Thursday, December 26, 2013

If I Made It: Silver Surfer: Herald of Galactus (video game)

Silver Surfer: Herald of Galactus
Overview:  Recently I re-watched the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of the Silver Surfer game for the NES.  I remember, as a kid, a friend of mine having that game and me borrowing it, playing it and just being frustrated by it, much like The Fucking Nerd himself.  But the review got me thinking, is it possible to make a good Silver Surfer game?  Is that something that can be done?  It would be difficult just based on what the Surfer is and his original comics were less high octane action fuel and more meditations on being filtered through psychedelic space imagery.  It's hard but not impossible, like any good game you need to break a character down to its basics and try to recreate that in the gameplay.  Here's how I would do it...

-Basic Features:

--What I imagine is an overworld similar to Zelda: Wind Waker.  Say what you will about that game but I really enjoyed the feeling of being on the water and the vast swaths of nothing before something awesome would come up on the horizon and the feeling of awe that builds as you get closer.  What in particular I think of is discovering a volcanic island, there was just water and then something off in the distance, I used the telescope to focus in on it and get a hint about what it was, I then changed course to check it out.  As I got closer and the fire elements started to appear and all the detail came through it just became breathtaking, especially because as I approached a storm whipped up so I'm seeing these volcanoes through the darkness, rain and lightning.  It was incredible.  That's what I would want to recreate.  It would be an open world but instead of a city or an ocean you have a galaxy.  Imagine surfing through space, the vast emptiness of space, but then something catches your eye and you go investigate only to watch a star collapse into a black hole, or go supernova.  Or flying through an asteroid field or experiencing diamond rain on a deserted planet.  There are so many real life cosmic events that would be amazing to glimpse and as your stopped to watch the Surfer walks to the nose of his board and stoically observes.  There would also be Marvel based cosmic events like finding Ego The Living Planet, Skrull and Kree fleets pass through, they will attack you and each other as well as tons of other stuff (appearances by the Shi'ar, Adam Warlock, Nova Corps, etc)

--Camera would be a close third person when not moving but while space surfing the camera would zoom out and zoom farther out the faster you went so you could easily steer him through obstacles and see what's around you.  When platforming the camera would assume a static position that allows you to see where you are going.

--Surfer has superhuman endurance so he would be able to take a lot of damage but he would be able to be killed.  Absorbing energy would help heal otherwise he would heal over time.  There wouldn't normally be a HUD so everything would be determined by a red tinge around the screen that would get worse the more damage you get.  The Surfer himself would become more rust tinged and would die when he became fully reddish brown.  In a 3D world where attacks could come from anywhere you don't want the screen to get so red that you can't find what's causing you damage.

-- Surfer has the Power Cosmic.  This is demonstrated by him be super-humanly strong, the ability to absorb energy and project cosmic blasts.  So we would have a melee button, a projectile button (the longer you hold it the more intense the blast), a beam option for the blast and a trigger would put Surfer in "absorption mode" that would allow him to absorb any energy.  Other acts of superhuman strength would be demonstrated through context actions.  You would also be able to develop a "slow time" and "stop time" ability.

--He has cosmic senses which would work like "Detective Vision" in the Arkham games, you turn it on and it would show you a trail that leads you to an objective, it would highlight cosmic happenings (like the collapsing star or asteroid field), it would help you tell the difference between dead and alive planets and show you if there are important places that you should visit.  When activated it would bring up a HUD that would include a health bar across the top of the screen, an arrow pointing towards your objective below that and a 3D compass in the lower right hand of the screen that would direct you to your objective while showing enemies or obstacles on 3D plane (accounting for height as well).  Planets would have different, subtle auras depending on if they are inhabited/edible or not.  They would have a secondary aura if they offered a primary quest objective, a piece of knowledge or are a source of power.  Nothing would stop you from using the Cosmic Sense all the time, but since there would be a health bar the reddening would be confined to the top of the screen instead of the border of the whole screen.  When the bar became fully red (and Surfer fully rust colored) you would die.  Using select brings up your Cosmic Sense like a map of the system and allow you see objective points as well as set custom way points and tell you about explored planets.  At points your Cosmic Sense will be alerted to something happening somewhere in the galaxy and you will have the option of fast traveling to that place.  You would be able to set Cosmic Sense as the default setting in the options so that you start the game with it on and you could turn it off to observe rather than starting the game then the first thing you have to do is hit a button to activate your sense.

