Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy, has proven to be quite the hit for Marvel’s video game output and we managed to interview Jean-François Dugas, one of the people who made it.
The game was developed by Deus Ex creators Eidos Montreal and published by RPG powerhouse Square Enix. We asked the games, creative director, Jean-François Dugas, to give us some insight on the creation of the game and bringing the Galaxy of the Guardians to interactive media.
Jean-François Dugas was previously the creator of numerous Deus Ex games including the most recent entry, Dues Ex: Human Revolution as well as Far Cry spin-off game, Far Cry: Instinct. We had a great time talking to him and hearing his insight on developing Marvel’s Gaurdians of The Galaxy.
The Name is Star-Lord
With a group like the Guardians of The galaxy, many fans figured that a co-op game would be a great gameplay style for the team. However, Eidos decided to go with just having the team leader, Peter Quill aka Star-Lord be playable. We asked Jean to give us some insight into this decision.
Jean-François Dugas: “It was actually one of the early big design discussions we had on the project. We knew we wanted to create a unique 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 who constantly interact together, and when you look at them, Peter is always sort of 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, diverging opinions, 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 like someone that can rally people towards a common goal or a mission. We wanted to tap into this while making it fun.
We truly got excited by this angle. Peter, 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 were 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 you and bantering, but you can also summon their abilities in combat, during puzzle solving, and in other moments throughout the game. They are constantly alive, acting their part in all aspects of the game. As a player, you’ll truly feel that you are a part of this dysfunctional family.”
Adapting The Guardians
The game has a difficult job of creating a brand new version of the Guardians of The Galaxy while still making them seem familiar for people who only know them from the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. We asked Jean about how he and the developers shaped the Guardians of the game and what inspirations he took from both the MCU and the original comic books.
Jean-François Dugas: “When we sat down with Marvel and discussed where to go with the Guardians, they made it clear that they wanted a fresh take on the universe and its characters. We couldn’t agree more. We all wanted to give the fans something new and unique.
The challenge was striking a balance between creating something fresh while remaining familiar. When you see our characters, you instantly know they’re the Guardians. But on a second look, you realize they’re different from the versions you know.
For the overall design of the characters, we were inspired by the background stories we created for each of the Guardians, referencing decades of Marvel comics, and some aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Some designs are by nature closer to the MCU, while others are more inspired by the comics.
Since these are original versions of these iconic characters, we focused on giving each of them an identity of their own, tapping into what makes them special in the first place; they’re a bunch of misfits with big hearts, in search of a family where they belong.
The other part of the equation was to find the right voices for our Guardians. Following the same guiding principles as for the visuals, we wanted a cast that would sound familiar, yet distinct enough from what people know, so it could showcase the characters in their own authentic space. It was a long process trying to identify the right voices because the challenge was twofold: find the perfect voice for each character, and then ensure that there was chemistry among the cast.”
Making Dialogue Decisions
Jean also told us more about the multiple-choice dialogue system used in the game. A similar system was used in their previous games like Deus Ex. He told us more about the inspirations for this mechanic.
Jean-François Dugas: “One of the games that we drew inspiration from was Oxenfree. This game is beautifully written, and the interactions between characters flow seamlessly, making us believe that we could pull off our vision for the Guardians; making them feel alive from start to finish while putting the player at the center of that experience.
Deus Ex was definitely part of the equation too. We brought our know-how to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy with the mindset that bringing a certain level of player agency to the game events would help cement the « so-called » leader fantasy while offering something fresh in the action-adventure segment.”
Creating the Galaxy
The Marvel Galaxy is vast and wild. Jean gave us some insight into what the team did to bring it to life in the game and what it was like to create.
Jean-François Dugas: “[It was] Liberating! It was really fun to explore crazy ideas that didn’t have to be explained on a scientific level all the time. Part of the process was to look at unrelated content and draw inspiration from it. It can go from looking at nature’s wildest aspects to looking at some eccentric fashion concepts, and seeing how the two could be merged together to create something special.
We still aimed to develop believable concepts, but not necessarily realistic ones. For example, in the game, players travel from location to location, sometimes ending up on weird planets. We wanted them to feel the strangeness, including the enemies the Guardians will encounter. On Seknarf Nine, the team will face enemies called jacko-gels – menacing red Jell-O cubes. These are just some of the truly unexpected and fun aspects of designing the game, and it allowed us to embrace the strange and weird.
