Marvel: Contest of Champions is a mobile fighting game featuring our favorite superheroes and villains from the Marvel Universe. During NYCC 2018 I got to chat with Creative Art Director Gabriel Frizzera about what it is like working alongside Marvel, how game development works and what we have to look forward to in the next few years! The game was developed and published by Kabam and originally released on December 10, 2014 for iOS and Android. Players take of the role of a Summoner and are tasked by The Collector to build a team of both superheroes and villains. This team is then pitted against others to see who will be victorious.
Players can upgrade their team members traits, attacks and abilities using resources gained during play. The game itself is rendered in a 3D world but player movement and attacks are 2D, which gives the feel of old time arcade fighting games. The game itself follows a story line, however players can choose to ignore this without any real consequence. As players continue through and complete missions they are able to unlock other playable characters. Currently Marvel: Contest of Champions has over 120 playable superheroes and villains and are constantly adding new ones every two weeks.
Julia Roth: What is it like working alongside Marvel?
Gabriel Frizzera: It’s pretty great. It is everything they say and more. I’ve worked in video games for a long time with a lot of different licencors and sometimes it’s a pain with people, you know because people are very picky about details that don’t matter and you know. Marvel isn’t like that at all. For a creator they are really good partners because they care about story, they care about the core idea of the character and the rest you can expand on. I think they are used to through several years of comic books and different voices taking their characters in different directions so they don’t mind. They actually encourage us to do so, like take Thor and make a different kind of Thor as long as it makes sense. They are really good at that. I think it is a dream come true for me because I am a storyteller so it is really good.
JR: Do the events from the movies and TV shows effect the game at all?
GF: Not as much as you would think because in the old times video games were very satisfied with copying the story line for whatever move was coming out, they were almost like marketing tools. Marvel games has changed now and the policy is now like, you are a video game so tell the story in your way. Yeah, here is the characters, here are the main beats of the story if you want to use it, but tell your own story. So that is that we do. So Infinity War comes out and we have the freedom to create our own infinity stones, they aren’t even the same Infinity stones because it doesn’t make sense for our story. So no yeah we use the characters but we tell our own stories with the characters.
JR: What has been your favorite character to work on?
GF: Ah, that is a hard one. We have about 120 characters we have released and I have worked on every single one of them since the beginning. So I guess I’ll have to say the original characters we created right. We have Guillotine, we have Civil Warrior, we have Morningstar and this year we will be releasing Aegon. Those are all original characters that we created with Marvel and they exist in the mainstream universe of Marvel too. So Guillotine came from the game but then in the comics and Civil Warrior was the same thing, started in the game and now in the comics. So Marvel treats the characters as Marvel characters and not just game characters. So those for me, I’m a Marvel geek so, those are like I created a character and it is so cool.
JR: What is the process of nerfing or buffing a character?
GF: Not the best question for me but I can tell you my prospective because I am not a game designer but I follow the process. What happens is fighting games usually in the old times, console games especially, you have a roster of maybe 30 characters that are released as the game launches and everything is perfectly balanced. They have tested those characters a lot. So one character is good against another and vice versa. For us we have a roster but we release a new character every two weeks. Every character potentially unbalances the game. As much as we can try and test it, the players are the ones that actually find the real vocation of the character, so sometimes we release a character and we find out that the character unbalances the game and everybody starts complaining or if the character doesn’t have a lot of use people also think they are weak. People have their favorites and lets take Green Goblin, why Green Goblin he is my favorite why does he not play the way I want. So we always have to reassess. All mobile games are like that there is always re balancing which makes the game interesting too because players never know what is going to come next and we throw curve balls at them. Nerfing and re balancing is like that, if you have a character that is too dominant or is broken in some kind of way, we have to fix it. For the buffing yes, people keep asking because they have favorite characters. We just did Venom and Carnage, two favorite characters and Venom was an older characters. The newer characters are better than the older characters because the game gets better, but Carnage was a character that was underwhelming for a lot of people so we decided now that Venom is back in the movies we wanted to celebrate those characters and fix them and make them better in the current meta of the game. Venom was pretty good before but he is not now. And now he is good again. We are doing less of a product and more of a service, so we are always looking over the players and try to provide them the best entertainment because they could skip, it is a free game. There are so many games out there so we always have to provide new content to keep people interested in and re-balancing the characters is definitely part of it.
