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Why Guardians of the Galaxy is a single-player adventure with its own original 80s rock band - interview

We chat to the senior creative director about pitching a single-player game, creating an all-new 80s rock band, and more.

When Square Enix and Eidos Montreal announced Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, many were surprised for one simple reason: this new game about a superhero team was a single-player adventure where you play as one character - defacto team leader Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord. It wasn’t what some expected, particularly after the co-op, Destiny-style revels of Marvel’s Avengers.

VG247 had the chance to sit down with Guardians of the Galaxy Senior Creative Director Jean-François Dugas - and so we of course had to ask about the genesis of GOTG as a single-player game. We also talk about defining these Guardians as different to their movie counterparts, world design, and how Star-Lord’s Walkman doesn’t just include real eighties classics, but also a new era-appropriate eighties heavy rock band written just for this game.

Here’s our chat in full:

Guardians of the Galaxy Creative Director Jean-François Dugas, in a shirt Star-Lord would approve of.

VG247: Can you talk a little about the genesis of the game as a single-player game? To be honest, when I hear ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, as a game, my first thoughts naturally drift to a team-based co-op game - so I was pumped to see you going for a single-player narrative game. How was the process of pitching and selling that idea when in many ways this source material feels so naturally co-op angled?

Jean-François Dugas: It is actually one of the early big design discussions we had on the project. We knew we wanted to create something unique as a gameplay experience, one that would leverage the strengths of the IP in bold and unexpected ways. The Guardians family includes a strong cast of eclectic, and colorful personalities. They’re a bunch of misfits! And when you look at them, Peter kind of plays the leader of the dysfunctional group. That was our starting point.

Like in real life, when you have a group of people working together, you deal with different personalities with a lot of diverging opinions, you deal with strong minded people, natural leaders, and so on. And when you are a leader, it doesn’t mean that people agree with your direction all the time, you have to act as someone that can rally people towards a common goal, as an example. We wanted to tap into this while making it fun.

We truly got excited by this direction. Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Groot ooze with personality. We wanted players to be at the center stage of that dynamic. Therefore, the question became, “What if players are one of the Guardians? What if we put them in the shoes of the “so-called” leader, and let them make the big decisions? What if players need to adapt to the group’s unexpected behaviors?”

This unique take allowed us to create an adventure where you constantly feel surrounded by the Guardians. Not only are they around and bantering, you can also summon their abilities in combat, as well as in other game’s moments. They are constantly alive, acting their part in all aspects of the game. As a player, you truly feel that you are one of them when around them.

Embracing the fantasy of being the so-called leader of this bunch of misfits, allowed us to bring forward our concept of choice and consequences. You will have to make calls that will affect how this adventure plays out. Granted, it is the same big adventure for everyone, but the way it’ll be experienced, will vary from player to player. Being Star-Lord is truly empowering, engaging, and immersive. It was the best way for us to tell a true Guardians story. It was recognized as a bold move by a lot of people, but a vision that was exciting to pursue.

VG247: When you’re defining these new versions of these characters - what’s the guiding principle? I have to imagine the film versions cast a long shadow, especially for characters that weren't quite as well-known before that iteration. Were there decisions made to quite deliberately differentiate your versions of these characters and their world?

Jean-François Dugas: From the first meeting we had with Marvel, it quickly became clear that we all wanted to create something new. Since the Guardians were a virtually unknown group until they appeared in the MCU, to create something that feels authentic we dug into 80 something years of comics. Who are the Guardians and the individuals in the group? What are their core values? And so on.

The key for us was to make those characters look familiar, making audiences instantly recognize who they are. But on a second look, make the fans out there go, “Oh, there’s something different about them, and look cool!”

It doesn’t stop at just visual differences. Our Guardians also have different backstories from what people may know from movies or comics. There is a lot to discover in our game that doesn’t exist anywhere else. In the end, when you see our version of the characters, they’re really a combination of the great artistic flair of our artists at Eidos-Montréal, the comic book source material, and nods to the film versions.

I believe that fans of the MCU will recognize these characters instantly. Most will love them immediately, while some others will have to spend more time with them to fully embrace the differences. Ultimately, I am confident that players will have a blast discovering these new versions of these iconic characters.

