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Finding Balance in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold – the Videogame”

by  in Video Game Comment
Finding Balance in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold – the Videogame”

CBR heads deeper into the development of “Batman: The Brave and the Bold – the Videogame”

Since debuting in late 2008, the animated series “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” has been very popular with both television critics and fans of the Caped Crusader. Inspired by the classic “The Brave and the Bold” comic series, each episode of the animated show features Batman teaming-up with other heroes from the DC Universe. The show features both well and lesser-known characters, ranging from the Flash to Plastic Man to Gentleman Ghost. The show recently received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series for the acclaimed “Mayhem of the Music Meister” episode.

CBR News spoke previously with Adam Tierney and Sean Velasco, directors of the Nintendo Wii and DS versions of a new game based on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” developed by WayForward Technologies. The game was released earlier this month, and to commemorate that, CBR presents a third interview with Tierney in which we discuss the viability of the cartoon series that served as the basis for the video game, how that lead to the game’s rendition of the Caped Crusader and what fans of the television show, and of video games, can expect from this title.

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CBR News: When creating a game, it is imperative that you have an engaging storyline, not just a lot of graphical flash. How did you manage to take a cartoon series and condense enough of it to make for a compelling video-game adventure?

Adam Tierney: When creating superhero videogames, you’re often very limited in regard to which heroes, villains, and settings you can use. “Batman: The Brave and the Bold – the Videogame” was an exception to that, since the TV show pulls in characters from across the DC Universe and puts a major emphasis on characters that don’t typically take the spotlight. This has allowed the show to tell some really unique stories, rather than just having Batman fighting the same expected villains week after week.

So for the game, we didn’t have to condense as much as just follow the TV show’s lead. The game features four original game episodes and it was important to us that we had a nice variety of tones, themes and characters across those four stories. Essentially, each of the episodes focuses on a different aspect of being a hero. Episode 1 (Gotham) deals with putting aside personal feelings and preconceptions. Episode 2 (Science Island) deals with living up to heroic expectations. Episode 3 (London) deals with aging and feelings of obsolescence. And episode 4 (Space) deals with maturing as a hero and taking responsibility. We run the gamut from very silly, funny scenes to more serious, heartfelt ones, often in the same episode. Our London episode is thematically similar to the beloved ‘Gray Ghost’ episode of “Batman: The Animated Series,” with Hawkman filling in as Batman’s childhood hero.

The musical score for the cartoon series has been nominated for several awards. Did you use those themes or create new ones specifically for the game? How, when creating a game for the Wii and DS, do you determine what is the right amount of audio that should be in place without it coming across as repetitious? Where did the voice-over work come from for the game?

The music in the TV show is really fantastic. It’s got a very cool, jazzy beat to everything. Warner Bros. Animation provided us with ample musical reference from the cartoon and we had a few discussions with the composers of the TV show. Ultimately, the music in any TV show is scored to perfectly punctuate the events onscreen, whereas in a game you need less specificity, because the player can be doing anything at any given moment. WayForward’s resident composer (Jake Kaufman) created an original score for the game that fit each stage, but remained very true to the TV score’s style. Jake also worked out a system where additional layers of music are added to make the game’s music more intense, adjustable by our level designers. So when Batman and partner are ambushed by thugs, we can seamlessly kick the music into overdrive to match the action onscreen.

As for the voiceover, we decided early on to go very big with it. If you watch the TV show (or any action cartoon, really), the dialogue between characters never really stops. Even in the midst of a battle, the heroes will trade strategies or banter with the villains. The way we approached our storytelling is by breaking down plots down into stages (each episode has about 8 stages), and then breaking those stages down into individual scenes. In a typical stage, the heroes and villains might have 8 to 10 discussions, so the player is hearing unique, story-driving dialogue every couple of minutes. This is what helps the game feel like a living cartoon, rather than a traditional game adaptation.

Voiceover was recorded with the TV show’s cast and directed by Andrea Romano, who also directs the TV show’s VO. We recorded over the course of two weeks in a studio on the Warner Bros. lot. Hearing these talented actors bring our stories and dialogue to life was one of the high points of production, and really helped the game come to life.

