Welcome to the newest column here at Diehard GameFAN, “Hi-Technical Knockout”Â, in which two DHGF staffers or alums will face off in a contest of wits!
It’s virtual Thunderdome! Two men enter, one man leaves!
Except that no one really enters anything in particular. And there are three men, if you count me. . . And everybody gets to leave. Well, they would get to leave, if they had actually entered. . .
Two men write! One other guy writes about what they write!
We are so goddamned hardcore.
Feel free to suggest discussion topics to WBXylo@gmail.com
Topic #2: Is It Getting Heavy?
Everybody is familiar with the story of the perfect man who came from heaven, was raised by a humble Earth family and did only good.
Yet, Superman is the star of some notoriously bad video games.
Why is this?
And while you are at it pitch me a better one.
First addressing this issue is Michael O’Reilly. Michael writes the column “Movers and Shakers”Â here at DiehardGameFAN wherein he discusses the various body wiggles one can do in order to control things inside the TV. (They say I’m mad when I do that thing.) O’Reilly is known for his repeating F-C-Bflat power chords and as such is a staple of classic rock radio.
I was asked to take some time and pitch a Superman game. That’s easy I thought. GTA + Flying + Metropolis and blammo, you’ve got yourself a Superman game. But then I read the fine details. Mr. Kennedy wanted a GOOD Superman game. Well then, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.
I am now faced with a problem. It’s one that every Superman creative director has faced since one of them decided he should be able to fly. Superman evolves. When the writers of the Superman comic books wrote themselves into a corner they merely gave him new powers. Super strength, X-Ray vision, Flight, Super Speed, Freeze Breath, Heat vision, skin impervious to most weapons. In order to let him fly in space the character developed a kind of shield. No seriously. His only weaknesses are various forms of Kryptonite and some kinds of magic. In his most popular form Superman is a god. He walks amongst mortals while wearing a disguise, true, but this is just a sham for him to live a somewhat normal life. If he chose to he could conquer the planet and rule atop a throne made from the skulls of his vanquished foes. Wonder Woman can’t stop him. Batman can’t stop him. Green Lantern and Flash cannot stop him. Nobody can.
In order to challenge the character of Superman his writers have been forced to resort to going to absurd lengths. His biggest arch villain is amongst the smartest beings in the universe, except for the fact he cannot recognize his own vanity and stop hating Superman for defeating him over and over. Even here Superman’s writers said “OK, we have to make him a genius too, as he should not be able to defeat Lex Luthor with strength alone”Â. And so suddenly thanks to the knowledge of Krypton that his father gifted to him in his Fortress of Solitude, Kal-El is a genius. Doomsday did succeed in killing Superman, or so it was thought, but that wouldn’t do, and so the writers gave Superman the ability to use the Sun’s radiation to regenerate himself. So Superman is effectively an indestructible immortal god, ever evolving, always Charles Darwin’s greatest student.
And who wants to play that game? Seriously? God Mode all the time. Superman is miscast as a hero, he should be the villain. Every Superman game ever developed has faced that problem. He lifted a continent full of Kryptonite in his last movie appearance for god sake. How do you contain the awesome power of Superman?? In the past developers have taken away his powers through some BS reason. Kryptonite Fog, etc. But if you do that then people will complain that you aren’t giving them the true Superman experience. And they’d be right. You can make an accurate Superman game, but it would get boring quickly. Can you make a good one?
As he was originally developed, without most of his superpowers, I think you could. In fact I think that game has already been made. It was called Prototype. Super strength, super speed, leaping ability. Ignore the story and character and that’s the original Superman. But can you make a good game based on the Superman as he exists today? Not right now. Some might say well they never got Batman right until Arkham Asylum, why not Superman? The difference between the two is night and day. Batman is just a man. A smart man, an Olympian athlete sure. But he cannot fly, he cannot freeze you with his breath. He must use your strength against you. And that makes for an excellent game, if you do it right. It just took a long time to do it right. Some day, I have no doubt, the technology will exist to make an awesome Superman game. It just won’t come anytime soon.
Next up is Alex Lucard. He owns the site and sends me free games. Did I mention how charming and handsome he is?
Contrary to many internet rumors started by me, Alex Lucard is not a pseudonym for any number of TV’s famous wrestling vampires. He is neither El Vampiro Canadiense, nor GanGrel. I’m pretty sure he isn’t Kevin Thorne or Ariel. Though there is a resemblance to the latter from behind.
