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Why I Still Play Marvel Heroes: Part 3

I have been lax in getting to this third post on why I still play and love Marvel Heroes.  I think that is mostly because it deals with intangibles – those things that are hard to nail down but, in this case, just make you love something even more.  This first two parts dealt with easy to quantify things like the number and diversity of characters in the game or the vast number of game modes that let you play the game in a number of different ways.  All easy enough to arrange in your head and vomit onto the page (or screen).

So what are the intangibles in this game?  First and foremost, it is the development team.  I have never seen a group more invested in a game or the community.  Once you get to know them, you want the game to succeed for their sake, and you feel happy for them when it does.  It also includes the game itself, the love that is put into it, and the striving to always make it better, including its free-to-play elements.  Finally, the Marvel Universe is a beautiful place, and no game captures it quite like Marvel Heroes.

This post will meander through a number of seemingly disjointed topics, but they all have one thing in common – they help make this game great.

The Devs are Fans, are Responsive, and Care

Let’s start with a story.  There is this band that my wife and I are fans of.  They have met with middling success, but they have been a national touring act that headlines smallish venues.  Their music is great, but along the way we got to know the guitarist/lead singer.  When he would see us before a gig, he would make a bee line to us.  When I would show up alone, he would ask how she was doing and where she was, remembering her by name (probably helps that she is purty).  We became friends or at least friendly.  When that happened, we also became more invested in the band.  We more strongly felt their successes; we more deeply felt their missteps.

And so to it goes with just about everything in life.  If I have a personal connection with the producer, I am going to more readily accept the product.  I, of course, still enjoying quality products to which I have no personal connection, but I will more readily and joyfully consume that which is provided by the people I like.

And that is the first intangible that Marvel Heroes has going for it.  Once you get to know the dev team, through Twitter, the forums, a convention, or any other similar venue, you will love them.  Having been through a number of games and viewed community interaction from other companies, Gazillion is one of the most invested, not only in their games, but in their community, in their source material, and in gaming in general.

I am going to mention a couple of them here.

Let’s start at the top with Gazillion’s CEO David Brevik.  Creator of games like, you know, Diablo 1 and 2 and a host of others.  David is active on Twitter and, to a lesser extent, on the official forums.  He will at times directly engage gamers in discussions about Marvel Heroes on Twitter.  He does all sorts of interviews about the game and all his past experiences.  In short, he is a great spokesman with a great pedigree.

What really endears me to him, however, is that, somewhere between 2 and 4 nights a week, he and his wife stream themselves playing Marvel Heroes and drinking Scotch.  I haven’t been able to catch a stream due to the late hour at which they do so and my otherwise busy life, but I just love the fact that he does it.  How many other tip-top executives in the game industry regularly stream themselves playing their marquee game in varying states of inebriation.  Not only do I love that he and his wife are so into the game that they stream it regularly but, as a practical matter, it is a great way for them to connect to the community on a more personal level.

Next up is Ryan Collins, or Ryolnir as he is known to the Marvel Heroes and Twitter communities.  Ryolnir is the Creative Designer & Community Manager (and chief lore nerd) for Marvel Heroes.  The guy is all over the forums interacting with the community, like here (scroll down) where he drops in to a thread to be one of many welcoming a new player to the game.

Beyond this, however, a short span of time following him on Twitter will prove to you that he is the perfect person for his job.  The guy loves video games.  He love tabletop and miniature games.  He loves Marvel.  If you don’t believe that last part, click here to see a picture of the sheer joy on Ryolnir’s face a scoring a great deal on a Moon Knight statue.

Finally, for my list of shout-outs, is the Dink.  I don’t think she is on Twitter, but she is all over the official forums.  She is one of the character model artists at Gazillion, and many believe that she is the strongest.  She is (almost) single-handedly responsible for female heroes’ hair now having body instead of looking like they just stepped out of the shower.  Here is some of her work:

Astonishing Storm

More than just her skill, however, the Dink is constantly on the forums listening to praise and often criticism and discussing what she can and cannot do, what limitations are placed on her, and what projects she is working on.  She gives fans a little behind-the-scenes view of the process, and players love to feel in the loop.

