Assembling Marvel’s Avengers: Hulk

How did Crystal Dynamics capture Hulk’s pure power? The creators talk about the challenges of getting the character to feel both incredible and indestructible.
By Duncan Heaney

When it comes to the Avengers, Hulk is the strongest one there is.

This fact wasn’t lost on Crystal Dynamics when they started development of Marvel’s Avengers - and it presented them with a challenge: how do you make players feel that raw, Gamma-powered rage when they’re in control of the character?

Early Inspirations

The first step towards building Hulk was to define exactly what type of Hulk he was going to be. There’s a lot of history to the character, with many different iterations over the years, so Crystal Dynamics had a lot of reference material to draw inspiration from.

Fortunately, there are some major Hulk fans on the team, and their knowledge of the character helped them identify the elements they wanted to capture in the character’s look and playstyle.

“I’m a huge fan of Hulk,” says Shaun Escayg, Creative Director for Marvel’s Avengers. “For example, Planet Hulk by Greg Pak was one of the first Hulk stories I ever read, and I fell in love with the character. That story was all about Hulk battling his way across an alien world, and it captured so much about what makes the character great - his strength and determination.

“That was followed up by World War Hulk, which really showcased the raw power of Hulk’s anger. You’ll see elements of both stories in our take on the character - his strength of character and his rage.

“I’m also a fan of the classic TV series - the one with ‘David Banner’. The central concept of that very human, very clean-cut scientist struggling with this piece of himself within was hugely compelling to me.”

A Grounded Approach to the Character

That human factor is of major importance for Hulk - and Marvel’s Avengers as a whole. The team wanted to examine the human cost of heroism and have those themes reflected in the characters.

Shaun says: “I was particularly inspired by the Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross series Marvels. It was an amazing miniseries that challenged the very idea of Super Heroes. You know, are they Super Hero or are they super dangerous?

“The story essentially puts their weaknesses front and center and you get to see how these very human heroes wrestle and overcomes them. That obviously has a big impact on how we portray Hulk.”

Following A-Day - a cataclysmic event that ultimately led to the Avengers disassembling - Hulk is not in a good place… and neither is Bruce Banner. The fallout from that day has left its mark on both of them, and that will be obvious when you play the game.

Crystal Dynamics’ Co-Head, Scot Amos explains: “When you first meet Hulk, he's in this monstrous state. And you’re shocked by it - he looks bruised and misshapen, not as symmetrical as normal. Even his color seems a little off.

“Internally, we refer to him being in Hulk-atory, like purgatory, because he’s been trapped in this state for five years. When Bruce re-emerges, he’s disoriented, disheveled, and bearded.

“Then, as you go off and do certain missions, you see Hulk pulled out of that state by Kamala Khan. You can see Hulk become more like that iconic Hulk we all have in our minds. In that way, the way Hulk evolves and changes is essentially a type of visual storytelling.”

Developing a Smashing Combat System

When it came to creating Hulk’s abilities, a large group of team members got together and threw out ideas based on what they knew and loved about the character. One idea in particular really captured the imagination of the combat team.

Vince Napoli, Lead Combat Designer for Marvel’s Avengers, says: “I want to grab two guys and smash them together. It’s high-concept, but such a core Hulk idea. It got us thinking - how could we build game systems around that feeling?”

Napoli and his team started experimenting with that simple concept, and found that implementing it led to a gamma bomb-sized list of additional options.

“Smashing guys together leads to tons of ramifications - there are so many other things you can build on from that. You can wield them as weapons, throw them around, have to develop different strategies to grab different enemies, and much more.”

It quickly became apparent that Hulk should be able to grab more than people. He should be able to weaponize the world itself.

We gave the Hulk the ability to rip big boulders, or clumps of metal right out of the ground, then use that object to pound or throw at his enemies. When we built this out, it felt really great - super powerful and satisfying. So we needed to make the rest of Hulk’s playstyle feel equally good. And all this started from, “Hulk Smash!”.

An Enraging Problem

It was important to Crystal Dynamics that every character in Marvel’s Avengers was authentic to the source material. In other words, Hulk should feel like Hulk, but that wasn’t always easy.

One particular issue was how to handle defense. You’ll be assaulted by all kinds of foes in the game, from deadly robots to highly trained AIM forces, and initially Hulk was able to block enemy attacks himself by going into a defensive stance.

But as Escayg recalls, that just didn’t seem right. “When you think about Hulk, you don’t think about him being defensive. I remember early on, he did this sort of cowering stance - he put his hands up in front of him to deflect attacks.

“But nobody on the team really liked the feel of it because it didn’t fit the character. It didn’t feel like Hulk.

“So we turned it on its head and went in a totally different direction. Instead of cowering, he’d use his rage as a defense. The Hulk is the proverbial bull in the china shop, right? So, he’d use that anger to just not care about getting hit, and just plough through assaults to get to his attacker.

“And when the team implemented that, it was very clear that yep, this was Hulk.”

Weight Issues

That wasn’t the only challenge the team faced during development either. Hulk is a formidable mass of muscle - he’s powerful and heavy. That weight had to be properly reflected in his playstyle.

This is something that took a lot of iteration to get exactly right. Escayg says: “I remember having a conversation with Vince about the Golden Gate bridge scene, and how we felt that the character didn’t feel weighty enough.

“He felt too clean and there wasn’t enough impact when he moved around. So now, for example, when he lands on the bridge, you see the guys around him fall backwards and lift off the ground.”

Napoli agrees: “There was definitely a lack of ‘Hulk’ in the way the character was moving. So we took a long look at how the character traverses.

“We realized, when he launches into the air, he can’t just land clean - he’s too sloppy, he’d skid when he hit the ground. Or when he grips the wall, he won’t just plant himself on it, he’d slide slightly.

“So getting that sense of weight and inertia was vital to making the character feel authentic. Fortunately, we got there and now it’s really satisfying to move around as Hulk.”

The final version of Hulk is a wrecking ball of destruction. It’s clear that Crystal Dynamics achieved their goal of making the Green Goliath feel like a heavy hitter.

But don’t take our word for it - you’ll be able to find out for yourself on September 4, when Marvel’s Avengers releases for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Stadia.

Get behind the scenes insight into the assembling of Marvel’s Avengers in these articles:

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