Comic books become TV shows that turn into movies that get spun off into games. Or the whole thing happens in reverse. Ideas from all these media feed off of each other — or they should. Source Material will take an occasional look at how elements from great comics, games, movies or TV shows show up in other forms of entertainment or, in some cases, how we want them to.
Alien invasions come a dime a dozen in video games. Seriously. How many extraterrestrial infested battlegrounds have hit games in just the last year? And how many of them have effectively driven home the horror that such an event would create? Answer: Not enough. That's why we need a game made from Marvel Comics' old, forgotten Strikeforce Morituri series. Such a game would be different in a very good way.
See, it'd be all about death.
Morituri comes from the Latin, part of a phrase that translates roughly to "We who are about to die salute you." The premise of Strikeforce Morituri was that a wave of genetically engineered superheroes were Earth's best hope in a far-future war against the alien Horde. But the process that gave these humans their powers would also kill them within a year.
Writer Peter B. Gillis wrote the first 20 issues of the series, occasionally turning in some purple prose during his tenure. But the melodramatic writing fit with the weighty themes of the series, which had some impressively forward-looking elements like reality-TV propaganda. Brent Andersen's art looks rough in the book's early run when compared to his later work but it still shows his skill at rendering human emotions that he would later display in Astro City. Strikeforce Morituri had great emotional moments that pit soap opera dynamics and military rigour against each other. The idea of sacrifice constantly hovered over the series, shattering the power fantasy inherent to most superhero comics. It felt unexpectedly sad.
Why do I think that a barely-remembered cult comic would be a hell of a video game? Because for all their superpowers, the heroic characters fighting a war against evil aliens in the sci-fi series weren't guaranteed a happy ending. There's instant irony in the fact that the super-science that made them more than human was also the cause of their sudden deaths.
A Morituri game would be ideal for episodic format. You'd have to train a character up before deploying them to the larger battles, which could be multiplayer arenas where they could battle alongside other player-controlled avatars. The potential to introduce meaningful permadeath into a narrative game design is huge here. I remember playing through the suicide mission endgame of Mass Effect 2 and being stunned at the fact I lost characters that I'd grown to really, really like. This hypothetical Morituri game could replicate and iterate on that moment over and over. It's a chance to authored gameplay moments to merge with player-driven experiences in a really cool if morbid way.
Imagine losing a meticulously customised, finely crafted level-cap character for good once he or she dies. Resurrections or restarts ain't happening. No backsies. There'd have to be some randomisation to the game design, since it would be crucial not to let players know when their avatars could be killed.
What would you do? Would you quit the game? Would you re-commit to a new character, knowing full well the same fate awaited them. How would you make their deaths count? And what would your relationships be with characters who lived longer than you expected? Would you care about them more? Or would they mean less to you than someone who paid the ultimate sacrifice?
In terms of comparison to games that actually exist, a Morituri game might approximate the mournful inevitability of Halo: Reach. But, where tie-in fiction foretold the end of Bungie's last Halo game, a Strikeforce: Morituri game wouldn't have to stick to canon. If every major character can be gone suddenly, then the story can move through any fictional persona, as it did in Heavy Rain.
In war, everyone's disposable. A Strikeforce Morituri game would be a perfect way to drive that awful truth home in innovative fashion.