The Story of "Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2"

Mon, August 17th, 2009 at 2:58pm PDT

Video Games
Brian LeTendre, Contributing Writer
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"Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2" on sale September 15

When “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” arrived in 2006, it was a huge hit, selling millions of copies across multiple platforms. Between the old school beat ‘em up-style action, the ability to create and customize dream teams of Marvel characters, and the online co-op, the game gave fans pretty much everything they wanted in a superhero game. Given the title’s success, no one was surprised to hear that a sequel was in the works, and in September, fans will finally get their hands on “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2.”

As opposed to the first game, “MUA 2” will feature a story inspired by modern events in the Marvel Universe, as the “Secret War” and “Civil War” storylines will provide the narrative backdrop for the game.

CBR News recently talked to Game Director Dan Tanguay of Vicarious Visions about “MUA 2’s” story, as well as how the gameplay has evolved since the original.

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CBR: As Vicarious Visions took on this project, what were the things that you identified from the first game that you wanted to keep, and what did you want to do differently?

DAN TANGUAY: After months of research and after discussions with Raven—the creators of “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance”—we identified three key features that were fundamental: the largest army of heroes, four-player cooperative, and pick-up and play. We also identified a number of areas where we really wanted to push our engine, including presentation and destruction. Once we got to that point, it was a matter of finding new features that would tie the game together. We ultimately decided on fusion and the modern “Civil War” narrative to make it feel different than the previous game. Simply doing more of the same wouldn’t provide enough value to players.

Screenshots from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2"

The story in “MUA 2” involves elements of both “Secret War” and “Civil War.” How closely does the game follow these storylines, and what have you changed in service to the gameplay?

The story in “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2” is inspired by these story arcs. They are not direct adaptations. (This is one of the reasons the game isn’t called “Marvel: Civil War.”) Act I roughly covers “Secret War” and the “Road to Civil War.” Act II explores “Civil War,” while Act III is entirely new for this game. It details the aftermath of “Civil War.”

There are numerous examples of events we have had to change for gameplay. In the “Secret War” storyline, for example, a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent named Daisy Johnson destroys Castle Doom with an earthquake. However, the gameplay is much stronger if the players must destroy the Castle instead. So they must travel into the Castle’s depths in order to destroy its reactor. It engages players and makes them feel partly responsible for the events that follow.

One of the main aspects of the “Civil War” storyline was the idea of choosing sides. How will the choices players make in the game be reflected in the storyline?

While choosing a side does impact some events in the “Civil War” storyline, there are many shared events between the two branches. Choosing a side primarily changes the player’s perspective on the story. Players get a different hub, different conversations, and different backstory. By the time Act III rolls around, we merge the storylines so that players focus on reuniting the Ultimate Alliance. Choosing a side will naturally impact the epilogue as well.

Additionally, there are numerous gameplay implications for choosing a side. It changes the allies that fight alongside you (both on and off your roster) and the enemies you face. For example, you fight alongside some heroes if you choose to support Registration. If you rebel, however, you must face some of them in boss battles! Choosing a side also influences your upgrades: certain abilities (passive powers) and boosts (team upgrades) become unavailable if you choose one side.

In terms of the game’s roster, will we be seeing characters that were not featured in the “Secret War” and “Civil War” storylines?

Screenshots from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2"

We will see heroes and villains that were not featured in “Secret War” or “Civil War.” We did this to ensure fans got to play with their favorite heroes. Overall, I feel it’s a healthy mix between story-inspired heroes and fan-requested heroes.

How have you built on the RPG elements of the first game?

“Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” had a compelling upgrade system built around the concept of powers, costumes, and teams. Again, we wanted to provide something fresh to players, so we took the previous game’s core RPG system and reworked it to support two key features: cooperative play and narrative choice.

I’m sure you all have experienced this situation: you’re playing “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” with a friend, and this special someone pauses the game to adjust hero stats. Three minutes later you get a new piece of equipment, and it happens again. We wanted to keep cooperative players in the action as much as possible. So we implemented “on the fly” upgrading. Players no longer have to go to a pause menu to make quick adjustments to their upgrades. During cooperative play, the AI will take over for the player in that menu.

