Making a Stellar Superman Game

The Man of SteelBatman Arkham City has hit the shelves and reviews from IGN, Gamespot, and G4 have all been overwhelmingly positive.  G4 went so far as to say “Batman: Arkham City is one of the greatest games ever made. Period.” The reviewer at IGN concurred by saying that Batman Arkham City is “Not just better than Batman: Arkham Asylum, it’s better than most games on the market.” A poll was posted asking which superhero Rocksteady should take on next. At 32% currently the majority swung to the Man of Steel with Batman at a close second  at 28%. While I’m sure this maybe subject to change soon, it would seem with the success of the Arkham games, a good portion of IGN’s readers hope that Rocksteady will be able to do the same with Superman. This is coupled by a recent interview with Paul Dini, a writer for both Batman games and the animated series, saying that it would be fun to write a video game featuring the Man of Steel.  A very good idea and if anyone can pull off writing a good Superman game, Paul Dini can.

However, the overwhelming question I noticed on the discussion boards was exactly HOW Superman would translate into game form. Let’s face it, Superman has not had much luck with video games. The most recent being the Superman Returns video games which did about as well as its movie counterpart (I.E. not that successful) and let’s not even get into Superman 64. So the question remains, what do you do with a superhero who can do almost anything?  How would a game featuring Superman work in terms of game-play and story? IGN has recently posted their suggestions on how a Superman game could work. 

Well here are my suggestions as a Superman fan.

Three way battle1.) Create a Compelling Story-line

I feel the story must come first and foremost, as it’s the foundation for the entire game and the IGN article concurs but offers no suggestion on a possible story-line. One of the factors that made Arkham Asylum so good was just the idea of Batman being trapped on the infamous Arkham island, surrounded by enemies with the Joker, his greatest threat, pulling the strings.  Arkham Asylum made for the perfect “one man against the world” scenario that fits video games like a glove.  Can the same be done with Superman? I believe so. A potential plot for the game could be:

An explosion from a supernova sun has shattered the Phantom Zone allowing not only General Zod and his cronies to escape but every super-criminal, creature and monster that has ever been imprisoned in the alternate dimension. Zod rises as the leader of the rouges and under his leadership conquers Earth while Superman is away. When the Man of Steel returns he finds his home under control of these foes and must fight to free the people of the Earth along with some help from Superboy, Supergirl and Steel. And restore the Phantom Zone projector to send the criminals back where they belong.

Whether such a scenario is compelling enough for a game is up for debate. But it does give Superman a large enough problem that can’t be solved in a few punches, plenty of chances for epic boss battles, a large enough environment to allow open-world exploration via his flight, and a chance for Superman’s supporting cast to shine.

2.) Bring in People Familiar with Superman

Another factor of Batman’s success was that the game developers brought in Paul Dini, Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin, writers and actors who have worked with Batman’s universe since the inception of the animated series in the 1990’s. These people know Batman, they know his character and how to portray him in certain situations.  I believe that same familiarity is needed for Superman. Writers and actors who know him just as well and knows how he uses his powers, why he chooses not use certain powers, and how to keep his upstanding moral code relevant in a video game market filled with gun wielding anti-heroes.

Some picks include but are not limited to, Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, Geoff Johns and Paul Dini. I’m sure there are plenty others, but every Superman comic I’ve read that has really stuck out, was written by one of these four. It would only make sense to give them a shot at scripting a game.  In terms of voice work, Tim Daly’s performance as Superman in the animated series back in the 90’s has always stuck out to me. Include any of these four in a Superman game and I’m sure it will at least be decent. But it takes more than an open world and some familiar faces behind the scenes to make a game spectacular. Every hero and every great game has some challenging villains to face.

3.) Powerful Villains

massive battle

One of Superman’s toughest battles

A main gripe with Superman in general is the idea that he does not have villains that can challenge him. Lex Luthor is just a guy Supes can easily punch into the stratosphere and be done with him. For a video game where Boss Battles are expected, I believe the bar needs to be raised to a level fitting to the Man of Tomorrow. In the previously mentioned scenario, there are plenty openings for street level villains like Livewire, Metallo, and the Parasite being starter bosses. Zod could easily cox these three into his employ just through their mutual hatred of Superman.

More mid-level bosses could include Toyman, Bizzaro, Non and Ursa with Zod being the top dog. Darkseid could also be involved through planning behind the scenes, setting up a sequel. Either way, every villain that makes appearance needs to be able to give Superman a good deal of trouble without the use of Kryptonite and provide players a good enough challenge that they will want to use Superman’s powers to their full potential.

Superman on watch 4.) Gameplay

Of course all of the above won’t matter if the actual game mechanics suck. A big gripe I’ve seen about Superman and by extension Superman games is that Superman is so powerful and so invulnerable that any game involving him would be boring or repetitive.

