To the Batmobile! At the Game Developers' Conference in San Francisco last week, game developers Rocksteady Studios offered a sneak peek at the first twenty minutes of its upcoming video game Batman: Arkham Knight. The game comes from the studio that created Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment, and comes only to current-gen consoles, the PS4, Xbox One, and PC in Fall 2014.
Though press weren't actually allowed to go hands-on with the game, the demo gave us a glimpse of several new features, including the ability to throw Batarangs in midair, snatch weapons out of thugs' hands and fight with them, throw enemies into other enemies, and use the special "fear takedown" to knock out multiple armed enemies at once.
We also got to enter the Clocktower and meet Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Oracle, face-to-face (the demo givers said that only Batman and Oracle can enter the Clocktower, so don’t hold out too much hope for other Bat-family cameos). And, of course, there's the playable, drivable Batmobile.
After the demo, a full description of which you can read at our sister site Tom's Guide, we sat down with Rocksteady's Brand Marketing Producer Dax Ginn to chat about the game. Warning: there are SPOILERS about Batman: Arkham City in here, so if you haven’t played or finished that game and still intend to, you’ve been warned.
Newsarama: All right, let's start by talking about the plot. What's going on here?
Dax Ginn: So Batman: Arkham Knight picks up about 12 months after the end of Arkham City. And the focus of this game from a narrative perspective is really on what happens in Gotham after the death of Joker. So Scarecrow's return has really brought about a completely new dynamic for Batman because Scarecrow unifies the other [villains in the] rogues gallery, whereas Joker was very much about divide and conquer, so the narrative focus of the game is really how [the player], as Batman, take[s] on a unified rogues gallery in a way they've never encountered before.
Nrama: So is what we just saw the actual intro of the game? Is this how the game's going to look when it ships or was it more tailored for a demo experience?
Ginn: The game opens with the evacuation of Gotham City, so you saw those choppers and busses heading out. That's the opening sequence.
Nrama: I meant the powers, like the ability to do the fear takedown—are those all going to be unlocked at the beginning of the game, or will it be more gradual?
Ginn: We've always focused on providing an upgrade and expansive kind of tree kind of ability for gamers, so all of the powers and abilities that you saw in this demo we've kind of put in there to give you a good example of this is the range of things that Batman will develop, but no they will develop as gamers progress through the game.
Nrama: You mentioned earlier this game was in development at the same time you were ending Arkham City. And it's in tangent with Batman: Arkham Origins, which was a different studio. How closely did you work, if at all, with WB Montreal?
Ginn: Our focus was very much on how do we bring our trilogy to a close, and how do we make the Batmobile the most awesome addition. So we have provided resources to the guys at Montreal, and, you know, I think the prequel story of Origin sets up a lot of the events in Arkham City in a really great way so I personally really enjoyed it. But our focus for the last four years has been on making this game. It's been a huge challenge.
Nrama: All right, let's talk about the combat a little bit. How much has changed from City to now? How much have you tailored, how much have you kept the same?
Ginn: The freeflow combat system has always been something that we've been developing and thinking about "How can we offer more opportunities for the player to feel powerful, to feel dominant?" And so we've added in new gadgets-while-gliding abilities, so while you're gliding into a fight you can throw Batarangs even before you've got your target. You can take weapons off thugs, use those against them. You can pick up thugs and throw them into other enemies. SO it's a much more kind of dynamic battlefield when you're in the middle of a fight, and then the Fear Takedown stuff obviously changes the nature of Batman's encounters with armed thugs.
Nrama: Batman's in kind of a different experiential place and emotional place in this game than the last one. Is that reflected in his fighting style at all, in the way he approaches a fight?
Ginn: He's certainly much more brutal than he was in previous games. The much more emotional storyline is really pushing Batman to the limits from an emotional perspective. So I think his fighting style has always been very dominant, but the way that he interrogates thugs and gets information—gamers are going to see that Batman is really on the edge here.
Nrama: I noticed during the demo a couple of hiccoughs in the frame rate. Is that a function of where it is in development?
Ginn: We generally do all of our optimization at the end of a project. That's something our tech team will focus on.
Nrama: Let's get back to the story a little bit: I'm wondering what inspiration you drew from to create this game, whether comics or movies. I made a couple of connections myself but I wanted to hear from you first.
Ginn: [Laughs] Our inspiration is generally ourselves. I hope that doesn't sound too crazy. We had a very clear idea of how we wanted the trilogy to finish. So writing it was a very kind of direct result of how we had finished things in Arkham City. But also the dialogue in a game like this is so expansive because wherever you go in the city the player needs to be bombarded with narrative elements in every way. So the surveillance system and the kind of thug chatter you hear around the place just requires an incredible amount of work. So we've brought in a whole new script-writing team, three new additional script writers in addition to Sefton Hill, the game director, to really fill out what is an amazingly immense script.
Nrama: Are there ties to the DC Comics Animated Universe? Those were kind of more prevalent in Asylum, I guess—is that something you still think about when creating this game?
Ginn: It's a funny balance for us, because we know that hardcore Batman fans really appreciate little elements that we include, but we don't want to make a game that feels like it's just designed for those guys. So it's really a balance between making a game that's accessible for everyone, but also adding little touches that very few people will really appreciate.
Nrama: You talked [during the demo] about the relationship between Jim [Gordon], Barbara [Gordon] and Batman, and of course in the DC Animated Universe Barbara and Bruce had a "thing." I'm wondering if that is a factor in the game?
Ginn: Wellll I can't talk about that.
Nrama: Okay, about the Batmobile then. You said that it was something you "couldn't say no to." Did DC Comics approach you first saying "Hey, we want you to do a Batmobile," or was it something you came up with first and pitched to them?
Ginn: We knew that's a feature we wanted to center the entire design around. So we developed some ideas for it, some functional specification for it, then worked with DC on how does it look, how does it move, how does it behave? So that creative collaboration we have with DC is just so valuable for big features like Batman.
Nrama: Does [the Batmobile] factor into the story at all, or is it gameplay-specific?
Ginn: It's more a gameplay feature than anything. It's kind of the fantasy of driving this legendary vehicle that was really critical to us.
Nrama: Is there a risk of killing people in the Batmobile?
Ginn: It's got countermeasures—there's tasers on the four corners of the Batmobile, so if anyone gets too close those tasers will fire off and eject them, but also thugs will take care of themselves.
Nrama: Okay, one more question: The Arkham Knight? Is he an entirely new character, or is he new to the Arkham games?
Ginn: Completely original, Batman has not encountered him before, so this is a completely original design and role that the Arkham Knight brings. There's a lot of things that we're gonna be talking about down the track.
Nrama: Can you talk about how he plays into this turf war going on with Scarecrow and his team?'
Ginn: No! [Laughs]