The Avengers Video Game the World Never Got to Play

First there was a bang. The noise that comes from steel-on-steel influence. An unfamiliar sound in an workplace used to the peaceable clatter of mechanical keyboards. Then got here the second bang. A 3rd. A fourth. 

Individuals started to take discover. One ear at a time, the headphones peeled off. Hordes of women and men, peering over workplace dividers like confused meerkats. What was that noise? The place was it coming from? 

Then it turned clear. A full-grown sport designer, enraged. He’d picked up the closest blunt instrument, an umbrella, and commenced rhythmically battering it on a submitting cupboard. 

For Charles Henden, who witnessed the incident, this wasn’t out of the unusual. This was sport growth.

“You already know, we have all been there,” says Henden. “We have all crushed up a submitting cupboard with an umbrella in some unspecified time in the future in our careers.”

Henden, like everybody else watching, was a sport developer, working on the now defunct THQ Studio Australia in Brisbane. In high-pressure environments like this, with extremely tight deadlines and large monetary stakes, meltdowns had been nearly frequent.

“I might in all probability, from every of the initiatives that I labored on, offer you a narrative that will simply blow your thoughts,” says Rex Dickson, who additionally labored on the studio round that point.

However in a universe the place crushing work hours are normalized and outrageous conduct is commonplace, this time the stakes had been greater than traditional. This was no regular challenge. No regular online game.

The 12 months was 2011. The THQ Studio Australia staff had a popularity for creating licensed video video games inside tight time frames. This time it had landed an enormous one. In 2012, Marvel and Disney had been set to launch the primary Avengers film, launching a franchise that will change cinema endlessly. Avengers would finally turn out to be greater than Star Wars, greater than Harry Potter, greater than something. This was an enormous deal, and everybody on the staff knew it. They labored as if their careers and livelihoods trusted it. 

However regardless of being an modern, high-quality online game that wowed nearly everybody who performed it, the Avengers challenge would by no means see the sunshine of day. Everybody engaged on the sport would finally lose their jobs. 

A world monetary disaster, a surging Australian greenback, a licensing deal that each one however assured it might by no means return a revenue: The Avengers was a online game caught on the middle of a dozen competing hurricanes. 

And regardless of the perfect efforts of everybody concerned, it was finally torn aside. 

Execute crisply

“So what’s this Avengers factor?”

After being instructed he was engaged on an Avengers online game throughout a Christmas assembly in 2009, that was Charles Henden’s first query.

Within the chilly mild of 2020 the query appears quaint, however in 2009 the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as we now perceive it, did not actually exist. Iron Man had hit cinemas, however Marvel hadn’t but bought the general public on the broader idea of the MCU. Henden understood a online game based mostly on an Avengers license may very well be massive. However how massive? The size was unclear.


When growth began, few understood simply how massive the Avengers films would turn out to be.


After transport numerous video video games based mostly on the Avatar TV present, and one other based mostly on the film MegaMind, THQ Studio Australia was on a roll. It was a collective that helped execute one in all THQ’s most easy missions as an organization: high-quality, rapidly made video video games based mostly on licensed properties. 

Henden’s second query: “What comedian books ought to I purchase?”

Particulars had been sparse. THQ wished to make a online game that will launch alongside the Avengers film, however no-one actually knew a lot in regards to the film itself. “There have been pockets of people that kind of knew,” says Henden, “however they weren’t actually allowed to say.”

The staff determined to create a film that will give attention to The Ultimates comedian books, a collection the flicks themselves would closely draw upon. 

So Henden purchased these. 

“I wished to turn out to be an professional,” he says.

In 2009, the benchmark for comedian guide video video games was Batman: Arkham Asylum, a sophisticated third-person motion sport with slickly built-in puzzles and exploration parts. Nevertheless it was the exception that proved the rule: Most video video games based mostly on comedian books or films had been dangerous

Like Iron Man, a Sega title rushed via manufacturing to hit the film’s launch date in 2008. Iron Man scored an abysmal 45% on Metacritic and received GameSpot’s “Worst Sport Everybody Performed” award that 12 months. 