Beyond just the, “if you like the people who make the game, you will like the game more,” line of thinking, the dev team’s conviction to the game has real world impacts on the quality of the game.  This is a team that wants to make a great game for the sake of making a great game, for themselves to enjoy and for the gamers and comic fans to enjoy, rather than a large company that is in it for the money.  Or, if you’re cynical, this is a team that is smart enough to know that, if they make a great game and listen to the fans, they will make a lot of money.  Either way, they listen, they respond, and at the end of the day, they care about the experience that the consumer of their product is having.

To highlight this, I’ll bring you back to beta, approximately two years ago.  The incident is now referred to as Tokengate, since every incident must now end in “gate.”  The devs announced the method of acquiring new heroes after launch, as well as the monetization plan for the game.  “Tokens” would randomly drop in game or could be purchased through the store.  Each token could be redeemed for a hero, but the hero would be chosen completely at random.  Thus, whether you paid real money or played the game without spending a dime, you would have no choice of what heroes you obtained.  The sole exception was if you bought a founder pack, you could get a specific hero.

This initial plan represented the worst of the “gambling boxes” seen in SWTOR, GW2, and others, but it also forced those who wanted an actual choice to plop money down pre-release.  The backlash was fierce and immediate.  Rather than take the “we know best” attitude that many game companies take, however, Gaz listened to the community feedback and immediately assured players that they would be re-examining the system.  Within a day or two they rolled it back to one where you could buy the hero of your choice (without the gamble) or wait for specific heroes to drop randomly.  It was not perfect, but it was far better than the original plan.  A month or so, this plan was also scrapped to the joy of the gamers, in favor of one where you earn a currency just by playing and can spend that currency on any hero you want, thus eliminating the random chance completely.

A much smaller version of Tokengate happened a few months ago when Gaz introduced “limited edition” costumes.  They were costumes that you could buy with real money, with only minor variations from other available costumes, but were limited in number and had a few other special features.  The idea was to make them like collectibles that comic geeks love.  The main problem that the community had was that, being limited in number, if you were away from your computer the day the costume you wanted went on sale, and it was a popular one, you might miss out on it altogether.  Again, Gazillion listened and, rather than limited in number, these costumes are now available for a limited time (about 2-3 weeks).

Bottom line, Gazillion is connected with its fans and wants to make a great game for them.  How can you not love that?

A Unified Marvel Universe

This really is an intangible, mostly because it is only applicable to a subset of Marvel fans.  That is the marginalization of the X-men and the Fantastic Four by Marvel as a result of its not owning the movie rights to these teams.  Until there is  major shift in the ownership of movie rights, Marvel Heroes is likely to be the last great game set in the Marvel Universe in which these major characters receive equal billing, or even appear, alongside the Avengers and Spider-man (Spidey movie rights are owned by Sony, but they cooperate with Marvel Studios).

Think I am overstating things?  Here is the Disney Infinity trailer.  While you can play little-known characters like Nova and Iron Fist, there is no Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Thing, etc.  In the recently-released mobile games Marvel Future Fight and Marvel Mighty Heroes, you can fight as Marvel “stalwarts” including Sharon Carter, Black Bolt, and Angela, but again, no X-men or Fantastic Four.  Beyond video games, Marvel is erasing the X-men and Fantastic Four from images from its history: like these t-shirts.

I am a fan of Marvel because I started reading X-men comics at around age 9.  I believe that without the success of the X-men movies, Marvel wouldn’t be seeing the success that it has with its other superhero franchises.  I am not the only one.  It angers me to see the marginalization of the characters that brought me into the universe because they don’t generate the cash for the parent corporation as efficiently as other the characters for who they own the entire bundle of the rights.

