Exclusive interview with Arthur Parsons and his work on LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2
The second instalment of the Yorkshire Games Festival has just wrapped up and TheXboxHub were in attendance once again. This time around we were privileged to be able to sit down and have a chat with Arthur Parsons, Head of Design at Traveller’s Tales to discuss his career so far and the imminent release of his latest game in the LEGO franchise, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.
TheXboxHub: Hi Arthur. Thank you for your time for the interview. As we are primarily Xbox-related I know that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 is due to be released imminently.
Arthus Parsons: It’s no problem. Yes, a week tomorrow. (14th November US/17th November Europe)
And with this being another LEGO game, is there going to be the standard formula of previous games for how it plays?
Hopefully less so, because we try and do something different every game. And obviously with this one, because the previous LEGO Marvel Super Heroes game was so popular we wanted to make sure we upped the ante from that, we didn’t want to just rinse and repeat.
This time around we’ve got a comic book writer to help with the story to make it better and stronger. The game itself is actually branching so not everyone is going to have the same start-to-finish experience. Very early on in the game you have to choose which hero and which path to take so you will get a different experience. And the roster is very much changed and this time around, there is a focus on characters that are not the ‘Superstars’ like Iron Man for example – Iron Man is still in the game however – but the core contingents you follow round are time sensitive because the story involves a lot of time travel. The bad guy is Kang the Conqueror and he is from the 40th century. He’s very powerful but likes to take heroes on when they are in their prime and this gives us a good excuse to bring in other characters. So, for example, as well as Spiderman we also have Spiderman 2099 and Spiderman Noir, and then Wild West Captain America and even Medieval Avengers, some weird and wacky stuff.
This means that throughout the main story you play something like 38 heroes and they are all brought together by Wasp in Avengers Mansion. But the open-world hub has changed as well, the first game had Manhattan but this time around there is 18 different Marvel locations in one city, because Kang wants to rule over all locations at once so he creates this city. It’s got Manhattan, HYDRA Empire Manhattan which is what would have happened if HYDRA won, Sakaar which is featured in Thor: Ragnarok as well as Asgard and Valhalla. It’s just a great mix of locations.
So, they are all from the different time periods as well?
Yes, so there is also Medieval England as part of the hub as well, it’s actually a Medieval castle. At the time that was something even I didn’t know existed. There’s a character called Greenskyn Smashtroll which is a Medieval version of Hulk, Captain Avalon is obviously Captain America. It’s just great to be able to take players on a journey because people who aren’t massive Marvel fans will have limited knowledge so there is stuff that caters for them but then there is also this education for what makes comics great. So, we have really tried to push everything rather than just rinse and repeat. We set ourselves a lofty goal of making sure every component in the game was improved from the first game.
This extends to the character customisation as well which has always been a staple of LEGO games. This time round we’ve re-written from scratch. In the first game, you could pick body parts and then if you picked Thor’s Hammer you got Thor’s ability, Iron Man’s helmet gave you his abilities. This time you can re-colour stuff but also you can map abilities to buttons. Tapping the B button can give one beam, holding the B button can give another beam that you can then colour as well. It’s just really intricate.
While everything from the ground up has been changed, it’s still ultimately a game with a lot of LEGO but playing the first game and then the second game you will notice a lot of differences in what you can do and the customisation. But this game is current gen only, Super Heroes 1 was current gen and 360 and believe it or not, that is quite de-shackling not needing to worry about number of enemies or characters on-screen.
How long roughly has this game been in development?
It’s hard to put that into numbers because the way we work at TT [Games] we are developing multiple titles as we have multiple teams, but this game has been going on, in some form, since the first game. We left a post-credits teaser at the end of the first game and this game actually picks up at that point so we kinda knew the story we wanted to tell very loosely from the beginning at the end of 2013. But in terms of core development it’s been around 18 months. It’s a long time to have a big team working on it but that’s what it takes.
In between LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 1 and 2 there was also LEGO Marvel Avengers. Because that game seemed to focus more on the Marvel films but is there any connection between them?
