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Rocksteady's Hill:  Batman 's Success Down To Not 'Overstretching' On Game Features
Rocksteady's Hill: Batman's Success Down To Not 'Overstretching' On Game Features
October 19, 2009 | By Staff, Kris Graft

October 19, 2009 | By Staff, Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Batman: Arkham Asylum's 2 million-unit success was aided by "doing less," says Rocksteady's Sefton Hill -- ensuring a higher quality for fewer elements.

There are "too many games out there that deliver lots of average content," Hill tells us in an in-depth new feature interview on the critically acclaimed superhero title, and rather than risk that, he explains how the team was able to ensure a focused feature set that felt well-polished.

Hill explained why the UK-based independent developer chose not to have driving or flying sections in the game: "Some of the things that we really wanted to achieve were for Batman himself, so we didn't want to overstretch with a driving section with its own mechanic and requirements, and take that development time away from the things that were important for Batman himself."

Prioritizing features the team felt really mattered was what drove that decision, Hill adds. "We had a lot of discussions about it, but at the end of the day, anything that is going to compromise the quality of what we were doing was something that we wouldn't take on if it was going to compromise the quality of the other components."

"We wanted to make sure that what we deliver and what you play is of the highest possible quality."

Critics received Arkham Asylum quite favorably, and audiences have found the game feels relatively focused compared to many others. "When it comes to features, they're always a very quantifiable thing," Hill explains. "It's very easy to sit there and go, 'Where are all these features?' Quality can be a little bit harder to quantify, especially at the start of the project when you're talking about, 'How big is it going to be?'"

He adds: "I think it's easier to say, 'All these features are going to make it great,' rather than, 'We're going to have less features, but those features are going to be really good.' It's harder to convince someone that that's going to be the case."

But Hill says aiming for too many elements is an understandable trap: "It's natural to equate features with quality, because that's all you've got to go on at the beginning of the project. I think what you need is confidence, and it can be hard. It's harder for publishers to give developers that confidence when you're in a catch-22 situation."

"You don't want to overstretch. You want to do less, but do amazingly well, rather than do more and have a load of average stuff at the end of the day. There are too many games out there that deliver lots of average content."

You can now read the full Gamasutra interview with Rocksteady's Hill, discussing how his studio was able to successfully bring a dark, forboding Batman to video games, as well as the game's marketing, working with Unreal Engine 3, and influences that include Zelda and Metroid.

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mr jasler
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I've always thought that this is the best approach to have.. but it is a real shame about our industry where most games fall into the too many features and large scope trap.

The same goes for open world games.. which seem to always think that gamers want a large world they can explore.. it should be the perception that the world is large and there is lots to do in a small quality packed space rather than a ridiculously large world that is filled with content that was rushed to get done...

Tynan Sylvester
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Reminds me of a lot of Valve games. Relatively small feature sets, but there is no fat.

Dan Wilson
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I wish more developers would actually stick to the principle of "less is more". Sequels tend to add more instead of expand on what worked so well. Grand Theft Auto III, for example, did what it did very well - though it gave a limited number of abilities, how those abilities were used was up to the player. By GTA IV, I feel that the player was allowed to do way too much - call for guns, go on dates, go bowling... and yet the "core" mechanic - driving - felt unresponsive and even sloppy. Numerous specific additions or changes served to corral the player into a more linear path than that of GTA IV's predecessors, taking away previous creative freedoms.

Too many developers seem to treat games like a simulation of reality. That generally leads to a convoluted attempt to mimic reality's complications rather that create something genuinely fun in its own right. Using Grand Theft Auto IV's driving as an example, it felt "realistic" that the cars would slide and spin if not driven expertly around corners and when hitting other vehicles. However, it was much more fun to undertake the simpler and more responsive yet less realistic driving mechanics in the GTA III series.

r marc
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Hard to convince publishers that less is more... I suppose it just depends on the relationship

between developer and publisher really. I believe in polish and playability everytime.

fun is hard to quantify, it's a bit like art, all in the eye of the beholder.

I think if a game is "fun" and short ppl want more,

if a game is long, slow and badly implemented, it's not so good.

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