Assembling Marvel’s Avengers: Black PantherHow did Crystal Dynamics bring T’Challa to life in Marvel’s Avengers? From finding a unique yet faithful take on the character to finding the perfect combat style, here’s the full story.
The War for Wakanda has begun!
The new expansion for Marvel’s Avengers is out now for all players. It adds a massive amount of new content to the game - including a new campaign, new enemies, new environments, and a brand new playable character: the Black Panther.
This new hero is fast, agile and unlike any Avenger on the roster to date! With his ability to pounce on almost any foe, and his impressive defensive capabilities, he’s a near-unstoppable force in the right hands. What else would you expect from the King of Wakanda?
Of course, T’Challa didn’t just appear in the game fully formed. He, and his super-satisfying skillset, were the result of a lot of hard work by the team at Crystal Dynamics. Here’s the story of how they assembled the Black Panther.
Welcome to Wakanda
For the Marvel’s Avengers development team, creating each hero wasn’t just a question of what they can do, it was also important to define who they are. In the case of the Black Panther, that meant drilling down into T’Challa as a hero, but also the land he rules.
Game Writer Hannah MacLeod explains: “We needed to find our version of Wakanda. That meant asking the question: what does Wakanda look like after A-Day?”
A-Day is a dark moment for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. The event, which kicks off the original ‘Assemble’ campaign, leaves San Francisco in ruins, the public against super heroes, and the Avengers disbanded. So where does Wakanda fit into this fractured world?
MacLeod explains: “We decided that Wakanda had been in talks to ally with the Avengers prior to A-Day, but the disaster made them walk away from that decision. Due to the circumstances, they once again closed themselves off from the outside world.”
A Unique but Faithful Take
Within this secretive society, the character of Black Panther could begin to take shape - who this incarnation of the hero would be, and how he fits into the larger Marvel’s Avengers narrative. The first place MacLeod and the team looked for inspiration was the comics.
“While the story itself is original to the game, the characters and their motivations are taken directly from the comics,” she explains. “For example, when we were developing Ulysses Klaue, we looked closely at the way he acts in the comics, particularly the Long Live the King run.”
For T’Challa himself, the team wanted to remain faithful to the personality and spirit of the character across the different mediums he’s appeared in. As MacLeod says:
“T’Challa has a few major moments in the comics that form his personality and that make him the person he is today. We looked at those big tentpole events, and how we could interpret them to fit our world.
“For example, his father T’Chaka is dead - that’s a big part of the Black Panther’s story. But how it happens is different across all the different versions of the character there have been, from the comics to the movies.
“But in our game, T’Chaka is killed by his own people. They betray him, and he dies trying to shield T’Challa. The event is different, but the effect is the same in terms of forging the Black Panther into the hero you recognize.”
The Judge and the Panther
Another big influence on the character of Black Panther was the actor who plays him in the game: Chris Judge.
MacLeod has nothing but positive things to say about Judge: “Right from the start, we wanted Chris to play T’Challa, but we weren’t sure we could get him!
“I know he’s mentioned that he was reluctant at the start, as he felt Chadwick Boseman was already the definitive Black Panther. But he was at the very top of our list for the game, so when he did join the project, it was amazing!
“Having Chris on-board really helped us define our version of Black Panther, particularly around how experienced he was. In the movies, for example, T’Challa’s father has just died, he’s very early in his kingship, and he’s still quite new to things.
“With Chris Judge and his gravitas, we wanted him to portray a version of the character who’s much more settled in the role. He’s been king for a long time, and he doesn’t seek advice in the same way that a younger version would.”
Judge was also able to drive home the emotional core of the character - the bond between him and his sister Shuri.
“We knew he could carry the emotional weight of our story, which is pretty dramatic,” says MacLeod. “There are a lot of powerful scenes, particularly with Shuri, where he was able to convey such tenderness with his voice, while maintaining the presence of a king.”
Pouncing on the Perfect Skillset
When it came to building out the Black Panther’s abilities in gameplay, the team wanted to find a unique angle that would make the hero stand out from the rest of the Avengers. Scott Walters, Senior Combat Designer , explains how the team got started:
“Whenever we start working on a hero, we first look at what’s iconic to that particular character. We look at everything, including comic references and movie references and figure out how to bring that on-screen in our game.”
