CCI: "Super Hero Squad Online" Panel

Gameplay from "Super Hero Squad Online," the massively multiplayer game based on the television show and action figure line line, was showcased during its panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The panel revealed various aspects of the title's gameplay and general design philosophy while keeping the panel light enough for the audience of mostly parents and children.

The panel consisted of members of Amazing Society, the game's developer, and Marvel's director of game production TQ Jefferson. Discussion kicked off with panelists discussing their passion for developing not only the first MMO featuring Marvel characters, but an MMO aimed at children and families.

"Our studio came together to make this product because we care about our audience," said Jason Robar, VP studio manager of Amazing Society. "Over two thirds of our studio is married with kids .We have a passion behind us, making a great game we want to play as adults that everyone else can play as well."

Rather than base the game solely on the toy line or television show, Amazing Society went through a long development process figuring out the proper art direction for the game. After developing models based on the toys, cartoons and more realistic versions of the characters, the team settled on one that makes the characters look like toys, including visual tricks to make them look smaller.

"It makes you want to reach in the screen and play with the toy," said Matt Bell, the game's art director.

The team then outlined the various types of gameplay in the title. "We wanted to have a variety of types of play that could go towards an experienced gamer, all to even a five-year-old," Robar said. "We have game types for co-op, competitive, as well as solo play."

Because this may well be the first MMO many kids play, the decision was made to put more emphasis on play, rather than game mechanics. Although characters can level up through playing the game, when players are "killed," they are simply knocked out for a few seconds before dusting themselves off and getting back into the action. Players receive either a bronze, gold or adamantium medal, depending on their performance.

"We want everybody to be successful," Robar said. "We have a guiding philosophy of 'let the wookie win.'"

"We're making sure every aspect of the game is fun," said Nik Davidson, the game's design director. "I'm an MMO guy [and] there's an assumption that we can make certain parts of the game less fun. We want to integrate play. Collection, combat, community. It's a virtual toy box. Everything you get in the game you want to grab and touch and feel. There's a lot of freedom in the game."

Although the game is designed for children, Amazing Society is trying to make it accessible to gamers of all ages.

"We're making it for you kids, boys 6-11, but it's also for the parents," Davidson said. "I talked to a guy, he loves Iron Man, but the movie's too scary for his son, and the comic is too adult. But Super Hero Squad is a real way to share the essence of these characters. There is a tertiary audience of Marvel fans who will want to play this game because it's just fun."

Gameplay is intentionally streamlined, with most actions being controlled by a single mouse click. Dragging the mouse around while holding down on a button controls a hero's direction, while clicking on various hot spots controls actions from punching a baddie to trimming hedges with claws to flying on top of a building. There are a variety of emotive actions as well, allowing heroes to do anything from a little dance to one-armed pushups, depending on the character.

The game runs on the Unity engine, which allows for play on a Mac or PC web browser. Minimum system requirements have not been released yet, however they will probably be on the low end, as the team knows that "there's dad's computer, and then there's the kid's computer."

One of the big questions asked during the Q&A section of the panel concerned whether the game allows you to play as a self-created avatar or as an iconic Marvel superhero. The developers responded that while you're limited to a wide variety of characters including Iron Man, Deadpool, and Ms. Marvel, each Marvel hero supports customizable costumes and items.

"That was one of the big questions we had at the beginning - you can make your own superhero and customize him and do those things, but then you don't get to be Spider-Man," explained Nik Davidson, the game's design director. "When I see kids dressing up on Halloween, they're dressing up as Spider-Man, not Spider-Man's friends."

A father asked about the roster and which of the more obscure characters would appear in the game, as his son prefers superheroes like Deadpool and Moon Knight.

"Every week, we're going to be updating with new characters on the website," Bell said. "This is a living world, so we're just going to keep going. We're going to be adding dozens and dozens of new heroes and villains all the time.

"There are maybe five or six heroes that everyone knows, but comic book fans know there are thousands," answered Davidson. "We want people in those game worlds to go, 'Who is that? Oh, that's Dr. Strange,' and by clicking on the character they can find out a little more about them."

Some of the more insightful questions were asked by children at the panel. One boy asked if power levels would reflect characters in the comics, or if they would be leveled out in the game.

"You have such a range of powers, from Squirrel Girl to Dr. Strange," Davidson said. "We wanted to make sure that a character like Thor gets to do his thing, but he doesn't completely overshadow the X-Men for example, whose powers tend to be more specific. In terms of how they do in combat, they each do their own thing. We did try to take those signature powers and really make that cool, but at the same time we want Jean Grey to be cool. It's not apples to apples; we want each of them to show in their own way."

A little girl asked if Wonder Woman, part of the DC Universe, would be in the Marvel game.

"There are lots and lots of great female characters in the Marvel Universe," said Serena Robar, Amazing Society's community manager. "Ms. Marvel, Storm - you should try playing with them!"

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