Rocksteady talks about the most fitting conclusion to the Arkham trilogy.
For all of its achievements, it’s amazing how Rocksteady Studios was a relatively unknown entity before 2009. It only had one title under its belt – Urban Chaos: Riot Response – and for the most part, fans of the Batman comics were worried as to whether this would be just another shameless cash-in. However, Batman: Arkham Asylum was anything but that. It rose to be one of the best superhero games ever made, surpassed only by Batman: Arkham City which is the best superhero game ever made.
Everything comes to a head now with Batman: Arkham Knight, a title that’s been polished and polished and polished some more prior to its release in June. GamingBolt had a chance to speak to Rocksteady social marketing manager Gaz Deaves about the open world title, including on the overall scale of Gotham and what the Batmobile has to offer. This may be the Dark Knight’s last hurrah but he’ll definitely be going out with a bang.
"So you can now use gadgets while you're airborne - for example, throwing batarangs into a group of thugs to thin them out before you engage on foot. Some gadgets have been upgraded in response to the bigger design decisions we made in the game."
Rashid K. Sayed: Is Arkham Knight really the end of the trilogy from Rocksteady or just an end to one story arc?
Gaz Deaves: We’ve had such an incredible experience working on the Batman: Arkham games over the last eight years that I think it’s important for us as a studio to give the series the send-off it deserves. That’s not just for our amazing fans – many of whom have been with us since Batman: Arkham Asylum – but also for ourselves, to give a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy that we’ve put so much care and effort into over the last eight years.
Part of that for us is about creating a game that builds on everything we learned while developing our two previous Batman games. There’s no way we could have made something as ambitious as Batman: Arkham Knight when we first started out: the scope, the scale and the detail of this game is leagues ahead of anything we’ve ever done before.
Rashid K. Sayed: Can you talk us through Batmobile? Is it available at any time as per player’s wish or is it going to be used only during specific missions?
Gaz Deaves: When we first started looking at ideas for new elements to build into our third Batman game, everyone immediately got very excited about the possibilities of adding in a drivable Batmobile. But it wasn’t until we got a few tech demos and experiments running that we realized we were onto something quite special that felt like a natural extension of the Arkham gameplay that we’ve been creating and refining since 2007.
Batman’s car is such an important part of his identity, and it’s been interpreted so differently by so many different writers and creators. We really felt this sense of obligation to show what our version of the Batmobile would look like – and give players the unique experience of driving that car.
The Batmobile is Batman’s most powerful gadget, and it’s useful in all kinds of ways depending on the situation. Pursuit Mode gives you access to the afterburner and ejector seat – you’ll be using it to get across the city quickly, and also to chase down suspects and outrun hostile forces.
Battle Mode raises the Batmobile’s turret, making the heavy weaponry available. In Battle Mode you can also activate the car’s gadgets like the power winch, which can be used to manipulate the environment by pulling up ramps, tearing down obstacles, and more.
The Batmobile is an essential ally for Batman in dealing with the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. There will be points in the game where players will need it to deal with some of the challenges and some parts where you don’t have access to it – but you’ll probably wish you did!
Rashid K. Sayed: Roughly speaking, how big is the world in Arkham Knight compared to say to the previous three games?
Gaz Deaves: One of the things we wanted to do with the environment for Batman: Arkham Knight is create this living, breathing, complete version of Gotham City. Our approach to game design has always been about taking the time to put a lot of care and detail into our locations because it makes the experience so much more immersive.
When you play Batman: Arkham Knight, you’ll be exploring an environment around five times the size of Arkham City, but really the important thing for us isn’t so much the scale of the city: it’s the detail and care that goes into every inch of it. That’s what makes it feel like Gotham.
"One of the most interesting themes in Batman stories is the idea of escalation: as Batman improves his abilities and gadgets to fight crime, his enemies have to improve and adapt in order to stay competitive."
Rashid K. Sayed: The game is still a solid six months away from going gold. How much of Batman Arkham Knight’s combat is going to change during this period?
Gaz Deaves: We’ve got one central goal that unites everything we do at Rocksteady: make the player feel like they are the Batman. Free Flow Combat is a big part of creating that feeling, and we’ve spent a lot of time looking at ways to supercharge that experience for the player. So this time around you can use parts of the environment against your enemies, like dropping a ceiling light on a thug’s head or pulling an air conditioning unit off the wall for a quick knockout. This opens up a positional element to the gameplay, because if you’re paying attention to the environment you can use it, too.
