The ultimate white whale of the crossover market between superheroes and video games: a good Superman game. How could you do it? Can anyone do it? Cory Barlog has some ideas.
Speaking at PAX, Barlog, the director of the most recent God of War title, had some pretty distinctive ideas about what he would pitch in a Superman game. The panel, all about the flaws and foibles of Superman games—and why so many of them are so bad—was a great place for Barlog to test out some of his more out-there ideas for a Superman game.
As quoted by Game Informer, his description of a Superman game leans a bit away from a classic power fantasy and into something a bit sadder:
One of them is the totally the obvious pitch of old man Superman has a kid and he’s trying to figure out how to teach him. That’s just me leaning into my last game.
The second one is, I really, really love the Smallville television show and I really love the idea of playing with this concept of Persona. Young Clark Kent – you have to go to school but you also are also uncovering that you’re the greatest American hero with your powers and it’s a sort of awkward coming of age idea that you have to balance. Literally, you’re taking tests and dealing with the social construct of high school while also figuring out what does it mean to have these powers? It’s totally Persona and I thought that’s a little derivative so, I won’t do that.
Then I really came back to an idea that I think everyone here was touching on. Superman was created at a time when we needed some idealistic, perfect person to aspire to, which is why he is so flawless. Like, literally, he almost has no flaws. And he’s extremely hard to work with when you’re talking at an interactive level. The one flaw and I don’t think it’s really a flaw, it’s just who we are as human beings, is this idea of caring. I think the best thing you can do with a Superman game is to kind of explore the psychology of what it would be like to be a person who slowly beings to realise that he can’t save everybody.
You begin the game and you are able to hear a little bit. Maybe he’s a little bit younger, or maybe he just started a little bit later in his life, but the idea is you begin to hear, as the player… help. You’re not helping Superman. You’re not Superman yet. Nobody knows about Superman. But when you start helping people you build up a reputation and then you start to hear, “Help, Superman.” And you start to hear more of these ‘help Superman!’ voices from all around. As the game progresses, as you do these sort of good deeds, more and more people are aware of you, they start following you on twitter – @superman – and everyone starts asking for help and this is where it really starts to unravel.
It’s the quintessential challenge of making a super Superman game—how do you translate a character who, well, is nearly perfect and invincible? Supes wouldn’t exactly have a health bar, huh? That’s a neat narrative angle, too—using Superman’s compassion as the big inflection point, which is a pretty common well to draw from in the comics. A game about being Superman would inevitably be a game about making hard decisions.
You can read the rest of Barlog’s ideas over at Game Informer, but one concept he rolls with that might be controversial is his idea of power sets: Barlog’s Superman doesn’t fly. Here’s what he said:
I would not have him flying. I think he would have his ability of speed so you would feel like you’re playing a Flash game at the beginning. And I think for me that loop would start you out and you wouldn’t be able to fight anybody. You would be taking care of things that are less sort of fisticuffs so that you start to get your feet wet, and then the first time a baddie appears, somebody who is kind of an antagonistic force… you would feel just as uneasy as Superman would be. This would feel more like an origin story, like a Spider-Man 1 kind of feel that he is just figuring this out.
Like Barlog himself said: sounds like a Smallville game, for better and worse. What do you think? What would make a good Superman game, and who could make it?