Marvel Heroes’ David Brevik talks hero pricing, how Diablo prepared him to make an MMO, and genre
Marvel Heroes has seen quite a few changes since we saw the initial round of beta testing back in December. If you've been participating in the beta or had a chance to check it out on the PAX East show floor, you may have noticed the new crafting system, a revised UI, and heroes which feel significantly more powerful.
Beta impressions from the latest build are currently under NDA, but the Report spoke with the game's creative director, COO of Gazillion, and once project and design lead of Diablo, David Brevik, to learn more about how the game is overcoming its hurdles, and where it goes from here.
Replayability and power brokering
I took the opportunity to ask Brevik about some of the criticism I'd leveraged toward the game in December. I started by telling him how I'd felt punished in the game for liking Marvel since, the more characters you have to play as, the more you have to retread the game's maps to get those heroes to the proper level.
Brevik said this was an issue of perception. We don't expect a completely different experience when we play an MMORPG as a new class, and Marvel Heroes'... heroes… act as the game's version of those. Gazillion is simply giving you the convenience of swapping characters mid-game instead of having to go back to a loading screen. The fun comes not from a new area, but from getting to experience how differently one hero plays from another.
In some ways this makes sense, as yes, players do expect to do a lot of the same quests, the same dungeons, the same content a second, third, fourth or fifth time when playing through as an alt in many MMORPGs; at the same time, playing my Draenei Shaman felt quite a bit different than playing my Orc Rogue or Worgen Warrior. Marvel Heroes is going to need to deliver that same feeling of seperation between its heroes for the system to stand up.
I told Brevik how I'd felt like the sense of a character's progression was broken because it wasn't represented visually – characters' costumes don't change or get upgraded one component at a time, so it's very unlike Diablo or World of Warcraft in that sense. I was reminded of an article from Ben's time at DICE, where Jesse Schell explained that the real money auction house in Diablo 3 broke the game's rhythm by turning gear, which should be aspirational, into a matter of paying some money via microtransactions. I asked Brevik how Marvel Heroes avoids falling into the same trap.
“They were selling items in the store, and the items had power associated with them,” he told the Report. “So you could buy power. That's very different than what we're doing, which is these are cosmetic changes.” The game's store will sell costumes, but there are many more visual effects which will help set players apart that can only be found or earned by playing the game. Brevik said this will keep the aspirational grind for better, cooler gear intact.
So what can't you buy in the store? Brevik said there are items which give your hero unique powers, including an “ultimate power,” items which give your powers alternate visual effects, items which make your character glow or sparkle, and more.
Popularity contests and buying your way to the top
Since heroes won't be upgrading their look piecemeal, Marvel Heroes has players update their character visually via a single costume slot. Many of these costumes can be bought, Brevik admitted, but not all. Every hero has at least once costume that needs to be “chased” in-game, and “only a handful” are exclusive to the Founders Program Ultimate Pack.
Of course you can always put down some dough if there's a hero or costume you absolutely must have. That's where the in-game store comes in. Here, you can buy boosts, heroes, costumes, and more. Each hero and costume costs different amounts of money, something I had been wondering about since December. Was this due to popularity, where less popular heroes were therefore cheaper?
“The fact is that some heroes are more popular than others,” Brevik told me to explain the difference in pricing. It's a blunt answer, and a little distressing. Prices may not be finalized, and we don't know how things will turn out as time goes on; it would leave a sour taste in my mouth to see a situation where Joss Whedon's Avengers costumes jump in price once the sequel hits theaters.
As for how Gazillion determines the popularity-to-price conversion or knows which characters are the most popular, Brevik didn't say. Some of the developer's methods for pricing, he said, are hidden.
Brevik also said popularity is just one part of the equation. “Some costumes are more elaborate and take us more time to do. For instance, there's a Deadpool enhanced costume that not only changes his look, but also changes all of his voiceover, so he talks like a pirate, and he has special visual effects, because he's blasting flintlock pistols. So the actual production of these costumes, sometimes, is more difficult,” he said.
“In the end it doesn't really matter, because 99.9 percent of the stuff you can find for free.”
Spider-Man's clown suit and rats that drop halberds
So why didn't Gazillion stick with how many games handled item progression and have characters upgrade their outfits one slot at a time? He said he doubted that Marvel would have been on-board with that, as they need to control the aesthetics of the characters, and mixing and matching outfits could break continuity, but he also didn't think it was a good idea.
“I hate how in some massively multiplayer roleplaying games, I get a particular hat that has great stats and I look terrible, or I get the breastplate and it turns out it's glowing sparkle pink, and that doesn't look good on my character,” he told me.
Even if you were playing Spider-Man, and Spider-Man stuff was dropping that was appropriate for him like his black suit gloves and Future Foundation chest, you would end up with some weird clown suit look
“Even if you were playing Spider-Man, and Spider-Man stuff was dropping that was appropriate for him like his black suit gloves and Future Foundation chest, you would end up with some weird clown suit look,” Brevik said. “We don't do that.”
Brevik admitted that having to work around implementing customization – something MMORPG and ARPG players love – with an established IP that has strict rules on what is and isn't allowed, who can and can't do what, was one of the team's toughest challenges. It doesn't make sense for Captain America to loot a thug for a better version of his shield. But, Brevik said, it also doesn't make sense in the fantasy genre; why is a bat dropping a halberd?
The important thing, Brevik said, is to make the game fun. If concessions in logic have to be made so that a ninja assassin from Madripoor carries Iron Man's Mk. I armor, or that hundreds of players can run around the same area as the same character, so be it. As long as it's fun.
An MMO, an ARPG, a legacy to live up to
One of Marvel Heroes' toughest challenges is making sure people understand what it is, Brevik told me. The game is a free-to-play MMO that looks and plays like an Action RPG, and that, Brevik said, is something that hasn't been done before.
“People are like, 'Is it an MMO? Okay, MMO means World of Warcraft to me. And it's an Action RPG? That means Diablo. So I don't understand how those two things are alike, they're not alike at all,'” Brevik said. “It was the same situation when I made Diablo. Like, 'What, a real-time roleplaying game? What does that even mean? You're clicking the mouse to hit stuff?' It didn't even make sense, but once you play it, then it does make sense, and I think that's the same thing here.”
He also stated Marvel Heroes might not have been possible without the groundwork laid by the Diablo series.
“Going from Diablo 1 and the lessons we learned with that – it was peer-to-peer and there was lots of hacking, things like that – and going to a client server model in Diablo 2, and then really taking that to the next step up, making it an MMO, that's a progression that I'm not sure you can jump straight to,” Brevik said.
“What it comes down to is making sure people give it a try. It's free, give it a try, see if you like it, and that's all I can ask for.”
Marvel Heroes comes out June 4 of this year, and while the beta is still closed, you can gain access by purchasing the Ultimate Founders Pack or creating an account on the Marvel Heroes website, taking the beta survey, and hope to be picked.