Being a superhero is exciting, no doubt about it. You get to wear a cool costume, use cool powers, and fight crime! But what about the nitty gritty burocratic aspects of being a superhero -- the paperwork, the scheduling, all the stuff behind the scenes? Surely someone's got to take care of that, as well.
Enter Middle Manager of Justice, the newest game from Brutal Legend and Psychonauts studio Double Fine. Middle Manager of Justice is a management game for the iPhone and iPad that puts you in the shoes of an office manager at Justice Corp. You've been put in charge of bringing your division up to snuff and keeping crime from taking over the city.
Yesterday at Double Fine's headquarters in San Francisco, I sat with project lead Kee Chi and producer/writer Gabe Miller and played some of the game on an iPad. Chi described the game as wanting to take some of the fun of superheroes and mix it with the more down-to-earth humour of shows like The Office. That was played up from the opening moments of the game, where my schlubby middle manager was welcomed to the organisation by being told "We've never seen a candidate with a resume so adequate!"
MMOJ will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played a time-management sim on a smartphone before -- it's set up in a isometric overhead view and you'll control various aspects of your superhero operation. Players will be tasked with recruiting and training a squad of superheroes, and dispatching them to the field to take out thugs and keep the city safe.
As you roll in, your first task will be to recruit a superhero. Superheroes are choosable from packs of trading cards -- Chi mentioned how much he loved collecting comic cards as a kid, and likes the idea of having your superhero recruiting take place via collectable cards. I was given three options of superheroes, and could flip the cards around to learn more about each character. I went with "Galaxy Girl," a somewhat tattered-looking character with a shoddy cape and not a lot of charm. (All of the beginning superheroes are fairly humdrum -- they can be improved as you level your way through the game.)
To buy my hero, I paid some "Superium," which powers most things I do, and set her to training in the sad little gym that had turned up next to the entryway to my office building. She was clearly happy to be there, but needed to get her strength up before fighting any bad guys. Before long, though, I got a call that help was needed in a neighbourhood nearby. I tapped on the map and dispatched Galaxy Girl to the scene of the crime. However, she was in the middle of training, so I'd have to spend one more superium to hurry her training along and get her out the door.
I know what you're thinking: Wait a minute… spending superium to unlock characters and spending it to make the game go faster? This sounds like a free-to-play game based around microtransactions! And indeed, Middle Manager of Justice is free-to-play, and yes, you will be able to pay money for more superium should you so choose. However, Chi was adamant that he wants the game to always be playable, even if you never want to pay money for it. Superium will only help you speed things along, but he claims you'll never wind up at a point where you can't play the game because you don't have enough. Chi said he's not a fan of energy-based gameplay that cuts you off after a certain point, and that he wants people to always be able to play the game.
Which is a good thing, since MMOJ has a couple things going for it that most free-to-play games don't. For starters, it's a nice looking game filled with humorous touches -- this is very much a Double Fine game, from the self-aware gags to the goofy writing. That writing really showed up when sent Galaxy Girl on her first combat encounter -- she came face to face with an enjoyably overworked supervillain named Skullface (because of course that's his name).
I mentioned fights, because MMOJ isn't all office work -- in addition to keeping things running in the office, you'll also go out in the field with your heroes and get into fights. The fights play out very simply, with your hero trading punches with various bands of thugs, all in the name of rescuing a cowering civilian. It looks something like a turn-based JRPG battle, though it's much simpler than that. Players will have something to do, however, as you can deploy your hero's power with the tap of a finger, or take healing items that you've purchased with in-game currency.
The whole thing is reminiscent of the excellent Game Dev Story, only instead of exhausted game developers, you're running a team of superheroes. It looks to be an engagin time-waster, though it also remains to be seen just how the superium system will impede play if you're not interested in paying for extra. Chi and Miller said that the game is awaiting certification from Apple, and that they'll be doing a launch in Canada ahead of the US so that they can fine-tune everything and, among other things, make sure that people aren't getting stuck anywhere where they would have to pay to keep playing the game.
Middle Manager of Justice looks to be one more weapon in Double Fine's ever-increasing arsenal, and is an interesting first foray into making mobile games. Rather than porting one of their existing games or doing something similar to The Cave or Stacking, they've chosen to try something new, and possibly more in line with the types of games people like to play on their mobile devices. What's more, both Chi and Miller seem excited about how easy the free-to-play model will make it for them to add more content to the game after launch, including more rooms for the office, more superheros (there will be 8 to begin with), more villains, and just basically more stuff.
It ain't a pretty side of the superhero scene, but I have a feeling this game will convert more than a few of us into heroic office managers, saving the world one requisition form at a time.