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Q&A: Batman Arkham City’s Lead Narrative Designer

October 5, 2011 • Gadgets and Gaming, Top Stories

Batman Arkham City is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and fans are already gathering their pocket money to get their hands on a copy when it releases at the end of October.

Batman Arkham City’s Lead Narrative Designer Paul Crocker (image: Dylan Bouch)

At the annual rAge Expo, we sat down with Batman Arkham City’s Lead Narrative Designer Paul Crocker from Readsteady and spoke to him about the numerous villains, the plot and of course, Batman’s cool cape.

1. What exactly does a Lead Narrative Designer do?

From a simplistic point of view, I work on the story elements of the game, and I did Arkham Asylum as well. So it’s working out a story that fits into a game. It’s not the same as a movie story; it’s not the same as a book or anything like that – very specific to what a game needs.

On top of that, the more you go into it, it’s the characterisation, it’s working with the art team to make sure we are hitting our brand points with the game. It goes as deep as you want it to.

We put loads of story elements into the art work – all the things you find in the game, and all those have to be generated by me and the game director. I’m a bit of a Batman nerd, and now I make up Batman stuff for a living.

2. Where do you draw your inspiration from? What source material do you use?

Four years ago we started with the first game and we were asked to take anything from the 70 years of Batman to create the ultimate Batman. No one knew where we were going to end up when we started, so from that point of view, our source material is all Batman stuff – all the comics, the animated series, toys.

Nothing to do with the movie, that’s a very different kind of thing. We are just about the core Batman experience. If you have never played a Batman game, you are still going to come out of this thinking Batman is quiet a cool character.

As long as you know Batman has pointy ears, a cape and a big bat symbol on his chest, then you are going to know enough to play the game.

3. Games based on movies are notoriously bad. Is Batman successful because it steers away from the films?

We spend a lot of time distilling down what we believe Batman was on Batman Arkham Asylum. So we identified the combat, the fact that he’s the world’s greatest detective – him being the ultimate predator – and then making decisions based on that.

A lot of people aren’t going to get that opportunity, and on top of that, we were given time – we had the full two years to make it. A lot of teams don’t have that luxury as well, and we had time to craft this. It took two years to make the sequel and I’m lucky to have worked with an incredible team at Rocksteady, DC Comics, Warner Bros. and we are proud to have worked with this character.

Everyone wants the same thing, which is to make this game better than the last game.

4. In terms of villains, will the missions be intertwined or will they follow their own paths?

That would be telling – but I will. There’re all different, so we have this main narrative that runs through the game, which is what’s going on in Arkham City, how is that tied into Joker, how is that tied into Huge Strange, and how Two-Face, Mr. Freeze and Penguin and all the other characters fit into it.

We sort of try and make it so that when you deviate towards Two-Face for example, it becomes very much about Two-Face, but the other characters are in the background still – so they are part of the bigger story, they are all a piece of the puzzle.

But then we also have a number of other characters like Zsasz or Deadshot who are in there with their own agendas as well, and Catman is there as well. You get to play her, as she has her own agenda. Again, they are part of the Arkham City universe – a part of what is going on there – but they aren’t necessarily tied into the overall plot – they are just more interesting diversions.

And we have a number of these interesting diversions that the player can do at certain points in the game – so of them are open the whole time, some of them become open as you play.

Like Riddler for example – Riddler isn’t a part of the main plot, but he is a massive part of the game – he is present in everything single place you look in the game, Riddler has something to do with it.

5. Does the ending leave it open for a third game, or will it leave gamers guessing?

I’ll wait to see the end if I was you. You know, we make all our games contained – it doesn’t need to go anywhere after this one. We don’t know what we are doing next. We had things that hint at what could happen next in Arkham Asylum, they are pretty well hidden in this one but there is no guarantee. We may do something completely different, I have no idea. Who knows what’s going to happen? I think this game ends in way where it’s a satisfying end, and you don’t need to ever see any more.

6. What can gamers expect from Batman Arkham City?

Gamers can expect an experience from a story that really pushes Batman to his limits. You know, the story is… on one level its good versus bad, but there are a lot of other stuff that is bubbling below the surface. You are going to find out as you play that there is a lot more than what meets the eye, you are going to be constantly surprised and never guess where it’s going. There is drama, there is love, there are explosions, and there are villains. It’s 10 movies strapped into one.

7. Tell us a bit more about Catwoman’s role and her playability.

Catwoman is a playable character. We started off with her being part of the story, and then we built her character, and tried seeing what she’s like to play. Then we thought ‘Now let’s rework those elements to get her into the story more’. So it was a massive technical undertaking, because it’s not just a reskinned version of Batman, she has her own animation, her own moves and her own predator stuff. Once we first started playing as her, we realised it was a good thing to do, but there is no mistake in the fact that it’s a Batman game – 90% of the game is Batman and 10% of it is Catwoman. She enhances the story, she appears at certain points when you swap characters. She is sort of entwined in-and-out of the game. I don’t want to give too much away… When you play as Catwoman, you are obviously not playing as Batman, so… there are certain points in the story where it becomes necessary to no be Batman.

8. And Batman’s cape?

(In terms of physics) Batman’s cape doesn’t have to behave realistically, it has to behave coolly. So, a realistic cape wouldn’t look very good, but a cool cape is awesome. Batman’s cape is awesome – if you put on a towel and tie it around your neck, it’s the same physics but it doesn’t necessarily look great.

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