David Brevik is the godfather of the Action RPG. His work on the Diablo series created, and redefined an entire genre; a few years on, and two abortive projects later, he is back to bring about another revolution. We caught up with David to talk about his latest game, Marvel Heroes, and also that certain "disagreement of opinion" he's recently been involved in.
Strategy Informer: Action RPG, MMORPG, or a bit of both, what is Marvel Heroes?
David Brevik: This is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of games in that it's both things - we got peanut butter and chocolate in this thing! It is an action RPG and an MMO, which is difficult to get to grips with until you see it in action but it's very much like Diablo 2 - just imagine 25 people in a zone instead of just you and a few friends.
Strategy Informer: So are there exclusively single player areas and multiplayer, or is it seamless between both?
David Brevik: You can have people with you at any time if you want, but there is the option to go solo. There are some environments which are yours, and you invite players, and then there are public areas with lots of people doing their thing.
Strategy Informer: Would you class Marvel Heroes as a spiritual successor to Diablo 2?
David Brevik: That's a good phrase; in a lot of ways its very similar to the Diablo series in that we used a lot of the same principles and we learned a lot from making those two games and we are applying that to Marvel Heroes. It's an evolution of that design and so we are looking at a lot of the things we learnt from the way we drop loot, to the way the monsters are generated, and the way the game's laid out - basically a lot of that stuff comes from Diablo 2.
Strategy Informer: You have mentioned before that some design aspects of Marvel Heroes come from your initial concepts for Diablo 3; can you give us examples of that?
David Brevik: Certainly, we had this idea for a Battle.Net town in Diablo 2, but in the end we didn't have the capabilities to do it at that time, so we compromised with a chat room and being able to see your avatar at the bottom of the screen. We knew we wanted to head in that direction, to make it more social, more worldly, and to be able to interact and be in this immersion world all the time - and these elements are now being applied to Marvel Heroes. The original outline for Diablo 3 when I was there, was to take that step into making it a more immersive world, one that you believed, and to never be in a chat room: really that was the start. Of course I no longer work at Blizzard, and now I've had the opportunity to go back and make a new ARPG and implement those ideas, which is something I've wanted to do for several years, and to make it with Marvel is just an amazing opportunity.
Strategy Informer: How has the MMOisation of the Marvel characters been?
David Brevik: When they were designing the comics, obviously they weren't considering that it may be a videogame - so in that respect there have been challenges. The power, and the relationships, and the fun things they do, there's a lot of material to draw from. It's been easy in some respects to put things together, but balancing for instance the powers of Wolverine and Rocket Racoon has been a challenge. We are also in a cool position that character specific skills already exist such as "Hulk Smash" so we can create individual skills. So I guess it's mixed, but it's a whole bunch of fun.
Strategy Informer: In the absence of creating an avatar, how can I as a player put a mark on my Marvel hero?
David Brevik: A few ways. You can set-up what skills you use on your active bar, and what abilities and path you have taken will give you, for instance, a Spider-Man that will play very different to everyone else's. The same principle can be applied to things I've done in the past - for instance with an Amazon character in Diablo you can go down the bow or spear route and be focused on different ways to play this character - that same philosophy will be applied to Marvel Heroes in that the way you play your Spider-Man will be different to the way I play mine. My Wolverine could be focused on a whole bunch of bleed skills, versus someone else's that would do a bunch of jumping and critical hitting.
Strategy Informer: Can players customize and create specific builds and looks for their Marvel character?
David Brevik: Yes and no. The stats and what not are separate from costumes, and you can combine whatever look from your library to whatever stats you want, and then save that appearance so you could say "my yellow suit build is best for X play style." Almost like creating a quick save class.
Strategy Informer: Will the heroes adhere to the traditional "trinity" builds, DPS, Heal, Tank?
David Brevik: No, we're not making that game. It's difficult to understand the type of MMO we are making, this MMO isn't like others, most MMOs are basically EverQuest evolved into Dark Age of Camelot, and then World of Warcraft. There's tons of quests, killing X of Y, and pressing 1, 2, 3, 4 over and over. All the games are like this and we are making something very different - really well, like Diablo 2. There are roles in our game, but instead of tanking, dps, healing etc, everyone's responsible for their own health and doing a certain amount of damage - again like Diablo. You choose skills and different builds to address the way that you play. Basically we are making everyone responsible for themselves, including them in everything, and allowing them to blow a lot of stuff up.
Strategy Informer: As you don't create a specific avatar and instead choose from the Marvel roster, will you see more than one Spider-Man and so on, running around?
