Spider-Man games should rock.

Today at Joystiq Justin McElroy wrote what I’ll dramatically describe as an unsurprising slap in the face of the latest Spider-Man game, Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Go read it. He gets it. He wore Spidey pajamas as a kid. (Note: I dig his writing, and always have. Even during the huge fiasco when he made threats against U2’s Bono.)

Games are their gameplay mechanics, the choices and actions of the player. For all the crap we give them, licensed games actually often have a rare opportunity: unique mechanics. Any other game that mimics webswinging is going to be seen as a knock-off, or at least compared to Spider-Man.

To be fair, Justin notes that they try to do something with his “Spider Sense”, but that’s certainly not what I think of first when I think “Spider-Man”. What he rates a 2.5/5 game sounds like a thoroughly mediocre beat’em-up, which is a disappointment, given my love of older Spider-Man games.

Spider-Man 2 (Xbox, PS2) is actually one of my favorite games. I was one of the people blown away by the webswinging. It was a perfect example of both “appropriate difficulty” (being slightly difficult, but very fulfilling to pull off well) and the “ludic displacement” that occurs when a game makes you feel like you really are doing what’s happening in the game.

Nevermind the player’s stumbles… Spidey would never trip!

Despite Spider-Man 2 being third person, and despite how bad the blur looks in this pixelated video, you really got that feeling you imagined as a kid, of being Spider-Man, dipping from the rooftops into the streets of New York city, swinging back up, flying forward as fast as a normal person would fall. (Ultimate Spider-Man was still great, less so Spider-Man 3… Both the victim of over-refinement, imo, but still.)

Super heroes are typically defined by having unique abilities. In that very nature, they’re begging to be put into games, giving players unique actions and choices. Older Spidey games got him right. The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game did a decent job of making you feel like you were wrecking shit, though it could’ve been better aside from that. From what I hear both Wolverine and Batman games had great combat, making you feel like the characters were “right”. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a fun beat’em-up, not because it was particularly deep, but because it rallied together almost 30 loved characters. Why do a game featuring a singular beloved character, or even two, without trying to do well what that character is known for?

Here’s a few free suggestions for Activision’s next Spider-Man game.

  • New York City – I’m serious. Forget corridor fighters. Don’t be silly.
  • Make swinging a matter of skill – Anyone player should be able to do it, but being good at the mechanics should pay off well.
  • Spider-Man has a history – Not saying you shouldn’t do “origin stories” or work them in, but, Spidey has a very deep gallery of well-known, well-defined, fun, friends and enemies. Utilize them.
  • Peter Parker exists – Spider-Man has a personal life. Don’t be afraid to use that in more than a reference.
  • Peter Parker is a photographer – Some games did it recently, but then cameras have only become MORE popular in society, as well as other games. Some even do it well. You could, too.
  • A random encounter should blow my mind – Sure, Spidey fights generic thugs all the time. That happens. But sometimes? Sometimes? Sometimes that bank robbery you stumble across should be Rhino.
  • Subscriptions – Learn from comics. Everyone who owns the game gets a free few missions each week. They culminate each month in an arc. Do this for a month, free. Then charge a fee, $1 a week, $3 for a month, or sell subscriptions $10 for three months.

C’mon. Activision can’t say no to that last one. And face it, you’d buy them. I would, and I don’t even have a job.

Also, hi Activision. So, maybe you need someone to help with your next Spider-Man game? I mean, I don’t know if you heard, but I’m on the market. I’ve even got five years experience in producing. (Another medium…)

Gaming's future

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Awesome soundtracks for all games, for no cost.

How can you give every game (indie or not) a blockbuster (and meaningful) soundtrack? It’s easier than you think. All it takes is a little work, and a little cost (Okay, it’s not “no cost,” but, considering the payoff…)

All you need is an online database, users to populate it, and API for developers to use it.

The database notes each user’s library (just taking the track titles, paths, and metadata, not actually uploading the music,) and asking users to tag the tracks by context, for use in interactive media when the appropriate context arises. Bam. Free million dollar soundtracks for anyone who wants to implement the system. The only cost being the user buying the music. It’s like playing music over games on consoles, only smarter.

(Sidenote: I don’t think any cloud services offer APIs for other developers, but it may be possible in the future to ask users for that data too, if you feel like streaming their music.)

Of course, users won’t be required to tag ALL of their data, but some should be required to lighten the load (and better personalize things.)

So after users’ data is pinged, the tags are of the veins “fast-paced, thrilling, scary, romantic, sexy, slow, energetic, sad, etc” to fit mood. But also consider an extra layer of “8bit, by instrument, etc.,”. To make it pitch perfect, ask users to rate each tag’s value. Especially if you want to do this after a game. (For instance, play the music, and ask “Do you feel this music was appropriate suspenseful during the standoff with ?” Let users pick if they want to use yes/no, a five point, or a ten point scale.)

It will take time for an entire library to populate. New users should be required to tag at least ten tracks, but power users (anyone logging in and investing the time) can categorize to their heart’s content. Maybe a deal could be struck with Pandora to import their categorization metadata? Power users should also be able to specify portions of songs instead of the entire track. (“Start this track :10 in, bypassing spoken words.”)