The problem with Superman is that he is hard to write. In pre-crisis DC he was a character that could juggle planets and it was nigh impossible to write a story where you could either relate to Superman or believe he was ever in any danger. Even post-Crisis this proved to be true. Is Superman really going to be threatened by Toyman or Dr. Sivana? No, not really. This proves doubly true when moving Superman to other forms of media. If you watch the commentaries on the Justice League animated series, Bruce Timm and the rest of the DCAU staff talked about they had to severely power down Superman to make any of the episodes believable instead of “Superman solves everything in five seconds.” There aren’t really a lot of villains that can stand up to Superman. Lex Luthor relies on brains, but that doesn’t translate well to an action sequence or video game.
So when making a superman video game, it’s hard to think of any real challenges for the guy. This then translates into awful video games like Superman 64 where Superman is in some weird virtual reality thing so it’s not really him. There’s that horrible Taito arcade game, the 2600 game which sucked, the awful Superman Returns movie tie-in, Man of Steel which we’d all like to forget and many other horrible games that all revolve around Superman not actually being superman and doing stupid battles against enemies made specifically for the game because the neither the designers nor the comic book writers themselves have come up with any enemies for Superman that have truly lasted. Mongul was shunted off to Green Lantern, Darkseid has become painfully generic and two-dimensional, a far cry from his peak with “The Great Darkness Saga” and he was recently shot to death by Batman, a fact that sticks in the craw of Batman and Darkseid fans alike for a myriad of reasons. Doomsday was a one-joke character that existed only to kill The last Son of Krypton off and although Dan Jurgens eventually gave him a great back story; he’s been hit or miss (most often miss) based on who writes him.
So let’s look at the most memorable Superman comics and games before we go on. In the four of four colour periodicals the best known Superman stories include “For the Man Who Has Everything,” “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” and John Byrne’s “The Man of Steel” reboot that signaled the official beginning of the Post-Crisis era. What do all these comics have in common? The fact they focused far less on Superman’s powers and more on his emotions, personality and foibles. The best Superman stories are not those that involve him punching a parademon through the moon, but those that show he is emotionally and spiritually an Everyman even while on the outside he can take his space dog into a black hole, accidentally eat red kryptonite and because a half-griffon for 48 hours and still save a race of alien miners by crushing their giant robotic oppressors into scrap metal. “For the Man Who Has Everything” is 95% pathos, character development and empathy for a being that is usually utterly unrelatable and when you finally get the first real piece of violence from Superman in the comic, all you need is a single word – “BURN.” to make you cheer for a character about whom you would otherwise say, “Of course he’s going to win.” The problem is that most of DC’s higher ups have realized that Superman + violence = boring as well as being hard to write, so they’ve tried to do more emotion based stories. However, it’s emotion based stories without any real thought, follow through or substance which gives us crap like “For Tomorrow,” “Grounded,” and the current “I’m renouncing my citizenship because everyone thinks I’m an American shill even though I’m a FUCKING ALIEN FROM A DEAD PLANET.” These are stories that mimic the shell of the classic Superman stories of yore, but are hollow and range from forgettable to outright offensive because they lack the love and understanding of the character. This is why Superman I and II are so loved, while Superman Returns is so reviled. The latter tries to be an homage to the older, greater, more memorable Superman flicks, but because it is merely an homage, it falls flat. Meanwhile people are still saying “Kneel Before Zod” thirty years later.
So the key is to do character driven, emotional based Superman content if you want it to succeed (at least based on history) but how can that translate into a video game. Well, that’s the question? CAN IT? Let’s take a look at the three games with Superman in it that are generally considered decent to outright good games. First is The Death and Return of Superman, which is considered a classic 16-bit brawler. However the majority of the game focuses on the four faux Superman that arise after his death rather than on him. Because these characters are not nigh omnipotent, it makes the thought of them losing to cannon fodder go down easier. There is Justice League Heroes which is a second rate Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance clone and where story really does take a back seat. The game is considered one of the better Superman titles because of the engine it uses rather than the story involved (which is pretty generic) and because of the wide range of interchangeable characters in the game. So really Superman could have been Captain Marvel or Ambush Bug and the game would have still been received in the same manner. Finally there is Mortal Kombat Vs. DCU which is a very good fighting game with an excellent story, but again Superman had to be depowered to fit into the game and he is merely one of a cast rather than a stand out character. Although he is a top tier character for obvious insane reasons.
So all three games with Superman that are considered good share one big trait: Superman is part of an ensemble cast rather than the main focus. There HAS never been a Superman game where he has the starring role. So how can this be done in a way that the game is believable, relatable and still fun? Here’s my idea: A Superman time management game/dating sim. Now before you raise that people’s eyebrow at me – let me explain.
