While plenty of fighting game fans have dissected MvC:I’s visual aspects, sound and music designer Mike Thal takes a deeper look into the game’s use of audio.
Mike Thal’s YouTube channel is chock full of videos breaking down the sound design of various video game titles. While he praised the audio of 2013’s Killer Instinct, Mike held less optimistic views towards the newest installment in the Marvel vs. Capcom series. He first cited the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a contributing factor: noting the importance of the Infinity Stones in the game’s plot, as well as the absence of the X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s closer involvement in the game created major changes to the series — not all of which were well-received.
Mike begins his analysis by examining character themes, using Captain America’s theme as an example. While its Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 iteration was fast-paced, energetic, and representative of Cap’s American verve, his MvC:I theme marked a drastic change. If readers have watched any of the MCU films, they will note the similarity between Cap’s MvC:I theme and the MCU’s general music scoring. “The orchestral style is a pretty run-of-the-mill modern film score, which reflects the game’s focus on the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Mike explains. “The tempo was also a little slower on this track, which doesn’t help sell the ‘fighting game’ aspect, in my opinion. While there’s a majestic-sounding melody to fit Captain America, I don’t feel it captures the excitement or action like his old theme.” Mike also notes that Marvel’s characters had no returning theme songs: instead, each superhero had a completely new theme written for them in MvC:I, derailing any sense of continuity from the previous games in terms of music. “Most of them are composed in a similarly straightforward, orchestral style,” Mike stated. “As a result, MvC:I’s soundtrack is pretty generic and, honestly, a little bland compared to other modern fighters.”
Another element of MvC:I’s sound design that struck Mike as odd occurrs in the timing of when music plays. In previous MvC titles, the theme of Player 2’s team would sound at the beginning of a match, reiterating the status of P2 as the “challenger.” Once a fighter was knocked out, the theme would end, and the challenger’s upcoming character theme would begin upon the next fight. While MvC:I’s song selection begins the same way, the character theme doesn’t end upon a knockout — instead, the song only changes once another character activates an Infinity Storm. “I think it would make more sense for each Infinity Stone to have its own theme,” Mike suggested. “Doing this would reiterate the power of these artifacts, their importance in the MCU, and their impact on the gameplay…. These power-ups are supposed to be giant, game-changing abilities, but the music doesn’t really reflect that. It doesn’t create an effective separation from between when an infinity Stone becomes active and when it isn’t, nor does it emphasize the might of the Infinity Stones.”
While he felt MvC:I’s music left much to be desired, Mike hailed MvC:I’s combat sounds as “pretty good,” holding that the announcer and voice actors delivered a solid performance for the tag-team fighter. One of his better-favored aspects came with the interaction of characters upon one of their teammates having low health, with their partner calling out words of support or advice. “This one choice serves two very effective purposes,” Mike states. “From an aesthetic standpoint, it helps push the idea that these characters are working together… from a gameplay standpoint, this is a helpful audio queue for the player. These voice clips serve as a notification and a reminder to the player that their character’s health is getting low.”
However, the characters’ voices didn’t sell the experience completely: Mike criticizes the constant calling out of characters’ Infinity Stones upon activating their Infinity Surge, citing the ensuing “Reality Stone!” as repetitive and like “nails on a chalkboard.” Mike cites this event as “audio fatigue,” an instance where hearing the same sound effect or voice clip repeatedly can frustrate or even put players on tilt. To rectify this, Mike suggested giving each Infinity Surge its own sound effect, while removing characters’ voice clips. “Through sheer sound design, players would discover what makes each Infinity Stone unique,” he states. He also noted that the game currently requires 42 audio files for the Infinity Surges — with his solution, that number would be reduced to 18-30 audio files.
Mike’s analysis centers on a desire to make the Infinity Stones their own character through sound design. By giving each Infinity Stone their own theme song, and each Infinity Surge its own set of sound effects, Mike’s plan would sufficiently serve to further emphasize the Stones’ importance in both the game’s plot and gameplay. Fans can watch the video in its entirety here, and get a deeper look into Mike’s examination of the latest installment in the Marvel vs. Capcom series.