Putting that rant aside, however, the unified Marvel Universe (not to be confused with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is a rich and diverse place with great history.  There is an excellent piece about its representation in Lego Marvel Superheroes here.  Like Lego Marvel, Marvel Heroes understands that.  Three of its nine story chapters are devoted to Xavier’s School and its many adversaries, from Sentinels to anti-mutant bigots, from Magneto and the Brotherhood to dinosaurs in Antarctica, from parasitic aliens to cyborgs on tank treads.  These settings and characters are as much a part of the Marvel Universe (and in the 80s and 90s more a part of the Marvel Universe) as Hydra, Shield, and the Inhumans.

The Story Mode in Marvel Heroes reads like a Marvel Universe greatest hits record would sound.  You start battling street-level Avengers, Spider-man, and Daredevil villains through New York and Madripoor, you move on to fighting X-men villains in the mutant slums and the Savage Land, and then you return to fighting higher-level Avengers and Fantastic Four threats, like Modok, the Mandarin, and Dr. Doom, before eventually heading to Asgard to fight Loki.  Social hubs include major mutant locations like Xavier’s School and Genosha.

Little known and less-widely beloved characters that are shoved down your throat in some of the recent mobile games are not even playable in Marvel Heroes yet.  Instead, you can choose from each member of the Fantastic Four plus the Silver Surfer, and next month Dr. Doom, and 14 X-men plus Magneto and Juggernaut.  Those X-men include Cable, Colossus, Cyclops, Deadpool, Emma Frost, Gambit, Iceman, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, Wolverine, and X-23.  Kitty Pryde will also be added this year.

Marvel Heroes is the complete Marvel Universe experience.  There is no other game that can compare, and there probably never will be.  If you love Marvel, then that is a reason to love the game.

Truly Free to Play

Finally, the game really, truly is free to play.  I have spent money on it, of course, but I have never felt like I had to.  Some times it was because I really wanted a costume.  Other times it was because I was feeling guilty for getting so much enjoyment out of it without spending any money recently.  While there are items that go beyond convenience or cosmetics that you can buy with real money (like boosts and respec potions), the game gives you enough of them as log-in rewards or rewards for quests or achievements, that you never really have to spend money on them.

The closest you get to having to spend money on anything is extra storage, but that depends on how much you hoard more than anything, and sometimes extra storage is thrown in to a package you might want to purchase for a character or costume.

This matters to me because, like GW2 where I own the box, I can pick up or put down the game whenever I want.  If there is a period where I am not playing as much, I don’t have to feel guilty about wasting the sub money or unsubscribe altogether.  If I want to pick up another game with a sub, nothing is stopping me.  If there is another game that strikes my fancy, I play it for awhile, but I always seem to come back to Marvel Heroes.

I enjoy Marvel Heroes when I want to and how I want to, and I spend money on it in the exact same way.  That too makes me love the game.

Well, that is it for now.  At some point in the near future, I will be typing up a second revision to my Tips and Tricks for Marvel Heroes post, since it appears that it is the post that drives the most traffic here, and it is way out of date.

There and Back Again

I started this blog almost two years ago in large part to chronicle my adventures through Marvel Heroes.  Honestly, it was mostly because I had this post in me and didn’t have any other place to put it.  So it was fitting that, when I largely stepped away from Marvel Heroes, most activity on this page stopped.

That was somewhere between six months and a year ago.  A large part of the reason I left was that I had a yearning for a more immersive MMO experience again (it happens).  I also had left the supergroup (guild) I was in and formed my own little off-shoot supergroup to host an event for some old friends who had not played the game before and who did not continue after the event.  So, in essence, I was guildless, which makes it easier to drift away from playing.

