Dan Sochan has helped make a lot of video games. But the most fun he’s had was making Marvel Battlegrounds, the new Play Set for Disney Infinity 3.0.
The senior producer with Vancouver’s United Front Games (UFG) said that every morning, the development team would gather in the Yaletown studio to play the game and decide what element they were each going to work on that day.
Those stand-ups, Sochan told the Straight, ended up being raucous, rivalry-ridden events that would draw spectators from around the office.
UFG started work on Marvel Battlegrounds about a year ago. Sochan said Disney Interactive approached the studio because of games like ModNation Racers (published by Sony in 2010) and Sleeping Dogs (published by Square Enix in 2012).
Sochan explained that Battlegrounds is a hybrid of the “charm, humour, and playful nature” of ModNation with the “in-depth combat systems” used in Sleeping Dogs.
He said Battlegrounds is the first fighting game for Infinity and, at its core, is the fantasy question: “Who’s going to win in a fight?”
The game brings together all the Infinity characters from the Marvel universe into one game where the characters can brawl with each other. Hulk against Loki against Gamora against Venom, for example.
The Infinity franchise is led by Avalanche Software, who first brought the toys category to Disney in the summer of 2013. Since then, Avalanche has continued to build a vast library of assets that other developers can leverage to create Play Sets.
“We had a strong base to work from,” Sochan said, which allowed the developers at UFG to focus on designing gameplay, combat, and the arenas in which the characters battle.
Battlegrounds has a basic story mode that can be played co-operatively by two players. Disney senior producer Ryan Rothenberger admitted that it’s short (only about an hour long) but can be replayed to complete challenges, which unlock items that can be used in Infinity’s Toy Box mode.
But Rothenberger maintained the reason people will play Battlegrounds is to play against each other, which is where “versus” mode comes in.
Up to four players can get in on the action, and different multiplayer modes have different objectives. Battlegrounds is a standard, five-minute fight, last character standing wins.
Super hero mode has one character starting out larger than the others, collecting points. When they are defeated, the character who delivered the final blow becomes the super hero and can start collecting points.
On custom mode, players can configure all the settings to create their own matches and rulesets. If one player is better than all the others, for example, the battle can be structured to be a one-versus-three match.
Making sure the game is evenly balanced and fun for everyone was a key tenet of development, said UFG design director Raul Figueroa. “We wanted to make it easy for kids to play together,” he added.
Which is why UFG decided to have all characters come into Battlegrounds with a moves and feature set unique to the Play Set. The characters don’t level, to keep the balance even. Experience earned while playing goes to the player profile, instead of the character.
The Infinity base, which is used to put characters into the game, only has two spots for figures. To make it simple for four people to play, UFG developed Battlegrounds so that placing a figure on the base adds that character to the roster, and those characters persist until the console is shut down.
Which means that there are 28 possible characters to fight with in eight arenas, including Brooklyn, Wakanda, the moon, and inside a massive Ultron.
Figueroa stressed the importance of letting players keep trying new characters, which is made possible by the inclusion of trial characters. Rothenberger explained that every Thursday, three new Marvel characters become available to anyone playing Battlegrounds.
“You can use them as much as you want,” he said, “keeping experience and everything.” On the following Thursday, three new characters become available to play with.
The best indication they were on the right track, Figueroa said, was walking in on the play test sessions with kids. “You’d get hit with a wall of energy when opening the door,” he explained.
“There are always stresses when making a game,” Figueroa added, “and sometimes you forget how much fun they are.”