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X-Assault Expansion: Designer Diary #1

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NixonVision President Jim Lemoine kicks off a new insider series on X-Assault (and the upcoming expansion this summer).



Entry 1: Regular Characters

When we first made the very first X-Assault (highly-primitive-by-today's-still-a-bit-primitive standards), we knew that we wanted to have a LOT of playable characters in the game. We loved the old X-Men arcade game but you could only play as six different characters -- there was no Jean Grey, no Beast, no Iceman. Heck, you couldn't even play as Professor X!

Though the old Sega Genesis "X-Men 2: Clone Wars" is still probably our favorite pro X-Men game, it too was pretty limited in what characters you could play as... though the ability to play as Magneto was pretty sweet.

We're fans of the classic X-Men stories by folks like Claremont and Simonson. We wanted to play games with folks like Cannonball, Banshee, Shadowcat, or even the Professor himself! Surely that wasn’t too much to ask. But none of the OTHER game designers delivered...

So, the very first X-Assault attempted to blow the other games away with 20 playable characters. Over the next few years, we added more. Today, in the release available right now, there are a grand total of 56 playable characters. This summer, we've got 19 new playable characters planned for the new X-Assault release, which will bring us to an even 75 -- which, unless I'm very wrong, should easily make X-Assault the single biggest Marvel Universe game ever, in terms of character scope.

We knew we wanted to add a lot of playable heroes to the new X-Assault, and before we even knew we actually were making a new expansion for the game, some of them were pretty much already set in stone. We'd promised players years ago that we would add (just to pull examples out of the air) Sage, Longshot, and Xorn. So, they had to go in (though, we also promised to add Vargas back in the heyday of X-Treme X-Men, and we cheerfully admit that we're going back on that promise, due to a unanimous vote by the active staff). Sage and Xorn, as major players in the X-Universe, were no-brainers for inclusion -- plus we had some really neat ideas for their in-game powers. Longshot? Well. Longshot's just an old favorite. He's also one of the few members of the core X-Men team who hasn't been included yet, which gave him a lot of weight.

How did we decide on the other new characters? Exposure and playability.

After receiving a very cool idea from one of our players, we decided to throw in Paige Guthrie. As a former member of both the X-Men and Generation X, she rounds out a couple of teams pretty nicely, and from play-testing her, I can tell you she's really fun to play as (if a bit unpredictable). Thanks to the renewed emphasis on Mirage in New Mutants, we were able to justify including her in the expansion, too.

There are two other "regular" playable characters being added, both of whom we agreed to keep under wraps until the game actually (re-)launches. They're both favorite characters of at least one member of our design team, but more importantly, they both fit very, very well into the game's storyline. Both of them will have some unique events that may shed some light on the underlying mystery involved in the game's plot. They'll really help to develop the story farther. While we agreed not to announce the identities of these two before the new version launches... we WILL say that both of them have been full, official members of X-Teams (and we're pretty sure that nobody will be expecting one of them).

It took us a really long time to figure out how to work Juggernaut in as a hero in the new version. X-Men readers know that he's reformed and joined Xavier's Merry Mutants, but he's been a core villain in X-Assault ever since the game's original release. Players have spent almost three years beating Cain Marko up; how do we transition from that to the Juggernaut as a hero? Last week we created an in-game event, one that's fairly easy to trigger, that ends with Juggernaut getting his clock cleaned by one of the other in-game villains. So you've got a weakened Juggernaut, disillusioned with the whole bad guy thing, and he notices an opening on the side of the white hats. He jumps for it.

Originally we had it planned where you could play as the unstoppable Juggernaut for the rest of the game, and that's where it ended. Sort of like when you recruit Captain America (another hidden character); you have access to an unbelievable fighting machine, but when you start a new game, he's gone (unless you recruit him again). But the more we thought about it, we realized we wanted Juggy to be something more. After all, Cain Marko has pretty much joined the X-Men for good (at least, so far) while folks like Captain America and Spider-Man only show up for brief guest appearances.

It was Script's idea that finally worked for us -- a way for the Juggernaut to stick around. After you've succeeded in winning Cain over to your side, he'll stay -- even if you end the game and start a new one. Even if you close the program and reopen it later. Thanks to the new "Chapter" structure we're implementing (more on that next week!), the game will be able to remember whether or not you've recruited Juggy. If you have, he'll show up on the main recruitment board, on the Cerebro energy board, he'll be available for team formation... just like any other, regular playable character.

Of course, as soon as we were done with these new characters, it was time to start on designing and programming the aforementioned "Chapter" structure. That's a story for another time...


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