With the stunning Batman: Arkham City swooping down on PlayStation 3, developer Rocksteady Studios reveals what lies beneath the cape...
Rocksteady Studios has three highly rated games under its belt, each one gathering more critical acclaim than the last - a sterling achievement for a company only founded in 2004. Find out how the London based developer worked its way up to the heady heights of Batman: Arkham City.
Urban Chaos (PlayStation 2, 2006)
Rocksteady's first title was a well received first person shooter on PS2. Urban Chaos saw you control an elite member of the emergency services, defending an American city from the notorious Burners gang.
With the anarchy of gang violence erupting all around you, Urban Chaos wasn't just about blasting your way to peace; you had to work with rescue crews such as firemen, solve puzzles and save civilians. And while you had the option to use lethal force, the game encouraged using weapons that stunned rioters so you could interrogate them later.
Sound a bit familiar? Some of these gameplay elements were the seeds that would eventually flourish in Batman: Arkham Asylum. If you ever wanted to know where some of the core concepts for the game came from, look no further than Urban Chaos.
"There was a very personal connection between the player and the characters you met in Urban Chaos, and we ended up using that in Batman: Arkham Asylum," reveals marketing manager, Dax Ginn. "You didn't just save people, you also got to know them, and there were recurring characters who would stick with you or return later on. So that was a critical part of the emotional contact we built in the game.
"There was always a sense of giving Urban Chaos's characters a meaningful role in the game's experience, and it's the same in our Batman games. When you look back at those mechanics, they have their roots in Urban Chaos."
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PlayStation 3, 2009)
Rocksteady took its time unleashing what would end up being an award-winning action adventure that changed the way DC Comics' world famous caped crusader was seen in video games.
Fittingly, many of Rocksteady's 90-strong staff were already big comic book fans before being offered the chance to create a Batman game. "I used to work in a games shop that had a comic book section I was in charge of," smiles Jamie Walker, studio director and co-owner of Rocksteady. "The opportunity to work on Batman was enormous for us. And I don't think we felt anything but excitement."
"Like all good things in life, Batman: Arkham Asylum came to us completely unexpectedly," recounts Ginn. "We were given the opportunity to present ideas for a Batman game, and what we came up with was pretty crazy and innovative."
It was these radical ideas that ended up being a fundamental part of what made Arkham Asylum so successful - exploring the detective and psychological aspects of Batman instead of just the high-impact action which previous titles had focused on.
"Those ideas - that ended up being things like the Detective Mode visor and the Scarecrow boss battle - excited us," says Ginn. "And I think that's what Eidos, Warner Bros and DC Comics all saw in our proposal. We took a lot of risks in exploring Batman in a way which hadn't really been touched on before in games, and I think they paid off."
The result was an instant classic, which succeeded in Rocksteady's goal to make you feel like you were the Dark Knight. Brilliantly measured combat, varied gameplay and atmosphere that drenched you in the shadowy world of Gotham's most frightening house made it a favourite with Bat-fans and gamers alike. Which meant any sequel had a superhero sized job to top it...
Batman: Arkham City (PS3, 2011)
With expectations sky-high, the pressure to reach the quality bar set by Arkham Asylum was immense. Rather than run from this challenge, Rocksteady heroically came out batarangs blazing with an open city full of crime that Batman could explore - a massive change from the relative confines of the previous game.
"Arkham Asylum was a very tight, story-driven game," says Walker. "And to try and keep that same tight focus and offer the freedom to explore the city... it's a huge challenge, especially for a studio which has never really built an open world game."
It was a big obstacle - however, just like Batman, Rocksteady had a cunning plan up its collective sleeve. "A lot of what makes Batman interesting is his relationship with villains such as Joker and Two-Face," explains Walker. "How they draw you through the story is what keeps you wanting to find out what happens next, and being in a big city doesn't really change that.
"So we made sure each thing you do is about meeting a new character or personality in some way. And we also put lots of supporting stories in the world - and all of the people in Arkham City are all talking about events there. So we're constantly drawing you back into the story."
It's a move worthy of DC Comics' greatest detective, especially considering Rocksteady never started out intending to make a game as big as Batman: Arkham City. And it's a gamble which paid off. Bigger, badder and better, Arkham City smashes all expectations. And like its brooding hero perched above it all, Rocksteady is poised for the world's reaction.
"We've given everything we've got for this game," says Ginn. "It feels exactly the way we wanted it to feel. When gamers play it they'll see that effort. That's when that feeling of satisfaction will really come home for Rocksteady.
"We're huge Batman fans and want to do what's right for the characters. To be part of this massive franchise is great, but to know there's a little corner of it that's ours - that feels special."
Want to become the Dark Knight? Make sure you buy Batman: Arkham City for PS3 on Blu-ray Disc from 19 October 2011. The game is classified M by the Australian Classification Board and contains violence.
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