Friday, August 15, 2008

Combat Systems, Part 1: Who Would Win In A Fight Between Batman and Superman?

It's the modern version of How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? (Can there be any doubt that monasteries are where nerds used to go?) Who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman?

The answer, of course, is whoever the writers wanted to win. This is true for a fight between Superman and Pikachu, or The Hulk and Bambi's mother, as well.

I was thinking about this because--well, actually, I used to get that question a lot on the playground, or one like it, being the neutral and wise arbiter. (In any straight-up brawl, The Batman loses. No superpowers.)

But more relevantly, I was thinking recently about how, in my early teens, I turned my spaceship doodles into a pen-and-paper combat game (that I ultimately somehow coded--at least partially--into a now long-gone computer program). I had probably about a hundred different ship designs, mish-mashes from movies and TV shows, and remember giving thought to the question of scale and technology advancement.

For example, Star Wars technology struck me as far more primitive than Star Trek technology. The Death Star can destroy a planet, sure, but it's intimated that the Enterprise could do the same. And Star Fleet has six or seven of those. And while there's talk of shielding in the Star Wars universe, clealry there isn't any to speak of, since every little X-Wing fighter could shoot the freakin' Death Star and cause an explosion on the inside. We won't even talk about unguarded exhaust ports.

I was thinking about combat systems in games, and what makes them interesting (or not). I particularly was thinking about them in a space opera concept; sometimes when I sit down and consider the ramifications of minuscule objects traveling at, potentially, hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, throwing particles at each other, the very concept of space combat seems ludicrous.

The Star Wars model is heavy on the dogfighting/aircraft carrier style. But the modern dogfight requires our jet pilots to slow down if they want to engage. Targeting someone going mach 3--seeing someone going that fast--must be challenging indeed. One would presume that star fighters could go much faster, though actually, I'd guess the Death Star run in Star Wars is actually happening at something more like car-chase speeds, if you scale appropriately.

The Star Trek paradigm, on the other hand, views space ships more like battle ships. Slow moving and somewhat cumbersome. This, curiously, only applies to battle. The Enterprise otherwise navigates tight turns at light speeds that would make you spend your day writing out zeroes if you tried to calculate the amount of energy used.

Energy is something only discussed for plot purposes, as well. Nobody ever ran out of gas in the Star Wars universe. I mean, Darth Vader pilots his damaged tie fighter to safety--despite being surrounded by watching enemies--in between the original movie and first sequel.

Battlestar Galactica incorporated the concept of fuel into their dogfights. They also had turbo boosters and could--without any harm coming to pilot or ship--push a button that shot them in the exact opposite direction. This always surprised the Cylons, as well it should have, defying physical law and common sense.

Babylon 5 used a more sensible approach of having ships simply flip around and fire backwards, which I suppose beats mounting guns that can fire to the rear. B5 also re-introduced the beam weapon, which in Star Trek was always portrayed as leaving the ship as diverging lines, but which always managed to converge on their target.

I guess the point of all this is that combat in space is very complex. Especially when it's primarily a, you know, literary invention.

So game designers can be forgiven for having a system where combat is resolved by each player rolling a six-sided die, and the higher one winning.

Next up, I'll discuss different existing systems.


  1. I read that Stan Lee of Marvel and the head of DC have got togehter in a secret meeting to talk about combining some of the characters in a movie. That would be very interesting.

    Hulk vs Superman
    Batman vs Daredevil
    Batman vs Spiderman
    Ironman vs Superman

    Two heros vs two villians.

    Batman and Spiderman vs the Joker and the Green Goblin.

    The possiblities are endless.

  2. I actually read very few crossover comics as a kid. I remember Shazam fighting Superman. And as I recall there was a lengthy section on how Shazam was a Superman rip-off and how this ultimately resulted in Shazam and his parent company becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of DC.

    Shazam, of course, won the fight. Superman is vulnerable to magic.

    Really, though, all Supes would have to do is pick his opponent up and drop them into the sun.

    That'd be a short book, though. Plus, he doesn't kill people.

  3. Actually, match-ups that would be fun...

    Batman vs. Alien vs. Predator (they did that!)

    Actually, any comic book story can be improved by the introduction of Aliens and/or Predators.

    Trickier would be crossovers that take the heroes out of their usual elements.

    Spiderman vs. The Swamp Thing -- in the swamp!

    Match-ups that wouldn't work, probably:

    The Hulk vs. Mr. Mxyzptlk
    Superman vs. The Punisher


  4. I think the key to the crossover is who the villians will be. If the superheros fight each other because of a misunderstanding, well that would suck. But if they combine to fight some crazy menace that is too big for one of them to handle, well that could work. Specifily Batman for DC. Superman is just too powerful to be believable. Unless Marvel went the Thor route where Superman would be fighting amongst the Norse Gods. Now that might work.

    I remember one of the best Thor's was one where Thor went to the aid of Hercules when things went bad on MT. Olympus and you had a crossover of the Greek and the Norse Gods. That kind of thing could be fun.

  5. I think if we see anything like that, it's going to come from the Marvel side.

    DC hasn't trotted out The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow--Batman and Green Arrow are a good team--The Atom, Jon Jonzz, Black Canary (yowza!) or even Wonder Woman.

    Batman and Superman have both been going ultra-real.

    Marvel, in other words, is gearing up for full-fledged comic geekdom, with the Iron Man/Hulk/Capt America setup.

    DC hasn't even introduced most of its characters.

    I gotta believe they're all looking at the Schumacher Batmans of the late '90s and going--damn, we could kill the golden goose here...


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