TT Games has been steadily releasing Lego titles for more than a decade now, bringing notable franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Marvel and DC comics to life in charming, family friendly games. While the frequency of releases has been reliable, its quality has occasionally slipped. If you were frustrated with the state of Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 at launch, you’re not alone, either. TT Games has been examining how to revitalize its games moving forward, starting with the upcoming Lego DC Super-Villains. I played the E3 demo and chatted with Arthur Parsons, head of design at TT Games, about what the studio is doing to make the best possible game – for both returning players and newcomers.
There’s a lot to unpack with this game, so I’ll focus on the big things first. Lego DC Super-Villains is the first time that players will get to play through a campaign centered around the best part of most stories: the bad guys. “Everyone loves playing as Vader or Voldemort, or whoever the bad guys are,” Parsons says.” And because of the wealth of source material here, TT Games had a lot to work with. “DC’s villains, I think they out of every IP we’ve ever touched, they’ve got the best roster of villains. By a long way.”
Players have been able to play as the baddies in free play in the DC games, with one exception. “In Lego Batman 1 we had villain levels, but you had to complete the whole hero bit first,” Parsons says. “They were actually the most fun bit of Lego Batman 1, but we’ve not been there since. When it came time to do another DC game, villains was the obvious choice. It effectively feels like a new IP.”
While you’ll interact with bad guys like Lex Luther, Joker, and Harley Quinn, there’s also another major player in town: you. “For the first time ever, the customizer is important to the game,” Parsons says. “Normally it’s an afterthought; it’s just something for free play. This time around, the first thing you do is create your own villain who joins with the Legion of Doom. But the villain that you create is actually important in the story, and you can upgrade them along the way, so they have the ability to absorb energy, so you get new powers and new abilities, and it’s a character who weaves in and out of the story all the way right through the end.”
If you don’t care all that much about your character, you can pick from a variety of presets or have the game come up with a random selection. Lego veterans know the depth that players have with their created characters, and it’s fully on display here. You have a wide array of options at your disposal, from decals, body parts, and weapons, right down to your villain’s backstory. Your character has an absorption ability, so he or she can acquire new powers throughout the campaign. When it’s over, it’s possible to end up with an overpowered jack-of-all-trades style villain, who can deftly handle gold and silver blocks, laser-cutting puzzles, and anything else that gets in the way – similar to how the unlockable Stan Lee character acts in the Lego Marvel titles.
The demo is a silly escape from Stryker’s Island, where Lex Luther and Mercy help my created character out of the prison. As we move from one brick-bashing location to the next, I also get to play as Solomon Grundy, Cheetah, Joker, and Harley. There isn’t anything particularly mind-blowing about any of it, but it does highlight some of the refinements that TT Games has made – refinements that are a long time coming. For example, when you encounter a situation that requires a specific character’s ability, control will automatically leap to that villain.
“We’ve put a lot of attention on accessibility with this game,” Parsons explains. “We don’t want kids to get roadblocked, we don’t want anyone getting frustrated not knowing what to do.” In one area, I climb to the top of an area with wall jumps. Once I get to the top, Cheetah jumps away from the opening to prevent her from accidentally falling back down. “I know that’s not much of a touch, but all those little things, people just get through the content nice and easy and they don’t get roadblocked,” Parsons says.
Parsons says that his team went back to the studio’s earlier games as an exercise, and played through them again. It ended up providing them with some great internal feedback, including the realization that it’s quite easy to get stuck on the first levels of their games. “We can’t allow that to happen. I know when I play games, and you get to a point where you get frustrated or there are roadblocks, you put the controller down, and sometimes you won’t come back. That’s just unacceptable. We create all this content, and we spend a lot of time creating it, and we want everyone to be able to get through it.”
Technical issues have been a problem for the Lego games, too, and those have been given special attention. Sometimes, the solution comes from avoiding problem areas altogether. I build a drivable gadget with Joker, and after I place the final brick, the character automatically moves a little bit away from the creation. “You know far too well that some games in the past once you build something, sometimes you get embedded in it or wedged into things,” Parsons says, “Little things like that help stop these little niggly bugs and irritants that are going to come through.”
One such irritant is the platforming. It’s never felt great in the games, and characters have a tendency to fall during lengthy jumping sections. Parsons says it’s being addressed with DC Super-Villains. “People won’t notice, but there will be slight magnetism, so if you’re doing a jump and you kind of drift, we’ll sort of auto drift you back, but you won’t notice it. In terms of refinements from say, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 to this one, there will be several thousand, but people won’t necessarily notice them because they’re all little tiny bits here, there, and everywhere. It’s that constant evolution. We do try to get better and better at what we do.”
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 ended up being a bit of a wake-up call for TT Games. As I mentioned in my review, it was loaded with technical issues that made it difficult to play. “Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 in my mind is a great game, but there were a few bugs and glitches when it came out,” Parsons says. “They’re all fixed in a patch now, but the problem is they shouldn’t be there in the first place.” He says his team is working to do everything they can to make sure this game ships bug-free. “ The way we’ve had to do that is actually lengthen our debug phase. It’s more than double for this than if we were doing a normal dev cycle. The results of this should be that when people get it in their hands it’s slick and it’s clean.”
We won’t know until the game’s October 16 release date if they’re successful, but what I played was rock solid. I appreciate the little quality-of-life touches , such as automatically switching characters during some sections in single player. After years of playing the games, I’ve gotten used to some of the peculiarities. But as Parsons says, his audience is constantly changing. “As kids graduate up and start playing Fortnite, there’s a whole new package of kids that come and are going to play it. Despite all the Lego games we’ve made, this could be someone’s very first Lego game.”
Hopefully, the little touches and improvements will make life much easier and more fun for those new players. Me, I’m just eager to hang with Joker and his friends.