[Make It So takes a look at our favorite games and suggests additions, subtractions, and areas to improve upon for the sequel or next entry in the series.]
I’m a big fan of the Nerdist Podcast, where host Chris Hardwick interviews notable people who usually have some connection to nerd culture. A couple of weeks ago, his guest was William Katt. For those of you younger types, he was a blonde-afroed up-and-coming actor in the 1970s, whose star shone brightest as the nice guy who took Sissy Spacek to the fateful prom in Carrie. To many people who grew up in the early 1980s however, he was and will forever be known as The Greatest American Hero. This show is generally remembered fondly for having, hands-down, the best theme song of any television show. Ever.
While it’s pretty rough around the edges and symptomatic of TV’s lack of attention to detail at that time, its premise still holds up surprisingly well and is an enjoyable watch. There have been whispers of rebooting it (Nathan Fillion is on record as expressing interest), but nothing has come to fruition. This got me thinking, maybe its time has come not as a movie or show…but as a game? That could definitely be something. Here are some ideas for making The Greatest American Hero a great video game.
So what kind of game are we talking about here? I think The Greatest American Hero could very easily be adapted into an action game in the mould of something like Infamous or Saints Row IV. It’s clear that game development has gotten to the point where it’s not that hard to accurately portray super powers. While I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with that approach, I really do believe it could be something that transcends a generic game by using unique characteristics of the show as gameplay mechanics.
A huge part of the show’s charm is that while the suit makes Ralph very powerful, he’s not very good at controlling it. For example, he can fly at super speeds but is completely incapable of landing and always crashes into a wall/tree/whatever. Naturally, the challenge is balancing the authenticity of this limitation with fun so players don’t quit in frustration.
One idea could have to do with stopping; in order to land, you need to find something to crash into. Another way of making the flying difficult but fun is to add a risk/reward system to it. Essentially, treat it like a racing game where the faster you go the harder you are to control. However, incentivize fast flight by having fluid combos. Something momentum-based like in Mirror’s Edge would be an interesting model, except at super speed.
Is any of this feasible in terms of functional design? I have no idea, but hey that’s not my job; I’m just throwing out ideas here. One thing I do know is that the video game industry is chock full of brilliant minds that live to solve logistical problems like that. Nothing is impossible, and I’d be thrilled to see a talented developer do something with this show’s mechanics.
Character Progression and Abilities
There’s a great meta opportunity to signify how your character progresses in this game. In the show, Ralph loses the instruction manual to his suit which is why he can’t control it very well. Having pages of said manual as collectibles could be what upgrades knowledge of the suit and unlocks powers. Alternatively, having a use-based method of building skills, like how CJ evolved in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, could work in that it’s a matter of practice.
Even though The Greatest American Hero is highly evocative of Superman, the way Ralph is portrayed is more like Spider-Man in that there was a large focus on his ‘real-life’ issues. There are some great gameplay possibilities here, as you balance your time solving crimes as both a superhero and an awkward teacher/novice detective; each side pushing the other forward.
Back in the early ’80s, this type of show was a huge anomaly to say the least. It was about a superhero who couldn’t control his powers, who was kind of a disaster in his regular life, and who had a complicated/funny relationship with his no-nonsense cop partner. Was it a comedy? An action show? A drama? Looking back from 2014, after seeing the TV landscape forever altered by visionaries such as Chris Carter, JJ Abrams, and Joss Whedon, not only does The Greatest American Hero‘s premise seem feasible, but rather a surefire hit. If this show had never existed and somebody pitched it today, I guarantee it would get more attention than it ever did back in the day.
Make it so.