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March 31, 2014

5 MORE Superpowers That Would Make Awesome(ish) Games

It’s probably worth mentioning that my brother got a PS4.  Weeks ago.

This would be the part where I’d say “funny story, actually”, but there’s really not that much to it.  He just came into my room one day and said, “Hey, what’s up?  I ordered a PS4.  It’ll be here on Monday.”  I’m pretty sure I spent more time staring at him in disbelief than he did on the conversation -- and certainly more than he spent trying to win me over.  I mean, can you blame me?  You just have to love the logic on display here; apparently there’s no better time to buy a PS4 than before it even has one game worth owning.

That’s not hyperbole, by the way.  He was so desperate to have something to justify his purpose that he ended up downloading indie games -- which for one reason or another he can’t stand -- and grabbed a copy of Battlefield 4…a game he already had on the PC.  He even admitted that he caved and bought the game; I think that was the first time in years I’d seen him express shame.

Thankfully, he may have gotten his justification with Infamous: Second Son.  I certainly hope so, at least; as I’ve said, it’s not as if I think the PS4 will be pointless forever.  And indeed, I’ll gladly welcome this new superhero game as the title that makes a case for the PS4.  And beyond that, somewhere down the line, I’m going to play it for myself; I want to see if it’s got the juice, and ISN’T just earning praise because it stands tall amidst a barren wasteland of games.

In the meantime?  Let’s keep playing the hypothetical game.


5) Mind Control
As shown by: Professor X

Notice how his wheelchair doesn’t have a single scratch on it.  Know why?  Because it was custom made by the Juggernaut.  According to certain interpretations of the canon, at least. 

If you’re just joining me for this duet of posts, then let me make something clear as quickly as I can: games can (and often do) define themselves using combat, and the systems therein.  Just as there are an infinite number of possibilities that can be painted onto a canvas, so too are there an infinite number of systems that can be created for a gamer’s pleasure -- and that’s truer than ever with the advent of the latest consoles.  In theory, at least; don’t you just love how the big companies thought that the herald of a new generation and the proof that new technology = new innovation would be Killzone?

What was it that Sun Tzu said?  It’s best to win without fighting?  Wise words, indeed.  I mean, think about it.  Why is Professor X not only a fearsome mutant (despite his pleasant demeanor), but someone who leads the X-Men despite being surrounded by men and women that could slash, detonate, crush, and vaporize him faster than you could say “Cerebro”?  It’s because if he wanted to, he could wreck everyone around him as long as they’re not wearing a stupid helmet.  Who needs a gun when you can use mind control to completely overwhelm your opponents, all in the comfort of your favorite chair?


So here’s what I’m thinking.  Sun Tzu mentioned “to win without fighting”, right?  Well, that’s cool and all, and while games don’t have to rely solely on combat to earn favor, they can indeed help.  That in mind, I’d suggest refocusing the effort, and where the player’s agency lies.  If there has to be a war, then why not make the player character a spy instead of a soldier?  The flow of information is just as vital as the bullets fired on the battlefield, so take advantage of that.  Make him/her a lynchpin of the war effort, using mind tricks to blend in with enemy forces, steal information, and even influence foes (and friends!) to act in a way that’ll benefit the home country. 

Beyond: Two Souls tried to do the political intrigue/espionage thing, but decided to be terrible instead.  But the concept was there, more or less; let the player influence others via Stand powers (in terms of the control scheme; not so much the story), but add a layer of complexity by requiring the use of mental manipulation.  Make the mind control easier or harder depending on the “trigger words” the player has collected -- clues found throughout the world, combined with the MC’s personal bag of tricks.  With your mind as the ultimate tool, winning the war -- or just ending it outright -- is in your hands.

Warfare is all about deception, so it seems fitting.  Man, that Sun Tzu was a real ace, wasn’t he?

   
4) Reality Warping
As shown by: Scarlet Witch

So if what I’ve seen/read is right, Scarlet Witch is going to be in the next Avengers movie.  That’s interesting; I can only begin to wonder what role a character who effectively rewrote the pages of the Marvel canon can do in/for the cinematic universe.  Also, Quicksilver is in it too, I guess?  And apparently he’s going to be in the X-Men movies for some reason?   Here’s hoping that doesn’t cause problems somewhere down the line.

Now, I was under the impression that Scarlet Witch’s power set revolved around probability manipulation -- that is, making things more or less likely to happen.  But I guess in semi-recent years (or earlier, but who knows with me?) her toolset expanded to let her affect her surroundings on a global as well as chronological scale.  So basically, she’s not just one of the most powerful mutants, but pretty much power itself.  Reconciling that for the sake of an enjoyable video game -- one where you don’t have access to an “I Win Button” -- might be too steep a task.

That is, unless you’re willing to get creative.  And maybe a little sporty.


