Producer Talks "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

Fri, March 6th, 2009 at 2:28pm PST | Updated: March 6th, 2009 at 2:45pm

Video Games
Brian LeTendre, Contributing Writer

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EXCLUSIVE: concept art for "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

Like most beloved comic book superheroes, the Batman has had his share of ups and downs when it comes to video game adaptations. Each time a new Batman game is released, fans hold out hope that it will be the one that truly does justice to the character and the world he lives in, but few have even come close in the past.

Eidos and developer Rocksteady Studios set expectations very high when the first trailer for “Batman: Arkham Asylum” debuted in November. The trailer looked gorgeous, and the setting of Arkham Asylum combined with the dark tone of the story seemed to nail the feel of Batman’s universe. Then there was the news that Emmy-winning “Batman: The Animated” series producer Paul Dini was writing the game’s story, and that series voice-over stars Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would be reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker, respectively. And with every screenshot and snippet of gameplay video that has followed since then, all signs continue to indicate that “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is **the** game that Batman fans have been waiting a long, long time for.

Over the next few months, leading up to the game’s release, CBR News will be talking to the people that are working to make “Batman: Arkham Asylum” the definitive Batman game. This month, CBR talked to Nathan Burlow, Senior Producer at Rocksteady Studios, about putting all the pieces together for a successful Batman game, and how Rocksteady approached the project.

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CBR: What does developer Rocksteady bring to the table that makes them the right choice for “Batman: Arkham Asylum?”

Nathan Burlow: Rocksteady has always been very passionate about the gameplay. I feel that this is vital from an end user experience, it’s important that you really feel empowered playing as Batman which has been one of the main focuses for the team. We are also huge Batman fans, which really helps.

Eidos got the license for Batman back in 2006. How far does the concept for “Batman: Arkham Asylum” go back?

Rocksteady started working on the concept for “Batman: Arkham Asylum” back in May 2007 and moved into full production at the start of September 2007.

Screenshot from "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

How does producing a video game change when you’re dealing with a licensed property, as opposed to an original concept developed in-house?

The biggest change when working on a licensed property is that you are already working within an existing brand. With respect to Batman, the history of his universe is both rich and comprehensive. This means that you are able to answer a lot of those "whys or wherefores" early on in production and really focus the team on what is important. Eidos and Rocksteady are working very closely with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and DC Comics to ensure we stay true to the Batman Universe.

Looking over the 70+ year history of the Batman comics, what made you decide on Arkham Asylum as the setting for the game?

Arkham Asylum was a perfect choice due to its gritty and dark history. With the majority of Batman’s foes being incarcerated within the Asylum at one stage or another, it made it an ideal choice of location and an exciting, twisted environment for players to explore and Batman to return to.

What sort of pitfalls do you think licensed games frequently fall into, and how did you avoid them with this game?

Some licensed games compromise the brand by squeezing it into the wrong genre. We made sure that the fundamental qualities that define Batman were treated as sacrosanct and that the driving force behind the design was that the qualities of the hero must define the genre, and not the other way round.

Screenshot from "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

What were the core concepts of the Batman universe that you felt were integral to creating a good Batman game?

The villains and Batman’s relationships to these characters was an important aspect that we wanted to focus on. Batman is a complex and psychological character which makes him stand out from other super heroes.

Another core concept was that although Batman is unique amongst most other superheroes, in that he does not possess superpowers, we wanted to really empower Batman by supporting his core abilities of being a highly trained fighter, having expert and dynamic stealth abilities, superb gymnastic and navigational skills, and also being the world’s greatest detective.

Was there a conscious decision from the start to pay a lot of attention to the detective side of the Batman character, or did that emerge as the game developed?

Absolutely, we made a conscious decision from the start to include the detective aspects of Batman in our designs and ideas. This was singled out from day one, as Batman is “The world’s greatest detective” and we felt that this hadn’t really been touched upon in previous titles.

You’ve brought in Paul Dini to write the story, and Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and the Joker. Is it safe to say that the tone of the animated series is something you wanted to capture for the game, even though it’s not directly based on the show?

Screenshot from "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

It was important to Rocksteady that we were able to deliver as an authentic experience as possible. Being able to work with Paul Dini, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill on this project has meant that we have been able to do this. Their input and experience of working within the Batman universe, including the animated series, was invaluable. I’m sure that there are a lot of Batman fans out there that have grown up listening to the voices of Joker and Batman in the animated series, and to be able to hear them in a videogame is very cool.

Are there any games that have come out in the past few years that helped influence what you wanted to do with “Batman: Arkham Asylym?”

If I was to choose one game then this would have to be “Bioshock” for its narrative, atmosphere and believability of a fictional world.

“Batman: Arkham Asylum” seems much darker than most superhero games, and it looks to be targeting older audiences. Will you be going for an M-rating?

We have targeted a TEEN rating for this title whilst still being able to deliver a dark, gritty and believable experience, which will hopefully appeal to both sets of audiences. It was important to us that we took the brand in this direction, as we felt this would appeal to both the hardcore fans and gamers alike.

Screenshot from "Batman: Arkham Asylum"

As far as the cast, so far we’ve seen Batman, Joker, Commissioner Gordon, and Killer Croc. We’ve heard rumors about Oracle, Riddler, Bane, Harley Quinn, Mr. Zsasz, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, Two-Face and Poison Ivy. Can you confirm any other characters, possibly a sidekick or two?

There are plenty of characters rumored to be in the game, however I will only name some of the characters we’ve revealed thus far which are Batman, Joker, Commissioner Gordon and Killer Croc. In regards to the other characters or sidekicks, all I can say is to keep an eye out in the press over the coming months. We’ve some great surprises left to reveal…

Thanks to Nathan Burlow for talking to CBR about “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” Stay with CBR in the coming weeks as we talk with other member sof the team behind “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” In the meantime, you can find out more about the game over at the official website.

TAGS:  batman arkham asylum, batman, rocksteady, eidos, paul dini

 
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