Thanks to Square Enix and the team at Bandai Namco Australia, WellPlayed was lucky enough to get an early look at Eidos Montreal’s new Guardians of the Galaxy game, which was officially unveiled this morning at the publisher’s E3 2021 livestream presentation. We were able to view the game’s reveal trailer as well as some extended gameplay footage, and chat with both its Senior Narrative Director, Mary DeMarle, as well as Senior Producer, Olivier Proulx, all about what to expect from Guardians of the Galaxy and its original narrative when it releases this October 26.
Straight off the bat though, there’s one thing that’s incredibly important to note about this project and it’s something that Marvel fans and gamers will likely want to know as soon as they see the Guardians appear on-screen. That is, this is not Marvel’s Avengers. This isn’t a live service game, or even a multiplayer experience. What Eidos Montreal is creating with Guardians of the Galaxy is an entirely single-player, story-driven title where players take control solely of Star-Lord, with the rest of the team providing back up as well as plenty of opportunities to craft your own leadership journey.
While the game’s overarching story is still largely in question, with the team hesitant to spoil anything, we know that it’s set some time in the early formation of the Guardians and sees them establishing their services as galactic heroes-for-hire. We know that during this, a small (see: big) mistake is made that sets off a chain of events and leads to major repercussions that force the Guardians to take responsibility and look to rectify it, forming the game’s core adventure. The first and most noticeable detail when looking at the game’s trailers is, of course, the designs of the characters themselves and the way that they’re written in the context of this new, original story. I asked LeMarle and Proulx what it was like to work with Marvel on the project, and just what degree of creative freedom the studio had in bringing their own version of the Guardians of the Galaxy to life.
“Well, when we started on the project, I was really surprised by how much creative freedom Marvel was willing to give us,” LeMarle answers.
“They basically said to us, we want you to make the game version of Guardians of the Galaxy your own. You know, the movie has one thing going on, the comics have their own thing going on, we really want to see what Eidos Montreal will do with it. And we very quickly realised that collaboration worked really well, because we all wanted to make a great video game that appeals to gamers and Marvel fans alike.
“It was interesting in the beginning because we were saying, ‘Okay, wow, they’re really gonna give us this freedom.’ So we were like, ‘Okay, how far can we push it?’ And early designs of the characters, after we had done tonnes of research and we had read all the comics and everything, the early designs that we came up with we really pushed it to like, 11.”
The first time we presented Lady Hellbender to Bill in the Marvel team, they were freaking out, because it’s the first time they kind of saw her and actually, heard her speech and saw her in motion and stuff.
LeMarle admits that those early, more extreme designs perhaps didn’t go down as well as they could’ve, but that both parties were keen to come together on something that worked for everyone.
“We kind of started toning it back a little bit, but they were really supportive in having us push it until we found the happy medium of, you recognise these characters, but there’s something distinctly different at the same time.”
“Yeah, and that was really the trigger when David Anfossi, our Head of Studio, had the early discussions with Disney and Marvel kind of exploring that opportunity. And we saw that they were really excited to have us, kind of like, this is the Eidos Montreal version of the Guardians of the Galaxy and that great Marvel franchise. It’s such a big opportunity for the studio to put our own imprint on those characters and sort of Marvel’s legacy of doing all those great stories and characters,” Proulx says of those initial first steps of the studio’s partnership with Marvel.
The Senior Producer recalls workshopping with LeMarle’s team and Marvel on which Guardians characters to bring into the game, and the excitement from the Marvel Entertainment camp around the inclusion of one of their more recent characters in Lady Hellbender.
“The first time we presented Lady Hellbender to Bill in the Marvel team, they were freaking out, because it’s the first time they kind of saw her and actually, heard her speech and saw her in motion and stuff. So it was just a really good collaboration the whole time.”
Of course, being a very story-driven game that centres around some of the earlier adventures of this team, Quill’s leadership skills and by extension the player’s skill at navigating his still-forming relationships with the other Guardians will be crucial. We see it in the demo, with multiple moments both in conversations as well as in exploration and combat gameplay where players will need to react to situations and make tough calls that will rarely please the whole crew. One example in the video we watched sees the Guardians deciding whether to offer either Groot or Rocket to Lady Hellbender as their ‘monster for sale’, with Quill getting the final word. I was curious as to what extent we can expect these sorts of choices to affect the game’s overall narrative course, particularly as far as its ending is concerned.
“It’s a bit of a mix, the story is linear, so there will be the same beginning and the same ending for everyone. So we don’t have multiple endings, we might have little minor changes to your ending, but basically we’re trying to build a story that is very compelling, very emotionally driven, and that will lead to this climactic superhero Marvel, you know, ‘Bang!’ ending. But choice and consequence is very important to us as game designers and as game players because we want to see our choices and our decisions reflected back to us in fun and different ways,” LeMarle explains.
Using that same example of the mission to sell Lady Hellbender a ‘monster’, the game’s Senior Narrative Director describes how your decision to offer up either Groot or Rocket will significantly affect what your experience of her fortress is from a gameplay perspective, as well as how your fellow Guardians will react to this and future situations.
