Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet

Writing SHS: The Infinity Gauntlet

Mark Hoffmeier talks about writing the Squaddies' new video game adventure, "Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet"

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By Marc Strom

Mark Hoffmeier knows his Marvel super heroes. The writer, who contributed several episodes to both seasons of "The Super Hero Squad Show" as well as scripts for the animated "Silver Surfer," "Spider-Man Unlimited" and the classic '90s "Spider-Man" series, also wrote the script for "Marvel Super Hero Squad," the first video game based on the hit cartoon.

And now he's returned to write "Marve Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet," THQ's follow up to the first game. With a story spinning out of the upcoming second season of "The Super Hero Squad Show," "Infinity Gauntlet" follows the Squaddies as they try to keep the villainous Thanos from collecting all the Infinity Stones and wreaking havoc across the cosmos.

Hoffmeier worked closely with THQ and developers Griptonite to produce a game that stayed true to the television show while also giving players an exciting new experience. The writer recently took some time to talk with Marvel.com about his work on the game, and just what has him so psyched about the Squaddies' new adventure, coming in November 2010.

 

Marvel.com: How did the process of working on and writing for the game compare to writing the TV show?

Doctor Doom holds an Infinity Stone
Mark Hoffmeier: For me it was fun because I'm a gamer, so the way I approached it was as a playable episode of the series. The first game sort of dovetailed with what was happening in the first season of the show, but [acted as] sort of bonus material. The same thing applies to the second game. The second season of "The Super Hero Squad Show" is all about the quest for the Infinity Gauntlet, [and] that's the same [story] here.

For me what's fun about it is, you can do stuff [in the game] that you didn't necessarily get to visit on the show. For example, in the second season we didn't get a lot of Loki because so much of it is out in space with Thanos collecting the Infinity Stones. I put Loki in [the game], because I love Ted Biaselli who does Loki on "The Super Hero Squad Show" basically as a take on Paul Lynde, and I always find it so funny. I had Loki come up with a scheme to come up with his own fake Infinity Stone called the Rhythm Stone, which he then hides inside and bursts out of to try and trick the other people trying to get the Infinity Stones. And he attaches the Rhythm Stone to the pants of the bad guys or whoever has sprung him and makes them dance on for infinity.

There's different things you can do [with the game], but you're also put into a set of parameters in terms of what gameplay things you need. On the second game, in particular what was really nice was the developer, Griptonite, [had seen the entire] first season of the show [since it] was already done. People really got [the] snarky attitude [of the show] and really got what we were going for in the first season. They were really onboard with it. They had some ideas about gameplay, but at the beginning they [just asked me], "What do you want to do with the story?" [They] let me explore things with Matt Wayne, who is the story editor on the television side and Cort Lane, who is the executive in charge of the show. I was able to pick their brains and see where [they're] taking it in the second season and how I can make the game complementary.

Marvel.com: I spoke with Jason Gholston, one of the game's producers, a couple weeks ago, and he was talking about the ways in which the different modes of play within the level help progress the story not only in the cut scenes but in the levels themselves. How much of an influence did their ideas for different things to do within the levels have on you writing the story? Was there an instance where you came up with a story development within a level and they then figured out how to do that?

Mark Hoffmeier: Looking back on it, we integrated well in terms of those guys looking at gameplay and what they wanted to do and me looking at story and what I wanted to do. As I look back on it, I can't really say "okay, that was something they wanted to do and I had to try and find a way to make it work" or "that was something I really wanted to do and they tried to make it work." It became a very natural give and take. I showed them that what I wanted to do was kind of [make] an interactive episode, and I actually wrote it the same way I would write an episode for the show. So the cut scenes come together just like an episode from the show.

But then you integrate those great gameplay scenes, so there were some instances where they came to me and said, "We want to do this and it's going to be on the Helicarrier, how do we bridge it from this area to the next area?" I always liked that, because I see that as a challenge. Unlike in an episode, where I'm creating all the parameters, I'm being given certain parameters, and that's kind of a fun challenge some times. By the time we were done, those guys were proposing gags and funny bits, and they had totally been swept into the world of Super Hero Squad and how it works as far as a Marvel Universe where all these great, classic characters interact, but in a very funny, tongue-in-cheek way.

