a lot of people would rather just look the way they want, rather than be bound to equipment. I think that was the right choice for this kind of game, for superheroes. I think people are going to find there’s so many outfits in the game – there’s literally hundreds of them – so they should be able to easily find a look that they love.

So it wasn’t dictated by Marvel that you couldn’t mix and match outfits?

PT – It’s a choice. It’s a mix between… we collaborated with Marvel on this, and we both agreed that keeping the iconic look of the heroes was important, but we also wanted players to have the freedom to look the way they want.

So how do you make sure that loot is still interesting when you can’t see it?

PT – It’s all in the functionality. You’re modifying your hero’s powers and modifying the way that you play. When you equip something it should feel like it’s doing what you expect it to be doing. Personally, I really like when gear starts to have perks early on and you’re doing things like, for example, you can get a piece of gear where if you do a perfect dodge, you’ll get some health back. Once you get that you’re like, “Cool, there’s a great incentive to dodge”, and playing on harder difficulties, that dodge and heal becomes super valuable. That’s something in gameplay you immediately feel. It’s not a tiny percentage of something off something that’s invisible. Or if you’re adding gamma damage to one of your attacks, you’re seeing the gamma hit, you’re seeing the damage being applied over time to enemies. We try to make sure the gears has these very concrete gameplay outcomes.

That makes sense. One of the things I noticed in the demo was that obviously this is superheroes, right? You want it to be flashy, over the top, explosions everywhere. How do you ensure there’s still readability so players can properly cooperate?

PT – It’s a balance. It’s actually a really big challenge with superheroes because you’ve got lightning, explosions, fire, and any number of amazing things. Obviously when you layer enemies on top of that, it can get pretty busy. We try to come up with a good balance between how flashy the effects are and how many of them are there. We’re also looking into giving players the ability to adjust some of the settings in the game – for example, screen shake and motion blur were a big feedback item that we had in the beta. That gave us the opportunity to do some tuning and add some sliders. That’s something we’re going to keep looking at, but obviously we’re going to try find the balance between good performance for the game, fun, showy special effects, but also maintaining readability.

Yeah. It’s tough because playing as Hulk, you kind of expect that screen shake. It was a little bit much, but it did make you feel like Hulk. It’s a tradeoff isn’t it?

PT – It is, but giving people that ability to adjust these things… if for someone it’s a little bit much, they can reduce it. And that’s something we’re very sensitive to. It’s one of the big things of this game with us – we wanted to make sure we’re as inclusive [as possible] to as many people as possible. We’re trying to make sure everyone can find their player fantasy for the heroes, that people who need different features then have them. It’s obviously a big challenge, but that’s something we care about a lot. And that’s translated into every aspect of the game, including the matchmaking. Even our harder content is going to support matchmaking – we didn’t want anyone to feel that they’re being left out anywhere.

Since you touched on inclusivity, do you think you’ll be adding Black heroes in the future?

PT – I think there’s such a cool, diverse array of heroes that I would answer yes without giving specifics because there’s just so many cool heroes. I think people are going to be really excited to see what we come up with. Internally it’s one of our biggest, most fun debates, to pick which heroes we want to add. Because we’re telling our own unique Avengers story, it presents the opportunity to really have who we want join the Avengers. People are going to be pretty surprised and excited about who we announce next, and they won’t have to wait too long to figure that out.

Completely unrelated to that – but you can wink at me if you want – who’s your favourite hero?

PT – I’m going to answer that in a few layers with my usual disclaimer that just because I like a hero that’s not in the game, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be released. It’s not just a me decision. In the game right now, I’m playing mostly Thor and Black Widow, but I change favourites all the time. This would be a really heated debate if everyone on the team was here – you’d have everyone defending their favourites. Outside the game, my favourite hero is probably Deadpool because I love his sense of humour.

Good choice! Last question, then. So, the beta was pretty close to launch. Did you have much time to implement feedback? I know you said the screen shake stuff, but was there anything else you’ve changed?

PT – Yeah, a ton. The team has been working on optimisation especially – at least on the War Zone team, that’s been our principal focus. We’ve fixed some gameplay issues and little things you’re going to see at launch, but mostly we’ve been working on performance and tuning, and making sure things are buttoned up. And that’s something that’s going to continue post launch – we’re not done working on this game. Or at least we’re not done improving the game, it’s absolutely done for launch, that’s a weird way to put that and I’m going to get myself in trouble. The team is pushing so hard to make sure this is the absolute best it can possibly be. It’s an exciting time for us, it really is.

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