We Got Game: What is the problem with Comic Book and Movie Themed Video Games?

What is the problem with comic book based and movie based video games? You’d think it would be a no-brainer.

Take a popular comic book character, say Superman, and build a credible video game around him. Let’s see, Supes can fly, has super strength, x-ray vision, heat vision, super speed and he’s no dummy. Plus Supes is a brawler, he can fight. He has a credible rogues gallery – Parasite, Silver Banshee, Livewire, Metallo, Brainiac, and of course his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor complete with power suit and (if you want) kryptonite ring. You can even add Mongol if you want. Heck, you can add some his more “humorous” villains such as Toyman and such. Plus, he has a decent supporting cast in Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry Olsen, and of course, Supergirl. Again, push the envelope and add Power Girl, The Guardian, and Steel. As far as cast goes, you’re set. Superman has a long enough history that you can pick a decent enough basic plot and storyline and run with it. If that doesn’t work for you, DC Comics has a literal plethora of A-List writers on staff to give you a great story.

Okay, we got characters and plot – what more do you need, right?

Continued after the jump…

Well, there must be something lost in translation because name me a decent Superman game.

Come on, I’ll give you time – go for it.

I’ll help you – none.

Stunning isn’t it? Batman is worse than Supes. Even his movie-themed games bite. Spider-Man has fared somewhat better as has Marvel as a company. Marvel Ultimate Alliance, X-Men Legends I & II, and Incredible Hulk – Ultimate Destruction was all pretty decent games. But they’ve also had their share of clunkers, last being what should’ve been a definite blockbuster, Iron Man. That game was actually painful to play. The question again is why? How can this be?

That’s the scary part because there is no set answer. Sometimes it’s the graphics, which should be one of the biggest crimes. With all the talented artists at their disposal, this should never be an issue. There are times it is the plot. Again, major crime because, as noted above, way too many A-List writers at the beck and call for this to be an issue.

Then there’s the most heinous of crimes: poor game play. Let’s use the most recent victim, Iron Man, to illustrate our point.

As the tagline suggests, Iron Man is, in fact, a “one man army”. He has enough weapons to take on most major threats, and the intelligence to figure out almost any problem or scenario. He has a 40-year comic book history and a major blockbuster movie to build around. Tony Stark is one of Marvel’s “Holy Trinity” (along with Captain America and Thor), a founding member of it’s major super team, The Avengers, and has proven time and again to be a major bad ass. So what went wrong?

Endless villains, for one thing. Even a one-man army can’t beat villains who keep regenerating over and over again. It was mind-boggling. No save points in the middle of missions was another major error. Die and you start from scratch…big mistake when you’re throwing all that firepower at your main hero.

What else? Let’s see, the plot left much to be desired and this was loosely based on the movie, the upgrades were great if you could garner the points but the main point was the game was no fun to play. The cut scenes seemed forced, the voice acting was bland, and when you did play the game, it was the same over and over again. Throw a ton of villains at Shellhead and when he beats those, throw a ton more. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. Fun quotient = ZERO. No rest for the wicked, off to the next mission and here we go again.

The other major problem is the controls: too much to do. It’s a game, fellas. There’s way too much thinking here. Yes, we want a challenge. We also want to destroy stuff and not worry about dying every single blessed second. Hover here, fly here, target these weapons while these others are bombarding you. It’s survival time. Let’s see – if I push R2 halfway while firing with L1 all the while switching between different methods (life support, weapons, melee, thrusters), and flying and watching the skimpiest radar ever made…yeah, this is really fun. No, don’t mind the heavy breathing and almost having a freakin’ stroke, really. I’m having fun. No matter how much it looks like I’d rather be wrestling a bear.

By the way, did I add how much the game reminds you of how much of a total loser you are if you don’t complete the hero initiatives besides finishing the mission? For every hero initiative whomever is doing the voiceover with Iron Man (Jarvis, Rhodey, or sometimes Pepper) will remind you constantly that you need to handle that chore. While you’re busy trying to survive, you then will probably fail the hero initiative and then both Iron Man and the voiceover of choice tell you of how bad you screwed up. This is a recurring theme. Yeah, I love it when a video game browbeats me and attempts to give me low self-esteem.

