Comic-Con, the once fortress of solitude for the comic book industry, has grown massively in the last decade. Some would say that the event has lost its way, or worse, that it’s sold out. Rubbish. Comic-Con is the same as it ever was, only now more inclusive and open to other branches on the nerd tree. At this year’s Comic-Con, video games stepped at least into the outer edge of the spotlight.
A lot of attention (i.e., most) is given to the film industry at Comic-Con these days. How can one resist covering the announcement of a joint Batman/Superman film? Even I, tangled up in this mess of news of video games and the like, was tempted to dedicate this article to theorizing. I refuse to theorize on the Batman/Superman film. Wouldn’t it be neat if they built that giant Batman/Superman robot from — never mind, let’s talk about creativity and world-building; let’s talk about Spark.
Team Dakota, a dedicated team within Microsoft, has been working on Spark for a few years now and finally debuted it at E3 and then again at Comic-Con. Spark allows users to literally spark into existence a world based upon their own values and ideals, building villages and mountains from seemingly nothing. When your world is good and ready, a character can be dropped into it. This is where the fun begins.
Imagine being in control of your own role-playing game, in which every decision and every turn is sparked by your input; and there you have Spark. In the demo, users are able to create a landscape — a river, tundra, jungle, etc. — and then put into it villages, taverns, caverns or dungeons. When these are all neatly organized, choose a character and his attributes, and the world is your oyster.
This isn’t your granddaddy’s RPG maker, though. Despite the obvious features that may take a while to learn, Spark looks rather user-friendly. In one particular moment, a character fights a missile-launching zeppelin. To counter, he creates a wooden robot out of thin air. Fantastic. Let’s hope Spark doesn’t fizzle and lives up to its expectations on the Xbox One.
Speaking of insanity, let’s talk Young Horse’s Octodad: Dadliest Catch. You play as an octopus that is married to a human woman and has a human child. The trick is that no one realizes that Octodad is an octopus, and to keep up the illusion, you have to perform menial tasks as if you weren’t an octopus and your arms weren’t made of jelly.
Our hero, the octodad, cartwheels through the human world, living among unsuspecting friends and family, but that doesn’t mean his life is easy. Simple tasks such as retrieving a key or putting on a hat are tantamount to climbing Everest for the player, where every limb — all eight of them — is controlled by a separate key.
Think the recently reviewed Surgeon Simulator, only much more complicated and intentionally hilarious. If Buster Keaton were alive today (and had gone to college to pursue a career in video game development), he’d produce something like Octodad. Absurdity is the name of the game, and it can’t all be Batman or Snake or Wiz Khalifa being all serious up in here.
Speaking of Batman, Arkham Origins debuted another one of the eight assassins sent to kill the caped crusader. Copperhead, whose origin has been changed a bit via a rearranging of comic book lore, is the latest. In the Comic-Con presentation, the female assassin slithers through the rafters and takes on Batman as if she were a whirling dervish, whatever that is, poisoning him with a scratch from her claws in true snake form. In all of the previous Arkham titles, Batman has been poisoned one way or another. Perhaps he should carry an antidote in his belt from here on.
Spark will be available for the Xbox One some time after launch; Octodad: Dadliest Catch will be available on Windows, Mac, Linux and Playstation 4 in 2014; Batman: Arkham Origins will be released across multiple platforms Oct. 25.
Chris O’Neal is looking at the man in the mirror and likes what he sees. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.