David Brevik: If you want a public area filled with thirty Hulks, you can do that. You can have a guild of Hulks. We're giving people options, first you can switch characters instantly - we have a whole roster of characters you can play - so if you think "there's too many Spider-Mans here for my taste" you can switch to Wolverine. It's just what people want. There is one other thing we are doing, is with costumes - so even though there might be a few copied characters on screen, they will be in different costumes, whether its default, or X-Force etc. So while there will be copies, they will look very different.
Strategy Informer: Will there be Talent Trees to create specific builds?
David Brevik: Yes, and you will be able to customize your characters as you level, but we haven't started talking about that stuff just yet.
Strategy Informer: Marvel Heroes actively encourages players to swap to different characters throughout; how does this play out in terms of progression and alts?
David Brevik: Nobody else has asked that! The answer is fairly complicated. You can progress from where you are with any character. If you have gone through five hours with one character, and if you switch another, you can just carry one - however, each character gets their own set of rewards for certain quests, so you will have to repeat certain things to get those rewards and so on. As for progression, there's account and character level. Each character has an equal opportunity to get the reward once, and then the account has a progression as well, so at any time you can take your characters to wherever you have progressed.
Strategy Informer: How about things such as PvP and end game content, what can players expect?
David Brevik: We have some really cool things planned, but we haven't started talking about that just yet!
Strategy Informer: In terms of story, what can players expect from Marvel Heroes?
David Brevik: We are paying homage to past storylines, for instance we have a whole bunch to do with the Mutant Massacre storyline from the 80's X-Men. Different parts will revolve around different sections of the Marvel universe, and will all come together to make sense.
Strategy Informer: Is it hard to juggle a universe that has such a broad audience, with those that have a passing knowledge, and others that have followed it for years and years?
David Brevik: It's not that hard. I feel that if we stay true to the IP, I feel we can be successful. If we pay homage to the movies, as well as the comic books and show we have those kind of chops to make those little details right, it might be overlooked by the casual fans, but the veterans will recognise this. So that's what we are really paying attention to.
Strategy Informer: Throughout MMOs, the story isn't necessarily the most essential part, how important are the Marvel plotlines to Marvel Heroes?
David Brevik: Story is very important in any game. It gives you purpose, it gives you motivation, it makes it more of a real experience - so in that way, it means a lot. The main villain is Dr. Doom, who has possession of the Cosmic Cube, which was in the Avengers movie, and the story is being written by Marvel Comic writer, Brian Michael Bendis, who we are now referring to as "Super Scribe." So he is writing a brand new story just for us, and we have about an hour of motion comics within the game that tell the story as you progress through. So the plot is very important, but make no mistake, this isn't the type of experience where you choose dialogue trees - it's an ARPG where you get bits of the story as you go along.
Strategy Informer: You have said before that the storyline is the primary focus, while experience and levels are just something you gain along the way, do you still believe in this design philosophy?
David Brevik: I keep saying this, but again, it's like Diablo 2. In other MMOs you grind, do those quests, and then get enough experience to progress and so on - the goal is just the level cap. It's like doing a bunch of chores rather than enjoying the game. Marvel Heroes is different. We've flipped that idea on its head, in that like Diablo 2 you aren't grinding a particular area on first play through, you are progressing the story to see what happens; levelling just happen as you went along. A side effect; it wasn't the point, whereas lots of MMOs, the point is to level, we want the story to be the focus, and levelling to be a side-effect.
Strategy Informer: So you are trying to escape the culture of clicking through quest dialogue and bypassing any storytelling?
David Brevik: I understand both sides of that. I understand people want to enjoy the story, while others don't, so we've given people the option to skip all the cut scenes and dialogue. However, those that want to stick around and view that, we have something really cool for them to witness.
Strategy Informer: In terms of future expansions, will you implement further stories almost like a new series of comic?
David Brevik: Yes, in the future we will have a whole bunch of things to see and do, with new places and characters that we will constantly be updating. We have brand new features and all that kind of stuff planned out for years to come.
Strategy Informer: So finally, Diablo 3 and a certain war of words has engulfed gaming for the past week, can you give us your views on how things have escalated?
David Brevik: You know, I don't really know what to say, I think we're putting that behind us, there was an apology and we're moving on.
Strategy Informer: No bad blood between you and Blizzard?
David Brevik: Definitely not, there never was bad feeling between me and Blizzard.
Thanks to David Brevik for taking the time to talk to us. Gazillion Entertainment aren't ready to talk release schedules, but we know with the wealth of experience behind Marvel Heroes, it's definitely one to wait for.