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Why can nobody make a good Superman game?

I want to bring your attention to Superman, perhaps the mightiest of all superheroes. Now you would think that a man that can fly, who is bullet proof can fire lasers from his eyes, freeze things with his breath and […]

I want to bring your attention to Superman, perhaps the mightiest of all superheroes. Now you would think that a man that can fly, who is bullet proof can fire lasers from his eyes, freeze things with his breath and generally can do anything he damn well pleases would make for one hell of an awesome video game. Well, we all thought wrong it seems. It’s becoming clear that making a Superman game is nigh-on impossible.

The reason I want to bring your attention to the Man of Steel is that if recent rumours are to be believed Rocksteady, the fine talented people behind the most excellent Arkham Batman games have been busy beavering away at a new Superman game. Which I have no doubt will be great. But it got me thinking. How are they going to make a Superman game? Many have tried before and many have failed. The trouble is, Krypton’s golden child is just too damn powerful. The exact powers I just mentioned above are the very reason a game is so damn hard to make. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

Superman can fly

Perhaps the most tricky of powers to portray in a video game. Sure there are flying games and what not but they are constrained to small areas that are limited by invisible walls. Usually, you’ll get greeted by a “ You are leaving the play area, return in 10..9..8 etc etc  If you don’t, you’ll usually explode and spawn back into the play area further back than you originally were. Does that sound like  Superman?

Superman is bulletproof

So the stable requirement of 99.9% of games is to stay alive. If you don’t stay alive you die and you have to start again or build up that high score etc etc. Most games today are shooters, We have progressed from a three bar energy meter to one that refills over time, thanks to the armour your wearing or something like that. Either way, eventually you will die. It’s inevitable. So how does one make a game where you can’t die. No amount of bullets is going to do fuck all to the Man of Steel.

Ice breath and laser eyes

Although these powers sound like a perfect recipe for a game, they can also be a hindrance. I mean say you’re taking down a gang of Super-Villains or something, all you have to do is freeze them all and then laser them to oblivion, it would probably take seconds to clear the level. And these are permanent powers don’t forget, it’s not like having a short-lived power up. Having these sorts of powers can make the game too easy, plus Superman doesn’t kill, well he never used to until Zach Snyder got his hands on him. So unless collateral damage doesn’t matter Superman will just be too powerful to make the game fun.

Super Strength

Superman can literally lift up anything, the can total an entire city just by punching his way around town without even breaking a sweat. How do you create a level that portrays all his strength yet doesn’t get destroyed everytime he turns around. When Transformers The Game was released, I never got a sense of their scale and might be because they could just run around the city and nothing was destroyed. It lost all sense of scale.

Nope, Superman is definitely too powerful. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not like people haven’t tried before. I mean Superman has been doing the video game rounds since I was a kid which was a long time ago. Mostly he was just a skin slapped onto a 2D sprite and sent out into a side-scrolling beat-em-up to cash in on his name.

There have been some horrific attempts to. Anyone remember the god-awful Superman on the N64? The Mightiest Superhero of all was relegated to flying through rings in a city made off fog. Look.

So you see,  people have tried but it’s just too damn hard. I mean not only is Superman too powerful, judging by those two examples, Technology just isn’t powerful enough to do the man justice. God bless the N64 for trying at least. But there is one more Superman game that I haven’t mentioned and that is Superman Returns from EA. Now this game is the closest anyone has got to portraying the Man of Steel and at the same time solving the issue of having an energy bar. Rather than giving Superman himself an energy bar, they gave the city an energy bar, so all the crime that was being committed throughout the open world would have an effect on the City’s energy bar and if it went unchecked, the energy bar would run out and it would be game over. A nice idea in principle but in reality, it meant you literally couldn’t stop doing side quests or main missions because the energy was constantly depleting. It was relentless which in turn made the small handful of mission structures quite boring quite quick.

As you can see from the video, EA had designed a fairly ok open-world Metropolis, which in turn has created more issues, like crashing into buildings,  I remember playing this game and it was quite fun, but the number of times I was trying to navigate the streets to the waypoint but just kept crashing into the tall skyscrapers. (with no damage to them of course) that got frustrating real quick. But I won’t lie I did enjoy this game, it did it’s best to show Superman’s powers. But as you can see in the video any illusion of being the Man of Steel is ruined, by the limitations of the technology of the time.

Oh and one more thing. There was a Superman game in development over at Factor 5 and, according to the video below had the right idea. Destructible scenery. Superpowers and tight as all hell controls. Alas, this game was never released, which even though the early build looks rough as fuck, you could see the potential. Shame.

It’s not just video games these limitations are constrained too. Films have also had the same issues. It’s taken the film industry 30 years to show the true power of Superman. Now you can either love Man of Steel from Zach Snyder or hate it, but there is no denying that his films really show just how powerful Superman is. The controversial destruction, the realistic flying and laser eyes that made the guy look menacing was just awesome. Personally, I loved it (that over the shoulder punch! my goodness).

