Tagged: Marvel Super Heroes

Emily S. Whitten: “Marvel Heroes”

Whitten Art 130611On June 4, Gazillion’s Marvel Heroes MMOARPG launched to the public. And I’m here to tell you that it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play, especially if you are a Marvel fan.

Marvel Heroes is a free-to-play PC game featuring a story written by Brian Michael Bendis (which begins with a set of prequel motion comics that you can watch here). I covered the basics of the game in my previous Marvel Heroes column, so I’m going to move right into my review here.

The Good Stuff:

One of the strongest pros in this game is, of course, the Marvel IP – and what Gazillion has done with it while designing the look and feel of the game. With five starting character choices and twenty-one Marvel heroes currently available, each with three to five costumes (although Spider-man has six and Iron Man eleven!), players can instantly play as a Marvel hero who looks and talks like he or she came straight out of the comics. If players are willing to spend money, they can play as non-starter heroes from the get-go, and equip the heroes with favorite costumes as well (heroes and costumes are also available as in-game drops, but they are rare). And people who get tired of one character have plenty of choices available if they want to switch things up.

The characters look like the heroes we know and love; the costumes are iconic; and each character has unique voice-over work, some of which is done by actors who have previously voiced the same character in other media or games (e.g. Steve Blum reprises his role as Wolverine). Through this voice work, the characters interact with the environment and other players in ways that fit with their comics personas. (One thing I like about the voice-over work is that sometimes, the lines actually make me laugh out loud.) Some of the heroes even have enhanced costumes, with special effects and separate voice-over work (for instance, Pirate Deadpool speaks in a pirate voice). There are also “artifacts” you can get that change the cosmetic look of your hero a bit, or that add to their powers. The game even has a few pets available – like Old Lace from Runaways! Favorite characters of mine so far include Deadpool, Jean Grey, Rocket Raccoon, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye; and Gazillion plans to continue releasing new heroes, with Human Torch , Squirrel Girl, and Emma Frost being three announced heroes that I’m looking forward to playing.

The powers available for each hero are also mapped directly from Marvel lore, and can be customized via power points to make your individual hero suited to different play styles (melee, ranged, tank, team support, etc.) while still feeling authentic. The powers can also look pretty darned cool, like for instance when Jean Grey goes into her Phoenix Transformation and flies around with a flaming phoenix around her. Her other powers even have a different (fiery) look to them when she’s using them while transformed. The characters also have lore-appropriate epic Ultimate Powers, which can eventually be unlocked at higher levels and are mostly awesome. (I love that Iron Man’s is called House Party and calls up other Iron Man suits, just like in the movie.) You can also customize hero performance through gear drops, which come with various affixes like defense, or +X to a power, or gain of spirit on use of a basic power, or a personal favorite of mine, freeze.

The environments and enemies are also Marvel-specific in some pretty cool ways. We get maps like Hell’s Kitchen (accompanied by a cool Daredevil motion comic) which feel kind of dingy and shady and like Daredevil’s Hell’s Kitchen might; and maps like the Savage Land, which have dinosaurs (yay!). Other areas include the Jersey Docks, Madripoor, and more. The maps are randomized, which makes re-playing levels not overly monotonous. There are also fun side-missions, like an abandoned subway tunnel, or a convenience store, or a small island, that usually house a few enemies and sometimes a treasure chest. And then there are locations like the Hand Tower or Kingpin Tower that feel very authentic in design and end with a boss like Elektra or the Kingpin. (And I can’t explain why, but the fact that I can destroy Kingpin’s couch cushions on the way to the boss fight is a never-ending joy to me. Take that, Kingpin!) Enemies vary by location, so players will find themselves fighting AIM, Hydra, the Hand, the Maggia, etc.; as well as additional bosses, like Doc Ock, Venom, Taskmaster, MODOK, and more.

