Promising a cameo by Stan Lee himself and 22 Marvel heroes available as player characters, Gazillion Entertainment announced a free beta weekend May 3-5 for its new massive multiplayer online game, Marvel Heroes.
During that weekend, some of the Avengers -- Black Widow, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man, whose third film also opens that weekend -- will be available as playable characters for free. Steven Reid, Gazillion's director of community and customer support, made the announcement at C2E2 this weekend.
The full game launches in early access mode May 28, and then officially June 4. After the beta weekend, the roster of free characters available to players changes to Daredevil, Storm, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and the Thing. Other characters are available for purchase in pre-launch founders packages ranging from $19.99 for a starter pack to $199.99 for the ultimate pack that includes all heroes.
The game itself blends role-playing game depth with massive action in an isometric game view, Reid said. Video highlights showed massive action, battles raging among literally dozens of heroes, super powers everywhere and the Hulk smashing Iron Man with a very satisfying metallic thud. "I think I am going to put that one down as a one-nil victory for the Hulk," said Reid.
Marvel Heroes associate producer Matt Group said the game features three platforms: a town setting in which character gather information and goods, a massive public combat free-for-all section, and smaller group combat settings. All settings scale to fit the action. Cosmic threats play alongside modest squabbles as the game progresses.
"Marvel is a story-driven universe, and we all love the stories that they tell, so we wanted to make sure that we got that right in our game., Group said. "So, what better way to bring out the writing than to bring out one of the biggest writers in the Marvel universe, kind of the Marvel super scribe, if you will. He's written everything under the sun, Brian Michael Bendis. He's writing an original story for our game. You won't find it anywhere else… it's 100 percent an original story written just for our game."
The game tells the story in comic book fashion, and then drops characters into the action. "We wanted to take the approach of telling the story from the comic book roots that Marvel grows from," said Group. The team decided upon "motion comics," sort of a hybrid between full animation and the two-dimensional page. "We really wanted to make sure that we go through the authentic comic book process," he said.
Initially, 22 heroes will be available as player characters, and players can join in groups online or play individually. If everyone decides to play as Wolverine, well, "We really don't care," said David Brevik, Gazillion's Chief Operating Officer and a co-developer of the game "Diablo."
Players gain experience and power based upon game action. The initial character stats are based upon the same stats used in the 1980s TSR Marvel role-playing game. Characters can also gain new suits, with Iron Man and Spider-Man having seven or eight suits each, and every hero having at least two, including one found through game play and experience boosts only and not available for purchase.
Having the strongest powers and largest measurables will not be enough, said Brevik. "It won't all be about powers and numbers and all that. Skill will matter, and your ability to move around and see how fast you can click the buttons, which is always near and dear to my heart."
The roster of voice talent stretched past 75 actors, including perennial favorites such as Keith David as Nick Fury, Nolan North as Deadpool, Steve Blum as Wolverine and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Group said that he examined every audible appearance of each character he could find and expects that voices will match what fans are used to hearing. Group "has literally scoured the planet trying to find everyone who's ever played a Marvel character in a previous project," said Reid.
The voice cast includes one special guest.
"I personally will be making an appearance in Marvel Heroes," said Stan Lee, appearing in a video at the panel. After seeing Marvel Heroes in action, he said, "The only thing that could make it better: Me!"
The game will remain free "unless you want to pay us something," said Reid. It is possible to acquire characters, suits and powers as "loot" through game play, making it entirely possible to play the full game all the way to conclusion without paying a dime. Some suits and powers are actually only available as in-game loot.
Brevik said new stories would be added for as long as the game remains active –- so the initial story and endgame is just the beginning.