Batman Arkham Knight: “We know fans are going to like it” says producer Dax Ginn
The Bat is back. Arkham Origins was alright, but essentially a stopgap that existed to make Warner Bros some more money. The Arkham series belongs to Rocksteady, and now they aim to follow up City and end the trilogy with Arkham Knight.
Perhaps the most exciting early news about Arkham Knight is that it will be next-gen only: tough luck, PS3 fans. According to producer Dax Ginn, the decision to stick to PS4 and Xbox One was mainly down to one thing.
“The next-gen decision came down to one topic: the Batmobile. What do we have to do to make the Batmobile work?” says Ginn.
“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. 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 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.”
The game takes place once again in Gotham City, although the world will be much larger than that of Arkham City. After all, you need to be able to drive your Batmobile around, and Arkham City, while densely packed full of things to do, wouldn’t take longer than a couple of minutes to drive end-to-end. You might wonder if a fancy car is really that much of a big deal, but it’s all that and more according to Ginn.
“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.
“It’s just not something we’d be able to do on PS3 and Xbox 360, 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 that power fantasy and that’s why we couldn’t have done it previously.”
Our Bat-story this time is The Scarecrow has united all of Batman’s disparate rogues gallery to team up for one night and finally take down the caped crusader. Gotham has been evacuated so sorry, still no civilians. It’s a shame, as having a city full only of bad guys to punch hurts immersion, but it’s an understandable concession to make when it comes to game design.
The benefits of next-gen are many, says Ginn. “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.”
With the third game in a franchise, Rocksteady faces the “Metroid problem” – how do they start Batman out at a low level of power at the beginning of the game, without all his fancy upgrades and gadgets? The solution is an interesting one, according to Ginn. However, it doesn’t take long before he starts talking about the Batmobile again. The guy really loves that car:
“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.
“We gave 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.”
You might be wondering what Arkham Knight means – is it referring to Batman in a sloppy attempt to come up with a title for a third Arkham game? Not sir, as the Arkham Knight will be an entirely original villain, making his first ever appearance in the game. Ginn took us through the thought process of deciding to use a totally new character.
“It came from thinking about the way that we 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 fulfils in the game.”
Introducing a new character into a canon so beloved by fans is always risky, as the potential for negative reaction is never far away. Still, so far the Arkham games have been extremely well received (not surprising, considering their quality), and Ginn is confident his team understands what the average Bat-fan wants.
“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. 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.”
It’s very easy to feel positive about Batman: Arkham Knight right now. Rocksteady is back on the series that made them famous, Gotham is bigger than ever before, the bloody Batmobile is here and the whole thing is being developed specifically for next-generation consoles. The Arkham combat system, so amazing and revolutionary a few years ago, has since been stolen (sorry, “borrowed”) and become the standard for third-person action games. Can Rocksteady do it all over again, and set the bar for the next generation?