Has there ever been a more ideal medium of enterainment than the comic book. Picturised stories of heroes and villains, glory and dishonour and big colourful letters that spell out POW!
You want to write a novel, make a film, tv show or webcomic, well you can just look towards a comic book and youíll have an easier time than if you had to invent everything from scratch yourself. Heck even people who wish they could see their favourite characters in a sordid manner can probably find pornographic films.
All the work has already been done, you have a world, a lore, stories to nab from and you donít even have to come up with characters or design their costumes. So why is it so hard to get a comic book game right, and so easy to get it very wrong.
Comic book based videos games are harder to make these days, because we expect more, invest more and because the graphics and mechanics have improved significantly. You could play a side scrolling Superman arcade game and enjoy it, not getting too upset if you died, because that was the basic rule and the game play overcame the story. You just wanted to play as Superman and beat people up, then progress. But these days weíre fussier and you canít just make an arcade replica, new games must be made with decent to exceptional graphics and need some more substance. Or at least to the opinion of others.
Thereís something amiss thatís not exactly easy to pin point when it comes to creating a successful comic book game. What exactly went on with the Spiderman legacy?
Then Spiderman Web of Shadows came out and it was well received and I personally enjoyed it a lot. How do you bounce around and fail so hard when you have a formula that works and all you need to do to ensure the next game is better is to spice it up. Perhaps the saying ďif it ainít broke donít fix itĒ should be heeded but thereís a problem with that too. Maybe the problem is us and how entitled we feel or how spoiled we are with great games that we keep needing the next best thing.
Superman is one of the best known, if not the best known comic book character ever. His insignia, stance, colour palette and lore is known through the world. He seems like the best candidate for a computer game and yet he is sadly the worst. Superman is invincible in nearly all senses of the word. He was made too perfect and too powerful. Even when he was supposedly killed by Doomsday, he wasnít actually dead at all, he was in some ridiculous Kryptonian hyper beauty sleep. So more often than not, the big S canít die and so how do you work with that when creating a game based on him?
My only real answer to this conundrum is you donít. You donít make a game solely about Superman. You have him pop up as a cameo character in DLC or the odd level, but creating and entire game where you are Superman is just not that simple. Unless you take liberties.
Not THOSE sort!!
Games like Superman on XBOX (which was awful) and the infamous Superman 64 would usually have Superman fail a mission based on not completing it in time, thatís a horrible cop-out and one that only causes frustration. In Superman Returns he could get hurt, damaged and Ďkilledí, but it was more likely that he got KOíd. Now instead of punishing the character paradoxically by saying game over, when it technically isnít due to the nature of the main lead, some sort of real time occurrence could be implemented.
Hereís a quick idea: Superman is knocked out and sent flying miles away by a kryptonite punch to the gonads by Metallo. The game fades to black; you wake up in a crater, shake your perfect hair and need to change your tactics. Metallo is still rampaging across the city. So you need to fly back there & en route come up with a new way of attacking him. Maybe go to Star Labs, get a suit that protects you from the kryptonite rays, then find Metallo and ram into him from behind and then save the city. Perhaps Superman needs to be depowered for a game to work. But I donít think we can get a standard action game with him to really achieve perfect execution. A sandbox or perhaps RPG style of game would add more options and instead of just being this overpowered lug, you could develop over time, become stronger, use tactics, earn different suits. Superman either needs some drastic changes in his character for the purpose of a game or developers need to get creative. Superman can work in team based games, overhead examples like X-Men Legends, a Justice League game, a beat Ďem up or a great fun game like Lego Batman 2 would work. He just needs a little work and a little bit of humble pie to really thrive in a game alone.
Know your place Smallville
Though only one Wolverine based game was really responded to favourably, he is extremely hard to kill but he does die in games and suffer damage because he rampages and his attacks are all close based. Yet if heís killed or KOíd itís game over. He doesnít get blown up and then after a few seconds you regenerate from a left over toe and pick up where you left off. (Though that would be kind of cool). Tough as nails to beat heroes can work if you bend the rules or really try and work with the material in innovative ways.
Thereís a reason why Batman and Spiderman work as video games, there are more dimensions to them and I suppose they're more relatable. They can both die and so the basic principles that lead to the most common type of game over donít need to be changed. Batman and Spiderman offer more than just generic punching or one trick ponies like laser vision. They both can use stealth, hand to hand combat, gadgets and unique means of apprehending, containing and eliminating individual and group enemies.
Games where you play as the Incredible Hulk work because they keep a basic structure that suits the Hulks powers well. You simply smash, bash and destroy, whilst leaping and foot stomping over anything that gets in your way. True you could have a game like that with Superman, but Superman has to be more careful, he hasnít got that loss of control that means the Hulk doesnít care if he runs through a building. Superman is harder to manoeuvre because in game flight isnít as easy, turning can be a bitch and Superman simply does not on purpose destroy public property or pick screaming soldiers up and hurl them miles away. You donít expect much more from a Hulk game than to destroy things, Superman has more of a back-story, has different skills at his disposal and more clear cut morals.
That tricky task of playing a game where youíre a flying character cropped up in the appalling Iron Man games released by SEGA. The movement alone in those games was horrendous. Iím not saying the game failed because of the flying issues, itís cleared the game failed in many other aspects, but thereís something to be said for what games can actual handle well, even given how far weíve come and it seems flying humanoids is still bothersome.
I canít help but feel that while there is an essence of a comic book world in The Darkness, Starbreeze Studios wanted to make a mafia game just slightly more than a comic book game. It does have a feel of the Darkness comic book in it, but is that just the basic art direction and story, does it really 'feel' like a comic book game? At first I thought so, then for some reason I think it took a slight backseat. Either way they succeeded in making a game that didnít really have many comparisons, they ticked a handful of boxes and despite sometimes clunky game play and Jackieís hair being so slick, lanky and greasy, The Darkness was a pretty cool game to come out on early 360. But that was a more obscure option of comic book character to adapt, compared to the big names and it worked well.
Was it a bullet that killed Jenny or did she slipped of Jackieís head to her death
Perhaps thereís something to be said for veering off the common, over done track. Yes Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were superb games, that were brilliant in just comic book terms alone, but we canít just hinge our hopes on them and keep repeating the same formula. Games need to get some new life into them and sometimes you can only reuse a character, no matter how popular, for so long before it looses itís appeal and becomes stale.
I find that was one of the issues with Assassins Creed Revelations. Yes fans love the series, the characters and the assassin romeo Ezio, but weíd had several games in a row with him, Desmond and Altair. Desmond will remain for Assassins Creed III but we needed a new character in a new setting, with new game play and we got that it seems in Conor.
His facebook profile for sure
I think in terms of comic book video games we need to look to the unused formats, ideas and characters. Between Marvel and DC alone are plethoraís of heroes and villains, super powered or not that are just as deserving of some spotlight. We all love the X- Men, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, but thereís just as much if not more love for Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel (of either universe), Batgirl, Dr Strange, Secret Six and so on and so on. Heck we havenít had a proper Avengers game with the actual original Avengers team.
What would you like to see in a comic book game? What characters do you think would work well translated to code? How could designed improve games and do their source material justice.
Maybe the answer is a comic book themed dating sim.