An interview with Brian Michael Bendis on Marvel Heroes, the free-to-play MMO

bendis marvel heroes

I had the honor of joining a roundtable interview with the legendary Brian Michael Bendis to discuss the worldwide release of the highly anticipated MMO, Marvel Heroes. It is going to be a free-to-play MMO/ARPG (available next week). It does have the option for micros-transactions to unlock certain characters and skins but you can still play without them entirely free. It is being written by the very talented Bendis, author of Spider-Men, House of M, Secret Invasion, New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man, and etc. All I can say is, “Shut up and take my money!”

Well known characters such as Wolverine, Deadpool, Captain America, Iron Man, and the Hulk are available, as well as some fan favorites such as Black Panther, Cable, Rocket Raccoon, Scarlet Witch, and Squirrel Girl (available through purchase). The gameplay is similar to that of Diablo, and it is developed by Gazillion Entertainment. They have chosen to use Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 instead of the Unity 3D engine used for Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, making this an even more exciting release.

During the call we got to ask some very in-depth questions and get real insight to the game. Bendis’s PR, Evan Dexter of FortySeven, also joins.

Mr. Brian Michael Bendis began with a very informative introduction.

Bendis: This is a very, very cool opportunity, and the reason I was so excited to do it was that it seems that the Marvel Universe and the way it’s interactive with its audience from the earlier stages of Stan Lee, seems like you got the perfect kind of an MMO. It also complements the way the fans and Universe interact with each other. It’s got all the different levels that the Marvel Universe offers via the dirtiest Daredevil street corner all the way up the cosmic Galactus, eating planets. It’s all in the same universe and that in itself is like perfect, perfect, perfect game fodder.

So I was really, really excited about it. [The Marvel characters] Any of them could gather, come, and do what they want to do in the Marvel Universe. That seems to be the thing that all of the fans want and have a very specific idea of what the Marvel Universe should be like or feel like, and now they can go make it their own image. So I’m very, very happy about how the game came out and very excited to see what I kind of think will be the next level on how fans interact with characters.

I pitched this story that does start out on the street level on the Marvel Universe, and it builds and builds all the way up to the cosmic. I found a way to stitch all of it together through fascinations of Dr. Doom, already having the Cosmic Cube in his hand. The chronicles of Doom kind of show us that Dr. Doom is a character of high intelligence who has been stung by failure over and over again and now is making an effort towards a smarter plan to find that power which he has never had his hands on. That power is the Cosmic Cube, and I’m sure fans from the movies know the Tesseract, which in the comics is the Cosmic Cube. So this is just an unimaginable amount of power, that because of his very specific expertise in those technologies and the magic arts, he feels he will be able to wrestle that power and control it. By doing so he is wreaking havoc all over the Marvel Universe.

Evan: For those of you who don’t know, this the game does feature over a full hour of motion comics that tell the story in place of cut scenes, which was a unique position to be creative.

Bendis: They are all written by me and all drawn by legitimate Marvel comic artist, so it’s as close to an actual Marvel comic for a game that you can get. It’s all original material and brand new stuff.

It seems like a couple of these characters were ones that you very specifically wanted to be included, like maybe Luke Cage or Squirrel Girl for example.

Bendis: Well it was very sweet, actually I didn’t even have to even go that far. I think they just kind of knew to include them without me whining about it, so I was actually pretty happy to see that. It should also show the developers and all the guys behind the scenes in our group, like Andy and all those guys, were on the same page as me – with what would be cool for the game and also were taking a lot of the temperature of the readership while they were doing it. They kind of knew how crazy Squirrel Girl’s popularity is; they knew that putting Squirrel Girl in there not only says a lot about the breath of the game, but also who they are, who the people behind the scenes are, and who Squirrel Girl is.  So because they took the time to make her and put her in the game, it says a lot about who they are. They are one of us and not just some soulless weird bunch of developers who just have some gig. They are very excited to be doing this so there you go. It’s a pretty crazy group of characters on top of the ones you expect you want. They went out of the way so there could be a lot of characters coming up that you don’t even know about yet that will make a lot of people happy, or at least 5 people happy.