We’ve also introduced a weapon steal system, allowing Batman to confiscate enemy weapons like lead pipes, and turn those weapons against the thugs. Batman has always been a fighter who can use his brain just as well as his fists, and it felt very natural for us to build new moves like these into free flow combat. From a production standpoint, the game has been in development for over three years, so this final stage is all about polishing the experience to the point where we’re happy handing our baby over to the fans.
Rashid K. Sayed: What kind of changes have you done to the level design and mission structure? Furthermore, do you have any new gadgets planned?
Gaz Deaves: One of the best things about working with Batman is thinking of new ways to use gadgets to solve problems. We haven’t talked about the new gadgets that we’re adding to Batman’s utility belt yet, but on top of all the new tools you’ll have access to, one of the things we wanted to do this time is expand on how some of our classic Arkham gadgets can be deployed.
So you can now use gadgets while you’re airborne – for example, throwing batarangs into a group of thugs to thin them out before you engage on foot. Some gadgets have been upgraded in response to the bigger design decisions we made in the game. For example, the skyscrapers in Gotham city are extremely tall, so to make navigation feel more natural, we’ve added a new chain grapnel that allows you to quickly ascend them by grappling multiple times in quick succession.
Rashid K. Sayed: What makes Arkham Knight different from existing villains?
Gaz Deaves: One of the most interesting themes in Batman stories is the idea of escalation: as Batman improves his abilities and gadgets to fight crime, his enemies have to improve and adapt in order to stay competitive. In response to this, Batman trains harder to become even more powerful, which creates this constant escalation between Batman and the super villains.
The Arkham Knight is the apex of that escalation: he’s broken the old rules of engagement and raised the stakes through the roof by bringing a full occupying army into Gotham. He’s an expert tactician who understands how dangerous Batman can be, and he knows that he’ll have to exploit all of Batman’s weaknesses to beat him. Even the design of the Arkham Knight’s helmet is a taunt aimed at Batman – a psychological weapon to provoke a reaction and prey on Batman’s fears.
"Gliding and navigating the rooftops has been expanded to accommodate the increased size of the city - both in terms of footprint and vertical height - and at street level the Batmobile gives us a lot of options for mixing up combat, navigation, problem-solving and more."
Rashid K. Sayed: Will the Scarecrow sections be even creepier than the first game?
Gaz Deaves: Scarecrow is a hugely inspiring character to work with. He’s the principal antagonist this time around, and we chose him for our main villain because he reflects and magnifies some of Batman’s most powerful characteristics. The Dark Knight uses fear as a weapon, but Scarecrow is a true master of terror.
He understands the value of being a symbol just as much as Batman, and uses that to create uncertainty and fear in his enemies. In terms of both gameplay and narrative, that makes him very interesting, because as a player you never know what to expect from him.
Rashid K. Sayed: Arkham Knight has a massive open world. What kind of challenges does this bring from a gameplay perspective?
Gaz Deaves: Gameplay-wise, it’s been very liberating to take the Dark Knight from the confines of Arkham City into the massive, open explorable Gotham that we’ve built for this game. The extra scope has given us so much opportunity to enhance every aspect of the game.
Gliding and navigating the rooftops has been expanded to accommodate the increased size of the city – both in terms of footprint and vertical height – and at street level the Batmobile gives us a lot of options for mixing up combat, navigation, problem-solving and more. The groups of thugs that you encounter will be bigger than in previous games, and you’ll see them dynamically rioting and looting as they move around the city. It’s up to you whether you choose to engage them on foot, ignore them, or disperse them quickly with the Batmobile.
Rashid K. Sayed: Villains from past games seem to be present in their area of control but now we have this massive sandbox. Will players encounter dynamic random events with the villains this time around?
Gaz Deaves: Having a Rogues Gallery full of amazing villains is one of the great pleasures of working with Batman. Strong characters naturally inspire great stories, but in our game they also have a big role in shaping the gameplay. Batman is facing an attack like nothing he’s experienced before, as his enemies have all united for the first time to take the Dark Knight down once and for all.
Scarecrow’s plot has resulted in the evacuation of Gotham’s civilian population, leaving the city open for the super villains to take advantage of the chaos. At points in the game you’ll see them pursuing their own objectives, while at others they’re playing their part in Scarecrow’s plan to destroy the Dark Knight.