Self Discovery through Gaming and Comic Books

Every so often nostalgia sets in causing me to reflect on exactly how I got to where I am today. I have a good life and do pretty much exactly what I want with it. Reviewing video games and gaming systems allows me to continue to enjoy my favorite pastime. As I was thinking of what to share with you guys today I went through a list of topics. I could counter a previous post on complicated games and give you my list of the easiest video games of all time. Nah… that would be too simple. I also contemplated really hard on reviewing the Fast & Furious Showdown for you. Great game, but no…

I sat and racked my brain on topics as I reminisced about my past and all of the games I have played in my lifetime. As our thoughts tend to do I drifted deep into childhood memories and all of a sudden pieces were coming together more than ever before. I ultimately had two habits as a child (and as an adult). Comic books and videogames have always taken up my free time and somehow I have been fortunate enough to turn that into a career. Yep, I have the best job ever!

Okay, back to the point of this story. I was 6 years old when my grandparents bought by sisters and me a Nintendo. It was the coolest thing ever. Within a few short months I could save the princess and was moving onto other games like Mike Tyson’s punch out. As technology increased my collection of gaming systems elevated. My house quickly became the one all the kids flocked to as this gaming craze really took off.
Around the same age I took an extreme interest in comic books. My favorites were Superman and Spiderman of course. Reading them weren’t enough. I actually enjoyed the art as much as I did the storyline. I began drawing and designing my own comics convinced that someday I would be responsible for carrying out the legacy of the superheroes I was growing up with.

So where is the correlation between the two? Well obviously my childhood spent indoors is one of them. However, that isn’t really where I wanted to go with that. Mainstream comics are generally based entirely off of years of continuity. The stories I have been reading for over 20 years are still being updated today. When a writer is given the assignment to write a Superman comic he/she is expected to follow traditions that were set long before they came around. The groundwork for these professionals has been set for them.

This connects with video games in the sense that we see expanding universes throughout them. Essentially a player is placed in a world where he/she is free to make whatever decisions they want to, but they are guided by a story that is out of their control. The character has pre chosen powers. So ultimately we don’t control what we can do, we do however control when and how we do this. So while I may not be designing or writing comic books, the job I do now (play games and review) is extremely similar to what writers and artist experience when updating their storylines and characters.

Another correlation between the two is the advances made over time. Today we don’t have to own a bulky council or blow into the game in hopes to make it work again. We can play a multitude of games from almost anywhere. Technology has also improved the way in which we view comic books. Through a digital comic book we now have easy access to our favorite heroes in only a few clicks. I am appreciative that my two favorite habits are more convenient than ever before.

So there you have my thoughts of the day. Comic books and video games absolutely connect on some level.


The Superman Problem and Who Could Fix It


What is the Superman problem?

Simply put, it’s making a good Superman game.

To view the extent of this problem, try typing “best Superman game” into Google. Soon you’ll be met with the equivalent of a shrug, as the only results are people asking if there ever has been a good Superman game. Specify that search to read “top 10 best Superman games,” and the most relevant result is the “top 10 worst Superman games.”

That’s right. The Superman problem is so great that it even breaks Google.

While it’s impossible to attribute the problem to any single issue, the biggest one has to be Superman himself. Simply put, Superman is too powerful, and doesn’t make an effective video game character because there are only so many things that can cause him harm, or scenarios where he is in actual danger. So unless you’re going to equip every thug with kryptonite gloves (which you shouldn’t because it’s a terrible idea), there is a very limited rouge gallery that can even contain the god-man. On the other hand, the entire reason you want to play Superman is to use those very powers that makes him an issue in the first place.


As a result, mediocre games like “Death and Return of Superman” and “Shadow of Apokolips” are held in higher regard than they should be because they do nothing more than let you play as Superman, and not suck too bad. Meanwhile, Superman’s actual best roles are cameo appearances in lego games, and fighting titles.

That last part got me thinking. Maybe the solution to the Superman problem lies somewhere in the fact that so many Superman games have been 3D action titles. While that would seem the most likely home for the man of steel, it’s beginning to look like a truly great Superman game will not emerge until a developer is willing to chart some unconventional territory.

Specifically, that territory may be an adventure game, and that developer Telltale Games.