Everything about the game shows that Gazillion cares about the details of the Marvel universe and put a lot of thought into the design – up to and including the load screen tips, which sometimes address gameplay, but other times share facts about heroes and locations (and occasionally inform you that Deadpool is not standing behind you right now, which is always a relief). The motion comics are also part of the immersion – and are peppered throughout the game to move the story along. While I don’t love every single one of them, most are very cool and the introduction comic, the Madame Hydra fight comic, and the Taskmaster Institute comic come to mind as very enjoyable (the Taskmaster Institute one is the best).

Another area in which I think Marvel Heroes has done well is in the game’s accessibility to new gamers or new MMO players. For instance, I love Marvel and I love gaming. I have a comics collection that spans several shelves and is at least 3/4 Marvel, and I own an XBox and have played numerous games on it, including playing through Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 & 2 an embarrassing number of times. However, until this game, I had never played an MMO-style game before, and hadn’t played a game on a PC in years. Marvel Heroes makes it easy to pick up the mechanics of gameplay during the prologue level (The Raft), and through interactions in player hubs, such as the crafting tutorial or the mission that sends you around Avengers Tower to “talk” to several non-playable characters and gain Marvel background information.

The game also makes teaming pretty easy – if you are looking to team up and don’t know anyone, you can try the chat window to talk to other players; or you can use the function that automatically puts you in a party. While in a team, there is a team “bodyslide” teleport feature, which transports you to the location of whichever team member you’ve chosen; and, of course, there is a team channel in chat through which you can talk to only your teammates.

Although this is not part of the actual game, I also think that Gazillion’s customer service is worth a mention here. Despite Gazillion being a relatively small company, I’ve consistently had good experiences with their community interactions and customer service. For example, during the launch of the game, there were a few problems that caused early access (for which users such as myself had paid) not to be available at the promised time. While that was disappointing, Gazillion addressed the issues with compensation for the delay, which, in my view, more than makes up for it. (Yay, a pet! I wanted a pet anyway.)

The Not-As-Good-Stuff:

Overall, I really like this game. However, there are a few issues that I think hamper enjoyability a bit.

One of these issues is the storage space (the S.T.A.S.H.) that you get for your heroes’ equipment and costumes; for XP, item find, and other boosts; and for crafting materials. The space allotted with the free game is pretty small and not organized into tabs or sections; and crafting materials, which you will need many of if you want to craft anything, don’t stack, and quickly fill up the available space. I realize that the small amount of storage space is deliberate, because Gazillion needs to make money, and people buying more S.T.A.S.H. space is one way they can do that – but I resent having to buy inventory space in a way that I don’t having to pay money if I want a new hero or costume, or a performance boost, or a cosmetic item (I have no problem with spending money for any of those things). They could have started us out with at least a little more space, or allowed us basic organizational tabs for crafting, gear, and other items. Also, while I received a S.T.A.S.H. storage tab specifically for the hero I purchased with my premium pack (Deadpool!) I did not get a tab for either of the Valentine’s Day special heroes that came along with that purchase and included costumes. So although I’m happy to have the heroes and costumes, unless I buy more tabs, four spaces in my general tab are always going to be taken up by costumes, which is a pain.

Another area that could use some improvement is in character balance – because although of course you don’t want playing Scarlet Witch to feel the same as playing The Hulk or Storm or Captain America, if one of these characters is noticeably overpowered at the same level as another hero who is very weak, the game can seem pretty skewed. I have seen some instances of this; however, I know that with MMOs, balance continues to be tweaked through and after game release, so I expect this will even out. In terms of balance, a few of the bosses could also use some work – particularly the Rhino, who just straight-up kills you if you’re standing in the path of his charge (hard to consistently avoid since he’s a world boss, so you’re always fighting him with a number of other players and their accompanying power effects, which can make it hard to tell you’re about to be run down). Again, though, I am guessing (hoping!) this may be adjusted as Gazillion works out some balance kinks, since I know this problem existed with Bullseye before and they adjusted that fight.

