My column this week talks about the lack of decent Marvel games. Of course, this is just a symptom of the larger problem that superhero games are apparently 80% utter worthless tripe.
There’s not much more to say about the column, so to kick off the conversation, let’s have a little thought experiment:
Your are the Chief Creative-type person for a medium-sized studio. The publisher is currently haggling with Marvel for one of their characters. (Or if you prefer: A group, like Teen Titans or Fantastic Four.) Let’s ignore the Fox / Sony problems and just assume the whole roster of characters is on the table.
(If you like, feel free to change “Marvel” to “DC” if that suits you better. Or even Dark Horse. Whatever.)
Your job is to come up with a pitch for the publisher. Tell them what character(s) you want, and what kind of game you’re going to try to make with them.
- You have to use existing characters. No “I’ll let the player make one”. No inventing your own characters. Marvel is here to boost the visibility of their own characters, not to help you launch your own. The publisher wants to leverage a known name to sell games, not let players invent something new.
- You need to be able to explain your game in terms of existing genres. This pitch is going to executives, and they aren’t going to understand your fancy game developer language about Kinaesthetics or Perceivable Consequence. If you try to pitch a completely new style of game, the execs will probably be confused and dismiss the idea as “too risky”. What they’re looking for is [existing game] + [twist]. As in: “It’s like Gears of War, but with eye lasers”.
- This project is an experiment for both Marvel and your publisher. If this makes money, they will be willing to take more chances. But for now you need to pitch something medium-sized. This means you can’t pitch “Just Cause 2, but you’re Superman”. Gergantuan worlds – particularly urban ones – are going to be iffy.
- Super-famous characters are best, but if you’ve got a perfect pitch for an also-ran like (say) American Eagle, they’re willing to hear you out.
Your pitch should be kind of high-level and answer a few basic questions:
- What hero(es) will the character play? You’ll need to stick to the established rules and tone of the given character. They aren’t interested in your idea to re-imagine Spider-Man as some brooding angry Batman type. Also, if you’ve got a villain in mind they’ll want to hear that, too. But it’s not a requirement.
- What’s the gameplay like? Halo? Uncharted? Arkham? Hitman? Marlow Briggs? Diablo? X-Com? Angry Birds? Like I said above, you can add a twist or a new mechanic if it’s easy to explain, but you need to pitch in terms of existing gameplay.
- What’s the setting? Jungle? Urban? Linear military bases full of crates?
- What’s the overall idea of the story? This needs to be short, like, “Batman fights Joker in an insane asylum and saves Gotham”. Execs will fall asleep (or fire you) if you try to read them a screenplay. They don’t care. Your story doesn’t need to fit within the existing Marvel / DC movieverse, but it does need to be appropriate for the character.
Also, not to put any pressure on you or anything, but Eric, the self-aggrandizing little shit who is supposed to be your assistant but instead has managed to blame you for all his major blunders? He got wind of this project last week. (I don’t know how.) He’s already submitted a pitch. He wants to make a game where Punisher travels to “Turkstanbul” and kills terrorists. For America. Marvel isn’t crazy about it, but the publisher is pretty comfortable with the idea because they understand it. In fact, when Eric pitched the idea one of them immediately nodded, “So, like Splinter Cell? That’s a successful series.”
So your pitch needs to be a winner, or Eric gets your job and Frank Castle will get re-imagined as a Tom Clancy-style military guy in a game with no actual superheroes.
Basically they want something new and interesting made entirely out of things that are old and familiar. They want something grand and and fun, but they’re not going to give you a massive budget. Your pitch needs to stick to the rules, even though Eric seems to be bending them quite a bit. Yes this is all unfair. That’s game development. That’s corporate politics. Sorry.
Have your pitch on my desk by the end of the week. Or, you know. Just leave it in the comments.
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