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  • Super Growing Pains: Are Video Games Bad for Comics?

    [09.19.08]
    - Albert T. Ferrer

  •  An example of a Japanese developer's ability to really bring a consistent vision to comic adaptations is in the case of Marvel licensing to Capcom, with a cross-over series of "versus" games between the two companies' IPs, the first being X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Released in the mid 1990s, they were not created to appease some movie release, but were designed with the intent of pitting superheroes against super-martial artists, something comic fans and gamers never thought they'd ever see. The series remains one of the most successful fighting game series and superhero-licensed games.

    For the Marvel characters to fit in artistically (and being somewhat based on the Fox Kids animated series of the time) were voiced by the same actors as on the show. The 2D fighting game stayed true to the characters' design, attitudes, and superpowers taking a few liberties with Japanese animation flare, otherwise integrating them seamlessly with the iconic Capcom fighters. Though Capcom created a unique game where these different characters could both exist, it stayed true to the core of the superheroes, especially the fact that they were Western creations.

    Joe Madureira considers this game one of the most memorable Comic-licensed games he's played.

    "My favorite superhero game is still probably Marvel vs. Capcom, because the characters really maintained the spirit of their comic book counterparts. And, it was a great game. "

    Japanese developers can make adaptations with ease, it seems, whereas developers outside Asia are less interested in creating a consistent feel for fans throughout all mediums, and are more interested in the immediate profitability of the products.

    Rehashing, Reviving, Retro-branding
    Once a major player in the 90s, the Mortal Kombat brand has since dropped off the radar for many gamers. (Perhaps they grew up and the novelty wore off.) Having lost the popularity it once had, Mortal Kombat looks to be making a return to form, in a big way. Midway is doing something similar to what Capcom did with Marvel vs. Capcom: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which takes DC characters and places them in the Mortal Kombat fighting game context.

    In this attempt to reignite the game series, comic fans are being drawn in with characters from the DC Comics line up, such as Batman and Superman, going head-to-head with Liu Kang, and Scorpion.

    But recreating the same level of success as when Mortal Kombat first debuted is an unrealistic goal, as Ed Boon put it.

    "I don't think it's realistic to expect to repeat the fever of the first two MK games. Things don't work that way. Those were brand new games that enjoyed the novelty of many factors. Arcades were huge back then, the digitized graphics were state of the art, nobody had seen violence portrayed in a video game like that, and the controversy drew more attention to the game. You can't stage those situations. At the same time, our MK games still sell in the millions, which is something that not many (multi-multi-sequel) games do. If you take any IP and bombard the public with it, eventually they will lose interest in it. We are not afraid of making dramatic changes with Mortal Kombat, which I believe is one of the reasons we continue to sell well."

    To maintain the consistency of the DC characters in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Midway teamed up with two well-established comic writers who have experience writing for numerous publishers from DC Comics and Marvel, to Wildstorm.

    "We have an interesting challenge with this game in that we need to satisfy fans of two different audiences from two different forms of media. To stay consistent and authentic to the DC Universe, we hired two great writers, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. Both have very successfully written for DC characters and know that universe inside and out. Jimmy and Justin helped us stay consistent with how the DC characters would talk and react in all the situations we are putting them in. It's also very important to us that this game ‘feels' like an MK game. The fighting has to be brutal and intense like MK fans are expecting it to be."

    Not since Marvel vs. Capcom has there been such a dynamic battle of iconic superheroes. Though this is an interesting combination of characters that promises to have a fully realized story to explain the reasoning behind this odd pairing, it doesn't do much to push the comic-gaming relationship into new territory. In the end, it's another fighting game among fighting games.

    Despite this, Boon feels there is room for a deeper storytelling angle for comic book games.

    "Comic books are all about storytelling, so that seems like a natural direction for comic-games to follow. "

    Whether games can carry the same storytelling potential as the pages of a comic, or the structure of a screenplay, has already been proven with the wealth of story-based video games. Yet comic material doesn't seem to go in the same direction when video games are involved. Instead comic games tend to be on the mindless entertainment side, destroying buildings, throwing cars, and beating up goons.

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