In the world of “Marvel: Avengers Alliance,” the familiar heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe have been thrust into a variety of situations both familiar and brand new, or sometimes a blending of the two. Classic storylines like Avengers Vs. X-Men have been re-imagined and oft-forgotten characters like Omega Sentinel have received new twists during the monthly Special Operations—or “Spec Ops”—running parallel to the larger saga of the game.
This month in the latest Spec Op, once again “Marvel: Avengers Alliance” receives an infusion of new blood—this time of the symbiotic variety.
We spoke to “Marvel: Avengers Alliance” Producer Justin Woods about the new Spider-Man-centric mission, including how his own love of Symbiotes contributed to their inclusion, the redemptive qualities of Sandman, choosing a role for Eddie Brock, and much more.
Marvel.com: With the Spec Ops, sometimes they will tie in to theatrical releases or comics events, but sometimes, like with this one, they’re wholly original; how do the different types of storylines get generated?
Justin Woods: We have had a lot of Spec Ops that were just these ideas that were formulated around a group of characters we wanted to tell a story about, rather than the story itself. Sometimes it’s the other way around but this particular Spec Op fits into the category of, “Hey, we wanted to do something with Symbiotes because there’s tons of Symbiotes out there and it might be cool to just do them all at once instead of [trickling] them into the game.” I [have] wanted the Symbiote Spec Op in the game since almost maybe two years ago, and just never found the right place for it, the right time for it, because there were stories that we more urgently wanted to tell or there were characters that were already done. There was a space [this month] and we wanted to fill it with some of the stuff that the developers really wanted to do and in the case of a lot of these characters, they can come from any developer on the team. But this particular one happened to be my interest in that I am a big Spider-Man fan and I’m a big Symbiote fan because I grew up in that Todd McFarlane era of Spider-Man. The very first comic I ever purchased ever, with my own money was VENOM: LETHAL PROTECTOR #1, foil cover [and all].
Then Carnage is obviously the biggest name in Symbiotes after Venom. So Carnage had to get in there and hey, if we’re telling a Life Foundation story, how do we do that without Scream, the person who kills off the others? Then there are two heroic Symbiotes to choose from: We can either do Toxin or we can do Anti-Venom. And the thought was, let’s do Anti-Venom because Toxin is currently Eddie Brock [in the comics]; let’s make [Eddie Brock Anti-Venom] because we can have multiple other people be Toxin if we ever want to introduce him into the game.
Marvel.com: So the other Symbiotes were killed off, “off-screen,” during a chapter? They were Circle of Eight victims?
Justin Woods: Chapter Five. Chapter Five they were killed off, in-dialog: “Oh, we found Phage and Riot and whatever, they all got killed, Agony and Lasher.”
Marvel.com: That’s right, I was trying to keep track of those villains that you killed but I didn’t realize it was all of those Symbiotes. That’s cool, that’s a nice little Easter egg.
Justin Woods: We kill eight per chapter, and they were four of the eight that we killed in Chapter Five. It’s cool because it lines up so perfectly with Hybrid’s origin story.
What’s also neat about the game in general is that you have the regular story arc, the chapters and the seasons, and then you have these Spec Ops, and if you really look and search, Spec Ops aren’t just side missions off on their own, they’re obviously attached to the regular storyline in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes it take a little bit more looking at it and digging to realize what the connections are, sometimes they’re very obvious, but they are connected to the overall story.
Marvel.com: I want to run through the characters a bit. Let’s start with Anti-Venom because he’s kind of the centerpiece of the whole thing. You both fight against him and get to team up with him and he’s the guy you’re working towards. You explained why Eddie Brock is Anti-Venom, as a character in the game; why is he valuable, why is he going to be interesting, both in the terms of the story dynamics but also in terms of the gameplay?
Justin Woods: Well, let’s talk about his story first because I think it’s going to lend to the gameplay a lot. Eddie Brock is a really conflicted character. He’s been all over the place, psychologically speaking; he’s been in control, he’s been out of control. He’s had a lot of trouble in his life and he’s a very interesting person because he, at his core, I believe he wants to do good and wants to be a good person, but he has no idea how to do that and he’s aggressive in nature and generally believes he is right about things. I think that that was evident when he was Venom but it was really, really, pushed when he was Anti-Venom. I think Anti-Venom took him to an extreme at the root of his character.
Shortly after he lost the Anti-Venom Symbiote, he went on a rampage trying to kill Symbiotes with a sniper rifle completely depowered. He goes and he kills Hybrid and he kills Scream in the comics. So we kind of merged that idea because that fit his character so well with him being Anti-Venom and Anti-Venom’s whole shtick is, “I wanna cure the world of these diseases, I want to rid the world of these diseases that are Symbiotes, that are people with super powers.” That puts him at odds with the Alliance, the player, because there is a Symbiote in their ranks: Flash Thompson. But the Symbiotes are running wild, our goals are aligned. That’s why Anti-Venom joins the Alliance ultimately.
His move set is based on healing, curing, and depowering people so I think the most iconic thing that you’re going to see is that he has an AOE [Area of Effect] debuff that can depower people. That’s sort of the flavor or the lore behind it. He’s depowering everyone around him by sort of sucking the disease out of them, as he sees it.
Marvel.com: As for the other character you can get, the lockbox character, we’ve got Sandman.
