I had quite a few questions about the new Superman Returns game, after I saw the demo so I sent my questions off to Line Producer Matthew Greig on the EA team behind the game... here are my questions and his answers for your elucidation.
The demo for Superman Returns hit Xbox Live a few days ago and I have to admit that I have played it way too many times. For a demo, with only a small number of ‘missions’, it was amazingly fun. My son totally abandoned his Lego Star Wars playing to play through the demo multiple times. Both of us had a few questions for you though, and we really appreciate you taking the time to answer them.
Duncan: Flying is something that is crucial to a game where you are playing as Superman, but in my experience it hasn’t been done all that well in the past. From the demo, flying seems great in SMR… especially the sonic-boom affect that you’d see if you went fast enough for long enough … Can you tell us about the design and gameplay decisions that were made around flying?
MG: Flight was the first mechanic prototyped and implemented during the development of Superman Returns. We've had a 'flyable' Superman for well over 18 months now, and all other controls that followed were built around the flight system. Superman's combat, power usage, superspeed, etc were all based off the implementation of the flight system.
It took many, many iterations to get the flight system feeling just right. Flight is clearly a make-or-break feature in a Superman game, so it was implemented very early on to allow for frequent playtest sessions with all sorts of players (hardcore gamers, comic fans, casual players, etc). Throughout development, nuances were gradually added to give the player a more satisfying flight experience. The subtle leg movements when changing speed, the fluttering cape, the sonic boom, and the particles that trail behind Supes were all additions designed to enhance the flight experience and ensure that players feel connected to the game immediately upon picking up the controller.
Duncan: Another key point of the game that we see in the demo, is that Superman doesn’t really have a ‘health’ bar like in most games, what he has is a bar representing how much damage has been done to the city and to the civilians around him… this seems like a great idea considering Superman is (nearly) invulnerable, making him have a health bar would break with the source material a little too much… Fill us in on the ‘city health bar’, how it works, and how this design changes the gameplay compared to other video games.
MG:When the city takes damage from any source, the Metropolis Health bar will drain. This damage can be caused directly by a villain, fire, etc, or indirectly via the player's actions. If you ram into a building or accidentally light a car on fire, your meter will drain, to reflect the damage inflicted on the city. However, the bar replenishes after performing a heroic act, such as successfully stopping a villain's attack, or rescuing a stranded kitten from a rooftop. Thus the player must balance the dual challenge of minimizing the damage caused by villains, while also completing enough heroic deeds to replenish Metro Health going into the next encounter.
Duncan: In the cinematics and trailers, we’ve see a few of the villains that you’ll have to deal with in the game… Can you tell us who the major villains will be?
MG: The game includes almost every major Supervillain from the comics, in addition to some new Supervillains jointly created by EA and DC. So along with the traditional comic foes such as Bizarro, Metallo, and Mongul, the player will also have a chance to face off against never-before-seen opponents with brand new powers and abilities that must be countered.
One example of an original Supervillain in Superman Returns is Overkhast. He is a quick, shifty fellow, that can pummel the player with energy blasts from a distance.Once angered, Overkhast loses control of his material body, and shifts into a being of pure energy...who also happens to be 100+ feet tall. Each form that Overkhast takes requires a different strategy to beat, which is a common theme shared by all of the Supervillains in the game.
Duncan: How does the timeline of the game match up with the movie?
MG: The game takes place in parallel with the movie, including a period slightly before and slightly after the movie's beginning and end. Some of the events in the game reflect key events from the movie, while others fill in gaps in the movie's timeline.
Duncan: Another question from the cinematics, we see Superman fighting without his costume, in some alien looking location… can you fill us in on what is going on there? Who is he fighting and where!?!?
MG: What you're seeing here is Superman fighting as a gladiatorial contestant on Warworld. Early on in the game, Supes gets captured by Mongul, and is forced to fight in a series of battles to determine the ultimate brawler of all worlds. More specifically, Mongul wants to prove that Superman isn't the ultimate brawler, so he arranges for a collection of nasty opponents to stand between Superman and his freedom from the confines of Warworld. This of course displeases Supes, so he has no choice but to bust some heads in order to secure his release.
Duncan: And finally, I asked my son (who is 6 years old) what he would ask you given the chance and here he goes: Who is that bad-guy style superman that we see in the movie after finishing the demo (Bizarro Superman)? Is he a villain? Do we get to play the game as him? How can we be him, do we have to beat him to unlock him?
MG: Very good question. The bad-guy Superman you see at the end of the demo is indeed Bizarro, who is a major Supervillain the player must confront throughout the game. Bizarro has the power to create genetic mutants, which he can then unleash on the city.
One of the game's coolest features is that you can play as Bizarro after the introductory portions of the game. To unlock him, simply complete the first two chapters, then seek out a Bizarro statue somewhere within in Metropolis (these arespread throughout the city - look for a distinctive blue glow when flying around at street level). Approach the statue, and voila, you are now in control of Bizarro, ready to wreak havoc on every thing (and person) in sight..
Duncan: Thanks folks, as you can see we are pretty excited to play the full game now that it has hit the stores!