League of Villains Design Spotlight – Muscular

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    Hello everyone! My name is Jeremy Ray, but many people in the community call me J.Ray. I’m a former player and current member of the game design team for UniVersus. For those who don’t know me, I’ve been a part of the community for over a decade now mainly as a player but now as part of the team. Hopefully some of you reading this I have met and maybe even played against while doing our Gunslinging side events at our Dallas for our Pro Hero National Championship event or in Las Vegas for our Hero League Championship event! 

    Today I’m going to focus on a little of my personal process on the development of characters in the early stages of a new set design. I think the easiest way for me to explain is by using an example from the most recent set release, League of Villains! One of the first steps is deciding the themes of the set, the goals, and the big ideas. For League of Villains one of the core themes was making every character feel very distinctly unique. Each member of the League has their own motivation, their own goals and their own personality. So the main goal for us was to really capture that. In the big picture we were introducing so many new characters that we wanted to make sure each one really had their own play styles that captured their methods and their quirk in thematic ways.

    The next step in the process is we meet together and as a team discuss how we want the characters to function in a way that really captures how their personalities, their actions at the point of the show we are trying to capture and most importantly – their quirk! After we agree as a group on some basic concepts for each character, we split the characters up into each member of the design team and get to work on our initial designs for our assigned characters and their “Kits”. The “Kits” are the group of cards representing the focused characters of each set, usually a mix of attacks and foundations designed to support and facilitate the game plan of the character themselves, but also other characters who may fall under similar archetypes or themes.

    With all that out of the way, today is all about Muscular! I took on the initial design for Muscular with the guidelines of the team in place. We had all agreed on a hard hitting character that wanted to see both players swinging for the fences and really trying to capture the feel of his fight with Deku. I didn’t want to frame him as an overly defensive character because that wouldn’t reflect him accurately from the show, he was incredibly durable but wasn’t using any sort of significant defensive tactics beyond his ability to absorb powerful hits with his layers and layers of muscle. I also wanted to capture him growing more and more dangerous as his fight with Deku went on, after taking some significant blows, he stopped holding back and unleashed his full power in the closing parts of the fight.

    In order to capture his incredible durability and growing strength, I needed to create a defensive package that didn’t make opponents’ attacks weaker, but by being hit by the attacks, made him even stronger. To show him growing more and more dangerous as the fight goes on, I needed to find a way for him to turn into the heavy hitter we wanted for the character. Overall I was trying to create a “Scaling” (starting slow but getting more powerful as the game goes on) character with a focus on big damage.

    In came the idea for Muscle counters to represent the growing threat of the character as the fight goes on. This was a core concept from day 1 for this character, though it went through some changes from how it started. One of the earliest concept versions of the Muscle counters included versions that “spent” the counters for damage. This version felt like he had big spikes of power, but not that sustained power we really wanted for the character. Another early version only gained when your own attacks hit but this iteration suffered too frequently from games when he would get “Shut Out” of gaining counters and end up creating some very negative play experiences. On top of the potential negative play experience, it made us design most of his support towards counter generation to make up for the slower production and that made the support just feel too narrow. So I decided to focus the generation into 2 primary places to keep his kit open to have some sub themes and make them less narrow. The main generation would be right on the big guy’s face, and by having it trigger both offensively and defensively, it meant that he would always get BEEEG and be able to jam out some huge damage. The second big piece was Pump Up, so let’s talk a little about that card’s journey.

    Pump Up took a few tries to get right — striking the balance between accessible late-game scaling without being too strong in multiple copies took a lot!

    Pump Up ended up being an essential part of his kit, and went through MANY iterations in initial and early design. Originally it worked on every attack you played which was way too much generation, and was clearly unfair in multiples. So we then tried a version similar to the final version, but you could use it Once per turn on either player’s attacks, not just your own. This led to versions of Muscular that were playing a heavily defensive gameplan, just trying to build up through opponents attacking them until they could then unleash a single huge counter attack, often utilizing cards like Determined Victory Smash. We finally settled into the version you see today, rewarding him for his aggression and getting him BEEEG. It was the weakest version of the 3 but it was still getting the job done and encouraging play styles for the character that were identified as the most fun. To try and really lock the cards value in, we significantly improved the block mod from a +3 to a +1 Low so Muscular players didn’t feel punished for needing to play this card in their deck and now the card felt just right. This solved a large part of his gameplay loop for the whole kit. By focusing the Muscle generation here it left us some breathing room to give him some tools he was interested in within his support.

    We wanted to capture how punishing even blocking his powerful attacks is, and so cards like Muscle Rush, Nightmare Physique, Pump Up and Double Overhead Hammer Fist all cause damage to opponent resources or health, even when they are blocked. Muscle Mauler filled an important role of spending some of the face down resources he gained from his support ability all while generating important card advantage needed to help offset his low hand size. Muscle Rush was an especially important part of his kit, giving him a “Two-Way”(good on both offense or defense) card that felt good at almost any point of the game and generating momentum for Muscle Mauler/Double Overhead and Muscle counters for the character himself. Rounding out the kit was his Ultra Rare Double Overhead Hammer Fist, a powerful finisher that mirrored Iida’s Recipro Burst, but with a sharp focus on raising the Damage as high as possible — something Muscular is ready for!

    After the initials were done, Muscular and his kit went into the hands of our playtest team who put him through the ringer, helping pinpoint the correct numbers and adjustments to make sure the character was fun and fair for the outside world. At one point he had a few more health for example, this was rough because more health for him also meant more damage for his attacks. With the help of the rest of the design team to guide adjustments and the testers to spot problems we got him ready to join the rest of the cast of the League of Villains set!

    If you enjoyed the style of this article and would like to see more articles like this about other characters from me, leave some positive feedback on social media or even tag me in the official discord (I’m F2K) with a thumbs up!