Researching Black Panther’s long and varied history, the team quickly formed a clear vision for the character, and the unique skills he could bring to the gameplay. A couple of ideas in particular stood out, and they pounced on them!
“What we focused in on was the Black Panther’s pounce mechanic,” says Walters. “This essentially lets him leap at and grab targets and take them down to the ground. Alternatively, he can leap on top of larger enemies and use his vibranium claws to really lay into them!”
Right from the beginning, the team knew that the pounce ability would be key to the character. Not only was it super-satisfying to pull off, it also made the Black Panther feel utterly distinct.
As Walters points out: “No other hero can grab onto an enemy like that. Yes, Hulk can pick up smaller enemies and carry them around, but he can’t grab a walking tank like an EXO, or one of the larger crawler bots that feature in the expansion.
But Black Panther can jump on those enemies and basically lock them out of combat - all while dealing damage. It’s something only T’Challa can do, and it fits him perfectly - it has that Marvel DNA.”
Defense is the Best Offense
Pouncing was part of the puzzle - the team’s other big idea was inspired by the Black Panther’s suit. T’Challa is able to absorb kinetic energy from enemy assaults, and release it to create shockwaves and amp up his abilities. This awesome ability gives the character a playstyle quite unlike any other in the game.
“We wanted to support a playstyle that encourages players to be really defensive,” explains Walters. “Basically, players can block enemies to build up energy and then use that energy in their own attacks - not just as a big AOE (area of effect) attack, but also to power up specials, signature attacks, traversal attacks… basically everything.
“It was important to ensure there were lots of interesting ways to use all that stored up energy.”
The Ultimate Challenge
With the core concepts in place, the team built out the Black Panther’s specific move-set. It was a process that required a lot of iteration, with even the simplest actions being scrutinized to make them as satisfying as possible.
“For example, when we started, Black Panther’s sprint-attack was three kicks at once, but as we played, we found it was much more precise and satisfying to if we broke it up into a mini-combo instead,” recalls Walters.
One thing in particular that required a lot of attention was the character’s Ultimate Heroic move: Bast’s Chosen. This lets T’Challa channel the spirit of the Panther Goddess in order to gain various effects, including great bonuses to defense, but it wasn’t always this way.
“We had the basic shape of it, but we weren’t sure how it would be presented in the game,” says Walters. “We wanted to lean into the mythology of Wakanda, where people revere Bast, but we had to work hard to figure out how to implement that in gameplay.
“Initially, T’Challa just channeled the spirit to get stronger - basically it was a damage buff. But because of his Intrinsic ability, where he’s storing energy and boosting his attacks through the suit powers, it felt redundant.
“So we flipped the idea to focus on protection instead. You do still get a damage bonus, but the real fun comes in the defensive options it gives you. For example, one of the first upgrades you can get for the move lets you block and parry previously unblockable attacks.
“If you see a massive enemy charging at you, and the red indicator appears, you’d normally have to dive to safety. With Black Panther, you can interrupt that move and even knock the enemy away!”
Bast’s Chosen was now feeling better, and when the visual effects were added, it really came together.
Walters says: “We pulled from the comic lore to really visualize that spiritualization of Bast. Now you call a giant spectral panther to charge at the enemies when you first summon the Ultimate. That portrays the initial damage burst for the move and feels really authentic to the world of the Black Panther.”
With the War for Wakanda expansion now out, the team is satisfied with the character and excited to see the reaction from gamers.
MacLeod says “Everyone cared about this project so, so much - we all know how important the character is to people and we wanted to do him justice.
“I felt the freedom to be as earnest, emotional and deep with this character as possible because everyone on the team felt the same: we need to do this right.
“I’m genuinely prouder of this expansion than anything I’ve worked on in my career so far.”
You can experience the Black Panther yourself in the War for Wakanda Expansion, which is available as a free update for all players who’ve already purchased Marvel’s Avengers!
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