Well I vehemently disagree with that notion.

4a) Managing Superpowers and Health Bars

Yes Superman is powerful, yes he is invulnerable but that does not mean such a combination cannot work in a game. IGN suggested to base a Superman game on the recently rebooted DC 52 universe where Superman can’t fly, can be injured temporarily and is basically just starting out.

I say, don’t fear Superman’s powers.

Handled correctly, all of Superman powers can make for an incredible gaming experience. Besides, it’s not as though video games haven’t handled powerful characters before. In the inFamous games players controlled Cole McGarth who had electric superpowers. And near the endgame when Cole had gained all of his powers players reported that they sense a real sense of Godhood and felt they could do whatever they wanted.This is especially true in inFamous 2 where Cole only had the basics of his powers but was still powerful.

An ideal Superman game could take a cues from inFamous in how they handle Cole’s powers. In both games Cole had great power but could only use the more advanced ones one at a time and players could pick and choose which ones. The method can be done with Supes. Heat vision, ice breath and all his other more special attack type of abilities can be stored in a power-bank at the menu screen and during the game can mix and match which ones they want to use.

IGN suggested a regenerative life bar, which is a good idea. Superman is invulnerable but with the right level of hit, he can be hurt. Even he should need to shake off a particularly hard blow. inFamous used a similar system in terms of health in both games to much success. Cole was powerful but take too many sniper shots and you go down. Here if Superman takes too many hits from these super criminals he’ll go down too. (Or at least knocked out).

4b.) Moves and Combos

Superman’s greatest benefit, his vast array of powers, has the potential for incredible combos that players can pull off.  If you want examples of their capabilities you need to look no further than the direct-to-DVD films that have come out recently.

Imagine pulling  this rapid chain punch against an opponent like the one Superman uses against Darkseid  and the addition of heat vision soon after(From Batman and Superman: Apocalypse)

or this air-borne tackle against both flying enemies and grounded enemies.   

and from the same movie this tornado attack for crowd control

heat vision assault from the air for more distance fighting

super-stomp

ice-breath attack

flight rush

“talk to the hand”

“This ends NOW”  as a definite finishing attack

Cosmic Suplex 

World of Cardboard mega punch

You get the idea. Superman’s vast array of powers provides a long list of possible combos and different ways to play. You can play Superman as a straight up brawler or a more distance fighter using his heat vision or ice breath or super speed.

4c.) Mission Types

Varying up the game-play should be important as well. Batman: Arkham Asylum wasn’t just Bats beating up the bad guys, the stealth mode and detective modes are what really made players feel like Batman. A Superman game should be no different.

Other than combat a Superman game should have missions where players have to save citizens from natural disasters or collapsing buildings or the classic “catch a falling airplane”.  IGN suggested that saving citizens should prove to be the success or failure of missions, which fits Superman perfectly. With him being invulnerable the health of the endangered citizens should be more important.  To make missions even more challenging, players pass these missions only if they save EVERYONE. One dead citizen should mean a failure, since Superman would consider it such, which will push players to make sure they get things right. It also ties into Superman view of himself as a savior who can hear everything.

4d.) Open World Exploration

Superman flight some say would be a hindrance to a good game, but really his flight is more freeing than you think. Superman’s flight ability opens the entire world to him so the entire world should be his map. In the story-line mentioned in point two, Superman should be able to fly around the world, fighting and saving people on different maps and after he takes back a country or territory, he should be able to fly there whenever he wants. A large map yes but, it can be done to some extent I believe.

Conclusion

You still with me?

If so hopefully, you’ll see that a Superman game is neither as impossible as it seems nor would be it boring. Superman requires his writers and developers to think outside of the box and create larger than life problems for a larger than life hero. It can be done and hopefully will be done.

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Responses

  1. I believe all the talk of lex luthor being incompetent and the only real threat would be Someone just as super is not true. I believe that would be too predictible. But if lex luthors thugs (as on batman arkham city) they could each have secretly placed kryptonite on there persons or kryptonite shields somewhere along those lines.

    • It’s true that Luthor could pose a good threat, but to me giving every thug Superman would encounter kryptonite just brings up more questions than anything. The main ones being is there even that much Kryptonite on Earth to go around? And where does Luthor keep finding it? Kryptonite can be a factor, but it seems to only work if only villains have it. If everyone has it, it just loses impact value and just makes Superman look stupid for always falling for a thug pulling out kryptonite

      Plus the gameplay and mooks would just get repetitive if they all had kryptonite on their person. In my view super-powered thugs would give enough of a challenge and allow for a more variety of combat and strategy. But that’s just me.

