Marvel Heroes: Interview with Geoff Tuffli
Hey there, folks! We were lucky enough to get an opportunity to take an interview from Geoff Tuffli (aka Heretic on the official forums), Lead Content Designer for Marvel Heroes. He created game modes like Midtown Patrol, X-Defense and S.H.I.E.L.D. Holo-Sim.
What is the process for making a new game mode? How much time does it usually take?
There’s a tremendous amount of time variability that goes into creating a new game mode, since each can be structured very differently.
For example, Holo-Sim took less time in creating the environment and had no ambient discoveries to build, but there was a lot more time spent on creating and debugging a number of scenarios that had no pre-existing analogs elsewhere in the game.
The time it takes to make a game mode to its first functional state tends to be at least one month, but the time to work out all of the various discovered issues, refine code and to reasonably balance the game mode can easily take another one to two months.
Which game mode are you most satisfied with? Why?
This is difficult to answer in my mind since the different game modes each serve a very specific purpose.
X-Defense is intended to provide an infinite challenge ceiling, operating under very strict rules and introduces new variant gameplay at considerable risk.
Holo-Sim, like X-Defense, is intended to provide an infinite challenge ceiling, but with the option to pursue this as a solo player or as part of a duo. From a development point of view, because of the solo/duo nature, this is also a mode that allows for much more aggressive experimentation, which is why there are a number of scenarios in Holo-Sim that simply have no analog in X-Defense. As we play with new scenarios in Holo-Sim, we gain the opportunity to migrate versions of these to other parts of the game.
Patrol zones, like Midtown, are an attempt to make you feel urgency with your hero. Too often in video games and comics, there is a tendency to railroad heroes into following the story that we, the writers or designers, want to tell, making heroism a purely reactionary exercise. Some amount of this is fine, but too much risks the player feeling more like an errand runner or pawn than a powerful hero that they are supposed to be. To this end, patrol zones deliberately give the player the rein to feel in charge of their path.
Right now it seems like you are focused on the smaller scaled game modes with no more than 5 people playing together on the same screen. Do you have any plans for the larger scaled stuff other than raids?
Active gameplay involving more than five heroes on screen is new territory for the game, and raids are very much our toe in the water. As we work through the first few raids and any kinks that arise during the process, I expect we will start to look at what additional options that we can explore with this style of gameplay.
We’re also looking at options for larger scale PVP zones for our second year of the game.
Although Marvel Heroes is a massively multiplayer online game, there are still some players who prefer to play solo. Do you have any treats planned for them?
I am a firm advocate of carving out space for both solo players and players who prefer to play on a team. Patrol game modes such as Midtown Manhattan and Holo-Sim were both designed to cater more towards solo and small team players.
As we move forward with additional patrol game modes, I would like to see if we can hit a balance with these types of modes that allow players to experience and benefit from such modes both as a solo player and as a group. For example, the upcoming patrol game mode, while still compatible with solo gameplay, will also feature somewhat grander scaled events that will hopefully satisfy teams (even if impromptu teams) as well.
Can we expect to see more different events and objectives in game modes like Midtown Patrol?
Yes, although I am not sure how much of this we will work into Midtown Patrol, since we think it’s in a pretty good place right now from our perspective. To be sure, I can see small modifications and additions to Midtown, but most of our new events and objectives will likely be worked into future game modes.
While it’s fair to expect to see new bosses and occasional new events in Midtown and X-Defense, I wouldn’t expect to see any radical changes to the gameplay in these modes.
Back in the early days of Marvel Heroes there was a pretty cool moving elevator in the Raft, but it was removed later. Can we hope to see dynamic environments like that in future?
We’d definitely like to. Unfortunately, the old Raft elevator created unbelievably havoc in a multiplayer environment as far as bugs and unintended issues.
We’ve talked about bringing it back for solo treasure rooms, as one possibility, and there’s always hope that new backend technology will give us greater flexibility to design and integrate this kind of feature into gameplay.
Do you have plans to introduce new ways of making things more difficult in the later waves of modes like X-Defense or Holo-Sim? The split waves in the X-Defense were a nice first step, but the difficulty of these modes is still essentially just a gear and build check.
There’s always been a tension in Marvel Heroes between the desire to introduce more tactical options and the difficulty in communicating these options across multiple players, particularly when multiple players are part of a pick-up group rather than a team that is used to playing with each other.
When we first introduced split waves, I thought at the time it was a fairly low-hanging, conservative tactic to introduce to the game, but the reality wound up demonstrating just how difficult maintaining this kind of balance can be. Experienced, coordinated, pre-made teams tended to like the tactics introduced by the split waves, but everyone else struggled with it.
Holo-Sim has had a bit more success with this, but largely, I think, because it can only be approached as a solo player or as a player who is part of a duo. Holo-Sim has given us the opportunity to play around with objectives, some of which have worked well while others less so.
I expect we will learn a lot more about what kinds of tactics we can introduce to groups — and what steps we need to take to help communicate those tactics — with raids. In the same way that we’ve seen mechanics proven out in Holo-Sim that are then translated to other game modes, I expect we will do the same once we see how raids play out.
Why are there no moving cars in Midtown?
I would love to see moving cars; the lack of this is simply an existing technical limitation.
Mimicking vehicular movement patterns is quite different from mimicking ambulatory humanoid movement patterns. I really hope we can carve out the time in the near future to implement this.
Do you have any ideas for the Danger Room mode? Does anything hold you back in doing it?
The core concept for a future Danger Room mode would rely heavily upon the concept of a changing environment.
This would require significant new technology, something that we’re interested in and very much pursuing. Once we have a better idea of what we can realistically do on the tech side, we will be able to determine what kinds of things we can then architect on the design side.
What kind of game modes would you like to explore in future?
The single biggest thing that I would like to eventually do is merge the patrol-style gameplay back into the story zones, but to do so in such a way that they are accessible and well-rewarded regardless of your hero’s level. In other words, turning the story zones themselves into de facto game modes.
There are a great number of questions that we are faced with in order to accomplish this. While we continue to discuss this internally, we haven’t come to any firm resolution as to the final direction yet and it’s entirely possible that we might simply settle for adding in patrol-style elements into the existing zones rather than a true conversion.
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview. We also took an interview from David Brevik, that you can check out here. See you later!