Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy - the Road to Karaoke

Why is an optional karaoke battle one of the most important scenes of the game? Read on because this story goes deeper than you expect…
By Duncan Heaney

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t just like to do the unexpected - it revels in it.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the optional karaoke scene on Knowhere, in which Peter Quill engages in a madcap singalong with an unusual alien. It’s weird, quirky, and utterly hilarious - a perfect description of the game as a whole.

Personally, I loved it, so I couldn’t resist asking the game’s Creative Director Jean-Francois Dugas and Art Director Bruno Gauthier-Leblanc all about it.

What I didn’t expect, is to learn that this single scene is far more than just a fun joke. In fact, it has its roots in the conception of the game itself - in some ways, it was the key to the entire project.

So read on for the full story of how this ‘unimportant’ scene, may just be one of the most important of all…

What happens in the Karaoke scene?

Peter Quill enters a bar in Knowhere and is confronted by an unusual (and unusually drunk) alien, nicknamed Lipless.

He’s apparently an old partner of Peter’s, although Star-Lord himself has no idea who he is. What he does know is that he’s heavily armed, dangerously strung out, and eager for a singalong.

It’s up to the player to choose the lyrics for a song neither they nor Peter remembers - get them wrong and Lipless will be… most displeased.

But nail those words, and belt out that tune, and a delighted alien will consider your relationship salvaged and reward you with a free ticket to the very expensive Collector’s Emporium - and all its many wonderful easter eggs.

It's a wonderful scene that, according to the developers, has existed for a very, very long time.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy trailer

Humble beginnings

Creative Director Jean-Francois ‘JF’ Dugas says: “When we first started working on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, we needed a proof of concept.

“We’d settled on the basic gameplay idea - that you’d play as the leader of the Guardians, have conversations with the team and give them commands - but while we were excited about it on paper, we had to build something to make sure they were actually fun to play.”

It wasn’t just important to define the mechanics, the team also wanted to use this experimental build to discover their own version of the Guardians of the Galaxy. As Dugas said: “We wanted to find own essence, our own flavor for the team.”

There was one significant problem though: “At this point, we didn’t have a story!”

The Guardians and Kammy the space alpaca

A weird rescue mission… and the origins of Kammy the space alpaca

With no story, the team would find it difficult to nail down any vision for the team. So they had to create one.

“We built a storyboard and invented part of a tale, purely for the proof of concept,” says Dugas. “This is where the karaoke scene and Lipless first appeared.”

“In this story, the Guardians go on this mission to save a kid from some bad guys. This would turn out to be a fake-out - the ‘kid’ would turn out to be a baby goat! We loved the idea so much we repurposed it for the final game - this was the inspiration for the space alpaca!

“Anyway, you’d end up going to a bar in a small village, where you would get information about the missing kid. That’s as far as the demo went - we wanted it to end on a cliffhanger.”

As they built this scenario, the team struck on a great idea: a ‘battle of wits’.

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy screenshot

An amazing idea

Dugas says: “A couple of people on the team came to me with the idea to do a ‘Battle of Wits’. Basically, Peter and the Guardians would meet this guy and start singing this song together, even though they didn’t really know the words. They’d have to work it out as they went.”

“When they presented it to me, the track was a very famous 80s rock song. While I loved the idea, I didn’t feel it worked. The music choice was wrong because it was a well-known - Peter may not know the song, but I do. That destroys the idea because suddenly I’m not Peter Quill anymore.

“But the guys loved the idea, and really pushed for it, and I realized that what we needed was to invent a song so there’s no way anyone would know it. Peter is confused, and as a player you’re just as confused. You’re one-on-one with the character because you’re living exactly the same experience - you’re just trying to wing it.”

A rapturous response

The karaoke scene was a big highlight of that first playable demo. According to Dugas: “people were laughing so hard because it was so out there and quirky!”

The game’s Art Director, Bruno Gauthier Leblanc, agrees: “When we all saw that scene, that’s we all realized that we’d hit that comedic narrative tone. After that everything just got more hilarious - I think that was the writers’ jumping off point!”

