The Deeper Experience of "Avengers Alliance Tactics"

When Marvel and Playdom's "Avengers Alliance" debuted on Facebook in 2012, it quickly became one of the most popular games on the social network. It's understandable, then, that Playdom capitalized on their success and released a new Avengers-themed game, "Avengers Alliance Tactics." Exclusively available on Facebook, "Tactics" takes a Marvel-ized approach to the turn-based tactics genre, bringing Marvel heroes and villains into a grid-based system. The game shares many similarities with the turn-based "Avengers Alliance" RPG -- with the major added element of movement and positioning. That said, it's not necessary to play both games to get a full level of enjoyment -- although they were designed to be played in parallel.

In order to get a better handle on what's in store for players that jump on to the "Tactics" debut -- available now on Facebook -- Comic Book Resources spoke with "Avengers Alliance Tactics" Executive Producer Gabe Brown and Senior Producer William Schmidt about the game development, how it relates to the story of "Avengers Alliance," what fans can expect from the social gameplay and much more.

Gabe, William -- what is "Avengers Alliance Tactics" and how does it build on the foundation of the original "Avengers Alliance" game?

Gabe Brown: "Avengers Alliance Tactics" is really an extension of the gameplay and the story you see in "Avengers Alliance." We wanted to bring "Tactics" to Facebook and bring tactics to "Avengers Alliance" as a gameplay genre because it's a natural extension of RPGs to introduce additional depth. Movement is a great way to do that. We also really wanted to keep the great storytelling, the great events and the episodic content of "Avengers Alliance" and bring it to "Tactics." The most important thing was to do this in a wrapper that was accessible. Tactics is typically a much more hardcore genre, and we wanted to do what we did with "Avengers Alliance": make it an approachable genre, and make it easy for anybody to get on and play.

Turn-based tactics games traditionally have had many RPG elements -- "Final Fantasy Tactics" and "Shining Force" are two strong examples that come to mind. How does "Avengers Alliance Tactics" follow in this tradition while still maintaining that kind of accessibility?

Brown: We took a lot of inspiration from titles like "XCOM" and "Disgaea." Just about everyone on the team has had their favorite flavor of tactics games, and yet, they've all had movement in that space. We still keep the core element that make a tactics game a tactics game: turn-based movement and turn-based action within combat. What we do differently is we streamline the ability to move within the environment, streamline the ability to make attacks, and make some smart assumptions for players about the most viable target. We make it really easy to see the target. We reduce the time it takes to complete combat. If you've ever played the original "XCOM," you can be in a single fight for 2-3 hours. In "Tactics," you're looking at about 5-7 minutes.

William Schmidt: Yeah, we target about 3-7 minute range for our combats. We do so by creating nice templates for you to follow. When you select somebody, a blue aura appears around them. That's their movement range. When you actually finish your movement, you select your attack, and then a red aura appears. That's your attack range. We make it really simple by templating movement and actions in a very understandable way.

Brown: We make it really easy to discover and understand what's happening and how to move, which is typically not seen in the tactics genre.

Schmidt: I think another way to think about this is not only about the tactical genre, but adding more elements of what people like about "Avengers Alliance." You have the strategic thinking of who's on your team, who you're bringing into combat, which character you're leveling up and upgrading -- but now, it's a question of how you take it and move them across the board to decide who we're battling against.

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Brown: Something you'll recognize in "Tactics" from "Avengers Alliance" is the class system. Not only does your position within the environment matter, but who's in what position. Iron Man is a blaster, so you want to make sure you match him up against someone who's weak against his class. The depth of "Avengers Alliance" can be explored in new and interesting ways, particularly in movement and positioning, which is really fun. I actually do that in my head when playing "Avengers Alliance." It's pretty fun.

What other aspects of the tactics genre made you want to expand "Avengers Alliance" into that realm?

Brown: Not a lot of people have really gone into the tactics genre in terms of video games, so it's also more interesting from a gameplay standpoint. We as a team have always loved [tactics] games -- "We should do something like Marvel 'XCOM'" -- it's something that the team has wanted to do for such a long time, and we got the opportunity to do it.

Schmidt: A lot of the designers on the team also play tabletop games. The turn-based combat really appeals to a lot of us.

Brown: Turn-based particularly in movement. It's being able to take superheroes, and make them feel heroic and super powerful by moving within the space, is something you can't really get in "Avengers Alliance" because it's six placed [characters].

Schmidt: Besides moving your character, there are also things like knockback, where you can actually knock people back into each other and line them up for lined area of effect shots that make it really entertaining.

Brown: One of my favorites is that Klaw does an energy attack that goes across the room. It reminds me of all the moments when heroes have done a move and you're taken aback by how cool it is.

Schmidt: It's great when the Hulk clubs somebody and sends them flying across the room, but someone hits the Hulk and can't move him because he's got the knockback resistance. The characters really stand out in this environment.

What about their abilities? How has the "Tactics" team approached giving each hero a unique ability set?

Brown: In "Avengers Alliance," you had a fixed ability set -- at least for the first couple of months, some of the new characters have multiple abilities -- but for "Tactics," how many abilities per character on average does each one have?

Schmidt: We'll be starting with nine and expanding.

Brown: Yeah, you have nine abilities and five ability slots -- six if you include passives. So you can choose which abilities to equip your character with. ... There's an entire universe of ways to equip your characters. When you're squaring off against an enemy or you're squaring off against another player, it's an added dimension of, "Okay, what kind of load-out does this guy have?" It's added depth that you didn't have in "Avengers Alliance."

