When one thinks of a team of noble heroes in Marvel lore, a team that comes together as a unit and does what's right to save the universe, one immediately thinks... of the Avengers. When one thinks of another team of slightly less noble heroes, a team that eventually comes together as a unit and does what's right to save the universe and hopefully make a profit along the way, one might take a moment before remembering the Guardians of the Galaxy. A year after Crystal Dynamics took a crack at Earth's Mightiest Heroes, Eidos Montreal is here to take their shot at the ragtag crew of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and this development team's approach is significantly different.
Shacknews recently had the opportunity to speak with Executive Narrative Director Mary DeMarle and Senior Gameplay Lead Patrick Fortier. We ask them about the state of the Guardians heading into this adventure, crafting a team distinct from what's in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics, some of the characters players will be meeting, and curating a soundtrack that's fit for Peter Quill.
Shacknews: Roughly how long has the Guardians team been together when this game takes place?
Mary DeMarle, Executive Narrative Director: A little under a year. Long enough that they've gotten to know each other, but not really long enough to have gelled together as a team or as a family.
Shacknews: Are fans brought up to speed on any of the history of the Guardians over the course of the game or is the game's story going to assume that fans are already familiar with the movies and the comics and just throw them right in?
DeMarle: No, because we're creating our own version of the Guardians. If you really look at it, the Guardians in the movies are one set of Guardians, the Guardians in the comic books are a very different set of Guardians. They're maybe the same characters, but they're very different depictions and we've created our own. So — knowing that, and knowing that the people coming to this will either only know the ones in the movies or maybe they know the ones in the comic books, maybe they don't know them at all, and we're creating a new version of them — we need to build a story and tell that story in a way that you get to know these characters over the course.
Whereas in the beginning you maybe drop right into an adventure right away with them, but in the way that we allow you get to know the characters through the story, through their banter, through the dialogue over time, we assume you know nothing and build it along the way.
Patrick Fortier, Senior Gameplay Lead: It's a very narrative-focused game, so we're going to give players a lot of opportunities to interact with the Guardians, so you can actually spend quite a bit of time on the Milano going about and initiating conversations with them. As you explore different chapters, you find collectibles that relate to the different Guardians and they start populating the Milano. If you interact with them, they actually trigger full-on conversations with choices where you can find out more about their origins or traumatic events from their past.
All of that is optional, of course, so if you want to go straight through the adventure, you'll still get the gist of who they are and all that. But, if you want to go a little bit deeper, if you take your time on the Milano and even during the chapters, there will be these opportunities to go a little further into who they are.
Shacknews: We've recently met the Universal Church of Truth. What is the history of the Universal Church of Truth and what should players know about them heading into the game?
DeMarle: Heading into the game, at the very beginning of the story, you know nothing about them, because they get introduced over the course of the story. From our perspective, the story took place 12 years after [the] Galactic War, and the Universal Church of Truth, like everyone else in our story, had a role to play in that war. As you go through the story, as the Guardians encounter them for the first time, they don't know who they are, either. That's something that's really great, because since they don't know, they're trying to find out, and you as a player don't know and you're finding out with the Guardians as you go.
Shacknews: How much freedom did you have with these characters. You mention this is your version of the Guardians. But were there certain storyline beats or character beats from either the movies or comics that you had to adhere to?
DeMarle: We had to adhere to the essence of who these characters are. From that, Drax is Drax the Destroyer. He is the man who lost his wife and daughter and is grieving and wanted revenge for that. That was the principle of Drax we had to maintain. Peter is always the silver-tongued space pirate who gets kidnapped from Earth as a teenager. Same with all the other characters, they all have an essence to them that makes them who they are.
But, once you know the essence, you can build more into it. We talk a lot about how Drax is similar to the movies, in that he's very literal. He's also similar to the comics, in that he's quite intelligent and a tactician of sorts. In our own universe, we build on getting to know the deep emotions that are inside him. The more you talk to him, the more you get to feel that essence of who Drax is in our universe.
Shacknews: With the built-in team element of the Guardians, what was the motive behind focusing the gameplay on Star-Lord in a single-player experience, as opposed to a more cooperative, Marvel Ultimate Alliance style approach?
Fortier: We wanted to go for a different kind of game experience. We know those games are out there. They exist. But, we wanted to strike something else that would go into the core of what we're good at and what we feel the Guardians are about.
Quickly, it became clear that it was going to be a narrative-driven action-adventure game and, as we started thinking about it and exploring it, we're like, "How do we put you at the center of the team? How do we make you feel like not just like you're watching a story, but like it's happening you?" If we put you in the role of Peter and he's kind of the glue holding that team together, we're going to make you experience teamwork from the inside. More similar to in real life, when you work with a team, you don't control everything. You can't decide everything. Sometimes a team will follow you, sometimes you have to convince them. That felt like there was a richness of possibilities there and that felt fresh, in terms of a video game experience.