  2. Lex Luthor has his power suit and utilises kryptonite weaponry and he’s one of the smartest human minds in the DC universe, it could be a possibility that he has found a way to replicate and produce Kryptonite, which could be a good backstory for the game.
    Also in the animated film’ Superman/Batman : Public enemy #1, Lex manipulates the entire world and the entire superhero community against Them which could add a whole new level of adversity.

    • There’s no question that Luthor would be a good villain for a Superman game, it’s just in my opinion, just giving every mook kryptonite to deal with Superman, from a game-play standpoint, would just get repetitive after a while.

      Although, there is a cool storyline in the 52 Universe where Lex Luthor is giving ordinary citizens super powers. As usual it doesn’t end well. That would be a good story for a game too.

  3. I know what you mean but Supes has more weakness than kryptonite which could be exploited, such as magic. I think Kryptonite could be the bases and then introducing more of his weaknesses slowly through the course of the game would balance it just enough to keep players interested while not making the player’s feel like a one-man army and lose interest.

    • I think I get what you mean. Like in the earlier levels the mooks have simple krytonite bullets (which Supes can dodge, but if they hit they pack a punch), then on the next level of opponents, they have rifles and blasters that generate red sun radiation that saps Superman of his powers for a brief moment, then move up to magic, and then bad guys that can take him on fist-to-fist. Then in later stages throw a combination of all that at the player.

      That could all be really fun and provide a great chance for a different combination of powers for the player to try out

      • Yeah, it allows for diversity amongst the enemies without taking away from the experience of allowing the player to feel like they are Supes.

        I personally lack in knowledge about Superman (not entirely my fave hero), but story as mentioned could be humans gaining super-powers, or along the Public Enemy animated film, where he is framed for murder and the other superheroes are against him. This allows his story to be strengthened by a other character (such as Batman or Martian Manhunter) just to give it more of a edge. Those character would be NPC main characters and could be used in a challenge mode possibly.

  4. I agree that a superman game would be very sucessful it u give him larger than life problems and lets really be honest people(Batman is one of the greatest heros of all, but he couldn’t hold a candle to superman. I’m tired of people comparing batman to superman in a battle they’re not in the same class of skill superman coulgd detroy batman miles away if he really wanted everybody knows this all i’m saying is keep it real talk like that have everybody trying to compare other heros to the greatest heto of all times

  5. I got it Lex does somthing to superman with Kyrptonite and superman starts the game with next to no powers, and regains them as the game moves on

    • Well kryptonite just causes Superman pain. Red sun zaps him of his powers. Luthor would probably uses a combination of the two. Maybe some magic thrown in for good measure.

  6. They could do something along the lines of public enemies, Superman is framed by Lex or possibly even The Light, with the public scared of him Lex is commissioned to imprison supes being that Lex is one of the smartest DC minds he comes up with a device that imprisons supe in a dome/sphere or something similar which encompasses a prison (maybe Belle Reve) that cuts off most of the radiation from the sun potentially limiting his powers, and the map of the game, with his powers limited that makes ordinary villains stand more of a chance against him and superpowered villains even stronger. The device powering the dome/sphere would have to be powered from the outside to stop him from destroying it and freeing himself and since everyone thinks he is guilty the other Superheros won’t bother to try and free him.

    The game would focus around superman restoring order to the dome/sphere while trying to find a way to escape and clear his name. Lex or The Light has planned for that and have enlisted supervillains to attack superman in his weakened state.

    However Batman being Batman tries to help him but something could potentially stop him from acting directly (maybe something mundane that is more focused towards attacking Bruce Wayne instead of Batman) so has to act through his protégés, which will limit their ability to influence the situation.

    Just a thought

    • Pretty good idea. Luthor framing Superman would be a great storyline. I don’t think it would be necessary to throw Superman in prison for the entire game. Him working as Clark Kent to clear his name and working as Superman to regain public trust through various deeds would provide more variety in mission types. Plus it would avoid comparisons to the Arkham games.

      Having the entire Light against Superman would be really fun to play out as well. Luthor, Vandal Savage, and Ras Al’Ghul would cause Superman enough trouble on their own. Together along with Klarion, Queen Bee, Black Manta, and all their agents would be perfect for Superman.

      For me it would be important to keep the game solely a Superman story without appearances from Batman or other DC heroes. Nothing against Batman or anyone else, it’s just that Superman has so few solo material outside the comics that it would be nice to see him stand alone.

      My two cents, whatever its worth.

  7. I have looked around the internet searching for what people actually want in a good Superman game. Here’s my take on the new Superman game for the next gen consoles.

    A lot of people are waiting for Superman to appear in a good game but everyone is also complaining about the fact that Superman is doomed to fail because of his backstory and properties. Luckily there are some fans (including myself) that are also eager to see someone succeed in translating the character to the gaming world. I even found numerous posts on the Lego Batman 2 game, asking at what point it’s possible to play Superman and just fly around.

