Marvel Heroes 2015's David Brevik discusses hero design, loot, Inhumans, and more

In the middle of a packed GDC week, Shacknews took some time out to speak to Gazillion CEO David Brevik and talk about all things Marvel Heroes 2015, including the game's evolution over the past two years, hero revamps, loot runs, raids, and tie-ins to both comic events and Marvel Cinematic Universe events like Age of Ultron.

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The best MMORPGs evolve over time and grow to such a point that they retain everything that makes them fun, while simultaneously becoming nearly unrecognizable when compared to their originall vanilla form. The best adventures are the ones that are worth embarking on week-after-week, while your hero grows from a ragtag rookie into one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Among the MMORPGs that have seen the most growth over the past two years has been Marvel Heroes, undergoing the transformation to Marvel Heroes 2015.

During a busy Game Developers Conference week, Shacknews had the opportunity to stop and speak with Gazillion CEO and former Blizzard North co-founder David Brevik about all things Marvel Heroes 2015. That includes how the game has changed since it first released back in 2013, what's yet to come, and how exactly the team goes about determining what to update next.

The meeting kicked off with a look at the latest character to join the Marvel Heroes 2015 roster: the uncanny Omega-level mutant, Iceman. Bobby Drake has joined the fight with his sub-zero abilities. And on top of his ice-based beams, winds, and slides, he also brings his razor-sharp wit to the table, able to crack wise just as well as the Human Torch or Spider-Man.

"Iceman is new and then we revamped Punisher. Punisher was one of the original Heroes released. Instead of using a 'Spirit' mechanic, which is typically what the characters use, he's now going to use a 'Bullet' mechanic, so he can use a certain amount of bullets he can shoot before has to reload. We've revamped his gameplay quite a bit, put in new skills, including a new Ultimate."

That new Ultimate is Punisher's trusty Battle Van, which will ride in and spray all foes on the screen with its heavy arsenal of gunfire and flamethrower turrets. There's also a gun turret at the top of the van that can be controlled by the player's mouse. This is the latest in the long line of ongoing character revamps that have nearly reached their conclusion. Brevik notes that there are a few more remaining before the team moves on to a whole new round of revamps for each character, adding further balance to go along with the game's many additions.

"Every week, we have new things," Brevik added. "Sometimes, it's a new character. We have a new event every week. She-Hulk is the next character, along with Rogue's Age of Apocalypse costume. We have about 250-plus costumes in the game now, so there's a lot of variety of look." (Editor's note: Gazillion has since corrected this to be Rogue's Age of X costume.)

That variety extends into the realm of voice acting, not just for the base heroes themselves, but also for some of the alternate skins. For example, late 2013 saw the Superior Spider-Man enter the fray with new voice actor Christopher Daniel Barnes (of 90s animated Spider-Man fame) in tow. Other more recent additions include the upcoming alternate Spider-Gwen skin and the Winter Soldier, voiced by long-time Solid Snake actor David Hayter. The voice acting studio is always active, something that Brevik takes a lot of pride in.

"[Voice actors] go down there once every two months for about a week to do voice recordings," Brevik explained. "We're doing quite a bit and we plan it a little bit in advance to make sure we have the voices for all of the upcoming characters. They can get through usually about three or four characters in a day, so they're there for about four days recording in L.A."

Getting the Marvel Universe source material right means more than getting the look down. It also means having the content that allows players to live out some of their favorite comic book storylines, as well as some of what they've seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The initial Marvel Heroes release saw players rallying to defeat Latverian monarch Doctor Doom, who had attained the almighty Cosmic Cube. Marvel Heroes 2015 has since added its first high-level Raid content, which took 10-player parties into the heart of Asgardian demon Surtur's realm. Brevik is now gearing up for the game's next big raid and subsequent tie-ins.

"We have a second Raid coming up very, very soon," Brevik said. "It'll be out in maybe two weeks, depending on how testing goes. That centers around the comics' Axis event, which will feature the Red Skull in the Onslaught armor. So he'll be the boss of that Raid. There's several other encounters in that one, as well. And then, obviously, we'll be tying into Age of Ultron in a big way. No big surprise there! We haven't really announced any of the plans yet, but you can imagine we'll be doing a lot in that time."

The upcoming Axis tie-in will take Marvel Heroes 2015 to the mutant continent of Genosha for the first time. This has been high on Brevik's wish list since the game first launched, but that'll hardly be the only new Marvel Universe landscape that the game will venture to, with Brevik hinting at galactic content in the future.

"We're trying to keep pace with stuff in the comics and everything else. We just had a meeting with Marvel last Monday, trying to lay out the plans of what they're doing with the comics this year, how we can tie in, not just with Avengers, but with the other events, comics and movies, that are coming out later this year. The big event one later this year is the new Secret Wars, so we're wondering how we can tie into that and how we can represent that."

That leads to a corner of the Marvel Universe that Marvel Heroes 2015 has yet to visit. It's a corner that Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been inching towards, as of late, and that's the dawn of the Inhumans.

"One of the biggest glaring holes in our lineup of heroes is that Inhumans aren't really represented, so that's something we'll look to address," Brevik stated.

Then comes the process of creating compelling gameplay, a challenge that Gazillion faces across all aspects of Marvel Heroes. This includes the aforementioned Raid content, which came to be some of Marvel Heroes 2015's most engaging quests to date.

