While Marvel has dominated the global box office for the last few years, the company is also starting to find super success with a plethora of mobile apps. And soon, an uncanny superhero game will join that roster.
Developer TinyCo is working with the comic book company to produce Marvel Avengers Academy, which is coming to smart devices soon. This game will have players building and managing a specialized school for superheroes. You’ll have to make sure the classrooms and labs are up to date, but you’ll also have to guide the Avengers on quests, dates, and trips to Stark Tower.
TinyCo plans to release Marvel Avengers Academy for both iOS and Android as a free-to-play game in the first quarter of 2016. That’ll place it just a few months before the release of the movie Captain America: Civil War, which is due out in May.
But even if TinyCo is getting free promotion in Civil War, it’ll still have to try to make the game stand out in a growing crowd of Marvel games. On mobile, searching for “Marvel” brings up Marvel Contest of Champions, Marvel Future Fight, Marvel Mighty Heroes, Avengers Alliance, and Marvel Puzzle Quest. That’s not to mention the free-to-play Marvel Heroes 2015, which is getting an update to Marvel Heroes 2016 with controller support later this year.
The studio, however, is confident it can make its game stand out.
“Marvel Avengers Academy is unlike any Avengers experience currently in the market and very different from the other Marvel-branded games on mobile devices,” TinyCo business operations boss Andrew N. Green told GamesBeat. “Most of Marvel’s past and current mobile games have been focused on bringing a current vision of the Marvel universe and characters from comics and films to mobile as solid translations of what’s expected of them. The art, worlds, and characters of those games deviate very little from what the audience knows, and this is on-strategy for those games.”
But TinyCo is going for something different. It is taking the familiar characters and putting them in an entirely new atmosphere. The developer has reimagined Loki and Black Widow as young adults in school and filtered their previously established abilities and character traits through that conceit.
“We hope to broaden the overall player base of the game while allowing current fans of the Avengers Universe an exciting new opportunity to play with the characters they know and love in a new and fun way,” said Green.
Keeping it authentic
A school for supers is a new setting for these characters (unless TinyCo includes any X-Men), but the studio doesn’t want that to mean it is upsetting fans who all have very specific expectations for their favorite heroes. That’s why TinyCo is working closely with Marvel Games creative director Bill Rosemann, who says that his biggest concern is authenticity.
“Above all else, your guiding light must be a clear understanding of the heart of the character,” said Rosemann. “By that, I mean you have to do your homework and boil down decades of stories into a simple, powerful, and believable metaphor.”
For Rosemann, that means going all they way back to who created the character in an effort to figure out what the original author was trying to say with the hero while also taking into account any reimaginings.
“These are all the questions you must have answers to so that when you make choices in how you present the character in a new medium, they are instantly recognizable and accessible to a modern audience,” he said. “In other words, you have to know that in his head, Captain America is still skinny Steve Rogers, and that’s why he uses his shield to protect the world against bullies.”
To ensure all of that happens in a video game, Marvel is picky with its partners on mobile. Rosemann said that he needs to work with a team that has as much passion and respect for the fiction as he does.
“Then you collaborate with them every single day — from the first pitch meeting to worldwide release — providing support, guidance, ideas, and sweat,” he said. “Sometimes that means digging through the comic book vault to provide hundreds of issues of reference or finding that one page of art that perfectly captures a character … other times, it’s protecting and celebrating the integrity of the character by nailing how they look, act, move, and sound. And at the end of the day, you’ve hopefully helped create a thrilling experience that delivers on the Marvel promise and makes our fans happy.”
An academy for Captain America
The proposition of running a school for superheroes brings a lot of possibilities to mind, which is why we asked Green to run us through what it’s like to play Marvel Avengers Academy. He explained that it is a “narrative-driven” experience.
In the game, Nick Fury, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D., has asked Tony Stark, the man responsible for Iron Man, to build a school to train up some of the most powerful people (good and bad) from the Marvel universe. This leads into a series of adventures and stories that TinyCo will dole out in small chunks. This means you can check into the game quickly, get a piece of the story, and then move on to something else. Depending on the quest you’re on, certain stories can take a day to get through from beginning to end. Others will take around a week.
“You’ll help your students and the super-powered faculty by taking on missions ranging from recreational activities to epic adventures fighting off Hydra and Frost Giants,” said Green. “Doing so will earn you quest items, resources, and experience to expand and upgrade your academy. You can then boost and upgrade your heroes and recruit new heroes to your campus. As you gain new characters, buildings, items, and upgrades, you will expand the campus and unlock new stories, mysteries, and foes.”
And since this is a school with a bunch of dramatic superheroes, some of the quests aren’t about beating up evil scientists from A.I.M. — they’re about taking Loki out on a date.
“Each character has multiple types of storylines that can be anything from navigating their social lives to helping to convince someone to join the school,” said Green. “Different things can happen on campus that trigger different characters to respond in different ways. The story moves and progresses through dialogue between characters. The game will explore friendships, romantic relationships, mysteries, and everything in between as we watch how these characters with such strong and distinct personalities play off of each other in pursuit of their goals, protecting each other, and humanity.”
Finally, while you might get embroiled in Hawkeye’s love life, you don’t want to grow too distracted because Marvel Avengers Academy has rival schools run by Hydra and A.I.M. that will try to train up their own teams of superpowered people to take your institution out. It’s up to you, your faculty, and a bunch of kids to ensure that doesn’t happen.