Home Channels Toonzone At MCM London Comic Con May 2015 – Rocksteady Arkham Knight...

Toonzone At MCM London Comic Con May 2015 – Rocksteady Arkham Knight Panel

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Promoting Arkham Knight, the conclusion to Rocksteady’s hugely popular ‘Batman Arkham’ games, the panel consisted of game director/Rocksteady co-founder Sefton Hill, art director David Hego, character artist Albert Feliu and John Noble, voice of lead antagonist the Scarecrow. The game is set one year after the events of Arkham City. An alliance of villains, led by the Scarecrow, sees Gotham evacuated. With the GCPD unable to stop the army they now face, Batman must save Gotham from utter annihilation. But in doing so he clashes with new masked antagonist the Arkham Knight who appears to be the caped crusader’s match.

The panel opened with the ‘All Who Follow You’ trailer, depicting the high stakes story and cinematic gameplay.

The first focus of the panel was on the new dual play combat mechanic.  Sefton explained that in previous games players physically fought alone but the new concept meant that at parts of the game the larger Bat Family would be brought in. He highlighted a subplot involving Batman tracking down weapon caches being maintained by Penguin and that after locating these the dual play mechanic would come into effect to allow Batman and Nightwing to team up against Cobblepot’s thugs, players freely interchanging between the two to set up attacks and combo chains that wouldn’t be possible with just one character. The ability will not only be limited to combat but also be used in Arkham’s other trademark fields of stealth ‘Predator’ and puzzle solving game play, in addition to also allowing coordination with Robin, Catwoman and even the newly designed Batmobile. Sefton explained that this mechanic in a narrative sense helped communicate the sheer scale of the threat facing Gotham, with the Dark Knight requiring aid to thwart the supervillain alliance threatening to claim the city. At the same time the story will also explore the differing relationships he holds with each of his allies and how his bonds with them provide strength but also a weakness that Scarecrow can exploit in his efforts to destroy the legend of the bat man. Rocksteady wanted to ensure these new gameplay elements effectively expanded the popular Arkham gameplay without tainting the proven elements that have made the games a worldwide success.

This extends to the new Batmobile, designed to be easy to summon and effective and fun for players to integrate into their gameplay. David elaborated that after six weeks of concept sketches the team was having difficulty making progress with the idea, having generated an armoured sports car concept reminiscent of the design seen in the first game. They started anew with the concept of a turret on the roof and from there hit upon an adaptive, intimidating vehicle which mirrors the Batman costume/armour in being partly designed to invoke fear in enemies by resembling and behaving like a threatened wild animal. The mechanical design was ultimately finalised by discussions with real world car manufacturers, with the intent that everything the Batmobile does in the game would for the most part be possible with real engineering.

Asked about his interpretation of Scarecrow from the script and what he’d seen of the game’s overall production, Noble stated he very quickly saw the character as very complex, playing a long term strategy to humiliate Batman in front of the world by exploiting the fears of not just the hero himself but his allies and even the entire city. He also feels that the character’s drive to do so is projected self loathing. Noble offered high praise of the individuals who had worked on the game, stating it had played a part in helping him as an actor appreciate just how much effort goes into modern games as works and as narrative productions matching the likes of cinema and television.

Regarding how the team had managed to hit so many tones in terms of story and gameplay with Arkham Knight and still hit their release date, Sefton initially wryly commented that they had in fact missed that target before revealing that the game contains the equivalent of a TV season’s worth of plot and that while Scarecrow will present a psychological threat a more physical one will be found in the Arkham Knight himself.

Concerning how elements from the vast Batman mythos are chosen for inclusion, the key framework is the story the games are telling and where it ends. Elements, especially members of the iconic rogues gallery, are chosen for how they help tell that story and uniquely test Batman/the player.  As for influence within the market of computer games, Sefton acknowledged the original Arkham Asylum was definitely part of the ‘MetroidVania’ genre and highlighted specific influence from Metroid: Prime. He considers Knight to be a merging of the previous two games as although the sandbox locale is larger than ever before the story is a return to a much more personally focussed story for Batman.