So I picked up my bags and moved over to GW2 for a while.  I don’t think I have played GW2 for any more than two or three months at a time, which is probably why I always enjoy a new, brief stint in it.  It gave me the immersion I was craving and still felt fresh enough that I was always excited to log on and see what new things I would stumble upon.  I found a fairly active guild and had myself a little fun bashing things in the face as a warrior.

After that, however, I was bitten by the WoD bug.  Some friends were trying to get the gang back together and the content looked interesting, so I pre-purchased and made the commitment.  Things were great at the start.  The content was engaging from questing to garrisoning, and I was progressing along nicely.  In fact, I was so up on the content that I almost ran to this blog to talk about how Blizzard had crafted the perfect expansion.  Before that happened, however, I hit some walls.

First, I was in an almost completely new guild.  None of my friends were in leadership positions and most were rarely on when I was on.  That guildless feeling returned.  Second, I started to feel the now oft-maligned garrison chore burnout.  Finally, and most significantly, we welcomed a new baby into the household in mid-December.  That added up to me, a former semi-competent raider who would like to raid again, not being able to actually raid, having little play time, and spending that play time doing things that were not very fun to maximize the chance that, at some indeterminate future time, I might have the chance again to raid with mostly strangers.  Paying $15/month for that did not seem like a wise investment.

And that is what brought me back to Marvel Heroes.  Not having to pay a sub and being able to play how and when I wanted to, for 15 minutes or three hours, was an attractive proposition.  I was also fortunate enough to be welcomed back by my very first supergroup in Marvel Heroes, so I now have a fairly active group of semi-familiar faces to run with.

Upon my return, I was struck by just how different and more diverse the game is than it was a year ago.  Granted, you are still punching, zapping, slashing, or shooting waves upon waves of sometimes nameless goons, but there are now a lot of different ways and a lot of different reasons to punch, zap, or stab the enemy.  I will explain that variety some in an upcoming post.  For now, however, it is sufficient to say that it is that variety, not just in how, but why I play each day that is holding my attention in this game.

How’s It Goin’? What’s Goin’ On?

Contrary to popular belief, I am still around, although you would not know it by following this blog.  In reality, I am in that happy place where I am too busy gaming to have much time to devote to a blog on the gaming.  So I decided to use the voice recognition feature on my phone to throw together one of those “where I’ve been, where I’m going” posts before my current thoughts are replaced by new thoughts.

So you don’t have to read any more than you want to, here is what I will be covering: Where I stand with Marvel Heroes, a brief flirtation with WoW, a potential future and wild star, and my ascent to rock stardom.

Marvel Heroes Scratches Many Itches

That probably doesn’t sound good. For me though, it’s true. I love the characters and it’s a great action game. There’s nowhere else that I can jump on for 15 minutes or 3 hours and beat up bad guys nonstop. That being said, I often long for the open world, the exploration, the meaningful questing and group content. Therein lies a large part of the beauty of the free to play movement. I can turn my focus to something else without feeling like I am wasting money on a game subscription that I am not getting the most out of. Were I paying monthly for the game, I would have to consider canceling the sub and not playing at all. With Marvel Heroes, I don’t have to make that choice, and I can pick it up and play anytime I want.

What have I been doing in Marvel Heroes you might ask? Well, first I leveled Wolverine to 60, then went into the gear grind with him. He is pretty well equipped now. I then went back and leveled a bunch of other characters. Now Cyclops, Gambit, and Spider-man are level 60, Nightcrawler approaches 50, and I have a bunch in their 20s and 30s.

Doing all this levelling made me realize something: Wolverine wasn’t nearly as much fun to play as some of these other characters. So my favorite comic book character has been collecting dust for most of 2014. That should change next week, however, as Wolverine will finally be getting his character review. That is the process where the development collect info from players and revamp the hero’s powers to give them more builds, more diverse fun powers and the like. Once this lands, I will “prestige” Wolverine, which is basically resetting him to level 1 and leveling again from scratch. The reward for this – a new color for your name and a noncombat pet. That is more than enough for me, as playing a Wolverine that is as fun to play as some of the other characters will be reward enough.

