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Rocksteady's Sefton Hill Unmasks Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Rocksteady's Sefton Hill Unmasks Batman: Arkham Asylum

October 19, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next
 

In recent memory, Lego Batman was a decent game, and way before that was Batman for NES, which was good. But for all the games based on Batman, there aren't many that stand out. Why do you think that maybe Batman in particular is so hard for developers to get right?

SH: One of the things about Batman is that he has so many sides to his character. Sometimes it's perhaps easier to focus on some of those facets and miss out on some of the other things that really make him who he is. If you focus on the brawling element, then you miss some of the detective element or some of the other sides of his character.

I make a conscious decision when working on projects not to look too much at the competition, so I didn't really go back through all the Batman games and play them, because I find it quite constricting to come up with new ideas.

I find it much better to start with a blank slate. We never really compared ourselves against the previous Batman titles. I think he's a tricky character, because he has many facets, and you're trying to encompass them all.

But at the same time, there are strict rules with Batman. He can't kill, so that means that it's much more challenging to create gameplay that allows the player to have complete freedom while not transgressing any of the fundamental rules of who Batman is.

Batman's combination between his power and his vulnerability is key to who he is, and I think one of the best mechanics for a game is to have an incredibly powerful character who at the same time is still very vulnerable. It's such a great combination and balance for a game character. But I think in some ways, he's perfectly fit for games as well. It's just about looking in the right places.

There are some influences from other games in Batman: Arkham Asylum. You said you didn't necessarily look to other Batman titles, which was probably a good idea for the most part. But can you comment on the specific influences? I see a little bit of BioShock, and a little bit of Eternal Darkness. Can you comment on any of the game influences that you have had in design?

SH: Like the rest of the design world, I'm a big fan of Zelda and Metroid games, going back for years. They were definitely big influences. I like that sort of approach to design -- giving you a number of different gadgets and abilities that you can use and combine in different ways, and the way that combines and the feeling of being in this complete other world. Those games were definitely a big influence. I played Eternal Darkness and I really liked that. Those guys did a great job with that. They had a sanity system in there that freaked a lot of people out. It was a nice idea.

BioShock I never actually got around to playing. It's on my list of games to get back into. I can't say for me that was a big direct influence, but obviously, one of the things from that that they've done is create this really believable alternative environment. I know a lot of people in the industry played it and really like it. I think that you're inspired by the things that inspire you as you play them. Those are pretty good references.

We were also really fundamentally influenced at the start with the character himself. We had a combination of fans in the studio, and some people who were more mainstream Batman fans who were only aware of Batman through the films. Something that happened throughout the studio was that we realized how much depth this character really had, and I think everyone in the studio came to really love him. I think that's really unusual when you're in a studio working on a project.

Over two-and-a-half years, you can see studios become fatigued with characters, because you're doing that every day. It's like working in a chocolate factory or something. But that was an unusual thing. People just got more and more into Batman, and more and more excited by Batman. They devoured more and more of the Batman lore and universe. That was great to see over the course of two years.

We really started was taking those facets from the character in the comics directly, and said, "These are the things that are Batman." We wrote those things on a board and said, "We have to make a game that really exaggerates these things and brings them to the fore." We left those there.

Nothing we came up with in terms of design could ever break those things, even if we thought of a design ideas. If it didn't fit with who Batman was, we would drop it. It's unusual, but the comics were a massive influence, and we were trying to get to the core of who Batman is and try to reflect that in the game the best way that we could.


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Comments


Tim Huntsman
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Great article. Interesting insight into how you approached the essence of your character and made design decisions based on what supports what core.

It's also good to see the argument "Less is More" reiterated--that can be a hard notion to get across to certain groups.

Sylvain Douce
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Funny he mentions a cutscene mustn't show some action because it would frustrate players, that's exaclty what happens in the last cutscene : we as player totally wanted to do ingame what batman did :(

Eddie Vertigo
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Batman: Arkham Asylum was a fantastic game, one of the few games I will keep in my collection permanently, and I truly hope they make a sequel.

Chris Ainsworth
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"Also, we had the philosophy that if it's something that's simple for Batman to do in his world, then it should be easy for the player to execute as well. That's where the combat's simple controls came from."



I love that idea.

Trent Kusters
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"That project took just over a year, and after we finished that, we started to work on a number of different prototypes using Unreal Engine 3 for a next-gen game on 360 and PS3. That was the first time we'd used Unreal, and we worked on that for about a year."



Well, that just makes me want to end it all right now. In the time they were prototyping we'd released four games for 5 different platforms.



What I would give to be in a position to be able to have that much attention to R&D. Phenomenal. To all those at Rocksteady; please realise how extremely rare this is and be appreciative, always.


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