Interview: Paul Crocker of Rocksteady on Batman: Arkham Asylum

Kevin Kelly
K. Kelly|05.29.09

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Interview: Paul Crocker of Rocksteady on Batman: Arkham Asylum

Not pictured: Paul Crocker
Paul Crocker is the lead narrative designer at Rocksteady Studios, where he's been hard at work on Batman: Arkham Asylum for the past two years. Thankfully, he hasn't taken on any of the Dark Knight's unfriendly tendencies in that time and gladly opened up to us about the game, explaining key omissions like Robin and Batmobile driving, and offering up his (not-so-creative) pick for the DC character he'd most like to create a game around. Continue past the break for the full interview.
%Gallery-64370%What was up with the delay that moved this game back?

"The delay is purely down to us making a great game."

The delay is purely down to us making a great game, and a great Batman game at that. It's not a very long delay, it's out at the end of the summer, but it will make our game better.

So we've seen the stealthy approach in the first level. Do these levels have to be approached via stealth, or can you come in swinging if you want?

Well, the Invisible Predator game mode is just a very cool gameplay mechanic that we've come up with. It's completely designed to make you feel the cool "Batman" experience. You don't have to do it that way, but if you go in swinging it doesn't play to Batman's strengths. I mean you could go in like that, but to be honest it's more fun to pick the guys off.

You guys have Paul Dini, Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy involved in this, making it an unofficial Batman: The Animated Series reunion. Are you using anything from the cartoon as a storyline? Are you using the comics?

"We do reference events from both the animated series and the comic books."

There's no direct storyline from the animated series or any of the comics that we're following, although we do reference events from both the animated series and the comic books in the game. We've been really lucky in the way that DC has let us work: it's the core DC license, it's nothing to do with movies. As long as we make their character look good, it's all cool. To be fair, there's been a lot of different types of Batman stories over the years, but this is the type of story that Batman fans expect.

How many liberties has DC given you with the license? Can you kill off Killer Croc in the game, for example? DC must have drawn some boundaries.

To be honest, they've been really fantastic and they haven't really given us any. We don't do what you just mentioned [laughs], but ... well, I don't want to give away story elements because things change, and we want players to approach this in a sort of, "Wow, that just happened" way, and not in an "Oh, this is the bit I read about."

Are any of Batman's traditional sidekicks in the game?

No. We really focused on the core Batman experience. We wanted to focus on what it would be like to be Batman. We're very happy with our results. It works.

What about vehicles? We saw the Batmobile in this level, do we ever get to drive it?

"It's about the worst day and the worst night that Joker can put Batman through."

No. The player doesn't get to go in the car. It's there, it's part of the brand, but this game is all about Joker taking over Arkham Asylum; Joker tormenting Batman. It's about the worst day and the worst night that Joker can put Batman through, to really push the character, push everything about what makes Batman strong. And also, to really show what Joker's really like. The Joker is an incredibly cool character, and Mark is brilliant. It's giving us the opportunity to have many hours of Batman vs. Joker, and not just having Batman chasing the Joker around and punching him.

Most every other Batman game has been terrible. Did you all go through some of the old releases to see what you wanted to avoid?

To be completely honest, we didn't look at them for inspiration or what to avoid or anything like that. We started by focusing on: Who is Batman? What is Batman? What does Batman bring to a game? How can we push that experience? Once we did that and started working on the game, and the core mechanics, it just got better and better, and we never lost focus on "what it is to be Batman." We think we've created an awesome experience.

How many different batarangs are in the game?

A lot. And there are a lot of unlocks and upgrades you can buy. I think we showed the sonic batarang, the regular one, the remote control, the triple, and ... other things that you will find when you play.

Will we see any other DC heroes in the game?

No, the game is purely focused around Batman and the Batman universe.

So you're in Arkham the whole time.

Yes, but it's not just one building. Arkham Island is an island off the coast of Gotham, it's got Victorian buildings, newer buildings, older buildings, secrets, hidden histories. We're calling on 70 years worth of events in a universe, and tie it all together in a way that gives you a really rich experience.

The environments we've seen have all been very dark and grim, are they all like that?

There is a lot of variety in the environments, but having said that, Batman does work in that dark, Gothic environment.

Companies are really trying to extend the life of a product these days by offering up DLC. Are you all planning anything like that?

We're not talking about that just now. [Note: After this interview the PS3-exclusive Joker mode was announced.]

Any plans for multiplayer?

No. Like I say, we're just focusing on being Batman. We could have spent less time on that, and more time on adding stuff in, but really the game is successful because you feel like you're Batman.

How long did it take you to nail that feeling of being Batman?

Well, the game has been in development for a couple of years and we pretty much hit the ground running. Obviously things change and evolve over time, but from the beginning we were pretty much feeling like we'd got it. By doing that so early, people start getting inspired to push it further and ... we don't really want to tell everything that we have in the game, but there's some stuff that's so cool, but we want people to be surprised by it. And those things have only happened because we've been able to constantly iterate and push and push and push the game.

How long are you estimating it might take the average gamer to get the game?

We've done internal testing and ... it's big.

Is the structure level-based with different villain encounters?

"It's not level based, it's story driven."

It's not level based, it's story driven. You're hitting beats in the story, and the situation is getting more and more out of control, and Batman is trying rein different events in. What you're able to do in the game expands when you get out beyond what we've shown you. By the time we factor in all the collectibles, pickups, history, items ... it takes a really long time to complete.

It's a not a big linear experience either. You always have a story goal, but if you want to go back to previous areas you can, or if you want to try and reach a different area you couldn't reach before, you can do that.

What's the feedback from DC been like?

It's been overwhelmingly positive!

Do you regularly meet with any DC folk?

We have met with them, and we have a lot of phone calls with them. They've been great. They let us take risks which have worked out fantastically like ... oops. Almost slipped. Things that haven't been done in other Batman products.

So if DC said that you could develop a title based on any of its heroes, who would you choose?

I think we'd stick with Batman.

Would you ever want to try working with a different character? There hasn't been a good Superman game, for instance.

I think Superman is an incredibly different character to build a game around, especially with the expectations of what Superman can do. We're happy with Batman.

Well, that'll have to do. Thanks very much for your time.

Thank you. See you at E3!

[Editors' Note: After the interview, Paul apologized profusely for not being able to tell us more about the story. What a nice guy! In truth, we're looking forward to the surprises and, for once, not having them spoiled by our job.]
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