In order to make that happen, though, we had to streamline those systems. We spent a lot of time creating unique and in-depth powers for each character. As a result, each character has their core powers, but each power has multiple levels you can upgrade. This changes each power visually and adds new functionality, in addition to just adding damage. We also revamped the equipment system to become the team boost system, bringing team upgrades to the forefront of the game. These can also be adjusted on the fly during gameplay.

We also wanted upgrades to reflect narrative choice. As I noted above, the “Civil War” choices impact the types of upgrades you get. Attitude choice within your conversations also impacts upgrading. Players can choose between aggressive, defensive, and diplomatic attitudes, which earn them upgrades in those categories.

Screenshots from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2"

Among the highlights of “MUA” were the unlockables. What can we expect from “MUA 2” in this area?

“Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2” has a huge number of collectibles and unlockables, covering a variety of areas. Players can find hidden hero artifacts that summon locked heroes. Players also can unlock each cutscene for replay. Numerous audio logs provide critical pieces of the backstory, while hundreds of dossiers provide information on every conceivable topic, ranging from organizations to locations to characters. And given the effort we put into conceptualizing the characters, the vehicles, and the world, we simply had to put unlockable concept art in the game as well.

How have the environments in “MUA 2” evolved from the first game in terms of interactivity and destructibility?

The most noticeable evolution for these new environments is that they feel less like a dungeon and more organic. As you’ve noted, though, we also evolved the interactivity and destructibility of these environments. We really wanted to capture the feeling of using super powers, and showing how environments react to super powers is one of the best ways of doing that. Because of this, we integrated Havoc Physics into the engine. Enemies ragdoll, while objects, debris, and even lights all behave more naturally now. We can also create complex destructibles that spawn interactive objects. For example, players can destroy a palette of rockets, causing rockets those rockets to roll onto the ground. They can then pick up one of the rockets and launch it at enemies! Havoc Physics has given us a whole new set of toys to play with.

Fusion is the big mechanic that is being introduced for “MUA 2.” How does this work, and how many different combinations are in the game?

Fusion is the ability for heroes to team up and combine their powers into an unstoppable force. In order to trigger one of these moves, players must have earned fusion by excelling in combat. Triggering it is as simple as holding down the left trigger (Xbox 360) and selecting which hero to fuse with. (In cooperative play, other players instead must choose to fuse with the first player.) Once that happens, players can then maximize their fusion using additional controls, such as creating a larger radius of damage, steering, or targeting. For example, targeted fusions (such as the Fastball Special) are perfect for defeating pesky mini-bosses.

Screenshots from "Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2"

Each hero can fuse with every other hero in the game. That leads to a staggering number of fusion combinations. The game will ship with 24 heroes on disc. Between those heroes, that’s over 250 combinations. Once we factor in downloadable content, the number of fusions could easily top 400 combinations. Each fusion will have subtle characteristics representative of each character’s powers, i.e. Thor will create a massive whirling lightning Tornado, while Deadpool will throw in his signature explosive grenades into the mix.

Since this is a multiplatform release, how does the game differ between the different platforms?

The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are nearly identical. The other versions will also be inspired by the same storyline but integrate their own unique functionality in the case of the Wii and DS. There will also be some very special exclusives for these platforms that I can’t share with you just yet.

Do you plan on releasing downloadable content for the game, perhaps new characters, levels, etc?

We will release downloadable content. In fact, the team is working on it right now. There will be even more characters and content. I can’t divulge any more details at the moment, though. Sorry.

We know the game features online and offline co-op play. Is there any content for the game that is co-op specific (story elements, levels, modes, etc.)?

Early on, we decided that all content should be playable either as a single player or cooperatively. (We even went so far as to upgrade the trivia game to support cooperative play!) That said we may introduce co-op specific content as downloadable content.

We’d like to thank Dan Tanguay for talking with CBR News about “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2.” The game is scheduled for a September 15 release on the DS, PS2, PS3, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360. For more information on the game, head over to www.marvelultimatealliance.marvel.com.

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