Friday, September 29, 2006

Cryptic and the Marvel MMO

I'm looking forward to Cryptic's next project. My interest in City of Heroes was short-lived (2 or 3 months), but that game and its counterpart were a breath of fresh air for the MMO genre. When I first started playing, I made on a thread on the Vanguard forums about what impressed me:

But I definitely have my doubts about Cryptic's ability to design the upcoming Marvel MMO, particularly in regard to storytelling depth. As I said on Schubert's site (, I have to wonder how well Cryptic will move from creating cartoonish characters in a vacuum (CoH) to creating a world faithful to Marvel’s epics.

After York's comment in that thread, I wondered if I'd perhaps just forgotten about Cryptic's devotion to lore, so I glanced over the CoH site again today. Unfortunately, the site seems to justify my memory. The majority of backstories for the villain groups boil down to people after power and fame, usually without an explanation of their attractions to those goals. It seems as if the game's designers started with an idea of a particular superpower and then looked for a way to explain how the power came about, rather than how the personality came about.

If so, that's a significant break in style from the Marvel stories. Now, I've never read a comic book, but I've seen the movies and read many articles comparing the movies with their sources. Marvel authors create superpowers as an extension of personalities, using those powers to tell stories about inner journeys and about relationships.

That's what makes these stories respectable. It's why the Dracula and Frankenstein stories have always been more popular than Wolfman. There were vampire stories before Dracula, but Stoker's tale became the quintessential vampire story when he connected the vampire powers with a depthful and alluring character study. Most werewolf stories have touched on the "Man as beast" theme, but haven't taken the personalities and relationships deep enough; which is why people associate werewolves with whichever werewolf story is best at the time, rather than one enduring character and story.

Take a look at the Marvel characters and you'll see the truly memorable ones are those whose powers derive from personal traits and challenges. For example, the X-Men:

  • Nightcrawler hates himself for his sins, so wishes he could disappear. And he does.
  • Rogue is strongly empathethic, and so she can share in the experiences of others through her power as well.
  • Wolverine has responded to tremendous pain by becoming hard and cold (adamantium skeleton), a character flaw he slowly learns to remedy, and by lashing out (claws).
  • Mystique morphs her identity to whatever will garner affection (remember the scene with Wolverine). In the third film, she's realizes her mistake when she is revealed for who she truly is and is abandoned by those she acted for.
  • Magneto represents dictatorship, the forcing of one's will over others. Magnetism is an attractive force. When he is separated from his family in the Nazi camp, the gate bends as he is trying to force his family's return to him. For the rest of his life, he attempts to acquire harmony by force.
  • Professor Xavier's skill is reading people and events. He has the power to force his will, as Magneto does, but he chooses not to; he represents democracy, the value of self-determination. One of the most dramatic scenes in the X-Men film trilogy is when he seems to be forcing his will onto Jean Grey, by psychologically separating her from The Phoenix. Is he realizing that the right to self-determination is not absolute? or is he merely honoring Jean's choice, as revealed to him long ago or through psychic communication?

In order to make a truly faithful Marvel MMO, it seems that Cryptic must recognize and adhere to this type of storytelling. If they concentrate on the superpowers first, then it might as well be just another City of Heroes.


On a different note, Marvel stories are full of people being thrown through walls, characters smashing things, and stuff like that. =)

1 comment:

  1. Chas had a nice response to this in his own blog:


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