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Gaming Interview

Marvel Heroes interview: Diablo co-creator David Brevik on the new MMO

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Marvel Heroes

Marvel Heroes is the latest effort from Diablo creator, Blizzard co-founder and all round MMO specialist David Brevik.

Featuring a sizeable campaign and a story penned by esteemed comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis - not to mention a bucketload of Marvel heroes and villains - it may come as a shock that it can be downloaded and played for free.

Since our previous hands-on at gamescom, the team at Gazillion has added characters such as Spider-Man, Thor, Colossus and Cyclops, a new crafting system similar to Diablo and a host of new zones and quests.

Digital Spy caught up with David to find out more about Marvel Heroes, microtransactions in games, and why the Marvel franchise isn't knocking on the door of Call of Duty and FIFA.

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

Wolverine piles into robot enemies.



So how far along are you in development?
"Well, we've been in development for coming up to three and a half years now, and we're coming closer and closer to the end.

"We've been in beta for almost six months, and we've stated that we're hoping to release the game in spring, but we'll see how that goes. We don't actually have a release date, we have a series of things that we're trying to achieve in the beta, mainly as far as number of concurrent players and making sure our server infrastructure works.

"Once we have that achieved to a level we're happy with, then we'll be closer to announcing a real date."

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

The Hulk lays waste to some thugs.



What kind of feedback have you received from the beta?
"The feedback has been very positive. People are really excited about the game and enjoying it a lot, and I think our latest patch has made a huge difference.

"The communities have received it very well, they're very excited about it, and we've been listening to them, taking their feedback and making changes based on some of the things they've stated. "

What kind of issues have been bought to your attention?
"The biggest technical issue right now is mainly that there is a bunch of lag. We know what the cause is, and we're trying to address that, although our Tuesday play-test went much better.

"We had a small server-site patch that addressed some of these problems, and that's been really great. I think we've had problems with patching and technical problems with it running on lower-end machines, but we've made big strides in both of those areas.

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

Robots work together to create some meaty explosions.



"From a gameplay standpoint, there's been feedback about our crafting system, so we revamped that, and we revamped our item system, but that was early on, back in September / October."

As somebody who's grown up paying a specific amount for a video game, free-to-play seems too good to be true. What's the catch?
"Well the good news is that there is no catch, it really is free to play. Completely free to play. You can collect almost everything that we sell, with the exception of two or three costumes that are only available as part of our exclusive Founders Pack.

"But the rest of the costumes, out of the hundreds in the game, you can get them by playing. You can unlock all the heroes by playing, so we really are giving away the entire thing for free.

"There is no hidden agenda, we aren't paying for power. We feel that we are giving a true free-to-play experience in which you can really play the whole thing."

How big is the game?
"It's hard to say how big it is. In terms of a linear story, it's comparable to, maybe a little bit bigger than, Diablo 2 - but then how big was Diablo 2?

"You can play it on 99 and it took a long time. I think we have a similar thing with this. We have a storyline and then some end-game activities that will potentially last for a very long time."

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

Punisher shrugs off some bullets.



The Marvel licence is huge, what exactly do you have access to?
"That's the beauty of our licence, and the thing I was most excited about when I started the project. One of the big reasons to come on board was not only because I'm a huge Marvel fan, but because the licence is amazing.

"We have access to everything, which is really exciting. There are 8,000 Marvel characters, or something like that, which should keep us busy for a while!

"We have access to all of the heroes and all of the locations, and we can have lots of story stuff too, which is great. The only thing we don't really have access to is some of the movie content.

"We have access to all of the Marvel made movies, like The Avengers, Thor and Iron Man. In fact, Iron Man 3 is out real soon and we'll have a bunch of Iron Man 3 armours in the game.

"We even got hold of the physical models they used for the movies and converted it to work in the game, so it's as identical as it can be.

"We don't have the Spider-Man movie content, which is from Sony, as well as the Fox X-Men stuff either. Beyond that, we have a lot of crossover with the comics.

"Marvel has a new series called Marvel Now, for example, so we'll have a bunch of costumes and side quests from that. So I think that we'll be able to keep up to date with everything from the comics and movies."

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

A hectic battlefield.