THQ Studio Australia did not need to make an Iron Man, it wished to make a Batman: Arkham Asylum, and, at first, a lot of the design work mirrored that. That meant single-player, third-person motion that includes weighty, close-quarters fight.

It was six months of “stable work,” remembers Henden. The core design was principally found out. Ranges had been starting to take form with the assistance of some stunning surroundings artwork.

Then every little thing modified.

Ships that go within the night time

It was frequent data that the then-general supervisor of THQ Studio Australia, Steve Middleton, was typically at odds with THQ company. However these kinds of conflicts not often filtered down the chain.

“With THQ,” Henden explains, “you by no means actually knew whether or not you had been within the good books or the dangerous books as a studio.” 

You could possibly maintain your boss (and even your boss’ boss) joyful by doing good work, however the bigger machinations of how your studio match into the macro THQ image had been principally obscured.

At one level the THQ Studio Australia staff was taken right into a room and knowledgeable {that a} host of recent builders — a brand new lead designer and a few manufacturing leads — had been being recruited to assist with the Avengers challenge. That felt comparatively regular. Much less regular was the assembly that adopted. 

Steve Middleton, the person largely chargeable for working THQ Studio Australia as an entity, was being let go. 

“It was an enormous shock,” remembers Henden. “It was loopy. It was like, ‘what are we gonna do?'” He believes Middleton was a scapegoat for any potential delays that might happen with the Avengers sport. Steve Middleton did not return a request for remark.

Alongside Middleton, a core group of the artwork staff was additionally let go. Some had been key to the event of Avengers. One sound designer, employed by the outgoing basic supervisor, had packed up his total life within the UK and headed to Australia for a job that now not existed.

“This man had paid to relocate to Australia,” says Henden. “He had all of his private stuff in a transport container, all of his issues had been on a ship. 

“He arrived in Brisbane and was instructed he did not have a job anymore.”

Left 4 Avengers


A staff presentation at THQ Studio Oz.

Charles Henden

Christian Dailey’s time in Australia was one thing of a curler coaster. 

He arrived from San Diego to Pandemic Studios in Brisbane in 2007, to work on Batman: The Darkish Knight, a canceled online game based mostly on the then-upcoming Christopher Nolan film. Dailey then labored alongside George Miller, the inventive genius behind Mad Max, at his Kennedy Miller Mitchell sport studio. 

However when Dailey was provided the job of sport director on the Avengers challenge, he signed on nearly instantly. Having frolicked at THQ in San Diego in a previous life, he was already properly conscious of the staff’s technical acumen. He was additionally an enormous Marvel fan.

Upon arriving, Dailey spent his first month at THQ Studio Australia getting an concept of the place the sport was headed and the way he might contribute. However one factor stored nagging at him.

The Avengers sport seemed acquainted. Too acquainted.

“I used to be what was on the market,” remembers Dailey. “Each Marvel film tie that had come and gone at that time was like this third-person form of cookie-cutter clone.”

There have been some good video games, admits Dailey, like Hulk: Final Destruction, however third-person motion video games instantly tied to Marvel films had historically been rushed out the door to hit launch dates. Video games like this, counting on model title over high quality, not often obtained the time or consideration required to create a very polished superhero expertise.

Dailey wished to do one thing totally different. So he made an enormous name with enormous ramifications for the Avengers challenge.

“I stated, ‘Fuck it’, let’s make it first-person.”

It wasn’t fairly as abrupt as that, Dailey says, however regardless: It wasn’t a well-liked determination at first. 

“It was like a bomb going off,” says Henden.

A primary-person superhero sport. It was a singular concept. The normal considering again then — and even right now — was that licensed video video games must be third-person. The prevailing knowledge: Gamers who purchased a superhero sport would need to see the superhero they had been enjoying as. A primary-person sport does the other, hiding the licensed character from view, forcing gamers to observe and play via their eyes.

Dailey was closely impressed by Left 4 Lifeless, a 2008 cooperative first-person shooter that had gamers teaming as much as combat off hordes of zombies. That includes an AI-driven “director” that made every playthrough fully distinctive, Left 4 Lifeless was massively influential on the time. 