What, in your mind, makes for a great villain and how did those selected to appear in this game fit the bill? As a sidenote, who is your favorite villain from the DC Universe?

The villains in “Batman: The Brave and the Bold – the Videogame” are very theatrical. I suppose the same could be said about Batman villains in general, but in the TV show they love making big, dramatic monologues. The root of their evil deeds also tends to surround their own insecurities, inadequacies, and lack of fitting in, which are themes the show’s young audience can probably relate to well.

For the game, we selected villains based on how memorable their personalities were (to ensure engaging dialogue) and based on their special abilities (to ensure a variety of unique battles). So you have heavy brutes like Gorilla Grodd, tactical avoiders like Gentleman Ghost and wildcards like Starro (whose boss battle plays like an arcade shmup). A final consideration in selecting the villains was their relationship with the heroes. Selecting heroes and villains with a history together allowed us to create the Batman/Catwoman/Catman love triangle and to give Guy Gardner a grudge against Mongul that fueled his anger throughout the episode.

As for who my favorite villain in the DC Universe is, boy, that’s a tough one. It really comes down to who’s writing them. The Rogues as written by Geoff Johns are vicious and well-organized, which is why they made it into the game. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are a lot of fun, when teamed up in a Paul Dini story. Although I’m not sure any villain’s portrayal beats Alan Moore’s The Joker in “The Killing Joke.” Speaking independent of writers, I’d probably have to go with Bizarro as my favorite character. He’s one-note, but always fun. I’ll buy just about any comic featuring him, and would love to put him in a game someday.

It seems to be a delicate balancing act when creating either partner/team AI or the AI of the enemy. Make it too light and you run the risk of it being a hindrance or cakewalk; too hard and you can cause frustration. What was your philosophy going into this project and how did you finally find the right balance?

Regarding bosses and enemies, you have to think of it like a dance. The villain takes a step and the hero retreats. Then the villain retreats and the hero steps forward. There needs to be a very predictable, yet engaging back and forth between the characters. Gamers love learning, so any good boss battle will present the player with a series of patterns that must be learned, anticipated, and reacted to in order to defeat the boss. In a game like this, which is aimed primarily at a younger audience, it was important to keep those patterns clearly distinguishable and to prevent them from becoming too layered or complex. On top of that, you need to imbue the boss with enough personality (through VO and animation) to prevent them from coming off as robotic. It’s important that the villain appears to be making decisions, and not just performing random actions.

Regarding heroes, this game has a mandatory second hero at all times, which works great in a 2-player game, but historically hasn’t worked out so well in single-player games. We made sure not to fall into the trap of forcing the player to protect their AI buddy, to keep up with them or to rely on them too much. Essentially, in a single-player game, the AI buddy is along for the ride so that the heroes can continue their discussions. It was important that the AI buddy fought well enough to be believable as a hero, but not so well that the player can take a backseat while the AI destroys all enemies for them. During development, we thought of the game’s hero AI as someone’s little brother: good enough to keep up and take out the occasional enemy, but not so good that he overshadows the player and steals their kills.

Now that the development cycle for this game is behind you, what did you learn in making this game that can be applied to future projects? What was the biggest take-away?

Artistically, the game is an evolution of what we created previously with “A Boy and His Blob.” We created more than 16,000 frames of unique character animation for this game, so our process for creating high resolution 2D character animation has become very refined over this game, which is already paying off in our next round of projects.
We also experimented in several different ways with the storytelling in this game, between full motion video cinematics, montage sequences, scripted moments, talking portraits, and running in-game VO. Some of these approaches worked better than others, so you’re going to see a continued refinement of our storytelling approach in future WayForward titles.

Lastly, I think this game has taught us what modern gamers want and expect out of the brawler game genre. In attempting to appeal to both younger and older audiences, we learned what each audience wants out of a game like this. We also picked up efficiencies that will help us develop similar combat systems more quickly and easily on future titles, whether or not our protagonist is wearing a cape.

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