What do Iron Man and Marvel Unlimited have in common? They're both love a good upgrade.
That's the story this weekend at South By Southwest thanks to a presentation by Kristin Vincent, Marvel's Vice President, Digital Products who not only talked about new versions of the app, but also the inclusion of Adaptive Audio and AR Video to the service.
"We're always trying to figure out how Marvel can blaze the trail for what comics can be," Vincent says. "Now that we have digital, we don't just think of it as a gimmick to layer on top of what's been done for the last 75 years. We're trying to think about how we use this new toolbox—which we think about like it's a new pencil or something like that—to enhance the storytelling.
“As we add these new features we don't want to get in the way of how people have naturally enjoyed experiencing comics in the past. We're always trying to walk that line. Both of these features do that, giving a nod to the traditional while still pushing it forward and letting people experience them in new ways."
And what better place to present these new options than at the ever expanding South by Southwest festival this weekend?
"Every time we've gone, we've been really surprised by the overwhelming response we've gotten from people," Vincent says of SXSW. "We've learned that people can't get enough. Comics are no longer niche."
Part of the reason the crowd gets so enthusiastic about Marvel's products revolves around the fact that the teams behind them constantly look for ways to improve the experience.
One of the biggest changes to the service comes from the updated Digital Comics Reader for the Marvel Unlimited app. Previously, this ran on a general HTML 5 platform that worked across all different devices, but didn't necessarily optimize the unique piece of equipment's capabilities. Now, with new versions for iOS and Android, reading on an iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android device should be much smoother.
"It's a lot more user friendly," Vincent notes. "The creations, the assets, the design and all that came from Marvel, but we did use Chaotic Moon to actually build the app. They're in Austin. They have done all the coding on the app and have been absolutely fantastic to work with over this whole experience."
"With adaptive audio it really is a user-controlled, immersive experience," Vincent says. "It's not just looping music that happens in the background. We worked very closely with composer David Ari Leon and his company SoundMind Music. He worked close with people as high up as [Marvel CCO] Joe Quesada, trying to map out the pacing of these stories, the pivotal moments in scenes and how certain characters get associated with specific sounds."
When asked about potential problems of pacing when it came to mixing the speed of an outside element like music with the reader's internal process for reading comics, Vincent alleviated any worry.
"It really is truly another storytelling device as opposed to just being some music that plays in the background," she says. "Music is playing and then a new stem of music comes in as the user panels through. The user can go forward or backward and controls the pace of when the music stems change. It's really different every time because each user reads at a different pace."
SXSW 2014: Adaptive Audio
Vincent, who recommends using headphones to get the most immersive experience, went on to say that the music is more in line with the kind found in video games:
"It'll loop forever and it's not just stuck on the sound. Firelight Technologies and FMOD is used in a lot of video games. Just like when you're playing a video game and you go to get a drink or whatever you do, it's not like it gets stuck on a note, it loops around and stems come in and out. It's more like that; it's not just a score."
Readers will get the chance to test out the new Adaptive Audio experience for free with Ed Brubaker's CAPTAIN AMERICA #8, while Marvel Unlimited members can also fill their eyes and ears with issues #9 and #11-14, part of the “Winter Solider” story arc.
"Not only do we want to make that available to the digital audience, but we really think it's an awesome, seamless experience," Vincent says. "It's one device, one app. You're reading along or paneling and a little icon pops up very quietly and then goes back down. You can push that and see the video or for any particular comic, you can start out that way, open the video tour and see how many videos a comic has associated with it. Some people want to read the comic and don't want to be interrupted and then go back and watch the bonus content. Others want to watch the recap videos which I think people have found extremely helpful in the print world and I hope they will for digital as well. "
The actual videos themselves feature a wide array of additional materials, as Vincent explains:
"They're really meant to augment the story you're reading to give you more context or see that panel transition from pencil to ink. They're all over the board. It could be a scientist explaining what would have happened to Wolverine's body had he hit the planet going that speed to creators explaining how they came up with a plotline."
The first six issues of Jonathan Hickman's AVENGERS series will find their way to Marvel Unlimited first, with the first issue free for everyone to try out.
"We have a lot of content, we have hundreds of these videos and we're planning to make more," Vincent promises. "We'll be adding them in to [Marvel Unlimited] over time. We're starting with these six issues, but most of the Marvel NOW! titles have them. The big events like Avengers Vs. X-Men and Age of Ultron all have them."
SXSW 2014: Marvel Unlimited
Get all the latest news from SXSW 2014 all weekend long right here on Marvel.com!