The Falcon lets loose
Marvel.com: Earlier you mentioned that the game was able to let you do some things that you weren't able to do in the show. Beyond some of the story elements, did the different media--video games vs. animated television--allow you to tell the story in a way that you would have been unable to in the show?

Mark Hoffmeier: The big rule in storytelling in animated television is "show don't tell," and I think that becomes especially true in games, but it doesn't necessarily have to be "show." It can be "do, don't tell." Have the player integrate into the experience so that they have to accomplish something that is a plot point and will move the story forward. I think it makes people feel particularly invested in the story, because they actually have to do something. We looked for spots like that, where you can do stuff and then say, "Okay, by the time they finish this game level, at the end of it they will have acquired this object which will move us forward into the next cut scene."

I think a good example is a point in the game where, escaping from the Grandmaster's maze, Wolverine--as Wolverine is apt to do--sacrifices himself so that Iron Man can get away. Then Iron Man, when he gets the Time Stone, uses it to go back and free Wolverine. Now, if you did that in a comic book, or in an X-Men TV show, that would be a very serious point, Wolverine sacrificing himself. But this is the Super Hero Squad, so the great thing was Wolverine sacrifices himself, and then the Grandmaster comes down with his poodle and makes him use his claws to trim his poodle. It is a great sacrificial moment, but we get to keep it that fun, Super Hero Squad ridiculous thing.

Marvel.com: Were there any other things you learned in the process of working on the first Super Hero Squad game or your past video game work that helped you with this one?

Mark Hoffmeier: The tools evolve so quickly in the gaming world, and I've gotten to know the process whereby you're using ingame graphics usually on the levels or where you're doing full on CG-rendered cut scenes. They try to minimize that footage and you have to get the most bang for your buck simply because it becomes very expensive.

Back in the old days, it was very minimal and the stories had to be very simple. Sometimes you were actually limited in terms of [the number of] characters [you could put on the screen], which creatively puts you in a bind. There's more that you can do as far as what you want to show, what you can have in the background, sound effects, what you can have them saying, the angles you can have it from, I had no problems proposing "can we use Loki, can we use this character." Sure, you can design it and you can have it in there.

That became really fun, because then you're not so limited. [You never have to say] well, I'd love to have that in there, but I can't because we can only have five characters. Those parameters, more and more, they don't exist. You don't have to worry about that. You can have the same kind of experience you would have on an animated television show where you don't have those types of [limitations]. Almost anything you can think of, they can draw and make happen.

Marvel.com: What were some of the elements from the show that you felt were most important to incorporate into the game?

Mark Hoffmeier: The first season all [took] place in Super Hero City, so we really explored that environment [in the first game] and made use of the fact that here's our first real integration of all these Marvel super heroes just walking around, and when they want to go get a pizza, they go to Super Hero City Pizza Company. And the bad guys are right across the wall over there, scheming to take over everything.

In the second season of "The Super Hero Squad Show," a lot more of it takes place in space because it's [about] Thanos trying to acquire the Infinity Gauntlet. We'll get to see more of the environments [associated with] that. We'll still see Super Hero City, but not as much as we did in the first game, certainly, and not as much as we did in the first season. And then, of course, we get to see some locations that we don't get to see in the show. We were working on the game early enough that [the writers] knew where the show was going to go, but they didn't know exactly [what would happen in] all the episodes. So we kind of had to use that as a guide to do our own thing. I like that, because then you're almost guaranteed that it's going to be complementary stuff. Or in some cases, stuff that you're not going to get to see. In the game, you get to see Spider-Man, and you're not going to see that on the show.

Marvel.com: Anything else you'd like to mention about your experience working on the game?

Mark Hoffmeier: It was really fun. Griptonite really gets it, the art looks fantastic. I saw some over at THQ a couple weeks ago and I'm so encouraged by it. There were even little visual gags that I hadn't seen that I thought were very funny.

Being a parent and playing games with my kids, this is one of those games that's great to play with your kids because there are going to be gags that they may not get, but if you've been a Marvel fan since you were a kid--and even if you're not a Marvel fan and have only had minimal experience with some of the characters--there are going to be gags in there for the adults. And that's for me and people like me that want to play with their kids but don't want to feel like they're being talked down to. There's something for everybody. It's a fun family experience.

Stay tuned to Marvel.com for more news and details on "Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet," coming November 2010!

 

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