Lego and Warner Bros. have made a gigantic pile of money making Lego-themed video games for a long time. And one of the people responsible for that success is Arthur Parsons, who heads one of the Warner Bros. TT Games development teams. He has made a ton of Lego-based video games, which are popular because their sly sense of humor resonates with parents and their goofiness is a joy for kids.
He’s at it again with Lego Marvel’s Avengers, which is a massive game with more than 200 Marvel superhero characters. The title is set in a Lego version of New York City, but you can also journey to other “hub” worlds such as Washington D.C. The game meshes with the storyline of the latest Marvel film, Avengers: Age of Ultron. We took the game for a test drive in a tour guided by Parsons.
The Lego action-adventure video game is under development at TT Games and will be published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment across a bunch of platforms on January 26.
We caught up with Parsons at the PlayStation Experience (PSX) fan event in San Francisco last weekend. Here’s an edited transcript of our talk.
GamesBeat: Tell us about Lego Marvel’s Avengers.
Arthur Parsons: Lego Marvel Super Heroes in 2013 had an open world. We loved that, and so we’re bringing that back in the new game. Outside of the main game, you’ve effectively got the whole of Manhattan to explore, with puzzles and quests and races. You have Avengers Tower. Wherever you go, you can see all this stuff to do on the mini-map.
Anything made of Lego is interactive — any vehicle, any object. I can hop into any of the cars. It gives people an open world experience with quests and missions and boss fights that just happen around the city. The idea is that there’s always something to do.
The more fancy vehicles, more Marvel-themed, here’s where you get access to those. You can bring up Lola from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series. There’s Thanos’s helicopter from the 1960s comics. Moon Knight’s moon copter. As we do with all the characters, the vehicles have all the powers and abilities you’d expect. Lola is known for flying.
GamesBeat: Why so many characters?
Parsons: Lego games are renowned for having huge rosters of characters, but we’ve upped the ante this time around. Someone like Tony Stark, everyone knows Tony Stark and Iron Man. This time around we have all the Iron Man suits, like 15 different suits. Every one is unique. If I choose the Mark VI, Tony will suit up in a way that’s pertinent to that suit. It’s all in this section of Stark Tower. In Age of Ultron you saw the Hulkbuster, so you can suit up in the Hulkbuster armor, run around the city, and blow up everything if you want.
The main story’s quite authentic to Age of Ultron. Outside the story is where the game comes to life with all these different characters. It’s all about their personalities. If you want to be Hulk, if you want to be Bruce Banner, whatever the character you want to be, you can do it. Hulk can leap around the city, climb buildings, and smash anything you see. He can do ground slams. He has his thunder clap. He can pick up bits of debris from the ground. But it’s really about personality. It doesn’t matter who you pick. They’ll all have personality.
Cloud Nine is a character from the comics that you might not be aware of. She’s known for having this cloud she can call on and fly around. We’ve got Devil Dinosaur, a very cool classic character. It’s an excuse to get a T-Rex in the game without having it be Lego Jurassic World. You’ll have characters like Fin Fang Foom, who’s known for being able to transform. He can effectively turn into Godzilla and smash the place up. You have all this free-play content, but it’s all in the realm of Marvel. It’s more than just Avengers.
GamesBeat: How many characters are there?
Parsons: More than 200 altogether. But that’s an ever-increasing list. We never quite know when to stop. There are about 8,000 Marvel characters in total. We can’t do that many. But when it comes to Lego games, this probably has the most of anything we’ve done.
Up in the sky we’ve got the Helicarrier. We have these quick boost pads that allow you to get up there quickly.
GamesBeat: Is this modern, or a particular era for New York?
Parsons: It’s the modern day. Obviously it’s our version of New York. Not all the buildings are in there because of licensing rules. Some people like having their buildings in there and some don’t.
You can go inside the Helicarrier, or get in the Quinjet up on the deck. The Quinjet allows you to effectively fly up into space, which is what we use as a level select and a way of transitioning between hub worlds. It’s not just Manhattan. There are another seven hub worlds. I can drop into Washington and the characters will skydive down. It’s a loading screen, but an interactive one. People can stay immersed in the game without being dragged out into a static, boring screen. They’re still being an Avenger.
Here you come down into Washington. These hubs aren’t quite as big, but we’ve still got the Lincoln Memorial and other bits of Washington you’d want to see. You’ll come across quests for Winter Soldier, things like that, and puzzles to interact with. Any character can come into any area here.
I can drop Stan Lee in. He’s got Quicksilver’s speed, Captain America’s shield. Not wanting to be outdone, he also has the ability to turn into his own version of the Hulkbuster. We call it the Stanbuster, very original. But people who play our games expect a level of fun and humor that’s a little bit away from—In Lego Avengers they’re going to expect to play the Avengers movie. They’re not going to expect to run around as the Stanbuster in Washington. We try to make sure we give them extra stuff. He can also transform into Excelsior Hulk, with all the same moves as Hulk.
GamesBeat: How do you unlock the whole set of characters? Is it just time spent in the game?
Parsons: I’ll dial back here and play an actual level section. To unlock the characters, you’ll get them as you progress normally through the game. In level one you’ll unlock the characters you play there – Captain America and a few others. All the others you pick up in the free play components, whether it’s boss fights in a hub area—Say you come across Doctor Strange. He’ll ask you to do something and that’ll unlock Doctor Strange. It’s all through exploring the open world.
