A brand-new mobile game called Marvel Future Revolution launched this week, developed by Netmarble and published by Marvel Games. It does an impressive job of cramming an open-world experience with high-quality graphics onto handheld devices, complete with voice acting and a musical score - it’s an achievement that wouldn’t have seemed possible a few years ago.
The opening level of this RPG introduces the player to a multiversal cataclysm where multiple realities are merging into one Prime Earth, which is now made up of several recognisable locales from Marvel lore - there’s a Hydra Empire, an Asgardian settlement and a heaving metropolis called New Stark City, as well as communities from the planets Sakaar and Zandar, all jostling for space in this fledgling world.
During an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com alongside his colleagues and collaborators, Marvel Games VP of Creative, Bill Rosemann enthused about just how groundbreaking Marvel Future Revolution is. He told us: “There's many layers to what's revolutionary about it - the gameplay, the open world, the amazing graphics that you're seeing on a mobile device, and also the story.”
Making such an ambitious project for mobile isn’t easy - especially when you’re creating a story campaign alongside a whole bunch of PvP and PvE multiplayer experiences - and there were plenty of challenges along the way.
Joe Lee, Production Designer at Netmarble, explains: “Coming from the game-creation perspective, when you go for all of this - this huge gameplay experience, and all of the top-notch graphics and visual stuff - you always have to go for the quality and the performance, and you balance this out for your given play environment.
“You actually have to start making a lot of compromises, especially earlier on in the game-making. But then, later in the iterations, you actually come to a point where you start feeling that you are actually reaching the target quality that you set early on. And I think we actually came up with a pretty good achievement. I'm pretty proud of what we actually created.”
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When you’re creating a game that is so revolutionary - you could say futuristic, even - sometimes it helps to look to the past. This is the story of how the late, great Stan Lee - the legendary Marvel Comics writer and editor, who you’ll recognise from his movie cameos - inspired this project with some of his fondly remembered wisdom.
The “very, very challenging” task of getting everyone on board
Introducing the Marvel Future Revolution gameplay experience and its multiverse-mashing story in a way that would entertain fans both new and old - as well as pleasing hardcore gamers, without alienating casual players - came with its own challenges.
Simon Sim, President of Netmarble US, tells us: “Marvel is a worldwide popular IP, from Marvel Comics and also Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some users are very, very familiar with the details [of Marvel] and the deep core mechanics [of gaming], but some users might not be. Some gamers might very casually play games.
“So we put a lot of effort [into working out] how to meet those broad audiences. That was rather challenging - to make this big scale game but at the same time [make it] easy to get onboard from a less-familiar gamer's perspective.”
Sim says that Netmarble was trying to make a game that would work for “someone who knows the Marvel Cinematic Universe or enjoys Marvel movies” as well as casual gamers and “more in-depth gamers”, which he described as being “very, very challenging.”
“We did a lot of user tests and then iterated again and again,” he says. “With Marvel, together, we debated a lot, and now we believe our onboarding process is very well tailored.” And there’s some Stan Lee wisdom that sounds like it came in handy, too.
The Stan Lee wisdom that “we always keep in mind”
Rosemann also spoke about “creating something that connects both with really hardcore gamers and also super Marvel fans,” mentioning that Marvel Future Revolution is “packed with Easter eggs and Marvel lore.” And when it comes to including all that in a way that doesn’t alienate newcomers, well that’s where Stan Lee comes in.
Rosemann revealed: “We always keep in mind what Stan Lee said. Stan Lee, who was one of the founders of Marvel, said, 'Any comic could be someone's first comic.' Right? And so, by that we mean we don't dumb anything down. You know, we always engage the reader." Or the player, in this case.
“I always remember when I was young and I read comics,” Rosemann continues, “they always asked me to step up and learn that vocabulary and learn about this world-building. And we apply that through everything we do.
“And so, in the game, yes, it's filled with Marvel lore, but we make it very clear who everyone is, where you are, what are the relationships... so even if your Marvel knowledge isn't vast, it will all make sense to you.
“And then the more you play, the more you get into it, the deeper you can get. So in both gameplay and story it rewards both casual players and really in-depth veteran hardcore fans and gamers.”
Applying that advice to “over 400 million costume combinations”
When they say that Marvel Future Revolution is packed with Easter eggs, they’re not kidding. Danny Koo, Director of Product Development at Marvel Games, says that “over 400 million costume combinations can be done per hero,” and many of these outfits pay homage to Marvel history.
The playable characters at launch are Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Widow, Iron Man, Star-Lord, Storm, Captain Marvel and Captain America, and each one has a vast library of outfits for players to unlock.
Many of these styles are from the comics, but there are also some movie-inspired MCU skins in the game as well. You can customise the colours and textures, as well as mixing and matching the legs, arms, torsos and heads from any outfit to craft your own unique look for each character.
Koo tells us that making this system work was “part of the good challenges and fun challenges for this title”, and after several iterations of that system, “we nailed down one that works well, looks nice, and it runs great on the phone itself.”
Harking back to that Stan Lee advice, the developers were keen to ensure that the customisation never stopped characters from being recognisable to newcomers. Rosemann recalls, “We had big discussions on what makes it Captain America and not [just] a patriotic character.
“And so we talked about visual cues - when you see Captain America, you think about the 'A' [on his helmet], you think about the star, you think about some sort of striping. You think about his boots, his gloves, the shield.
“So all those elements are together, and then we can riff on them. And maybe they can even be different colours, and you can change what they look like, but that's still Captain America. And then the team was so good [at making that work].
“Even when you mix and match - it could be a Hydra Empire Captain America mixed with Sakaar Captain America, or New Stark City, or Zandearth. But he's always identifiable, even when you mix and match.
“And the beauty of it is, when you play your character, there might not be any other version of your Doctor Strange that anyone else has. It's your Doctor Strange. And so that will really, I think, be cool. People will be impressed by the kind of combinations people dream up.” People will indeed be impressed, and we reckon that Stan Lee himself would be proud.