Interview: Batman Writer Paul Dini's Arkham City Ambitions
Along with his credits writing for cult-favorite DC Comics series like Batman: Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens, Paul Dini has had his hand in a number of beloved animated shows that anyone watching cartoons in the past two decades is bound to have watched.
The Emmy Award-winning writer not only produced and contributed to DC Comics-licensed superhero shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, but also to cartoons like Transformers, Tiny Toon Adventures, and most recently Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Dini began receiving praise for his video game work, too, after crafting the story for Rocksteady Studios' acclaimed PS3/Xbox 360/Windows action game Batman: Arkham Asylum, which released in 2009 and is seeing the release of a sequel, Batman: Arkham City, this week.
Here the Batman comics and animation veteran speaks with Gamasutra about once again taking up the pen for Batman: Arkham City.
Talk a little bit about writing for games versus writing for animation. In a way, it's a little more similar than writing for movies because you've got to get your barks [short dialog bits and grunts] in there, but in games there's a whole lot more of it. What are your general thoughts?
It's like writing the same movie about 12 times, you know? For every variation. You go down and the character has a certain goal to accomplish -- like he's got to get to this room and then there's a certain boss along the way, and he's got to go through the other guys. But every loop has to be written, and scripted, and accounted for.
So I find myself looking for variations of thug dialogue a lot, like "What's that?" "It's the Bat!" "The Bat, he's here!" It's like, how do you say the same thing over and over again? Because every movement -- "We got him!" "He got away!" -- has to be done over and over again.
Also it helps I work with a tremendous team of game designers and story people at Rocksteady. The story changes -- and remember you never write a script and it's just done. It has to be changed and revised to go with the demands of the play, or the demands of technology. Somebody always has a better idea how to approach a scene, so you have to be open to that and very fluid. So I work with some terrific writers and designers.
I want to give a shout out to Paul Crocker, who's our head of story on the Batman games, and he's really amazing, and shoulders a lot of the burden as far as the writing of it. Every time we do a game, I sit down with him, and with the gang in London, and we come up with the ideas. I go off and write a treatment, and then they start breaking it down as far as the scenes and everything.
It's very collaborative, much more so than a movie, because you're writing for -- you know, a lot of people are going to be doing a lot of things to determine the stories you're telling through the game; it's much more than just our story.
The game has a bit of a darker tone than the animated series did. Is that coming from your desire to do that, or is that a combination of you and the team, or something else?
I think that it's a demand of where the game is. We want to make something that is appealing to Batman fans, of course, but also to gamers, and I think that gamers demand a game a level of excitement that really pushes the envelope as far as we can do that within that game's world.
So I think that there is an accessibility factor -- we're using characters that are very familiar to longtime Batman fans. We're not using villains that were just created last month, because they may not have the history or the impact of a Two-Face or a Catwoman.
But that said, we want to treat them with as much impact as we can, because we're going up against games where the play is a lot deadlier, and a lot bloodier, in some cases. So what you really want to serve is both masters -- the long time Batman fans and the gamers who demand a really intensive gaming experience. So I think we serve both, and I think that both are in for a surprise with the new level of intensity in the game.
Can you talk about Batman and Catwoman? Since they are such fan-favorite characters, they have a very long-lasting relationship. How does the relationship play on the game, and the way you created the story for Arkham City?
Well, I'd say it's pretty true to their current relationship -- or what everybody thinks that their relationship is: a lot of heat between them. We're not going to take it really beyond that, in a, like, soap opera way. But there's affection, there's mutual esteem, there's also a lot of stubbornness, like, "If you won't do what I say, we're going to fight," and that sort of thing.
There's always going to be that heat between them, and yet there's always going to be friction between them, because it comes down to different methodologies -- the methodology of how they solve a problem. And, you know, for as much as they feel for each other, one's on this side of the law and one's on the other side of the law. And they kind of hold hands over that side, but that's about as far as we take it in this one. That said, there's a lot of action and a lot of fun stuff.