“We’re opening up and we’re closing gameplay paths in that way, even to the fact that as you go through the story, by the time you get to that final climactic battle, some of the decisions you’ve made will change who are the secret weapons that you have in your arsenal as you’re going into that final battle, that final thing. So they pay off in small ways, sometimes they pay off immediately. Sometimes they pay off in very big ways, unexpectedly, a little down the line.”
Proulx adds, “The moment that you experience that it adds something to the experience, like oftentimes, in narrative driven adventure games like, it’s a cutscene, I put my controller down, enjoy it, and then I start playing again, which is fine. But for us, you keep your controller in your hands because there might be bantering, you might have to pitch in, you know, you have to do kind of a battle of wits with different characters. So everything is, you feel like you have agency in the story. Even though it’s still the same ending, just having those moments, it keeps you really engaged as a player in the story and the characters.”
Looking at their previous portfolio with games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution it’s clear that Eidos Montreal is a studio perfectly positioned to take on a game like this that’s heavily story-driven but underpinned with the intent to give players their own take on events. I asked LeMarle and Proulx about what their team were bringing to the table going into the project, and whether there were significant new challenges that the property posed, with LeMarle admitting that humour was something of a fresh obstacle for the studio.
“I would say our strengths are definitely that we try and create very narratively-crafted games that really have heart and soul. And on this one it was quite a challenge because we were bringing in so much more humour, and humour is an incredibly difficult thing to write. Especially because as you’re working on a project for any length of time, when you start hearing it over and over you kind of question ‘Is it still funny?’ So mastering comedy was one of the first things that I was worried about. But I hope when you see it, you’ll feel what a lot of our playtesters have felt, which is, we constantly hit you with really funny stuff and and we create a good mix of laughing like crazy and then all of a sudden you’re like, oh my God, I might actually cry at this point. And then boom, we hit you with laughs.”
“I think the artistic direction as well, in the studio we have amazing artists and really great art directors with a lot of experience in bringing their creativity,” explains Proulx.
“You know, making those Guardians feel new, but at the same time familiar, and creating those crazy worlds and planets and locations that you visit. I think our team was a perfect fit to bring that art direction to life, so that that’s something that was really cool. For the challenges, I think the biggest one really, is that you have Peter and the four Guardians with you at all times. So the challenge is, you don’t want them to feel like AI puppets, you know, you want them to feel alive and around you and bantering.”
It checks out, as from what we’ve seen in the game’s debut trailer there’s the same level of character and polish in every member of the team whether in cutscenes, exploration or combat. It’s a tall order even for one main character, but where we have a total of five all in the action at all times.
“So that was a big, big puzzle to solve. Even in the combat system, how do you have them feel useful, but not overpowering? Finding all those balances and making a game about five characters was the biggest challenge I think, in this production.”
As we begin to creep closer to the end of our chat, I realise that one important question I’m eager to have answered comes at the cost of admitting something I hadn’t wanted to reveal to these two passionate senior developers working on such a high-profile licence. See, the thing is, I am not familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy at all, or a great deal of the Marvel comic and cinematic universes for that matter. So with great shame, I probe Proulx and LeMarle to offer some assurance that, for someone like me who’s unfamiliar with the source material, the Guardians of the Galaxy game still has something to offer.
“Well, what’s interesting about that is we actually also made it for people who are not familiar. So because we’re crafting an original story in that world, we’re very careful about how we are setting up and exposing who these characters are. And you know, as you get into it, you’ll learn more, you’ll start to discover more so what I think also will guide you through is just the characters themselves are so fun, and so interesting, that you kind of get hooked just by them. And then the story itself will start filling in a lot of the blanks and helping you so you don’t really have to have an understanding,” the game’s Senior Narrative Director assures me.
“I didn’t know the Guardians of the Galaxy until the first movie came out. And I remember seeing the ads for it and going ‘This is bizarre, what is this?’ And then I didn’t need to know anything as soon as I got into the movie, you just kind of followed it, you started to learn and everything. And we approached it the same way.
Proulx agrees, “Yeah and at the end of the day, it’s a fun action adventure game. So if you like good stories in your video games and you like that type of game that’s very accessible and story driven you’re gonna love it.”
“I would say one last thing about it,” LeMarle interjects before our time wraps up. “What’s really cool about it, I think working on it all this time and having just come through a pandemic, (well not yet 100% through) but it’s like, this story is fun. It’s a breath of fresh air and light and humour. And yet at the same time, it’s dealing with really deep themes of faith and family and loss. So it’s a story of hope at the same time. So I think just that will help add to how much fun the game is to play. It’s just a fun thing to do, I think. At least I hope.”
It’s exciting to hear from two of the game’s leads just how much passion the team at Eidos Montreal is bringing to this game, and especially how they’ve taken their historical strengths along with the creative freedom Marvel Entertainment has afforded them to make this story their own. The more I learned, the more excited I became to see it all play out for myself, despite going in with little attachment to this particular world or these characters. All I can say is bring on October 26, 2021, when Guardians of the Galaxy releases for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.