The lights are on
If you read my review, you know I had a great time with Lego Marvel Super Heroes. Not only does it feature a huge cast of characters, but Traveller's Tales poured an impressive amount of attention into each individual hero and villain. I spoke with the game's lead animator to learn more about how the team approached the game's massive roster and shook him down for a few secrets.
Traveller's Tales' Andy Dolan, lead Animator on the game, was kind enough to field my questions. If you're interested in learning more about the game's animation, our video feature from our cover story highlights an early look at the game's Hulk.
First, I have to say you guys have done an extraordinary job with Lego Marvel Super Heroes. I’ve played each of the Lego games since the first Lego Star Wars, and this is by far the biggest and most interesting character roster yet. Not only does the game have an incredibly deep selection of characters, but those characters are filled with unique little details. You probably didn’t need to give Sandman a unique ranged attack (turning into the sand cannon) or have Mr. Fantastic turn into a teapot, but I appreciated it as a player. Am I correct in saying this game has been your most ambitious from a character standpoint?
Without a doubt the most ambitious game to date. When I first started on this game I was so excited, I'm a massive Marvel fan and I couldn’t believe I was getting to work on a game with all these cool characters. And then it dawns on you, "How on earth are we gonna do all these characters justice?" Characters like Sandman, Gambit, Daredevil… They're all so loved by the fans, including myself and the team. You don’t want to let anyone down, and you want to make them as cool as they possibly can be. We have had games with large numbers of characters before, but what really struck me was how diverse these characters are. They all have a unique ability or a weapon or a character trait that makes them a bit different from everyone else. In a way that's great, because you want to make them unique, but it does mean a lot of work. And at the end of the day that's what it comes down to, a lot of hard work from some extremely talented animators who really care about what they are doing. And that's where these touches come from – it’s a love of the characters from the whole team.
What are some of your favorite little animation touches? For instance, I really got a kick out of Iceman’s skating animation, as well as his ice ramp.
Yeah, I love that Iceman skates, too. It really makes the character. And we try and encourage the animators to come up with that kind of detail themselves and take some ownership over the characters. Also, humor is really important to us. We always try and add amusing touches to the characters that perhaps you wouldn't get away with outside of the Lego license. What are my favorite touches? That's a tough one, a real tough one. I love the fact that Cyclops cleans his visor, and that Daredevil's rope comes out of his Billy club when he jumps. But it's probably Abomination's teddy… I hope I'm not spoiling anything there. Abomination is obviously a big and scary, violent monster in the comics and the film. We wanted to make him more suitable for a younger audience and inject some humor into him. Si James, the animator, came up with the idea of giving him a cute teddy bear that he pulls out every now and then. He also gave him stinky breath, so that's a double whammy of funny touches.
Are there any obscure character details or tricks that you can tell our readers? Or are there things you’d encourage them to try out? For example, Spider-Man’s web-slinging abilities are less than optimal on the Helicarrier…
When you put a character under mind control, let them stand still for a while and see what they do. Or, with Squirrel Girl, try holding down the action button near a bunch of goons and see what happens. That's always funny. There are so many that players will be finding them for months to come.
Who came up with Mr. Fantastic’s transformations? I got a pretty big kick out of some of those. Were any of those particularly challenging to animate? Do you have a favorite?
I guess they were really a team effort. The design team here came up with a list of random and amusing objects for him to turn into. Then our Lego model team designed them and built them out of Lego before passing them over to our animators. We had two animators working on just those transformations for a couple of months, and they came up with some really interesting ways to make him transform. I love the demolition crane that smashes through a wall, and the rocket, I love the way his head pops up. It's a small thing, but it makes me smile.
Was it tough to make lesser-known characters like Black Bolt or Absorbing Man as appealing (and fun to play) as a Wolverine or Doctor Doom?
It is in terms of the work load. When you have 150+ playable characters, the last thing you need is a guy with a wrecking ball. But at the same time the wrecking ball is what makes [Absorbing Man] unique from everybody else and gives players a reason to play as him. The same goes for Black Bolt and his Sonic Scream – no other character does that. Although I have to say the VFX and SFX teams really helped out here, too. It’s the effect on the scream that really make the character. We just looked at every character as being potentially somebody's favorite, to make sure that we really captured them and did them justice.
Finally, do you wish the characters in Marvel’s roster had more overlapping powers and abilities? I can only imagine that would have made your jobs easier.
Yeah, it would have made my job a lot easier if all the characters had, for example, one way of firing a bolt. As it is, we needed to produce shooting from hands, eyes, guns, mouths, arm-mounted missiles, shoulder turrets, great big bazookas – you name it, there is a character that shoots from it. Take M.O.D.O.K. for example! But do I wish the Marvel characters had more overlapping powers? Absolutely not! For one, that would make the comics far less entertaining if all the characters were the same, and our game wouldn't be as marvelous as it is now!
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