Superhero fights are one hell of a spectacle. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe that orchestral music swells, there's some dramatic superhero landings, lightning gets thrown around, and the choreography is simply the best. But how do you translate that action to games? Vince Napoli has the answer. He worked on God of War as the main hero designer and was responsible for the design and implementation of the entire suite of Kratos' attacks for his axe Leviathan, his shield, and bare-knuckled fighting. And now he's lending his expertise to Marvel's Avengers, making Ironman, Black Widow, the Hulk, Thor, and Captain America feel every inch the superhero, no matter which one you play. I got the chance to chat to Napoli about how he's going to make us feel like we're a hero with every punch, kick, and explosion, plus how his time with Kratos has influenced the Avengers' approach to ass-kicking.
Like God of War, character comes first
Napoli has a clear set of rules when it comes to envisioning how combat will work for each Avenger, and surprisingly it's not too different from how he created Kratos' trademark style. "God of War is a big character-based game" when it comes down to it, he tells me. "We’re not just working on a combat system. We’re delivering a fantasy of a character," Napoli says. "That’s actually what drew me to work on Avengers – getting to work on so many iconic characters. It’s about living with the character, and saying, 'What would the character do? How would they move? What is off-limits? What are the rules?'" Yeah, the world 'rules' might sound dry and dull and maybe give you flashbacks to school, but knowing your character inside-out is integral to making sure that even when they're not speaking, their personality still oozes out of the way they fight.
"One of the key things I’ve used at pretty much every place I’ve worked is: 'Here are the rules for the character. They don’t step backwards. They don’t move backwards in their fighting. It’s just not their style'", Napoli tells me, before saying that when it comes to someone like Captain America "they always keep their head looking forward, because they’re always keeping their eye line - like, a trained soldier is not going to be glancing around. They’re not doing things for a flourish." Finding out what defines each Avenger's personality, whether it's Ironman's intelligence (hence his gadgets) or the Hulk's bestial strength meaning he weaponises his environment, is at the core of how you'll fight in Marvel's Avengers. "To be honest, we really built the combat system around the characters," Napoli tells me. "It’s a similar way to the narrative, where it’s taking you to the characters and saying … you know, if we need to feel like an assassin, we’re going to use stealth. Let’s give her those [qualities], and then start building the combat system to accommodate all these things".
Not quarters of a game
Because each Avenger has their unique personality and therefore fighting style, according to Napoli "the game plays very, very differently when you play with each of the characters … The personal mechanics are totally different. The way they play defence is very different", for example. Unlike Hulk, who has nigh-invincible muscles to absorb attacks, "Widow doesn’t block. She’s not going to block attacks, she’s going to evade them. She’s going to use her grappling hook" to move herself around enemies quickly, as she knows she can't take as many hits as the other Avengers.
Making each Avenger feel like they could easily be at the centre of their own game and having enough attacks to take on any enemy solo is critical for both Crystal Dynamics' and Marvel's vision for the game. According to Napoli "when you’re playing Iron Man, it needs to feel like 'this is an Iron Man game now'. He’s not sharing the game with anyone, if he didn’t have to. Like, this could be a full game. And when you get to Black Widow, you’re like, 'wow, this is a Black Widow game. She is fully featured.'" Judging from what Napoli told me, it sounds like no matter which Avenger you play as you'll never feel like you're short-changed.
Yet for those of you who are already thinking about who to buddy up with when the game releases, Napoli is quick to point out that it's when you play Marvel's Avengers in multiplayer that it all starts to make sense. The Avengers' strength blossoms when all four (RIP, Cap… for now) are together. "When you take multiplayer into account, it starts to actually work really well, because you get really distinct characters. So in multiplayer, it isn’t just, “Hey, we’re doing the same things.” No one’s doing similar things, really. Everyone is kind of filling their own little role, which is awesome", Napoli tells me. Time to start dishing out who's going to be which Avenger… bagsy Hulk. I wanna smash someone on the floor Loki-style and cackle maniacally the whole time, please.
So basically, if God of War's attacks had you roaring like Kratos (with joy, I should point out), then thanks to Napoli and the wider team at Crystal Dynamics, Marvel's Avengers could be for you. If you needed one last push, Napoli has one last thing he wants you to bear in mind: although "you’ve gotten to visit the Marvel world a lot of times in movies and comics, we want you to live in the Marvel world." Get ready to assemble, Avengers.
If you want to know more about Marvel's Avengers game, here's why its creative director is asking "Are we just a danger to society and we don’t know it?" and why Marvel's Avengers game is going to be about our favourite heroes at their lowest point, or look below to see our preview of the game!