Over the past six months, CBR News has taken a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the upcoming "Batman: Arkham Asylum" video game, based on the legendary DC Comics superhero. First off, we spoke with Senior Producer Nathan Burlow about the creative team's approach to the project. We then talked to writer Paul Dini about crafting the story of the Joker taking over Arkham Asylum and trapping his arch nemesis within it. In July, Art Director David Hego gave CBR the details on how the team created the look of both Arkham Asylum and the game's characters.
This month, "Batman: Arkham Asylum" finally arrives, and in the final interview of our series, we are focusing on the gameplay itself. Rocksteady Studios' Tim Hanagan is the Lead A.I. Programmer on "Batman: Arkham Asylum," and he gave CBR the nuts and bolts of what players can expect when they get their hands on the game.
CBR: This game is being built on the Unreal 3 engine. What are some of the enhancements you've made to the engine for this game?
TIM HANAGAN: Unreal really offers a vast amount of features out of the box, but there were several areas that we have adapted or expanded to better fit the way we work. The main enhancements were actually to add our own A.I. and animation systems, which allowed us to develop our A.I. much faster and with greater flexibility, in a way that better suited our unique gameplay.
Will Batman be making his way through Arkham Asylum level by level, or can he explore locations as he sees fit?
To start with, Batman is led through the early levels in sequence, to build up the atmosphere and to teach the player about all the different moves and approaches available to them. However, once you emerge onto Arkham Island itself, the game opens up and you can pretty much go where you want, when you want. The main story still takes place in sequence and some areas are only unlocked later, but there are a huge number of riddles and secrets to find, which you can start to hunt down whenever you want.
The combat mechanics are based on a few simple actions -- attack, stun, takedown. How does the system progress from there?
We didn't want to add "depth" to the system by adding more and more complex controls for the player to remember, so instead we develop it by incorporating new enemies that have to be approached in certain ways in order to take them down. For example, knife-wielding high security thugs have to be stunned before you can hit them, otherwise they will block you. By combining these new enemies with the existing enemies in a variety of configurations, we make each fight unique and require the player to think about their approach to combat in different ways.
Gadgets can also be used in combat, and there are some more complicated moves to unlock as you progress. Learning how to use these to best effect can be the key to getting through a fight in one long seamless combo, rather than scraping through with only a sliver of health left.
Finally, by offering XP rewards for good combat performance, we provide an incentive for players to push themselves harder and harder, even against the easier enemies.
The game also incorporates the use of Batman's detective skills in the game. How did you approach this from a gameplay standpoint?
We wanted the detective elements to tie-in to the story and to provide direction to players, while also highlighting the intelligence that Batman brings to these situations. From a gameplay point of view this meant making sure that these sections were logical and intuitive, but also that they varied from one situation to the next depending on the current story thread.
In terms of enemy progression, will boss battles be capping off the different sections of the game?
Boss battles are the culminations of the different story threads that lead you through the game. They provide definite punctuation points in terms of story and pacing. We've tried to make each boss fight unique, and tap into a different element of Batman's skills and abilities, so that they are always interesting and exciting for the player, rather than frustrating. We've tried to match the gameplay style to the personality and history of the characters involved.
You've dubbed the stealth-based aspects of the game "Predatory." How does the gameplay differ from other stealth-based games?
Most stealth games work on the basis that you are weak, and that you have to be more afraid of the enemies than they are of you. As a consequence, you spend a lot of time hiding and analyzing enemies so you can take them out in the least visible way possible. We've tried to turn that on its head by emphasizing the impact that Batman has on his prey, on the fear he creates in them. We've deliberately given Batman a range of spectacular takedowns that explicitly function to alert the other enemies in the room and raise their fear level. By doing so, you can take advantage of their new behaviors to make taking them out even easier.
Also, we've moved away from the idea of fixed patrol routes that you can watch and learn, meaning that rather than sit and wait, the best tactic is to constantly analyze the situation as it changes (using the range of useful tools at your disposal, such as Detective mode) and react quickly to whatever happens next. This in turn makes the player feel much more powerful and more like Batman.
Finally, by providing a large array of different gadgets and techniques to use, we've expanded the sense of freedom and individuality offered to the player, which allows everyone to feel like they're approaching the situation in their own way, rather than being forced down a certain route.
How have you designed the game's environment to take advantage of Batman's abilities?
Batman's abilities and gadgets really allow him to go anywhere and approach situations from any direction. We've therefore had to design the environments and situations to take advantage of this; to allow players to go anywhere it looks like they should be able to, and to give purpose to taking a different route around a problem.
Batman's movement abilities are also far more vertical than a lot of game characters, which means we've had to approach levels with all three dimensions in mind, rather than just being an effectively flat game world like a lot of games can get away with.
Can we expect Batman to have his full compliment of gadgets in the game? Will you be introducing some new toys for him to play with as well?
Of course! This is a key element when it comes to making the player feel like Batman. We've got some of the old favorites in there, including the Batarang (of course) and the grapple hook, as well as a few new ones we cooked up to provide some cool new gameplay, such as the Explosive Gel. I guess you'll just have to play the game to find out what else we've come up with...
Arkham Asylum is the main set piece of the action in the game, but will we be seeing other locations as well?
The main asylum building is just one of several buildings on Arkham Island, and you get to visit all of them during the course of the game, as well as roam around (and under) the island itself.
Will players be able to unlock new costumes weapons or gameplay options?
There are definitely some cool unlockables in there, and you'll have to play the game to find out what they are...
Thanks to Tim Hanagan for chatting with us about "Batman: Arkham Asylum." The game is set to release on August 25 for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and in September for the PC. A demo is currently available on the PlayStation network and Xbox Live. For more information, head over to www.batmanarkhamasylum.com.