Assembling Marvel’s Avengers: Kamala Khan

She has one of the most difficult missions in the game: bringing the Avengers back together. But how did Crystal Dynamics assemble her?
Por Duncan Heaney

The addition of Kamala Khan to Marvel’s Avengers surprised fans. While the hero known as Ms. Marvel has joined the Avengers in the comics, she’s relatively new to the Marvel Universe, having made her comic book debut in 2013.

But her role in the new game is hugely important. She essentially serves as the main protagonist for the game’s extensive campaign - and there’s a very specific reason she was chosen.

Shaun Escayg, Creative Director for Marvel’s Avengers, explains: “We wanted to tell a story that stripped the Avengers down to their rawest form and put the spotlight on the humans behind the heroes. Kamala Khan was the key to making that work.”

In the opening of the game, San Francisco is attacked, and Captain America is killed. Guilt-ridden and leaderless, the Avengers break apart and go their separate ways.

“With Steve Rogers gone, there’s a void of hope,” says Escayg. “And suddenly here’s Kamala. She’s young, idealistic and believes in the Avengers completely. Who else had that passion to bring them back together?”

“What’s more, she also represents all of us who are playing the game - she loves these heroes just as we all do. If you’re a Marvel fan, you essentially are Kamala Khan!”

Looking for Inspiration

That relatability was all important - and something the team wanted to capture in both the story and the gameplay. So the first thing they had to do was define exactly who Kamala Khan is as a person.

“I think I read everything with Kamala Khan in it before I started writing the story of the game,” says Escayg. “I wanted to digest as much as a I could to stay as true to that character as possible.

“Her story was compelling on so many levels - she’s the kid that doesn’t fit in and everyone knows what that’s like at some point in our lives. She’s learning that our differences can be the best part of us - that’s a message that I took from her series and tried to weave through the whole game.”

First Steps

With Kamala’s vital role in the story, and her personality clearly defined, work started on making her a playable character. Vince Napoli, Lead Combat Designer for Marvel’s Avengers admits he was initially wary of Kamala’s prominence in the story.

“I’ll be honest - I was a little bit apprehensive when I first found out that Kamala was essentially the protagonist of the game. Mainly because I hadn’t really read her comics - but also because I suspected her powers would be challenging to implement.

“But when I saw our take on her, and took a look at some of the source material, I began to really appreciate her as a character. It's pretty obvious why she's become so popular so quickly - there’s something about Kamala that’s so charming and likeable.

“So despite that early scepticism, I came to realise that she made perfect sense as the driving force of the campaign. Because if a situation like A-Day happened in real life, you’d hope to think you’d respond as she does - with this unwavering, everlasting faith in what’s good.”

An Embiggened Challenge

Armed with a clearer understanding of the character, the team was excited to build her out. But early on they faced a challenge - how could they adequately represent such a flexible skillset.

Kamala has the ability to morph or “embiggen” her body - she can stretch her limbs, turn her hands into massive fists and even embiggen to a giant size. That power set offers all kinds of amazing gameplay opportunities, but it can also look unsettling or ridiculous. It was something that the developers had to battle against - and it wasn’t easy.

Napoli explains: “In some of the early versions of the character we built, she had limbs that sort of flopped around like spaghetti. It looked too silly. Everything from the size to the exact curve of the stretch can make a big difference to how natural it looks. We ended up having to develop a lot of technology to get that morphing to look right.”

Embrace the Avengers

As part of the early work, the team realized that to make Kamala’s distinctive abilities look good, they had to clearly define her fighting style. Unlike the rest of the Avengers, she’s not a battle-hardened veteran. She doesn’t have the training of Captain America or Black Widow, or the raw savage power of Hulk, and that needed to be reflected in how she played.

At the same time, the team didn’t want her to come across as inept or clumsy. “It was a difficult balance to find,” admits Napoli. “But the key, we realized, was that she’s a fan. She idolizes the Avengers, so naturally she would take direct inspiration from them in how she fights.

“So her big power attack is an imitation of the Hulk’s smash. Her kick is a Black Widow kick and her punch is her version of Cap’s punch. While she’s scrappier and less polished than the rest of the team, she still feels skilled and capable.”

Animation

The last part of the puzzle was the animations. The way Kamala and her limbs move greatly affect how the character looks and plays, but again, the team had to find the sweet spot.

Escayg explains: “Go too silly and exaggerated, and the character feels goofy. Go too serious or ‘realistic’, and it’s disconcerting. You have to find that middle ground where it feels based in reality, but still appropriately ‘comic booky’.”

The animators worked particularly hard on this aspect of the character, and it took quite a lot of time to feel right.

“Fortunately, the animator is a huge Kamala fan,” says Napoli. “She worked tirelessly on making her movements feel fluid and natural. And she did a great job - thanks to her work the character felt perfect!”

A Job Well Done

It was when all this work came together that the character finally clicked into place. Escayg recalls the moment he saw this more complete character.

“I sat down with Vince and he showed me their work on Kamala. And I was blown away - I remember saying that she already felt like my favorite character to play!

“It was that perfect merger of the character, story and gameplay in one place. We already knew we could convey Kamala’s personality in the cutscenes, but now we were also displaying it through the way she played. It felt like this wasn’t just an avatar that looked like Kamala - this was Kamala Khan herself.”

The Importance of Kamala Khan

Many of you got your chance to play as Kamala Khan in the Marvel’s Avengers beta, and seeing the positive response to the character has been enormously uplifting for everyone who’s worked on the game. She means a lot to people - particularly Escayg.

“Kamala is a second generation immigrant to the US - I’m a first generation immigrant,” he says. “Like her, I know that feeling of masking who I am to try to fit in, and then realizing that I’m hiding the things that should be celebrated because they’re what makes me unique. And that’s not just me - I think it speaks to all of us.

“What’s more, I have a daughter and two sons, and I’m excited for them to experience this character, see who she is and what she represents.

“I hope she inspires them, and the next generation of storytellers, to create more characters that are truthful and reflective of the real world.”


Marvel’s Avengers is out 4 September for PS4, Xbox One, Steam and Stadia:

To learn how Crystal Dynamics assembled the rest of the team, make sure you read our full series:

To stay up to date with news and information about the game, make sure you follow Marvel’s Avengers on social media.

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