Batman: Arkham Knight – Rocksteady On The Batmobile, Origins & Next-Gen
We recently got a chance to see Batman: Arkham Knight in action, and we also got the opportunity to talk to Rocksteady about what we saw.
We spoke to Rocksteady producer Dax Ginn about why Batman: Arkham Knight could only work on PS4 and Xbox One, how fans never let them forget about the Batmobile and his thoughts on Batman: Arkham Origins.
Why did you decide to just go with PS4, Xbox One and PC and was that something that you decided at the beginning or that you later realised you were going to have to do?
More than that we decided: Batmobile – what do we have to do to make the Batmobile work?
Even before we finished Arkham City, Sefton Hill the game director was thinking about this game and we’d always planned to do a trilogy of games so the final piece of the puzzle for us was, how do we wrap all this up as a singular complete ultimate Batman experience and when you think Batman, you think Batmobile.
It was the one thing we hadn’t done. Once we decided we were going to commit to the Batmobile, all these other technical decisions were made for us.
We knew that we had to do it right – the imagination of the experience of driving the Batmobile that people have is that it’s fast, that it’s destructive, it’s kind of a tank in Gotham City, but it’s also highly technical – all of those things can only be done on next-gen, so that was a gameplay decision which drove technical decisions from that point.
Did you mention before that the idea of the Batmobile was something that you’d had floating around for quite a long time, potentially before…
Well fans would never let us forget about it! It’s the most highly anticipated feature on every comment we get.
People have just been hammering us since Arkham Aslyum for the Batmobile. Luckily, we really wanted to do it as well, we just needed the tech to do it.
So this isn’t something you would have been able to do on Xbox 360 or PS3?
Not in the way that people imagine it. It’s the power fantasy of driving this legendary vehicle; if it can only do a top speed of 25 mph that’s not the power fantasy and that’s why we couldn’t have done that previously.
Is that why it’s not coming to Wii U as well? It’s something that you wouldn’t be able to do on that system?
Well, we have to make our technology choices specifically with reference to the gameplay objectives that we want, so we choose the platforms that are going to give us that.
We’ve heard a lot of developers saying that with the PS4 and Xbox One having a PC-like architecture, they’ve been easier to work with than when first getting in with the last generation. How have you found the PS4 and Xbox One to work with?
Well, we’re pretty used to the old systems because we had so much time working with them. I think any new generation is difficult, but certainly our engine team, they don’t have to say “no” anymore to our creative guys.
I was talking to our lead engine coder and on the previous generation, he had to say to our art team, “you can’t do characters of that poly count”, or, “you can’t do textures of that resolution”.
But, he was saying the other day that, this time around, he just doesn’t find himself saying “no” very often. That just comes down to the hardware of next-gen.
Do you know what you are targeting yet in terms of resolution and framerate?
We’re still working through that, but we’ll make an announcement on that towards launch.
In terms of the systems that you’re adding to the game – obviously, the Batmobile is the big thing, but you’ve also got new stuff you’re adding to the combat – how do you deal with the issue where you start off with one game, you add stuff to the next game and then you add stuff again – is there every a concern that you’re putting too much in there?
The concern is that Batman becomes overpowered. The way we balanced that is by ramping up the threat that he faces.
This time around, Scarerow has returned and united all of the rogues gallery, all of the supervillans, so this is a threat that Batman has never faced before – this unified wall.
In that context, he doesn’t feel overpowered, he feels like he’s at the right level of power to face this new threat.
Similarly, with adding the Batmobile, we didn’t want it to feel like, “here is a brand new thing that could never have existed before” – from a narrative perspective we want it to feel like Batman has always had the Batmobile, we’ve just unveiled it here.
It’s something we’re very consciously aware of not to make the game feel like a driving game, it has to feel like this synergy between man and machine.
The in and out gameplay is something we’ve put so much effort into. Just getting out of the Batmobile and getting back into the Batmobile should feel like a lot of fun and that’s why we’ve got this eject and summon move, which is awesome, one of my favourite bits.
When you say you didn’t want Arkham City to feel like a driving game as such, where there any reference points? Did you look at any driving games to see how they felt and use that to think about what you were doing?
Not really. I think if we wanted to look at other driving games, we would have brought in a driving team, because we’ve never made a driving game before.
Rather than do that, we have the task of programming the Batmobile to the guy who coded Batman. So, all of the experience that he’s developed over Arkham Asylum and Arkham City in making a character in Batman, he was then tasked with doing the same with the Batmobile.
Which, on the one-hand is really high risk, but on the other hand, it gives you a vehicle that’s full of character and really intimately linked to Batman because Adam has been responsible for creating both of these things.
In hindsight, I think that was a really smart idea and it makes the Batmobile feel really unique in that respect, it doesn’t just feel like a car, it feels like a genuine character.
I know you can’t tell us much about the new villain (the Arkham Knight) but where did the idea come from to do your own villain? Obviously, Batman has this big gallery of villains that you’ve made use of and it seems like quite a big deal to say, “no, actually, we’re going to make our own villain”.
It came from thinking about the way that with built interactions and engagements between Batman and the other members of the rouges gallery. They all reflect some aspect of his personality.