Very like Left 4 Lifeless, which allowed gamers to select one in all 4 distinct characters, Dailey wished to take the Avengers — Captain America, The Hulk, Thor and Iron Man — and create a sport the place gamers needed to staff up, just like the Avengers are inclined to do, and tear via hordes of dangerous guys.

For folks like Henden, who’d simply misplaced a number of senior members of their staff and had already labored via tumultuous change, the angle shift was a direct shot to the photo voltaic plexus. Dailey completely understood.

“Some new man had are available in and flipped everyone’s world the other way up,” says Dailey. “However I knew it was the appropriate factor for this specific sport.”

It was a daring transfer. Dailey wished to create a first-person, four-player on-line co-op sport at a time when on-line gaming — notably on consoles — was in its infancy. However he knew it might work. If the sport was four-player, then you would see the different Avengers — be they Hulk, Captain America, Thor or Iron Man — enjoying alongside you. 

“Now, after all, it is smart,” Henden admits, “However on the time I used to be one of many folks saying ‘what the fuck?'”

“I assumed it was simply nuts.”

Dailey knew he had his work minimize out for him. On numerous ranges.

“The largest factor was the terrifying considered making an attempt to promote this to Marvel.”

Avengers Assemble


Robert Rodriguez/CNET

Dailey knew he had the help of THQ on the publishing facet and, in time, the event staff would firmly get behind the transfer to first-person. But when Marvel did not help the choice, none of that will matter.

“It was actually Marvel that apprehensive me.”

Dailey and the bigwigs at THQ Studio Australia invited Marvel out to Brisbane to promote them on the thought of a first-person Avengers sport, cobbling collectively a presentation that included an early prototype of what the staff hoped to realize with this daring new imaginative and prescient. 

“It actually took them without warning,” remembers Dailey. “However in a great way.”

“They had been like, ‘That is nice, that is totally different. It is not like something we have achieved earlier than.’ And as soon as we obtained Marvel they had been an enormous ally.”

Marvel and Disney did not reply to requests for remark. 

Regardless of early reservations concerning the transfer to first-person, everybody I spoke to agreed: There was some extent at which your entire staff got here collectively on the Avengers challenge and went full velocity forward as a cohesive unit.

The staff did a terrific job of recreating The Unbelievable Hulk.

Warwick Mellow

“It was a dream staff,” stated one designer, who requested to not be named. “Absolutely the cream of the crop.”

The studio break up into small squads, every engaged on one particular Avenger. There was Iron Man, who might fly and shoot enemies from a distance. Hulk was all about close-quarters fight. Thor had lightning talents, and Captain America had vary assaults together with his defend. 

The staff was most confused about Captain America. You must bear in mind: This was earlier than Chris Evans had even been solid as Cap.

“I bear in mind considering, Captain America? What a reject,” laughs Henden. “I could not think about a world the place Captain America would have his personal films and be a lead character.”

Danny Bilson, then govt vp of THQ and head of THQ’s core video games division, remembered arguing about Cap with TQ Jefferson, a vp of manufacturing at Marvel. 

“I used to be like, Iron Man can fly, he is obtained the rays. The Hulk can smash. Thor has the hammer. However Captain America simply had this… defend. And it was like a frisbee? It isn’t gonna minimize it.”
What a couple of gun, Bilson requested. 

Marvel did not need Cap to have a gun.

“I used to be like, what do you imply? Cap was in World Warfare II working round with a gun. That was a rigidity that I bear in mind being actually captivated with.”

As the sport progressed via growth, a couple of stars emerged. Like Chris Palu.

He anchored the staff engaged on The Hulk. Three separate folks we interviewed referred to Palu as the perfect designer they’d ever seen. “I’ve labored with plenty of fight designers in my day,” stated Rex Dickson, a 20-year-plus business veteran, “however he was one thing particular.” 

Palu was answerable for ensuring the Avengers fight felt weighty and significant. First-person, shut quarters fight was historically tough in first-person video games, however by all accounts Palu pulled it off with aplomb. Hulk might rip enemies aside, he might catch dangerous guys in midair and slam them to the bottom seamlessly.

