Capcom talk balance, DLC, esports, strategy, combos and the evolution of competitive fighting.
A couple of weeks ago I got to go and play Marvel vs Capcom Infinite for the first time. Capcom's latest mash-up with what is now one of the biggest universes in cinematic history is interesting and seems in many ways to be the perfect storm. Marvel as a brand has never been more popular, Capcom learned some hard, harsh lessons from the rocky and incomplete launch of Street Fighter 5 and fighting games as an eSport have never shown such strong potential.
As I said in my preview, Infinite still has a difficult hill to climb: the task of satisfying both hardcore fighting game fans and the casual players who just want to batter somebody as Iron Man. The Versus series is especially complicated to look at typically, so it's no easy task.
I sat down with producer Mike Evans and associate producer Peter 'combofiend' Rosas to talk about these challenges and chat about Infinite's gameplay systems in-depth.
Rosas in particular is a voice that carries some weight with the fans - he's a community hire of Capcom's, and is famous in the fighting game tournament world for performing one of the greatest fighting game comebacks of all time with a lone, vulnerable Spencer in MVC3. He knows his Marvel. Here's our chat.
VG247: Let's start off with accessibility, since I'm thinking that'll be the hot topic of discussion with fans. Peter, you're obviously... you have history with the highest level of this game. How do you balance accessibility and depth in a game that can get as complicated as a Marvel Versus game?
Peter Rosas: Yeah, well... that's the thing, right? As somebody who's been with the series for a long time... it was a matter of... making sure that there was accessibility, because as somebody who played the games in the arcade and then on the consoles I've seen that the game can feel uninviting and very daunting for new players.
"It was a definite design decision to make sure it was more accessible. For us, it's really important for new players to experience how the combat system feels, to be able to perform a combo - to perform an air combo, too."
So, it was a definite design decision to make sure it was more accessible. Now, the thing is that... you don't want to put too many of these things in because you don't want to have players completely depend on them, right? For us, it's really important for new players to experience how the combat system feels, to be able to perform a combo - to perform an air combo, too. Those kind of things make you feel good. You can think "oh, I'm beginning to understand the game, and the speed, and what my character can do!"
Just using a simple combo with Hulk versus using it with [Mega Man] X, you see that you have to push the square button, light punch, at different speeds. That already gives you an indication that the characters work a little differently. Same thing with the hyper combo - you're just seeing a big, flashy action really quickly. We felt like by putting those two things in and also the universal combo string, there's things there for new players to get familiar not only with their character but with the battle system. That should be enough for them to say "I'm having fun now, I want to transition" or "I'm having fun now, let it be."
To your question of where we draw that line, it's about making sure that the new player can get that fun experience in and understand what's happening, and then we decide what to build on from there.
You're going to see the basic combo out of people on lower ranks online, but at a tournament level it's going to be very different, then?
Peter Rosas: Oh, yeah, yeah! Because the thing is you always get the same six or seven attacks. The same string comes out when you push the easy combo command. If you really want to exercise greater control of your character which in turn leads to greater damage - and this is a fighting game, so what you want to do is knock your opponent out as fast as possible - you're going to want to learn their combos, their most optimal combos. That's not going to be the simple command. Although the simple command gets you initiated into the game, that's not the end-all.
One thing I've noticed is that in places it's very similar to Marvel 3, whereas Street Fighter 5 was more of a ground-up rebuild. Some characters feel very close to MVC3, including in animations and moves. Was that always your plan, for this to be more iterative than SF5?
Mike Evans: Right off the top... characters, we look at the characters themselves and also MVC on a system level... the thing about opening it up for new players is... the Marvel brand and the Marvel characters are so huge now, but also just fans of the Capcom characters - people who aren't fighting gamers per se, they need to be able to jump in, pick their favourite character and have fun. But since it's a fighting game all of the characters need to be competitive and viable to a certain degree.
In MVC3, for example, let's say maybe Phoenix was your favourite character - you say I'm gonna jump in, I'm gonna pick Phoenix on point... and then you just get bodied and somebody tells you "You can't play Phoenix on point, you've gotta play her on anchor!" You might be like "okay, this is too complicated for me, I'm out of this game."
We wanted to make sure that all the characters were viable. So even the returning characters who we've bought back, if they were pretty solid and didn't need that much in changes or additions to them then we've kept their fundamental gameplay but added a couple more things. Like, fans will notice Strider has an air hyper combo level 1 that he didn't have before to get a little more damage in the air, stuff like that. Looking at them from more angles.
Peter Rosas: We looked at the characters to see what their strengths were, what their weaknesses were, also to see if they were holding true to what fans maybe expect of them. Like Thor, case in point - he can throw his hammer, so we've actually put that into the game. That also ties into one of his weaknesses, which was that he's slow and he couldn't get near guys who were keeping him out. Now he throws his hammer, and the hammer pulls people in when it hits them.
