‘Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. But always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, if they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you… my only son.’
No other superhero character in the history of pop culture has given as much, and is owed by so many, as Superman. Without his inception by writer/artist combo Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who dreamt up the Man of Steel, we would unlikely have a superhero industry as vibrant as today, if at all. It’s a true testament that his core values of Truth and Justice are as relevant today as they were upon his creation eighty years ago.
The story of Superman is a simple one: The last son of the dying planet Krypton is rocketed to Earth by his father, Jor-El, a wise scientist, who predicted the planet’s destruction. Found and raised by the childless couple of Martha and Jonathan Kent, it is the ideals his adoptive parents instill into their son that is his most formidable power.
Superman’s story has been told in comic books, radio shows, stage musicals, television and film, his S symbol is recognised all over the world, in every country imaginable, but there is one arena where the Man of Tomorrow has not carried the torch of hope — video games.
Before we can go forward to Superman’s gaming future, we must go back, way back, further than we’ve ever been before, back to when the Man of Steel made his gaming debut. Superman fans know that there’s only one way to go when it comes to time travel, so if we follow this man!
‘Come with me now.
As we break through the bounds of your earthly confinement traveling through time and space.’
The first game on our list is Superman for the Atari 2600. A side-scrolling adventure, with the main objective of stopping the devastation caused by Lex Luthor, and topping up your superpowers by locking lips with Lois Lane (no, this isn’t made up). Despite the hilarious concept, the game scored rather well with critics, and was praised as being one of the best games on the new console.
Superman: The Game (1985)
It would be six years before Kal-El returned to combat evil, and this time it was the New God Darkseid. The game was released on home computers and had a simple objective to either rescue citizens as Superman, or if playing as Darkseid, to creepily lure them to your underground lair. As you do.
Two years later and Supes would be back, and this time on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom to our friends in Japan. This time, the game would incorporate the plot of the first two films, pitching Superman against Lex Luthor and General Zod and his goons. Perhaps due to copyright reasons, John Williams’ iconic score from the film featured in the Japanese version, but not the western release.
Where do they get these original titles from? That might be the question everyone was asking when Superman made his arcade debut in 1988. This time, Superman is slugging it out with Emperor Zaas, and also being given a leg-up by a mysterious red Superman, should you decide to opt for the two-player option. The game was pretty popular and did well amongst the fans, being praised for its graphics and gameplay mechanics.
Superman: The Man of Steel (1989)
Things had really started to warm up cor Supes now. Not only had his very existence been rebooted in the comics, he had to be in so many places at once as he was ported to pretty much every home computer around at the time. Darkseid and Lex Luthor were the villains out to ruin Superman’s day, and from the reviews on some of the various ports, they did just that.
Superman/ Superman: The Man of Steel (1992)
Boy, they can’t get enough of those catchy titles. This time Superman was exclusive!
Exclusive to the Genesis/Megadrive, you big silly. Released in Europe as Superman: The Man of Steel (we clearly need telling of this fact) in an effort to thwart the dastardly deeds of Brainiac, Metallo, and other minions intent on destroying the city. The game was an unintentional exclusive for Sega, with the SNES port being canned. The only memorable part about this game is Superman needed to collect tokens to access his powers. Other than that, this was a wingless turkey that didn’t have any chance of flying.
The Death and Return of Superman (1994)
Not wanting to spoil the ending of a game before it begins, Sunsoft felt it would be a great idea to tell the recent comic story of Superman’s death at the hands of villainous genetic freak Doomsday, and his eventual return from beyond the veil. The game saw action on the Megadrive and Super NES, but let’s not forget one thing, he did die and come back in this game, whereas most people who have played the game wished he’d just stayed down.
Superman: The New Adventures (1999)
Known unofficially as Superman 64 and based on the popular animated series of the time, Superman: The New Adventures is known as one of the worst games of all-time, and the worst game for the N64. It was an exclusive fans were happy to see stay exclusive. This was Superman’s first foray into 3D and it was disastrous. Alleged interference from DC Comics and Warner Bros. resulted in a subpar product that every Superman fan would rather forget. But it won’t ever be forgotten.
Superman: Shadow of Apokolips (2002)
Developers weren’t done with the animated look, and Superman returned in 2002 to face the wrath of Darkseid. This time, Infogrames opted to go the whole hog and using the original voice cast and stylised look of the animated series, they successfully crafted a half-decent game starring the Man of Steel. Not only was this game known for using the full voice cast, they also created cutscenes designed to emulate the TV show to push the story along. At last, Superman flew in triumph, albeit briefly.
