Batman: one of the biggest licenses of all time. Rocksteady Studios: a relatively small-fry development team with just one, albeit universally well received, game to their name. We're not claiming Batman titles have always been handled by the best dev teams going - which is probably why past efforts have been utter garbage - but awarding Rocksteady the license seemed to be, from the outside at least, a gamble. Just how did the London-based team win this lucrative gig?
"After finishing Urban Chaos we switched to the 360 and we started working on a concept for a game which was progressing very well," explains Sefton Hill. "In fact, one of the reasons that Eidos offered us the opportunity to take on Batman was because of the strength of our early prototype work with Unreal on this project. We put together the high level concept of Arkham Asylum and presented this to Eidos. We also made it clear that we only wanted to take it on if we had time to do it justice." Warner and Eidos signed off on Rocksteady's plans, and so the madness began.
With 70 years of Batman lore to draw from the team had plenty of material to shape into their own vision for the game. However, with that history comes responsibility - and a diverse fan-set to appeal to. "It would have been easy to create something that only die-hard fans would be able to understand and appreciate while alienating everyone else. We made the decision to create something that could act as a starting point for those new to the Batman universe, while still having the depth and references to current Batman lore for fans to uncover." This philosophy dictated Rocksteady's approach to the story, penned by respected comic author Paul Dini. "We all agreed that first and foremost we wanted to tell a good story.
Batman has one of the greatest rogue's gallery of any comic book hero, but we didn't want a story featuring lots of characters for the sake of it. While there aren't hundreds of characters in the game, each one plays a pivotal role in the story and in the gameplay. If a villain didn't offer both of those they didn't make the cut."
They weren't left out entirely, though. Harking back to the starting point idea, ditched characters were referenced throughout - with a comprehensive encyclopaedia of enemy profiles unlocking with select Riddle completions. Others enjoyed fleeting on-screen references - from posters and decorated cells to cabinets of memorabilia, everybody from Catwoman and Harvey Dent to Mr Freeze, Mad Hatter and Calendar Man left their marks on the game.
The decision to craft a bespoke storyline came early on. Production was largely influenced by Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum. Says Sefton, "If ever there was an 'ungamable' graphic novel this is probably it. We were definitely inspired by it though, mainly by its tone and psychological edge." Given the lengthy development time it would have been impossible to follow recent comic book canon without becoming hopelessly outdated come launch. Instead there was one early law that couldn't be disobeyed: "Our main goal was to make sure that all characters were 100% true to the source material. That rule was completely sacrosanct during development."
Although comics and films were frequently used as reference materials, past Batman games were not. "I don't really like to look too much at the competition because I find it quite constraining. I find I start to rationalise other people's approaches and then I get stuck in their way of thinking, which means you end up with the same positive and negative points that they had. I prefer us to avoid looking too much at the competition and to concentrate on what we want to do." And what they did is something no other Batman game developer has ever managed - to make a game centred on the Caped Crusader's abilities rather than an adventure title which simply starred the crime fighter. "Our approach was simple: Batman is the most highly trained predator on the planet, and therefore anything he can do easily must also be readily accessible to the player. Gliding, grappling... these are things Bats can do in his sleep so you should be able to do them simply as well."