Schmidt: It brings a whole new level of strategy to the "Tactics" game. For example, if I have She-Hulk and I want her to be the tough bruiser type, I'm going to load her out with a guard that reduces damage 50 percent if she protects herself. But I could also say, "No, I want her to be faster, more agile" and load her out with something that gives her additional movement in her guard spot. She only gets a 20 percent damage reduction if she gets hit, but she's moving way faster. Every character gets a choice like that -- at least one.

In terms of story, how does "Avengers Alliance Tactics" mesh with what's happening in "Avengers Alliance?"

Schmidt: We're going along the Incursion storyline where multiple Earths are coming together and we need to figure out how to stop them. You're a commander that gets elevated to the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. and given command of an HQ in the Savage Land, and you're asked to draft a team of superheroes to help you with these issues that are going on. Multiple incursions are happening -- literally hundreds of other players are appearing around you, and they're also S.H.I.E.L.D. officers from other Earths. You're all vying for the same resources, you're all trying to get the same thing done. There's a limited number of resources in the Savage Land and that tends to lead to conflicts.

Brown: As it relates to "Avengers Alliance," I believe we've touched on the incursions there -- we had a SpecOp or a story that was related to that. In some cases, the story will be shared between "Tactics" and "Avengers Alliance" and we'll touch on them in different ways. That way, you'll still get to experience similar stories, but not feel like you're missing out on any one of the stories between each one. Incursions are that big threat that's looming over heroes and they have to fight for their very existence. Almost infinite possibilities can occur within that. We have a lot of freedom with that story.

Schmidt: It also explains how hundreds of people are sharing the same world.

Brown: Another departure from "Avengers Alliance" is the introduction of a world map where you can fight other players that are coming in through other worlds. They're coming in through incursions and they're all on the world map. You can fight other players, attack their HQ and steal resources from their base.

Schmidt: A big portion of the game beyond tactical combat is base-building. We give you eight facilities that you'll want to maintain, level up and protect as other people come to attack them. For example, as you collect resources, you'll want to put them into your S.H.I.E.L.D. vault. You need to protect that S.H.I.E.L.D. vault because if that facility is destroyed, you'll lose resources to the player that attacked you. He will gain those resources, and there's a race for resources that goes on constantly on top of the story that's happening within your PvE [Player versus Environment] mode of the game.

Alex Irvine wrote the core story for "Avengers Alliance" -- will he return to write the story for "Tactics?"

Schmidt: Alex has been writing a lot of stuff for "Tactics," and we're also working with a couple other people that we can't mention at this time.

The announcement stated that the game follows the Avengers as they "work to protect Earth against threats from other dimensions." What kind of dimensions and environments will players have the chance to explore?

Schmidt: Marvel allows us to go just about anywhere, so we actually go all over the world chasing down these assignments that are incursion breakouts in different places. You'll go to New York, you'll go to different places within Europe -- you may even leave the planet at certain times to take care of these things that are appearing around the world and in our universe.

What other elements of "Avengers Alliance" can fans expect to see expand into "Tactics?" Will there be any added benefits to playing both games?

Brown: We're planning on that. We don't have anything to announce yet, but players can expect to hear something soon about it.

Why Facebook? It seems like this is the type of game that has the potential to expand beyond the Facebook platform.

Brown: We really started with Facebook because we know that's where our players are. "Avengers Alliance" started out as a Facebook game and really got its success and its reach and worldwide impact through Facebook first. With "Tactics," we really wanted to go back to that same player base and that same audience, bring a new and interesting experience and really push what a Facebook game can look like. Facebook is really a platform where we can do that and have a gigantic user base that we can work with. We can play and integrate everything that Facebook gives us as a platform. We really wanted to go back to the roots of "Avengers Alliance" and dive into that.

Schmidt: That being said, if you see the game, it's incredibly good-looking for a Facebook game. It really pushes the envelope.

It seems like it may have been challenging to bring a graphically intense game such as "Tactics" to Facebook. What were some of the challenges the team faced in bringing a 3D tactics game to this platform?

Brown: One of the most common problems we have is, based on our user base, that not all users have hardware acceleration. They could be playing on a Chromebook, they could be playing on a device that doesn't have a graphics card. We need to remain performant, even in that situation -- even though it's unlikely that many people don't have a graphics card. Designing a 3D environment and a rendering system and a particle system -- things that just aren't first class citizens inside of Flash -- to web was a very difficult challenge. Luckily we had experts who've worked on gigantic 3D titles, both on console and a handful of other games that had a tremendous amount of experience, both on mobile and handheld devices. We had a great amount of expertise that made that technical feat happen.

Let's talk a bit about the elements available at launch. What can players expect when they start up the game in terms of heroes and villains?

Schmidt: We have 21 playable characters, and a bunch more in the villains category. We have all the Avengers, of course, available to play. You're going to start with Tony Stark as your main go-to and he's going to help you get through the first user experience from the first assignment. We have a total of six assignments and an epic boss that should keep a player pretty busy for a long time -- it's quite a lot of content. We plan on rolling out more content every month or two.

Brown: We want to be similar to what we have in "Avengers Alliance."

Schmidt: There'll be tournaments, there will be additional chapters and SpecOps and things like that.

Brown: Something we really dialed in on "Avengers Alliance" was having this episodic content almost like a TV series. Every week, it was like, "Stay tuned! There's this thing that's coming soon." It was really fun and really exciting and engaging. Every day I logged in, there was something new, something interesting to discover, grind for or collect. We want to bring that same great engagement and content cadence to "Tactics." It's going to be really exciting. The fact that we have such a broad and interesting storyline to work with is just going to open up the floodgates of awesome possibility. I look over the shoulder of some of our artists and designers and just get giddy.

Schmidt: We've probably planned out about six months of content already. We're building models and levels based on that, so there's quite a bit of content to this game.

"Avengers Alliance Tactics" is now available on Facebook.

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