And To Sum Up:

I am really enjoying Marvel Heroes. I think it’s had a strong start, looks great, and has a lot of cool features. I do see some potential for improvement with the aforementioned issues, and perhaps by adding, e.g., achievements to the game and the like, but given that we know Gazillion intends to keep adding characters and other features to the game as time goes on, I have high hopes for this to continue to be a fun place to play for quite some time.

So if you like gaming (or you don’t know if you like gaming but would like to give it a try), or you like Marvel, or you like both, check out Marvel Heroes!

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: The Marvel Heroes Game and the Latest from PAX East

Whitten Art 130326For anyone who’s interested in gaming, a whole lot of gaming news came out at the PAX East gaming convention this past weekend.

Given my devotion to Marvel and my affinity for playing any game that features Deadpool ever, I was particularly keen to hear the latest news about Marvel Heroes, the free-to-play MMOARPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Action Role Playing Game) created by David Brevik (of Diablo and Diablo 2 fame) and currently in production at Gazillion Entertainment.

Marvel Heroes, if you haven’t heard about it, is being designed as a free-to-play PC game in which players can advance through the game without spending any money (although there will be a store available for optional purchases). The story for the game, which centers around Doctor Doom and the Cosmic Cube, is written by well-known and multiple award-winning Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis, and Marvel artists are producing comic-style cut-scenes to accompany that story.

In developing this game, Gazillion has been able to draw on all of Marvel’s considerable intellectual property, and the game is slated to feature numerous Marvel heroes and costumes, including those already announced or depicted in the model sheets on the website and in the Founders Program Ultimate Pack. (I’m particularly excited to see that Deadpool (of course), Human Torch, Jean Grey, and Iron Man will be available! I’m also looking forward to seeing what they’ll do with Emma Frost’s powers.)

Voices for the characters are being done by a number of excellent popular voice actors, some of whom are reprising their roles as Wolverine, Deadpool, and more from other media. Once obtained, playable Marvel heroes can be customized in-game, using costumes, items, and allocations of powers. Marvel Heroes will also feature multiple locations from the Marvel universe (including the Savage Land. Dinosaurs, yay!!), and allow for teaming with other players, and bonuses from teaming up.

Given all of the above, and the inclusion of awesomely fun stuff like the enhanced Pirate Deadpool costume, and the excellent trailers and videos Gazillion has released to the public so far, there is a lot to look forward to in the finished game. And since any new video game with Marvel IP is an immediate draw for me, I definitely wanted to hear the latest updates from PAX East.

And updates there were! The first of which is the newly-announced release date of June 4 of this year, with early access starting May 28 for Founders Program pre-sale pack purchasers (early access varies depending on which tier of pack is purchased). The Founders Program is ongoing, and closed beta access – which used to be reserved for the $180 Ultimate Pack – has now been expanded to the $60 Premium Pack as well.

The next bit of fresh news is that PvP will be available at launch, and that you will be able to team up during PvP. Experience points gained in PvE play will transfer to PvP, and vice-versa. Gazillion also announced that it’s planning to have end-game content which will include both team challenges and open challenges. End-game content will also feature “Ultimate Powers,” which are special abilities tailored to each hero, and which can be gained after the first run-through of the story. Having these powers leveled up will apparently be key to achieving victory during end-game challenges. These powers can be leveled up by getting and spending duplicate “hero tokens.”

…And here is where we get to the only part of Gazillion’s PAX announcements that seems troubling, rather than exciting: “hero tokens.” One of the biggest positives about a game based on Marvel IP is the ability to play as your favorite Marvel heroes. That’s been one of Gazillion’s selling points for this game since the get-go – that there will be a ton of heroes available now and in the future, from the popular to those with more of a cult following; and that players will be able to choose to play as those characters.

Prior to this past weekend, it was understood from Gazillion’s public statements that specific individual heroes would be purchasable in the game’s store, for those who didn’t want to wait until their favorite hero chanced to drop in the game. This was planned as a primary way to fund the free-to-play game. As evidence of how this mechanic was intended to work, Gazillion’s FAQ on the pre-sale page says:

What Heroes are offered for free at the beginning of Marvel Heroes?