I have loved all of superman’s films, back in ’78 when Christopher Reeves first wore the cape I was just happy to see my favourite superhero on screen, I was young and strings and dodgy collapsable sets didn’t bother me. But like gaming, film studios could only do what technology allowed them to do.

So where do we go from here? Consoles are damn powerful today. There must be a solution to this age-old problem. I’m sure Rocksteady have nailed it 100% if they are indeed working on a Superman game. But, I can’t stop thinking about how they are going to do it. Ok, I am no expert, I have no idea about memory limitations, graphics limitations or anything that’s involved with creating games. Plus my imagination is pretty limited. Nonetheless, I have a few ideas that could make a Superman game feasible.

Ok this is weak, but you could theoretically set the game on another planet, or somewhere that’s full of evil nasty aliens that are threatening the annihilation of earth. That way the collateral damage to the aliens and the planet will not cause as much controversy as the destruction of Metropolis did in Man of Steel. It’s not ideal but could work. Plus this planet may not have the same sun as Earth and therefore Superman’s powers will be drastically reduced. But who the hell wants that?

Perhaps base the games’ story on the destruction of the sun, maybe it’s slowly dying and so with it is Superman. It could be one of those game for the environmentalists and have an overall story arch based on pollution and global warming. No, don’t do that.

Perhaps a more feasible idea would be to have Superman infected with various types of Kryptonite. You see, Kryptonite isn’t just the green variety you’re probably all accustomed to. There are many other types too that could change the gameplay dramatically, I’ll go through them for you so you get the idea.

Green –Kills superman full stop. Perhaps Superman could be out cutting some rug in a club somewhere but gets his Tia Maria and Lucozade spiked with green Kryptonite and is slowly dying meaning he won’t’ be as powerful as usual.

Red-  This weakens Kryptonians even more than green, but also causes mood swings and even mutations. This could make gameplay quite fun. “Fuck you I’m not saving that sinking ship, it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it”

Anti-kryptonite – This is fine for Superman but is deadly to humans. Not sure how you could slot this in a game. Perhaps a QTE where you have to save everyone in a time limit. But lets face it, most things kill humans so this would be nothing new

X-Kryptonite – This gives humans the same powers as Superman, therefore this is the most logical Kryptonite to be used in a game. In fact, it makes perfect sense.

Blue Kryptonite – Only used to kill Bizarro, so no real use in the game, unless of course the main bad is Bizarro which is very limiting.

White Kryptonite – Another not so useful one. This stuff kills all plant life. So unless you are going down the angle of global warming and environmental damage, this is a no go.

Gold Kryptonite – well, this stuff just removes all Superman’s powers permanently. Ideal if you want to make Superman less powerful, not so good for a game though as you will just be making an open world game about man who can’t do anything.

Silver Kryptonite – If you want a trippy experience this is the stuff to use. Maybe Superman could hallucinate stuff and do his superpower thing while tripping out. Making it not real means the developers can go to town and do whatever the hell they like. Plus also a chance to do some really cool Scarecrow type levels.

Black Kryptonite – This splits Superman into two, not the best idea for a game seeing as we’re having trouble figuring out what to do with one . Especially when one of the two is evil!

Orange Kryptonite – gives animals superpowers, Probably best that we leave this well alone.

Pink Kryptonite – Well this makes Superman Gay. I kid you not.  Now I don’t know about you but having a gay Superhero as the lead role in a video game is well overdue.

So there are some options there which could help developers make a game that, doesn’t just mean Superman is destroying everything and is invincible be it by accident or design. None of which are particularly plausible for an entire game. For bonus levels, side missions and what not it could work, but for the main game, it’s a bit of a long shot.

The other issue, of course, is the game world. According to Superman the Movie, Superman can fly into space, fly around the world and turn back time. So how on earth are you going to make a game world that allows Superman to show off his powers, but at the same time puts in the inevitable constraints in a world due to memory and graphics constrictions

Well, the only idea I can think of is to give Ubisoft a ring and see if you can borrow their The Crew game world they have managed to recreate the whole of North America for gamers to drive around at their leisure. It’s huge! Now, this would be ideal for a Superman game. Flying from New York (Metropolis) to LA, to save a cat in a tree would be pretty cool. Flying from Miami to Washington all with no loading would really give a sense of freedom. But of course, there is a hitch. In The Crew, you can only drive to these locations. You can’t get out of your car walk around, go in buildings and generally do the things you want to do in an open world game. I don’t think that would be possible with current technology but it would need to happen in a Superman game.

So you see, even as I write I’m trying to think of solutions to the issues a Superman game brings up and I just can’t. I’ve tried but I just can’t. Making a Superman game is literally near impossible, at least if you want to do the character justice. But Rocksteady are flipping marvellous, they have nailed Batman (I still think Warner Brothers need to make Arkham Asylum into a film and make it like Dredd) and Arkham City and Knight just built on the fabulous gameplay from Asylum. Rocksteady single handily re-invented the scrolling beat-em-up with their magnificent combat system which has pretty much been translated to every game that requires hand-to-hand combat. Rocksteady, have also had a long time to work on a Superman game so if anyone can do it, Rocksteady can. I have faith.

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