JR: Do you feel that game design and development has come so far that you are able to do these things almost immediately and it makes these types of games so much more popular?
GF: Yeah it is I have worked in console games for awhile and then after you commit things to disk that is it right and you just pray. Yeah and then maybe you can have one DLC every six months or something like that. We can do it all the time, our problem is the opposite. If we do it too often we might break the game. And we have done it in the past. We are very ambitious, even after four years we are not feature complete. We are still adding new modes, new features to the game because we have players starting right now but we also have players how have been playing for four years and for them all the regular content is boring. So we always have to up the ante and that make the game really complicated to manage. We need to have content for everybody on all those different levels. Not everyone is going through the same journey at the same time, you know there is always new people. People are always dropping out people are always coming in. We have our regulars as you can see people are here doing the tournament. So it is complicated and it’s not that we can’t do new builds all the time we just have to be very careful with them so we don’t break the game. And if we break it, we apologize and try to come back and fix it. We have done it and the community gets angry and we are like sorry guys we have to do another build but that comes from the fact that we take a lot of risks. I think that is better than the alternative. If we just stop people will get bored and leave. We do learn a lot of things and every once in a while we break our toys but you know we can fix it.
JR: What is your favorite part in developing Marvel: Contest of Champions? Is it character design or creating the new modes?
GF: For me, well I am a story guy, I do concept for characters and I take care of the creative vision of the game. I also like to be hands on with everything. Our team is pretty small. So I do concepts, I write scripts. That is my favorite part. Planning what is coming, and we do a very long planning of the story. Marvel loves that aspect of the game, we have a plan for what is going to happen in 2020 and we are already building towards that. We are planting the seeds. And sometimes you know video game stories people just skip. But for me, that is my favorite part. I love stories. Those little Easter eggs everywhere about the characters and about the future. And sometimes you go online and you see that one or two people, they notice it. And I am like oh good they noticed that! Kudos for you, likes! That is my favorite part.
JR: Now what do we have to look forward to in 2019?
GF: Wow 2019, well we are already way into 2019, we have a about 5 or 6 characters already in production. I can not say much about it because of a big secret but I think people will see what is coming in December. We are going to do a big reveal for our 4th anniversary. One thing that I can say is that act 6 of the story is coming. Act 6 is the end of the first arc of the story we started in 2014. It is going to wrap up and a lot of the mysteries will be revealed. That status quo of the Contest of Champions will be upside down. Other than that it is just models but lots of secrets. We did have a lot of input, they came to our office and they showed us a bunch of stuff about the next movies, Captain Marvel and Spiderman: Far From Home and Avengers 4. So yeah we definitely have big plans for those three events but in between those events, we have our own events too. They kind of intertwine together. I can tell you that Captain Marvel is going to be pretty big. One of the things we always wanted to have in the game is Skrulls. So when I saw they were actually using Skrulls in the movie, yes! But then I came back to the team, Skrulls! And they were like shape shifting, how are we going to do shape shifting in the game? Because it is the only thing we have never done. We always have new technologies written like when we did Dr. Octopus, we didn’t have technology to have more than 2 arms, so we had to develop that. So every time there is a new challenge like that, I make a lot of people in the office get scared. But with Skrulls and shape shifting in general is the last frontier because you can not load more than 2 characters in a fighting game for memory problems. But with shape shifting, it has the potential to load every single character in the game. So we always stayed away from that. We have never done Mystique for example but now we are in the Skrull mode and thinking how can we do this. How can we make Skrulls in the game and try hard to make them since the only thing they do is shape shift. That is a challenge but we have to do it. Other than that you can expect, you know we always do a lot of cool X-Men events, we like to a couple of X-Men events a year because the X-Men are cool. We do have a plan but I can not say much. Much is planned out till about mid 2020. There is an event that will start at the end of this year and will run for a year and a half but I can not tell you about it. Next year is going to be big though, that is one thing I can say.
JR: This was awesome thank you so much!
GF: Thank you!
Marvel: Contest of Champions also announced during NYCC 2018 their newest original character AEgon. You can learn more from Gabriel Frizzera in the video below. However he is looking to be one of the best original characters we have seen yet! You can download Marvel: Contest of Champions now through the Apple Store or Google Play Store on their phone or tablet!
[Images and Video are courtesy of Marvel and Kabam]