The Need For UnoriginalityA column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage
Awhile ago, I did a series on superheroes and video games, speculating on the importance of both mechanics and thematics. Later, I even noted that such enormous games like Skyrim gave us interesting templates for superhero games. Continuing my obsession with the superhero game genre, I want to discuss the virtue of unoriginality.
Go on, get the jokes out of your system, I KNOW they're in there.
What inspires this is Kingdom of Amalur: The Reckoning, an interesting fantasy adventure/action game with an odd pedigree (including baseball legend Curt Schilling, Todd McFarlaine, and more). It's actually quite a good game, one that I enjoyed at least as much as Skyrim, and notable in that it's many rules and game elements clearly have been seen elsewhere. There's the classic 3-way skill division (warrior/thief/wizard), crafting, a God-of-War-lite combat system, etc.
In fact, it's quite clear to say that it's a game that seems to be based on the idea not so much of innovating, but finding what actually worked and putting it in the game. This makes it very easy to pick up and play as the mechanics are familiar. After about an hour you're incinerating enemies, or whacking them on the head with a hammer, backstabbing them, OR some combination. That's also between brewing potions, making gems, blacksmithing equipment, and sticking your nose in the business of everyone with an exclamation mark over their head.
You've seen it all before - and it works.
Which brings me back to superhero games.
Mechanics, as I've noted before, are often poorly mapped in superhero games, which is why everything too often degenerates into a generic brawler. So let me present a bold idea to people developing superhero games.
Consider taking the best ideas out there and using them. Yes, I'm now wondering if innovation may be as much of a problem as generic game remapping (especially if trying to be innovative holds you back). Hell, maybe one of our problems is people too easily give up on superhero game mechanics and just make everything a generic brawler.
Look, it doesn't have to be innovative necessarily, just pick good mechanics we've seen before that fit the characters and story. In fact, because a good superhero game would indeed be an odd fusion of elements (much as superheroes themselves represent a kind of metagenre), using familiar mechanics when appropriate could let you make a complex game very accessible.
Pick the old mechanics that work and make sense, and people will get it - and pick up the game easier.
The Flash is a man who lives in Bullet Time. Do a game with him with some speed-adjusting/perspective mechanic. People get Bullet Time, we've seen the Matrix.
Plastic Man in combat should play like a deranged variant of God of War or Bayonetta, perhaps with extra-insane quicktime events where he uses his stretchiness in strange ways. Mister Fantastic would be the same way - with a puzzle-solving invention system.
Mister Terrific? Ratchet and Clank with their guns and gadgets. Call Insomniac, you've got a game.
Some game with For The Game New Heroes? Just superheroize the classic warrior/thief/wizard tree (maybe with a cleric thrown in) to use a "language" people get.
Batman . . . er, we've got the Arkham games. Nevermind. These games pretty much show brilliant thematic and mechanic choices.
I'd love to see more good superhero games that don't involve angsty Freudian Billionaires. Maybe if we found the balance between new ideas and "borrowing" the right mechanics they'd be both fun and accessible.
Besides, face it, now you WANT a Plastic Man game that plays like Bayonetta. I know you do . . .
- Steven Savage