Crystal Dynamics is pulling from 80 years of Marvel comics, movies, and TV shows to create its own Avengers world.
Marvel's Avengers was officially unveiled at E3 2019, with a cinematic trailer depicting the fall of the Avengers after they fail to stop villains from attacking San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. The game features both solo and multiplayer missions, allowing you to choose from a roster of heroes and battle the forces of evil with friends online.
Avengers comes to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Google Stadia on May 15, 2020, but we were able to get our hands on the game's pre-alpha build at NYCC 2019. Our two-part demo consisted of the opening Golden Gate Bridge mission and a wave-based training session featuring Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel. We also learned that Kamala is actually the star of the game; she's the one who gets the Avengers back on their feet after the Golden Gate incident.
Following our demo, we spoke with Scot Amos, studio head at developer Crystal Dynamics. Scot talked to us about how the game stacks up against the Marvel Cinematic Universe, post-launch content, microtransactions, and more.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
GameSpot: One thing that's on my mind with this game is that you can't get around the existence of the MCU.
Scott Amos: Never heard of it! [Laughs]
What is it like having to work around presuppositions people may have about Marvel now because of the MCU?
I think the best thing I can say is we've done this before at Crystal, right? Tomb Raider in 2013. Crystal has been around for 26, going on 27 years, and have been the caretakers of Tomb Raider, only to then rebuild it and reimagine it in 2013. We had this exact kind of storm then. People asked, "Where's my Lara Croft? Where's my ponytails, and my sunglasses, my dual pistols?" And there was some heat to take.
It's just like, "No, no. Trust us. Come with us on this journey." It's the idea that we know what you love, we actually know why that works, we have a vision. That actually is what drew us together with Marvel, when we talked to them about how we do epic storytelling with the human spirit. It's like, well, that's what we do with Lara Croft. That's what they want to do with their heroes.
So for us, it's less about any one version of Marvel's heroes via TV shows or magazines or comic books or movies. Instead, there's a benefit to having access to 80 years of their history. Saying we can go and cherry-pick the cool moments, ideas, and elements of things that haven't been done yet because we're not going to be a one-and-done. We're going to launch this game, and we're going to have regions and new heroes showing up post-launch. That 80 years will become 81 years, and then 82 years, and so on. And so, we keep drawing all that stuff as it gets added to it. So we don't see it as anything other than a boon for us because millions of people who didn't know what a Hulk was 10 years ago are now wearing T-shirts that say Hulk on them.
For us, it's become a lifestyle. So, in the sense of one version over the other, people will have their favorites. They always will. Our job is to interpret them in a way that it feels fresh but still familiar.
Are there plans to reflect happenings in the MCU in additional content down the road? We've got the Black Panther sequel, Dr. Strange, and Shang Chi coming up.
I will put it this way: Marvel's great at thinking of all of their pieces of the world holistically, whether it's other games, movies, TV shows, or comics. Bill Rosemann, who's their VP of creative at Marvel Games, he's a master editor. He's been at Marvel for 25 or 26 years, so he knows everything that's going on across the board for all the mediums. We don't own that world, that's their world, but we have Bill. He will help steer us in the right direction and say, "In view of the entire world, here's what would make sense. Here's what may or may not play well together."
But it's never ever a direct, "This has to tie into that." That's not ever the intention. MCU is an amazing thing, they have their world. You look at our game, and our world, and what our universe is, and our versions of the Avengers, and I think there's room for both because we have different ways of accessing them. People are going to sit in a theater and watch something, that's one thing. We're going to watch at home on TV or streaming, that's another thing. You going to read a comic, that's another thing. Nobody's sitting there saying, "That doesn't look like Hulk in this comic." That's not the intent. It's always, "Here's the right shape and size for the medium that you're consuming."
There has been some backlash with Crystal's character design. How do you respond to that?
Come with us on this journey. We'll make you proud.
Do you have a timeline of when additional heroes will be added to the game?
We're not discussing specifics on dates or cadence or anything like that yet. But we keep saying, "On an ongoing basis." We don't want people to ever get bored or to run out of stuff to do.
We've learned from a lot of very, very good products out there of what does or doesn't work, and how quickly these amazing players who are particular fanatics can consume content. So how do we do this in a way that's smart, and keeps them engaged, and rewards them for their time? That's actually the biggest thing for us. If you want to play more, we want to give you more stuff to do.
Speaking of things that work and don't work, what is Crystal Dynamics' approach as far as microtransactions or season passes?
Simplest version is quite literally you have the core game. We're going to keep adding heroes, new regions, and new stories at no additional costs on an ongoing basis. We have cosmetics. We've been very transparent about there being outfits you can only earn in-game and outfits you can only buy from the marketplace. That's okay, if you want to invest into that particular lifestyle in a deep way. People buy Hulk T-shirts right now. You can buy outfits on our marketplace, but there's tons of them you can earn simply by doing missions in the game. So that's our path of looking at it, saying there's no paywalls for gameplay. There's never going to be an, "I can't actually get this hero because I have to go do some other transactions." We want the heroes to be like the Avengers. They keep growing and evolving.
Is there a costume that you're particularly proud of?
I love Joe Fixit. It's one of those things of reaching back into the archives and looking at it, then doing our version. We have Hulk in this beautiful, purple pinstriped suit with a fedora and the silk tie, it's all unexpected. People who know, they're like, "Oh my God, you have Joe Fixit. What?!"