The staff was razor-focused on discovering alternatives for the Avengers to staff up throughout fight. Contemplating how motion sequences advanced within the Avengers film, the staff was heading in the right direction. 

The staff additionally secured Brian Bendis — the award-winning author known as the architect behind the Final Marvel Universe comedian guide collection — to put in writing the story.

“The sport was actually coming collectively, actually beginning to look good,” says Henden.

He remembers enjoying as Iron Man and attacking an enemy in midair, then watching as Hulk jumped up, double-teaming the identical enemy with spectacular particular strikes.

“That kind of stuff would get the fight designers amped up. Like, ‘now we have gotta work out methods for all 4 Avengers to staff up’. There was simply this large momentum behind the sport.”

However as soon as once more, issues had been about to alter.

‘We had been the People’

Dailey nonetheless maintains the shift to first-person was the appropriate selection, but it surely put the staff underneath monumental strain.

“We had been at all times behind, schedule-wise,” he says. 

That is the place Rex Dickson got here in. 

Rex Dickson had a popularity as being a more in-depth. He’d simply completed engaged on THQ’s Homefront, a sport with a growth interval so tortured it was known as a “demise march.” Some inside THQ believed he might assist THQ Studio Australia get the Avengers challenge completed in time for the film. 

In early 2011, Dickson performed an early construct of the sport and appreciated what he noticed. It was sufficient to encourage him to depart New York Metropolis and fly midway the world over to Brisbane, Australia.

“I assumed that they had one thing actually particular,” he says. 


Robert Rodriguez/CNET

Following him was Lance Powell, an artwork director. He’d labored with Dickson on powerful initiatives prior to now. “We made a pact to go collectively and convey stability to the IP,” says Powell.

Initially the brand new arrivals clashed with a really Australian Avengers staff. “I am certain folks felt like their toes had been being stepped on,” says Dickson. “We had been the People.”

Henden remembers butting heads with the brand new arrivals.

“These new guys are available in they usually’re carrying Yankees caps in Brisbane,” says Henden. “One man was jacked, carrying these tight V-necks. He had like a liter bottle of rum on his desk, and was at all times like, ‘Bro you wanna drink? Let’s do pictures and do time beyond regulation!'”

However “The People” believed time beyond regulation could be vital, notably if Avengers was to hit cabinets in time for the film launch in 2011. THQ Studio Australia, Powell estimated, had a 12 months’s value of labor to do in six months.

“That is a tough tablet to swallow for those who reside by a 38-hour workweek,” he remembers.” However everybody knew what was at stake.”

Dickson says issues by no means obtained to the stage the place they had been “hitting it exhausting.” However there have been casualties.

Because of the way in which sure pipelines had been established, one designer finally turned solely chargeable for a large a part of manufacturing. It was this heightened stage of strain and stress that resulted in him beating up a submitting cupboard with an umbrella. 

“He’d have conferences with staff leads, they usually’d say, ‘You are not pulling your weight’, however they did not perceive how a lot stress he was underneath,” explains Henden.

Issues escalated. Along with his gigantic workload, the designer was additionally a high-level World of Warcraft participant. As manufacturing ramped up, Henden remembers him mentioning he was scaling his WoW time again — to 70 hours a week. To him, a 70-hour World of Warcraft week was “informal”.

Sooner or later all of it turned an excessive amount of to deal with. He imploded.

Most bear in mind listening to a loud bang, however the very first thing Henden heard was a shout. He noticed one producer, in a defensive stance, trying like he was about to disarm somebody.

“Mate, simply put the knife down, OK? It is gonna be alright mate, simply put the knife down.”

The designer — the high-level WoW participant — had gone into the kitchen, grabbed the most important knife he might discover and had been stabbing it rhythmically into his desk. Allegedly, one girl requested if he was OK, and in response he’d swiped the knife towards her. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

“Simply put the knife down. We’ll go exterior and determine this out.”

The producer confronting the designer was an ex-bar bouncer, he had expertise coping with conditions like this. He wasn’t capable of persuade the designer to place down the knife, however managed to escort him exterior, away from the remainder of the staff at THQ Studio Australia. Quickly afterward, the police arrived.

