For a long time, if you buy a Disney Infinity Play Set, you've known what you're getting yourself in to - a great, co-op, quest based adventure set in a toy-themed Disney world. For Marvel Battlegrounds though, that all changes, as gone are the missions, gone are the levels, and gone is the focus on co-op, with a four player, local multiplayer brawler in its place. It's a huge change of direction - but not an unwelcome one, as variety is never a bad thing. But is this a sign of things to come? We sat down with Ryan Rothenberger, Senior Producer at Disney Interactive, and Game Director on Marvel Battlegrounds to find out.
So, Marvel Battlegrounds is your first four player Play Set. What made you decide to try and get a four player experience into the game?
Well, it was a couple of things. One was the type of game we were looking to make with Marvel Battlegrounds, a brawler, which we feel is best played with up to four people on a couch. And we were getting requests from parents as well, who have more than one kid, who want to be able to have their kids not necessarily take it in turns when playing through a Play Set. A few of those things lined up, so we went ahead and made the push to do it.
Does it do online as well?
No, so it's still four player, offline [multiplayer] only. You can play two player co-op through the story mode, but then in versus you have the full four player experience.
See, that's a question I've never really asked before, because usually, I don't care all that much about the online play, and what I want is the local multiplayer, so that's great for me. I just thought I should ask, as Marvel Battlegrounds seems the exact opposite of what Disney's done so far - Disney Infinity 3.0 is two player local, and four online, but this is four people local, with no online.
Well, the Play Sets have never really been online, so here we felt we'd expand it to four player local for the versus play, but then keep the same general mechanic we had before, the two player co-op for the traditional story.
And just to be doubly sure, it's still "walled off" as such, so it's only Marvel characters that can play in this
Yeah, yeah. You know, it's one of the [things] we have to adhere to due to our licensors and everything else. Marvel isn't comfortable having, say, Yoda fighting next to Captain America, when it's set in a Marvel universe specifically.
But you guys own Marvel now - surely you tell them what goes!
[laughs] I think that is a wonderful comment. But no, we have to respect our brands, and we love that you can play with everyone inside the Toy Box - and hopefully we'll be able to expand on that Toy Box experience in future iterations to where you can get more interaction between the characters.
That said, it is great that Marvel Battlegrounds brings all the Marvel figures together, giving it a massive roster, and giving you an excuse to use your other figures
Yeah, that's right! So, we knew a tonne of people invested a lot in Disney Infinity 2.0, and with 3.0 being more invested in Star Wars, we wanted a true Play Set where they could resurrect all of those power discs, all of those toys, and use them again.
One of the questions I had was, will you be able to buy the Disney Infinity 2.0 figures individually again? Or will you have to try and hunt down a Disney Infinity 2.0 Play Set pack if you want to get, say, Spidey?
So, for ones like Spiderman and Nova, who came in the Play Set, most of those you're going to have to go back and try and find the Play Sets. However, I know a tonne of retailers are doing specials, so when you buy Marvel Battlegrounds, you'll actually have your choice of a couple of 2.0 characters - buy the game and get a couple of characters for free.
That's the kind of thing I hoped you'd be doing, as that makes perfect sense, especially with the Play Set coming with just the one figure
Yeah, exactly, and it's something, as retailers still have some 2.0 figures in stock, we encouraged. Having more of these characters only helps entice people to play a little more, so yeah - you should hopefully see some good retailer deals on that.
[Note to those who're interested - we haven't yet found any good retailer deals like that in the UK]
What was behind the decision to bundle Marvel Battlegrounds with Captain America, when technically that's a character you guys have already done before?
Well, it was primarily because we wanted to do a bit of an homage to the Captain America: Civil War movie that's going to be out here at the beginning of May. We re-did him with a new set of moves, so it's not the same moves from the old Captain America, and we wanted to use his new, modern film version of his outfit, whereas the version that came with 2.0 was based off the TV cartoon series.
Actually, that's an interesting point. When you design the characters, some are based on the film versions, and some are based on the comic versions - like Drax is based off the comic rather than his film outing. How do you guys decide which version to do?
A lot of the times it's actually at Marvel's behest and request. They say "Hey, we'd like you guys to focus on...". So for 2.0 it was "let's focus on the cartoon series". Sometimes approvals can be a little easier if we don't have to go through theatrical, depending on the timeline we have to develop the character. We know that if we need to go through theatrical for characters, it builds in an extra few months of buffer to get approvals and things like this. So it's usually a myriad of choices, but it's always [guided by the same principles] - we want to bring the best characters we can, and we want to make sure we get Marvel's influence about which they want us to feature. Which is what we did with the new 3.0 cast of characters, so characters like Black Panther and Vision, as well as the new Cap are all more film related, especially because we wanted to have some sort of homage to Civil War, so it made sense.
