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NYCC 2019: We stepped inside the Iron Man suit in the new VR game. It was wild.

By Dana Forsythe
Iron Man VR [Credit: Marvel/Sony]

Throughout the Iron Man and other MCU movies, Tony Stark prefered to keep his super suits in a super-private closet. It worked out pretty well for him — so well, in fact, that the team behind the Iron Man VR experience used the same tactic. 

In development since late 2016, Iron Man VR was Sony and Camouflaj Studios' most guarded secret until its unveiling at New York Comic Con. During the con, SYFY WIRE spoke to Marvel Games VP & Creative Director Bill Rosemann, the Director at Camouflaj Ryan Payton about this ground-breaking new VR experience, and got a hands-on sample of the impressively immersive gameplay, too.

Utilizing the Playstation VR (PSVR) system, Iron Man VR offers gamers a chance to step into the Golden Avenger's famous suit and go a few rounds with an army of bad guys. While there have been more than a dozen video games featuring the Invincible Iron Man in the past, none have put the user in Tony Stark’s shoes like this one. From the true-to-Marvel-movie sound effects of his repulsor blasts to the way his mansion looks exactly like it did in film Iron Man 3, the next step in superhero video gaming is clearly Iron Man VR.

Iron Man VR [Credit: Marvel/Sony]

According to Bill Rosemann, the team at Marvel Games has been dreaming of the VR game that would put you inside the helmet of the Armored Avenger for years. 

"It’s the perfect marriage of technology and character, a fusion of human and machine, just as Tony himself," Rosemann explained. "Our friends at Camouflaj are striving to deliver on your wish-fulfillment of flying through the sky as the modern knight, and we all couldn’t be happier to partner with PlayStation VR to allow True Believers around the world the chance to suit up!" 

For Ryan Payto at Camouflaj, the biggest challenge was to make sure the final VR product didn't compromise on creating a big, authentic, high-quality Iron Man game that highlights the PSVR capabilities.

"Now that we’re showing off more of the game, we’re hoping fans understand that the game not only has high-octane Iron Man action gameplay but a robust Tony Stark-driven story to boot," Payton said.

Here's what Rossmann and Payton had to say when SYFY WIRE grilled them about the nitty-gritty details of bringing Iron Man to VR.

Iron Man VR [Credit: Marvel/Sony]

Can you talk about a little bit about your love of comic books and Iron Man in particular?

Rosemann: I first encountered the charismatic “cool exec with the heart of steel” via reruns of his 1960s Marvel Super Heroes cartoon, which features the best intro song this side of Spider-Man’s original cartoon theme. While I grew up with a limited budget for comics, I mainly stuck to group books (and duo books like Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One) so I could get more heroes for my buck, but I would occasionally encounter a random issue through the “three comics in a bag” option or would grab a single issue – such as his clash with Doctor Doom in Invincible Iron Man #150 – if it caught my eye.

While I’ve always been drawn to more underdog heroes such as Spider-Man and Daredevil, the best runs on Iron Man eventually awakened me to a fact that despite his wealth, Tony is indeed an underdog in his own unique way, forever grappling with rival execs, a growing rogues gallery, and his own inner demons. Part James Bond, part Howard Hughes, part gleaming knight and part futurist who always bets on himself. What’s not to love?

Payton: From an early age I was more interested in games and comics than TV and film, so my first encounter with Iron Man was actually via the Data East arcade game, Captain America and the Avengers. Iron Man played a big role in that game, and I remember plunking many quarters into that machine growing up.

A few years later, I purchased my first Iron Man comic — issue #290 — mainly because I thought its gold cover was cool. Once I got home and read it, I instantly became enamored by Tony as a character, his armor tech, the grounded sci-fi nature of it all.

As a twelve-year-old comic and video game nerd, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d not only go on to direct an Iron Man game, but that it would be built exclusively for virtual reality! 

What can comic book fans expect from this game?

Rosemann: International intrigue! Globe-hopping action! Hardlight Ghost Tech drone blasting and plane saving at 20,000 feet! Fan-favorite supporting cast and suits of armor! A ghost from the past and a threat to the future! More Easter Eggs than you can shake an arc reactor at! ‘Nuff said, True Believer!

Payton: From the first day of production on Marvel’s Iron Man VR, we reached deep into the back catalog of Iron Man comics to not only source inspiration, but to fully grasp the true essence of Tony Stark. One of the game’s core pillars is to build an “original and authentic” Iron Man experience, so the comics have been an invaluable resource.

Above all, Bill Rosemann has been a terrific partner in helping us ensure our original story appropriately tips its cap to the past 56 years of Iron Man comics, and writer Christos Gage has helped infuse the story with some fun nods and winks that comic fans will love.

Iron Man VR [Credit: Marvel/Sony]

What kind of source material did you reference for this project?

Rosemann: The team at Camouflaj jumped into the Mighty Marvel Vault to zero in on historic issues, key sagas, and even single panels and covers that capture the core of ol’ Shell-Head. From “Demon In A Bottle” by David Michelinie and Bob Layton to “Extremis” by Warren Ellis and Adi Granov to the current run by Dan Slott and Valerio Shiti, the team has been devouring the greatest Iron Man comics and then putting their own unique spin on their original story to deliver an experience that will have you guessing as you zoom around the globe.

Payton: For me, it’s all about "Demon in a Bottle." I believe that series from the late seventies evolved Tony into a believable character with modern, relatable problems. While I love watching Iron Man tear down powerful supervillains as much as the next guy, there’s something even more thrilling to watch Tony overcome his internal battles.

