The Superman Challenge: Turbine Turns an Icon Into a MOBA Champ
In his forward to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, “Why I Chose Batman,” Stephen King had this to say about Superman (emphasis added):
He was too strong for me, too capable, maybe because I was a little kid who wore thick glasses, or maybe just because the concept of invulnerability made him seem to be a hero who had an unfair advantage.
Too strong, invulnerable and unfair. Take that rather apt description and try to figure out how to transform the Man of Steel into a balanced character for a highly competitive MOBA. A character who, if played against correctly, could be defeated by the likes of Robin – a kid with no super powers to speak of, let alone super strength, super speed, X-ray vision, heat vision, super breath (of the frost and hurricane variety) the ability to fly, and no weaknesses to speak of aside from an aversion to a rare green space rock.
That’s the challenge that Turbine faced in creating Superman for Infinite Crisis, and it’s one that took more than a year and multiple starts and stops to overcome.
It’s a question many asked when Warner Brothers and Turbine unveiled their DC superhero MOBA in March 2013. In the promotional art, screens, and marketing materials, the Man of Steel – arguably the biggest character in the DC universe if not all of comicdom – was nowhere to be found.
“Superman was the one of the first characters we made.”
Seemed like a glaring, odd omission, but as Creative Director Cardell Kerr told me in an interview on the eve of Infinite Crisis’ open beta launch, they never intended to leave old Supes out, he just wasn’t ready.
“Superman was the one of the first characters we made,” Kerr said. “We just weren’t happy with him. There’s a huge amount of expectation on what Superman should feel like, so we iterated and iterated until everyone who played him thought he felt like Superman.”
The first step of that lengthy process, Kerr said, was not to focus on the multiple powers Superman possesses, but to clearly define his core and how that could be translated to a MOBA. After much discussion, Turbine whittled it down to this: Superman is always moving forward, never gives up, he’s a global threat, and he’s always there when he’s most needed.
With that in mind, Turbine asked, “Where do we want him?” In other words, which role would Superman play among Infinite Crisis’ archetype characters: Enforcer, Bruiser, Assassin, Marksman, Blaster, or Controller.
It was easy to eliminate Assassin, Marksman (ranged attack damage dealer), Blaster (ranged power damage dealer), and Controller (the Infinite Crisis spin on Support). That left Enforcer or Bruiser — the tanks and melee damage dealers, respectively, of Infinite Crisis.
“He could be an Enforcer, but we didn’t want Superman to simply take a ton of punishment,” Kerr said. “We wanted him to dish out a ton of punishment. It became clear to us he’s a Bruiser.”
“The devs realized they had a major problem. Superman was over powered.”
With his core in mind and the archetype role selected, the team set about actually designing Superman the MOBA character. It didn’t take long before he was complete, and Superman went to the Fortress of Solitude while Turbine set it sights on creating the many other heroes needed for its MOBA. It wasn’t until they had a number of complete playable champions in Infinite Crisis that the devs realized they had a major problem.
Superman was over powered. Insert Stephen King’s grinning mug here.
“When we saw where we were with the game, roughly 12 characters in, we had to evaluate where Superman fit into our game,” Kerr said. “We built him so long prior, we didn’t really know how he would work in the actual game against other champions. We had a bunch of powers for him, they represented who Superman is, but we found that the counter play wasn’t really there — how enemies deal with the threat Superman poses. That made Superman fun to play, but no fun at all to play against. So we went right back to the drawing board.”