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Raven Software’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance was one of the best comic based video games we’ve ever played. Meanwhile Marvel Comic’s 2006 Civil War storyline has been one of the biggest comic events in recent history. Combing the two seemed like the perfect fusion. But comic fans are notoriously hard to please, so while MUA 2 explosive action and technical improvements left some gamers please, others wondered if the game was faithful enough to its source material. We pose a bunch of tough, reader-generated questions to Vicarious Visions President and co-founder Guha Bala.
Fusion powers were a big focus this time around. How did that idea come about, and how did you guys go about deciding how each Fusion would perform?
We’re all big comic geeks, so the idea of getting in a “heroes combine their powers” mechanic was just too tempting to pass up. After we had a general idea of what kinds of Fusions we wanted to do, a lot of our work was in identifying exactly what kind of encounters each Fusion would be good for, and where they would be less effective. For example, if you use Targeted Fusions on a Boss, the battle will be much easier. But if you try the same trick with a crowd of enemies, you’ll only take out one or two and get overwhelmed by the rest. (tip: use a Clearing Fusion in that case). We wanted to make sure Fusions played a real tactical role in the game, rather than just being interchangeable ‘super moves.’
Some have said that Fusion attacks are overpowered. Did you find it difficult to balance these super attacks?
Well, Fusions are the result of super-powered beings working as a team, so we certainly wanted them to look overpowered. From a nuts-and-bolts gameplay standpoint, though, we think they’re balanced very well – unless you’re a truly elite player, there are a number of encounters in the game (especially on Legendary) that require skillful use of particular Fusion types to keep your party from getting utterly destroyed. If players fritter away their Fusions on encounters where they’re not needed, or consistently use the wrong types of Fusions at the wrong times, they’re going to be reloading a lot.
For a game like this, the character roster is very important, but the last game already did a pretty good job of including Marvel’s most popular heroes. Did you have trouble determining which new characters to feature this time around?
Frankly, the bigger problem is that Marvel has so many great characters, and we don’t have time to make a roster with hundreds of characters, as much as we would like to. Speaking specifically to the MUA1 roster, though, we wanted to bring some new blood to the series, like Iron Fist and Songbird, rather than just rebuild the same roster again. While we would have loved to bring everybody back, ultimately we want to make sure we’re making the game for the players, rather than ourselves. So we went for a mix of fan favorites and key story characters.
Was it hard to know when to change a pre-existing hero’s power set? How did you go about re-thinking how each character would function in combat?
For existing characters, we wanted to make sure that they brought something new to the table, while at the same time retaining some of the elements that made them popular in the first game, and iconic in the comics. The decision regarding what powers to use also depended on the character’s overall archetype (ranged, bruiser, etc.) and how they fit within the roster as a whole. Once we knew that, it became a balancing act to determine what we would keep, and what worked on a purely functional basis. Then we supplemented their original powers with ones that made the most sense within the context of our game.
Did you guys find it hard to work within an existing story frame while still giving players a free choice?
It was one of the primary narrative challenges, yes. We wanted to provide the feel of Marvel's Civil War, and give the player the experience of being forced to choose a side, but we also needed the story to be flexible enough to complement the interactive elements of the game as well as the inevitable day-to-day changes in mission design. Sticking strictly to the comics even when it would mean uninteresting gameplay would not have made sense. In game development, design generally trumps narrative, and with good reason. People buy games to play, and making the game fun to play was always our top priority as a team.
The game has a lot of cool technical features such as talent points that can be reallocated and a leveling system that doesn’t interrupt the flow of gameplay. Were you guys worried about streamlining the system for new players?
Not really, as most of the technical features were designed to make life easier for new players and veterans alike. We wanted to make sure that whenever we innovated on a system, we made it just as easy (or easier) to use than the previous version. Most of the challenges came in communicating functionality to the player. As an example, for the Quick Menu (the on-screen, in-game leveling menu for co-op games), we wrote special shortened versions of all the Boost summaries. Additionally, we crafted the names for Powers and Abilities so players could get a sense for their functionality with a glance, since we didn’t have room on the Quick Menu for additional descriptor text. While this was a lot of extra work for our writers and designers, it really paid off in terms of player communication.
Seems like this time around there is less of a focus on combos and enemies that require special takedowns. Why did you guys tone down on these aspects of the game?
We tried to provide a context for special takedowns, rather than having characters that were totally invulnerable until being tripped or stunned once. They still exist, though, in the form of shielded foes that need to be disarmed or tripped before you can hurt them. We also have a number of entirely new enemy types who require special tactics to deal with, like helicopters and power-sharing enemy groups.
It seems like some of the big water cooler moments from the comic were left out of the game. How did you guys go about picking which parts of the Civil War story to highlight?
We definitely reviewed all of the big moments and tried to figure out which ones would work in an interactive medium and which were likely to fall flat. We knew we wanted a playable Thor, so that meant that a Thor clone, which goes out of control, probably wasn't going to be a great choice. With regard to Spider-Man's changing allegiance, in order to do justice to that character arc we knew it would require a lot of storytelling support in the form of cutscenes, etc., and it would elevate Spidey's role to something much more primary. As much as we love Spidey and acknowledge his importance in the Civil War comics, that wasn't where we wanted to go. We really wanted to have the player directly feel the difficulty of making that choice, as opposed to watching someone else struggle with it. In general, we wanted to pick up the key themes and scenes from Civil War that would work for our Action-RPG format. A few scenes fit perfectly, many others needed some adjustment, and still others just didn't seem to fit at all.
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