VG247: Obviously the Guardians exist out in the cosmos, and are far from Earth and the Avengers. But do you view this game as technically taking place in the same version of the Marvel universe as the Avengers game - and was that at all an artistic consideration, to ensure that the Square Enix Marvel Universe has a general cohesiveness to it?

Jean-François Dugas: Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is set in its own universe. Our focus was to deliver on a great Guardians experience. Thus, we developed our own visual style that speaks to the game’s humorous tone, and to the story that players will soon discover.

VG247: Compared to Deus Ex, I guess there’s a real opportunity here to ‘go for it’ with some really crazy and outlandish worlds and characters. How was the process of trying to define how zany and out there was too far for this title?

Jean-François Dugas: Liberating! It was actually real fun to explore crazy ideas that didn’t have to be explained on a scientific level all the time. We aimed at developing believable concepts, not necessarily realistic ones. For example, we travel to numerous locations, sometimes ending up on weird planets. We wanted them to feel as such, including the enemies the Guardians will encounter. On Seknarf Nine, the team will face enemies called jack-o-gels.

Red Jell-O cubes that are menacing? It is truly unexpected. There is something fun about it. This game allowed us to embrace stuff like that. Of course, some environments or enemies will have a more classic approach to them, but we truly wanted to explore crazy and fun ideas. Hopefully, you will love them!

VG247: I’m a real sucker for diegetic music, so I was thrilled to see some of the music actually having a presence in the world via Quill’s headphones during his super moves and so on. How baked into the game is the choice of music? I know in the movies, the track choices were written right into the script - is that the same for your team? And how do you even approach track selection - a game presumably needs a whole lot more music than a 2-hour movie.

Jean-François Dugas: Music is like an additional character in the game. There are several layers to it.

Peter Quill is a great music lover. In our version, he grew up on Earth in the 1980s prior to his abduction by Chitauri aliens. His last point of reference for Earth-based music influences comes from that time period. We wanted to capture that vibe. But we also wanted the songs to be part of the storytelling. Therefore, we picked and chose the songs for their lyrics as well. Thus, when a song plays during a specific scene, it is not random. It is there to speak metaphorically to the drama on screen.

But we also wanted music to play a gameplay role. This is where the Huddle comes into play. The Huddle is like what you can see during an American football game, when the Quarterback huddles up with his teammates. In our game, there is a Huddle gauge that fills up as you go from fight to fight. Once filled, players are free to call a Huddle whenever they see fit. When activated, the Guardians will huddle up around Peter giving him feedback on the battlefield situation.

Based on that, players need to select the best speech, out of two options, to give the moral boost the Guardians need. Since Peter grew up with tunes from the ‘80s, his speeches are inspired by the songs he knows and loves. When the speech is over, Peter presses on the cassette player to fire up the song that inspired the said speech. If players choose the right pep-talk, all the team gets on fire. Almost no cool-down to Guardian’s abilities, and they’re invincible for a period of time. It is a really empowering feeling to be back on the battlefield, kicking butts to the melody of one out of the licensed songs!

Our approach to music doesn’t stop there. Peter Quill is known as Star-Lord in the cosmic universe. But where does this come from? We came up with the idea that Star-Lord is Peter’s favourite heavy-rock band from the ‘80s. He even has the band’s patch stitched to the back of his jacket! But to make this fantasy even more real, we had to take an extra step. We needed to write a full album of music. I approached my audio director, Steve Szscepkowski, who is also a musician. I asked him if he was up to the challenge?! This is how we ended up writing a full album to give life to Star-Lord, the band.

Lastly, the music journey wouldn’t be complete without the incredibly epic soundtrack written by Richard Jacques performed by an orchestra at Abbey Road.

VG247: Who’s your favourite member of the version of the Guardians you’ve created - and why?

Jean-François Dugas: I love them all, but I’d say Drax. I like him for a few reasons. First, visually speaking, when you look at his muscular structure, we managed to give him an alien feel. He doesn’t look 100% human. Personality-wise, he has no filters. He always speaks his truth. Therefore, whether you agree with him or not, whether you are offended or not, at least, you know what he thinks. There are no hidden agendas with Drax. I can respect and appreciate that.

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