First, this game would be set pre-Crisis so Superman can be insanely powerful and the various mini games making up the time management aspects could reflect this. Second, the game wouldn’t be about Kal-El saving the universe from some uber bad guy, but more a look at the everyday life he has to live juggling his life as Clark Kent and getting that article on Nambian Independence Day into Perry White before the Daily Planet’s late edition goes to press with the insanity that comes with being Superman. Third, because the game is Pre-Crisis, you don’t have to be married to Lois Lane and the dating sim aspects can allow you to woo Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Maxima, Wonder Woman, Cat Grant, and maybe another curve ball or two like Power Girl thrown in for fan service (and resulting in comic books fans everywhere debating in whether that counts as incest or not since Peeg is an alternate reality first cousin of Kal-L and if that follows through to Kal-El. I can see Scans Daily’s comment thread now!). So the flow of the game would be a bunch of mini games showing you what exactly it would be like to have to be Superman, thus not only making him relatable, but giving you variety, a huge change of pace from the usual button mashers he is thrown into, and hopefully being fun and amusing all at once.
For example, who are you going to go on a date with? Lois or Lana? Can you get your article on Lex Luthor’s latest white collar crime spree in before dinner? Then at dinner can you excuse yourself and play the “destroy the meteor swarm about to annihilate South America” mini game before your date notices you’ve been gone way too long for a simple potty break and then also complete the dating sim challenge to excuse your absence in a way that is believable and makes them more attracted to Clark? Or will you woo directly as Superman instead of Clark? Maybe even one girl for each facet of Kal-El’s personality? Do you take Edge Morgan’s practical joke in meek stride or do you light his toupee on fire with your heat vision when he is doing a live news report on TV? Do you take time to run a charity race against the Flash (done in old school Track and Field style), save a kitty from a tree, travel to an alien world where living fire hydrants have come to take their revenge on dog furrie people, or do you travel to Morocco to do an article on their fine cuisine and cultural heritage? After all, there’s like a hundred or so emergencies happening around the world at once. What does Superman choose to do and who does he choose to let suffer because he can’t be everywhere at once?
All of these could be done with a wide variety of mini games. Hell, you could do the Daily Planet world report articles Carmen SanDiego style, x-ray vision based mini games to uncover white collar crimes, a few brief beat “Ëœem up sequences for actual combat, and even a “save the falling citizens” like the classic Activsion game Kaboom. Hell, you could even do a side scrolling obstacle course where you are chasing a bad guy fleeing from a crime. Variety is the key to making this work, especially since there has never been a super hero mini game collection before and certainly not one that forces the gamer to actually juggle the realities of living a double life time management style. Think the old NES Wall Street Kid game but with ice breath and the ability to punch out Despero.
Long story short, Superman works best where the reader or gamer can become emotionally invested in him rather than watching him use Saturn’s rings as hula hoops. This best can be translated by making you be Clark and Kal-El and go through the sheer volume of various bizarre tasks that seem to make up the majority of his life. That way you’ll get messages boards with gamers debating over what character is the best choice or Superman or which over the top insane mini game they liked best rather than which Superman video game makes one want to commit suicide the least.
O’Reilly tells everybody waiting for a good Superman game that they should try to hold on the best they can. 100 Points. He then goes on to state that Batman can not stop Superman; that is demonstrably false. Minus 40 points for taking the name of Batman in vain.
His call that Superman should be the villain is blasphemous. However, it makes me want a game based where I can play as The Plutonian from Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. 30 points.
Finally Michael mentions Prototype and says that we can’t see a good Superman game because its time is not now. Minus 35 points for trying to sneak John Cena into Hi-Technical Knockout.
O’Reilly’s Total Score: 55 points
Lucard answers the question thoroughly. So thoroughly that he violates rule number 18003386300. “I found so much good information that I put it all in: overkill.”Â This balances out to 47 points.
Lucard’s game sounds like one I’d like to play and reminds me of a story in “Astro City”Â about The Samaritan. 84 points.
Time management games stress me out. Minus 50 points.
Lucard mentions two great Alan Moore stories. Plus 100 points. Neither of them features Swamp Thing: minus 80 points.
In his discussion of great Superman comics, Lucard makes no mention of All-Star Superman. Minus 30 points. He also misses “What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”Â Plus 30 points; that story suxor.
Lucard’s Total Score: 101 Points
Winner: Alex Lucard