Eidos Montreal might not be the first developer many people would put on a Guardians of the Galaxy game. The Canadian studio is mostly known for two Deus Ex games, which faithfully continued the stealth and immersive sim roots of the original. Guardians of the Galaxy is the tonal opposite of Adam Jensen’s adventures and adjusting to that new universe took some time, according to Senior Creative Director Jean-François Dugas and Senior Gameplay Director Patrick Fortier. Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri spoke to both about the upcoming action title and touched on how the team adapted to the shift, the origins of its strategic combat system, its apparent lack of DLC plans, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Michael Leri: The game has a very strategic combat system. Where did the ideas for the combat come from and how did it get to where it is now?
Patrick Fortier: It started with a lot of really cool iterations of things that didn’t work. [laughs] We really wanted to double down on the Guardians being there with you and part of everything. My initial idea was to go all out and dedicate the face buttons to them all of the time. It was confusing and it was like juggling and bit too much.
But the idea and desire was there from the start to have this ensemble fighting experience. They’re not just bots doing their own thing on the sides but are contributing to a fight together. You can do combos and stuff like that. It came through different iterations. We wanted the feeling of empowerment when you called on them and we wanted them to be integral to your success in combat. So it was about finding that fine line between them not doing everything and you being a cheerleader on the sidelines.
But we also didn’t want Star-Lord to be the badass Superman clearing everything while they’re in the corner and you just have to revive them. We wanted something in between where you have to make the decisions and figure out how to best take advantage of their abilities.
Pressing the button slows down time and gives you a breather and lets you look at the battlefield. When you hit the button and select a Guardian, you get an immediate effect and you see something tangible on the battlefield. Then it’s just about starting to feel out metrics because obviously Star-Lord is ranged and the other Guardians are more melee so if you are too far away, you feel disconnected from them and if you’re too close, that doesn’t fit with the fantasy with Star-Lord. We encourage you to stay in that sweet spot where you’re close enough but you are close enough to take advantage with your guns.
And it grew from there after that with the enemies. So what do the Guardians do? So we had enemies that counter that. And with different factions throughout the game, we can start mixing and matching and you can start developing your own playstyle as a player and what you want to invest in. They have a dedicated function so if here’s problem A, here’s solution A. For example, Drax is the stagger guy and you need someone who staggers. But what if you don’t have Drax anymore? Do I have a plan B? Maybe you want to invest in those abilities so you have other solutions to the problem, which means you can start being creative with it.
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Some enemies move quicker and you may need to immobilize them. There’s also the elemental ammo so some enemies have certain weaknesses against that. There are different tools for crowd control, damage, or stagger damage. Some do damage multipliers and they can piggyback on one another so if you want to start stacking those abilities, you do a lot of damage really quickly by the time they are staggered.
And the way you get introduced gradually to the enemies, you start figuring out the best and most optimal way to defeat them. When you see that archetype in a future fight, you might think you know what you’re looking for but it may be in a different context with more enemies. So do you take it the same way you did before or do you try to find an alternate way? There’s a lot of variety from the beginning to the end of the game and we stick to the nature of what you will find on different planets or what the story is calling for.
Eidos Montreal is known for Deus Ex and stealth games. How was the process pivoting to more of an action game?
Jean-François Dugas: An analogy I like to use, when you’re working on the Deus Ex game, it’s like you’re having philosophy and technology books with my glasses and I am reading and trying to understand the meaning of life. But with Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s like we are going bungee jumping. It’s a totally different mindset. And why I use that analogy, Deus Ex is all about the system and how everything connects together and has subjects like what it means to be human and what it means to evolve.
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And then we get here and it’s purely about the characters, their emotions, quirks, qualities, and flaws. It’s about this cosmic universe that gets threatened and the Guardians need to grow up and be the saviors of the galaxy. It’s more like a blockbuster and wild ride of fun, drama, surprises, and quirky moments. It’s all about the spectacle like how you introduce the characters. You show them on screen the first time and it’s all about the show and portraying who they are so in a snapshot you can understand what they are about without having said a word explaining who they are.
It was that mindset shift that we needed to do. And to be honest, it didn’t happen overnight.
Fortier: For the first year of the project, I think, development in terms of AI and characters was spent unlearning how we did things in Deus Ex and learning how we should do them. Like you would mention something that you’d want and then we would have to be like, “No, no, no, we are working in a completely different universe.” So we had to unwire ourselves a little bit from certain things in that sense.
But in other ways in terms of choices and consequences and “show, don’t tell” and having the environment tell the story, we brought that from Deus Ex to this game.
Dugas: But an example of liberating ourselves was in one of Gamora’s abilities called Deadly Strike. She can go from enemy to enemy really quickly and it’s super powerful. But at first, we were like, “That’s not realistic.” [laughs] At some point, we were like, “No! It’s about the fun and the pure joy and the celebration of that Marvel magic.” At some point, our brains opened and we fully embraced that.
We’re off of planet Earth and having to justify every single little thing. In Deus Ex, it would be like, “Oh, we can’t do the doorframe, it’s not realistic.” In Guardians, you don’t have that problem. [laughs]
The game is very chatty. How do you strike a balance between having a personality-driven cast but one that doesn’t exhaust the player?
Dugas: It comes back to what we are trying to achieve. And if you look at the Guardians franchise, it’s all about the characters. It’s all about their personalities and how they clash or connect together. It’s really their strength as a group unlike other superheroes who are about different things. We wanted to embrace that because that is what we believe will give the right experience.
We knew that it would be a chatty game. And by taking the POV of one of the Guardians, it’s not you following from a distant perspective and watching the characters talk among themselves during the story. It’s a story of you being in that party and part of that experience and so when the conversations happen, it’s not just about filling space: It’s about who they are and who you are. And some of those choices are the player role-playing. Some of those narrative components that aren’t necessarily choices constantly make them feel alive.
So instead of having a cinematic about characters that goes into a fight that then goes to another without character and then to another story moment with character, no, that’s not our game. We created something that makes the characters feel alive throughout and you are one of them and you are constantly engaged and sometimes you don’t even have to engage. That’s your call.
We do everything to immerse you in that fantasy and the way to achieve that is that they don’t just say jokes for saying jokes all the time. Yes, maybe in some of the trailers some of the jokes might seem like easy jokes out of context. But when you play it, it’s so much more than that. They have depth. You get invested in the characters. They have “human” drama.
Yes, a raccoon, a tree, and aliens all have human drama. [laughs]
Dugas: [laughs] They still have feelings like us. You get invested in that and suddenly you get attached to them and you start to get invested in that journey. Of course, if you’re just the kind of player who just wants to battle all the time and just have a cinematic thing once in a while, this is not that game.
It’s a great adventure from start to finish and they talk, yes, but you’re engaged in those choices and consequences and they evolve. All the characters evolve. What you hear and what they talk about toward the end of the game is not a repeat of what you heard in the first few hours. It constantly evolves. It’s funny and emotional to the end.
Fortier: For us, it’s at the core of the experience, even gameplay wise. We were mindful of mechanics taking a step back sometimes to leave room for that so you’re not always thinking about where the next weapon or chest or collectible is. We wanted a different focus.
Dugas: One of pieces of feedback we’ve received often is that it was as fun to play as it was to watch.
The game went gold the other day. What’s next for the team? Are there any post-launch plans or updates in the works?
Dugas: Vacation is what we are thinking. [laughs] You pay a certain amount of dollars for the game and everything is in the box.