In 2006, Bill Rosemann made the move to Marvel from rival DC and was immediately tasked with editing the “cosmic” portion of the company’s portfolio. You know, the stories about superpowered alien rings and far-flung wars in distant galaxies. One of his first projects started as a new series starring wisecracking Star-Lord, but it snowballed into something much bigger. Inspired by the “Annihilation” crossover storyline, Rosemann wanted to create an event that pulled in long-forgotten characters from the Marvel mythos, and eventually that turned into the modern edition of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the years that followed, Rosemann has seen the franchise turn into an unlikely blockbuster, spanning multiple comics, an animated series, and two Hollywood films. Next week, it will grow even bigger, with the release of the first episode of Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy game. But even though Star-Lord, Groot, Rocket, Gamora, and Drax have become well-known names, the new series isn’t being designed exclusively with the growing fanbase in mind. “Stan Lee always said, every Marvel comic could be someone’s first comic ever,” explains Rosemann, now executive creative director at Marvel Games. “So we approach things with that goal of accessibility.”
Since the release of the first season of its Walking Dead adaptation in 2012, Telltale has made a name for itself transforming some of the biggest names in entertainment into choice-driven interactive dramas. That includes everything from Game of Thrones to Minecraft to Batman. Guardians of the Galaxy represents the studio's first Marvel game after a partnership was announced in 2015. “A big thing that’s really worked well for Telltale thematically is family,” said Justin Lambros, executive producer on the game at Telltale. “And Guardians definitely carries that tradition of a Marvel superhero group that have a really great, interesting chemistry. They’re really more of a family than a professional team.” (It also doesn’t hurt that the game will launch just before the second movie on May 5th. “We definitely made sure to work hard to [release] around that window,” Lambros explains.)
Many of Telltale’s series, including both Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, star brand-new characters. This gives the studio a good amount of freedom to craft their own stories even within a well-established world. Guardians of the Galaxy, on the other hand, features an already well-defined cast of heroes. (The story itself, however, is not canonical to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.) That presents a challenge when your stories are based largely around player choice. So the studio is following a similar path as it did with Batman. Since both Batman and Bruce Wayne had so many different iterations over the years, in the game players were able to essentially create their own version of the character, acting as either the aloof playboy, the hardened crime fighter, or somewhere in-between. In Guardians, players will primarily play as Star-Lord, and the goal is to offer a similar amount of freedom when it comes to shaping the character. “One of the things we’ve tried to do is show a range,” says Lambros, “and let people play their own version of Star-Lord.” According to Telltale, you’ll be able to role-play as the cocky showboat Star-Lord or the serious leader or a mixture of the two.
Despite the stated goal of being approachable to newcomers, the new Guardians game series isn’t an origin story. “The movie did such a great origin story getting this group together, so we didn’t want to redo that and try to one-up an origin story,” says Lambros. “What we wanted to do was show these characters together, but then dig into their past, which in turn will reveal why the Guardians make sense and why they stick together.” The focus may be on Star-Lord, but over the course of the five-episode debut season, players will have a chance to control each member of the team, and explore their backstories in different ways. The idea is to use that history to explain who the characters are and their relationships with one another.
The game won’t directly tie into any of the other media, and it takes place fairly far along the Guardians’ timeline. “They’ve been together for a while,” says Lambros. That said, it will naturally take a lot of inspiration from the adaptations that came before it, with characters that largely look and sound familiar. “We looked at the film, we looked at cartoons, we looked at comic books, and we brought our own ideas to the table,” says Rosemann. “If you’re an established Guardians fan it will feel very familiar. That said, you will see situations, settings, and characters that you’ve never seen before.”
It’s a tricky balancing act. The team wants to create an experience that eases in newcomers, without boring existing fans who are looking for something. “We want to keep the storytelling very clear,” says Rosemann.
The first episode, “Tangled up in Blue,” will be available on April 18th on PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android.