That becomes something we get to take, and own, and do more. So people will start seeing that as, "Wow, I have so much agency over these characters. I can invest myself and make them mine, as opposed to some other version or vision that's being directed towards me. This is mine to direct in the way I want to play it." I think it will quickly change the story the more they get to see.
Is there a particular story arc, superhero, or villain you would really love to see brought into this game?
I think we're doing it. That's why we have A.I.M., a group who's not a mustache-twirling villain. They're sitting here saying, "No, science is the way. Logic is the way. Reason is the way." Unchecked, uncontrolled powers are dangerous. We need to be able to think of this almost as an evolution of these kinds of companies right there. Look around at four or five tech companies you can think of today. "We'll all be better if we're connected, and all very similar, and all have our ways to talk to each other." If you take that to maybe an illogical extreme, you get to see a sense that A.I.M.'s not vile.
They're actually doing this because they think this is the better way for this planet to evolve. [Then you have] heroes who are saying, "No, the natural order of things is that people with the right power used in the right ways can actually benefit society." So that immediately creates that kind of conflict for us. That's a perfect story that we get to dive into that nobody else has in this way.
Any particular, maybe B-tier hero that you're hoping to sneak in there?
I guess he's not B-tier presently, but I have to ask because I'm very much a Star-Lord fan.
There are so many characters, I think Marvel has over 9,000 characters in their 80 years of history, which is insane, right? Because even when we first talked about this, it wasn't, "You have to use this list." It was, "What do you guys think? Do you want to make a new hero?"
And there's so much to draw from. It's very difficult to think we can be smarter than these guys. These guys have owned it and mastered it. So I think we have this incredible mantle of responsibility to both pay true loyalty to the fiction and the fan, but also add a little spice of something they haven't seen yet. Something new that they get to play with.
I'm salivating about all the things that we can do and the amount of heroes that we want to add. I just hope when the players get their hands on it, they say, "Yes, we want more." That's the benefit of Crystal. We have a great community management team. We have a great world that we can reach into and listen to those folks and react.
There was a possibility early on of the game starring a custom character?
It is not off the table. I'll put it that way.
Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, is your central figure. Why specifically choose her as the protagonist?
The best thing for her is that she's fresh-faced, right? She's new. She hasn't been a part of other mediums. She's been in comics, but [only since] 2013. It's new enough that particularly the gaming fans will be like, "Who's this character? Maybe I've seen her in other games or maybe comics or maybe an animated series." It just gave us a new hook. This is kind of a cool character that has some great relatable problems that I can actually tap into, that's on the cutting edge of becoming this major star that aligns well with anybody.
"Oh, you have power that you don't know how to control yet. Oh, you are a fan of the Avengers, kind of like me." So she actually has a very good viewpoint that very much synchronizes with the heroes and the players. Then you look around that, and you have the old guard, core heroes like [Tony] Stark and Thor. Now you have this point of view of, "I know these characters, and I love those characters just Kamala does." I think it's the magic mix that we've always wanted to do.
When Ms. Marvel first came onto the scene there was a lot of praise for the comic for featuring someone of a background you don't often get to see in comics. Do you see this game as a chance to elevate more diverse characters like that?
Absolutely. If you look at Tomb Raider and look at all the stuff we've done at Crystal's history, we're huge proponents of breaking new ground and putting people out there, new heroes and heroines that people haven't really experienced. We're so damn proud of our studio and how much we care about every one of these heroes that we've worked with, be it our own, Tomb Raider, and now our own Avengers. It's a big deal for us that we want these characters not just be relatable, but people you want to hang out with. You start blurring that line really quickly.
And we have a great story from Tomb Raider 2013 where we actually had a fan who was literally at the end of her rope, kind of in a mental breakdown kind of state. But then she actually played our game, and it changed her life. It literally pulled her back from committing suicide to saying, "What would Lara do?" We wrote a character and a story that connected with her so much fictionally that it actually physically changed her life. So if we can save a life with a video game, that's freakin' worth it. The idea that we have that kind of impact just makes my heart flutter.
That is pretty incredible. Since you mentioned Tomb Raider, would you say any of the DNA from those games is translated into Avengers?
It is, for sure. We have folks like Noah Hughes, our studio creative director. He's been at Crystal 26 out of 27 years. So he knows everything. Scott Krotz is our tech director of 21 years. These guys helped us reshape how we build games, the way we build our technology, and the way we actually build the versions of our gameplay. [We have] new blood like Shaun Escayg, who comes from the Naughty Dog, who's a creative director for this project. You have this nice blend of people who've done things a certain way and have worked and lived through the tomb Raider series, and said, "No, this is how we should really do this story-telling moment." And then we added other folks like Dave Fifield, who comes off of the Halo and Call Of Duty franchises, and we talked about co-op, and bigger worlds, and what it means to play together.
I think we have this huge laundry list of people at Crystal blended with a lot of new blood that we had to add, including our new studio in Bellevue and our partners working out of Eidos Montreal. Oh my God, they're so good at what they do. Blending all these groups together has let us assemble these heroes in a way that we didn't even know was possible when we started this project. But I think it has helped transform us into a better company because of stuff we can do with it now.