By far the most ambitious title ever developed by Vicarious Visions up to that point, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 was a two-and-a-half-year effort with a team size that peaked at over 120 developers (not counting external partners/contractors). As a AAA Action RPG title, "MUA2" needed a strong story with a significant amount of narrative content. And as a former Marvel Comics writer as well as the producer of MUA1 on Wii and PSP, I was quickly deemed a natural choice to spearhead the narrative effort, as Lead Writer.
With the game's overall concept having been established as an adaptation of Marvel's hugely successful "Civil War" crossover event, I worked closely with Game Director Dan Tanguay and Narrative Designer Jonathan Mintz to figure out how best to translate this epic storyline to the (relatively confined) space of a video game. Our efforts were ultimately recognized by the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences with a DICE Award nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Story Adaptation.
Once we hammered out the main story structure, it was time for me to start writing the cutscenes.
See below for "Civil War Begins", which takes place about one-third into the game. It's our longest cutscene and definitely the most important. In it, public sentiment against super heroes reaches the tipping point, and America's heroes find themselves caught between registering with the government... or becoming outlaws.
If you're interested in digging deeper into the MUA2 story, check out my full script for all pre-rendered cutscenes.
Gameplay and Choice
One of the biggest challenges we faced with MUA2 was figuring out exactly how to present the Pro-Registration/Anti-Registration choice to the player, directly after the "Civil War Begins" cutscene (above) played out. Our initial plan called for some kind of simple UI interface, but we felt strongly that the player's choice should be expressed by their in-game actions, not by moving a cursor left or right on a menu. Most fiction writers are familiar with the old adage, "Show, don't tell." In games, that is often updated to "Do, don't show."
But how to give players the opportunity to indicate their Civil War choice through gameplay actions while making sure we don't misinterpret those actions, or have the player accidentally make an unintentional decision? We wrestled with this problem for quite a while, considering and discarding many potential scenarios along the way.
"I want the players locked in a room with [S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander] Maria Hill and a table," I remember saying in one meeting. "The players either sign the paperwork, or they have to fight their way out." That concept evolved into what you see below.
The hardest part was following through on the Pro-Reg side. How boring would signing a piece of paper be for those who chose to side with Iron Man and S.H.I.E.L.D.? As you'll see in the clip below, we figured out an asymmetrical but entertaining solution that managed to work in some of the smackity-smackity that's the hallmark of this type of game.
One of the ways we got around increasingly stringent cutscene limitations was to tell much of the Civil War backstory through Audio Logs that players would find sprinkled throughout the game world. They included phone calls, audio diaries, radio commercials, taped conversations, and the like. In addition to being (hopefully) entertaining, they also represented a collectible.
I wrote 35 out of our 38 audio logs, including two hidden logs that you would only hear if you listened to them as they played over the end credits.
(Or, as this YouTube user figured out, you could also play them from the Audio menu after beating the game.)
In addition to the DICE writing award nomination, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 was recently named one of the Five Best Marvel Games of All Time! It's been gratifying to see and hear so many positive reactions from game reviewers to the narrative elements of Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2. Here are some choice quotes.
"…gripping story…" —Official Xbox Magazine UK
"…it's the cutscenes that steal the show…" —MEGAMERS.com
"…well-crafted storyline…" —Gamer 2.0
"…one of the best stories from any superhero game in memory." —Gamervision.com
"…a solid, cohesive story…" —Play Magazine
"…great storyline…" —Gamedaily.com
"… story is much more interactive and intense this time around… as far as the storyline is concerned, Ultimate Alliance 2 hits the mark." —Game-boyz.com
"… much more intriguing story… its tale of superheroes divided over the US government's attempt to force heroes into legally registering has provocative political and social undertones… clever method of storytelling… a solid game that sports a stellar story…" —Gamer Limit
"…inspired story…" —Worth Playing
"…a far stronger narrative than its predecessor…" —Telegraph.co.uk
"The story in MUA2 is surprisingly good." —Game Arena
"The saving grace was the storyline that actually had me looking forward to the cut scenes to find out what would happen next. Vicarious Visions and Activision obviously knew what writers they needed … and in that department they were not found wanting. If the rumours of an Avengers movie are true then Hollywood producers would do well to take notice of this game's plot and how it contributed towards its success." —Hellbored.com