The Director Of God Of War Has Interesting Ideas About How To Adapt Superman Into Games

Tom Welling as Superman. (Image: Warner Bros.)

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 don’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?


Comments

    I think as long as while superman is learning to be who he is, he ultimately decides that while he can't save everyone, it doesn't mean he can't try. That and as long as Superman isn't broody. Clark can have doubts and faults but, ultimately Superman needs to be inspiring and appear as a unflinching beacon of hope regardless of how Clark himself feels at the time. Clark can be human while Superman to the people can't if that makes sense.

      Oh man, I like the idea of not saving everyone taken to its absolute conclusion.

      What if superman had some hard decisions to make? What if he only had time to save an airliner full of passengers OR a taxi full of scientists who might have just discovered the cure for cancer, but not both. And the evil supermind keeps laying on the pressure so that it feels like even with his powers the tide of evil seems insurmountable.

      Kinda like reverso-Tyranny, and instead you're a good guy who has to agonizingly decide between several bad situations all the time. Don't disempower him much as character (but there's always kryptonite or magic for that), disempower him through the narrative. Make him feel constantly besieged.

        Similar stories have been done in the comics. A few of the best storylines have been about villains trying to break Superman mentally (check out the Manchester Black/Elite story arc from Superman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Black). However, that's not what I want from a game.

        Superman as a character is wasted in a game that (based on the article) would be an emotional discovery RPG type game. You can do that with any character, even a regular non-powered human. So why use a character with crazy powers?

        Honestly, a good Superman game to me is one that lets you properly flex his abilities. He needs to be able to fly, use bullet time to simulate super-speed. Let him smash stuff, shoot heat vision, use x-ray vision and so on.

        I think the hard part is making it challenging without being "cheaty". By which I mean arbitrarily limiting his powers. You could do that by staging the fights in a way that you need to stop fighting the baddie to save innocent bystanders. Or can't use heat vision in a particular fight because it'll cause an explosion. In effect make the game about the collateral not just the fight against the baddie.

    No thanks, super tired of these non-games and I can't wait for the fad to vanish.

      Which non-games are you referring to?

      Narrative driven pieces with artistic direction, and innovation?

      Or

      Half a game with micro transactions?

    Every time I see this guy's name I read it Balrog. He should just change his name and put the world right again.

    I've never really been a big fan of Superman as a hero figure but the internal struggles he faces, like any hero trying to maintain a secret identity, have always been interesting. So the idea of a game where you're a hero trying to balance your human life and super powered life is appealing. At the silly end of the spectrum it would be OctoDad but instead of flopping about, you're accidentally breaking walls, lasering cars and trying not to hear what people are saying five rooms over.

    Alternately you could go for a sandbox game where you have to both keep down a job and make sure the crime rate stays low. Every time you change identities you need to be stealthy and make sure that people aren't watching and you don't act too suspiciously.

    On the more thought provoking end of the spectrum you'd have a decision based, Tell-Tale like game where everything you do culminates in whether you're ultimately seen as a hero or villain. Things like being too violent when stopping crimes, or never turning up to dates or work on time, or letting some crimes play out and letting humans sort out human problems, etc.

    Really though. We all know that the perfect Super Man game has been made. Superman 64.

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