DC Animated Universe
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This article is written from the Real World perspective Bruce Timm

Superman, more commonly referred to as Superman 64, is a video game that was released by Titus Software on May 31, 1999 on the Nintendo 64. The game is based on Superman: The Animated Series. Much like Castlevania 64, the game is not actually titled "Superman 64" on its box, cartridge, or the title screen. It is notorious for the extremely negative reception it received from critics, being dubbed one of the worst video games of all time.

Plot[]

Lex Luthor creates a virtual version of Metropolis and then succeeds in trapping Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Emil Hamilton within it. Superman is forced to enter the virtual world and is forced to fly through a series of rings and destroy cars. He also has to complete obstacles in order to save his friends and stop Lex Luthor. Other villains Superman battles in the game include Parasite, Darkseid and Brainiac.

Gameplay[]

The player assumes the role of Superman and is challenged to complete obstacles throughout the game, usually levels contain similar challenges. In most levels, Superman flies through a series of rings within a time limit (unless the player chooses to play the game on an easy difficulty; the rings then disappear but the timer remains the same). The "virtual Metropolis" is filled with what the developers called "Kryptonite fog" (which was actually the draw distance), supposedly there to slow him down. The game also features "Solve the Maze" segments where the player is given a time limit to solve certain obstacles similar to mazes.

Development[]

Having heard from Titus' office in LA that Warner Bros was moving forward on production for Superman: The Animated Series, Eric Caen contacted the company in a gambit to land licensing rights for the game studio. "They asked me three times if I was sure of what I was doing." Caen would recall, "No one else was interested enough in Superman to do a video game about him.”[1]

While Superman was in talks for a Nintendo 64 DD release as early as April 1997[2], the public wouldn't receive their first taste of the game until E3 1997 where a cross-release for GameBoy and Playstation was unveiled. Titus Software was reported to be working with the "Warner Bros. cartoon folks" on a game that would see Superman "stop Lex Luthor from using the LexoSkel 5000 to take over the world." While a release date wasn't given, impressions were a release later in the year[3] despite the game's build reportedly only being around 20% complete.[4]

At some point, a June 1998 release was announced, but was pushed back to July 25th following delays. By March that year, developers were promising that the 85-95% complete game would receive it's final touches in time for fans to experience at E3 1998.[5] Press around this build promised appearances from not only Luthor, but also Brainiac, Lobo and the Toyman with a first level that involved saving Jimmy Olsen. Kryptonite was also suggested to be an important plot point,[6][7] and was seemingly an in-narrative explanation for fog covering the city in early builds.[8]

The game returned to E3 as promised with another demo in 1998 projecting a complete build between June and September of that year "depending on industry reaction and comments". Titus Software co-founder and president Eric Caen bragged the game contained an objects interactions system "so complex that you can throw a car that will collide with another car that will push a third object that will kill an enemy next to it!", Additionally, this build of the game contained a multiplayer mode where up to four players controlled a small flying spaceship in a shoot out over Metropolis.[9]

By August, press was reporting that the title was delayed once again to "address criticisms in gameplay", expecting a new demo by September.[10] Titus announced in April 1999 that they would be halting production on "Jungle Bots" and "Quest for Camelot" opening their E3 presence in 1999 to be fully devoted to Superman.[11]

Despite years of anticipation, press remained less than enthusiastic with IGN noting of the E3 1999 build that " The return to the drawing board has obviously restored enough confidence to actually release the game, but that doesn't mean the game has been done right."[12] The game was quietly shipped to retailers for release May 29, 1999.[13]

According to Caen, Warner's licensing team was replaced days later, leading to the project's constant state of flux. “The next people in charge hated us the first minute they saw us and our project" he said. "They believed a major company such as EA Games would pay more and create a better product.” Attempting to steer the game in a new direction, the licensors suggested a Sim City style game in which Superman enacted the duties of Mayor of Metropolis. Once this idea was shot down, DC and Warner did what they could to slow the project down. “It took us months to get every single character approved,”[1]

Warner was against letting "Superman kick 'real' people", facilitating the games digital world plot point,[14] and in one case Titus' team was required to provide lengthy documentation to assure Warner that Superman could fly underwater "because they had doubts it would be acceptable in terms of ‘legacy.’" Breakable environment elements, such as doors, walls, and floors were also struck down by DC who argued Superman wasn't allowed to '"act as a bad person."[1] Due to licensor medling, Caen has said the final version wasn't even 10% of the project's initial intended vision.[14]

The PlayStation version of the game was developed by Blue Sky, another studio acquired by Titus. 400-500 thousand units were in pre-order before the project was shut down by WB.[14] Reportedly, Warner Bros were prepared to pay a "huge litigation settlement", but Titus never sued.[1] A prototype ROM for an early PS1 compatible build was eventually leaked onto the internet in 2018.

