GameFile: 'Superman Returns: The Video Game,' 'Metal Gear,' 'Cooking Mama' And More

Pulling designers out of Fortress of Solitude, ads highlight team behind 'Superman' game.

Superman may be able to change the course of mighty rivers, but can the advertisement for his latest video game change the way we look at games?

As the rockets rumble and the smoke begins to billow for the impending "Superman Returns" movie launch, a familiar figure in blue, red and yellow is appearing on an increasing number of flat surfaces near you. Superman ads are gracing TV screens, magazine pages and the sides of buses, advertising the movie, toys and even special-edition Computers of Steel.

In gaming magazines and the back of DC Comics editions this month, ads are appearing for "Superman Returns: The Video Game." The game was supposed to be released in sync with the movie but was recently delayed to the fall, too late for Electronic Arts to yank ads that are running now. The ad itself is radically different than any game ad America's largest video game company has run in years, because it's not really about Superman. It's about the people who made Superman's game.

(Check out the "Superman Returns" video game advertisement.)

Secret identities are revealed: Amid images of the game, the text champions level designer Zach Wilson, producer Jeff Peters and concept-art director Phil Straub. Wilson's concerned with getting Superman to fly right; Straub provides a talking point for the development team's map of Metropolis.

"We have a company here that is filled with people that are incredibly passionate about what they do and about gaming," EA Vice President of Advertising Shawn Conly told GameFile. "We felt those people weren't having a chance to shine as much as we'd like."

The ad also makes the point of naming the studio behind "Superman" (Tiburon), the studio's location (Orlando, Florida) and the number of people on the development team (140).

Video game ads don't typically spotlight the people who actually make games, partially because game companies don't think a lot of people care about them. "I wouldn't see running this ad in, say, a Sports Illustrated," Conly said. "My gut tells me that the people reading SI aren't going to care as much that 140 people sat down to make a great 'Superman' game. [They want to know], 'What is that game going to do for them and how entertaining is that going to be?' "

But Conly said there is an audience for this. The campaign was borne from the idea that people who read gaming magazines like to spend a lot of time with those magazines. "We wanted to give them enough interesting things to pore over," said Conly. EA and its ad firm even skipped out on using a standard advertising copywriter to sketch out the anecdotes about the game's developers — they hired a journalist who spent two days at Tiburon interviewing "Superman" developers.

The EA approach for "Superman" — reporter-driven developer anecdotes and neat factoids — will also be used in ads for the publisher's next big summer games: "NFL Head Coach" and "Madden '07." All three games are made by Tiburon Studios, which Conly said is just a quirk of scheduling.

Some might find EA an unlikely candidate to champion its creators. It is a company that, with the exception of "Sims" creator Will Wright, has been content to let its brands be spotlighted far more brightly than its game makers. In the past two years, the company has been hit with negative press about stressed working conditions and has been sued for its policies regarding overtime pay, or lack thereof.

The "Superman" ad isn't a response to those criticisms — "not overtly," Conly said. But it does draw inspiration from some EA history, specifically the company's very first advertisements. Back then, the company featured not just text about its creators in its print ads but photos of the cream of its crop. The best-remembered ad was headlined "Can a Computer Make You Cry?" Next to a photo of black-clad designers looking sullenly artistic was a quote from game designer Bill Budge: "I'm not sure there are any software artists yet ... we've got to earn that title." That ad ran in 1983, and Conly said, "In some ways, that was a partial inspiration for where we're taking this right now."

(Check out the 1983 Electronic Arts advertisement.)

The uplift of game creators, even through advertising — or particularly through advertising — could be a great aid to those toiling away on games with little sense of appreciation. The focus on creators in game advertising could also affect the way people see their games and decide which ones to buy next. Or it could just be a short-lived play to get gamers' eyes to linger on a page — not too different than a cereal company printing a Lucky Charms maze or a Fruit Loops word search, sending shoppers on a hunt for the letters that spell "Toucan Sam."

More from the world of video games:

Video games are alleged to be the enemy of reading — a heathen form of entertainment that encourage little more literacy than what's needed to comprehend a world balloon in an old "Final Fantasy" or the menu screens of "Madden." But today's portable gaming systems are encouraging gamers to stop playing even just for a little bit and do some reading. In April, the Nintendo DS got "Brain Age," an intelligence-training game that forces users to hold the DS sideways, like it's a book, and includes challenges that include reading passages from literature out loud. This week, Konami is delivering a $20 comic book for the PlayStation Portable. The "Metal Gear Solid Digital Graphic Novel" digitally prints the 271-page comic by artist Ashley Wood, which was an adaptation of the 1998 game "Metal Gear Solid." The panels are animated and the graphic novel includes a bonus mode that allows players to ferret out "memory" clues hidden in the artwork, link those memories in a simple game interface and unlock more of the "Metal Gear" lore. The memory-unlocking system reflects Konami's desire to make some form of their PSP graphic novel feel like a game. While some may find it convoluted, it forces readers to explore Wood's art. Zooming in and out of the painted panels, there are worse things that can be said about a game machine than that it encourages art appreciation — and some form of reading, to boot. ...

So maybe video games do support reading. But since when did they have anything to do with cooking? Games have dealt with mastication at least since the days "Pac-Man" started devouring power pellets. And role-playing games have required players to combine herbs and cook recipes since back in the 1980s. But none of those really were enough to earn the label "cooking game." In 2006, the wait is now over. Publisher Majesco announced earlier this year that it will release a Japanese-developed Nintendo DS game called "Cooking Mama" that has players mixing and matching recipes in touch-screen-based challenges. One is a lonely number, but last week saw confirmation from Nintendo that an interactive, voice-activated cookbook is coming this year in Japan, also for the DS. The title? "Talking DS Cooking Navigator." A copy of the game's box art was shown at a Nintendo briefing last week, possibly the first time any game's box art featured a photo of meat, potatoes and peas. There is no word on whether the cookbook will come to America.

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