Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hero of the Week #20: Flash

Real Name: Wally West
First Appearance: The Flash #110 (December, 1959)
Group Affiliation: Justice League, Titans
Gaming Credentials: Justice League Task Force (1995); Justice League Heroes (2006); Justice League Heroes: The Flash (2006); DC Universe Online (TBR)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #21

It was only a few years ago now that Flash was one of the most prestigious characters and series being published within the DC pantheon. Alas, even superheroes can fall on hard times, and after intervening in the events of DC's Infinite Crisis, the Wally West version of the character slipped into obscurity.
After being briefly (and unsuccessfully) succeeded by his junior [Bart Allen], the West version of the character is now to be upstaged by his predecessor, the Silver Age's Barry Allen, who is part of a revamp designed to restore DC's iconic vision of the hero via Flash: Rebirth.

The hard-luck story of Wally West continued this week when it was revealed that recently defunct developer, BottleRocket, were six months into working on a solo game starring the scarlet speedster!

If DC's nominations for the 2008 fighting crossover Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe are anything to go by, then there's a good chance the game was set to further establish Barry Allen as the most significant character to be dubbed the fastest man alive, but there's a modern flair about early screenshots of the game that speak to the Wally West version.

A rare moment for the Flash, appearing idle in development screenshots leaked by BottleRocket.

Rightly or not, video game adaptations haven't got the greatest reputation these days.
Comments on 1up's feature detailing the aborted Flash game come with mixed opinions in the comments section, many expressing lethargy, despite the recent triumphs of Batman: Arkham Asylum. To their credit, one game hardly assures quality investment from all studios handling comic book properties, but gamers should take something positive away from a long awaited live demonstration of possibilities.

Licensed properties like comic book superheroes might be a way for studios to bet on installed fanbases, but they aren't without their greater purpose. Characters with vivid expectations provide an end goal that may require various lengths of technical and conceptual innovation. I talked a little about this in a previous blog about the potential of the upcoming Green Lantern game, and think the same potential applies to Flash, to a less elaborate extent.

Once upon a time the mere existence of Sonic the Hedgehog was enough to consider the possibility of a Flash video game (which roughly equates to the Sega platformers inspired by the TV series, in the early nineties).
These days however, we expect a little bit more than running quickly from one side of the screen to the other. As the games move into more realistic territory, the balance between creating the illusion of superhuman speed and keeping the player in control becomes key. The development of motor racing in video games has created one of the most prominent new perspectives for what is expected of speed in a game, and is probably the logical reference point for any modern engine attempting a game about a character who runs fast.

Taking a character like this off of the racing track can clearly be a tricky thing.
The balance between high speeds and directional gameplay have been something the Sonic franchise has struggled with in it's various 3D modern equivalents, where controlled high speed running has been captured through the use of race tracks. For a superhero, who has become a regular fixture of sandbox cityscape environments, these kinds of options become less flattering.

It's a tricky situation for any character, but a superhero like the Flash has an entire universe of fiction to draw upon, making his transition to video games potentially about much more than just moving quickly. Batman: Arkham Asylum reminded us how valuable a world of fiction can be when filling in the gaps of design and motivation that make gameplay function.

You might not know it to look at them, but the Flash has one of the greatest lists of villains you'll find in superhero comics. Don't let the hokey costumes and gimmicks fool you! Under the watchful eye of writers like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, the beloved Flash rogues (who actually call themselves The Rogues) have developed into characters as fleshed out and elaborate as any comparable hero. Their potential to exist in an interactive world and even become playable options is as exponential as imagination. It doesn't hurt that Flash is also associated with some of the best known superheroes in comics, also, who have just as much claim to cameos and guest spots as Captain Cold or Zoom!

It's been a busy weekend, so I'll leave it to you to ponder what might've been had BottleRocket finally brought the Flash back to the spotlight. The various incarnations of super speedsters will be present when DC unleash their MMO, DC Universe Online. Team Flash are also readily available in the DC Comics mini-series, Flash: Rebirth, telling the tale of the return of former HOTW Barry Allen, his arch-nemesis Professor Zoom, and the adjusting purpose of Wally West! West will also star in co-features when a new Flash series launches in the future.

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