When you start playing Marvel Heroes, you will be able to pick a hero from a choice of several, and play through the entire game for free, finishing the story. You will only be able to choose one hero to play; other heroes may be granted as random drops throughout the game. To ensure you get to play a specific hero, you will be able to purchase them.” (Emphasis added).

This explanation was echoed by Director of Community & Customer Support Stephen Reid in a YouTube video posted Dec 28, 2012, at the 4:45 mark. In another YouTube video, posted on Feb 14, 2013, Karin Ray, Assistant Producer, says: “One thing I really like about the Premium Packs is, they come with a little extra currency. So, let’s say I purchase the Avengers Assemble pack, which doesn’t come with Black Widow; and I love her. I can take that extra currency and I can just scoop her up for my team.”

However, at PAX East, Gazillion announced a different game mechanic called the “hero token” (each token representing a specific hero). In essence, the way these tokens would work is that along with dropping randomly in the game (which is not a change from the previously announced design); they would now also drop randomly from an “item” that will be purchasable in the store as a replacement for specific purchasable heroes. In other words, there would no longer be a way to buy a specific hero; only an item that gives a chance at one. And the random hero you receive might turn out to be either one you don’t want, or one that you already have (which is where the use of duplicate tokens to level up your Ultimate Power comes in).

This… is a puzzling idea. First of all, in a game that is based on a previously established IP with devoted fans, removing the ability to guarantee the acquisition of the particular hero(es) a player already loves when paying money seems to remove their incentive to pay money for, presumably, the most expensive purchasable item in the game. Secondly, for anyone who purchased a Founders Pack prior to this announcement, one element of their pack (the in-game currency) can now no longer be used in the way it was previously advertised (as explained by Karin Ray above).

Since the announcement, there have been negative reactions to this mechanic on Twitter, in the comments of news pieces on Marvel Heroes’ PAX announcements, and on Reddit. Happily, however, Gazillion is paying close attention to their potential customers, as illustrated by this response to the feedback: “We’re hearing you loud and clear. Changes coming!” The developers have also indicated elsewhere that there will be more information on this mechanic coming very soon, and that they will be responding to feedback and announcing additional details that they hope will make people happy.

I hope that will be the case, and will report back with an update when it’s available. I’m also still looking forward to the launch of the game, and hope for even more exciting news as it gets closer.

And in the meantime, Servo Lectio!

TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis and Barbie Dolls

WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold and the Super-Hero Ideal


Review: ‘Watchmen Complete Motion Comic’

Review: ‘Watchmen Complete Motion Comic’

How do you exploit a finite series and wring every last licensing dollar out of it? DC Comics has come up with a plethora of nifty brand extensions from the long awaited action figures to the nice art book from Titan Books.  But, the most interesting and innovative has to be the Watchmen Complete Motion Comic which has effectively animated the dozen issues, added narration and music, and turned it into something new.  This has been available for purchase on line, chiefly through iTunes, but today the complete series is being released in a two-disc DVD set.

Those of us with long enough memories have equated it with the cheaply animated [[[Marvel Super Heroes]]], from Grantray-Lawrence Animation in 1966. Unlike that hodge podge, all the art you see is from Dave Gibbons’ illustrations. He was actively involved with the production and his attention to detail comes through.

One of the biggest advantages to this method is that each panel can now be studied on the big screen.  You can check out all the background details, all the little things that Alan Moore had Dave add to scenes to get the message subtly across.  This, in some ways, surpasses the Absolute Watchmen for that enlargement.

Characters walk, wave their arms, move their eyes, and so on.  The motion is more fluid than one would expect and the background characters and objects move nicely.  The captions and word balloons are retained to give it that “comic book comes to life” feel but director Jake S. Hughes also employs film techniques to change scenes and tosses in some CGI animation for special effects but is judicious with their use.

