Disney Interactive Goes ‘Full Thanos’ in Marvel Avengers Alliance 2 [Interview]
Four years ago, Marvel Avengers Alliance hit Facebook gaming with all the force of the Incredible Hulk. Then it just kept going. Since launching in 2012, Avengers Alliance has recruited more then 70 million would-be heroes (and villains) to its cause. That's a lot of ISO-8 being thrown around all willy-nilly. In that time, the game has been telling its own story in its own corner of the Marvel Universe, while also expanding into comic book storylines like Fear Itself and films like Avengers: Age of Ultron.
This week, Marvel Avengers Alliance 2 comes out of beta testing to bring a whole new era of Avengers action to mobile devices. While the original game did come to mobile, it wasn't truly its own unique game. Developed exclusively for phones and tablets this time around, Marvel Avengers Alliance 2 features a whole host of changes courtesy of Disney Interactive. Ahead of its official release, ComicsAlliance spoke with creative director Scott Rudi and senior producer Justin Woods about what to expect from Marvel Avengers Alliance 2, what sets it apart from its predecessor, and going "full Thanos."
ComicsAlliance: First things first, with the full release of Marvel Avengers Alliance 2, will you continue support for the original Avengers Alliance?
Justin Woods: Absolutely. There's a ton of content planned for Marvel Avengers Alliance. Obviously with all games at all companies, you're going to constantly evaluate every product for its viability. Right now we have a lot of support planned for Avengers Alliance, and that has a dedicated team who are only working on the first game.
CA: The first teaser hinted that there would be a Thanos-centric story, and the new trailer really hammered that home. Is it a burden to be working with characters tied so closely to the cinematic universe?
Scott Rudi: We love Thanos.
JW: We asked for Thanos.
SR: That was our first wish. I mean, give me a better bad guy. His whole purpose in life is to kill everything; there's no altruism in this guy. He makes a very rich character to go after, and he's got this history to go after, like many Marvel characters, that we're tapping into to help tell this new story. It's so Thanos, it's more than Thanos. It's super-duper Thanos.
JW: We're taking Thanos in the most Thanos direction that Thanos has ever been taken. Without knowing exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is doing, I would say it's probably extremely different from where the MCU is taking Thanos.
SR: We went full Thanos.
JW: Always go full Thanos.
SR: What's cool, especially with the comic, is we bridged the history with Marvel Avengers Alliance to the events of AA2. That being said, they're both standalone products, so if you're one of the few people left in the world who hasn't played MAA, you won't miss out. You can come in having never played MAA and get the sequel on your phone, and you're right in the story.
At the same time, MAA players will feel a nice continuation of the themes and uber-story of all these events and the digital comic.
CA: That's something Marvel's been doing now for a bit, where it's paying closer attention to branching out with Contest of Champions or what you're doing with the comic story. What's that like transferring the storylines you're doing into the more direct narrative form? Is it a bit of a relief to just be able to focus wholly on story and not worry about the action, or do you wish it was something you could expand upon more in the game but didn't have the space?
SR: Marvel and Disney are both based on the theme of telling a story. That's what makes it so wonderful to work on these products. So, "Yes," to everything. We look for all opportunities to tell a story, and it really supports the game in MAA2. You have this rich storyline that's sprinkled in there with the events of the core combat and you dealing with the meta. It actually fits quite nicely.
JW: We really see both MAA and MAA2 as a platform for storytelling. Think of it as a shell where the story has yet to be written. The number of scripts that cross our desks is very high. There are so many words we see on a never-ending basis because of how much story is in this game, and it's not going to end until the game someday ends. Which is knock on wood, a very long time from now.
There are so many stories to tell. There's no lack of ideas. There's certainly no lack of viable Marvel heroes and villains that we can work into our storylines.
SR: It's a lot of work, but it's really worth it. It's thrilling when you get that final cut and you put it into the game. You just can't wait until the next update when the players get to see that story. It's really just magical.
CA: Speaking of the characters you get to use, the first Avengers Alliance already has a substantial roster. When the sequel arrives, is it going to be back to a smaller roster that you'll rebuild again? Will people that have been playing MAA have any kind of opportunity to unlock more characters earlier?
JW: Obviously there are a lot of really dedicated and loyal players in MAA, and we are looking at a way to take care of those people. We don't have anything to announce at this time regarding that. However, in terms of just the character roster, MAA just celebrated its four-year anniversary. Four years is a long time to making and adding new characters. It would be pretty optimistic to launch with a roster of that size, but our goal is to work up to that size even faster than we did before.
We are making and putting out new characters even faster than MAA ever did. To start off, our soft launch only had 24 playable characters in MAA2, and we are now very close to 40 going into the worldwide launch. That is how quickly we are adding them in. We have almost double the initial roster already.
CA: When working on a sequel like this that takes place in the same universe, there's obviously going to be some repeat characters. You had Iron Man and Spider-Man before, and you'll have them both again in Avengers Alliance 2. What are some of the challenges you face in making the new versions of these characters feel different enough from the last entry?
SR: One of the things that's an exciting addition to MAA2 is the ability to customize characters. Every character has eight offensive and defensive abilities that you can put into one of three available slots. You'll be out there collecting abilities while playing, and when you find a rare one that's really powerful like Iron Man's unibeam, it will offer a bit of strategizing
If I'm playing PVP, I'll want to load up on offensive abilities so I can KO the enemy team quickly. However, if I'm going into more Heroic-level PVE, I may want a tank build. Using these abilities and the ISO-8 crystal slotting system, which not only improves character stats, but gives out bonus abilities if you arrange them in matching sets. You have a lot of options to build your own strategies based on who you have on the team, how far progressed they are, and what your challenges are.
Thematically, Iron Man is still Iron Man. It's a very strong and rich character for Marvel. But for MAA2 versus the original game, we have a lot of different options and approaches players can take to utilize Iron Man.
JW: In fact, Marvel Avengers Alliance was the game that created ISO-8 as a concept and conceit for how a lot of villains and heroes got powers enough to be able to fight each other. Marvel like it so much, it's been used across a wide variety of its games portfolio and have also taken it into the comics. That's just a cool example of how Disney and Marvel have worked together to create something that's now been taken outside of one game, and has transcended other media and products.
CA: It's been a while since even the original Avengers Alliance has seen a member of the X-Men added. Any chance Avengers Alliance 2 will see those mutants brought back into the fold?
JW: Never say never, but there aren't any on the road map right now.
SR: That being said, we're going to have a really huge roster of strong characters. We're really excited about the emergence of the Inhumans. It's exciting for storytelling but also the Inhumans are almost tailor-made for video games. These guys have such random and crazy powers, and I can't wait to sink my teeth into them. There are so many different storylines, like the upcoming Civil War II, we can't wait to tell that story. One day it'd be great to do an Infinity story. The wealth of material Marvel has for us is like being a kid in a candy store.
JW: Another exciting thing about our roster is we have playable characters that haven't been seen yet in MAA. We have characters like Electro and MODOK and Nebula. Villains are going to play a really big role in our roster down the road. You're going to see a lot more playable villains in MAA2 than you did in the first game. Rather than just being customized versions of their boss battles, they're hand-tailored to be playable from the beginning. There's going to be a very rich villain roster down the road as well. That's going to be something that stands Avengers Alliance 2 apart from other games.
Marvel Avengers Alliance 2 is available today on iOS, Android, Amazon and Windows mobile devices.