Noble was asked about if his work as the Scarecrow took any influence from his previous role as Walter Bishop in Fringe. He didn’t believe so but offered that the role could be compared to his portrayal of Henry Parrish in Fox’s Sleepy Hollow with a potential slither of Denethor from Lord of the Rings;  intelligent but twisted men driven by their absolute belief in their response to the world.

A fan thanked Rocksteady for breaking the curse of terrible licensed superhero games such as the infamous Superman 64 before asking if there might be anyway to make available to the public recordings of the voice acting sessions for the game. Although elements of such footage exist specific plans for it were currently unknown though Sefton promised the enthusiasm to see it released in some form would be passed on.

Asked about the biggest challenge in making the game for the recently debuted next generation consoles, Hego and Feliu responded that it was expanding the game without diluting it. They could easily make the available sandbox five times bigger but the key was to make sure the increase in size also contained an increase in content and detail.  An anecdote was shared about a recent press event in which the developers had been forced to prove that the advanced copies of the game were running off a Playstation 4 console rather than a disguised PC.

Regarding the rise of cinematic games, Noble (speaking as both a long term actor and a relative outsider to the computer game industry) feels it shows that the industry has reached the point where it can go toe to toe with both television and cinema itself. He spoke of showing the Arkham Knight trailers to his wife, who was impressed enough to comment that they looked more like an engrossing movie rather than the long held expectations of a game. He feels that this is one of the most glowing praises that could be given of the current state of the industry.

Easter eggs drawing from the vast well of Batman/DC lore will continue in the new game, though the panel was coy on specifics as they don’t wish to spoil the fun of finding them for players. Similarly side missions will also be expanded but Sefton would hope that players don’t see them as such as the team has worked hard to make them equal parts of the experience that showcase what each member of the villain alliance is doing to the city in its time of crisis. Challenge mode has likewise been overhauled, now accessible through the main game world via markers and including hybrid challenges that include elements of combat, stealth and driving.

Rocksteady are flattered that the free flow combat system they pioneered has been embraced by other studios and titles. They acknowledge that they themselves are part of the chain where the game industry builds on ideas developers like from existing titles and are happy to see their ideas adopted and improved by others.

A point was made about Rocksteady’s constant referral to ‘the Arkham trilogy’ despite the existence of the controversial Arkham Origins. Although the audience shared a laugh at the fan suggestion Rocksteady were ignoring it for its alleged low quality, Sefton clarified that Origins is canon to the series, will be referenced in part in the new game and that the phrase ‘Arkham trilogy’ has appeared as it refers to the three games in the series that Rocksteady have made. Although they respect the work that went into it, as they were hands off with Warner Brothers Games Montreal they feel no right to claim ownership over it.

A similarly controversial question asked about the criticism select players had made about female character designs and perceived sexism displayed by them. Feliu and Hego explained that great care was taken in the character design process, including considering how characters are evolving in the overall Arkham narrative.  Harley for instance was highlighted as a naturally flirtatious character, whereas Poison Ivy’s choice of torn inmate uniform was an initial look of convenience that the character had become comfortable with. A similar question concerned the new design of the Riddler, who was intended to look like he’d been hard at work personally building new traps and challenges and thus his suit was replaced for workman’s clothes while retaining his personally beloved question mark motif.

The final question concerned the genesis of the Arkham Knight himself and if the studio were concerned that fans would react negatively to him. The character was born out of a meeting between the senior staff on the project, intended to be a unique idea that had never been done before. Initially they were concerned that It would be met with backlash but as the team continued to work on the idea on multiple fronts they quickly became more confident and backed the concept 100%.

The panel concluded with the ‘Gotham is Mine’ trailer.

Batman: Arkham Knight is available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One from 23rd June. A range of special pre-order DLC packages and console bundles are available from various retailers.