Nick Cowen (The Guardian, UK) talks to Dax Ginn, marketing game manager at Rocksteady Games, about the Dark Knight's return.
When we were playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum for the second time, picking up all the achievements, we found the blueprints for Arkham City ?
You found that? That was you guys?
Er, no, if we're being honest; someone else found it first, posted it on Gamefaqs.com and then we found it using their walkthrough.
(Laughs) Aha! So you can't take credit for that! Well, that's honest of you.
Thanks. So the existence of those blueprints means you were planning a sequel before Arkham City was even out the gate, right?
So how did you stay focused on the game you were making at the time? And how much of what you planned in those blueprints ? and what you were planning for Arkham City at the time ? has ended up in the new game?
Let me answer the second question first. Those blueprints ? when we look at them now and we look back at Arkham City, they're really accurate. We managed to stay focused on that broad footprint of the layout of Arkham City almost to a fault.
It was always going to be driven by technical considerations because when you're making an open-world game you don't know how big it can be until you start building it. But we knew we really wanted to inject it with the same level of detail and attention and love that we put into Arkham Asylum. We also wanted to layer it with Batman DNA; we wanted to make sure that it contained legendary locations that made the place meaningful for Batman and that it wasn't just a collection of generic streets.
So when we hatched the idea of taking the game out of Arkham Asylum and on to the streets of Gotham, and then the concept of Arkham City, that was the point where we created the secret room with the blueprints for Arkham City ? almost in the hope that we would be allowed to make it. But by that stage, to answer your first question, we were so close to finishing Arkham Asylum, there was no chance Arkham City could be a distraction that would threaten the polish of the game we were working on.
When you started thinking about Arkham City, was it a case that you wanted to take what you were doing in widescreen? Or did the idea for the city environment come from features you couldn't put into the first game ? like Batman's new gliding ability, or his new combos? Which of those aspects came first?
It actually came for the desire we had to give the player an immense sense of navigational freedom. We want to be true to the character of Batman, to all the things that make him a person and make him a hero. For example, the Dark Knight, the defender of Gotham ? that's just one aspect of his personality. Being the world's greatest detective is another aspect, and it's just as important. That's why there's a lot of crime scene investigation and puzzle solving in the game.
Then you have the Caped Crusader moniker for Batman and so, being able to deploy his cape and glide through buildings is something we have in the game ? I think the recent Batman films did that aspect particularly well. We knew that was something we wanted in the game; it felt very Batman, it felt great for the gameplay and overall it was the next logical place for us to go with this Arkham-verse that we're building here.
Speaking of the Arkham-verse, you've got a lot more characters in this game than there was in Arkham Asylum. We've already seen the Riddler, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Two-Face. Are there anymore characters that will make an appearance in Arkham City?
Can you tell us which ones?
(laughs) No. We've got more character announcements to make but I can't tell you what they are yet. I can tell you, though, that the Riddler will appear physically in the game. In Arkham Asylum he was just a voice on the radio, but here, you'll come face to face with him.
Catwoman's in the game both as an adversary and as a playable character. Calendar Man, Zsasz and Hugo Strange ? as the warden of Arkham City ? are in the game too. So there's a lot of fan service with very well-known characters as well as some obscure ones in the game. This is a big game as well, you're looking at around 40 hours plus to get 100% in there, and then you've got challenge maps on top of that.
We've got a lot of time and space to fill out the development of all of the different super villains. Arkham Asylum was a lot more focused and claustrophobic experience ? the focus in that game was mainly on the tension between Batman and the Joker.
Speaking of fan service, Robin is a character that divides fans. Yet we have seen concept art for the young lad in Arkham City. Was there an internal argument at Rocksteady before the decision was reached to put him in the game?
(laughs) You're right, he does divide people. The inclusion of Robin is always going to be met with resistance, whether within Rocksteady or outside with the fans or the community. It's actually incredible how divisive a character he is, but I think done well and done right, he's got the potential to be an awesome character.
We haven't shown anything of Robin in action yet, but I can tell you he has his own navigational system, he has his own moves, his own combat combos and he's got an explosives augmentation. I think gamers are going to find that he feels very different to playing as Batman ? the same way that Catwoman feels different to playing as Batman. We definitely wanted to make players feel the three different playable characters offer three different experiences.
Are you a fan of Robin?
Absolutely! Always have been! I've always thought he's a brilliant character. I know why some fans don't like him, but I've always been on Team Robin!
Bah! Next question. You might be sick of hearing this one, but let's talk about the Batmobile. After all you've given Batman an open city, so why can't we drive his car?
It ain't a driving game, is the short answer. You've seen the work we've put into the gliding system and that works just fine for moving the character around the city. Also, lots of the streets in Arkham City are filled with rubble an craters so the Batmobile wouldn't be the best mode of transport. It wouldn't make for very fun driving even if we put the Batmobile in the game.
In all seriousness, though, the moment you put Batman in a car, it becomes an entirely different kind of game. So there are no vehicles in the game whatsoever.
Would you say, that in a way, Batman is the ultimate vehicle in the game?
Well, he certainly controls with the same level of responsiveness. We wanted to build in a lot of navigational options for players ? you can see that even in the way the player can use the Batarang, where you can completely control their path once you throw them.
Speaking of the Batarang, lots of games featuring superheroes make you unlock their powers ? even in the sequels. Will we have to spend a lot of time unlocking all of Batman's gadgets from the first game?
No, you have them right from the start of Arkham City. We wanted players to really feel like Batman has been preparing for the inevitable day when Gotham would experience a crisis like it does in Arkham City, so all of his gadgets are ready.
Mark Hamill says this is the last time he's playing the Joker. It seems that every time a Batman series hits a peak, something untoward happens with that character.
How do you mean?
Well, Tim Burton made a good Batman film and then killed off the Joker at the end of it. Christopher Nolan made a great Batman film and then Heath Ledger tragically passed away. Now, after Rocksteady made an outstanding Batman game ? you're losing your Joker as well.
I hadn't thought of it that way. Well, Mark said that he thought that Arkham Asylum would be very difficult to top and I absolutely agree ? when I play Arkham Asylum, the performance he turns in is amazing.
But his performance on Arkham City has been just phenomenal. When it comes to the Joker, Mark's a genius. He gets this character so perfectly. All we need to do is just write the dialogue and then he brings it vividly to life. When we add his performance to the game, the quality our game just doubles.
To be honest, I don't know what's going to happen in the future. So long as we remain focused on making an amazing game, opportunities will come for the studio, I'm sure and creative solutions will present themselves.