How did this happen? Where did these guys think this was entertaining? When they were testing the game, at what point did they say to themselves, “Man, this is great! The gamers are will LOVE being assaulted at all angles while pushing a ton of buttons, thinking on the fly about mission parameters, trying to hover or fly and not die!” When did they come up with “Let’s make them feel like crap when they don’t do all the stuff we want them to do! Hey video geek! This is Iron Man, dude! You are the hero, stop acting like a b-list punk!” What sadist did Sega and Secret Level hire to think this would be enjoyable in any way?

This is not to say all movie/comic-based games are out-and-out bad. Besides some of the Marvel games we’ve named, the 007 franchise had a string of decent games, the new Bourne game is very good and yes, even the new Incredible Hulk game looks to be a winner. But, numbers wise, there has been far more horrible games under these genres than good, never mind great, video games.

There are some great to awesome, original, video game franchises. Ignore the sports and racing games and there are still Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Halo, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat, SoulCalibur, Street Fighter, Tekken, Tomb Raider, Super Mario, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, Princess Narnia, Ratchet and Clank, heck the list is endless. Great or at least good plot lines, great graphics and the game play are usually outstanding. So why can’t Hollywood and the comic book companies do this on a consistent basis? Supposedly they own the fantasy arena!

It’s a question that drives gamers absolutely crazy. So we pose the question to you – what’s your take on what can Hollywood and comic book companies along with video game companies do to make certified hits out of their products?

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~ by sladewilson on September 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “We Got Game: What is the problem with Comic Book and Movie Themed Video Games?”

  1. […] for if the game will be any good, well… read this and you’ll understand why I have hope but I’m running a little short of pure […]

  2. I’ve been looking online for discussions on this issue, so that’s how I ended up here.

    I asked myself the same question you asked before I became a game designer, but I quickly found out the problem hardly lies with the developer of the game. The problem lies mostly with the publisher and license owner.

    The “great” videogames you mentioned, such as Halo, Grand Theft Auto, and Metal Gear Solid take roughly 3 to 4 years to make, and they have astronomical budgets. Therefore, they have the time and money to make, tweak, and iterate over the build of their game until it’s just right. Is the game not ready? Well, then it’s pushed back. They can afford it because publishers know those games will bring in a lot of cash, and because very high quality is expected of these titles. It happened, most recently, with high profile releases like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and Grand Theft Auto IV.

    As a result, you can’t expect movie-based games to have that level of quality. A publisher will tell the developer some of the following, for example:

    – The game is a superhero action game.
    – We are looking for an average of a 60% metacritic score.
    – It has to appeal to comic book fans, casual Wii owners and fans of the film.
    – The game has to come out by the time of the film.
    – The game will be based on the movie.

    This project usually starts a little over a year before the movie’s release. This creates a lot of problems:

    – Development of the game will start without the developers knowing what will be in the movie, so they can’t think about taking advantage of some of the films cool elements and translate them into gameplay. Also, it means they don’t know if some of the game systems they create for the game will be useless if the movie’s fiction is against them, so there isn’t much they can do until they get a script… which is usually too late.

    – The publisher will want to add a silly feature that may not fit with the game, but THEY think will fit because of a “target audience.” An example is minigames, which some publishers feel are necessary for Wii games, regardless if it makes sense for the type of game being made.

    – The game is made in a short amount of time, so there isn’t a chance to make something great and test it, or go back to it and make it better. Also, when a developer has to make a multiplatform game, like Iron Man, many technical issues creep out when making the game run well on the Xbox 360 and PS3.

    The reason they do all this, is because games that come out along with movies tend to sell very well. So, for publishers, it makes business sense to put little money into a game that will surely sell a lot of copies, thus maximizing profits.

    The solution? It’s nearly impossible to accomplish, but the key is for publishers to WANT to give more money, time and freedom in developing games based on licensed properties. The only way they would want to do that is if they see they can make more money that way out of a licensed title. That means the rushed jobs developers are forced to work on, like The Hulk and Iron Man, have to not sell AT ALL, and GOOD games based on the licenses that release without a movie coming out, such as Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Ultimate Spider-Man, need to sell a lot better than the movie-based games.

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