Marvelous Devotion: Inside A Modder’s Quest To Keep Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Alive

by Craig Taylor on Jul 26, 2017 at 04:36 PM

Player-created mods are perhaps the greatest expression of love for a game. Pouring hundreds of hours and dollars into a game shows dedication, but the people that use their free time to create even more content for the wider community are truly devoted.

Modders often step in to support a game after a dev team inevitably leaves it, and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is no different. At a time when a number Marvel fans are losing enthusiasm over Capcom’s most recent entry in the series, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, the mod “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: EX Edition” offers an alternative: a highly-requested update for a beloved game that could seemingly never exist. Its creator, Everett McLeod, is a Marvel vs. Capcom modder who's trying to revive the game despite waning interest, decreased professional competition, and potential litigation.

One Man’s Love
Marvel EX is far from McLeod’s first mod. From a young age, his father introduced him to computers, and it developed into a hobby as he grew older.

“My dad was a big computer guy and he taught me how to build rigs and got me started into knowing my way around computers,” says McLeod.

He applied this knack to video games, and was creating mods to better game communities even before Marvel EX. McLeod’s favorite shooter, Day of Defeat, is a first-person shooter set in World War II. Competitively, there were only a handful maps that were utilized, so in 2009 McLeod set out to create new levels for the community. While he faced difficulty introducing player-created maps into such a niche community, this philanthropy would foreshadow his efforts with Marvel EX.

Oddly enough, his professional life has little to do with computers. During the day, McLeod drives a van as a full-time lock smith.

“There's a lot of problem-solving you have to do on the fly which I think helps [with creating mods],” he said. 

Every day, McLeod comes home from his day job thrilled to work on his mod. He’s not receiving any kind of funding or compensation. He’s dedicating his time solely for his love of Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

“It’s one of my favorite games I’ve ever played, and mostly that just comes down to the fact that there’s so much team synergy and all these unique things,” he said. “You can spend hundreds of hours offline just discovering things.”

It was because of this love that McLeod set out to create Marvel EX. In the fighting game community, interest in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was waning, and McLeod decided he wanted to create a mod to bring it back.

Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s depth was something McLeod wanted to expand on. Marvel EX would add new assists and moves, while also making balance adjustments to a game that has remained the same since late 2011. Competitively, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 viewers have seen the same exploitive tactics and characters win tournament after tournament. To fix this, a primary goal of McLeod’s project was to buff the weaker, lower-tiered characters and assists while leaving the dominant ones untouched.

A combo exhibition showcasing characters' potential in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 EX

To get the balance right, McLeod relied on community feedback. The solidarity of the Marvel community was a chief inspiration for creating Marvel EX, and is another reason for his love of Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

“Unlike a lot of other games I’ve played, Marvel was the one game community where I actually had a local scene, like I could go to someone’s house and start playing,” say McLeod. “A lot of the first-person shooters were on PC and you’re communicating with people halfway across the world. So I started playing with people (locally), and you make friends, and I think honestly meeting someone in real life and playing with them and just having a good time was one of the best things I had done, because it was no longer a faceless experience for me.”

Marvel EX’s design is also being guided by some of Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s greatest minds, including top tournament player Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez, who shared his vision of a new iteration of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Ramirez is one of only seven people to win Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at The Evolution Championship Series (Evo), the world’s biggest fighting game tournament. He also regularly finishes in the Top 8 of major tournaments, and is a well-respected voice in the fighting game community.

“I honestly can’t believe that I talked to F-Champ and I asked, ‘Hey are you interested in this mod?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’m totally down, I’m in,’” says McLeod. “That was one of the best moments of my life because a Top 3 world player who won Evo was willing to work with me on something.”

With the community’s support, McLeod set out to cultivate interest in a fan mod of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. From the outset, he understood competing with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite was going to be a longshot, and that Marvel EX would only be an underground mod that would never see mainline tournament play. While McLeod initially only had access to color swaps, he’s broken through the game’s code and has a great amount of freedom with Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s character data. Although McLeod is hard at work crafting a new experience to rejuvenate interest in the game, history says his efforts could be for nothing.

Up Next: learn more about the risks of unofficial patch mods.