Testing the WoW Waters

Looking to feed my sense of exploration and need to quest and see friends, I jumped back on the WoW bandwagon. At the time, my highest toon was still only 88, so I had seen very little of the new content. I threw of the shackles of my old server and jumped onto one where my old friends who still play reside. I thought it would be fun to check out the Timeless Isle and LFR for the first time. It was for a time. I hit 90, went to the Timeless Isle, and outfitted myself with a lot of purples.

The Timeless Isle was fun for awhile, but it really is mostly just a new spin on the daily quest. I quickly tired of it. LFR was an interesting experiment, but starting from the first tier of raids this late in the expansion meant that it was more a zergfest than anything else. My thoughts quickly became “how long can I repeat this before it becomes old?”

The answer was “not very long.” You see, at the same time I started playing WoW, most of my friends who still play WoW were checking out the WildStar beta. I was well aware of WildStar and followed it in a noncommittal, “looks pretty cool, maybe I’ll try it” sort of way. I looked into it a little more, and it started to look like the game that might scratch the itch that WoW couldn’t quite reach.

Before taking that excellent segue into WildStar, I must digress into the top of ability culling in WoW. I agree that button bloat is crazy. I disagree with Blizzard’s strategy to fix it. As a hunter whose glory days (maybe that’s a stretch) were in TBC, Wrath, and the first part of Cata, we had to manage a rotation, sometimes easy sometimes not, plus Rapid Fire, trinkets, pots, and maybe pet abilities. On top of that, you had the rarely used but situationally very useful abilities like Distracting Shot, Wyvern Sting, and Concussive Shot. In MoP, Blizzard also threw at use longer CD abilities like Murder of Crows, Dire Beast, and Stampede. These are not situational abilities but ones that have to be inserted into, and further complicate, your rotation. So, what is Blizzard’s solution? Let’s cull out those useful situational abilities that have been part of the hunter toolkit for years and keep many of the abilities that complicate a hunter’s life on an encounter by encounter basis. Don’t like, no sir.

Wild about WildStar

What can I say about WildStar that hasn’t been said more eloquently before? It does so many things right, at least for me. The style, the tone, the action combat, and the level of customization and a player freedom are all spot on. Yes, it is buggy and sometimes the game crashes on me for no reason, but that can be fixed. The game is built on a very solid foundation, and I hope people check it out and support it.

Really not much more to say than that. I will be playing at at launch, and probably for a while thereafter, assuming my friends stick with it.

I’m Going to be a Superstar!

In non-mmo news, I am also learning to play guitar. I played for a few years over a decade ago, and I got a hankerin to try it again. Part of my desire was that I learned I of a program called Rocksmith, which is a little like Guitar Hero with an actual guitar. Knowing that the program existed and reading good reviews of it, this seems like a perfect way to learn. No weekly lessons and no struggling with guitar tabs.

About 2 months ago I picked up the program and a cheap electric guitar. It was an excellent choice. It comes with about 50 songs and more that you can download. Notes fall down the screen just like Guitar Hero, and you play along with the song. The songs start simple at first, but as you get better, they get more complex.

In addition to playing along with songs, there are lessons old-school video games where the guitar takes the place of a joystick. In short, it makes learning guitar fun and accessible for a gamer.

The best part, however, is that you get rated at the end of a song. When you think you’ve killed it, but the computer guy says “average performance.” But on the other hand, when he says “brilliant performance,” I can look over to my wife and say “See, the computer thinks I’m brilliant.”

Unfortunately, the computer guy might not be the best judge of talent. After I played one song very well, he exclaimed “You’re going to be a superstar!” If any bands out there need someone to sit in front of a computer and play guitar badly, I’m your man!

Seriously though, Rocksmith has taken me from being embarrassed to pick up a guitar to having some level of confidence in about two months. I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any gamer who wants learn guitar.