“We had no concept he might turn out to be so unhinged,” says Henden.

THQ obtained the designer assist, paying for counseling and therapy, however he misplaced his job for that outburst. Later, Henden remembers, he tried to return again to work as if nothing had ever occurred.

“He actually did rock up, press the doorbell and say, ‘Hey I am again, able to work”” 

The legacy deal

“I did not make that deal.”

Danny Bilson already knew that video video games based mostly on film licenses had been on the decline. He’d seen as a lot at EA, the place he’d labored on licenses like Harry Potter. He beloved the Avengers sport, however he did not just like the deal

“There was a large assure in opposition to that sport,” explains Bilson. “You needed to pay Marvel double-digit hundreds of thousands it doesn’t matter what.”


Danny Bilson, the previous govt vp of THQ’s core video games enterprise unit. 

Danny Bilson

From 2008 till 2012, Bilson was the manager vp of THQ’s core video games enterprise unit. His position represented a transition for THQ. Again then THQ’s bread and butter was kids’s video games based mostly on film and TV licenses. In 2006, for instance, THQ made a sport based mostly on Pixar’s Vehicles that bought a ridiculous 8 million items. 

However that enterprise mannequin was on the outs. In response, THQ had turn out to be obsessive about creating its personal mental property. Video video games like Saints Row, an open-world sport designed to compete with Grand Theft Auto. Or Homefront, a first-person shooter constructed to tackle Name of Obligation. 

Together with his Hollywood chops (Bilson wrote The Rocketeer and is the daddy of actress Rachel Bilson), Bilson’s job was to handle the transition from licensed properties like Vehicles to authentic video games like Crimson Faction: Guerrilla, a story-driven sci-fi sport set on Mars. The Avengers challenge sat on the middle of these two worlds. It was a sport based mostly on an costly license that additionally wanted to hit the identical high quality bar as Saints Row or Homefront. 

In some ways, Avengers was doomed from the beginning. 

“Avengers was an costly sport,” says Bilson. 

There have been plenty of shifting elements. Bilson guessed that THQ wanted to promote 6 million items of Avengers to interrupt even. Again then, he believed the perfect they may do was 3 million. At greatest. 

The price of the license was the deal breaker. Some joked that Marvel, having been burned by Sega’s Iron Man, spiked the price of the license to ensure THQ invested money and time into making a high quality sport worthy of recouping the preliminary prices. Many we spoke to thought there was fact within the joke.

However the odds had been stacked in opposition to the Avengers challenge on a number of fronts. The world was within the technique of recovering from the worldwide monetary disaster of 2007 and 2008. THQ felt the complete weight of the crash. It had made errors. Huge, pricey errors like launching a pill for the Xbox 360 and PS3 at a time when shoppers had been all tapped out on costly peripherals. 

In 2007 THQ shares traded at $30. Six years later, in 2013, those self same shares traded for 11 cents. 

Bizarrely, the resilience of Australia’s economic system, relative to the remainder of the world, additionally made life tough for THQ Studio Australia. In November 2001, the Australian greenback was value 51 US cents. Ten years later the Australian greenback price over one US greenback. Over the course of a decade, working prices for an Australian studio like THQ Studio Australia had successfully doubled. That sea change had been the basis trigger of virtually each main studio closure in Australia. 

Quickly THQ Studio Australia would succumb to the identical destiny.



The entrance entrance to THQ Studio Oz.

Charles Henden

The Avengers cancellation, when it got here, was a shock to some. Others noticed it as an inevitability.  

“As a gamer, I want we might have shipped Avengers,” says Bilson. “However as a enterprise particular person? No.”

For Christian Dailey, the Avengers cancellation was a slow-moving prepare.

“It wasn’t like sooner or later you go into work, and the subsequent day it is ‘Shock, the sport’s canceled””

Dailey watched because the competing storms surrounding the online game he’d turn out to be invested in conspired to tear it aside. The economic system, THQ’s mismanagement, an untenable licensing deal. Dailey noticed the place Avengers ranked alongside the opposite initiatives THQ desperately wanted to succeed and knew the writing was on the wall.

