The Comics That Inspired Iron Man VR
While Iron Man VR isn’t based on any one particular Marvel Comics story, it does draw inspiration from several eras of the Iron Man comic, and that’s why Gage was brought into the fold. In addition to working on Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Iron Man 3 mobile game, Gage is also a prolific comic book writer who’s scripted everything from The Superior Spider-Man to Tony Stark: Iron Man to Avengers Academy. His comic book expertise was used to add a greater feel of authenticity to Iron Man VR. As Gage explained, he came on board after the broad strokes of lead writer Brendan Murphy’s story had been laid out.
“When I came in the game’s story was all there,” said Gage. “They did a terrific job with Tony and Pepper… I was brought in to give it that extra Marvel insider feel, put in some Easter eggs and just give it that mighty Marvel touch, as it were.”
Gage specifically pointed out two classic Iron Man stories that were big influences. One of these is 1979’s Iron Man #118, which features a now-iconic action sequence where Tony Stark falls from a plane and has to don his Iron Man armor in mid-air. The other is the Armor Wars story arc that ran from Iron Man #225-231.
“One was obviously Iron Man #118, which is the classic falling out of the plane, trying to catch the armor issue,” Gage said, ”but also something like Armor Wars in the ’80s. In that one, Iron Man discovers that his technology was stolen at some point in the past and has been used to empower various criminals and he has to go around and stop them and short out the technology so they can’t use it for evil purposes anymore. So that’s the kind of thing that usually fits well into an Iron Man story and the team already had that in place and I thought it was very effective.”
Payton pointed to a more recent pair of Iron Man stories – Extremis by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov and The Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca – as major influences. As he did with a suit in Marvel’s Spider-Man, Granov himself was even hired to design a new, original suit for Iron Man VR, dubbed the Impulse Armor.
“The Matt Fraction series was part of our required reading for the entire development team in the first year of development,” said Payton. “I think one of the things that the Matt Fraction and the Extremis series did so well was to add a modern spin and a degree of a technical foundation to everything that Tony was doing, and I think it really inspired the team in terms of how they started thinking about the level of customization and to the degree of which Tony would obsess over this new Impulse Armor that artist Adi Granov had helped us design.”
Finally, Payton teased that Iron Man VR draws inspiration from perhaps the most famous Iron Man story of all, 1979’s Demon in a Bottle. That story is notable for dealing with Tony Stark’s alcoholism, as the Armored Avenger hits rock bottom in more ways than one. This isn’t to say Iron Man VR will necessarily focus on Tony’s alcoholism, but it will share certain thematic similarities.
Payton said, “The game very much leans into this idea that Tony is his own worst enemy. We dig into that quite deeply and through the thematic nature of it. We’re not retelling the story of Demon in a Bottle, per se, but we are borrowing from a number of specific elements and some stuff to a certain degree that’s really, really hardcore that I’m excited to see if the big Iron Man fans out there notice to the degree of which work we’re referencing, a number of these different comics.”
Why Iron Man VR Isn’t an Origin Story
Like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Iron Man VR takes place in a world where Tony Stark already has several years of Iron Man experience under his belt. While an early segment of the game will feature a flashback to a rookie Iron Man as a sort of training sequence, the bulk of the story mode takes place years after Tony donned his first suit of armor.
Payton explained this decision, saying, “One of the things that we agreed with Marvel on from the very beginning, especially when we’ve talked to Bill [Rosemann] over at Marvel Games, is that just like the Spider-Man game, we didn’t want Iron Man VR to be an origin story. We recognize that people love and know Iron Man from the films and the comics and so we wanted to just put the player right into the action. So the game’s story starts a little bit into Tony’s career as Iron Man.”
Payton continued, “In the initial prologue, we do talk about the Mark I, but we flash forward a little bit and then that’s when we introduce our original armor into the game, which is called the Impulse Armor… We know that maybe players don’t necessarily need to be told the original origin story, but we’ve done, I think, a really good job of calling back to it and reaching back into Tony’s past to make it so even if this is the first experience that anybody’s ever had with Iron Man, that it still makes sense to them.”Gage agreed, telling us the story strikes a balance between respecting the comics while blazing its own trail with Tony Stark.
“People know that Tony Stark was a guy who made weapons, and then he had this situation where he was kidnapped, and his heart was damaged and he had to build armor to escape, and now he’s trying to help the world as Iron Man,” Gage said. “And so much like the Spider-Man game, this one is its own story and that’s what Marvel has encouraged from the get-go, is to make the best Iron Man video game you can. Don’t worry about adapting a comic book story. Don’t worry about tying in with the movies or anything like that. Just make the best Iron Man video game that you can possibly make. When I came aboard, I was very impressed with what the team already had and I felt like they’d hit on many of the things that make for a great Iron Man story.”