“Reality warping” implies “changing the world around you”, so why not use that as a basis?  Games like Jet Set Radio and Okami have already shown that there’s juice in giving the player the ability to affect and even fix the world on-the-go, so why not revive those properties?  And for the hell of it, throw in a bit of Tony Hawk for good measure; use skateboard tricks and personalized art to make a name for yourself -- independent of your seemingly-godlike powers -- while pushing back against rival skater team and the nasty baddies that would corrupt your world with…I don’t know, Segways or something.  (Side note: a Google search suggests that one of those things can run for almost nine thousand dollars.  Seriously.)

My experiences with Tony Hawk (i.e. busting out two million point combos) suggest that the key to skating success lies in finding the perfect “lines” -- a string of props and set pieces you can manipulate for style and glory.  So if that’s the case, then it could be a chance for the player to create lines of their own on the fly.  It’d be the perfect fit for the Wii U, given the existence of The Wonderful 101; skate through an area and do tricks to build energy, then with a touch of your finger you can slow down time and draw symbols -- and then those symbols lead to props materializing before you.  Use that to forge your perfect line in a flash, or reach unreachable areas to push back the corruption.  OR, even beyond that, it’d be the perfect chance for some multiplayer fun.  Compete with buddies to create the ultimate line, and walk away with the highest score your skill and wit will allow.

I’ll accept payment in sacks with dollar signs on them, Nintendo.


3) Power of the Void
As shown by: Exdeath

I couldn’t think of a superhero or villain with this power set, so let’s just use Exdeath as an example.  Trust me; I’m lamenting my poor knowledge of comics as much as you are.

If Kingdom Hearts has taught me anything (besides the desperate need to send Terra’s dumb ass back to preschool), it’s that despite the bad rap darkness tends to get, at least it’s something.  It’s not zero -- or nothingness, if you prefer.  That opens up a whole new set of fears and concerns; fighting against the nothingness and the world a villain in support of it wants to create doesn’t strike me as pleasant.  To say nothing of the kind of person who would fall in love with the nothingness.

My time with the first Dissidia -- at least before my PSP melted internally or something -- painted Exdeath as a madman not to be trifled with…at least when he didn’t come off as an overacting loon.  Which was constantly, given that he probably shares a voice actor with M. Bison, but the point still stands.  Turning something into nothing is a dangerous and frightening power; while in-game Exdeath used it -- for the most part -- to play defensively and launch counterattacks, it’s not a stretch to imagine the sort of ways to capitalize on that power.  I would rather meet a serial killer than someone who wielded the power of the void.

But what if that wasn’t the case?  What if that power was in the hands of someone genuinely decent?


If The Cave, Broken Age, and the infamous Katawa Shoujo are any indication, there’s still a market for lower-key and narrative-driven games.  (And there always will be, as long as the human race stays on the hunt for stories.)  The first step towards making that narrative worthwhile is by making a character that’s worthwhile -- in this case, a well-meaning doofus who just happens to find out he has the power to erase whatever he wants from existence.  He banishes it to the void; once sent there, he can’t interact with it ever again.  It’s gone forever -- part of the nothingness, forever more.

So begins the adventure game, wherein our doofus goes free-wheeling with his powers, but ends up getting himself in trouble when he realizes that erasing whatever he wants has consequences.  And as these things tend to go, it’s not long before he ends up turning himself into a fugitive -- or if not that, then at least a suspect ready to run at any second.  As the player, it’s your job to keep said doof out of trouble, even if the only way to do that is by erasing whatever you can (and potentially making the problem worse).  With a few masterful strokes, you can erase evidence.  Things.  Places.  People.  Even concepts, if you’re so willing…or devious.  I know that’s not even remotely practical from a technical standpoint, but again, I’d like to think that new technology makes it possible to get closer to doing something new.  Something never done before.  And what’s newer than being able to expunge whatever you wish from the bounds of reality?

Don’t answer that.  I don’t want to risk finding out that someone already capitalized on the idea.

Also, isn’t Exdeath supposed to be a living tree or something?


2) Emotion Control
As shown by: Starfox (the other one)

I may not know comics, but I do have internet access.  And it was via the internet (and Cracked) that I learned about Starfox, AKA the guy that once got in a fight with the Hulk, and the best weapon he had was the ability to -- as I once explained to a friend -- “make people become more aroused”.  His reaction made me wonder if I’d dodged a bullet by not getting into any superhero canon.  Then again, one could argue that Starfox is one of the greatest Marvel heroes, if only because he apparently managed to win the heart of She-Hulk.  Whether that’s something to be proud of or terrified of, I’m not 100% sure.

In any case, I’d like to think that Starfox works on a similar axis as Professor X.  Emotions can decide a lot of fights; in the fighting game community (or just in online adventures), plenty of players will crack under pressure and make some sloppy moves.  Alternatively, when you have things like “rare footage of Daigo actually angry”, that can make some real miracles happen.  That alone gives you plenty of tools to take advantage of vis a vis imagining a game.