--You would definitely need a lock on system, with the click of a stick the camera would zoom way out and follow the target.  Quick blasts would home in, heavier blasts would require the target to be stationary.

--You are connected to Galactus.  The longer you are away from him the less power you have, also if Galactus is weakened through hunger you become weaker.  This is shown by how shiny the Surfer is, if he's mirror like he's at full strength but he'll become duller until he's just a gray color and that is when he's weakest.  Slight flaring and sparkling effects would help in determining that.  So you need to visit Galactus on his World Ship Taa II where he will imbue you with power and return you to full strength, full strength will be dependent on how strong Galactus is.  If he is very hungry he may only heal you from rust colored to dull gray.

--You will have two homes, Zenn-La, Norrin Radd's (Silver Surfer) home planet and Taa II Galactus' World Ship.  On Zenn-La you can work to improve your homeland through mini-games and sidequests using all your cosmic abilities.  There's a lot to discover about yourself on Zenn-La and it provides a place to defend from cosmic attackers.  On Taa II you have very limited power and it is mostly platforming discovery with very light combat.  Much of Taa II is closed off to you because Galactus doesn't trust you and at first he doesn't allow you to use your powers at all so what you can get to leads to pretty self evident discoveries about Galactus.  As you gain Galactus' trust by feeding him planets he allows you to have more power while on-board which allows you to explore more of ship.  There is much to be learned about Galactus and the cosmos on the ship.

--You have to feed Galactus.  You can't get by on feeding him nothing, there is a minimum that you have to feed him or he strips you of your power and consumes Zenn-La which will end the game.  Once he has the minimum you can let him starve and try to get by on the minimum health that results.  You can choose to feed him the minimum or you can choose to feed him every living planet in the solar system.  The more you feed him the greater your power is until you can attempt to kill him, it changes how the game progresses and by doing that you will miss out on much of the games stories, features and the entire 4th act.  But you will be able to charge yourself up to levels that aren't reachable otherwise.

--There is a power upgrading system that allows you to augment your strength, hone your cosmic senses, speed you up as well as improve and change your cosmic blasts.  You can upgrade by feeding Galactus, finding other sources of power on the various planets in the galaxy, learning about Zenn-La, yourself, Galactus, the cosmos  or pushing yourself through challenges.  All upgrades can be bought by feeding Galactus or you can focus on one aspect and earn them through skill centered challenges.

--In space you have your board, on planets you can use your board outside or absorb it so you can walk around, enter structures and platform.  On Taa II you lose your board and can only platform.

-Story Elements:

--Act 1
---We open on Zenn-La and Norrin Radd, the future Silver Surfer, here we are introduced to the main character as well as the other characters in the world.  Norrin decides to go just outside the main city to look for artifacts.  Here we learn how to move and how to platform, he controls like Altair in Assassin's Creed, not outrageous, impossible amounts of platforming but like a skilled human.  He finds something interesting about the planet and returns to study it.  It reveals that the planet can turn into a weapon but the weapon will consume the planet eventually.

---Galactus attacks as Norrin returns to the city, you control Norrin through the collapsing city as he checks on his family and his lover Shalla-Bal.  The planet automatically turns into a weapon, fires, damaging the planet but doesn't hurt Galactus that much.  Then as Galactus tries to consume the planet you climb to the highest point in the city and strike a deal with Galactus to become his herald.

---Next up is Galactus telling you how to be the Surfer.  Here you learn how to use your abilities (strength, absorption, projection and cosmic senses).

---First up is finding a replacement planet.  Galactus is starving and you're new so you are at your weakest.  You lead Galactus to a new planet, there's no way to save this planet, it's designed to be destroyed and it offers nothing but to show you how it's done.  The planet is heavily fortified with offensive satellites and a system of satellites that cover the planet with a force field.  You take those out and the planet sends waves of star fighters as Galactus sets up the World Eating Machine.  Eventually Galactus eats the world and you are restored to full, shiny power and allowed to level up and upgrade.

