Batman: Arkham Origins, as its name indicates, will be going backward rather than forward after the cataclysmic events of Arkham City. While that may have seemed a bit odd at first, especially given that the developer has changed from Rocksteady Studios to Warner Brothers Montreal and that we’d be looking at how Batman ascended from being a simple vigilante to the Dark Knight, recent details have given us little to worry. This will be an Arkham title like any other and will actually work to expand on several elements of the previous games while introducing something new.
We recently had a chance to speak Michael McIntyre, gameplay director at WB Games Montreal, about everything from including new additions to the gameplay, skipping the next generation of consoles and how certain open world elements will affect your quest.
Ravi Sinha: Despite being released so close to the launch of next-generation consoles – and despite initial expectations – Arkham Origins won’t be on the PS4 or Xbox One. What was the motivation to keep it only for current-gen systems?
Michael McIntyre: Making the game for current-gen consoles was primarily about keeping the team focused and making the most of their expertise. Our team has extensive experience with current-gen systems, and dividing their focus between two generations of console was something that didn’t make sense to us. We were a new team and a new studio trying to make our mark on a beloved franchise and we wanted all our attention focused on making the game great as opposed to making it available on new platforms. That being said, the game will still be available on many platforms (PS3, Xbox 360, PCand Wii U) when it launches on October 25th.
Ravi Sinha: Continuing the departure from the sequels, Arkham Origins will feature a multiplayer mode. How difficult was it to develop the online component of the game, and find the right mix of elements for competitive play? Also, will the overall scale of the single-player experience be reduced (in comparison to Arkham City) to make room for the multiplayer?
Michael McIntyre: The challenges of making a multiplayer version of the Arkham experience was entirely taken on by Splash Damage, the studio that brought us Brink and Enemy Territory. They had a great idea for the multiplayer side of Batman: Arkham Origins from the start and that idea survived through all the challenges that making a new mode entails. In the end we now have a very unique multiplayer game that adds a whole new dimension to playing Batman: Arkham Origins.
We think it is a very exciting addition to the game that offers players a kind of experience they haven’t had before in an Arkham game. Having multiplayer developed by Splash Damage while single-player was developed here at WB Games Montreal made it possible to maxmize the scope of each mode without concern for taking focus from one or the other. We kept in touch through the development of both to keep the look and feel of the two modes cohesive but on the whole the two sides of the game were able to grow in their own directions.
Ravi Sinha: Story-wise, there’s plenty of motivation to go back and explore Batman’s roots in the Arkham video game universe. However, what motivation was there, gameplay-wise, given that players will be taking control of a less-experienced Batman, one with presumably more limited abilities than the one in Arkham Asylum/City?
Michael McIntyre: The opportunity that Batman’s early career offers for gameplay is focused on the types of challenges and activities Batman faces, rather than in the different abilities he may have. It was never our intention to have the player take on the role of an ineffective Batman.
What is more important and more fun is to take on the role of Batman before he started facing all these major villains- at this point in Batman’s career, he is facing common criminals. He is a mysterious vigilante who patrols the streets of Gotham at night fighting crime and corruption. Many of the new gameplay elements we brought to Batman: Arkham Origins were about creating challenges that resonate with this context.
We have a huge city to explore and to bring this city to life we created new gameplay for the player to engage with to make them feel like the guardian of Gotham. There are crimes in progress that will occur around the city as the player explores. There are crime scenes to solve as the World’s Greatest Detective with our new Case File System.
There are also many villains at large around the city which the player can pursue and apprehend for unique rewards. All of these elements come together to create a gameplay experience that resonates with the world of an early career Batman. Where Batman and the player get to see many of these major character’s in Batman’s career for the first time.
Ravi Sinha: Will Origins set up the story for every Batman character, or will there be any additional DLC and story missions down the line? Conversely, can we expect another Origins game if this one is successful enough in order to make room for more characters?
Michael McIntyre: Almost every aspect of the story in Batman: Arkham Origins is about setting up the relationships that Batman has with many of the characters that play a huge role in his later career. The centrepiece for these encounters is of course the 8 assassins, who are hunting Batman for the bounty on his head, but another aspect that makes this era of Batman’s career so facinating are the relationships we see Batman develop with his allies such as Alfred and Gordon.
