Avengers: Infinity War has been tearing its way through the box office, but the reach of the new film doesn’t stop there. With a film this size, it isn’t surprising that its reach extends well beyond the boundaries of the silver screen and is touching everything that Marvel does. That includes its hit mobile game, Marvel Contest of Champions.
Launched in Dec. 2014 by Kabam, Marvel Contest of Champions has been a hit with just about every form of fan you can think of, from comics to fighting games. With websites to entire YouTube channels dedicated to it, it’s easy to see how successful and popular the game has become. (Full disclosure, I’m a player myself.) The game has new content issued on a monthly basis, and with the release of Infinity War, there was plenty of material for the developers to pull from.
In April we saw the addition of two of Thanos’ Black Order, Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight. Now, in May, we’re being introduced to Infinity War versions of Captain America and Iron Man. You wouldn’t be wrong to think these characters have already been in the game, and that presented some challenges to the designers to find ways to make these characters feel fresh and new.
We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Kabam designer Simon Cameron who has worked on champions such as Doctor Voodoo, Archangel, Hyperion, Gwenpool and more with the other developers on the team. His most recent addition to the game is the new version of Captain America which allowed us to discuss how the team made these characters feel new, and just how much work it takes to get a champion ready to enter the Contest.
As one might suspect, Kabam doesn’t simply pick a character to throw into the game and its done overnight. No, it’s a lengthy process that involves many steps, decisions, and a lot of time.
“We pick the new champions ahead of time looking to partner with events coming out, you know, movies, Netflix and that sort of stuff. If we don’t have business reasons along those lines to pick a champion we look for champions we think are interesting and try to sorta balance the class mix,” said Cameron.
As an example, he stated that if there had been a recent run on adding Tech champions, then they would look into seeing if there are any Cosmic-based characters that could be added to balance it out.
Once the champions are chosen, that is when the real work begins. Overall, a minimum of 10 weeks of work goes into every champion and that begins with setting the goal for the character and what they hope it will accomplish in the game. In the case of the Infinity War version of Captain America, you have to wonder how a new hook could be found for a third version of a character who is a brawler at his core.
“We do want to take inspiration from the existing versions,” said Cameron, “and some things will make sense to carry on. Captain America should probably be good at blocking. You want to hold that core identity. You go and try to find another core bit of that character that maybe wasn’t captured the first time around.”
This led to Cameron thinking it would be fun to play with his natural leadership in this version. “This time around rather than it just being ‘Cap’s got really high block proficiency, and perfect block chance,’ I wanted to try to play more into his being a really great leader of a team.” To accomplish this he explained, “I wanted to add weight to his character and put more of his power budget into his synergies.”
Kabam gave us early access to both Iron Man and Captain America to assist with this article, and Cameron wasn’t kidding around when it comes to the new Captain America’s synergy bonuses. There are a total of 14 other champions that the new version of the All-American hero can synergize with, making him an easy pick for most teams going into different fight scenarios.
While synergy was important to this new Captain America, it doesn’t mean that he has all powers at all times. “I built him some abilities that turn on and off based on who he’s brought with him. What classes he’s got on his team with him in that particular quest. The idea that he’s learning from his team as well as strengthening them with his leadership skill.”
In other words, as players gain more experience with the new Captain America, they should find that he is a great utility champion for just about any team.
This did lead me to one question about how the champions synergize with one another. There are more than a few odd choices throughout the game, but Cameron explained that sometimes that is just the devs having some fun.
“Sometimes the synergies make perfect sense and its real easy. That character has been in a million different comics and interacted with a million different people. Sometimes it’s a character that the people they hang out with all the time aren’t in the Contest yet and you can’t use them as synergies so you have to stretch a little bit more to find something interesting to connect them with. Sometimes it is for balance reasons like a character we know could use a little bit of love, but we just don’t capacity in the schedule right now to totally rework a character, you can sort of use a synergy to shore up an older character as a temporary fix for a while. Sometimes it’s a fun way to work in a fun pun or an interesting character connection. Like, Yondu has a connection with Beast and Nightcrawler… because they’re blue.”
As we wrapped up our conversation it turned to what the developers want users to know that they might be unaware of, and after taking a moment to think, Cameron said, “It’s harder than it looks.” He went on to add, “There’s a constant balancing act. We want to make characters good and unique, but we don’t want them to be too crazy, out there and blow content away. And it’s really difficult to strike that balance.”
And there are times where players are just too good for them to anticipate. “Another one of my characters was Hela. And I watched a YouTube video the other day of this guy one-shotting through the Labyrinth of Legends Star-Lord, executing on that character perfectly. It’s crazy to see a character you think, ‘Ok, this looks pretty good. I think it’s going to be safe,’ and you see someone take that character to absolutely 100% and ‘Oh wow, that character is much, much better than I thought it was going to be.’ So you try to rein things in a bit next time, and that one isn’t quite as good as I hoped it was going to be.”
The idea of balance seems to be important to the developers at Kabam, and internet comments do not go unnoticed.
“It’s already getting pretty hard to make very difficult content for the best players in the game that isn’t just brutally, totally unfair and not a lot of fun to play into.” He went on to add, “It’s an interesting sort of debate. Luke Cage was a bit of a running joke in the office, as well as in the community, you know, ‘Old Pillow Hands,’ but he was a fantastic champion for a new player to get. So it was how do we hold onto that, but also make him interesting and good for a skilled player as well. How do we fix it just right so we don’t end up making a worse problem then the one that is right in front of us.”
Walking away from our conversation with Cameron, it was clear that the process of bringing a new champion into a game such as Marvel Contest of Champions is not a quick or easy process. And just because a character has been released doesn’t mean the work is done.
Captain America (Infinity War) is now available in the game, and Iron Man will be coming soon as well. As someone who loves a good synergy team, I know who I’m aiming to add to my roster next.