The lights are on
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.
Email the author Ben Reeves, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Somebody tell me that i should get this game! i'm leaning either way.
same as the first
If u like comics its worth a play. I enjoyed playing from both pro and anti reg sides.
Yes for the first time I HAVE BEEN FIRST! But back to the article, I loved the game but mostly because I'm a Marvel geek.(Though I've never read a comic.)
UPDATE: Dang It, I'm a slow typer, ah well ther's always next time.
I like hearing from the developer and learning what went into the decisions they made for the game. i really enjoy these interviews.
DO NOT BUY Ultimate Alliance 2! consider this a public service announcement, albeit several weeks late.
the first one was made by Raven Software, a well-rounded developer with a history of delivering quality titles which is more than i can say for Vicarious Visions (the developers of MUA2).
i bought MUA2 BEFORE realizing this fact and i wasted $60. do not make the same mistake i did. consider yourselves warned.
I wasn't really much of a fan of the first and only played the second for a few hours however I liked it and think that it's heading in a good way.
I hated the first one, not about to try this one
I got this game. And I played through it, and it was really fun.
But now I've beat it and I don't really care about it.
In the end all you can do is walk around or do the combat simulator thingy. I have no idea what happened, if it was me or the game, but after i beat it I completely lost interest in it.
Empty Victories Suck, plain and simple
OmegaSpartan08: I think you should get this game, if you liked the first "Alliance" game, you'll like the second. I actually liked this one a lot better than the first one, and the first one was outstanding.
My biggest problem with this particular installment into the series, is that yes, they made a lot of improvements to the gameplay, however, that being said, the story was good but the way you played did not cause consequences that would make the player want to go in for a second run. The first game had some issues, but it had the players completing optional quests to make it feel complete.
One of the side quests, if you did not complete it, the end result was that by not finishing the side quest, all of the X Men died. The first time I heard that, I was shocked and I had the need to complete the game. This time around, I didn't feel the same way, I beat it once as a rebel and once as an ally. I just hope that the third can combine the best of both worlds.
Wants sooooo bad -Matt
I think that even if it doesn't fully stay with it's roots, it would still be a good title. I don't play comic based games as much as Matt, but I am a fan of a good story. It gets boring to stay with the same formula all the time. I like to see things break away from themselves and do something that has not been seen before. Rather it is a change in plot, some fresh faces, or just a plot twist, it adds to a franchise and gives it variety.
I want it too!
I thonk MAU1 was fun, but nothing ever came close to my first experience with Xmen Legends 1!
Nobody hate on Marvel Ult Alliance 1, or the X-men Legends games, SUPPORT RAVEN SOFWARE!!! SUPPORT THE STATE OF WISCONSIN!!! That said, it seems from this interview, that the Civil War setting was more like an afterthought than a well though out idea for a video game to take place.
I played the first game on PS2 and XB360, a testament to how much I liked it. I had no desire to play this one at all after I heard they changed the ending to the Civil War story. Then I hear that the game shipped with a bug that kept turning on the auto-leveling feature, something I detested in the first game. Apparently it isn't as big of a deal in this game as there are fewer abilities to spend points on and alternate costumes do not give alternate passive boosts. When it hits the $20 bin, or better yet, the under $20 used shelf, I may give it a go.
I really enjoyed this game. I played through it twice (once on reg. then on legendary) within about 3 weeks of it coming out. If you like this style of video game then it is great. If you are a comic book snob and think everything needs to match the Marvel canon verbatim then forget it. The developer did a great job in trying to bring this story to life. As he said above in the interview, they can't follow the Civil War exactly, it doesn't make for a good video game. Maybe a movie or book, but not a game.
Not the Worst Game Some Fun To Be Had If You Like Mindless Hack And Slash But Raven Def Would Have Done A Better Job And They F**ked The Story Up
I was never really in to comic book games. This may prove me wrong though.
It had way too few memorable moments in it for me. One of the few games, of which I can count on one hand (two fingers to be exact) that I have purchased on a whim, and have sold shortly afterwards. They had some good ideas in the new design frame (like the mentioned re-allocating points) but .. it just wasn't fun. For me.. try it out - you won't have a hard time finding it used to check out.