From time to time here on the D3 Go! blog we’ll be chatting with various members of the team. In our debut interview today we’ve got Joe Fletcher, the producer for Marvel Puzzle Quest, sitting down with us. Joe has been with D3 Go! for 10 years and has a lot of insight to share.
Read on for a look at Joe’s career path in the video game industry and MPQ insider intel!
Q: What is your first memory in relation to video games? A game that first caught your eye or you felt a connection with?
I’ve been playing games since I was a toddler. BBS door games on Commodore 64 and Q-Link (AOL before it was AOL). Adventure and Combat! on Atari. Pong. So my earliest memories are of those types of games. The first game I really had a real connection with though, was Crystalis on the NES. It was the first game I bought with *my* money. We picked it up on my birthday from a soon-to-close Lionel Playworld after eating at a nearby rib shack. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, bought it off the box art and description on the back alone. But oh, man. That game was amazing. Fast paced, story based Zelda-like game with awesome music. I still go back and play that game around yearly. Love it enough to have had this paint on canvas pixel art piece commissioned!
Q: What was your path to becoming a game producer? How did you get started?
Originally, I wanted to get into game translation and localization. I wanted to be one of those guys at the Nintendo Treehouse who decides which games come over to the US and then helps get it done. So my goal was to learn the language and see where things go from there. So I went to Japan for a few years and went to a language and culture school there. To give an idea, it was 5 days a week, 8 hours a day, all in Japanese from day one. Every 3 months was worth 2.5 years worth of accreditation in a US college for Japanese language.
So in any case, get back to the US and am trying to get myself a job somewhere while I look to break into the industry so I can slide into localization. Out of the blue, my brother lets me know that he’s working with the wife of a man who is setting up a games QA outfit in my town. Score! Take an interview, hired on by D3 as one of the first employees. From there I worked up the ranks to Senior/Lead Tester, then QA Manager. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to do both of the things I set out to do; Give my opinions and reviews of Japanese games to bring to the US (HUGE thumbs up to EDF!), and help with translations of several games. At that point I realized that localization makes my brain bleed. I can do it, just don’t actually enjoy it. Then, a position opened up out in Los Angeles for an Assistant Producer, so I jumped and moved up from there to a full on Producer.
Q: If you weren’t producing games what do you think you’d be doing?
Probably coding at some game or software house. More precisely, probably scripting. I’m not great at laying down code on bare metal, but give me an API or framework to work with and I can bend that thing to my will. I’d *love* to say that I’d be a designer, but design positions are few and far between. Programming is much more likely.
Q: You’ve worked on the Puzzle Quest series for some time?
Correct! I’ve worked on every iteration of the game in some fashion. I was Senior Tester on the original Puzzle Quest, one of the leads, then a QA manager during Galactrix, and the Assistant Producer for PQ2. Also worked in various capacities on most of the ports of each of those. At one point, a few of us in QA even put together a fan expansion for the original PQ which had about the same amount of content as the Revenge of the Plague Lord expansion that released for it. I did around a third of the class/ability/item design and about 75% of the coding for it, which is an example of the kind of experience on the innards of the various PQs I’ve had as well. I’ve spent far too much time in the Puzzle Quest universe.
Q: Tell us a bit about the development of Marvel Puzzle Quest. When did it begin?
Marvel and D3 had wanted to do a game together for years. Tons of pitches were tossed back and forth across multiple genres and settings. I’m still not sure who came up with the idea of doing a Marvel licensed PQ game first, but once the idea was out there everything came together pretty quickly. From there, we went through a bunch of story iterations that tied the game down into the larger Marvel Universe, deciding finally to start out in the Dark Reign portion of the mythos. Originally, we were going to run with Infinity Gauntlet, which makes perfect sense. Gems! But we decided against it since that saga is mostly Cosmic heroes and it would be hard to come up with story reasons for why someone like Luke Cage or Elektra decided to trek out to the Kree homeworld to stop Thanos. Much easier to come up with story reasons for why Rocket Raccoon and Groot decided to stop in on Earth (for a slice!) instead.
Q: Were there any ideas that were dropped during the production of MPQ that you miss?
Only one springs to mind, but it was dropped for a good reason. Originally, characters were levelled using Experience comic covers, each with their own cover, all drawn from the What If? series. So maybe a 250 XP comic would be ‘What if Wolverine was a Vampire?’ or the 1000 would be ‘What if Tony Stark was Sorcerer Supreme?’ Added great flavor to the game, but the XP comics just added an extra step to leveling that wasn’t needed. So we scrapped the comics and just used Iso-8 instead, which was already added as a way to draw the lower tiers of comic packs. Similarly, each character’s different abilities were going to have a different cover. So Spider-Man Blue and Spider-Man Yellow would have different covers to represent them. In really early testing though, we found that not only was it really confusing (7 different covers for 3 different Black Widows) but it also pumped up our game’s size really quickly. We love having high res cover art in the game, but buffing the current count up by 3x would have quickly pushed us into the stratosphere. Hence Iso-8 all having the same cover and each character being represented by a single, iconic, cover.
Q: Is there something in MPQ you are particularly proud of? A standout feature?
My favorite feature in the game was actually implemented fairly recently, which is the weekly buffs. It took players a while to get used to their existence and adjust to the changes in meta that they caused, but by and large it’s made a huge positive impact in gameplay. You no longer hit Versus to a series of the same exact teams over and over since they’re simply the best in current meta. Now, every week you see a different variety as players use what they have leveled up and sub in buffed lower rarity characters for tactical flexibility. Makes for a *much* more fun gameplay scenario and players as a whole are able to compete more easily. Which also means more players want to compete (since before they were sort of locked out if they didn’t have the power characters) and thus more players *do* compete in each Event. Great change.
Q: What’s your favorite Marvel character in the comics and in-game? I’m curious if they are the same.
Favorite Marvel character in serious-dom is probably Psylocke. Liked her intro, loved her run with Excalibur. While she’s been the subject of a lot of fan service over the years (some of those costumes…) her overall character arc has been great. She’s also been evolving her powers lately, pulling out more than just psi-blades, making her much more interesting to watch in the more combat oriented issues. The writers overall have done some great work with her over the years.
In more of a comedic bent, my vote has to go for Nextwave as a whole. Aaron Stack, Monica Rambeau, Devil Dinosaur, Fin Fang Foom… Monica led the Avengers once you know. If you haven’t picked up the Nextwave trades, there’s something you need to do. Right. Now.
Q: What’s your current “go-to” team for MPQ – the trio of Super Heroes you find yourself relying on most often?
Depends on the situation. PVE I usually go for Captain America (Steve Rogers) for board control of Countdown tiles and stuns. Then I add Thor (Marvel NOW!) or Kamala Khan to the mix for some AoE and extra board control through tile transformation. After that is a choice of support depending on who I’m fighting. Could run The Hood to keep down enemy AP, could run Loki for his amazing passive. Maybe Daken for his healing and Strike tiles. All depends.
Versus mode I tend to be more conservative. Unless there’s a great combo I can run with the weekly buffs (hello there Patch/Loki!), I tend to run a pretty vanilla Featured/Thor/Hood set up.
Q: Finally, can you leave us with a hint of something new and exciting coming to Marvel Puzzle Quest in the near future?
For players asking for more variants, we’ve got you covered coming up here in the next few months. Still some brand new characters too, but we haven’t let the often popular variant characters out into the cold! Expect some fan favorites to get some new versions!