On a rainy day in Mumbai, we made our way to the Warner Bros. office to catch up with Dax Ginn, marketing manager and overall spokesperson for Batman: Arkham City. We spoke at length about Rocksteady’s ideology and dedication to the Batman franchise in addition to what players can expect when the game drops this October.
Did you anticipate the phenomenal success of Arkham Asylum (AA), appealing to both Batman fans and gamers alike? We only ask since most games based on comic books tend to suck.
(Laughs). Great question; straight to the point. I like that. We knew we had something pretty special with AA because during development, we were taking lots of creative risks by making a game that explored Batman's personality; not just as a hero, but as a man. It was about exploring the psychology of Bruce Wayne as an individual, taking into account the events that shaped his life at an early age, molding him into Batman. Exploring his character across the board is something gamers didn’t really expect, but I think they definitely appreciated it. We saw all these elements coming together in AA and we felt we were making a very different kind of game as opposed to what we've played in the past. The real question was whether or not gamers were going to respond positively to that. And it was a great relief for us when we found they did.
WTF did he go?
If you had to be critical of Arkham Asylum, what would you say the game could have done without or done better?
I think one element of the game we definitely put a lot of work into was the detective mode. What we found was that players were using this as an exploitation as opposed to the tool that we initially designed it to be. So if we could wind back time and rework the implementation of detective mode, I think we would do it in the way we've done it in Arkham City (AC) because it’s more balanced now.
Could you give as an example of how detective mode works in this game?
AC is essentially a large open-world game, so the opportunity to explore the world is massive, but this also means that you need to rely on navigation (a lot) to ensure you never get lost. Because, you know, getting lost is not a very Batman experience. So when you're in detective mode, it's a brilliant augmented vision for crime scene investigation, but in that mode you don’t have those navigational tools needed to explore the world. This way players end up using it as a tool for which it is intended.
So how open-ended will AC be? Will there be a ton of side missions? Will Batman be able to get into his Batmobile and cruise around the city fighting random crimes?
It's really difficult to compare AC to other open-world games. I think our aim with AC was not to make the biggest open world game, but the most detailed one. Making a huge game with nothing to do in it is not the kind of game we wanted to make, so we really placed our focus on a more detailed experience; the way we did with AA. Arkham Asylum had this sort of Batman DNA built into every brick, every structure, which is why gamers never went tearing through the game at high speeds not paying attention to intense atmosphere around every corner. So essentially, we've taken that philosophy and expanded that into AC. Having said that, AC is five times the size of Arkham Island, so it's definitively a significantly larger game.
How long would you say one playthrough would take?
Just taking down all the villains like Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, etc is about 25 hours of gameplay. If you’re looking at 100% completion, we’re talking 40-plus hours. On top of that, you have challenge maps, so it's a big, big game.
Has the team made any changes to combat?
We were really happy with the free form combat system implemented in AA, and we really wanted to take it to the next level, since we weren’t just porting any elements over. We had to really rethink all the challenges Batman would face in AC and so we've really ramped up the combat, nearly doubling the amount of moves Batman has at his disposal. We've also tweaked enemy AI, so enemies will use different tactics to try and take you down.
Get to the choppa nao
The single player experience alone is great in our books, but did you get flak from the community for not including multiplayer or even co-op into the game?
A) It was quite the opposite. We got a ton of support and praise for not including co-op or multiplayer and that was a really crazy moment for us because we didn’t know how fans were going to respond to that announcement. Adding in multiplayer or co-op is a massive overhead for any team and we're quite a small team of around 97 developers here. If we were doing multiplayer, it would mean cutting that team in half, maybe having around 50 guys working on the core single player experience, and I think that would have resulted in a less than perfect Batman experience. It wouldn't be as polished and awesome as it is right now, so looking back, we know we made the right decision because at the end of the day, the ultimate Batman experience is a single player game. Sure, multiplayer would have got us an extra tick on the box and some gamers may have thought it was cool, but ultimately, we're making a game Batman fans are going to love.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud of in AC?
Without a doubt, the city itself. We've put a lot of effort into building this huge game world for Batman to explore and filled it with all sorts of detail. The city has a personality of its own, dynamically changing as the plot progresses. Just spending some time in the streets of AC will be an amazing, authentic experience even if you're not solving crimes or pushing the story forward. I’m so proud with what everyone at Rocksteady has achieved and I’m sure gamers will love the game world created for them.
In the face…. in the FAAAACE
Does Rocksteady plan on aligning itself with the Batman franchise for a long time or can we expect newer IP in the future? A sequel to Urban Chaos would be totally rad. We loved that game.
We're hardcore Batman fans so we really love what we're doing right now. We’re really happy with the relationship we have with both DC Comics and Warner, so life feels pretty good. As of now, we're just enjoying the ride we're on, and we’re totally focused on getting the game out to gamers this October. Obviously, we got thousands of different ideas about what the future could hold, but right now, we're just committed to getting this game to the highest level of quality possible.
Batman: Arkham City will be in stores for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on October 21, 2011.