Ultimately, as you play it, you realize you're playing Peter Quill, but your success in combat is totally linked to the team and you're fighting together, not just as a series of bots and individuals, you're all in this together and you're not the most powerful character out there on the battlefield. You need these guys and you need to coordinate them and play that role. It started gelling and coming together and we started seeing players' reactions feeling like they were playing all the Guardians, because it was a team thing from beginning to end. It wasn't "Peter Quill and the Guardians of the Galaxy," it's really the Guardians of the Galaxy experience and it was something we felt could be memorable and unique.
Shacknews: How did you come up with the idea of using Star-Lord as a tactician who can direct his teammates? It feels like something more out of a strategy game than an action game.
DeMarle: I think some of that comes from who the character of Peter Quill is. We know he is the so-called "leader" of this group. And, from our story standpoint, here is the guy who wanted to turn his life around and build this team and capitalize on this "hero for hire" kind of aspect. "If I can build a team of really powerful people and we can sell ourselves as heroes, we're going to make money, and we're going to have a lot of fun." But, when he made that decision, he basically has to become the leader.
Fortier: The gameplay articulated itself around that vision and bringing that experience to life. I wanted using the Guardians to be really core to what you were doing in the game, whether it be traversal or getting around, and in combat, as well. And, I wanted it to be empowering to use them. Some of the basic functions, it's one button, it's simple, but it slows down time, so it gives you time to breathe a little bit, because the combat is pretty dense.
You can quickly select exactly the enemy you want, so you're selecting even better than when you're aiming by yourself. Select a Guardian and something immediately happens on screen and you get an immediate beneficial effect in combat, so it becomes gratifying to use them. And, as you start to do that, you really start operating as a team and you can develop a combat style that's your own.
Shacknews: I have to ask about the music, of course. When people watch the Guardians of the Galaxy in movies or on television, they've been hearing a lot of 60s and 70s folk rock. Whereas in the game, we seem to be hearing a lot more 80s hair metal. What was the thought process behind the music selection and was this another way to differentiate your Star-Lord from every other version we see out there?
DeMarle: I think it comes from the fact that for our Star-Lord, he is a child of the '80s. We took that love of music that was introduced by the movies and we said, "Well, if you're a child of the '80s, what kind of songs are you going to really like?" And, from that, it built into this whole idea of the 80s hair metal bands...
Fortier: But all kinds of things, really! There's things for everybody. There's Wham, there's Iron Maiden, there's KISS, we really wanted something for everybody, because Peter's a music lover. His interests are quite wide, so there's a lot of stuff that captures the essence of that decade.
Shacknews: The Guardians have a rich history that spans decades. Even their newer, more MCU-stylized incarnations have had some memorable story arcs in the comics. Are there any storylines that you'd like to cover in a sequel or an expansion, if given the opportunity?
Fortier: We've read a lot of comic books to inspire ourselves for certain events. Like Mary said with the Galactic War, there's similarities there to what's going on in the world. But, we've been so focused with bringing life to this game that we haven't had time to think about what a next one would be like.
Shacknews: Lastly, when I first saw this game revealed at E3, I immediately thought of what your colleagues at Crystal Dynamics are doing with Marvel's Avengers. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is looking to be a completely different experience. It's a self-contained single-player story. I have to ask, was that always the intention? Was the intention always to make it a single-player story or was your decision based on some of the feedback for Marvel's Avengers?
Fortier: To be honest, the development time of games like that, they span multiple years and there are a lot of parallels between the development cycles. There was no time for any reaction, which is a cause for concern at the beginning, because you don't know how people are thinking.
But, we just went with our own thing and took a leap of faith, creatively, with our own idea. And, I think that's what Marvel was looking for. They work with different teams that have different visions, different specialties. The Guardians are a little more kooky, they're a little more rock 'n roll, and we're a team that thrives in the idea of not creating a formulaic game. It's very hand-crafted, there's no particular structure between how one chapter plays to the next, and we're not following a rigid pattern, and it's really, "Where is the story taking us?" Sometimes there's more narrative, sometimes there's more combat, but as a player, you end up playing this game and you never know what's going to happen next or what's going to be thrown at you. I love that, it keeps you on your toes, and it was one of the key ideas from the beginning. Expect the unexpected.
Shacknews: I am Groot.
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy will release on October 26 on PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. We also went hands-on with the game here at Shacknews, so be sure to check out our hands-on preview.