Marvel Universe goes free-to-play

Gazillion Entertainment reveals Brian Michael Bendis as head game writer for massively multiplayer online game, dishes new details.

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At a recent press event, publisher Gazillion Entertainment revealed the head writer of its upcoming Marvel comics-inspired massively multiplayer game Marvel Universe. That writer: none other than Brian Michael Bendis, whose credits include the House of M, Secret Invasion, and Ultimate Spider-Man comics, among others. Bendis himself joined a panel that included Gazillion president and chief operating officer Dave Brevik; TQ Jefferson, Marvel vice president in charge of Marvel games; and Jeff Lind, studio director of Secret Identity, the internal division of Gazillion formed in late 2009 to develop the game. While the executives seemed in high spirits, they were tight-lipped about most of the game's key details and revealed only a few tidbits of new information.

Marvel Universe will let players step into the spandex of their favorite heroes.
Marvel Universe will let players step into the spandex of their favorite heroes.

The panel did reveal that the game will take place in venues and timelines gleaned from the entire Marvel comic universe--in Bendis' words, "back from the classic era all the way to the modern"--and that unlike other superhero-themed massively multiplayer games that require players to either create new characters from scratch or act as sidekicks to existing superheroes, Marvel Universe will let players play as the actual iconic Marvel characters they know and love. The panel rattled off only a handful of Marvel's iconic comic heroes that will appear as playable characters, such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and, as Bendis added jokingly--or at least, while laughing--the obscure hero known as Squirrel Girl.

The panel did at least address some of the game's story-related elements. Said Jefferson, "[Gazillion is] going to try to make the game recognizable to both casual fans and to hardcore fans. We're really looking for breadth here," explained the executive. The stated goal is to create a game that will be of interest to someone who might have just learned about Marvel comics from watching the Iron Man 2 motion picture, as well as to faithful, hardcore comic fans who pick up their issues and trades every week. Without giving any specific examples, the group suggested that the game's overarching story will let players "play through the great moments of the Marvel universe" and that the game will "launch with more Marvel characters than in any other Marvel game to date"--so players should expect to see a huge roster of iconic heroes and villains.

The group did, at least, divulge that the primary villain behind the events and challenges players will face in the game will be none other than Dr. Doom. When asked to list any specific heroines, the group simply stated that there will be "many strong female protagonists from the Marvel universe" in play. Jefferson was also quick to point out that Marvel Universe will not just be a kid-friendly game that might reflect the comic publisher's recent merger with media giant Disney.

"We already have a game like that for kids," said the vice president, in reference to Gazillion's casual, kid-friendly browser game Marvel Super Hero Squad. "This is gonna be the game for hardcore gamers."

Bendis quickly added that Disney has continued to treat Marvel "the same way they treat Pixar…by letting us just do what we do" and strongly suggested that the merger has continued to have no effect at all on Marvel's editorial direction, or on the direction of the game.

While the Marvel executives seemed happy to at least speak about the game in broad terms, the Gazillion execs were much more tight-lipped. After revealing that the game will, in fact, be a free-to-play game, Brevik refused to give any specifics about the game's monetization strategy, suggesting only that it's planned to be "the biggest triple-A free-to-play MMO designed that way from the ground up" and that the studio has "a lot of great ideas on how to monetize the game" that it was not yet ready to divulge.

Lind did note that the game is currently confirmed only for the PC platform, but avoided clarifying whether the game would play through a Web browser or through a downloadable client. However, a Gazillion representative did confirm for GameSpot that the game will be powered by Unreal technology. In terms of the game's release schedule, the executives were again tight-lipped; Brevik explained that the game has been in development for "a little over a year, and is at least another year out…at least," but provided no further specifics.

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