--Act 2
--- Now you are free to roam around the galaxy.

---Zenn-La needs the city rebuilt and the planet needs to be repaired after experiencing planet wide damage when it became a weapon.

--- The Surfer want's to find a way to eliminate or neutralize Galactus which leads you to explore Zenn-La to see if the ancient Zenn-La citizens knew anything about Galactus (so you start with an objective on Zenn-La).  You want to check Taa II and see if that contains information on what you are and what Galactus is (so you start with an objective on Taa II as well).  Exploring those two places gives you two more different places to look which leads you to your first two extra planetary objectives.  Planets are hiding information about who you are as a herald and who Galactus is as well as ancient cosmic artifacts that could improve you without having to feed Galactus or be helpful in destroying/neutralizing Galactus.

---You have to find planets to feed Galactus, when his hunger becomes too much to bear he will let you know by saying "Galactus Hungers!" at which point you have a limited time to find him a planet to eat.  Instead of a timer you have a music piece that becomes more urgent the closer you get to him stripping you of your powers and eating your planet, thus ending the game.  If you are on a planet exploring it he will be attracted to that planet and consume it at the end of the timer (pulling you out to space to deal with any defenses).

--Your Cosmic Sense will lead you to finding "cosmic events" that are just amazing things that you can observe, watching them will improve your Cosmic Sense allowing you to see more things and lead you to places that you might not otherwise find.

---The Skrull attack Zenn-La with a massive fleet that you have to destroy.

---You run into both the Kree and Skrull in space as they use your part of the galaxy to wage their civil war as well as attempt to conquer worlds.  Skrull and Kree will attack various worlds, your Cosmic Sense will alert you and give you the chance to defend the planet.  If they take it over you will be given the option of clearing out their orbiting fleet, once that is done you will be challenged by a boss level champion (Ronan or Super Skrull) on the planets surface and if you defeat him you will liberate the planet but they may try to conquer it again.  Allowing a whole system to get occupied will provide a particular challenge that may lead to unique rewards.

---Racing from point to point or through asteroid belts will improve your speed and allow you to upgrade your maneuverability which may even include being able to temporarily phase yourself through objects.

--- There are planets you can explore, experience cosmic events on (back to the diamond rain or lakes of liquid helium) or free from tyranny.  The point of Act 2 is allow you explore the world, upgrade your Surfer and learn the story.  You can find bosses though if you want like Ronan the Accuser or Super Skrull or fight Gladiator of the Shi'ar Empire.  You can find Adam Warlock, who will point you in different exploratory directions.  You could even attempt to repel Ego The Living Planet, the voluntary super hard boss of the Act.

---After feeding Galactus the minimum required planets he will direct you to something happening on the edge of space which you can explore at your leisure.

--Act 3
--- You explore a cosmic event and its a planet being killed as it is collapsed into a massive black hole.  A being emerges from the black hole and easily defeats you.  Recovered by Galactus he tells you about his first Herald Fallen One.  Fallen One is attempting to kill Galactus by eliminating all sentient planets in the system and stranding Galactus there to starve to death.

---At first the Fallen One can easily neutralize anything you can do.  He's faster than you, he can redirect your blasts and he isn't affected by your time abilities.

---What follows is a series of confrontations with Fallen One while you power up, free roam and feed Galactus.  Fallen One has the ability to eliminate planets reducing the pool from which you can feed Galactus from as well as the pool for finding power ups.  When he attacks a planet you are alerted to it through your Cosmic Sense at which point you can try to stop him.  If you attack him you should be able to repel him as long as you are smart about it, some planets will use their defenses on him and as long as you stay out of the way of the defenses you should be able to use them to your advantage.

---Galactus sends you on a series of missions to find pieces of a weapon you can use against Fallen One to eliminate him permanently.  These missions will span Zenn-Las, Taa II, planets and cosmic events (maybe watching a star turn into a white dwarf and then harvesting a piece of its core or absorbing a special kind of cosmic energy from something exploding).  They may instead take the form of finding augmentations that allow you negate Fallen Ones powers one by one.  Then every time you confront him at a planet he becomes a little easier.

