The Avengers: Infinity War teaser trailer finally dropped today, sending social media aflutter with discussion and speculation about what should be the single biggest superhero film ever made.
It's the culmination of a decade of painstaking development and more than a dozen movies—a climax that surpasses a fan's wildest dreams. You may not like the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has completely subsumed Hollywood, but you have to admire the ambition of it all. The ongoing embarrassment of the DCU is proof of how difficult it is to pull off a proper cinematic universe.
But while Marvel has successfully conquered movies, games remain virgin territory. Talking about it in the USG Slack Channel, the conversation naturally turned to what Avengers: Infinity War might look if it were a videogame. Would something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe work in game form? We may soon find out.
At the beginning of the year, Marvel announced a multi-game partnership with Crystal Dynamics (Tomb Raider) and Eidos Montreal (Deus Ex) to create a series based on the Avengers. As Mike observed, this "Avengers Project" could be Marvel's first attempt to create a separate "Marvel Digital Universe." That's on top of Insomniac's Spider-Man game, which was announced back in 2016.
Marvel teased the project by saying, "The Avengers project is being designed for gamers worldwide and will be packed with all the characters, environments, and iconic moments that have thrilled longtime fans of the franchise. Featuring a completely original story, it will introduce a universe gamers can play in for years to come. More details on The Avengers project and other games will be announced in 2018."
It's an intriguing prospect. Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Montreal both have the pedigree to make a really strong superhero game, and Square Enix has the budgetary muscle to back them up. For Marvel fans, it's pretty much the best case scenario for an "MDU."
It helps that Marvel is saying the right things as well. When Insomniac first announced that they were working on a Spider-Man game, Marvel Comics vice president of games Jay Ong told Polygon, "When I joined Marvel two years ago, I came in with a mandate to usher in a new era for Marvel Games. We have a treasure trove of the best superhero characters on earth. What can we do with this to create truly epic games? Is [Spider-Man] a signal of things to come? Oh, yes. Absolutely. And we can't wait to tell the world about it."
So the stars seem to be aligning for a rebirth of sorts for Marvel in the game space. Why has it taken so long to get to this point? Blame it on the vagaries of triple-A game development, which gets more expensive and more complicated with each passing year. You can also blame it on Disney's decision to kill in-house game development, preferring to license out the property to the likes of the now deceased Gazillion (Marvel Heroes) and Telltale (Guardians of the Galaxy).
Like everyone else in the games industry, Marvel has also had to deal with the collapse of mid-budget game development—the space traditionally reserved for superhero games. The licensed movie adaptations of the past are long gone. While Rocksteady and WB have found success with the Arkham series, Marvel has struggled to adapt.
Marvel's partnership with Crystal Dynamis and Eidos Montreal is a positive development, but challenges remain. Games take a long time to develop—will "The Avengers Project" be able to maintain momentum over the course of several games? Will they be able to squeeze multiple heroes, each with their own mechanics, into one action game?
In a perfect world, the two would be able to team with Insomniac to create a series of games focusing on individual characters (Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy), then bring them all together in one mega crossover game. But that's probably not realistic given that characters like Dr. Strange and even Thor are unlikely to be able to headline games on their own (unless they found their own way into indie-style downloadable releases).
Maybe we'll get an open world action game where we can choose from a roster of heroes. Or maybe we'll get a party-based RPG along the lines of Mass Effect. Or maybe Crystal Dynamics will focus on one lesser-known hero for a Tomb Raider-style adventure, with the Avengers remaining in the background.
The best evidence we have right now are job postings that have hinted at a third-person covered based action adventure game with some sort of social aspect. That covers a lot of territory.
Whatever approach they decide to take, a proper "MDU" will require meticulous planning of the sort that has defined the MCU to this point. If they carry it off properly, their reward will be a game that matches or exceeds the hype of Avengers: Infinity War—a climax literally years in the making.
I can't wait to see what comes of it.