So naturally, the obvious choice is to make a dating sim out of it.


Don’t get me wrong, though.  Giving the player character the power to affect emotions for the sake of winning over the ladies (or the gents, alternatively) is some EXTREMELY dangerous territory, and not something that anyone should pursue, even from a hypothetical standpoint.  That in mind, the concept of love is something that’s worth exploring in a game -- so rather than have the player try to win the mate of his choice, I’d suggest acting as a proxy.  You play as an ersatz Cupid (one more akin to Travis Touchdown than the typical cherub), and have to help others find love as a tribute to the goddess that employs you…and as a corollary, for the same general motivations as Travis.  

I’d imagine a sort of episodic game, much like No More Heroes (at least while it’s fresh on my mind).  You find a guy or doll unlucky in love, and use your powers to try and push them toward a happy ending with a similarly-forlorn member of the townsfolk.  Give him a bit of courage!  Give her a bit of enthusiasm!  Give him kindness!  Give her passion!  It’d be a little like Ni no Kuni in that regard, only in addition to giving them emotional boosts to start them off, you’d have to adjust at opportune moments in the midst of conversations and dates -- a little on-the-fly application, if you will.  Likewise, making sure the choices the love birds make and the discussion at large go the right way would be in your hands -- and amidst all that, even after you complete an episode you can/should go back and check on the couples you helped push together.  See if it’s working out and whatnot, and make adjustments.

It could work.  If you believe in miracles.


1) Flight
As shown by: Superman…and too many other characters to list

If I have to explain why this deserves a game of its own, then you are a sad person in need of a hug. 

Superman has been around for…what, seventy years?  Eighty, maybe?  Whatever the case, we all know the guy.  We know what he can do.  We know that one of his big things -- the thing that hundreds of superheroes have copied -- is being able to fly.  That was part of the tagline for one of his movies.  That’s what we imagine him doing whenever the heroic music swells up.  That was what he did in the only tolerable scene in Man of Steel.  And even beyond Superman, beyond any superhero, that ability to fly is the one thing we’ve all universally desired.  Is there a single person out there that’s never dreamed of flying?  I’m genuinely curious to find out.

This is such a no-brainer, it’s not even funny.  You say “flying” to someone, and that’s pretty much it.  You’re done.  “Ah, I got it.  Say no more; I’m totally on board.”  It’s pretty much the one thing we all understand, and want in some capacity at some point in our lives.  We have fictional characters like Superman to thank for that (probably to a huge extent), but I’d bet that anyone can appreciate it whenever and wherever it pops up.

So that’s why I say there should be a game based entirely on flight.  Entirely.


It’s a concept that practically makes itself.  You play as a race of people that can fly.  They live on flying islands.  What do they do for fun?  Fly -- and fly in races, no less.  That’s it.  That’s literally all you need to do.  Okay, sure, you could go the extra mile and add in some special events like in Pilotwings, or just give you the chance to free-roam around the islands and everything in it.  But seriously, flying races?  That wouldn’t be so bad.  And you can’t even tell me that’s not practical, because even the Nintendo 64 could do flying from the get-go.    As long as it controls well, and as long as the camera isn’t a drunken putz, you win almost instantly.  And so does everyone that plays it.

There’s pretty much no wrong way to do it.  It can be a wild, chaotic experience like Mario Kart, full of items and traps and lap-to-lap carnage that leave the skies completely unpredictable.  Alternatively, it could be a more structured and technical experience, a la Gran Turismo; give the player realistic stats to tweak and performance in and out of the skies to maximize, and that’s enough to make anyone happy.  Toss in some vibrant, colorful worlds, some tracks full of wonder and secrets, and AI that’s punishing but fair, and you’ve gotten more mileage out of the concept than Batman on a transcontinental road trip in the Batmobile.


And that’s really the clincher, isn’t it?  You can get a lot of mileage out of any concept.  Any power. 

I’m guessing that if you made it to the end of this post/test of endurance, then you have your own ideas on how to take the powers listed here (or some you’ve dreamed up) and make them the focal point of some hypothetical games.  And that’s fantastic.  You should be able to do that, even if the game industry as-is and at-large won’t.  There are entire dimensions of possibilities beyond guns, and they can be realized in an infinite number of ways.  It’s all about being willing to explore them.

As I’ve said elsewhere, superpowers are a good jumping-off point in terms of creative potential.  What happens when X can Y?  If X uses Y, then what does that mean for Z?  How can Z affect X, and how can X affect U -- the player?  All valid questions.  And those are questions that are best answered when there’s some reason to explore them -- when there’s something interesting and worthwhile before our eyes.  The one who gets that and applies it well (with consistency!) is the one who’s going to earn fame and praise.  Maybe even be a hero in their own right.

Or maybe I’m just reaching a little.  I do that some times.  Much like Reed Richards.

Oh, speaking of Mr. Fantastic...this happened, apparently.


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