It’s been a whopping 12 years since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game first bowled over the gaming community in 2005, launching a juggernaut that would go on to encompass pretty much every hit franchise in the past decade. Just like The LEGO Movie in 2014, expectations were low for a game that seemed, at face value, like a cheap cash-in. Instead, we got what was maybe the best Star Wars videogame ever released (based directly on the movies, anyway).
Fast forward to 2017, and unless you’ve been living under a LEGO-shaped rock, you’ll probably have played at least a couple of TT Games’ subsequent entries into their golden egg of a series. Whether it’s Indiana Jones, Batman or Harry Potter, no IP is safe from the humour-filled take of LEGO. That’s a list that of course includes Marvel, in not one but two games: 2013’s LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and 2016’s LEGO Marvel’s Avengers.
With both those titles meeting with the normal success of a LEGO game, a third entry seemed inevitable. Rather than fall back on the Marvel Cinematic Universe again, though, this time the TT Games team has come up with another original story for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, a direct sequel to 2013’s instalment (not that you need to have played that to understand this one, of course).
Last week, ahead of the game’s release, TT Games’ Arthur Parsons took to the stage at the Yorkshire Games Festival to give a preview of what the studio’s latest effort brings to the table.
Arthur has been with the studio for 20 years, and now oversees operations as the Head of Design – a role that he described jokingly as, ‘an elaborate way of saying I take all the credit for everyone else’s hard work.’ He’s previously worked as Game Director on all sorts of titles, right back through to 2006’s LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. ‘As the Game Director, you are the person that has to have the creative vision, that has to drive the team,’ he explained.
Before getting into the meat of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, Arthur addressed what it takes to create a LEGO game, including the principles each title must uphold. Showing off some of the games he’s worked on in the past, he said there’s an emphasis at the studio on games that are both fun and family-friendly, specifically pointing out how important the humour is.
‘First and foremost, it’s got to be funny,’ he said. ‘If Lord Voldemort’s being killed, I don’t want people to be upset about that. I want them to find it funny. If Boromir is being shot down, I want that to be funny. I want everything in the game to be slightly funny, it’s a video game! You’ve just paid whatever it might be, £29.99, £39.99; you’ve paid to be entertained, so first and foremost, the game’s got to be funny. It’s got to be humorous, and not just in-your-face humour, it’s got to be actually genuinely funny. A bit like a Pixar movie.’
Authenticity is another factor that’s key to getting these games right – and no matter what other flaws a LEGO game may have, there’s no denying they are well and truly authentic to their source material. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is no different. Before starting on the game, Arthur gave everyone a reading list, from the most senior producers to the junior designers who may have only just joined the team.
‘What you’re making, whether it’s animation, whether it’s art – if it’s not authentic, I don’t want to know,’ he said. ‘If it’s not authentic, the player doesn’t want to know.’
Arthur also addressed the common criticism that the LEGO games have barely changed from their original formula in the past 12 years. ‘Believe it or not, we make thousands of changes to make people think that they’ve not changed,’ he explained. ‘It’s all about customization and self expression. What can I do in my game to make it feel like a different experience? LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 has got branching storylines, it’s got a load of stuff where you can just do things yourself.
Before pulling out a controller for a live demo on-stage, Arthur also showed off some of the concept art behind the game, explaining how the design process takes the initial sketches and works them into what you see on screen.
The original LEGO Marvel Super Heroes had some enormous hub worlds, not least of which was Manhattan. But the sequel takes that ethos and expands it further still, bringing all the various hubs into one massive, open-world area, which spans 18 different locations – from Wakanda and Manhattan 2099 to Asgard and Knowhere.
Yes, you read that right – Manhattan 2099, not 2009. The central theme of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2’s story is time travel, as facilitated by its big bad, Kang the Conqueror. This mechanic also allowed TT to have fun with some of the characters – Baby Groot, for instance, can toggle up to regular-size Groot at will.
Arthur also showcased some of the other character-specific abilities, like Star-Lord’s mask, which he can toggle on and off with the press of a button. On PS4, pushing circle will toss out a gravity mine, but hold it, and Star-Lord will pull out his Awesome Mixtape from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. They’re small details, but they’ll no doubt thrill comic book fans (and, of course, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe).
There are plenty of obscurities among the game’s 200+ character library, so Arthur introduced one of the game’s handy new concepts: pull up the character screen and you can view trading card-style bios for each character, including their powers, quotes and first appearances. So if you didn’t know who Forbush Man was before, you will now.
If that’s somehow not enough, though, you can always create any missing characters yourself. Indeed, one of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2’s most impressive new features showcased at the Yorkshire Games Festival was the character customiser, which has come a long way in the past few years. Now, you can not only choose your character’s looks, but also their abilities – and it gets pretty in-depth.
Once you’ve chosen a button to assign an ability to – so on PS4, that’s X, circle or square – you can then pick basically whatever you like from the game’s arsenal of attacks. If you choose a beam, you can decide where it emits from, its design, its colour and, of course, its effect (freeze, heat, you name it). You can even assign a voice to your character – every last detail is customisable.
In a Q&A following the panel, Arthur revealed that the game has just two writers, who came up with over 17,000 lines of dialogue, and over 5,000 jokes. ‘We like to think they’re jokes – you might not find them funny,’ he laughed.
Arthur also talked about the process of dealing with IPs. Calling Marvel ‘part of the family’ now that they’re working on their third game together, he discussed how important the initial meeting is. ‘You have to leave the room making sure they know that you know their franchise better than they do, without sitting there and telling them that,’ he explained. ‘They need to know you’re familiar with it and you love it inside out and you can be trusted.
‘With the LEGO games, we’re trusted by the IPs we work with, because we’re authentic.’