As Mike pointed out, if the design was already solid then there wasn't really a need to change them dramatically because the character already held true to what fans would expect. That said, if they were deficient or if there was a design issue or if they didn't have moves that were expected of them then we've added it. That has helped to change their feel, and that in combination with the battle system, infinity stones and partnership - it does change how the character feels in this game.
In line with all this, a major absence from the game is the assist system where a character could come in and do one move with one button press. Can you explain a little of the thinking behind getting rid of that?
Peter Rosas: The heart of this game is partnership, right? Two vs two. For us to evolve that mechanic, that idea, we had to look at previous mechanics and see what to bring over. What we saw was... as much as the assist system kind of gave your team a little bit of personality it was also extremely limiting. Because now what you've done is relegate a character to a function. They come in, they perform that action, they leave. For players who make their team, they have to learn what those assists are, learn how to use them in a combo or for defensive purposes or whatever... and it becomes kind of limiting. You're not really exhibiting teamwork, but exhibiting a very confined type of teamwork.
For spectators too, having a character jump in and out and do random stuff - it's like "What's going on?! Why did that guy jump in?! What's he doing?! Why did he leave?!" There's a lot of questions that can be asked, right?
"This is a true evolution. Now we really have teamwork on display. It's easy to understand for the player, but it's also quite strategic when used properly."
We thought it was daring taking the assist functionality away... but because you can now switch at any given time and whatever action is inputted prior to the switch gets completed, characters can now be anything. They can be an assist, an offensive assist, a defensive assist. They can be whatever your mind comes up with.
That in a way is driving the partnership theme like never before. That really opened up the floodgates in our eyes in terms of what this battle design was. Now we're like... this is a true evolution. Now we really have teamwork on display. It's easy to understand for the player, but it's also quite strategic when used properly.
Mike Evans: Since MVC2, MVC3... at least the last 15 years, it's kind of been adding a bit more complexity every time to the systems to try to play up that team aspect of it. It went 3 on 3, then you had assists, then you had assist types - alpha, beta, gamma - more and more mechanics to try to say "look how this team is working together!"
At the end of the day, as Peter pointed out, it's kind of like... from the player's perspective they might pick their favourite character, someone they really like. Then a second character that they kind of like... and then it's like... by the time you get to the third character, it's a throw-away character based on the functionality that you need. Assist types were the same way too - you'd often have one really good assist and then a couple of throwaway types that don't really get used.
The goal then was to try and create synergy in teams and make it so that all characters can be viable. So in MVC3, those characters who maybe didn't have the ability to pick a character up off the ground to continue a combo, well, y'know, you can get Wesker with a certain assist to do it - but just for that! Nothing else.
This time we've tried to simplify and make the design more elegant. On a system level we've made sure that all characters can be viable, but with the partnership it's open so that you can use any character any way you see fit. It's very simple on the surface - pick your favourite character, pick a partner, pick a stone - but there's all the depth that the assist system would've bought you.
So, pro players... esports. Versus games have a rich history and an animated community - do you see that combined with the increased popularity of Marvel characters as a big chance for esports growth?
Peter Rosas: In regards to competitive players, longevity and things like that - we have extremely high hopes! This game has so many different possibilities and variables. It has all the hooks that players who are looking for depth and strategy are looking for.
As a guy who came from the hardcore community and knows what they like one of the things that really drives the Marvel community is being able to create their own identity within the game. Picking their two favourite characters or three favourite characters and utilizing a strategy they've created that's signature to them - there's no shortage of that in this game.
What you're doing is picking two characters and then picking an infinity stone - there's six of them. Two people playing the same two characters with a different infinity stone will have a completely different strategy. My team, team Peter, would be different from team Mike, but we have the same two characters! There's just that ability to create your identity that's present. I think it'll unite the community.
That said, with regards to esports specifically and this title, we don't have any plans for it right now just because the game comes out September 19th of this year - that's pretty late in the season. No CPT integration or anything like that. But that said, I do feel that the community will really rally behind the game and throw their own events - they're never going to fail to test out each other and see who's best.
This is obviously a collaborative development, but what is the relationship with Marvel like in terms of picking the cast?
Mike Evans: We've had a lot of freedom, actually. When we're picking the characters for this game we're looking at a couple of different things. We had these huge lists all throughout preproduction of what characters we'd want. When it comes down to picking the final character roster, we're looking at... well.
So, we're telling a story this time and a good story has really fun interactions between characters. Especially in a crossover game like this - in the stinger you saw X and Rocket Racoon having a back and forth there. Or, like, two strong female characters - Chun-Li and Captain Marvel, and them coming together as leaders in the story. So we're thinking about as fans on both sides... what kind of pair-ups do we want to see? What kind of cool interactions could we envision in the story?