Superman: The Man of Steel (2002)
Companies just can’t get past using that title and it was no different when the Xbox-exclusive version arrived in 2002. This time the story was based on the comic universe, rather than any other media and whilst competent, difficult controls and boring missions made this turkey fall down from the sky.
Superman: Countdown to Apokolips (2003)
The prequel to Shadow of Apokolips slipped onto the Game Boy Advance, and whilst being a decent-looking game, it did little else to excite fans and was quietly forgotten.
Superman Returns (2006)
The game that killed the Superman games, and it was based on a film that was meant to relaunch the Superman movie franchise. Both of these failed, but only one was the fault of EA Games. Acting as a prequel and tie-in to Superman Returns, the game was generous with its map size, powers and abilities, and unique way of heading towards a game over. Instead of Superman having an energy bar, his health was dependent on the city taking damage. Not even an all-star cast could save this one, and Superman, like his film counterpart, did not return.
Building a Super-Man
Blue Steel isn’t a name that’s well-known amongst many Superman fans, but it should be. There was once a game in development that had such promise, but fell into a development hell from which it could never escape. That game was a new Superman entry developed by Factor 5, and the above is all that exists of the game. Although it now looks rather dated, the game certainly showed a lot of promise. A cancelled game isn’t anything new, but apart from Doomsday featuring in the footage, concept art released in 2012 also showed General Zod, Non, Darkseid and Luthor also made up the rogues roster.
If you take a look at the above footage, it’s the closest we will find to a game that truly captures the power and awe that a Superman brawl would encompass. Superman is a character about raw power and spectacle, especially when it comes to showing off what the Man of Steel can do. If you’re trying to sell Superman to a wider audience, and that has always been the real test outside of comic book fans, then you need two attributes in your arsenal; humanity and spectacle.
Superman’s greatest power has always been his compassion and kindness. He is a beacon of hope and light in a world of darkness, the yang to Batman’s yin. The current trend with Superman in media is to make him dark and brooding, Superman has never ever been a pessimist, always the optimist. It is this optimism that would need to be at the heart of the game, Batman gets things done by almost any means necessary, Superman gets things done the right way. It’s a fundamental difference in their philosophies, so it is with this approach we will take to our better Superman game.
Forging a Man of Steel
The first hurdle in our Superman game is how we approach him. The obvious choice would be to mimic the Arkham games that have been so successful for Batman, but I would argue this isn’t the right approach. What works for Batman won’t work for Superman. Superman is a completely different character, he has a whole different set of abilities and powers and isn’t someone that skulks around in the shadows – no, Superman is grandiose, Superman is the larger than life character that swoops down out of the sky to put his fist into the face of some indestructible alien. He’s not one for understated. Even the recently released Marvel’s Spider-Man couldn’t match up to what we would need from our Superman game.
First though, we need a name for the game, and that name is simple and to the point: Superman.
I know you were expecting more. Something that has more of an epic sound to it, but I would argue that Superman is perfect. It doesn’t need a subtitle, it doesn’t need anything clever like calling it Man of Steel, it just needs to the point, and the point here is this is a game about a super-man. What more do you need?
Of course we need a story. A story that’s decent and really shows off the fantastic physics engine I know this game would be built on. I propose the following for our game, three separate eras of the Man of Steel’s life.
And a story, so here’s ours…
Krypton is under attack from Brainiac – a sentient AI that collects worlds and takes a population as his mind-controlled army. Jor-El, a scientist, deals a blow to the invasion force that wipes out Brainiac and his forces, but the planet has become unstable and is collapsing in on itself. In desperation, Jor-El launches his prototype colony ship – a ship designed to colonise other worlds, to the nearest planet that matches Kryptonian genetics – Earth. He downloads the entirety of Kryptonian knowledge into the ship and launches it off into the void.
Eighteen years later, and young Clark Kent is struggling with the superhuman abilities that separate him from the other residents of Smallville. The town has become known as ‘Miracleville’ in America, due to the urban myth of a guardian watching over the town. Clark graduates and is told by Ma and Pa Kent of his origins and presented with an alien artifact – a Kryptonian compass that he was found with. Clark flees his home and runs for hundreds of miles north, upset, he notices the artifact glowing and discovers it’s a map to something far north. So he follows.
Clark discovers a Kryptonian outpost formed from the colony ship he escaped Krypton in. The computers activate and he is met by the hologram of his father, Jor-El. Jor-El explains this place is meant to be a sanctuary that his son, Kal-El, would have matured in, nurtured and nourished by a remnant of Kryptonian technology, but there was a problem with the ship and he was jettisoned in an escape pod. After years of education, Jor-El urges Clark to show humanity a better way and presents him with – the suit.