Of course, some environments or enemies will have a more classic approach to them, but we wanted to explore wild and fun ideas that were not the norm classic space fantasy tropes. And to do so, you need to let the artists explore and run wild with their ideas. Then, we refine and iterate on the best ideas.”
Linearity and Narrative
Something many people didn’t expect about the game is how linear the level design is and how there’s no mini-map or markers. We wondered if the game was intended to be this way or if the game was originally going for a more semi-open-world experience.
Jean-François Dugas: “It was our intention from the beginning. We envisioned creating an experience that feels fresh from start to finish with a constant growing emotional curve for all characters while putting the player at the center of it all. Those were the core concepts we had in mind. If we were to embrace a more flexible structure, we’d jeopardize our ability to deliver in a meaningful way on our core gameplay pillars.
We were able to pull off our ambitions only by maintaining a laser-focused mindset about what made the game unique and choosing the best approach to achieve it.”
The Thanos Level Cahllenges
We then asked what were overall the biggest challenges when making the game.
Jean-François Dugas: “The biggest challenge was to make the Guardians feel alive and useful at any given time, whether during combat, traversal, or story-focused moments. Combat was admittedly the toughest nut to crack.
There are many variables at play during battles and finding the balance happened through trial and error, through constant iterations. On one hand, you have the player character which we wanted to feel capable and awesome. On the other hand, we have four characters with skills surpassing Peter’s since they’re aliens with some incredible powers. From this gameplay conundrum, we had to realize that it was not a player-driven power fantasy, but a team-based power fantasy instead.
How could we make Peter feel awesome on his own without rendering the Guardians useless? How could we make the Guardians look super cool without stealing the fire from the player’s hands? These were some of the questions that helped guide our thought process and ultimately, we made sure that the Guardians were capable on their own during fights. Without killing an enemy super quickly, they can defeat them over time. We gave players control over their own abilities, and over the Guardian’s abilities.
It creates an ecosystem in which players constantly go from the Guardians to Peter-centric abilities accentuated by the strength of the enemies on the battlefield. To reinforce the synergy between the player and his teammates, we make the Guardians more efficient on the battlefield if the player stays engaged in the fight. If you remain passive in the background, the Guardians will start to struggle more quickly, requiring your support.”
Awesome Mix Vol 1.
One of the biggest charms in Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy was the music and how it really affects the atmosphere of the story. We asked Jean how he and his team were able to come up with the soundtrack for the game.
Jean-François Dugas: “It’s widely known that Peter Quill is a great music lover. In our version, he grew up on Earth in the 80s prior to his abduction by the Chitauri aliens. His last point of reference for Earth-based music influences comes from that time period. We wanted to capture that vibe and at the same time, 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.
We also wanted the music to play a gameplay role. This is where the Huddle comes into play. The Huddle is similar to 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 heavily 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 chose the right pep-talk, the team gets fired up. This mode puts the Guardians with almost no cool-down on their abilities, and they’re invincible for a period of time.
He also spoke about creating the in-game band ‘Star Lord’.
Jean-François Dugas: “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 favorite heavy-rock band from the 80s and being a die-hard fan, he even has the band’s patch stitched to the back of his jacket.
But to make this fantasy feel even more real, we felt that we had to take an extra step. We needed to write a full music album for the band, Star-Lord, and my audio director, Steve Szscepkowski, who is also a musician was fully on board with the idea. With that, we made a full album of ten songs to bring Star-Lord to life.
The music journey wouldn’t be complete without the incredibly epic soundtrack written by Richard Jacques. He wrote a phenomenal score that just makes the more emotional moments even more melodramatic.”
Getting Hooked On a Feeling
To wrap up the interview, we asked Jean who his favorite Guardian was from this iteration of the team.
Jean-François Dugas: “I love them all but I’d have to go with Drax. He is so honest, to a fault at times, with no hidden agenda, simply put, it makes him very refreshing.”
And would the team at Eidos be open up to the idea of creating a sequel to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy? Or maybe a new game based on another Marvel IP?
Jean-François Dugas: “Witnessing the enthusiastic reception of the game made the team, including myself, very happy. We really wanted to create something special for Marvel fans, but also for all the gamers out there who really enjoy story-driven games. I don’t think you have to be a fan of the franchise to enjoy this game.
As for what the future holds, only time will tell!”