I think it’s safe to say you’ve written some version either the Ultimate or 616 version of every playable character in this game. Was there anyone in particular that you were excited to dive into a little bit more or see how they would interact with the some of these other parts of the Marvel Universe?

Bendis: Well I think just on the most egotistical level it was just nice to see Luke Cage included on the list. Then there’s some other characters too that I wonder if they would have made the list before New Avengers, you know what I mean? That just made me personally feel like a proud daddy, like “Oh look, they’re legitimate now.” That kind of thing made me happy. What I did though was I really tried to create a voice for the characters that were like the quintessential version, not my version or other versions, but the quintessential version of the characters, so they could be as relatable to as many players as possible.

Possible Spoilers

Robert Galvan (Nerd Reactor): This question is kind of a two-parter. How heavily did the Ultimate Universe influence the game, and will we see characters or at least variants like Miles Morales or his outfit on Spider-Man.

Bendis: There are Ultimate costume options all the way through, but it is the Marvel Universe proper (616), it is not in the Ultimate Universe. But there are things that have seeped very strongly into the cinematic Universe, let’s say obviously Nick Fury being the strongest element, and those things come through. So it is mostly the regular Marvel Universe with the best of the Ultimate stuff as well. As far as Miles Morales costume and other stuff, I don’t know what I’m allowed to say as far as that stuff. A lot of that stuff is being released at game time. I don’t know what’s coming and what’s not coming, so I can’t really answer that. [laughing]

Evan: Let’s save that info for later.

Bendis: So it’s a big MAYYYBEEE. How about that? It sounded like a yes, but it’s a maybe.

NR: Ok that makes me excited so that’s fine.

Bendis: So the small question was about Miles Morales?

NR: Yes that was the second part.

Bendis: Oh believe me, I try and shove him into everything, so don’t worry. [laughing]

Do you have any plans on where you want to take this next?

Bendis: I can tell you from the very first conservation about this story line, expansion packs were talked about immediately. And that’s another reason why the Marvel Universe is begging for this kind of treatment. Anyone, anyone with a thought can think of at least 10 expansion packs that can be awesome. Right away you think, “Oh we can go to Asgard. Let’s go to Inhumans. Let’s go to Atlantis.” There’s all these places and storylines that you can adapt or tweak or create new stuff for. I’m trying not to list a bunch of them but there’s so many place you can go, so that would make everyone very excited as well. From the first day we got together, and everyone started throwing out expansion pack ideas.

Are there going to be more playable characters we don’t know about yet?

Bendis: I don’t know what I am allowed to say.

Evan: For unannounced characters we unfortunately can’t give away too much at this time, but I think Brian and the team at Gazillion are going to focus heavily on community needs and request. And the most passionate and vocal voices coming out of the fan base, Brian kind of touched up on this and feel free to elaborate, Brian, but a lot of the inspiration is coming from directly working with Marvel. Rocket Raccoon is a good example of that.

Bendis: That’s a good point, one of the pluses of hiring me at all was the fact that I’m neck deep in what’s going on in Marvel comics publishing and not only with what’s going on right this second, but what’s going on a year from now, two years from now. I could then take this information to Gazillion and say, “Hey look, we’re doing this and we’re doing that.” This character is looking like it’s going to pop since I happen to know this writer is going to go nuts with this character, and that is something that if Gazillion gets excited about, which they do,  they immediately take that information and apply it to the game. It is setting it up for some really cool interaction where things can start getting really, really close together, so if there’s an event that is happening in publishing, you might feel it in the game. It also includes certain characters, or if a character is getting a redesign or a big redesign, then they immediately show these designs to Gazillion. For an example, we have the original X-Men, which are the stars of my book, All New X-Men. A lot of fans know that they are getting a redesign coming with the 50th anniversary of X-Men. Those designs immediately go to the game for them to decide whether or not they can or want to include their costumes and choices for those characters. So all kinds of stuff, like that is what is the potential for this game that’s unique compared to any other MMO, just because publishing is a constantly moving organism. The game is also a constantly moving organism, so they can constantly move towards each other.

