Marvel Expands Shared Video Game Universe with "Avengers Initiative"

Following in the footsteps of its box office smash, Marvel has a new mobile game for iOS and Android devices out this September, allowing players to become the Hulk and smash their way through opponents and a growing Marvel video game universe.

Marvel's "Avengers Initiative" sends the Hulk up against a group of escaped super-powered prisoners, on the lam thanks to the Pulse power blackout that hit the world in the Facebook game "Marvel: Avengers Alliance."

Demonstrating the mobile game ahead of its early September release date, Game Director Patrick Moran of Wideload Games and VP of Game Production at Marvel TQ Jefferson spoke to CBR News about "Avengers Initiative," diving into the line, and the planned scope of the Marvel gaming-verse.

"What we've done recently is take a long hard look at what we want and rededicate ourselves to quality above all else," Jefferson said nothing that for "Avengers Initiative," and previous Facebook game "Avengers Alliance," there were three important markers of success he and his team considered.

"First and foremost it's fun to play: fun and engaging game play, fun trumps everything else. Then it's compelling stories -- everything about Marvel is story, the comic books, the film, the series. Telling stories is what we do," Jefferson said, adding with a laugh, "And then true to character experiences -- you're not going to see Spider-Man with guns!"

To execute the mobile gaming app, which will retail for $6.99, Marvel turned to Wideload Games and Game Director Moran. According to Moran it took about fourteen months from start to finish to bring "Avengers Initiative" to life, with a staff of thirty-six people working on the mobile game.

"When I showed up they [Wideload] had a big bookshelf full of Marvel comics -- huge, huge fans," Moran said. "As soon as the acquisition happened they said, 'OK, how do we work with Marvel?'"

Directly tying into the Facebook game, "Avengers Initiative" takes place roughly around the same time as "Alliance," with Marvel stalwarts Fred Van Lente, "Alliance" writer Alex Irvine and even Greg Pak contributing to the in-game story.

"[Facebook] kicked off what we're calling the Marvel Game Universe," Moran told CBR News. "This game is set in that same universe and it's a continuation of that story. In 'Alliance' there was this thing called the Pulse that knocked out electrical grids and communication networks and it was all about the aftermath. This is set a little bit after and where 'Alliance' focused on a breadth of characters, we're going to focus on one character at a time, with new episodic releases."

Launching with the Hulk, Moran stated they were already working on future episodes of "Avengers Initiative" that would allow gamers to play as other characters, such as Captain America. However, there was no concrete release date for future episodes as of yet.

"We're not going to release it until we feel we've fulfilled the promise of that character and the game play is really solid," Moran said.

"That said, [in the Hulk episode] enemies continue to have new attacks, we continue to give the opportunity to get new awards and narrative audio logs -- and we're going to drop additional costumes later on," Moran added, saying there were plans to continually update the existing Hulk episode. While players can complete the game's narrative in about four hours there are still ample opportunities for new fights and villains after the story is finished.

"Avengers Initiative," as Moran and Jefferson demonstrated on their iPads, is a gesture-based combat game. Using their devices' touch screen, players tap arrow buttons to block or doge attacks while swiping the screen allows Hulk to hit his opponents or use special moves that nod to the comics such as the "Worldbreaker" or "Gamma Strike." Additionally, players are able to use and unlock different in-game costumes that also harken back to the comics, such as Hulk's "Planet Hulk" and "Fear Itself" looks, or the original stretchy purple pants.

"I'm a fan of the beard!" Moran laughed as he showed off his Hulk avatar, sporting a Maestro-like beard and scowl.

In addition to tying into the story of the Facebook "Avengers Alliance," Moran told CBR if gamers plays both the Facebook game and the mobile "Initiative" they'll discover game play on one platform affects and enhances game play on the other.

"That hasn't been done before; you've seen console games lead into each other but you've never seen a Facebook game and a mobile game start talking to each other," Moran said. The two games can share and bring up Avengers Dossier entries and audio clips, and awards in "Initiative" can boost experience points in the Facebook game.

"By unlocking those awards in 'Initiative' I'm going to boost my experience in 'Alliance,'" Moran added.

Coming back to the concept of a unified Marvel Game Universe, Jefferson outlined the future for Marvel's mobile and social games, saying the gaming side of the comic book company took cues from both "The Avengers" movie franchise and current in-comics status quo.

"The idea is we're borrowing a bit from Marvel Studios and the cinematic universe where all those films built up to something bigger, but what we want to do is we're creating the Marvel Gaming Universe where it is a lot of games united by a single storyline, and we want to bring in more platforms and such," Jefferson said. "We're also borrowing a bit from the Marvel publishing universe that there are big overarching stories in publishing, like 'AvX' right now. But if you pick up an issue of 'Blade' or something it may have nothing to do with that storyline but it still exists in that universe -- so we want the flexibility still to tell singular stories but with that big overarching thing that's pulling everybody."

"If you come along with us on this journey it's going to be a real crossover game event across platforms," Moran added.

Though excited for the future of Marvel's mobile games, Moran and Jefferson confessed that as huge comic book fans themselves they were just as excited about the villains showing up in "Avengers Initiative."

"I'm actually a very big fan of Wendigo," Jefferson said with a smile, pointing to the furry villain as he appeared on his iPad. "My first back issue that I ever purchased as a kid, mowed lawns to save money to buy it, was 'Uncanny x-Men' #140 which is Wendigo beating the crap out of Wolverine on the cover of it. I was like, 'OK, I need to know what that's about!'" Jefferson laughed.

"I'm really into Abomination!" Moran countered. "When he and Hulk have it out and you see the cut scenes between them I think it's really powerful. We had somebody get beat by Abomination in a play test, the cut scene played out and in the play test lab with his headphones on he was going, 'No, no, no!'"

"To get that emotional response is exactly why you make games," Moran added, Hulk and his villains battling it out in his hands as they concluded the demonstration.

"Avengers Initiative" will be available on iOS and Android devices later this month.

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