Monday, May 26, 2008


Like a force of nature.

If you're a gamer, you've felt it. The horizon where skill and intuition coincide and you become brilliant, unstoppable, and archetypal.

If a game's good, you can expect that as the sun begins to set on the narrative, that moment will be waiting in the twilight. If a game's good, it will take you on a journey to that curve in the land where every twist and turn in the gameplay is illuminated in a hyper-real light.

But if a game's very good, that's where you'll start.

Superhero games labour under a curse. Straight up, they're licensed properties, so creativity is constrained and development schedules are tight. And for reasons of intellectual property and business, they often end up being developed by very mediocre companies.

Iron Man is the latest superhero-themed game to take a long bath in the mud-pool of averageness. Reviewers agree that it's repetitive, clumsily structured, and stupefyingly difficult.

Difficult? This is Iron Man. The most difficult situation this man faces is deciding what type of cocktail to have with his breakfast. Iron Man should have been a game about heavily customising a high-tech metal suit, and then flying it around New York. Followed by more customising. Then some flying. Actual combat could have been a side-quest and the game would still have been gold.

Games don't have to be difficult. Look at kids. Kids don't enjoy difficult. Did growing up change us? Taking two toy cars and ramming them together is not fun despite being easy, it is fun because it is easy. The magic of telling stories with dolls or toys is not that you can influence the narrative, but that you are in control of the narrative.

Superhero games are the apex of this theory. Throwing a tank at another tank is not awesome merely because you can do it. It is awesome because of how easily you can do it. Superhero games should be massive sandboxes designed for the sole purpose of giving the player total intuitive control of their amazing powers from the moment they power on the system through to the inevitably fantastic ending.

Anyone who's played a Grand Theft Auto knows that the excellence is not in the missions but in the freedom and control that comes between them. Anyone who's played Katamari Damacy knows that time limits and scores are just window dressing on the visceral fun of pushing around a giant ball.

Not everything needs to be challenging. Not everyone needs to be mortal. Not always must you take the lows with the highs.

Sometimes it's okay to be flawless.

Please visit the Round Table's Main Hall for links to all entries.


Greg Tannahill said...

Yes, I'm aware of the many perfectly decent superhero games out there including Spider-Man 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, the X-Men Legends games, Justice League Heroes, and the last Hulk game. But with the possible exception of Spider-Man they all ended up falling short of their potential.

Also, after I wrote this post I read the Round Table entry at Girls Don't Game which is on a strikingly similar theme although with a different thrust. Y'all should head over there to see the same idea done better.

Post Simian said...

hear hear!