“My spidey senses had been tingling,” he remembers.

In August 2011, the Avengers challenge was canceled and THQ Studio Australia was to be shut down as a part of a companywide restructuring effort. 

Chris Wright, who labored in THQ’s Melbourne workplace and was tasked with serving to to construct advertising across the sport, was one of many first to listen to. He remembers the “terrible” ache of understanding that builders in Brisbane, feverishly engaged on a sport that will by no means be launched, had been oblivious to the actual fact they might quickly lose their jobs. 


A superhero sport in first-person had its advantages.

Warwick Mellow

Rex Dickson was additionally instructed forward of time. Having moved his total life from New York to work on this sport, he was dissatisfied. However the “worst day” he says, was the next Monday, when Dickson and higher administration knowledgeable the entire staff that THQ Studio Australia was being closed and Avengers was being canceled.

Dickson was used to seeing these kinds of closures play out, however this felt totally different.

Within the US, if a studio was closed, these left behind would have choices. Inside hours they’d be discussing subsequent strikes. However this was Australia in 2011. The surging greenback had left the Australian video games business in ruins. In 2009, EA closed Pandemic Studios. Krome Studios shut its doorways in 2010. There have been no different choices. For a number of the youthful members of the staff, this was a “fairytale” job, says Dickson. Many would by no means work within the video games business ever once more. 

“It simply tugged on my heartstrings to see a lot expertise simply thrown away straight away.”

Charles Henden came upon by way of the cellphone. He’d taken depart, and was on a snowboarding journey with some mates. He was sitting in a cramped camper van enjoying consuming video games when he obtained the decision. 

He hung up the cellphone, instantly grabbed the bottle of vodka resting on the desk, withdrew to the nook of the van and polished it off in a single large, sorrowful gulp.

A candy reminiscence

Christian Dailey has a resume few can match. He is labored at EA and Blizzard, and is at present a studio director at BioWare. However few video games imply as a lot to him because the Avengers challenge that by no means was.

It is inextricably tied to his time spent dwelling in Australia. His daughter’s first days at elementary college, armed with sunscreen and the obligatory floppy blue hats college kids are pressured to put on in Australia’s scorching summer time warmth. 

“It is such a candy reminiscence for me.”

He nonetheless talks to many who labored on Avengers, nearly 10 years later.

Rex Dickson was engaged when he first flew from New York to Brisbane, and flew again three months later to get married. Three weeks after arriving to start out a brand new life in Australia, that they had a child on the way in which.
“I bear in mind having to inform my pregnant spouse, who’d simply moved her complete life to Australia, that we had been gonna have to maneuver again to the US once more.”

Avengers was a particular sport for your entire staff. Some nonetheless reminisce in regards to the challenge to today. Builders, even in sister studios within the US, stored debug consoles with the sport nonetheless put in, so they may proceed enjoying on their lunch break after its cancellation. 

Christian Dailey believes that in the event that they got the time and the assets to complete it in keeping with the staff’s imaginative and prescient, THQ Studio Australia’s Avengers would have been a large success.

“It was a easy sport,” he says, “but it surely was very sticky and really enjoyable.”

Dickson agrees, however given the time constraints the Avengers challenge would have nearly actually come up in opposition to, he believes the sport might need sacrificed on depth and story. “I feel it might have in all probability ended up transport as an arcade brawler with plenty of potential within the core mechanic, however not fleshed out sufficient to be a AAA 90 rated title.”

Like Physician Unusual considering a number of totally different realities, Chris Wright struggles to think about a timeline the place the Avengers challenge might have made it to retailer cabinets. Marvel might have lowered the licensing charges, and THQ might have used these financial savings to fund the remaining growth of the sport, however THQ filed for Chapter 11 chapter simply over a 12 months later in 2012, and commenced systematically liquidating its property instantly afterward. 

In the end it was a challenge caught in transition. Avengers by no means obtained the possibility to turn out to be the masterpiece Christian Dailey envisioned, however Avengers can even by no means disappoint us.

“A part of me is joyful it was by no means launched,” says Chris. 

“It obtained to stay frozen at its very best level. All of the potential but to be realized.”

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