From an intellectual perspective, it’s Riddler, that’s who he engages with intellectually. When you talk about fate and destiny and that aspect of his personality, the tragedy of his childhood, Two-Face is a mirror to him in that respect.
So, each of the supervillains connects with Batman in a very specific way and he is a collection of all of those things, but we never really had a villain who can engage with Batman of a physical, powerful, combat level.
Combat is such a significant part of the game for us, so we wanted a villain that could really challenge him very physically, so the Arkham Knight was conceived with that gameplay idea in mind.
The first thing we did with him was to develop what’s his role in the story, how does he genuinely challenge Batman in a way that he’s never been challenged before, and then we pitched all of that to DC comics and then collaborated with them on the look of him and to design his aesthetic so that it’s representative of the function and purpose that he fulfills in the game.
Is that a scary thing to do, to create a new…
Terrifying! Absolutely terrifying!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that Batman fans have generally reacted very well to what you’ve done with Batman, so is there a worry that, doing a new character, fans might react to that in a negative way?
I think generally, if we feel good about something, we kind of know that fans are going to like it – I don’t know if that comes out the right way.
The design of Penguin, for example is a really different take on Penguin, he’s got this cockney accent, he’s got the bottle in his eye, it’s pretty brutal, gritty stuff. All of our characters have a mature angle, a gritty angle, but also quite a psychological angle to them.
When we were designing the Arkham Knight, so long as we feel like we’re doing the right thing every step of the design process, I think fans will trust us when it comes to the final piece.
Sanity checking that with DC as well, that’s an important part of it. It’s so awesome to have that open creative collaboration with them, because if we were wildly wrong, they would say something.
You’ve talked about this being the final part of the trilogy, is that a bitter-sweet end for you guys because it’s been a big part of your studio for years, but I imagine its also nice to be able to close it off and move onto something else?
I haven’t really thought about the future, about the post-Arkham Rocksteady, it’s…yeah, I’ve just though about it this moment, where would we go from here!
We always conceived this as a trilogy of games so bringing it to the end is…it just feels like that’s the plan and we’re coming to the end of the plan. So, it doesn’t feel bitter-sweet, I don’t think we feel sad about it, we feel very proud that we’ve done really good work.
I think more than anything I feel proud that we set out to do something and we’ve done it to a very high level.
There are some games that perhaps show that sequels can go on too long, so it’s nice that you’ve said you’re going to do a trilogy and then stick to that.
Yeah, that’s how we feel as well. As gamers, there’s something very satisfying about a sense of completion. We feel that way as developers, we feel that way as gamers.
Do you have any concerns about saturation? I know Origins wasn’t made by your studio, but it didn’t perform quite as well as past games, is there any concern that there’s a saturation and how do you bring people back if that is the case?
I think the key feature of the Batmobile and wrapping it all up together as this ultimate Batman experience.
For gamers that have never played an Arkham game before, Arkham Knight will be everything all in one – the forensic detective stuff, the grapple and glide navigation mechanics, the addition of the Batmobile, that’s the full package.
I hope people don’t feel saturated! We’ve been working really hard on this!
Batman’s not ‘yours’ as such, but the Arkham games are something you’ve created, was it weird to see another studio making a game in that series? Was it surreal for you to play it?
It was certainly pretty interesting, just to see what another team of creatives would do with Batman, but we’ve just been so focused on this since Arkham City that we’ve really had our heads down trying to make this as awesome as we can.
Arkham Origins had some very positive reviews, some middling reviews and some less positive reviews, do you have a certain sympathy for a studio that’s being asked to come in on someone else’s series? There are perhaps limits to what they can do and I’d imagine it’s a very difficult position to be in?
I don’t know, I’ve never been in that situation. I think they did a really solid job with Arkham Origins. I personally really, really enjoyed it – I think mostly because I’m really good at the combat, having played Arkham games for so long, I got a lot of joy out of it.
When you have to make decisions on villains to include in the game, do you get staff members with their favourite villains arguing about who should be in the game?
Yeah and really obscure stuff as well. Definitely everyone’s got favourites. Sefton makes the final decision on that, so as game director he’s earned the credibility to say, “this is what we’re running with”.
So yeah, there’s a lot of personal favouritism towards different villains, but Sefton has the overall vision of this is how the game’s going to play out from a mechanical perspective and a narrative perspective, so he brings it all together.
You talked about bringing Oracle into the focus to add a bit of emotional weight. Is Batman going to be a different character than what we’ve seen in the past games?
I think his personality has been developing throughout the trilogy, but in this game, we delve more deeply into how the decisions he has made in the course of the three games effects him and effects the people that he loves.
We didn’t really have an opportunity in previous games to look at that in terms of the current state of his life.
We obviously analyzed the impact of the death of his family on him as a young man and throughout his existence, but the relationship between him and Oracle, him and Jim Gordon, Jim Gordon and Oracle, we focus on that as it’s happening and that’s something that’s really interesting.
Batman has declared war on crime but the people that are close to him start to pay the price for that decision, so there’s a lot of interesting emotional angles that we haven’t covered before that comes to life in Arkham Knight.