NR: Why did you choose Dr. Doom as the main villain as oppose to other infamous villains?

Bendis: It just seemed that Dr. Doom’s reach is a reach that could hit the whole Marvel Universe. His actions could create a domino effect or butterfly effect all the way down and all the way up to Thor. He seemed perfect for it. He’s also like the quintessential Marvel villain. He’s the A-list guy, as we were discussing that this storyline of the game really feels legitimate, not that the Leader or something wouldn’t be cool, but it doesn’t get more bad ass than Dr. Doom.  And also he has a very good motivation; his motivations are very excellent for a villain, it’s not just that “Oh I want to rule the world.’ He has a very specific agenda that is a lot of fun to write. There a lot of levels to it and a lot of layers. You can kind of see why he has gone crazy or what makes him tick and it just seemed perfect.  There wasn’t even a, I don’t even remember having a discussion on anyone who would fit the bill. He just seemed absolutely perfect.

Can I tell a funny story from PAX? This is so funny, they were nice enough to invite me up to PAX. My daughter wanted to come to the convention because she had never been to a game convention, and so we come up and my daughter was sitting up in the first row. I was up on stage, and the people were filling in. My daughter hears behind her this guy saying to his girlfriend, “I know they are announcing a new character today, and if it’s Squirrel Girl, I am out of here.”

The girlfriend goes, “What?”

He goes, “I don’t want Squirrel Girl; I don’t want it. If we see Squirrel Girl, everyone will be happy and I’ll be mad.”

And so my daughter is like, “Wow this guy’s mad.” This guy is in the second row and waited in line, waiting to get into the panel, and I don’t know any of this is going on at the time. Then they announce ‘Squirrel Girl’ and they put up the thing and the whole place goes crazy.

All this applause and this guy behind my daughter goes, “That’s it. I’m out of here,” and stood up and left.

The girlfriend says, “Well I want to watch the rest of the panel.”

He says “Nope, we’re leaving,” and they left.

My daughter goes, “What was that?”

I go, “Sweetie, that was your first introduction to nerd rage. You’re going to find it eventually in the life we lead, and that’s what it was.”

She goes, “But he left. He waited to get into the panel, then he left. He didn’t get to see all the cool stuff.”

I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” So I just thought that’s what this game has brought to my family. Thank you. Then I had to explain to my daughter that the guy, whoever he is, is probably on the beta for the game. He’s probably already played it. You know as mad as he was, he’s probably playing the game, playing every character but Squirrel Girl. [laughing]

NR: Mr. Bendis, I have a question that’s related to the crossover of your comics in the game. I’ve noticed that you’ve made some really emotional stories, like House of M, Spider-Men, and The Death of Spider-Man. Will there be any of that emotion brought into the game and into the motion comic?

Bendis: THAT is a very good question. You know that is something that you want, or at least I want. As a story teller you want the people to really feel it, to really care. As the motion comics go along and as the stage is set, hopefully you will feel the threat of Dr. Doom and what the sacrifices that need to be made for him. It’s up to the player whether or not they are going feel the connection that I want them to feel, but that is certainly part of why you would do a Marvel story. The characters aren’t just puppets. On their best day they live and breathe, and their quests and desire they have as characters are very relatable. So yeah absolutely, hopefully as the stories continue with the expansions, you’ll really feel some stuff. Thank you for saying that by the way. That is one of the most important things to me.

NR: That’s one of my favorite things about your writing, that you’ve been able to make people feel real emotion where even non-regular readers would cry, like I did, so it seems important to incorporate that into the game.

