Rocksteady and Paul Dini on the storytelling in Batman: Arkham City

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Rocksteady and Paul Dini on the storytelling in Batman: Arkham City
Batman: Arkham City's creators and voice actors steadfastly refused to give out any new information about the game at last weekend's Comic-Con panel, instead just showing a new Penguin trailer. But both Paul Crocker, the lead narrative designer at Rocksteady Studios, and the legendary Paul Dini, Batman writer extraordinaire, kindly sat down to speak with Joystiq beforehand about the story of both Batman: Arkham Asylum and the upcoming sequel.

Arkham Asylum's story was mainly about the Joker's takeover of Arkham and how Batman dealt with it, but those who explored the sidequests and secrets of the game got a look at the overarching plot of the series, that of Warden Quincy Sharp and his mysterious ties to Arkham itself.

That story is what drives the sequel forward, and Crocker says that it actually appeared right in the middle of the two games' development: The secrets in the first game were "a late addition," put in while development on the sequel was alrady underway. "The biggest challenge for us was taking the game out of Arkham Island and into Arkham City," he says. "As people have seen in the secret room in the last game, we had it planned. I guess it was a rough road back, to a degree, because that meant we had to do it. But the idea of the city has grown into bigger and bigger detail, and really that was the biggest challenge."%Gallery-116887%Dini says he was first impressed by the work Rocksteady is and was doing, not when he saw any character designs or gameplay, but just simply when he viewed the concept art for the first time. "It had a very English look to it, it was things like 'Arkham Asylum' put on a brass plate on a brick wall with ivy twisted around it," he remembers. "They just got it. They knew what it was supposed to be and how it was supposed to look. The juxtaposition of the very modern Batman gadgets, and yet something that almost looks Victorian."

He's also been focusing on Quincy Sharp lately, releasing an Arkham City comic book with DC that tells the story of how now-Mayor Sharp has convinced Gotham City to lock off an entire section for Arkham inmates (which players, of course, will get to explore as Batman in the new game). "We wanted to have a big event that would sort of play into people's paranoia and fear that Sharp would use to say 'this disaster has happened, let's lockdown the city,'" says Dini. Warner Bros. briefly considered actually making an animated film about the in-between period, but eventually "a comic book seemed to have the immediacy that we needed to set up the story."

Dini also shared some insight on the various members of Batman's villains' gallery that have shown up in the game. The Mad Hatter, for instance, almost showed up in Arkham Asylum. "Mad Hatter we went back and forth about," Dini says. "We thought that Arkham Island, if it was an old family estate, should have a maze and hedges and an area for children, and whatever that had rotten into in the present day would be where the Mad Hatter would be. To have sort of like an English garden party feel, and so we experimented with that."

Crocker says that the second game will line up new stories for some of the characters seen in the first game as well. "We take some of the cameos in the first game to actually finding or meeting that character," he hints.

Dini adds that even Sharp, with as big a role as he plays, isn't the end of the storyline that detective Batman has to uncover. "You see that he's being manipulated from behind by Hugo Strange, who's also manipulating some of the villains as well, even though they're largely unaware of it."

Finally, it was perhaps most exciting to hear that, outside of any new story information, Dini wants to make sure that the gritty realism and real danger continues to back up the goofy fun of Batman's universe in the second game. "I feel like it almost goes back to the stories for kids, fairy tales," he says. "It can be whimsical, you can have talking birds and animals and monsters but if the threat isn't real, if the ogre isn't going to kill the hero or the dragon isn't deadly, the rest of the story isn't going to work. It's like the whimsy compels the story along until you get to that moment, to the big finale.

"And I've always felt that Batman's world is sort of similar to that," Dini continues. "You can have villains like the Penguin, who strut around in a tuxedo with an umbrella and Poison Ivy and all of the fantastic stuff she does, but unless there's a bit of a human in there, and unless there's a credible threat, then Batman himself doesn't work."
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