The Halo and Resident Evil Influence
While it’s hardly surprising to learn Iron Man VR draws inspiration from both the comics and past Marvel video games, you might be surprised to learn it also follows the example of other recent AAA video games. It turns out both the Halo and Resident Evil franchises had a significant impact during development.
Iron Man VR focuses a great deal of attention on the dynamic between Tony and his suit’s AI system, FRIDAY. More than just being a helpful tool for the player, FRIDAY will be an integral character in the game, according to Gage.
“it’s not just that FRIDAY is the AI telling you shoot to your left or engage the repulsor rays,” he said. “Friday is an actual character in this game and that’s all I’ll say, because it’s going to be much more fun to understand what that means on your own as you play it.”
That’s where the Halo influence comes in. Payton confirmed the dynamic between Halo protagonist Master Chief and his digital sidekick Cortana helped inspired the Tony/FRIDAY relationship, in part because the Camouflaj team includes several veterans of past Halo games.
“It’s one of the things that we found to be really interesting about this opportunity to work on Marvel’s Iron Man VR,” said Payton. “As a team, Camouflaj… has a number of ex-Halo developers, myself included, and… when the opportunity with Iron Man came about, I said to some of my colleagues here, ‘Well, here we go again. We can do an interesting story about a man in big, thick armor who has a female AI assistant that’s more than an AI, but there’s actual real character development data that we can explore.'”As for the Resident Evil factor, Payton pointed to Resident Evil 7 specifically, saying his team looked to that game’s use of first-person perspective to tell an “immersive,” character-driven story. Essentially, the goal was to use that perspective and the power of VR to allow players to truly inhabit the role of a billionaire playboy superhero.
Payton said, “We want to tell an original story about Tony Stark that went really, really deep on just more [than] a handful of villains and characters, because I really wanted to leverage what I believe is some of the strengths of storytelling in VR, and that is inspired by other games I played. For example, Resident Evil 7, where you get really up close and personal with 3D characters in VR feels incredible. It feels very immersive and I wanted the player to be able to spend a lot of time with not only villains, but also companions of Tony. For example, Nick Fury and FRIDAY and Pepper Potts … [to] be able to spend enough time with them to understand these characters and see them evolve as characters in VR.”
Why Ghost Is the Game’s Villain
The trailers for Iron Man VR have revealed Ghost as a major villain. While MCU fans will remember Ghost as one of the main antagonists in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, in the comics the character is more closely tied to Iron Man’s world. The game is drawing elements of both versions, with Ghost’s gender and appearance echoing the MCU character and her motivations as an industrial saboteur hearkening back to classic Iron Man stories. That said, fans should expect the game to add its own layers to Ghost, particularly when it comes to her shared history with Tony alluded to in the trailers.
Payton told us Ghost was the logical choice of villain for a game centered around Tony Stark battling his personal demons and the mistakes of his past.
“Through the moment to moment gameplay, what are you doing? Who are you battling?” he said. “We have Tony literally battling these machines that he used to build back when he was an arms manufacturer, but it doesn’t solve the problem of who was our main villain. We wanted to have a villain that we go really, really deep on and then really explore.”
He continued, “And myself and Brendan Murphy went down to Los Angeles. We met with Bill and the Marvel team and I remember sitting around in a conference room and we said, ‘Okay. So can you guys help us figure out who our main villain is because we need somebody who would resurrect machines from Tony’s past and hacks those machines and then haunts Tony throughout the game.’ And almost like a TV sitcom Bill and all the rest of the Marvel guys looked at each other and at the same time they said ‘Ghost,’ and from that point on, we knew who our main villain was.”Gage added, “And it makes total sense, because our version of Ghost in the game is not identical to the version in the comics, who has actually evolved in the comics and gone from sort of a technological raider/saboteur to a paranoid conspiracy theorist in the Matt Fraction run. There are elements of the Matt Fraction version in our Ghost, but there are also differences. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say, but she has a personal reason for what she’s doing. It’s not, ‘I don’t like corporations and Stark Industries is a corporation, and that’s why I’m going after it.’ She’s got a personal vendetta.”
Payton also teased that Ghost won’t be the only familiar villain seen in the game. That being said, he was adamant that the goal isn’t to include a wide swath of villains (as was the case in Marvel’s Spider-Man), but instead to hone in on a handful of characters integral to the story.
Payton said, “While we have some villains that we haven’t yet talked about, we’re also being really clear that we’re going to go really, really deep with the villains that we have as opposed to going really broad with this game.”
For more on Marvel’s Iron Man before its release next week, be sure to check out our hands-on impressions from last year and new revelations about the game’s combat, upgrade system and world-building. Also, if you are on the fence on if you want to purchase the full game, there is a demo available now on the PlayStation Store.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.