This year, Marvel appointed Justin Lambros as its vice president of interactive media, in all appearances to match its aggressive push into Hollywood (where it both licenses with Spider-Man and has started producing its own movies with Iron Man) with an equally bold move into the world of video games.
With a background in the game industry, rather than in comic publishing or Hollywood (having started writing at GamePro and worked as a producer for LucasArts and Sega), Lambros clearly intends to bring his experience to bear on a company that has grand ambitions but lacked the expertise to understand the gaming space.
You’ve just announced this fighting game project with EA. What’s going on with that?
Justin Lambros: Well, we’ve been working with EA in the past on fighting games, so what we’ve done with done with this one -- which is very exciting for me -- is, you know, they’re a top studio doing all the top-notch fighting games. This revolutionary Fight Night stuff they did -- great stuff. So, looking at that [and] the crazy innovative things they did with Def Jam, we’re looking to do the next iteration of fighting games, with EA -- [we] turn[ed] to that studio.
And I think that’s absolutely great, so we’ve been collaborating with them, and allowing them to put their spin on it. So it’s not gonna be an evolution of either one of those -- as Kudo [Tsunoda, of EA Chicago] was talking about in the panel earlier; it’s gonna be them interpreting the Marvel thing, and using that inspiration. So that’s usually exciting for us, because it’s a natural fit. And the characters themselves, and all the powers and things they can do, really going toe to toe with each other is really great.
I wasn’t a huge fan of EA's last Marvel fighter, Marvel Nemesis. How do you feel about that?
JL: Well I wasn’t at Marvel when that game was made, but yeah, but there definitely were some things that were trying to be done with that might not have been fully successful.
So what this is, it’s a whole new franchise. It’s all Marvel characters, all the time, and it’s really rebooting a big franchise. But it’s keeping to the roots of what those guys do. One-on-one fighting. And that’s really the core. And that’s probably where the similarities to [Nemesis] end.
There’ll be Marvel characters -- there’ll be some characters that were in [Nemesis], that will probably be in [the new] game. We haven’t announced the character list yet, but there’s the big stalwarts that you wanna play as, the cornerstones of the universe. So some of that might be overlapping. But other than that, all new fighting system, obviously brought up to the next gen, and you’re gonna be with all the technology that EA Chicago has been developing over the years.
From your perspective, is it gonna be difficult to make sure it’s all balanced in terms of, you know, “Iron Man can do this and cannot do that”, and “So and so should be stronger than someone else”. I mean, you’re gonna get into super comic nerd-dom there, but…
JL: Yeah, well, that’s always the challenge. Whenever you take an IP, there’s always gotta be some kind of... You know, gameplay’s key on games, so we realize that. So we wanna make sure that the gameplay mechanics spawn from the IP, and are natural and make sense, and people who read the comics will see this and they understand it. But it’s been really cool; I’ve been working with them on the character lists and stuff, and they had a really clear idea on the combat and what they wanna do with it.
And so the character list has evolved based on that, and so they really put characters that fit in with this mechanic instead of shoehorning people in and having to stop [using] a power this person has, or change [something]. It’s like, “okay we’ve got this set of things, let’s think of the characters that can fit in there and really be dynamic and be different”. So they want to cover as wide a range of powers and characters as they can.
Do games sell comics or do comics sell games?
JL: Well there’s an interesting crossover, and there’s different target audiences and stuff, and we definitely see people coming in and learning about the characters for the first time, whether it’s in a movie or a videogame, or, obviously, in the comics. For the 60 years or 50 years of comic book history we have... there’s tons of people in the legacy, I mean, I grew up in comics, and a lot of the audience can see that.
Every opportunity that we do to make a TV series or a movie or whatever, there’s a chance to be the first introduction to a Marvel character, so that’s really important. We gotta be cognizant of that. The games that are based on the comic book universe, we want to be as referential, and we want to cross over and use as much stuff as we can from the comics, But we get people [who are] excited and interested in that. Because when I’m not playing games I love to be reading comics, or vice-versa, so that’s what we try to do.