---You fight Fallen One who has awoken and taken control of the Punisher cyborgs that used to be under the service of Galactus.  Fallen One, at some point, just fearlessly enters Taa II, going to some forgotten part and taking them from Galactus.

---When you defeat him he escapes through a massive black hole.  Galactus tells you to follow him and reveals that he can project himself and his ship through the black hole so that he can follow you through it but, at the same time, exist in both points of space.

---The Champion of the Universe exists as your voluntary super hard boss fight.

---It is here where if you have been over feeding Galactus you just kill Fallen One, absorb his power and attack Galactus to end the game.  Depending on what information you've found you can neutralize him a couple of different ways, kill him a few different ways or just straight attack him and turn it into a contest of pure power.  The ending cinematic is the Surfer becoming something like Galactus, addicted to power and forced to absorb energy from any source he can in order to maintain his power levels.  He turns black and his first act is to suck Zenn-La and every star in the system dry before leaving the dead solar system for more places with more energy.

---There is no free roam if you beat the game this way.  By going this route all planets but Zenn-La are consumed and there's no reason to put the player into a dead galaxy.

--Act 4
---Going through the black hole you find yourself on the edge of our solar system with our sun at the center and Earth nearby.

---You find Fallen One and finish him off.

---You can now explore both areas and Galactus exists in both places so you can recharge easily.  There are much fewer artifacts to find in the Earth system but lots of cosmic events to view and races to run.  Skrull and Kree are present but in fewer numbers.

---You eventually go to Earth and explore it but you are attacked by Earth's heroes.  The attacks and eventual capture prevent you from leaving the planet before Galactus gets hungry and automatically tries to consume the planet.

---During this time you are emotionally touched by The Fantastic Four and decide Earth is worth saving.

---You fight and repel Galactus who dismisses you as his herald leaving you unable to upgrade via feeding Galactus.  Depending on what you learned about Galactus you may be able to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier during the climax which will keep him from attacking Earth again but he will still send Heralds to Zenn-La.

---At first you are stuck in the Earth system but eventually find a way back to the Zenn-La system with the help of the Fantastic Four, Reed will send you on a series of mission to help him build a device that will allow you to go back through the black hole.

---Credits roll after returning to Zenn-La.

---Thanos is your voluntary super hard boss.

--After Credits:
---The game opens up and allows you to do all the stuff you may have missed out on.  Exploring planets (that weren't consumed by Galactus or destroyed by Fallen One) and the cosmos.  You can find an out of the way place that allows you to contemplate the future which will allow you to experience the Sakaar Colluseum as the Silver Savage.

---You can only heal by absorbing energy, luckily the Sun in the Earth system will allow that or you can talk to Reed on Earth to recharge back to shiny (he will also give a limited amount of unique missions and an infinite amount of simple gathering missions), also there will be a cosmic event that will lead to a massive star you can absorb energy from in Zenn-La system.  Over time you will begin to dull just like you did as a Herald but instead of returning to Galactus you can go to the Sun, the star or Reed.

---You will have to defend Earth from Herald attacks as Galactus recruits different Heralds.  They will attack Earth and Zenn-La but if you learned about the Ultimate Nullifier and were able to retrieve it then he will only attack Zenn-La.  Your cosmic sense will alert you what planets are under attack and allow you to drop what your are doing and defend the world.

---Skrull and Kree will continue attacking and conquering worlds.

---You can track down and fight Nebula aboard the Sanctuary II.

--- You can track down and fight Annihilus by interacting with Reed he will send you to a small portion of the Negative Zone.

--- You can track down and fight Mephisto

---Voluntary super hard boss fight is Thanos with Infinity Gauntlet but only if you already defeated all the other voluntary boss fights.