To talk about the upgraded move sets - you mention that the characters have all had their moves tweaked, upgraded and balanced. Can you give us a few examples of what's changed?
So, we had to balance the characters, because it was a fighting game first and foremost, and without all the characters having a base move-set that was similar to each other, it wouldn't have worked - the game would not have been fun. So what we did is, we thought, OK, if a character is a level 20 Toy Box character, if he had every move unlocked, we sort of picked and chose the moves that would work best with Battlegrounds. So [they'll have] a good ranged attack, a good charged ranged attack, a dash attack if they don't have ranged. [There's] a three hit combo, rather than the five hit combo we have in the Toy Box, because we wanted a really snappy combo, where it felt like, if I'm getting hit, I won't have to sit there being hit for too long before I have a chance to come back at you. So we just looked at every character individually, and picked the best hits for the three hit combo, the best moves for the ranged attacks, and we needed to modify them from there.
So, to take someone like Thor for instance, his hammer comes back to him slower than it would in Toy Box, because he's an amazing character in that he can fly, he's super strong, he's got good health, he's got an incredibly damaging ranged attack, plus he's got an incredibly damaging melee attack. So rather than take any of those things away from him, which wouldn't make him Thor any more, we had to tweak it so his hammer comes back slower, so you can't just sit there and spam a hammer throw.
And the same thing goes for his flight characteristics. One of the things we noticed when doing play testing was that some kids - younger kids, especially - would just fly up into the corner, because they felt safe, and since they would never come down, it was hard for a character like Drax, who doesn't have a real ranged attack, to get them, because they're a little higher than Drax can jump. So that's why implemented our flight meter, so if you take a flying character and jump into the air and hold A, you'll see a meter appear that'll deplete, and then the character will fall down to the ground, and you've got to wait for it to recharge before you can take off again.
So there's a lot of play testing and balancing that goes into it?
Oh yeah, we'd usually play test multiple times a week for roughly four or five months.
Were you doing the play testing too?
Yeah, I did a lot! But mostly we bring in outside kids, some adults and some fighting game players, so we get a different perspective of how the depth of the system is - whereas for kids we'll find out they don't know where to go, or they don't know where to jump, or something like that. So we really crossed the gamut of players, to make sure we had a bit of everyone's input.
It's getting that pick up and play appeal, where you can pick it up, play - and win!
Yeah! Exactly, as Sarah just did here, multiple times...
[We apologise for any emotional turmoil the developers may be suffering, having lost at their own game three times in a row - Ed]
Do you think it will have the depth to appeal to fighting game players, or do you think it's not their sort of thing?
You know, I don't want the Play Set to be compared to, say, a Street Fighter V. It's not that sort of game - it's a brawler. Is there depth to the gameplay - yes, there's actually an immense amount of depth to it, when you start learning the nuance of how to fight effectively. But I think fighting game players may look to it as being a... welcome refreshment. If I've been battling Street Fighter V for a few hours, and I'm done with twitch combos, I can fire up Battlegrounds and have some good raucous fun with friends, and not have to think too much about it, yet have a really good time.
Can you tell us a bit about the challenges? I remember you saying that was how you unlock the toys in the Toy Box [Disney Infinity's free form creation mode]?
Yeah, so, every character has a specific challenge, so that's where you'll unlock things like alternate costumes for versus mode, additional levels, and also all of the Toy Box toys.
So, you'll need the specific figure to unlock the Toy Box toys? Can you use the token to "buy" a character for one play, and then complete the challenge with that character, or do you have to own the physical figure?
For the challenges, you have to have the actual character. If it's something like the costume unlock for Iron Fist, and it's his challenge, you need to have him down at some point in that challenge in order to unlock it. However, any character can play that challenge, and usually unlock the Toy Box toy, but if there's something specific to that character, you'll need to have that character to unlock it.
So for the Toy Box toys, you can get most of them...
...by just playing through as any character
What sort of Toy Box toys are there?
So, there's things like the train cars we have in the Brooklyn train yard that people can build with, and make themselves a little arena, we've also got things like the exploding barrels - the ice barrel, and crates, and we bought all that over. And then there's a lot of the interesting set piece designs, so the pipes, the bulldozers, things like that, so you can use them to build your own dioramas.
Earlier in the event, you mentioned you were going to start moving towards one figure, and one Play Set piece for future Play Sets?
Right, so at least for Play Sets like Battlegrounds, that's going to be the case. As we move forward throughout the rest of this year, we're still going to explore whether or not we'll do the one character thing, but as it stands right now, it's looking pretty promising that we'll do one figure in each box.
That does raise a lot of questions about how you're going to do co-op in the Play Sets with just one character. It'll be interesting to see how it all works going forwards!
I can't wait to see what we come up with next!
Marvel Battlegrounds is out now in the US, and will be out tomorrow in the UK and Europe!