Ok, so it’s not the first thing you think of when you think Superman, but that’s the point. It’s something outside of the Superman comfort zone, that has turned into the rut the character’s games are in. For instance it would be interesting to see “Walking Dead’s” choice system make a return, and force gamers to actually grapple with the decisions that come with essentially being God on Earth, rather than just wail on baddies level after level. Hell, Clark Kent could even be made useable, courtesy of some journalistic investigation sequences


Best of all, they wouldn’t even have to trim down on the few highlights that do exist in Superman games. You could still have flying, you’d still have the epic feel of playing as Superman, and the powers issue is addressed as you would still be able to use all of Superman’s abilities, but with the emphasis now on plot and progression, there would be no need to trim them down, as the developers could instead have greater control over the action sequences where you get to use them.

It’s not the only Superman idea out there, and it’s certainly not one that is guaranteed to work, however it is an example of how the Superman problem doesn’t have to be one without resolution, and that there are still ideas for the series that haven’t been explored which could potentially turn the games from running joke, into a franchise that is as anticipated as the next “Batman” game.

Although yeah, personally after Telltale is done with that incredible looking “Fables” project, I’d love to see them take a shot at the franchise, and do what no company has done in the 34 years since the first Superman game for the Atari, which is simply make a game that associate’s Earth’s greatest hero with the word good.


The Rise of “Guilds,” and the Fall of “Heroes”

As one MMO flies to incredible new heights, another that once promised players that very feature is coming to an end.

Recently the MMO world was hit with two big bits of news as “Guild Wars 2” developer ArenaNet posted on their Facebook page, that all first party digital downloads of the new mega hit MMO are suspended temporarily in order to insure server stability. While the game is still available through third party sites and retail stores, the developers themselves feel they have a responsibility to everyone in the game to hold off on new sales directly from them, so that play isn’t interrupted. Currently new methods to expand digital services are being looked at.

Hot off the heels of that announcement comes another from the publisher of “Guild Wars 2,” NCsoft, that they will be folding Paragon Studios, and therefore effectively bringing an end to that developer’s MMO title “City of Heroes” by the end of the year.

The reasons for these individual stories of success and untimely demise are both simple and complex, but ultimately revolve around each other.

First, in case you didn’t follow the insane pre-release hype, or immediately snatch up the product that finally launched, “Guild Wars 2” is slowly taking the online world by storm in a way that no other MMO has done since “World of Warcraft” itself. It’s doing this through an incredible art style with a scope and integrity never before seen in a game like this, a PvP system that’s so brilliant and well executed it looks to make all other competitive systems irrelevant by the time it kicks into gear, and maybe best of all, a level of difficulty that rewards players for putting more time into it by actually making the game better as you go along, instead of creating more incentive for new players, and providing cold shoulders for veterans. Tying it all together, unlike “WoW,” “Guild Wars 2” is free to play, continuing one of the more welcome video game trends in some time.

I’ve had the privilege of playing the game recently, and I don’t think I could give you an honest critical review of it. That’s because despite some of its flaws, I have such a deep and abiding respect for the game that questions of review scores and likes or hates are irrelevant. It’s one of those stand up and take notice games that only come along once in a while, even if all of the specifics aren’t perfect.

Oddly though, it seems to achieve such lofts, a sacrifice of sorts had to be made. That seems to be the largest reason behind the cancellation of service for “City of Heroes,” as reports still have the game boasting a sizable player base, and even reporting some respectable sales figures as recently as last year for such an aging title.  However, earlier this year NCsoft reported its first companywide loss in a while, and at the time “City of Heroes” was at the bottom of the sales list. With other ongoing projects to support, and bigger titles on the horizon, it would seem “City of Heroes” fell to the archvillian known as fiscal reports, and nothing more.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to look at this as a case of one door closing and another opening. As good as “Guild Wars 2” is, and as great as it promises to be, “City of Heroes” long stood as the somewhat appropriate icon of hope in the MMO world. It wasn’t a fantasy or sci-fi game, yet it produced a well built and, initially, successful MMO. Now that it has fallen to a, admittedly well worthy, challenger to the “WoW” crown of fantasy MMO dominance, I worry that the message will become more and more clear in developer’s minds that new entrants in the genre are unwelcome, especially if they are trying something different.

In a year’s time I feel that the MMO market will be hotly divided by “Guild Wars 2” players, and by “WoW” addicts, and with good reason. At that time, the mention of a title like “City of Heroes” won’t lead to tears, but rather fond memories. Still, I wish that it were possible for the game to continue in some capacity for as long as it can. Because while the game’s sales figures may have been mild mannered like reporter Clark Kent, beneath the corporate visage of numbers lied an idea of originality, individuality, and innovation in the American way.

Underneath it, lied a true MMO hero.


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