Any plans to add Marvel Zombies content?
"Nothing that I can talk about right now."

Judging by the success of the Marvel movies, does it surprise you that the games aren't as popular as the likes of Call of Duty?
"It does and it doesn't. Making IP games is difficult, especially with Marvel, for instance, because first and foremost when they make the heroes they're not thinking about how it would work in a video game, they're doing it because the story is intriguing.

"Secondly, what makes Marvel intriguing is actually the characters, it isn't necessarily the powers. It's the characters and relationships they have with each other, so to make a compelling experience you need to have a deep story.

"I think that has been a flaw in superhero games in the past, but we've done a lot of things in this game to play that up. If, for example, you play as Cyclops and Wolverine walks by, he might have some smart quip for him, which really displays their relationship.

"Plus we've got a great story written by Brian Michael Bendis, which adds an air of authenticity to the entire experience, which we think really makes it feel like a Marvel game. So while it hasn't really been captured in the past, I think that we're trying to do that with this product."

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

Captain America deflects an attack.



Diablo 3 was recently announced for consoles. Is that something that was ever discussed when you were involved in the franchise and would you consider bringing Marvel Heroes to consoles?
"We've talked about it in the past and there are advantages and disadvantages, but there are no plans right now."

Do you think it would work on consoles?
"I think that this gameplay style is something that can work on consoles and has in the past. From Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance to Ultimate Alliance, this gameplay style does work on consoles.

"But free-to-play isn't huge on consoles right now and I think that there are some changes that need to take place in order for that to be a reality."

Microtransactions have been in the news a lot lately, with Electronic Arts reportedly wanting to add them to all future releases. Do you understand why some fans are critical of microtransactions having paid £40 for a game, and is that why you went free-to-play?
"No, I went free-to-play for a variety of reasons, but I understand where EA is coming from. Gaming prices have not really increased as dramatically as prices of other things over the last 20 years, yet the cost of making games has sky-rocketed.

"The profit margin on games is getting slimmer and slimmer all the time, and with these new consoles it'll be even slimmer.

"Game teams will need to be at least 100 people big, and if you want to make a triple-A title it will cost $70-$100 million to make. When you're charging the same price you did almost ten years ago, and yet the costs are double what they were four years ago, they've got to figure out other ways to do stuff.


"That's kind of a separate issue from what we're doing. We're giving it away because we want to get the game in front of as many people as possible.

"All we're asking from them is just a little bit of their time to download the game and give it a try, and that really is what's compelling to me."

What are your distribution plans? Obviously it will be available through the website, but will we see it on other platforms such as Steam?
Yeah, we will have some distribution partners, but we haven't announced anything yet. But, for sure, going through the Marvel Heroes website will be the easiest way to download.

MMO games seem to have a longer shelf-life than titles in other genres. Do you see Marvel Heroes being popular for years to come?
"That's the hope here! I'm actually really excited about that. Here's an opportunity to build on something and create a game that lasts for a very long time, that we can constantly enhance and put in new features, making it better and better over time, and that's really not something I've had in my career before.

"We have a great base to work with, and we can add some really compelling features in the future, as well as all sorts of great stories that we can start to mine, and great places to go in the Marvel universe that maybe people aren't even as familiar with.

'Marvel Heroes: Immersion Day' screenshot

© Gazillion Entertainment

Rocket Raccoon fires a shot.



"Next summer is the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and we've put in Rocket Raccoon, for example. I think going in that direction would be really exciting. There are lots of great stories that we can really tap into."

What lessons have your learnt from troubled online game launches such as SimCity and Diablo 3?
"I've learned from my own lessons. I'm not sure if people remember, but we had a lot of issues with Diablo 2 when it launched, so we've learned lessons quite a few times now. And luckily we've got a lot of experience within the team to build on.

"The problems with Diablo 3 and SimCity have mainly stemmed from the fact that people are upset because they're trying to play a single-player game, but have to connect to the internet, which rubbed a lot of customers the wrong way.

"Our game is very different because you have to connect to even play, because it's client server, so there is no single-player experience. There is a limit to the amount of demand that we can service at the beginning, but we'll do all we can to try to prepare for it."

Marvel Heroes is currently in beta and will launch in full on PC later this year.

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