With the proof of concept complete, work on the game began in earnest. But as the game’s true story formed, the team found that they couldn’t bring along the singalong.

Knowhere concept art

Bringing it back

Dugas says: “We had our blueprint for the entire game, and the karaoke scene wasn’t in it. There was just no place in the main story for it.”

It was only when the team started developing Knowhere and its many attractions, that Dugas saw an opportunity to bring the beloved scene back into the spotlight. The problem was that not everybody was so certain about the idea.

“I said to the animation director: ‘can we take this scene that we came up with around three years ago and fit it in Knowhere?” Unfortunately, he had a lot on his plate, so he essentially said: ‘it’s going to be difficult - I’m not sure it’s a good idea.’

“We had some back and forth, and in the end, I agreed to leave it as a ‘nice-to-have’. But at some point, he did find some time to look into it, and realized that it would be faster and easier to add it in if we redid the motion capture.”

That’s exactly what the team did - they remade the scene with fresh motion capture and thanks to the hard work of the animation team, it made it into the game.

“When the animation director watched it, he was laughing so hard,” says Dugas. “He said: ‘Okay, it was right to put it back!’ It fits so well with the tone and spirt of the game.”

Reuse and Recycle

Although the scene did make it into the final game, there were some pretty significant changes to the original. For one thing, your singing competitor wasn’t Lipless… he had a different role.

Gauthier-Leblanc says: “During that first playable, we were still searching for our look and style. We’d created these three alien poachers, one of which was Lipless.

“We were playing around with the idea that they could be enemy archetypes. We thought that maybe you would fight these guys on hoverbikes, until we realized that the arenas would have to be kilometers long for that to work!”

The work wasn’t wasted though, and these assets were all brought back when full production began.

“In every good game, you reuse. You never throw away,” says Gauthier-Leblanc. “For example, you’ll notice those hover bikes parked all over Knowhere, and we even used them in the escape from Lady Hellbender.

“And some of the alien creatures in Knowhere are those same poachers!”

But Lipless was brought back in a much more prominent way, as the big star of the karaoke scene.

Gauthier-Leblanc says: “Lipless was so funny with his straps, and visually his face was just weird. We recreated him for the new scene, but we took that same design and put it in the game.

“It just works perfectly - it’s really bizarre and out there, and that matches the Guardians of the Galaxy so well.”

The joys of missing out

Of course, one of the interesting things about the completed Lipless scene is that many players won’t even see it. The scene will only play out if you enter the bar at the right time. Considering how much work went into it, you may wonder: does it bother the team that players might not see their work?

“If you speak to my team, yes,” laughs Dugas. “They’re probably not happy if you miss it! But actually that is intentional.

“Part of my philosophy for the games that I make is that I want the experience, as much as possible within the intended design, to be tailored to how you play.

“For example, the feeling of discovery when you uncover something unexpected, or when you talk with someone about the game, and they describe something that you never saw - those are the things that make you realize: ‘Oh wow - this game is deeper than maybe it looks on the surface’.

Deus Ex Human Revolution screenshot

It’s an approach that Dugas has carried through many of the games he’s worked on:

“The same was true of Deux Ex: Human Revolution and Mankind Divided,” he says. “For example, in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there was a police station where you needed to retrieve a chip.

“There were so many ways to achieve that - for example, you could sneak in and completely bypass the police office at the entry of the building. He gives you a lot of backstory for your character, Adam Jensen - but you can totally miss it!”

“The team at the time were, like: ‘JF, why?! That cost a lot of money and people won’t see it!’ And I do get it - it’s tough for the team because they put so much effort in. But for both that and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, I believe it leads to a stronger gameplay experience that feels more personal to you.”

The final karaoke scene is quite something to behold - if you saw it on your playthrough you know exactly what we mean. And if you missed it, you should select Knowhere from Chapter Select and take a look. It’s very memorable.

If you haven’t yet experienced Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you should get on that right flarkin’ now! The game’s available for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.

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