The idea is to give any game that wants to use the system a soundtrack custom-built by context needed in the game, with music already knowingly enjoyed by the user, at zero dollar cost to the developer at point of purchase. The only investment needed is the time investment required to learn the API to use it in your game.

Now, am I over- thinking the problem? Probably. But I’m okay with that. This is a blog post, not a plan to actually do this. Now, how does this get done? Get Microsoft to do it. Or Valve. Someone with a large interest in PC gaming. (Of course, Microsoft doesn’t REALLY have that, but, they like to claim they do with “Games for Windows Live.”)

But, it has to include a large, open music selection as well, like populated by tracks available for public use and distribution, so developers can pack that music in, giving the install base something to begin with, to make sure bases are covered.

Okay. Done. Just had to get that out of my brain. It was bugging me. Thanks.

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Mortal Kombat, the Grimdarkening

Remember Mortal Kombat: Rebirth?

Now the director behind that short, Kevin Tancharoen, says his pitch has been turned down. But he’s not letting that stop him! He’s going pirate, doing ten web-episodes on the riff, including Michael Jai White returning as Jax. Of course it remains to be seen if Warner Bros. will attempt to stop him from using their IP… (Update: misunderstanding… Ignore that.)

Released online June 7th, 2010, the general consensus on the short was overwhelmingly positive. People are comfortable enough with remix culture that we don’t mind seeing a completely new take on an idea (and characters) that are well established. The short reintroduces us to characters, redefining them in a unique, albeit grimdark, way. Instantly plenty of other sites and forums had their own ideas. Here are some of mine, and some others I found online.

Liu Kang: Liu Kang’s parents agreed to be smuggled into the US by Shang Tsung, hoping for a better life, with promises that they could work off the debt. Unknowingly, they were selling themselves into slave labor. After he was born, he was smuggled back to his family in China. Furious at what he saw as their “theft”of his property, Shang Tsung kills the parents as an example to others. Now an adult, Liu Kang returns to Deacon City for revenge.

Kitana / Mileena: Twin sisters, Kitana goodhearted stripper, Mileena… Not so much. More a skanky prostitute. Mileena, driven by her constant envy of her more-loved sister, has multiple plastic surgeries in an attempt to constantly improve her looks, eventually runs afoul of Baraka’s roach motel fronts, and becomes horribly disfigured. (You all know the “mad doctor disfigures someone and sees it as beauty” bit.) As she walks away from her most recent facial surgery, there’s an attempted rape, until the rapist yanks away the bandages and sees what’s beneath… Mileena fights back against her attacker. After seeing her horrible face, the attacker freaks out, and in the struggle, she accidentally kills him. She eventually runs home and sees herself… And slowly falls off the deep end by what’s happened. Far from rational given the circumstances, she focuses her rage on her sister, jealous of the attention always given to her, and blames Kitana for driving her to doing these crazy things, including taking the man’s life, a line she decides was easy to cross. For fun and extra grimdark, she can attempt to hit on one of the other fighters, attempt to seduce him, and slaughter them as well! (Too much?)

Stryker / Kabal / Nightwolf: Stryker is a cop with a history of being “overzealous,” including a raid in a casino that went bad, and left the Native American family that ran it dead. Nightwolf’s family. Reprimanded for his actions, Stryker is “let go” from the police force, and instead takes a job as a private prison guard. Already being known as a vicious dirty cop, he begins living up to the role, beating on inmates for his shits and giggles. He’s fired when he lobs a few smoke grenades into the solitary confinement cell of a gang member. The gas completely destroys his eyes, throat, eyes, and esophagus. The only thing that keeps him alive is an artificial respirator. He wears a gas mask to make the breathing even easier. Yes, that gang member was Kabal. Now, without hope for a return to his glory, Stryker enters the tournament to clean up the streets by murdering what he considers unwanted elements.

Smoke / Cyrax / Sektor: Smoke, a member of the Lin Kuei like Sub-Zero, and friend of Cyrax and Sektor, two DJs who are friends of his who like to sample the screams, bones breaking, and flesh-ripping sounds of his victims in techno gorecore mixes. Think Daft Punk meets Eli Roth’s nightmares,) they’re not fighters, just personalities, and likely easy victims for someone. Potentially, they could also be the insane tech gurus behind some of the more insane fighting facilities, hence the crazy things like spikes and acid traps everywhere. It’d be nice if they turned on Smoke, saying it was only business.

Quan Chi: The true tournament organizer, an albino madman who runs the tournament as both a competition for killers, a terror device to destabilize the area, and snuff film market.

Kano: Quan Chi’s promising new experiment, lightweight durable headgear (not a replacement eye, maybe a contact lens or fucked-up looking implant?) that allows for the recording of the first person murders of the wearer. Kano is the first to test it by removing a man’s still-beating heart from his chest.

To be honest, I’m much happier with this as a webseries than a film. Each episode can revealing part of the world through the set/style, and the larger picture of the tournament/war and what it means, with each episode containing a fight.

Plenty of websites and forums have great ideas, those are some of my favorites, with some of my own thrown in! (Of course, not every character would be a martial artist, and each would not play an equal role. Some just serial killers and crazies to ratchet up the insanity.) Many are cliches, but really, isn’t Mortal Kombat in itself rife with them, only turned up to 11? That’s what it did right.


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