Superman: the VideogameA column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage
Someone on twitter said you couldn't make a good Superman videogame. Analyzing that statement, I felt they were wrong, and it led to the last two columns you've read, speculating on super-heroes and video games.
As noted earlier in this series, I believe there are two elements to super-hero video games–and indeed all videogames–that have to be done right. These are the thematic and the mechanical. These elements have to be done right, and sync up well, or your game is going to get mocked in reviews because it's lousy and misuses the property.
And I've explored how various super-hero properties could be implemented with specific videogame mechanics. Now it's time for the big it's time for Superman–the videogame that doesn't suck. Hopefully. I'm trying here.
So let's start with a detailed analysis; namely, what is Superman about? Right off the bat, he's obviously a strange combination of godlike power in humility. He is capable of mass destruction, yet seeks to preserve society. Thus, his tactics are often a mixture of force and subtlety, and at one time or another one of these goes straight out the window, as he either has to snoop with x-ray vision or throw a building at somebody. Now, it's time for me to get a bit weird, in which I state what I think a Superman videogame is, in a way. A Superman videogame is really kind of a Sim. Superman is a vast, powerful, environment–altering character who also has to work subtly. The experience of being Superman is an experience of being a god among men that has to walk softly, yet has to change the world in radical ways. Being Superman in a strange way is more like building the world of Minecraft and playing Civilization that it is punching the X button to hit people.
So the basic idea of Superman the Game would be an open-world, first-or-third person, Sim-type game with highly destructible and changeable environments. Your challenge, being Superman, would be to meet your various goals and defeat your enemies often by clever use of your extensive powers–without screwing things up.
Thus you should be able to tunnel through the earth, or pick up large objects and throw them, or punch somebody through several buildings. The challenge would be to do this in a Superman-like way to avoid turning Metropolis into a wasteland - of course combined with levels in, say, space or the desert where you could haul off an destroy everything.
This would combine with some subtle powers as well - X-ray vision and Super-hearing to find enemies and outsmart people, for instance. After all, if you determine the various henchmen are hiding in a trailer you can just pick that thing up and drop it off for the Metropolis Police as opposed to using your fists and trying not to turn them into red mist.
So that's it; a Superman game that would work, in my opinion would actually be a game of relatively simple controls for combat (punch, cold breath, shockwave) and environment altering abilities like picking things up or tunneling. Throw in Superman's super-speed to give you a chance to think or do other creative activities, and there you go.
Now I am entirely aware of the challenges of implementing a game like this. I believe it could be done, and with the right team in the right writers and actors, done well. But it would have to be concentrated, well–thought out effort, and I think the game's appeal would, unfortunately be a bit limited. It would play on a well–beloved character and appeal to specific kinds of gamers, including people who wanted to experiment.
But, as noted, I think it could be good. It's just that, like any super-hero games, you have to think of the right mechanics.
In Superman's case, it's an alchemical mixture of Minecraft, The Sims, your average open world game, and stompy-brawlers like Robot Alchemic Drive.
So with that, I close out this series of columns. I hope it's helped you think, and perhaps it can help us make some needed steps towards developing a science and art of super-hero games.
Besides, if it lets me play Superman and toss buildings at Darkseid and really feel it, or summon a whale in an RTS of Aquaman and watch it ram the hell out of Black Manta's latest vehicle, I'm for it.
- Steven Savage
(This column was previously published at http://www.fantopro.com/)