Five years later, Clark returns home and is now a successful political blogger and has come to Metropolis to start work as an intern at the Daily Planet. Perry White, editor of the Planet, introduces Clark to Jimmy Olsen, an award-winning photographer who’s just returned from a war zone, and Lois Lane, tipped to be the next big journalist. Both are dismissive of blogging. Clark accompanies them both to the LuthorCorp launch of the Artemis V, a reusable spaceship for trips to the moon and back. Clark is introduced to Lex Luthor, a genius, who in the past five years has revolutionised every aspect of civilisation. Lex is philanthropic at heart, and LuthorCorp’s A Smarter World is core to his belief, having gifted a Merci (the AI assistant) into every home in America, soon the world, except Lois’ home. She doesn’t do TV. Clark likes Lex a lot. Lex invites Lois and co aboard the launch of the Artemis V, but only Lois takes up the offer, with Clark citing a fear of flying, and Jimmy believing photos from the ground would look better.
The launch happens and goes disastrously wrong. An engine blows out and Clark instinctively flies (for the first time) and saves the Artemis V and all aboard from disaster. Confusion reigns, as Clark is gone in a flash, going home to Smallville, and his parents watching what’s happening on TV. Clark is distraught, but Pa Kent assures him that maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it’s time he accepted he’s something more.
Three months pass and Superman is everywhere. Lois Lane is working on the Superman story, but has also discovered the rise in ‘unusual’ criminals since his arrival. Reports of a being able to absorb energy the Planet has dubbed Parasite, a cyborg criminal calling itself Metallo, and a hacker disrupting financial markets calling himself Toyman. Superman hunts them all down and defeats them, and Lois manages to link their civilian identities to having worked for Janus Industries, an offshore company. Superman meets Lois to learn what she knows and where the profits from their crimes was being sent to. Superman gives Lois a pen drive that the Toyman gave him as ‘insurance’, she also notes a cut on Superman’s hand he received in his battle with Metallo. Superman remarks he may not be as invulnerable as he thinks.
A corrupted clone of Superman arrives in downtown and is attacked by the military. Superman arrives and a brawl ensues with this Bizarro (named by Jimmy). The creature seems more confused than anything, but is drawn towards Superman. The brawl takes out building blocks, before Bizarro’s form disintegrates and he dies in Superman’s arms. Superman has been weakened, and at the same time Luthor delivers the news his long range space probes have picked up an inbound fleet heading for Earth, all bearing the Superman symbol. The public turn against Superman and he flees and ends up collapsing on Lois’ doorstep. She sees Clark is Superman beneath his clothes.
A Luthor militia has locked down the city and Superman is public enemy number one. Lois reveals Toyman has given them the links from Janus Industries back to LuthorCorp – Luthor is dirty, and with his Merci assistants in every home he has the potential to manipulate people. Clark goes to take out Luthor’s satellites, whilst Lois breaks the story about Janus Industries and Luthor. Superman destroys the satellites and the invasion fleet disappears. \
Lois descends on LuthorCorp with the angry mob there. Superman arrives to take Lex in, but it’s revealed Lex is being controlled by Brainiac, and has been for the last five years. Further to this, Brainiac reveals he was the Jor-El hologram, and pushed Clark right here to this point. Brainiac explains he came to Earth having stowed away on Clark’s ship and remained dormant until Clark reactivated him when he found the outpost. He needed Superman to be the diversion. Superman tells him it’s too late, he’s destroyed his satellites. Brainiac activates the Merci AI and every person who owns one flips to a Brainiac drone, whilst something in a tank starts powering up. Superman battles Luthor/Brainiac in his LuthorCorp battle suit prototype. Superman defeats him and Brainiac abandons the confused Luthor, who tells Superman he remembers nothing of the past five years.
Brainiac downloads himself into his new form – a Kryptonian clone. The Bizarro prototype was unfortunate. The Merci AI held Brainiac’s consciousness in small bytes, a human body was incapable of sustaining his intellect. Brainiac is fully restored and the two fight. Superman defeats Brainiac and earns the trust of the world – Superman is born.
Several months later the city is being rebuilt. Luthor has been wrongly imprisoned and blames Superman. Clark takes Lois to the Kryptonian outpost and activates a self-destruct sequence. Lois asks him if he’s sure, he’s going to destroy all that’s left of his culture. Clark accepts Earth as his home and the outpost breaks into nothing. Except left in the ice is the Kryptonian compass that flashes the Brainiac symbol.