Marked for Death: The Fragility of Modding
To Marvel vs. Capcom fans, the likelihood of an update to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 seemed nil. After Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 released in November 2011, Capcom lost its contract with Marvel and couldn’t continue working on games containing their characters. Because Capcom couldn’t even update the existing build, casual and tournament players were forced to live with the state of the game until interest fizzled out. 

However, the community was rejuvenated when UMvC3 was shockingly rereleased on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and – most importantly – PC because Capcom recovered Marvel’s character rights to create Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. While the official releases of these games didn’t contain any balance changes, fans like McLeod worked quickly to dig into their favorite game. Before long they had cracked the engine to make their own changes.

New skins, UI changes, and gameplay tweaks flooded Steam, and Marvel EX was the most popular balance adjustment. Of course, these mods are all at the mercy of Capcom, who can put an end to all of it as its peer publishers have done with many a mod.

Marvel EX shares a few similarities with the ill-fated Project M, a fan mod for Super Smash Bros. Brawl that offers the perfect case study for what can go wrong with player-created mods. Smash fans were dissatisfied with Brawl, as it lacked many of the mechanics that made Super Smash Bros. Melee competitive. Project M altered Brawl’s gameplay to make it play more like Melee, added Mewtwo and Roy (who had been left out of Brawl), and rebalanced every character.

Project M released on February 8, 2011, and quickly grew in popularity as it was played regularly at Smash tournaments. Subsequent patches to Project M brought new costumes, colors, and stages until its last update on August 16, 2015.

However, as Nintendo became more involved in the competitive Smash Bros. community, qualifying majors began dropping their Project M tournaments. Then, on December 1, 2015, the Project M team shut down their site and removed all download links. While the details on what actually happened are sketchy, many believe that Nintendo forced Project M to shut down.

To this day, Nintendo is so tight-lipped that mentioning Project M, or even using the characters “PM” on any Miiverse channel regardless of context, could get users banned for communication constituting “illegal activity.”

Given these circumstance, all of Everett’s hard work on Marvel EX could meet a similar end.

The Fate of Two Games: The Future of Marvel
The future of Marvel EX and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite rests on the community. While casual fans have complained about Infinite’s presentation and character roster, the hardcore players, including McLeod, have praised its core design.

“From what I’ve seen from people playing at CEO [an Orlando fighting game major] and at E3, it looks amazing. And all of the top players that I respect are all saying that they love the game and they’re going to main it for sure,” says McLeod. “I think they have a lot of bright minds over there at Capcom. Sometimes they make decisions and people don’t agree with it, but ultimately their games are really fun.”

As for Marvel EX, McLeod says a variety of new additions including new moves and even entirely new characters are possible with Marvel vs. Capcom 3’s malleable engine. Ultimately, McLeod wants Marvel EX to hold side tournaments at major events.

As for Capcom’s feelings on Marvel EX, they won’t say. For this story, Capcom declined our request for interview, but they provided this statement:

“Modded content is not officially warranted or supported by Capcom. Users who create mods or play modded versions of our games do so at their own discretion and risk.” 

Precedent shows that Capcom has the power to shut down Marvel EX, and the publisher would be more inclined if the mod gets popular enough to threaten the longevity of its upcoming product, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.

While McLeod has no ambitions for Marvel EX to overtake Infinite in popularity, he sympathizes with Capcom’s need to protect their bottom line. He understands that Capcom had their reasons for not returning to Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and if McLeod’s effort to revive the community is stunted, he views that as business.

“I don’t ever wanna put Capcom down because every game company has their own obligations: they have a budget, they have time restrictions, and all those things factor in to why certain things can’t be done,” says McLeod. “And I don’t blame them for that, because at the end of the day, a game developer has to get paid and put food on the table.”

While McCleod hasn’t been contacted by Capcom yet, getting shut down is something he’s considered.

“It’s definitely possible, but I have no regrets if that’s the case,” he said. “I had a ton of fun just building the mod. I come home every day excited just to work on it and find something new, and so even if they do shut us down, I don’t think that’s really gonna stop us. I mean what are they gonna do, take away my computer? I’ll just buy a new one and start modding again. Maybe six months from now, they’ll contact me, but for now, I’m just doing my thing.”