For the main story, we’re being as faithful as we can to Age of Ultron and the other movies. We’ve featured loads of Marvel movies, like Iron Man 3. We’re trying to be as authentic as we can while still keeping the Lego humor in there. Our story starts at the beginning of Age of Ultron, because that gives us the goal of hunting down Loki’s staff. It connects us to the start of Avengers where Loki is given the staff.
We have team-up moves for different characters. I can pair different characters together and they’ll perform special combos, like smart bombs. You charge up this power bar to do that.
GamesBeat: How many next-gen Lego games have you guys done now?
Parsons: Super Heroes was the first one. Lego Movie, Jurassic World, Batman 3, Lego Dimensions—this is number six.
GamesBeat: How much bigger is the world?
Parsons: This is definitely bigger than Lego Marvel Super Heroes. That was our first time on next-gen. We’ve had a couple of years with the platforms. The programmers have found ways to get more out of PS4 and Xbox One and WiiU. They’re always trying to get more and more, which is how we can have eight open world hubs instead of just one city. There are more particles. The lighting’s more vibrant. It’s an ongoing process, with any machine. The longer we have it, the more we can push it.
GamesBeat: Destructibility is one way you guys seem to constantly push the engine.
Parsons: We try to put as much as we can in there. If you distilled a Lego game down into its component parts, we probably do more than most triple-A games because of the amount of interaction with the environment. Every Lego object you see is interactive. Every character is fully skinned, boned, animated. They have a huge number of animations. They can do team-up moves. And when you get to free play we’re allowing you switch in and out of more than 200 characters at any time. We like to think the engine is pretty capable.
GamesBeat: It’s a nice formula. You get parents and kids playing together. There’s enough humor that the parents can get.
Parsons: I have an 11-year-old daughter. I know how few games there are out there that you can play together. We pride ourselves on making family-friendly games that people know and love. There’s an expectation of a Lego game, that it’ll provide so many hours of gameplay that are fun and exciting. And faithful. Authenticity is key, especially when it comes to super hero games.
GamesBeat: How did you figure out the right pacing for each game and how often they should come out? There are a lot of Lego games now, but there doesn’t seem to be a limit to the appetite.
Parsons: That’s the weird thing. Back in the U.K. we’ve actually got three teams. Jurassic World, our first this year, was the Winslow team. Dimensions was one of the Knutsford teams, and Marvel is my team, also in Knutsford. There’s a huge appetite for Lego games, but the cool thing is, not everyone is going to buy every Lego game. Some people do, but at the same time, some people will just say, “I like Jurassic World” or “I like Harry Potter” and get the game they want.
The same thing applies, though. People know the game they’ll get is a faithful re-creation of that world. But there are some people who just want to buy every Lego game. They’re fun. Moms and dads play them with their kids, but also husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends. People like playing fun games together. You don’t need to take yourself seriously. It’s supposed to be humorous. I think that’s why the games are as popular as they are.
GamesBeat: What would you say people will get out of this game, altogether?
Parsons: With Marvel, people love super heroes and super villains. People want an experience that’ll let them play with their favorite characters in their favorite places. Lego Marvel Avengers will allow them to do that in many ways they couldn’t in Lego Marvel Super Heroes. We’re retelling many of the events in Avengers and Age of Ultron and Iron Man III and the other phase-two movies, but we’re also allowing people to play classic comic-book stories retold through Lego.
If anybody likes anything to do with Avengers, this is a celebration of all things Avengers. Even just seeing people playing it here, they love it. They love just playing Iron Man on his own, the ability to pick from 18 different Iron Man suits, or bounding around as Hulk. The team-up moves, too. The Avengers are all about teaming up.
GamesBeat: It seems like you have a lot of room to explore lesser-known characters.
Parsons: I really like that. I grew up reading comics. It wasn’t as cool to read comics when I was in school, but it’s cool to read comics now. My takeaway from these games—You’ll find that a kid will want to play the game because he watches a cartoon that features the Hulk. Then he’ll come and play the game and unlock a character like Korvac or Squirrel Girl. That drives him to find out who this character is, what comics they’re in. They get to keep that love of everything Marvel comics. You can keep discovering new characters and new comic runs that you’ve never seen before. My hope is that kids will play this and love it, but then want to go and find out about Egghead or whoever.
GamesBeat: It’s a new point of entry for the comics.
Parsons: Right. And obviously older gamers who know their stuff—they contact us on social media with requests for all kinds of characters. Some of the characters in the game have come about because people have said, “Hey, we really want to see Superior Iron Man. We really want to see the Iron Monger.” We like to make sure people are happy.
GamesBeat: How many hours of gameplay do you think you have altogether?
Parsons: I know that our testers—to do a whole 100 percent playthrough, it’s taken them 40-plus hours. For someone who doesn’t know the game, it’s going to be more than that. I don’t want to put an exact figure on it, but it’s a huge game. It’s definitely bigger than the first one. We have 15 core levels in the story, which you can then replay, and outside of that in the hub worlds there are more than 250 missions, quests, and other interactions. We also added random crimes. In the city there’s always carjackings or bag-snatchings going on. As heroes your job is to make sure those get stopped as well. We’ve got more than 200 characters and vehicles to unlock, so there’s a huge amount of stuff to play.
GamesBeat: Have you got Jessica Jones yet in the game?
Parsons: Jessica Jones is in the game, yeah. She’s the classic comic-book version. The Netflix version isn’t exactly suitable for our audience. But Jessica’s in there. Luke Cage is in there. Iron Fist, Daredevil. Any character who’s had any affiliation with the Avengers over the years is going to feature in some shape or form.