And that’s the story that will drive our game. The early level on Krypton is Jor-El fighting to reach his prototype ship amidst the Brainiac war, and gives the player a quick stealth tutorial on the controls. The section of the game set in Smallville is learning how to use Clark’s powers, as he uses his abilities like x-ray vision, heat vision, super-speed and super-strength to solve a series of challenges. For the Metropolis part of the game this is where the power levels really amp up as we’re thrown into what life’s really like as Superman.
However, a game wouldn’t be a Superman game without some mass level of destruction, and that is what this game would need. a game like Batman: Arkham Asylum can get away with the buildings not being destructible. But for our game we would need the ability for buildings to be torn to pieces in these brawls. There would be penalties for the amount of damage caused, but imagine the level of destruction you saw in Man of Steel in a videogame. the environment would demand this level of ability in its game engine. You could also have a nice touch where when the buildings are being repaired a LuthorCorp construction team are underway repairing the building. The penalty for level destruction should be the Trust Meter. This reflects the level of trust the public has in Superman. The more collateral damage Superman causes, the lower his meter drops. This would make us conscientious when playing the game to be mindful of our surroundings when fighting. This would also allow us to act like a responsible hero and push our fights out of the city. Superman would also have other health meters, his powers need fuelling from exposure to the sun, so he would need to be mindful of his energy levels, which when dropping low would then inhibit his ability to recover. Remember, this is a young Superman, he’s in his early twenties, so he’s not the Man of Steel yet, but he’s on his way there. Superman having the ability to be de-powered and take a beating is vital to making the story and game be playable. The argument has always been Superman is unbeatable and therefore makes everything redundant when he gets involved. Our Superman will be the Superman whose abilities are matched by his level of confidence in himself. Also, this is a proto-Superman, so his powers aren’t quite there. It is necessary to make Superman slightly more vulnerable to be relatable. Here’s where the best part of the Trust Meter comes in. Although Superman is invulnerable to every day threats, small crimes on patrol in our open-world game result in the Trust Meter going up the more you are able to protect civilians. A crook fires a gun? Well, Superman should be able to catch the bullets. The idea behind the Meter is the less damage caused, the more it grows. This is a whole game about the city learning to trust Superman.
Superman has enough costumes to last him an eighty-year plus legacy, and we would want to make as many available in the game to honour the character and his roots. From his early days as a Max Fleischer animation, right up to his Man of Steel incarnation and everything inbetween. All would be unlockable, and all would be wearable in the game.
So what of Metropolis itself? Well, anything other than an open world Superman game would feel like a waste. We would need a living, breathing city on the scale of Grand Theft Auto V or Spider-Man. A city where crimes are randomly generated, and the city has a true living cycle. The entire city would be Superman’s playground, whether as Clark Kent on the ground or Superman in the skies. Metropolis would need to feel alive, with dynamic day/night and weather cycles. A full traffic system, and a place where Superman can feel exactly that – super. The other part we must remember is that some of this involves Superman going into space. We could do this, but it would need to be limited as the story primarily takes place in Metropolis. But the illusion of being able to go into space would be a nice touch. Superman is sci-fi, and this must be remembered. The tone of the story should be optimism, not pessimism.
Now we need a voice cast for our game, or certainly for the main roles. I would suggest the following:
- Superman/Clark Kent – George Newbern
- Brainiac/Lex Luthor – Clancy Brown
- Jimmy Olsen – Freddie Prinze Jr.
- Lois Lane – Aisha Tyler
- Jonathan Kent – John Schneider
- Martha Kent – Annette O’Toole
- Perry White – Marc Maron
- Parasite – Robert England
- Metallo – Lance Reddick
- Toyman – Paul Reubens
- Jor-El – Peter Weller
The cast is familiar within the DC Universe for some, along with some new additions to fill out the voices.
Designing the game, the first instinct would be to go to the comic book industry and recruit someone like Jim Lee, and whilst the artists here should be recruited, the designs should be in-house and a full-on concept designers be allowed free reign. This is a new world of Superman, and so it should feel like a new touch has been added. New suit, new take – Superman is reborn.
So this is my ideas and pitch for a Superman game that might actually work, rather than the travesties listed above. Superman is a difficult character to pull off, but there are two rules for Superman – his humanity is his greatest weapon, and when you go for action with Superman, you need to make it super.
That’s it! Thank you and goodnight!