No, no, they are completely separate. So, while they are LEGO Marvel games, Super Heroes was us telling an original story, picking where we wanted to go and choosing who we wanted. Avengers was us parodying the films and giving them the LEGO twist. So, while you may have LEGO Iron Man in both, in our mind, they are completely separate. But Super Heroes 2 is a straight follow-up to the first one as this is our original story.
That’s not to say there isn’t characters that aren’t in all three however.
With having such a huge roster then, it must be tricky but are there any of your personal favourites that did not make the list?
Not really because what we did with this game was freshened up the roster big time. So, the first game that had bonus missions that were led by Deadpool but this time are done by Gwenpool who is far more current in the comics. She is actually a funnier character and, while both break the fourth wall, Gwenpool does it in a way that’s funnier because she is actually a fan-girl as well, so you get more opportunities for humour. An example being where she knows she cannot die because it’s a video game and making comments on that.
Those short stories are really great to tell and within themselves are really funny. One of them is a retelling of Gwenpool #1 where she gives her enemies a Gwenpig, a pig dressed as Gwenpool, and it’s a really funny comic. We re-told that as a playable mission but we also have original missions narrated by her.
I don’t think it’s a case of any of my favourites being cut from the roster, but it was certainly more a case of freshening up the roster and being able to bring in characters. Ms. Marvel is one of my favourite characters and she is really funny. Being able to put her front and centre of the story is great and obviously I wouldn’t have been able to do that on the movie based games.
In my mind, it’s definitely a bright and vibrant roster. And with the customisation tool, any that are missing from the 8,000 Marvel characters can be created by yourself. The only problem being, we don’t give you an additional 8,000 character slots.
Going away from LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2 now, I noticed there were a lot of games you worked on that I played as a kid and I wondered if you had a favourite from your earlier games?
Oh yeah definitely. I’ve been at TT for 20 years now and have probably worked on the good, the bad and the ugly from Traveller’s Tales history, but from the older games perhaps my favourite was Muppet Racemania which a lot of people would probably never played. Effectively though it was a Mario Kart style game, just featuring the Muppets.
There was about seven of us working on it and it was just such a fun experience. We went out to meet The [Jim] Henson Company one time and were picked up from the airport in a stretch Hummer and Kermit was in there too. It was just amazing as he was talking to us, obviously there was the guy puppeteering him there too, but things like that you can never forget and take that away from us.
Every game has something fun and exciting about it but from the old games that was one of my favourites.
From recent games, the Marvel ones are always my favourites. And the other ones are probably the Harry Potter ones because I still am a massive Potter geek. So, the day I got the “Do you fancy making a LEGO Harry Potter game?” was I think around film six release time and that was really exciting. I went on set and got to meet some of the cast as well. I went to The Deathly Hallows premiere as well and walking down, no one knows who I am, but you’re walking alongside Rupert Grint and J.K. Rowling which was really good, really exciting
So, they all have a special place in my heart, but all for different reasons.
Thank you very much for your time
No worries, and nice to meet you.
You too. Thank you
Arthur then presented a talk at Yorkshire Games Festival discussing the creation process for LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2, and gave a sneak peek at the new game including characters such as Hellcow and Lockjaw. The new mashed up central hub looks fantastic and seeing the contrast between the Avengers Mansion and next to it Manhattan Noir – where the whole screen goes black and white when entering the area – got me very excited for a LEGO game for the first time since the first Marvel game.
Seeing Arthur’s enthusiasm during the interview and the talk was infectious. It was clear that he loved making games on a subject he was passionate about and it was easy to get absorbed in that passion.
The design team all had a reading list to complete before development began on the game and Arthur was keen to provide this knowledge to the players as well. Each character has a detailed character card accessible on the roster screen that gave details on their first comic appearance for fans to track down and read if they were interested. These extra touches, and Arthur’s enthusiasm and passion, are helping to shape what looks set to be the best LEGO game yet.