    I’m trying to stimulate developers into making the best Superman game out there. (because there actually isn’t one yet in my opinion). So feel free to comment and improve these ideas.

    So lets get started…

    GOOD STORYLINE:
    Chapter 1
    Why not play through the whole superman experience from the absolute beginning? The game starts of with Jor-el as playable character on Krypton pocessing no flying ability, no superpowers what so ever. Think of settings/stages as the inside of a spaceship, a small city in the krypton universe etc. It doesn’t have to be open world just yet but kind of like the Arkham Asylum type of playground. Appearances of clark as a baby, Jor-el’s wife, her father (Think along the lines of the superman animated series). Have Jor-el do some missions and finally shooting his son on his way to earth.

    Chapter 2
    You find yourself playing clark as a teenager (white shirt, blue jeans) in the country side of smallville (again think of Arkham proportions of playable areas). Make him run errants with super speed, high jumps (crackdown style), Xray missions what not. This way it starts to get fun but you still feel the urge to be able to actually fly and be the almighty Superman. Somewhere in the middle Superman learns to hover his jumps (like the game Prototype). Make the final ‘mission’ trying to safe Jonathan Kent. Ending this chapter in Clark moving to metropolis.

    Chapter 3
    Now being Clark Kent in metropolis. Make Metropolis a huge open world city with all the familiar places in the superman universe. Working for the paper, make the first mission to be that Clark has to investigate something and keeping undercover. Then somewhere in this chapter he should finally change into superman and the real fun starts. This is up to the developers to make a nice story with some kind of villain to cause trouble (but do it in the Arkham Story type). And the subtle hint of Lois and Clark liking each other… It’s important to make people care about the characters.

    Chapter 4.
    Near the end of the game Metropolis becomes a dark place and without the sun’s energy or something Superman becomes vulnerable which can have a cool impact on the storyline with Superman fighting to save Metropolis.

    KNOWN PROBLEMS:
    Superman being invincible
    Doesn’t have to be if u are following the NEW 52 series where superman can actually be bruised and beaten. Make his health bar regenerate. If knocked out… game over/captured or whatever.

    Storyline
    Make the game start out like a normal GTA, Sleeping Dogs etc type of game and make it become a Superman game. This way its not all about the superpowers but more story driven with the satisfaction of being able to BE superman in the end. Now i know from experience that people hate waiting for the good stuff so maybe make it start with chapter 3 as the present and you keep going back to chapter 1 and 2 with flashbacks or some kind of thing. Feel free to comment on this.

    Controls
    The xbox 360 Superman Returns had it perfect when talking about the flying bit. The flying actually felt great so no changes there! Maybe make the animations look even more smoothly and the cape ultra realistic but thats it. The ground take of would look great if dust and stones begin to move around him when charging just like in the first scene where superman takes of in the movie Man of steel. Some mild air acrobatics for fun would be cool but isn’t a must have. But imagine flying through a tight spot and superman turn 90 degrees to fit through the gap.
    The switching of powers with the D-pad worked great also. But make the ice, fire etc effects and particles look awesome. The fighting bits should be like Batman. So when, in air, an object gets thrown at you make it to be countered with a push of a button. Make the animations for the fighting on the ground not to stiff but make Superman be SUPERMAN. So bare knuckle punching with long sweeps and stuff.

    Flying in Superman Returns:
    http://www.youtube.com/watc

    COOL IDEAS:
    – Personally i would love to be able to turn into Clark or Superman when i want. But since pay phones don’t exist anymore there is no area where Superman could jump into his super shorts without being noticed :). So that idea probably is impossible. But prove me wrong please.

    – Extra playable characters would be nice!

    – Extra outfits would also be nice

    – Pay attention to the details! For example when Superman picks up a car, don’t make it to easy for him but the player should really get the feeling he’s lifting the impossible. (don’t make it a struggle either though). When flying past glass skyscrapers it would be great if there is an reflection of superman in the building. His cape should move realistic. etc etc etc.

    – Make the open world be animated. Keep Sleeping dogs and GTA in mind when bringing Metropolis to life.

    – Free roaming as an option later on in the game

    – Make it to be as huge as possible without compromising game speed and graphics.

    POSSIBLE MISSION TYPES:
    5 types of missions:
    1. Clockwork. Get a mission done before time/life bar runs out or… people die or whatever. Safe Lois.
    2. Fighting missions. Like in Arkham with variable opponents.
    3. News reports as Clark. Get the scoop or whatever.
    4. Collectibles throughout the city.
    5. Boss battles like DMC where there is one particular way of beating the boss. With cool cinematic like the unreleased superman game where he battles a villain and pushes him through a building where people work.

    Unreleased Superman game:
    http://www.youtube.com/watc

    SO IN SHORT:
    Story has to be good! The flying has to feel cool! Don’t make it suck!!!!


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