Since its debut in 2010, Zen Studios’ “Marvel Pinball” has enthralled players with their unique table designs and loyalty to the themes of the heroes they’re based on. From popular characters like Iron Man and Wolverine to more obscure favorites such as Moon Knight, there’s been something for everyone.
Lately, the tables have taken a more story-based turn, starting with last summer’s release of the “Avengers Chronicles” pack, featuring the tables based on “The Infinity Gauntlet” and “World War Hulk.” This has been a change for the better, with improved goals and even better design than ever before.
Soon, a table based on Mark Millar’s “Civil War” storyline joins the Zen ranks. Based on the publisher-wide Marvel Comics storyline, “Civil War” pitted superheroes against one another thanks to the Superhuman Registration Act. Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, was all for the registration, while Captain America, Stark’s Avengers colleague, was wholeheartedly against it.
We spoke with Marvel Games’ Chris Baker and Zen Studios’ Mel Kirk about the upcoming table, including how it came together and when we can expect it for release in the “Pinball FX 2” compilation for Xbox 360 and “Zen Pinball 2” for PlayStation 3/Vita, among other platforms.
CBR News: First, whose idea was it to approach the “Civil War” storyline with a Zen Pinball table?Â Did someone say, “Hey, it’d be great to see Captain America battle with Iron Man?”
Chris Baker: Working with Zen on Marvel Pinball is an incredibly collaborative experience. They’ll send us their ideas, we’ll send them ours, and we’ll go back and forth with some really creative email-based brainstorming sessions. Â Shortly before the release of the original batch of four tables, we rattled off a list of five short concepts for tables. One of them was “Civil War.”
Zen liked the idea, but the focus on multiplayer was a little out of scope. It’s OK, though, because we figured out other ways to incorporate the “whose side are you on?” aspect of it, which is what was most essential.
What ideas did you put into the table that follow the storyline?
Baker: I think it’s fair to say that the game follows the storyline as much as any pinball game could ever hope to. Before you pick your side, the game actually starts you off in a two-ball multiball mode in which everyone is still working together, rescuing people after the tragedy in Stamford, CT. Once one ball falls, the mode ends, and you’ll hear Steve and Tony go back and forth on the merits of the Superhuman Registration Act, which is where you’ll pick your side.
From there, you’re nailing targets and ramps to gather allies from the ensemble you see on the board at the right-hand side of the table. Eventually, you’ll see Iron Man and Cap go at it directly, and the number of allies you’ve gathered will affect how easy or difficult it is for you to win the fight.
Intermittently, throughout the course of play, you’ll also relive iconic events via news reports that play out on table’s Jumbotron, like Peter Parker unmasking, the death of an Avenger and the wedding of Storm and Black Panther.
There is a ton of dialogue on this table — probably more than any video pinball table ever — and the majority of what the heroes are saying comes directly from the “Civil War” comics — both the six-part core story and the supporting issues in comics like “Captain America” and “Iron Man.” Â
So you actually get to choose sides within the game and see how they play out.
Baker: Yes — choosing sides was an absolutely essential component for Marvel approving this table. If you’ve played Zen’s pinball tables, Marvel or otherwise, you’ll know that each tends to have its own unique hook to really set it apart. In this case, it’s the choosing of sides, which ultimately affects a few nuances of scoring, as well as more obvious things like getting help from the Punisher if you’re anti-registration, or the Thunderbolts if you’re pro-reg. Plus, whether or not you’re hearing Iron Man or Cap’s voice for moments like ballouts.
How many characters will we see from the Marvel Universe in the game?Â We already spotted Cap and Iron Man.
Mel Kirk: The action centers around Iron Man and Captain America, who are represented in 3D character form. There is a pretty big list of supporting characters who are represented on the playfield and dot matrix display, such as Spider-Man, the Punisher, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Daredevil, Goliath, Thor, Human Torch and more. Iron Man and Captain America are trying to get these characters to join their respective sides.
Baker: It was fun to determine who some of the secondary characters would be, so we went for a nice mix of super-popular, like Spider-Man and Human Torch, to some characters a lot of more mainstream super hero fans may not know, like Tigra and Sentry. You’ll also notice that the characters physically on the table itself, like She-Hulk and Hercules, come “pre-aligned,” while the ones on the Allies board are the characters you’re fighting to recruit.
Would you say the multiball round of the game is where the “big battle” of Civil War takes place?
Baker: Believe it or not — no! There are “big battles” pretty much the whole time, so the final four-ball “wizard mode” is actually quite celebratory — it represents the wedding between Storm and Black Panther. Â
Beyond that, as I mentioned earlier, the game actually starts you out in a two-ball mode where you’re rescuing citizens of Stamford. Another unique thing about this one: After you play it once, it’s optional. Your highest score for the mode carries over, sort of giving you a boost from the beginning — or you can always give it another go to try and increase your beginning-of-the-game bonus.
Who designed the table?Â Anyone that worked on “Avengers Chronicles” or — ?
Kirk: The in-house designer on “Civil War,” Mate Szeplaki, is the same designer responsible for Spider-Man and X-Men tables. He jumped at the chance to work on “Civil War” as this is one of Mate’s favorite story lines in the Marvel Universe. I spoke with Mate, and he expressed a few important objectives while designing “Civil War.” The first was to capture a classic pinball gameplay feel with a lot of timed missions and higher level of difficulty. Second, he had a vision for the fight sequences to be different from the other interactions in previous tables. As you will see, the fights are more dramatic and artistic, a la “The Matrix” or “Kill Bill,” and express a stronger comic book representation.
Baker: Mate and his team pretty much just [started with the original story] and took it from there. I had a little further input when it came to the “Stamford Multiball,” though, which was originally a mode you unlocked in the middle of the game — it just didn’t feel right from a narrative perspective. So I was like, “Hey guys — what if we did this crazy thing where you start with the Stamford Multiball, and then that can be something you skip after your first play because your score carries over if you want it to?” I guess Mate liked the idea, ’cause that’s exactly what his team did.
Were you inspired at all by events that unfolded in Activision’s “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2” Since it followed a similar “Civil War” storyline?
Baker: Maybe subconsciously, but not a whole lot. I think the biggest benefit of “MUA2” existing beforehand, at least for me having worked on that game as well, was that I was already intimately familiar with “Civil War” beyond what I normally am going in, just from being a fan who reads comics. That alone helped to streamline the process more so than usual.
When is “Civil War” expected for release?
Kirk: “Civil War” will be available for download sometime in November for a whole bunch of digital platforms. This is by far the trickiest release we have ever coordinated, as the table will (hopefully) release on XBLA, PSN (PS3 and Vita), iOS, Android, Mac and Windows 8 during the same week. Supporting that many channels at once is really complicated!
Finally, are any other Marvel tables in the works? Your partnership seems to be going extraordinarily well right now — and we want a Squirrel Girl table.
Baker: Well, let me put it this way: You know how I said working on “MUA2” helped streamline the process because I was so familiar with “Civil War” already? Well, we’ve got another table along the lines of Blade and Moon Knight in the works — and I’ve got a lot more research — i.e., comic book reading — to do. So yeah, we’re still going!