Avengers game director reflects on character design backlash
The creative director of Marvel's Avengers game talks us through his pre-release experiences
Shaun Escayg is the creative director and writer for the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers game, which is being developed by Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montréal with Square Enix serving as the title’s publisher. And at a special Marvel’s Avengers event that was hosted by Virgin Media in London, Den Of Geek was lucky enough to sit down with Escayg for a quick chat about his game’s journey so far.
One of the biggest steps in the game’s pre-release marketing campaign came in June 2019, with the big reveal of its first trailer taking place at the E3 conference, while fans around the globe tuned in online to see what this Avengers experience was all about. There were plenty of positive reactions, but there was also a vocal section of fans that expressed their opinion that Earth’s mightiest heroes didn’t look right in the game footage, despite this being a brand new continuity that isn’t related in any way to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Escayg explained during our chat that he saw this reaction coming: “Well, we anticipated that that would be our first hurdle, right? First [we had] to get our original story out there, and educate the fans. You know, a lot of people came in, and the movies were their first introduction to the Avengers. But there’s been 80 years of Marvel history, and a lot of people forget, but the first movie, there was a lot of backlash with the movie – like, ‘That’s not Iron Man, and that’s not Thor.’ So [we knew] we would face the same things.”
The game’s second major trailer, which revealed the teen superhero Ms Marvel (aka Kamala Khan) as a key playable character, was another major point in the marketing machinations. Escayg reflects: “I think, as soon as we started to reveal more of our story, and Kamala Khan being sort of the centre of it and that driving force, people started to realise, ‘Oh, this is something different.’ And that’s when, you know, we’re starting to reach our audience now. So, we’re pretty excited.”
Gradually trickling out information, way ahead of the game’s release, was always part of the plan. Escayg explains: “Yeah, it was part of the strategy to slowly, you know, get fans of the franchise in our court to see the stories we’re telling, and that it’s bigger than the movies – it’s drawing from history of, you know, 80 years of Marvel Comics history.”
Elaborating on that point, Escayg referenced specific comics and creators that have inspired the game: “I mean, a lot of the stuff, we went right back to its roots – the old [Jack] Kirby days, and even some of our designs, and even our storytelling is… I mean, personally, I’m pretty influenced by the Marvels series [of comics from 1994, which was written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Alex Ross], and the Phil Sheldon character that sees these adventures of these dangerous beings and this conflict. So that was part of the inspiration for this particular story.”
Escayg was also keen to enthuse about the positive aspects of promoting a game, like watching people try the Marvel’s Avengers demo: “I would say it’s overwhelming, because when you see fans play the game, and you see the potential, and their eyes light up when they run as the Hulk or, you know, throw the hammer as Thor. There’s a lot more pressure now to deliver. A few of the guys came out to the New York Comic-Con, and they’ve never been out to any of the events. And I go back to the studio, and I’m like, ‘Man, this is amazing, guys. You guys are doing incredible work.’ And everyone is at the studio’s working so hard, they’re jaded, they don’t get to see it. But this one event, I brought up a few guys from the studio. And they, literally, at the end of it, go, ‘Oh my gosh, now we got to go back and work harder.’ Because, you know, just when they thought it was over, it’s like, ‘No, people love this stuff. We gotta live up to these expectations.’ And it’s a constant thing that we struggle with, like… we, as fans ourselves, want to make the best game that we can make, not just for the fans, but for ourselves. We want to play it and go, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
How does Escayg feel about that expectation and pressure? “It’s a huge responsibility,” he admits. “Especially, you know, as fans ourselves, trying to fill those shoes we’ve had 10 years of history of the Avengers in the film world, you’ve got 80 years of Avengers history in Marvel world. So it is a constant struggle that we have. And you know, I think we’re up to the challenge. We’re certainly going to double down on it, for sure.”
And is the pre-release journey finished now, or are there more reveals to come? “No, I’m sure there’s gonna be more stuff,” Escayg promises. “And there’s a lot that we haven’t revealed that you will experience on the stick when you get the game in your hands. This is literally just the tip of the iceberg. The story’s way more in-depth than I think people are aware of, and Kamala’s role in the Avengers has way more effect than I think people are aware of, as well.”
Marvel’s Avengers will launch on 15 May 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC and Google Stadia. In the meantime, you can click here to learn how Captain Marvel and Hank Pym factor into the story. We’ll bring you more news as we hear it.