What you lose, though, is the tightly constructed format which was also done intentionally.  The 9-panel grid that Dave employed was as much an element in the maxiseries as was the story. In fact, the [[[Watchmen]]] may well have been one of the first comic books to have been designed from the ground up prior to work beginning on the scripts.

It’s all a tradeoff.  Much as I miss the grid, I miss more the excised dialogue which was trimmed, we’re told, in the in interest of time. As a result, this is an adaptation and not a complete retelling of the comic in animated form.  Similarly, all the backup material which rounded out each issue is gone. You’ll have to a buy Tales of the Black Freighter on DVD later this month for that pirate tale along with Under the Hood. Of course, you could wait for the mega-version when director Zack Snyder integrates everything into one master story but I digress.

One of the additions, which I found myself enjoying, was the music, scored in a James Horner style. It was moody, low key and totally appropriate to the subject matter. And in a goofy way, I loved that the word balloon tails followed the characters as they moved, always how I imagined things working after reading Who Censored Roger Rabbit?

The vocal work is entirely handled by one voice actor, rather than a complete cast. Tom Stechschulte, a television actor, does a superior job giving life to each character.  His female voices were off-putting but he nailed all of the male parts which was quite a challenge.

The extras here are trailers for related product and an extended look at the just-released Wonder Woman animated feature.  There are other, cooler, extras on the Blu-ray disc which was not reviewed.  Now, is this affordable and worth having?  Overall, this was a satisfying experience and helped me refresh myself on the story in time for the movie. You could download each chapter for $1.99 ($24 total) or buy the DVD which retails for $29.98 but obviously will be discounted just about everywhere you look. The kicker, though, is that it comes with a $7.50 coupon to use with purchasing your movie ticket so there is a cost savings to be had.

Marvel Launches Daily ‘Super Sqaud’ Digital Comic

Marvel Launches Daily ‘Super Sqaud’ Digital Comic

Marvel Comics’ Super Hero Squad, aimed at its youngest readers, will begin running all-new daily comic strips beginnign today.

Marvel’s heroes and villains have been visually reimagined for all ages readers of their online material.

Marvel Super Hero Squad, according to a press release, "shines the spotlight on the characters of Super Hero City, some who battle for good, some who battle for evil and all begging the question on everyone’s minds—Are You Ready To Hero Up?"

The comic stirp will be made availabel free to those checking out Marvel’s website.

Playing With The Incredible Hulk

Playing With The Incredible Hulk

By now, many of you have picked up the new Incredible Hulk DVD or Blu-Ray and witnessed the newest take on the character in cinematic form.  Of course, there has also been the occasional video game tie-in, and this hero is no exception.  Let’s once again take a look back at the Jade Giant’s anthology of gaming…as green as it may be.

Questprobe 1: The Incredible Hulk – 1984, Commodore 64

The Hulk’s first foray into the video game world was…a text adventure.   Needless to say, it’s not very exciting or note worthy.  What IS noteworthy is the fact that this was supposed to be the second Hulk game; the first for the Atari 2600 was cancelled before release.  The next proper game wouldn’t be for another 10 years.

The Incredible Hulk – 1994 (Super NES, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear)

Dr. Banner’s next appearance in video games did little to strengthen the character’s status with fans, as we were treated with a bare bones brawler that made little to no sense for the comic’s history or tone.  Here, there was no “Hulk Smash” to be found…just Hulk Punch…everything.  Bad guy? Punch.  Wall?  Punch.  Controller?  PUNCH.  The game made big green move like he was walking through molasses dipped in tar, and for some bizarre reason, after a few hits, he’d turn into Banner and DIE.  Apparently, there is something stronger than the Hulk, and its name is shoddy game development.