"The Raid content itself is very different, because of getting ten people together for mechanics where the only place they exist is in the Raid," Brevik added. "Raiding in traditional MMOs is about not only having stats that are good enough to defeat the boss, but also that you mechanically understand the fights so that there are certain things that you have to do at certain times at certain phases. And that kind of mechanic just hasn't existed in this game before. There's complicated mechanics going on, while you're trying to do the fight at the same time, something that's very different from action-RPGs. And it's a different type of raiding than traditional MMO raiding, mainly because you don't have, with an action-RPG, the tanking, the DPS, or the healers. You don't have the Holy Trinity of MMOs here. And what ends up happening in raiding is that people don't want to play as tanks, they don't want to play as healers. It's a very small subset of the population, compared to people that want to to DPS. So giving people the chance to contribute and keep track of their own health was the mechanic that we used to make our raids very different."

As the game has evolved, so too, have the playable Heroes. As mentioned, the first round of revamps is nearly finished, with Scarlet Witch, Deadpool, and a few others left to go. It's a design process that Brevik notes takes as long as designing a character from scratch, while also making sure not to upset the community that has embraced certain aspects of that character. In reflecting on this process, Brevik took a moment to recall what a ride it's been thus far.

"We've gone back and re-did Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, everybody that, at launch, didn't quite have a full set and we've changed mechanics on some of them and made them very different to play than they originally were. We've invented new powers for them, like Rocket Raccoon got a new Ultimate where he gets into a mech. It seems like every time we're doing these reviews, they're getting more and more elaborate. It was originally they were going to get some skills moved around, but we ended up adding new skills, moving this mechanic, changing the powers, and they've been pretty thorough revamps at this point. The original characters didn't have quite the stats and DPS that the new characters had, so bringing them up to speed has been a lot of fun for the players."

And of course, one of the major overhauls that Marvel Heroes 2015 has received over its near-two year life cycle has been the change in the game's reward system. Heroes and outfits can now be unlocked, rather than left up to a random loot drop, something that Brevik says is the single-best change in the game over its life. In fact, the loot system has seen quite a few changes, so that prompted me to ask Brevik, one of the fathers of Diablo-style loot runs, how Marvel Heroes 2015 has gone about finding the sweet spot between a rewarding loot run and a tiresome grind.

"It takes a lot of practice," Brevik answered. "You just have to pay attention to what people are saying. And I experience it myself. I play the game all the time. I stream the game four nights a week on Twitch. My wife and I play together. We talk to the audience. They are normal accounts, not boosted or anything like that. I experience the game like everybody else does. I listen to the feedback, we interact, we debate stuff. It's a really fun way to interactively develop the game. Having that constant community contact is something I've never experienced before and I really enjoy that. Getting the feedback of 'This really feels too grindy,' so we'll go back and take a look. A lot of people have conspiracy theories about randomness, which isn't too much of a surprise, but we'll go through and we'll look for ourselves.

"Trying to make sure an activity is fun versus grindy is almost an impossible thing. It comes down to who you're playing with, in my opinion, and whether or not I'm doing this for the right reasons. Am I having enough fun. Yes, the goal is to get this, but am I doing enough activities? It comes down to variety, so I've got to make sure there's a variety of things to do for the same goal."

Finally, look for Marvel Heroes to continue its weekly updates that fix various bugs, offer balance tweaks, and issue technical upgrades. In particular, look for a new patcher to hit in the next few weeks that will streamline the patching process and make the overall size patches smaller than in the past.

Marvel Heroes 2015 is free-to-play on PC and Mac. As for a console version, the question was put to Brevik, once again, and it's an idea that he has not ruled out.

"We would love that," Brevik said, laughing. "I get this literally everyday, so we've heard it loud and clear. I would love to have it on consoles. It just makes a lot of sense."

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
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      March 9, 2015 11:12 AM

      Good read. I always wondered how they got the different heroes to make small quips about newly released heroes in the voice dialogue - I thought maybe they just recorded them out in advance, but having them come back in every few months makes sense too.

      It really is an enjoyable F2P game and you can get by shelling out nothing or a few bucks, depending. It's not as deep as D3 or POE, but its good fun.

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      March 9, 2015 11:13 AM

      I've played a lot of Marvel Heroes over the past year. Almost 1000 hours. I've enjoyed my time with the game but man, they are making hard to love. The bugginess of the game is becoming an issue once again and they have a bunch of changes coming soon that seem to exist only to get more money from end game players. Which in itself isn't terrible. They have to make money. However they should step back and see if the changes add or take away from the game. Plus there is content they announced over a year ago that still hasn't come out.

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        March 10, 2015 12:17 PM

        Yep. As someone with all the heroes, most of them at 60 (some are just painful to play and stuck at 50), I've felt for awhile that their method of chasing $$ is dangerous. It feels to me like they rely much too heavily on the big pre-sale packages and over selling 'the future'.

        Fun game, great value for free to play, the devs feel really accessible and work well with the community, I just hope they can keep pace with their promises and work on the inherent issues in the core gameplay along the way.

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      March 11, 2015 3:44 AM

      Just started playing. Super man. However I don't understand the crafting system, and I wish the item where super clear on if they are better or worse then what you currently have like in D3. Super fun though. Can anyone link a guide to the crafting? Very poorly introduced in game.

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        March 11, 2015 3:47 AM

        Don't type on iPhones at 3am so many errors