AusGamers Sefton Hill Batman: Arkham City Video Interview and Transcript
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 03:28pm 28/06/11 | Comments
We caught up with Rocksteady's Sefton Hill at this year's E3 to talk all things Arkham City. Read on for what he had to say...
AusGamers: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to AusGamers. You’re here with Stephen Farrelly. A couple of weeks back we posted up an interview with the enigmatic Dax from Rocksteady Games and today we’ve got Sefton Hill, who is the Game Director for Batman: Arkham City.
You all know that I’m absolutely fanatic about this game, but I’m going to put the fandom aside a little bit now and let’s get into the nitty-gritty. This young lady [gestures to Catwoman poster] was revealed today as being a playable character throughout certain moments in the game. How often will you be able to take on the role of Catwoman?
Sefton Hill: So with Catwoman, as you say she’s now fully playable in the game. Her story basically dovetails with Batman’s story throughout the entire game so it’s a really nice way of seeing the story from two different sides.
I would say -- to give you an idea of play-time -- to take down all the supervillains in the whole game, would probably take about 25+ hours; well definitely 25+ hours, even for the best gamers. For Catwoman, you’re looking at about ten percent of that will be Catwoman. So this is definitely Batman’s game and Catwoman is our special guest-star, if you like.
AusGamers: So no other hidden surprises as playable characters? I know the PS3 had that exclusive Joker content -- which I’m quite sad for because I’m an Xbox 360 man. I mean, I love my PS3, but Batman was 360 all the way for me because I’m an Achievement-whore.
Sefton: Okay [laughs]. Yeah, I can guarantee that there’s going to be more surprises and there’s also going to be a lot of stuff that we don’t reveal because we just want gamers to enjoy it when they get to play the story -- that’s really important to us; the story’s a really big part of what we do and really important to Batman I think, because every... you know, Batman has all of these classic stories and Batman to me is all about those interactions with those other key supervillains.
So we’re trying to tell people about the game without ruining the story and without giving any surprises away.
AusGamers: One of the things in the game demo we saw was that panning shot at the beginning of Arkham City, and you’re sort of “ah yeah, that looks pretty big”. Then you point out that Batman is just this little speck and once I got hands-on - it’s just ridiculously big.
When did you guys feel like you had to scale that back and how big... like was it bigger before, when you first started? How did the technical process work for that?
Sefton: We kind of looked at... our overall goal was to create this district of Gotham City, but we also wanted to do it in a way that we didn’t sacrifice any of the detail or care and attention that we had in the first game -- I think that was the big technical challenge for us. We were never looking to make the biggest open-world game ever, but we are looking to make the most detailed and the richest; and I think the team have done a phenomenal job in bringing that to life.
I’m really incredibly proud of the work that they’ve done and I think you know... actually, the size of the game-world -- to answer your question directly -- the size of the game-world is pretty much what we started with. That was where we set our vision and we slightly expanded a couple of bits, but that was what we wanted to create; this was the story that we wanted to tell.
AusGamers: Is there going to be any differentiation with the game across any of the platforms. I asked Dax, but we glossed over it a little bit and one of the examples I brought up was the PC version [of Batman: Arkham Asylum] obviously supported Phys-X, which was great. Will we see any of that sort of stuff coming back?
Sefton: I guess all I can say about that is that there are no announcements to make on that at the current time.
AusGamers: Okay, now the side missions are a big factor here and I counted twelve in the menu screen.
Sefton: Oh right, cheeky [laughs].
AusGamers: Well no, Jamie [Walker, Rocksteady co-founder] was the one showing it to me, so it’s not my fault [laughs].
Sefton: Oh really? Okay [laughs].
AusGamers: So is that a final number or are you just not talking about that yet?
Sefton: The side-missions themselves are a massive thing for us, because if we were going to create this bigger play area, we didn’t just want a big empty world. What’s the point in doing that, you know? So we wanted to use that space to tell a story; to have all these legendary landmarks; to have all these great things for Batman to do.
So we do still have that focused main-path story, but we also have these side-missions you can do and you can choose when you want to do them. They’re all based around key villains in the game. Riddler’s a great example of a side-story -- you have four hundred Riddler trophies to collect and Riddler’s also taken hostage a number of people and that’s the way he’s getting Batman to play his game.
Riddler’s already locked up, so would Batman be bothered about collecting Riddler trophies? Not really, but the thing is that Riddler is basically using these people’s lives as bait so if Batman doesn’t solve these puzzles then Riddler’s going to kill these people. So that’s the way Riddler’s getting Batman to play these games.
Riddler’s created these really elaborate death-traps for Batman to take on when he collects enough trophies. I think the other great thing about the trophies as well is that they’re not just stuck on top of buildings and down back alleyways -- every single trophy has a puzzle associated with it and you have to use your gadgets in ingenious ways in order to solve all these different puzzles.
There’s some very basic ones like Bat-clawing and pulling a trophy towards you out of a cage, but then some that require you to bounce off different walls while you’re gliding and grapple-boost up. So we’ve really tried to imbue the game-world with so much gameplay; that’s been our real goal here.
AusGamers: That’s a really good point, because you’ve got so many villains and characters in this particular game and that was sort of touched on in the first game. You saw a lot of the throwbacks to certain villains; you saw villains locked up and just mentions of them. Now you’ve got them all in one place.
How do you rein in a narrative that doesn’t get too convoluted and doesn’t use up all of the history... I mean, there’s a 70-year plus history with Batman -- I understand that -- but you don’t want to use all of the ammo that that history has in just the second game alone. Because clearly you guys are onto a very, very sturdy franchise here.