‘The Avengers’ get Assembled & Animated

‘The Avengers’ get Assembled & Animated

Marvel Comics sent out a press release this morning announcing that production has begun on a new animated series, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Film Roman (King of the Hill) has begun working on the 26 30-minute episodes which will air on television in 2011, in the wake of The First Avenger: Captain America and The Avengers live-action films scheduled for that summer. Ciro Nieli will produce the show for the studio.  He’s no stranger to action considering his work on Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go! and Teen Titans. Christopher Yost will be script editor and his credits include Iron Man Armored Adventures and Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes.

As a result, there’s little surprise that the line-up resembles the film properties and the very first line-up of the team from 1963: Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (called Giant Man in the release but clearyl wearing the cybernetic helmet), Wasp, and Hulk. Captain America joined the team with the fourth issue but will be here from the outset.

"The addition of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to our quickly expanding animation slate continues our plan to complement each of our tentpole live action features with an animated series," said Eric Rollman, President of Animation.  "This new ensemble series tracks perfectly with our highly anticipated ‘road to the Avengers’ strategy which includes some of Marvel’s biggest and most beloved characters, and which kicks off with two Avengers’ themed feature films in summer 2011.”

While the super-team has been seen on countless Marvel-related series in the past, this will be the first series they can call their own.  Previously, Lionsgate released two animated direct-to-DVD releases based on The Ultimates although branded as Avengers.

Marvel is making major inroads into animation after years of little production. BET will have the Black Panther in early 2009 while later that year Nicktoons will air Wolverine and the X-Men and Iron Man: Armored Adventures. Also coming is Marvel Super Hero Squad, whatever that is.

Iron Man – A Video Game History

Iron Man – A Video Game History

Today, the world will be purchasing the wildly successful Iron Man film on DVD and Blu-ray and to commemorate the event, we’re taking a look at the hero’s history in videogames.  While his feature film debut was acclaimed by comic fans and critics alike, his video game appearances, while many in number, are spotty at best. Let’s take a look at what ol’ shellhead brought to screens before Downey filled his tin boots.

Captain America and the Avengers – 1991 (Arcade, NES), 1992 (Sega Genesis), 1993 (SNES, Sega Game Gear), 1994 (Gameboy)

Tony’s first appearance was in the arcades in 1991 in a side scrolling beat ‘em up adventure.  He may not have gotten top billing, but he along with Hawkeye, Vision and (obviously) Cap roamed the US bashing baddies like the Wizard and Tornado in an effort to defeat the Red Skull.  It was pretty standard fare as far as action games go: just continue to the right of the screen, defeat miscellaneous thugs and continue to the boss characters.  The formula worked for the time (when brawlers like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage were all the…um…rage) but the home console ports didn’t fare as well. The first on Genesis wasn’t able to match the arcades sounds (not that “Avengers Assemble” and “Oh No!” needed to sound better when repeated ad nauseum) and the control was severely lacking. The SNES version a year later was slightly better graphically, but was still a bit maddening in the control department.  Oddly enough, the best version was on the lower powered NES…but that version only let you select Cap and Hawkeye, as the plot was changed slightly to have you rescue Iron Man and Vision from the grips of the Mandarin. Weird.


Marvel Super Hero Squad Game Announced

Marvel Super Hero Squad Game Announced

Gamers, get your insulin shots ready. THQ has signed a deal to make videogames based on the too-cute Marvel Super Hero Squad toy line. You know the ones we’re talking about: The two-inch, superdeformed action figures where even the grimiest anti-hero and baddest  bad guy look incredibly happy. Even the Punisher is smiling.

Like the toys themselves, the game is aimed at a younger audience, but should prove popular with adult comic book fans. The first game is scheduled to come out in 2009 for multiple systems. Will one of the missions include turning Doctor Doom’s frown upside down? we’ll see.

Also noted in the press release linked above was that Marvel will be launching a multimedia campaign for the Marvel Super Hero Squad toy line in 2009 with a dedicated animated series and comic books to come.

Oh, and you heard it here first: I predict a crossover in 2010 with Disney, where characters from the two properties will fight, but then realize that the real enemy was cavities. Okay, maybe not… but you never know.