Recently I’ve been thinking about Batman: Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady’s stealthy facepuncher sim was last year’s dark horse game, it came from nowhere and ended up in most people’s best of lists, it really got the appeal of Batman and translated it perfectly into game form. With a sequel due out next year, I’ve been wondering, why are there so good games about superhero comics?
So, following in the path of Arkham Asylum, I’ve tried to set out some ideas for how to construct interesting games that reflect the ideas behind heroes uniquely. I’ve deliberately chosen the heroes I think I could do something interesting with (Thor and Wonder Woman are great and all, I can’t see them being in anything but generic brawlers). If you have any ideas of your own, or any comments on the ones I’ve come up with, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
NB: Each hero includes a paragraph explaining who they are and a links to wikipedia entry for those who don’t know who they are. I’m not by any stretch a comics expert, so I apologise in advance if I’ve made any mistakes.
Batman – The Caped Crusader; almost everyone knows the story of Batman, a young man whose parents were murdered by a mugger, Bruce Wayne trained for years to become the world’s greatest detective and an accomplished martial artist, taking on the mantle of a bat to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. Batman has no superpowers and relies on martial arts skills, stealth, intimidation and his great guile to defeat his enemies.
As I mentioned above, Arkham Asylum really captures what works about Batman and there’s really little more you could ask for from them. Arkham Asylum 2 offers the chance to explore a Gotham City rather than just the Asylum, and the idea of a large city (particular if it sports the wonderful Art Deco look of Batman: The Animated Series) sounds fantastic. The only other possibility I could suggest is the inclusion of optional co-op with Robin (or perhaps Catwoman) but that would have to be considered carefully if it is to work.
Superman – The Man of Steel; the original and most famous superhero. During the last days of the Planet Krypton a young child was shot to earth to save him from the planet’s destruction. Landing in Kansas he was raised as the unassuming Clark Kent but when danger strikes he dons his cape and costume to become Superman! Superman has the classic suite of powers, he is super strong, near invulnerable, can fly, has extended and stronger senses, x-ray vision and can project beams of heat from his eyes. His main vulnerability is Kryptonite, a mineral from his home planet which can render him powerless.
The problem with Superman in a lot of narratives is that he’s practically invincible, in fact his only major weakness is Kryptonite, which was created for the express purpose of being his weakness, which pretty much explains the problem itself. In most narratives however this doesn’t matter, because Superman isn’t about winning the fight so much as saving the day, if he can’t save people he’s failed. The solution? Well it’s not mine I’m afraid, a while back Tom Francis wrote an excellent idea for a game in which you play as an invincible hero. You can’t die, but you can fail, other people can die because you didn’t act fast enough or well enough and a rolling autosave makes you live with those consequences. This actually fits Superman really well, he’s a very empathetic hero and storylines in which he struggles with the fact that he can never save everyone are commonplace.
The Flash – The Fastest Man on Earth; a big player within comic books but less familiar outside of them. The Flash is one of the earliest heroes to use a single power creatively rather than have a whole selection, The Flash moves incredibly fast and that’s it, although over time this power has spun off several other uses (some sensible applications of physics, others… less so). The Flash was also one of the first ‘legacy heroes’ in that there have actually been several Flashes (Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West and Bart Allen) who have possessed the same powers and superhero name, and have passed the mantle along through the generations, all gained their
You may or may not have noticed that a last year some footage of an cancelled Flash game surfaced on the net (below) it shows an early build of a game which appears to have you navigating an open world city with The Flash’s super speed and engaging in fights using high speed moves. It’s impossible to tell how well this would have worked, but it seems the natural route to go when making a Flash game. Last year also saw the release of Prototype, in which much fun was had by running at high speed up the walls of buildings and traversing the a city sandbox, this kind of movement (only even faster) seems essential for any game starring The Flash. Combat itself would involve a series of moves based around using his speed, high speed punches, spinning around like a whirling, suddenly zipping behind a target in an instant. Bullet time also seems a natural fit for the character, imagine for example going into bullet time to perform Mirror’s Edge style disarms on a group of enemies one after another, then after succeeding the camera snaps back to replay in real time what you just did, showing you as a high speed blur from the perspective of the enemies, certainly sounds fun to me.
Green Lantern – Another big comic character with comparatively little exposure externally (although a film is due out next year), Green Lantern possesses a ring which creates constructions of hard light limited only by his ‘determination, creativity and willpower’ (though this mostly manifests itself as forcefields, blasts and constructing giant green objects). What is interesting about Green Lantern is he isn’t a singular hero (there’s four just on earth, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardener, John Stewart and Kyle Rayner, also Alan Scott, but he’s complicated) but one of many, the rings are given out by the Oans, a race of advanced aliens who use thousands of Green Lanterns to act as a galactic police force.
The only way to truly express how incredibly open ended Green Lantern’s powers are would be to use Scribblenauts-esque mechanics to give you open ended creation. Perhaps allowing you to draw out something in order to create it, possibly involving a series of physics puzzles. Alternatively one could emphasise the galactic nature of the Green Lantern Corps by making a strategy/management game in which you play as the Oans, who slowly expand into the rest of the galaxy by recruiting Lanterns and giving them rings in order to police sections of the galaxy, possibly even involving warfare with the other ‘emotional spectrum‘ corps that are so prominent in the current Green Lantern Stories