Bendis: I appreciate that a great deal, that is what I try to do for a living, so yeah can the game translate that to do that? That’ll be interesting to see if that can be accomplished. That’d be great. At the same time you don’t want people sitting in front of their computers and crying. You want them to have a good time and escape into a new Universe, the Marvel Universe that is fun, exciting, and filled with all these cool things and characters and stuff, that’s our primary focus. But yeah just like the Marvel Universe it’s their focus as well. Can it also hit on an emotional level? We will see.

What do you think makes this game feel like a truly authentic Marvel experience.

Bendis: Well all the things we just talked about. Number 1, the heavy connection to Marvel publishing, which as I said before is a continually evolving thing. The game can also be a continually evolving thing. Think back to the 60s; Stan Lee was the first guy who talked right to the reader, he made you feel like you’re a part of the Marvel bull pen. You know a lot of it was Stan’s trademark carnival showmanship. It really was the thing that connected us to the characters. This isn’t just something, we are part of something. That’s why we started picking up all the issues instead of just a couple of them, and for the modern audience, a game like this can be the next step of that evolution. We as fans have always been part of the Marvel Universe, and now we can actually start playing the Marvel Universe. Literally I’ve been chasing this down for years. Some of you who really know your game stuff will know that there was another attempt at this a few years ago, which I was a part of at Microsoft, and when they fell apart for whatever reason. I have absolutely no idea why it fell apart, but I did say to Tiki and Marvel games, “If this ever comes up again, please let me know because I really believe that for this next generation of Marvel fans, this is the absolute connection that no other pop culture Universe has, and I want to be part of it.” So, I’m glad I got to be.

NR: One last question about the expansion packs. Since you introduced Rocket Raccoon, will there be any sort of interplanetary storyline like Thanos, Galactus, or anything of that sort?

Bendis: I certainly can’t publically make a promise of it, but the POTENTIAL is certainly there. You know what I mean? You could see it like, anyone with even a little bit of imagination and seeing what happened at the end of Avengers, certainly a lot of potential for it for lots of stuff.

You’ve implied that these playable characters can evolve with the comics; what happens if someone is killed in the comics?

[SPOILER Luke Cage is dying!]

Bendis: Yeah what happens? That’s a good one! Do the characters die? I don’t think we would ever take a character away from you, but this is interesting. It goes back to my joke about, well my half joke about let’s say Luke Cage is dying, and you’re furious? Well then you get to play your Marvel Universe where Luke Cage is alive and well, and I can go screw myself.  By the way Luke Cage is not dying, I’m not even writing him right now, so please don’t write that as the headline. [laughing] But you see what I’m talking about? Isn’t that exciting? If we do something that annoys you in the Marvel Universe, you can go do whatever you want. Truly, what a wonderful thing.

[Spoiler Just kidding he is alive and well in the Marvel Universe]

[Another spoiler?]

NR: Mr. Bendis, do you have any shout outs or any hints as to upcoming projects related to Marvel heroes or not, like a secondary game?

Bendis: Well no, we’re still knee deep in this one, but I will say that I’m excited, legitimately excited, for the potential that there would even be some crossover between publishing and the game that we may be able to actually create a story that would be happening both in publishing and the game at the same time. That is something beyond an expansion pack that I would very much like to happen and is something I’m bringing to the next Marvel publishing retreat, full force. I think one of the next levels for this game to interact with the Marvel universe properties is to have a story that happens in both places at the same time. Wouldn’t that be cool?

NR: Yeah!

Bendis: But that’s something you could do once the game launches and people are geared up and familiar with the world around them. And once that’s happened, I would very much like to have something like that.

NR: Well you’ve got my support!

Bendis: Alright cool! I’ll let them know you’ve green lit the project. The project is green lit all thanks to your support! [Laughing] But anyway, there’s a lot of balls in there, there’s a lot of things to consider while you do something like that. It seems like something we should do and I’m excited to try it!

End of Interview

Check out the gallery below of photos from the game! Marvel Heroes launches for free this Tuesday, June 4, 2013. Thank you, Mr. Bendis, for taking the time out of your busy day to talk to a die-hard fan of your work.

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