It was never our intention to have an origin for every single Batman character in our game, but instead to introduce characters that say something about Batman or Gotham at this time in Batman’s career. There are a lot of familiar faces that players will see as they play through the game and a few nice surprises as well.
Ravi Sinha: When including some elements in the game like the Batwing, is there ever a worry that it will conflict with the main storyline? For example, the Batwing wasn’t in Arkham City (for its own reasons) but now it’s in Arkham Origins. How do you balance new additions and elements in relation to their relevance down the line in latter games?
Michael McIntyre: We definitely do pay attention to conflicts like this in the game and try to resolve them in a way that preserves the story while keeping things fun and exciting. The Batwing actually was present in Arkham City – this was how Batman received new equipment in the field throughout the game. So the inclusion of that particular element is not really a conflict and we are excited to have it be a bigger presence in our game.
Ravi Sinha: The expanded crime scenes present a brand new gameplay element to the series. How did the team decide to focus on this aspect of play, and go about making it bigger and better than the sequels?
Michael McIntyre: Being a detective is a big part of being Batman. We wanted to expand the already great gameplay in this area to allow players to dig a little deeper. We wanted to create gameplay that would allow the player to feel like detectives themselves and try to figure things out. Developing this system required a lot of prototyping and going back to the drawing board but each iteration brought us closer to what we have in the game today, which is a very engaging challenge that provides a nice change of pace from the fast-paced action of the rest of the game.
We are very pleased with how our new Casefile system fits into our game and we think players will be as well. There are a few casefiles the player will need to solve as part of the main story and several more that occur throughout the city which the player can choose to solve or not. We feel these casefiles add a nice element of drama and mystery to Gotham City and give the player a chance to explore these elements while feeling like a high-tech detective.
Ravi Sinha: Whereas Arkham City had a free-flowing emphasis to it activities, with the motivation being to gain more experience points and unlock advanced gadgets and abilities, Arkham Origins segregates those activities more finely into different categories. What prompted this kind of focus? Does it give more direction to how Batman would usually act, if he weren’t wrongly imprisoned in a city-wide prison, or does it go towards further establishing his character?
Michael McIntyre: The categorization of the various exploration activities in Arkham Origins creates a kind of narrative context for each type of gameplay so that exploration activity feels relevant to Batman and not just the player. This means that completing challenges or finding collectibles has meaning for Batman and justifies the rewards we have attached to each category. This makes all of the player’s activities feel like part of the story or at least part of being Batman.
Each category has progression within it as well which provides some structure to exploration and gives the player a variety of goals they can pursue. Having a ton of things to do at once can often be overwhelming. Our hope is that this structure will help make exploration manageable and rewarding while still feeling like an integral part of the game.
Ravi Sinha: Can you give us some examples as to how improving Batman’s standing with the GCPD helps in the gameplay? Also, will there be a wider variety of boss fights this time around?
Michael McIntyre: Batman’s standing with the GCPD is something that we primarily explore through the story in Origins.Where we will see a bigger change is in Batman’s relationship with Gordon himself. I do not want to spoil how this may affect gameplay, but the relationship between these two characters is, in my opinion, one of the more exciting things to see develop through the story.
We are very excited about the boss fights in our game. The premise of the night of assassins offers many opportunities for memorable face-offs between Batman and the major villains that have descended on Gotham City on this one night. We definitely feel we have a great variety since each fight is tailored to the character involved. Some are larger-than-life spectacles and others are more intimate and strange. All of them are designed to put the player’s core skills to the test. We think many of our boss fights will be some of the most intense and satisfying sequences in the game.
Michael McIntyre: The Gotham city in Batman: Arkham Origins is more than double the size of Arkham City. This includes two major regions: North Gotham and South Gotham and the bridge connecting them. There is a lot of space to explore. The length of the single player campaign will depend on each player’s play style but should meet the expectations of fans of the franchise.
A big thank you to Kiran from E-xpress Games for setting this interview up.