With Marvel’s Iron Man VR, we’ve made sure to not only pair Tony with a strong and powerful villain, but also confront him with demons of his own making… 

How did this story get written? Did the idea for the game come first or the story?

Rosemann: In tandem with the initial development of the game, basically on a parallel track since everything Marvel is rooted in story, Camouflaj’s Ryan Payton and Brendan Murphy conceived and developed the high concept and original plot, with some helpful collaboration by the Marvel Games team. Once we were ready to roll into cinematics, we invited veteran Marvel comics and TV scribe Christos Gage to inject some authentic Marvel spice throughout the dialogue and oh-so-satisfying Easter Eggs.

Payton: Brendan Murphy conceived of the original story with guidance from Bill Rosemann. It was a fun but challenging process to create an original, authentic Iron Man story that leaned into the unique strengths of virtual reality. Early on we got excited about an idea that put the player in an autobiographical role where they teamed up with Iron Man (in order to show more of Iron Man on-screen), but Bill rightfully steered us in the direction of playing as Tony Stark/Iron Man. From there, Brendan came up with a brilliant conceit for how we could get the best of both worlds—being Tony and seeing Tony — which you’ll have to wait until the game comes out to see! 

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Can you tease some of Iron Man's villains we may see in the game?

Rosemann: I could reveal some spoilers right now, but then I’d be haunted by the game’s main antagonist Ghost, and seeing her haunt Tony is enough for me. My inner fanboy is psyched that our friends at Camouflaj embraced Ghost and made her their own, as the anonymous anti-corporation hacker (who I coincidentally helped reimagine and selfishly added to the lineup of Thunderbolts when I edited the comic series) is a tailor-made Iron Man arch-nemesis. Ghost doesn’t want to destroy the world, she just wants Tony Stark to pay for the sins of his past, which makes their relationship very personal, memorable and dangerous.

Payton: One of my favorite memories from the game’s development is from one of our first visits to Marvel Games in Los Angeles. I remember Brendan and I sitting in a room with Bill, Tim, Mike and Danny where we brainstormed how the game’s campaign would shake out. I told them we were interested in having Tony’s decommissioned weapons coming back to haunt him but weren’t sure which villain should be behind that, and no joke, the Marvel guys just all looked at each other and said “Ghost.” It’s moments like that when you know there’s something special behind this game…

Iron Man VR [Credit: Marvel/Sony]

Can you talk about working with Adi Granov on this game? 

Rosemann: I’ve been lucky enough to work with Adi for over 10 years now. We first collaborated when he became my go-to artist to deliver awesome covers when I was part of Marvel’s comic book publishing staff editing series including Nova, Iron Man and Black Widow: Deadly Origins. Fast forward to my jump over to the Marvel Games team and, working with PlayStation and Insomniac Games, we connected Adi to their teams to create the Velocity Suit for Marvel’s Spider-Man, which inspired its own comic book mini-series.

With his work on the acclaimed Iron Man: Extremis comic series greatly inspiring the design of the Armored Avenger on the silver screen, who better to team with again as we brought Iron Man into VR? His revolutionary design sense and an incredible eye for appealing detail provided the perfect touch as we created an instantly recognizable but unique suit or armor for Marvel’s Iron Man VR.

Payton: I was introduced to Adi Granov via Bill and Tim Tsang at Marvel Games. Early on during production of Marvel’s Iron Man VR, we were aligned with Marvel on the high-level design aesthetic we wanted for our signature Iron Man armor. After some time working on the design, Marvel suggested we call in some big guns: Adi Granov.

While I was relieved to get help from Adi, I didn’t have any idea how he would work with our team at Camouflaj. Would Adi be able to translate our design goals into something that works for our original story and game design? And given his incredible talents and status, would he be easy to work with?

Thankfully, from our very first interaction, Adi has not only been as talented as everyone said, but he’s one of the best collaborators I’ve ever worked with. (Adi was especially good at navigating the unique design hurdles of designing the armor to work nicely with VR first-person gameplay.)

As with so many creative endeavors, we needed to go through some difficult trails before emerging with something great I will forever be thankful to Adi for helping translate our vision for a modernized Bob Layton-inspired armor into the absolutely incredible Impulse Armor in Marvel’s Iron Man VR. 

The Game

Much of what SYFY WIRE saw in the Iron Man VR demo can be seen in videos from SDCC and NYCC. But watching someone play on YouTube and actually playing the game is very different. From the moment the intro credits roll in Iron Man VR, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve finally stepped a Marvel movie. 

With the PSVR technology now several years old, there have been a handful of next-generation games to tap into its potential, including SuperHot and Batman Arkham Asylum. But Iron Man VR represents the next steps for the system and Sony. It's clear its creators took great care to make sure the game is easy to play and features intuitive controls. It's also incredibly fun. Little details like Tony’s mansion, the interactions with Friday, and Tony's signature quips, made it feel like I was really part of the MCU

Since flying is a foreign concept for many of us, learning how to pilot the Iron Man suit takes a bit of practice. But, when you finally become comfortable with feeling how the suits repulsor systems work, it’s easy to see the appeal of something like this. Jetting around in a complete 360 environment, shooting down drones and punching rogue sentinels in the sky. It’s an Iron Man fan’s dream. Gone is the feeling of "being stuck" in VR. With the game's repulsor systems jettisoning you through the environment, it feels fresh and exhilarating.

Iron ManVR is scheduled to be released on February 28, 2020, for the PSVR system.