Promotion[]

During the 1997 E3 event in Atlanta, Georgia, actors hired to play "newsies" and hand out Daily Planet newspapers became such a large attraction that event security had to be called to the scene to control the crowds.[15]

By September 1998, gaming outlets were reporting that DC Comics was ready for a a November 1998 release across GameBoy, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation with a full scale promotion campaign including: standees fashioned after Superman: The Animated Series, a media blitz consisting of a :30 second TV spot and several full spread print ads, in-store jumbo box displays, and in-store videos at certain retailers.[15]

Superman Adventures Exclusive Edition[]

A limited Collector's Edition comic was created as a pack in for the first shipment of games as a means to hopefully "generate a high initial demand for" the game.[15]

Reception[]

Despite negative reviews[16][17], Superman managed to reach the #9 position for N64 game sales the first week of June 1999.[18] by the second week, it was the #3 selling Nintendo 64 game.[19] By July, the game had also taken the title of third top-renting videogame and seventh best-selling videogame.[20] The sales numbers were sustained for some time with publications such as Tokyo Pop ranking it as the #3 top selling game across all platforms in their August/September 1999 issue.[21] Despite sales numbers, Titus lost money on the project when they had to cancel the PS1 version of the game, which was reported to be 75% complete.[14]

Mail-in customer feedback was reported to be overwhelmingly positive, with over 70% of the target audience (6 to 11-year-olds) rating the game as an "A" title.[20]

References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Wing-Man Wong. “What Went Wrong with 'Superman 64,' One of the Most Hated Games Ever Made.” Playboy, 29 Oct. 2015. Accessed 16 Mar. 2024.
  2. IGN Staff “Titus Makes Games 64DD Compatible.” IGN, 23 Apr. 1997. Accessed 13 Mar. 2024.
  3. Szadkowski, Joseph. “The Ever-Expanding E3 (Does That Make It E5?).Www.awn.com, 5 Aug. 1997, l. Accessed 13 Mar. 2024.
  4. I. G. N. Staff “E3: Superman Fails to Fly.” IGN, 22 June 1997. Accessed 13 Mar. 2024.
  5. IGN Staff “Superman Still Flying despite Delay.” IGN, 20 Mar. 1998. Accessed 13 Mar. 2024.
  6. IGN Staff “Superman Is Clark Kent!” IGN, 28 Mar. 1998, . Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  7. IGN Staff. “Superman Returns.” IGN, 8 Apr. 1998. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  8. Shea, Brian. “As Superman 64 Turns 20, We Dig up Some Relics from the Past.” Game Informer, 31 May 2019. Accessed 15 Mar. 2024.
  9. Eric Caen of Titus Software (interview)
  10. IGN Staff “Titus Update.” IGN, 25 Aug. 1998. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  11. IGN Staff. “Titus Shelves Bots and Camelot.IGN, 13 Apr. 1999. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  12. IGN Staff. “Superman.” IGN, 14 May 1999. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  13. IGN Staff. “Superman, Fighting Force Ship.” IGN, 2 June 1999. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Jon, Proton. “An Interview with Eric Caen | Proton Jon’s Blog.” Web.archive.org, 11 Jan. 2011. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Game Week Volume 04 Issue 15 ( September 15, 1998)
  16. Casamassina, Matt . “Superman (N64) Review.” IGN, 3 June 1999.
  17. Fielder, Joe. “Superman Review.” GameSpot, 8 June 1999, www.gamespot.com/reviews/superman-review/1900-2545277/.
  18. IGN Staff “Superman Enjoys Super Sales.IGN, 16 June 1999,
  19. IGN Staff. “The Weekly Top Five.” IGN, 19 June 1999. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  20. 20.0 20.1 IGN Staff. “Superman Flies off Shelves.” IGN, 9 July 1999. Accessed 14 Mar. 2024.
  21. "Top of the Charts" Tokyo Pop Issue 3-1 (Aug/Sep 1999)
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