Friday, July 01, 2011

Top 5 Comics Begging To Be Games

No longer are we in the era of Superman 64 or Batman: Dark Tomorrow. This is the era of Spider-Man 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Ultimate Spider-Man. A joyous age in which games adapted from comic books can be really good, an age in which clever developers can bring their skills at crafting interactive experiences to bear on characters that have been bursting into pop-culture ever since the first appearances of Batman and Superman in the 1930s. Seriously, that’s 80 years worth of imagination just waiting to be combined with 2011’s gaming technology. It’s a match made in heaven, right?

Except that last week this seemingly blessed union produced yet another stunted halfwit in the form of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, a game that takes the idea of a set of intergalactic space cops wielding willpower fuelled energy weapons that can manifest anything they can imagine, and renders it as a basic brawler. There’s quite a disappointing contrast between the scale of the concept and the unimaginative game wrought from it.

When it comes to Green Lantern, I’ve thought for several years that the perfect framework for it would be Fallout 3. The giant wasteland could be re-rendered as the galaxy, the individual locations could be reworked as planets, the massive array of weaponry can be reworked an enormous array of imaginative green lantern ‘constructs’ that are deployed using the same action points system, simply recast as will points.

With that in mind, we’ve set out not just to list the five comic book properties we’d most like to see adapted into video game form, but also the existing games that would provide the perfect template for the adaptations. We’d never advocate simply re-skinning existing games, but taking a well-realised game and grafting some character specific mechanics onto it could be a recipe for some right crackers.

Akira / Grand Theft Auto
Forget the 1988 adaptation, modern technology and gaming styles are needed to do Akira justice. Katsuhiro Otomo’s enormous manga classic packs into its two and a half thousand pages a variety of vehicle action including motorbikes, cars, tanks, helicopters, flying sledges and speedy robots.

It has pistols, laser guns, rockets, bioweapon pistols and an array of melee weapons. The city of Neo-Tokyo has an old world Japanese residential district, a glittering high rise business sector, run down slum areas and a desolate post-war shell hole. So, that’s a massive selection of vehicles and weapons in a city so unique and convincing it feels like a character in its own right. Seems like Grand Theft Auto IV would be the perfect model, doesn’t it?

Downtime could be spent cruising the city getting into high speed ructions with other biker gangs, while hot spots on the map could appear in sequence to trigger story related missions that adapt the pivotal plot points from the story. It could even be a double-discer: anyone who’s read the entire series knows that the city becomes an even more challenging and interesting environment at around the halfway point of the story.

Slaine / Oblivion
There are two great wandering Barbarian characters in fiction, both of whom would suit an open-world RPG style game: Pat Mill’s Slaine and Robert E Howard’s Conan. The latter is primarily a prose character, but thanks to the efforts of Roy Thomas and Marvel Comics, he exists in a huge and clearly visualised world. Sadly, in videogame terms, he’s slightly radioactive, after the flop of the Age of Conan MMORPG and the strangely enjoyable but undeniably clumsy God of War rip off, Conan.

That leaves us with Slaine, a character loosely derived from the Tain with some alternate universe shenanigans stirred into the mix. The narrative that runs from his earliest appearances through to the conclusion of his most famous storyline, The Horned God, perfectly suits an open world RPG in the Oblivion mold, while the availability of distinctive weapons and items such as the Gae Bolga, the Sword of the Moon and the Cauldron of the Goddess would provide buffs and upgrades to the player.

Wandering the map will reveal bandits to fight and cattle to steal, while specific points will trigger actual missions derived from the story: there’s a natural escalation to the storyline that would see you battling small groups to free victims from a burning wicker man, exploring other-worldly tombs, and eventually taking on whole armies on your quest to become king of pre-historic Ireland.

Graft onto that specific extras such as the Knucker, a grumpy dragon that can be used as transport, and the availability of a berserker ‘warp-spasm’ mode for times when the going gets tough. The landmark Horned God storyline is so ripe for adaptation it reads like a painted
design document.

Battle Angel Alita / Wipeout HD
Two generations ago the PlayStation had an RPG adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s post apocalyptic manga odyssey. Given a chance to remake it, however, we’d do away with the epic character arc that sees the amnesiac cyborg heroine go from bounty hunter to lover to revolutionary saviour over the course of eight volumes, and instead concentrate on volumes three and four, in which Alita takes up the sport of Motorball.

Customisable cyborg bodies are raced at bewildering speed around a series of complex, tangled tracks, with competitors vying to be first across the finish line in possession of the motorball, a randomly gyrating chunk of hardware that must be caught and carried to the finish. The speed and crazy tracks are right out of Wipeout HD already, while the emphasis on melee rather than
ranged combat adds a touch of physicality that Wipeout lacked. Lastly, as with all racing games, the ability to customise, enhance and equip your ride would allow the game to adapt itself to a particular playing style. Bolt on a multiplayer league and you’ve got one of the most exhilarating racers imaginable. Check out the fan video below for an idea of how it might play out.

GI Joe / Rise of Nations
What do you get if you cross the most cartoonish designs a toy company can invent with a storyline written by a Vietnam war veteran? If you’re talking about GI Joe, you get one of the best selling comics of the 1980s, one that somehow managed to merge outrageous ideas like a bouncing pogo-assault vehicle with an informed perspective on what real life military hardware is capable of. One which saw ludicrous snake-themed warriors engage in unexpectedly realistic battles over complex territory where the position of a unit or the timing of a flank attack could have pivotal importance.

The mixture of bonkers characters with hard-nosed military realism made for a surprisingly entertaining read, and would make for an excellent Real Time Strategy game. Basic campaigns would consist of replaying the pivotal battles of the series, giving you Urban Warfare (The Fall of Springfield), Jungle Warfare (the never ending revolutions in Sierra Gordo), Beach Landings (The Cobra Island War) and Desert Warfare (the slaughter in Benzheen).

As if the potential map variety weren’t enough, the game is almost entirely composed of unique units: every character has a specific role and military speciality, from basic infantrymen to demolition specialists and everything inbetween. While the story provides the off-the-wall enjoyment of Command and Conquer, the unit choices on offer build in the tactical and strategic depth found in Rise of Nations.

ABC Warriors / Gears of War
Enormous meatheads wielding giant weaponry and shooting their way through waves of lethal opponents in a dilapidated Gothic setting. Frankly, that could describe both Gears of War and Pat Mills and Simon Bisley’s classic ‘Black Hole Mission’, in which seven robot soldiers (they’re resistant to Atomic/Bacterial/Chemical weapons, you see) battle biker gangs, hunter robots, fascist armies and spectral beings in an attempt to stop the embodiment of human evil from destroying the earth.

Ok, it sounds like a heavy metal concept album, and it reads a bit like one as well, but combining the hulking combat of Gears of War with the specialised abilities of the ABC Warriors (one is a sniper, another is a tank, one has a hammer for an arm and faeces) would make for a deliriously dumb and thoroughly enjoyable shooter.


Interesting stuff.

Obviously it's meant to be a fanciful list but I would, however, suggest that these 'smaller' titles would make for excellent digital download games on PSN/XBLA. Game devs could capture the spirit of the comics without the bank-busting development costs associated with those games you mention.

The Boys done Streets Of Rage style? Anyone? Anyone? Oh...