Sefton: I think for us, we always start with a story. So that’s where we start. We don’t think “Okay, which characters are we going to chuck in”, we start with a story. What’s the story we want to tell? And from there we look at what characters help us tell that story. How are we going to challenge Batman? What interesting ways have we got to challenge Batman?
So there was never a case of us throwing people in. If we didn’t feel that they fit the story, then we wouldn’t put them in the game and also if we thought they fit the story really well, we’d still use them. So Hugo Strange is a really good example of a character who is maybe not a character that everyone knows but he presents this great threat to Batman, because he actually knows Batman’s true identity. So we wanted to use the characters that told the best story that we possibly could and that’s always our driving decision. Not “throw everyone in and see what happens”, it’s “What makes sense here?”, “What’s the most fun game we can make?”, “What’s the best story that we can tell?”
AusGamers: Now with the combat, obviously it’s evolved massively and when Jamie was running me through it just then, he was explaining the buttons to me and it was hard to wrap my head around. However, I am a bit of an expert Batman combatant and I picked it up quite easily [by just playing], but it can seem pretty daunting for players that aren’t really that skilled or are just genuinely afraid of that many button inputs. What’s the process for you guys in reining in how much you can do with the gadgets and how many extra button inputs you can do to maintain that sort of combo ethos alongside an entry-point?
Sefton: Yeah we work a lot on that. We work a lot on making sure the game is accessible to everyone. Obviously what we’re showing here is a lot of Batman’s moves and you’re jumping in and picking it all up in a very short period of time. But when you play the main game, we’re introducing those over a long period of time and we’re making sure you learn each of those before you move on.
We have dynamic tutorials for all of the moves. We have a Wayne-Tech screen which lists everything you can do. We’ve made the game not assuming that you’ve played the first game. So if you haven’t played the first game, don’t worry, you can come into this game. We’re going to tutorial all the basic moves -- strikes, counters, evades, stands -- and then we’re going to build on that vocabulary. We’re going to introduce each move slowly.
If you played the first game, you’re going to be straight in there and pulling those moves off straight away. But we’re going to build those moves up really slowly; we’re going to teach you those moves and by the end, you’re going to be a proper Batman fighting expert. Like the first game, you’re going to be amazed at the moves that you’re pulling off [and] the things that Batman’s doing.
So you’re right, there are more moves in there but we have worked really hard to train the player to learn all those moves. We found... we’ve had a lot of focus-testing with it where we’ve watched players and they learned these moves, they learned the different ways to take people down and they start comboing the gadgets as they learn those things slowly.
So yeah, it’s a lot to learn in a half an hour demo, but spread over the course of 25 hours, we’re making sure the game’s developing every hour you’re playing. You’re learning new features and becoming a better Batman all the time that you’re playing.
AusGamers: With the size of the game-world, did the gliding -- the endless gliding concept -- was that there at the beginning or did you sort of add it as a means to get around a little bit better.
Sefton: I think basically, we knew as soon as we said “We’re taking this into Gothan City”, we’ve got to look at Batman’s traversal skills. Because the first game was set on Arkham Island so obviously it was much more confined. With Arkham City, we’re thinking “Okay, we’re going into this huge district of Gotham City” and what’s really fun about these sorts of questions is we think “Okay, so how does Batman get around Gotham City? What does he do?” and that’s where we’re thinking about [Batman] using the gliding, he’s using the cape, he’s using the grapple-boost to fly off the top of the buildings. He’s combining all of those moves together.
So once we had the city, those were the questions we asked. How does Batman get around and then how do we make that fun; how do we make that exciting to do? So it’s really getting that. That’s what’s great fun about my job is that we get to sit there and think “How does Batman solve these problems?”, “What would Batman do?” and I think the city naturally fell in to “We want Batman to be the ultimate vehicle”.
AusGamers: Now this is a bit of a throw-away question, but in the first game the only time you were ever Bruce Wayne was when you went to those flashback sequences and you were a child [and] I’m just wondering... that it would be very hard to have Bruce Wayne appear in Arkham City because there’s so much badness around, but have you guys thought about exploring that other side of Batman?
In my opinion, I think that Bruce Wayne is actually the alter-ego. I think Batman is actually who he really is. But I’m just wondering if you guys have ever even thought about bringing that in?
Sefton: I actually agree with you. In my personal opinion, that Bruce Wayne is the alter-ego. Batman is the dedicated person who’s committed his life to fighting crime and being Gotham’s protector. Bruce Wayne’s the playboy millionaire, he’s definitely the alter-ego and Batman is who he really is -- that’s what he wants every day.
But we really focused on being Batman for this game. Really focused on creating the ultimate Batman experience that we can create. So that’s what we focused on for this game.
AusGamers: Finally, the challenge maps that came with the last game were really good. Are we going to see a bit more differentiation in those? Obviously they were scalable; bigger, better, harder, yada yada. Are we going to see more different types or is it still sort of stealth and then just combat; plus Catwoman.
Sefton: Yes. So in challenge mode, you’re going to get to play as both Batman and Catwoman. We’re not making any big announcements about the challenge mode at the moment, but I can tell you it’s expanded and we’ve got some really cool new features to show off in the challenge mode.
When we’re announcing those, I’ll let you know, but we’ve not got any announcements on that.
AusGamers: Awesome. Well you’ve got probably more Game of the Show nominations than any other game here and rightly so. It looks fantastic Sefton, thank you so much for talking to us today.
Sefton: Thanks for your time.
AusGamers: I can’t wait for October. It’s actually my Birthday month so it’s perfect.
Sefton: Really? That’s why we’re launching then. We knew that. [laughs]
AusGamers: Cheers! thanks very much. [laughs]