"Marvel helps us out a lot with what's coming up in the Marvel universe. But when it comes to fighting games, they really leave it to us."
That was one aspect of it. The other was of course from the gameplay side. Marvel helps us out a lot with what's coming up in the Marvel universe - like, what's the five-year roadmap, what's the content looking like, and also on the authenticity of the characters. But when it comes to fighting games, they really leave it to us because they realise that we're the experts on making a fun fighting game.
They want us to pick the characters that we feel like we can represent the best within a fighting game. There are certain archetypes of characters like quick, small characters who can move really quickly like Strider, or really large brawler characters like Hulk. We're looking for a nice combination of different character types. It's a lot of things.
It's definitely not Marvel coming to us and telling us, y'know... hey, we have this movie coming up so you have to include this character. It's not like that. There's a really long history with Capcom and Marvel back to the 90s, well before Marvel is what it is today, and the Capcom approach to bringing these Marvel characters to life in these games like X-Men Children of the Atom and X-Men vs Street Fighter... bringing them off the page of the comics in a way that nobody was really doing at the time is part of the Capcom DNA and approach. They really respect that on their side too, so in that sense it's a collaboration.
That said, when it comes to their characters that we do finally agree upon to be represented in the game, they're giving us great feedback all the time. The development team in Japan are also big Marvel fans, and they're taking inspiration from the comics, the movies, here and there, but when it comes to the representation of that and being authentic... Bill Rosemann, the creative director on the Marvel side really helps us out with all that stuff.
On the character topic - the wording '2017 character pass' has me thinking this game will adopt a yearly 'season' structure like SF5 - is that right?
Mike Evans: We... can't say much more at this point than the first announcement right now which is this character pass. All the characters are launching in 2017 after this September launch. Sigma will be the first of those 6, but yes, it's a 2017 character pass... and they're coming out quickly, right? That's already a little bit different to Street Fighter - but I can't say much more than that.
Will there be expansion beyond characters? What about new stages?
Mike Evans: All I can say right now is that the character pass in the deluxe edition also comes with 6 premium costumes - that's all I can say right now! [laughs]
Street Fighter 5 had the fight money which you could grind and use to buy DLC instead of paying cash - do you have a system like that here?
Mike Evans: No. It's all just traditional. There's no grind currency, sweat equity currency... it's more traditional in that sense.
Peter Rosas: Sweat equity! That's hype! [laughs]
In terms of online, do you plan to have all the stats features we later got in Street Fighter 5's Capcom Fighters Network?
Mike Evans: Well... so, we're going to have more announcements to come regarding specific features for Infinite, but that said... Street Fighter 5 is cross platform play and Marvel vs Capcom Infinite will not be. We're taking a multiplatform approach, so Xbox One, PS4 and PC. The idea behind that decision is that we want to get it in as many players' hands as possible. We want to grow the community, we really anticipate a lot of new players coming in. That said, we'll always support Street Fighter 5 and continue to improve Capcom Fighters Network for SF5, but at the same time with Infinite we've gone in a different direction.
So everything will be separated out by platform?
Mike Evans: Yeah. I'm not gonna lie, cos I also spend a lot of my time working on SF5... we're still trying to improve the system on SF5, the CFN. We rolled out a beta recently with the new 2.0 system and stuff. We've been working on improvements for the last year and we'll continue improving SF5.
For Marvel vs Capcom Infinite the lessons learned from SF5... some of which were really about what users expect from a day one product - we want to take our time and make sure it's fully featured on day one. We talked about the cinematic story mode, the arcade mode, online lobbies and all that. We're really taking our time, we're going to release it when it's ready. That's kind of a new direction, but it's also stepping away from some of the innovations in terms of the cross platform stuff that we tried for the first time with SF5. We decided that for Infinite it's just a better approach to try to get it into as many hands as possible on day one so that tons of people can enjoy it.
Yeah, and some platforms won't play nice with each other so you have to do that.
Mike Evans: Exactly, yeah.
Is the SF5 story mode a good indication of what to expect here in terms of format, length, whatever?
Mike Evans: I would say it's going to be different. It's going to be unique. The trailer that you saw today was scenes from the in-game cinematic story mode, but one thing that's kinda cool that we're doing with the story mode is... Even though it's one over-arching story, there are unique experiences that you'll only get to play in the story mode. Those kinds of moments and experiences that you can't get in local versus or online matches.
Peter, how hard have you campaigned to get Spencer in the game?
Mike Evans: [laughs] OTG Bionic Arm!
Peter Rosas: I can neither confirm nor deny about characters...! [laughs]