"Marvel: Avengers Alliance," Marvel's just-released turn-based combat RPG Facebook game, posed a new challenge for online game developer Playdom. While no stranger to Facebook games, having created titles like the popular "Disney's Gnome Time" and "Social City," "Avengers Alliance" is the first time the company has worked with pre-developed characters. But far from being a problem, this challenge, according to Playdom Senior Producer Robert Reichner, was actually a positive thing.
"[We decided to] take that classic Marvel experience and bring it too as big an audience as possible," Reichner said as Marvel heroes and villains duked it out on the projected computer screen behind him.
Reichner and Playdom's Vice President of Studio Operations Michael Rubinelli spoke with CBR about the game, which officially debuts today, March 1, playing through snippets of the RPG and answering questions about what fans can expect from their gaming experience, including that most important and pressing of queries -- will Squirrel Girl be in it?
"Our lead designer's favorite character is Squirrel Girl, so I'll say we don't have her -- yet!" Reichner laughed as Rubinelli added that the Doctor Doom-defeating heroine will hopefully show up in the game at a later date.
Playdom began developing "Avengers Alliance" in 2010, shortly before The Walt Disney Company bought the company and it became a subsidiary of the Disney Interactive Media Group. Launching with 60-odd hours of game play, "Avengers Alliance" is something of a dream come true for many at Playdom, Reichner explained, as the company is made up of Marvel fans. In fact, once work on the project began, developers started bringing their own boxes of comics to the office, at first to reference and then just to share with their fellow Marvel-loving co-workers.
"Everyone here is a rabid comics fan," Reichner said, adding that the lead designer even made his own Thor Hammer to put up on the Playdom Studio's wall.
Taking CBR through "Avengers Alliance," Reichner explained that game play is fairly simple to start out, as the first ten minutes are essentially a "guided experience." Players choose a quasi-customizable male or female S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent avatar and begin their first fight against a Sentinel in a tutorial designed to teach them about the game. Shortly after this stage is completed, the real story begins as a cataclysmic galactic event called The Pulse kicks off, raining a mysterious substance dubbed "ISO-8" down on unprotected New York City. As Marvel super villains converge on the city to get their hands on ISO-8, you must team up with other Marvel heroes and go on missions to stop them and figure out what they're dastardly plans entail.
"We wanted to make sure we were making the game accessible to those not familiar with turn-based RPGs," Reichner said, explaining that while rudimentary at the start, the game is intended for "deep" game play. Highlighting that the Pulse storyline is a story element unique to the game, the thing that sets Marvel Comics apart from other comics publishers is the same thing they see setting their game apart from other Facebook RPGs -- dedication to character and story.
Launching with 100 characters, including 28 playable heroes, "Avengers Alliance" prominently feature the stars of Marvel Studio's films: Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow as well as other characters such as the Fantastic Four, War Machine and She Hulk. Playdom utilized villains from across the entire Marvel Universe to fill the position of grunts, mini-bosses and bosses in the game, including agents of Hydra, AIM, RAID, Red Skull, Magneto, Loki and other big-name Marvel bad guys. Rubinelli stated that though fan favorites such as Deadpool were not yet part of the game, Playdom has plans to continually introduce new characters after launch, with Reichner adding, "There's 8,000 characters in the Marvel universe -- we're probably not going to run out anytime soon!"
Each character boasts a specific class type -- for instance, Iron Man is a Blaster while Captain America is a Tactician. Like most class-based gaming systems, various classes are stronger and weaker against others and characters have signature moves that correspond to their comic counterparts, such as Nightcrawler's transporter attacks or Kitty Pryde's ability at certain points in battle to call in Lockheed. As well, other heroes unlock as the story progresses. The game features "Premium Missions" that correspond to unlocking specific heroes, such as Spider-Man, which tell in-depth stories about various heroes and contribute towards making the game more nuanced.
While the game is based on 70-odd years of comic books, Playdom actually looked to the movies when it came to developing the art direction, adopting a "filmic style" which takes its cues for character and world designs from the recent live-action Marvel films. Describing the films as "kind of gritty, kind of dark but still very true to those characters," Reichner confessed with a grin that there were many heated debates about what costumes and uniforms to use for characters like Iron Man. Ultimately, they settled on staying close to the costumes used in the films for many of their characters.
Working in tandem with in-house artists and "Daredevil Noir" writer Alex Irvine to develop the game's storyline, "Avengers Alliance's" story is open-ended with plans to continually to add new characters, items and missions. Playdom also took advantage of the game's Facebook location, building social networking points into the game; for instance, if a Facebook friend is playing at the same time you are, you can use a "Distress Call" to summon their S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent or one of their heroes to save you during a fight. The game also posts scores on your Facebook account, and players are able to send their friends messages when they pass them on the leaderboards. There are also player versus player opportunities and chances to use the "ISO-8" to customize hero stats.
"The fact that we're on Facebook is really important -- not only are we bringing a completely unique RPG experience to Facebook, but we're also tapping into that ability to interact with your friends as you go along," Reichner said. Players also have the chance to speed up game progress by using their credit cards to purchase in-game currency, Silver and Gold, which allows them to buy locked heroes and other items.
Playing through one of the game's battles, Rubinelli laughed and revealed his favorite "Avengers Alliance" character was none other than Doctor Strange. Both men got noticably excited as they demonstrated how Strange can use his Nova Blasts to take out opponents and his healing spells to revive the rest of his team.
"There's a soft spot in my heart for him -- favorite heroes are such a personal decision," Rubinelli admitted as he and Reichner cheered Strange while the hero took out Red Skull.
"Marvel: Avengers Alliance" launches today, March 1, on Facebook.