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Lara Croft is a privileged member of a prestigious family. Because of her esoteric interests, she decides to travel the world and learn its mysteries. Her first adventure immediately puts her in an uphill battle where she learns to kill, survive, and uncover ancient secrets in order to save her friends. She picks up tools and weapons along the way and modifies them to become her equalizers in battle against an army of henchmen. When all is said and done, Lara returns with a newfound resolve and purpose. Clearly, Lara Croft is the superhero we needed. Lara Croft is Batman.
Alright, that’s a bit of a stretch. The point I want to make is that a lot of origin stories have been popping up these past few years in various mediums, and comic book storytelling has had a lot of influence in how these tales are executed. Video game storytelling has benefited the most out of it with Tomb Raider being the most recent example that comes to mind.
Of course, there have been a ton of games that incorporate the hero’s origin into the story because it is that essential part of the narrative, especially when you’re introducing a new face to a distinguishing audience. Games like Infamous, Spider-Man (2002), God of War, and Gravity Rush immediately come to mind. These stand out for me because the main beats of their tales directly influence how the game is played. For example, when Peter Parker swings on his web for the first time, the feeling was very clumsy and we were limited to just swinging. When the game tells you that Peter Parker is already Spider-Man, we suddenly had more control over the trajectory of his jumps and connecting swings was more accurate. Furthermore the animations exuded confidence and precision. In a different fashion, Infamous’ Cole McGrath starts out with a limited power set but as the story unfolds and Cole finds more blast cores (pieces of the object that gave him his powers in the first place), his skill set grows and the player is better equipped to handle different situations.
Seigel and Shuster’s Superman in the debut issue of Action Comics did not figuratively fly into our imaginations right away, he actually jumped right in. No really, in Action Comics #1, Superman could only jump really high, run faster than a locomotive, and yada yada. The Superman now has already won a race against the Flash, has heat and x-ray vision, flies, and knows where his underwear goes. Imagine if a Superman game had the same sensibilities as the comic books and my earlier mentions. Pa Kent needs a hand around the farm. Press “O” to lift the broken tractor. Press “X” to jump up the tree and get the cat down. The narrative becomes justification for the tutorial and also invokes the emotions we want out of the early origin of the character. Instead of placing us in the middle of a bank heist in the first stage with “Press and hold ‘square’ to punch” flashing on the top of the screen. Allowing the player to also experience that growth from jumping really high to actually controlling flight will undoubtedly be memorable.
I’m extremely happy that the story of Tomb Raider was as good as it was. It reminded me of the infrastructure of origin stories that heroes like Batman and Superman established. With all these new franchises and heroes being created lately, it would be good to remember the simple origin stories of our favorites, and create the mechanism as to how it would affect the game’s design.
Game developers are getting better. The recent Batman games get it right on all points. Bruce’s memory of his parents’ murder exposes his weaknesses and opens up new opportunities for play in the game’s world. Lara Croft struggles with her first kill but by the end of the game, you don’t realize how much of a stone-cold killer she’s become because of how well the story and gameplay is melded. The future is looking bright after years of bad comic book-based video games, and this excites me even more for Batman: Arkham Origins.