--- If you defeat Thanos you get the Infinity Gauntlet and can then go after the super secret damn near impossible boss of Eternity.  You can't kill Eternity but by defeating him he will take the gauntlet and allow you change the world in anyway you want any time you want (by talking to him you can have him revive old bosses to fight, recreate planets Galactus consumed/Fallen One destroyed, reset cosmic events, create massive fleets of Skrull or Kree for you to challenge yourself with or allow you to borrow the Infinity Gauntlet).  The Infinity Gauntlet will augment your powers making you close to invincible, it allows you to reach a speed higher than your highest normal level, you automatically phase through objects while flying, you can also charge your Power Cosmic to a level higher than your highest normal level.  The only thing that equals it is what you can achieve by over feeding Galactus.  You will also never need to recharge.

-Dig If You Will A Picture:  Let me throw a couple of scenario's at you.

--Flying through space a fleet of Skrull ships emerge from a nebula.  A massive war ship, several smaller destroyer ships and many, many fighter ships.  At first they don't react to your presence and you maneuver to avoid colliding with the ship.  As you fly over the ship, about half way over, you unleash a full powered beam attack and burn a giant black scar into the hull of the main ship.  As the ship slows down to engage you the destroyers start to maneuver towards you while the fighter ship begin to swarm around you.  Using the lock and upgrade you can target several ships at a time and you fire homing blasts while alternating your beam attack to take out the ones that get really close.  You have to balance defense with offense as the main war ship and the destroyers could easily overwhelm you with firepower.  So the fight becomes a frantic battle of tactical flying, absorbing attacks while whittling away at the attackers.  You can lead a squad of fighters on a chase, phase through a larger ship and cause big damage as the fighters crash into the ship.  The same with redirecting the big attacks from the big ships, you could draw their fire and then fly through a ship using their weapons against them.  Using the beam weapon, if at a high enough level, you could just cut pieces off a larger ship, provided you aren't under too much fire.  After all is said and done what's left is a cloud of sparking space debris.

--Looking through your Cosmic Sense you are alerted to something happening nearby.  Following your Cosmic Sense you get a front row seat at a Type Ia Supernova.  You watch as the giant finishes absorbing the white dwarf.  There is a moment of peace and then the dwarf explodes sending the giant flying towards you.  As the mass approaches the camera auto zooms out so you can really appreciate the size of the star.  Surfer puts up his arms in a defensive posture and automatically phases through the star.  As the camera adjusts to show the star flying off into space it shows Surfer glowing as he absorbing a bit of the stars power as he passed through it allowing you upgrade a power.

Final Thoughts:  The important part of a game is to focus on what makes that character tick.  I'm pretty sure I've said that about all my "If I Made It..." games, hell I said in the intro to this one.  That's what makes it a good game versus a crap game.  NES Silver Surfer is crap because it shares nothing with the comic Surfer other than a few names and images but it doesn't capture anything about the Surfer.  Granted it was made in the 8 bit era and they were incredibly limited in what they could do.  In this new era of consoles I think this is a game that could possible be made on a PS3 or 360 but with the next gen out now you would think it would be even more possible on them.  Slow track development so that by the time programming starts the next gen has had some work in time and you can take advantage of it.

  This game encompasses the Surfer and while it may not be 100% faithful to the letter of the comic it is faithful to the spirit of the character and includes enough nods to the lore of the Silver Surfer to keep fans going.  It's basically a Silver Surfer: Year One game bringing you from Norrin Radd to Surfer and from mortal to herald to free agent.  I think of all the cool cosmic stuff you could include for people to watch and experience and get excited.  Imagine having to choose which planets Galactus eats.  Do you have him eat a planet that maybe had human level, or greater, intelligence on it but is now occupied only by animals?  Do you choose the war like planet that is causing trouble but also has a wealth of information about you and Galactus or maybe it has incredible defenses that will make it a ton of effort to consume?  Do you choose planet with a primitive race over an advanced one?  Do you pick a peaceful planet just because it's easier?  What is your criteria?  There's no way you can explore everything before Galactus gets hungry so you may end up sacrificing a planet that you haven't fully tapped and lose whatever is left unexplored.  Just that mechanic alone will cause players interesting dilemmas and make the game unique.  It's certainly an ambitious project but not an impossible one.

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