Justin Woods: Yeah. Making him a lockbox character was inspired by the film [“Spider-Man 3”] and how he’s always trying to help his daughter and he was a bad version of Robin Hood. “I’m going to rob from the rich to try and help my daughter.” And he just kind of fell way, way, down the rabbit hole on that and so we wanted him to go on a path of redemption, and what better way than to do that than in a Spec Op where Spider-Man is very involved. That’s what’s so beautiful [about] Spider-Man. Spider-Man’s so human and Spider-Man is the guy that can see the good in everybody. And so, he needs Spider-Man to vouch for him to be able to join the Alliance and Spider-Man is willing to do that. With a little bit of trepidation, he is kind of like, “You know what, I know why you did the bad things that you did and I have a hard time forgiving you for that stuff but if you’re going to join us, I truly believe that you want to go on the straight and narrow.”
I think that at the root of this whole Spec Op, there’s this really good Spider-Man story in there. You may or may not see it if you’re paying attention to all the Symbiote stuff going on.
Marvel.com: Okay, let’s talk about Carnage. How do you make a character like Carnage work in a game like Avengers Alliance on multiple levels, because number one: He’s a mass murderer. He’s a serial killer. And number two: he’s definitely a product of a specific era in comics, so how do you make him work in a game in 2014?
Justin Woods: That’s tough. He was killed in the beginning of [Brian] Bendis’ NEW AVENGERS run. Ripped in two and then was gone forever, it seemed. And then CARNAGE, U.S.A. happened, and then you got the Minimum Carnage storyline, then SUPERIOR CARNAGE, and now DEADPOOL VS. CARNAGE and he’s going to be in the upcoming Axis storyline. Carnage is getting a lot of play right now, and that was part of [it]: “Hey, let’s do Carnage, he’s important right now.” I think that inherently, because we’re telling our own story and we’re telling a different story, that he feels different. He doesn’t talk as much or monologue as much as he did in the comics. He’s more short and sweet, “Let’s get to the bottom of this, I just want to kill stuff.”
He’s, at his core, being true to the character, a murderous guy who’s going around killing stuff. That’s the part of him that we captured but we wanted to tie him into the entire story that we’re telling about Spider-Man, Eddie Brock, and the [Life Foundation]. He definitely has his moment with Eddie, especially since Carnage is a spawn of Venom. I think 2014, as an era of comics, is all about really strong character development. So I think that that’s what you see [“Marvel: Avengers Alliance” writer] Alex [Irvine] doing a lot with story is just giving these guys their moment in the limelight to become more interesting. And if they’re not doing that now, it’s because we planned to introduce them into the game now, and then we’re going to tell more story with them later on.
Marvel.com: Hybrid is an interesting choice as the group boss and also one of the bigger bosses just because he’s not a well-known character. He showed up in the 90’s and has really only made a couple of appearances. But, as you were saying, in terms of power set, perfect to be a group boss because he can shift abilities.
Justin Woods: Hybrid is one of those choices where we’re going through all our comic book history of characters and we’re like, “Hey, let’s do a little bit more research on this guy and figure out if they’re cool.” In the case of Hybrid, as the local Symbiote fan, I was already intimately familiar with the idea that the Life Foundation created all of these Symbiotes and four of them “Voltron-ed” up into a bigger Symbiote—and that’s all you need to know that Hybrid is a guy that has to be in our game, right? There are four Symbiotes and they merge together to make a Super-Symbiote. So sweet! You combine that with the fact that, hey, other than getting killed in two panels of VENOM, he hasn’t really been in the comics in a long time and so it gave us the opportunity to have [“Marvel: Avengers Alliance” graphic artist] Sam Wood draw a character in a more modern art style. Hybrid’s really powerful but a lot of fans are like, “Hey, he’s a hero in the comics! He’s a vigilante in the comics!” While that’s true, number one: We haven’t actually revealed who is host is and number two: We haven’t really revealed what his motivation is either.
Marvel.com: Finally, rounding out, we’ve got Scream, who was the first female Symbiote. So to me, that’s a gimme. You had to have her in the game, right?
Justin Woods: Yeah. And I think if you’re telling the story of Hybrid, she has to be a part of that conversation because that was a group of five Symbiotes and she rounds it out. I feel like her and Hybrid came as a package together but she’s also so cool. Her design is so cool. In fact, this may be sacrilege, but she probably has the coolest Symbiote costume ever because of how multi-colored it is.
Is she black or red? I don’t know. She’s yellow and then her other color is a black-red. How do you even do that? It’s so weird. It’s black but when light shines on it, it’s red. Her costume is so complex and strange that I think she just looks so cool. If I could be a Symbiote or have a Symbiote, I would love to have that one because it just looks so badass.
Marvel.com: How did you guys come up with the new weapons and tech for this Spec Op?
Justin Woods: First thing that came up in that conversation was, “What is the weakness of Symbiotes?” Because not every character has an inherent weakness, but the Symbiotes are one group of individuals that we know are weak to sound and are weak to fire. And that is something that we wanted to make the core of what weapons we did. And again, to not necessarily spoil everything that’s out there, there are weapons that are based on the concept of Symbiote weaknesses; there are weapons that are based on Spider-Man because he’s never really had a Spec Op. He’s never really had a time to shine in our game. He’s been involved in the game throughout but this is kind of his moment to jump in and say, “Hey, this is a Spidey story! These are my villains, I know these guys! I’ve done this before!” So we had to get some Spider-Man themed gear in there as well. I think that’s it. Symbiote weaknesses and Spider-Man, that’s kind of the thoughts behind where that stuff started.
Marvel.com: Is there anything else you want to talk about before we close the door on this Spec Op?
Justin Woods: Just [that] players should expect that we would do things like this more in the future, which is to say, stories with some characters that may be more obscure that they haven’t heard of before, but to give it a chance because these characters are awesome. We want to tell stories that help players understand who they are and what they’re about. We hope that they are really excited to see some of the other crazy things that we have in store over the next however many months.
Join “Marvel: Avengers Alliance” and play the Symbiosis Spec Op today!