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

    [09.19.08]
    - Albert T. Ferrer

  •  Dr. Geoff Klock, author of the academic read How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, says the lack of one concrete and consistent character or IP is actually part of what makes it appealing. And the change in character doesn't just happen from comic book to film to game, he says. "With long-running comics ... the characters have changed so much over the decades. I mean, where is the core of Superman? Batman used to fight aliens in space in the 50s, but the creators of Dark Knight are not going to make that part of their story," says Klock, who is also an assistant professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

    "The lack of integrity can be exciting. And that is what thoughtfully created superhero video games could be -- dramatic interpretations of the characters that could compete with various versions of the character in comics to be someone's favorite."

    Klock adds, "Imagine someone saying, ‘Well, I like the original Bob Kane's Batman: The first is always the most pure'; ‘Well, I think Adam West was the best Batman, because I think Batman should be funny. I mean the guy dresses like a bat to fight crime. Hilarious'; ‘Well, I like Frank Miller's Batman because he is tough and awe-inspiring'; ‘Well I like the video game version best because it is the most imaginative version of the character to date, and created a host of new villains that are better than the ones in the comics.' "


    If we lived in a world where promotion were not the main objective behind every comic-based game, perhaps we would see more that have as much passion behind their creation as other notably crafted games on the market, or at least as much as the films or comics they're being adapted from.

    Some of the biggest superhero characters have been made into games that (upon a quick search on a review compiling site such as Metacritic reveals) have fallen victim to fairly average ratings. Lack of polish, lack of depth, lack of care, and "heavily scripted" seems to be the general consensus from reviewers of comic licensed games from Marvel to DC Comics, handheld to home console. Retaining integrity is not so much the problem; it's the overall intent, design, and execution.

    What's to blame, according to Midway's Ed Boon, is the pressure of release dates.

    Boon, producer on the upcoming Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, says, "With comic-movie video games (most of the time) the movie's release date trumps everything. It trumps bug fixes, gameplay balancing, and presentation problems. This is because more people buy the game when the movie is on their minds, and that's usually the opening week. There have been many comic-movie games that were considered poor quality but sold many times more than great quality comic-movie games that were released after the movie came and went. History has proven that for these types of games, being late is worse than making a good game. Because many of these (lower quality) games still do well, it encourages publishers to continue the trend. This opening weekend-driven schedule is what I believe is doing the real harm."

    Artistes
    For an artistic vision to be translated successfully -- especially those of well-known licensed properties -- the involvement of the creative minds behind the material during the adaptation process, is crucial.

    Boon is someone who has successfully taken a property through the spectrum of entertainment: movies, television programming, games, comics, merchandise, and even music with Mortal Kombat. His take on how to adapt a product is based on experience.

    "There are good and bad adaptations ... and some horrible, unfortunately. This is the case with many big licenses, unfortunately, including Mortal Kombat. When the licensing for MK started out, we were involved quite a bit, but after a while there was so much that we could not possibly keep tabs on all of them and work on games at the same time." The Mortal Kombat series, as many game players know, suffered a huge swing in its reputation in the 1990s.


    "I feel it's very important for the creative minds of the IP to be involved," Boon says. "Unfortunately, many of the companies licensing your property really don't care about the quality of their product; they just want to put something out there with your IP name (for as cheap as possible) and then collect their check. If it's of poor quality, they've already gotten their money and don't care about the long-term damages they might have done."

    Boon's experience with losing control over an IP is not an isolated case, as this happens quite often within the industry.

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