Batman: Arkham City Developer Interview
Batman: Arkham City is haping up to the the epitome of not just superhero licences, but of licences in general. No longer threatened by the curse of the tie-in, Rocksteady Studios has proven it is capable of serving up the goods.
We caught up with Paul Crocker, lead narrative designer at Rocksteady Studios to learn more about what you can expect from the game when it launches in October.
The launch of Batman: Arkham City isn’t far away now. How complete is the project, and what do the next few weeks mean for you and your team?
At Rocksteady, everyone is working very hard to get the game finished, and we’re very close to the end now. Bringing the game to an event like Gamescom and showing it to people has made us very positive.
When you’re stuck in an office in North London, working 20-hour days on a project, you don’t have a great perspective on how important this game is to people. To come here and Comic-Con and to see how well received the game has been is amazing, and quite humbling as well.
Batman’s back baby! YEAH!
I imagine, especially at a show like Comic-Con, that you are now getting a lot of feedback from pretty hardcore Batman fans?
Yeah, I mean that was the first time we had gone public, aside from the press playing it, or seeing it at E3. The response has been amazing. We’ve worked on it for two years then seen people talking about stuff that was in the first game, and it really is amazing how much people took away from the Arkham Asylum.
The amount of details they know about it, like finding the secret room, spotting nods to other characters or themes not in the game, or talking to each other about the achievements they unlocked. This is amazing, but at the same time it puts pressure on us to exceed what we achieved through Batman: Arkham City.
And in Arkham City, Rocksteady is going bigger and better, although would it be incorrect to call it a true open world title, given the connotations of the term? In short, you’re not Grand Theft Auto are you?
It doesn’t have bad connotations for us, as our goal is to go open world, but it’s an open world with a wall around it. As a concept I guess it’s different from others games of a similar nature.
We have the story where Hugo Strange has built this city-prison in the centre of Gotham – which is probably as crazy as an idea as it actually sounds – and Batman will play a large part in that. But at the same time, the concept means we have a lot of the key villains in there.
Catwoman throws a different fighting style into the mix.
The city itself sounds as if it will be quite dense, yet far les claustrophobic than the asylum. How did you approach making this bigger, bolder environment?
To make sure the new setting fit, we had to recall everything we put into the first game, in order to keep it a story based, and story-led game, but at the same time give you ultimate freedom, because you’re playing as Batman and no one tells him what to do (laughs).
It was a very challenging problem, and I think that we solved a lot of the problems from the first game. We do everything we possibly can to let the player always know what their objective is, and make it clear that they’ve got hundreds of other things they could do at any point.
We just wanted to make this very detailed open world, and you know, a lot of modern games are about sheer size and scale. But we wanted to keep it a detailed space, and one that lets Batman get a little crazy in it.
Just how dense is the content within the city, and how does it help you achieve this level of detail?
Well, we have the same level of cameos, and a massive, expanded amount of secrets to find. The more you try and think about everything that’s in this game; the crazier it makes you go. I mean, the amount of content is bonkers.
What killed the dinosaurs? The ice age!
Aside from the expanded scope of Rocksteady, you also have the much-touted challenges littered across the city. Adding it altogether, just how big is the game? Could you even begin to quantify it?
We have the single player game, and I reckon your first play through the narrative would take about the 20-25 hour mark. On top of that, if you want 100 per cent complete – which is finding all 400 of the Riddler trophies, all the cameos and doing everything – we reckon it’s about 40 hours plus.
Yeah, and then once that’s done you also have the challenge mode, which is expanded from the first game. So then you suddenly have an infinite amount of possibilities, and if you’re really into the combat, really into the predator aspect, then you really don’t need to buy another game.
Challenge mode is there specifically to make you better Batman, or as it happens, a better Catwoman. So it’s another amazing layer to the game that really delivers to the player.
Pow! Right in the kisser!
Are you looking to expand these challenge modes incrementally with DLC post-launch?
We haven’t considered anything to do with DLC at the moment, as we’re honestly and desperately trying to finish the game, get it on the shelves in time for the October launch.
That’s cool, but returning to the expanded scope of the game briefly, Arkham Asylum wasn’t the biggest play area, but it was very dense. Could you hazard a guess as to how much bigger Arkham City will be?
Just based on a sheer size point of view, it’s about four to five times bigger than Arkham Asylum. I’m probably going to get this one wrong, but I think there were 64 Riddler trophies in the first game, but now we have 440 in this one maybe. It’s around about that number.
So we have all the stuff that people love from the first game, but now we have side-stories, such as the Bane side story. Then you have the Catwoman part as well, and her missions are interweaving among Batman’s.
She’s got a very different story, and she’s a very different story. We get to see what life is like in Gotham from a different person’s point of view.
The stories that you create, and the spins on popular characters are true to the lore of the comics, yet Rocksteady has this great knack of expanding beyond what fans already know. How careful do you have to be with altering the fiction through the game?
We’re very hard on ourselves because we love the brand, and working on Batman is a real privilege. I used to work in a comic store, so I’m one of the more nerdy people who work at the studio (laughs).
But at the same time, we love games, and we really try our absolute best to keep fans happy. We try and make sure that the game appeals to everyone, as we don’t want to deliver something that is too ‘fanboy’, although we do put that hardcore fan stuff in the game.
If, like me, you know quite a lot about Batman and his world, you will get that out of the game, because it’s there. But if you’ve never read a Batman comic, the game will still make perfect sense, and you’re going to have an awesome time playing as him.
One reveal that did have fans asking questions was the Robin DLC for challenge mode. What feedback did you receive from the reveal?
Well Robin is one of the playable characters from our DLC challenge mode. On the feedback; well, Robin is different in that he fits within our Arkham-verse.
We recognise that he’s one of those characters where everyone has their own ideas about, but Robin makes sense within our Arkham-verse, we love him. He looks very good next to Batman.