One thing the creative team behind MultiVersus always has in mind is legacy.
Fandom sat down at San Diego Comic-Con with game director Tony Huynh, executive producer Sheloman Byrd, and voice actors Tara Strong and Matthew Lillard. Though the course and scope of their involvement with the game differs, legacy is always at the forefront.
A game like MultiVersus can’t be too self-serious, given how it involves plucking characters from multiple Warner Bros. franchises and dropping them into a cage match. At its heart, it’s not unlike smashing your action figures against each other in the sandbox. And for some players, that’s as deep as they’re willing to go, playing a few low-stakes rounds at a party.
For others–the fighting game fanatics–there’s got to be a mechanical appeal as well. These are the players who will crunch the numbers and push the game to its limits to achieve frame-perfect play, discovering new strategies and combos to deploy against their opponents in the competitive scene.
But then there’s the nostalgia crowd, the ones who are here because of their love for one or more of the characters. Whether it’s someone they could relate to in their formative years or just their favorite from a recent TV show, some people will pick up the game for the singular novelty of playing as the Iron Giant. These players will balk at any interpretation of the characters that doesn’t align with their concept of who those characters are. Departing too much from the aesthetic, disposition, and overall vibe of a beloved toon can totally take this player out of the game.
The team at MultiVersus has to honor all three types of players, and doing so is no small feat.
“It’s been a dream, honestly, working with Warner, because they really understand their characters,” says Huynh. “At the end of the day, we wanna make stuff that’s really different, that you don’t normally see in a fighting game, and that’s true and authentic to the characters, and that brings the love of the characters to life.”
1% Of His Power
That doesn’t mean you can’t show a side to them that some people may not have considered, though. Take Shaggy, the dog food-gulping beatnik who brings a meme-y level of fighting prowess to the game. This version of Shaggy is a clear nod to the Ultra Instinct Shaggy meme that went viral in 2019.
“Our interpretation is actually canon,” Huynh assures us. “There’s a movie that came out not too long ago with a bar fight with Shaggy, and he is not cowardly in that. So there is a duality to the character … the bar fight was the inspiration behind a powered-up version of Shaggy.”
And who better to cosign on Shaggy than the man himself? Asked if he felt that Shaggy’s journey has all been leading to this, Scream and Scooby-Doo star Matthew Lillard says “Absolutely. He’s always been a badass, so here we are in a fighting game, beating up LeBron James. It’s amazing. Where else would he go? What else would he be?””
A Little Loony
He’s not the only one on deck, of course. Animated LeBron James from Space Jam: Legacy, as well as the eponymous duo from Rick & Morty, were both announced as playable characters during the convention. With so many characters to choose from, do the devs get carte blanche for which ones they get to use? “There’s not a hard rule or limit for who’s going to be included in the roster,” Byrd tells us. “Is there a gameplay need? Is there a fan need? Are players going to love this character? Those are more of the driving pillars.”
It helps to have so much talent to draw from in order to bring these characters to life. Voiceover legend Tara Strong spoke about her experience in the studio playing Harley Quinn. “Whenever you do [voice acting] for a TV series, you’re typically all together, even during COVID … With video games, there’s so much dialogue, in-play dialogue, fighting dialogue, that it would be pretty insane to have everybody in the same room. I think it’s more important to have the dialogue matching the action and what’s going on.” She added, “It’s just you for four hours, so even if you’re not doing a million fight sounds, it can be vocally taxing to just speak as you for four hours. But I will say that anytime it’s Harley, I don’t get cranky, ‘cause she’s my therapy.”
Technically, Harley is a therapist. Maybe not a terribly ethical one, but it’s a start.
Carrying the Torch
Both actors have plenty to say about their commitment to their characters’ legacies. “It’s an honor,” says Lillard. “At some point, I really wanted to come off of Shaggy and move to something different. The reality is that the older I get, the more I am honored to be a part of this legacy that Casey Kasem started.” He continues, “For these iconic characters, somebody started them. We hold them now, and we protect them and do the best we can to hold space for the people coming up that love that character, and then someday we’ll pass them onto the next generation.”
“No, we won’t!” insists Strong in Harley Quinn’s high-pitched voice. “There’s a recording studio in hell. See you there.”
Jokes aside, Strong approaches her role just as seriously. “Anytime there’s representation of a strong female character that inspires girls and friends of girls, it’s very important, and I don’t take that lightly,” she says. “When we go to Comic-Cons and people say ‘oh my god, I was in a really dark place ‘til I met Harley,’ or ‘I had no friends til My Little Pony,’ or ‘Fairly Oddparents!’ got me through my parents’ divorce…’ People cry a lot when they meet me. It’s touching to know–because I think our predecessors didn’t know–how much voiceover really impacted people around the world.”
She shares a heartwarming anecdote: “ I had an experience quite recently when a girl was dressed as Raven. She was talking and talking. And I looked over at her mom, and she was really crying. So I went to see if she was okay, and she said that her daughter was severely autistic and hadn’t spoken in five years. And when she heard I was coming, she hadn’t shut up.”
“The fact that I’ve helped any girl feel like she can tackle a situation is amazing.”
The Taz Dynasty
At the end of the day, MultiVersus is still a video game, and a fighting game no less. That can only mean one thing: a robust and constantly shifting meta.
Says Byrd, “I actually love our community and our fandom. Watching them come together as we’ve been doing the tests, as the tests have rolled into the live game, and seeing the level of cooperation the community is doing, in terms of getting into each character ‘til they get to ‘I can actually play this with my friends!’ That’s been pretty awesome.”
On the subject of tier lists, it’s mentioned that the devilish Taz is currently sitting pretty at S-tier for most players. “OP!” insists Lillard. “Taz is OP!”
“Taz wants to spin,” says Huynh. “So we made him strong. Maybe too strong,” he jokes. “The bottom line is, I don’t mind that characters are strong. I care that they are fun to play against. So there’s a knowledge check with Taz with newer players that play against him. And he is accessible even in higher-level skill.”
He assures us there are more changes coming, and that the game will be frequently updated for balancing (among other things) as players continue to discover new advanced tech to get a leg up on the competition.
“Who do you main?” demands Lillard.
“I main Shaggy,” Huynh admits, to his elation.
Lillard and Strong high-five upon hearing that Harley and Shaggy are both high-tier characters as well, but the camaraderie fades when they learn they’re essentially tied in the rankings.
Looking Backward, Moving Forward
When asked about whether they drew on previous characters they’ve voiced for their performances, Strong says, “I don’t really base my inspiration for her on other characters I’ve played, just on other versions of her that I’ve played. And certainly the original inspiration when the character was created, Arleen Sorkin.”
Lillard has no time for her modesty. “I just wanna say that [Tara] is a legend. An absolute legend. So any time it comes to something professional, I go to the legend.”
The developers don’t want to stay stuck in the past, either. They’re eager to see younger players use the game as a gateway to franchises they may have missed, so newfound interests can start to blossom.
“It’s been really fun to introduce our community to new things,” says Huynh. “There are characters in our game that some players have never seen before. And then they go off and watch these shows. So I’m talking to them and they’re super excited about what excited me. Players watching Steven Universe, or Adventure Time, or even Game of Thrones for the first time. We’re introducing them to fandoms that they wouldn’t have normally gotten interested in. So that’s been really rewarding.”
Seems like as good a metric as any for a successful legacy.
The MultiVersus open beta is now live on PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.