games / Columns

411 Games Interviews: Batman – Arkham Asylum

September 11, 2009 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

While at San Diego Comic-Con 2009, 411mania was able to catch up with the folks behind the awesome new Batman videogame, Arkham Asylum. We spoke with game director, Sefton Hill, the co-creator of the DC Animated Universe and writer of the game, Paul Dini, and the definitive voice actor for Batman for the last 20 years, Kevin Conroy. 411mania participated in a series of round table interviews to speak with the dream team. Arkham Asylum, developed by Rocksteady Games, is currently rocking the charts, but here’s what the dream team had to say before the game’s official release:

Interview with director, Sefton Hill

Batman: Arkham Asylum Director, Sefton Hill.

Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris: What was the idea for wanting to make Arkham Asylum?

Sefton Hill: Wow. In terms of the setting, we looked at a number of settings at the start of the game and we were really excited by Arkham Asylum because it was this unique place where we could put so many of Batman’s nemesis you know . . . we really felt it was unique opportunity to give fans the chance to go and explore in its entirety one location, one immensely important location of the Batman universe. And the great thing is we could build a whole island as well so rather than just one part of the island, or just one building, we could build the whole of Arkham Island. It is such an immersive, its got this great history to it, a great story of how it first came around. And then over the course of 70 years of how its been changed and manipulated and affected by everyone that’s passed through the doors. So as soon as we kind of hit on that story we all are like yeah this is it. This is the story, this is going to be the vehicle that let’s us tell so much of what we want to tell and about how the characters have worked in this place.

TVO: I love the smooth and striking and counter striking controls in the game. The fighting also looks like the fighting style in the more recent Christopher Nolan movies. Is that a deliberate stylistic choice?

SH: Personally, one of the things about the style, we kind of wanted to make a game that was authentic and fun. Those were the two touchstones for us; so the authenticity for the fans but also the fun and accessibility. So yeah, in terms of the fighting of the game, the controls are quite simple, but as you play through the game, you’ll the fights get much bigger and more spectacular until you’re fighting much bigger number of guys and these big spectacular brawls. In terms of the [fighting] style, I’m a massive kung fu fan. I love that Tony Jaa stuff, even going back to the original kind of Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan stuff. So we were sort of looking at everything for inspiration because the greatest thing about Batman is that that’s what he does, looks at every area for inspiration for how he would fight. It’s so important that we could take from all those areas and put them together to make Batman; he would just use whatever at the time to get the job done.

TVO: In this process, was there anything you learned about Batman you didn’t know before?

SH: Yeah, I think, I guess would describe myself as a big Batman fan, but I wouldn’t know everything about Batman. And it’s great coming in and you kind of realize how deep this character is and how great these relationships are and these driving forces between these characters, so I think that’s what really makes him so fascinating. Thinking about specific things, I mean that’s kind of perhaps a little bit harder to answer . . . I guess one thing I did learn is that everyone loves Batman. Lots of characters kind of divide people, it’s like certain groups like and certain groups don’t. But everyone I spoke, this is just a universal character and he reflects something in everyone you know like from younger audiences who like the cool gadgets and stuff to older audiences who like the deep pyschological termoil and edge that makes him feel authentic. Also the fact that he doesn’t have any superpowers, perhaps his only power is his vocation to do anything to do what it is to do. So he kind of represents something almost feels achievable to any one of us, that if we have that level of vocation, we can be him. That’s kind of that goal we all like to think is possible.

TVO: Did you ever play any Batman games beforehand for research, like maybe Batman Returns on the SNES?

SH: Yeah. I mean that was definitely one of the best ones. I remember fighting on like a playground ride while the Joker keeps throwing bombs at you. We kind of made a deliberate decision right at the start not to sort of look at all the old games because we felt from a personal point of view, you can become quite sort of blinkered and think, well that didn’t work in that game therefore we shouldn’t try it when sometimes the reason it didn’t work can be manifold. Maybe they didn’t have enough time to do it properly or whatever, so its not always a simple decision. You don’t want to rule out things just for the sake of then doing it. Fear is a big element of Batman so maybe stear clear of the fear, and then its like no the fear is a big part of Batman. You need that in the game, so you need to take that into account.

TVO: Thank you very much for your time.

SH: Hope you enjoy it.

TVO: Oh, we do.

Interview with writer, Paul Dini
*Questions not asked by 411mania are completely in bold.*

Batman: Arkham Aslyum writer and living legend, Paul Dini.

Is the writing for a script in a game a traditional screenwriting or is there a different writing method for a game or different variations?

Paul Dini: I think everybody approaches it a little different. I found it more effective to work in final draft as if I was writing a script and just do it like that, maybe not add as much description, but Batman runs down corridor. Electrical gate flashes in front of him. Is this a scenario where he talks it out? Or is he yelling at somebody on the other side. It’s not as detailed as if I was traditionally writing an animated cartoon. It’s a little more like feature writing because the game designer has equal stake in what appears onscreen as well.

Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris: Sometime back you were announced as a feature writer for the animated movie, Gatchaman, right before the writer’s strike. How far along did you get?

PD: What happened was that I was working on it in the fall of 2007, I guess that’s when the writer’s strike was, and I worked on it from August to December of that year with Kevin Munroe, the director, and a very good art team. And I was contracted kind of a period of around that time, and then we made our presentation to the rights holder and then they said they were undecided on how to go at that point and my deal was essentially up, so they said OK we may call you back, we may go a different way. So I have no idea what if anything of mine is in the movie, the finished picture. I know that Kevin was let go a few weeks after that, and I think the project went into some sort of turnaround development at some point. Toward the end it was getting more and more confused. The more that Kevin and the artists and I were more united in our take on the picture, new producers came in that were less sure of anything and very antsy about everything. So I don’t know, the whole thing sort of spun out of control. I left once my deal was up and basically, that was that. We’ll see what happens. I think they proceeded with different writers and different producers. Definitely, they got a different director, and we’ll see what ultimately comes out of it. I’ve seen the same trailer that everybody else has seen, and I did recognize some of the same basic setups and scenarios from some of the storyboards that we worked on together, but that’s about it.

Was there any dramatic changes that needed to be changed from how it was originally designed due to the gameplay?

PD: Let’s see . . . I left myself open to that because early on in the planning stages we had come up with certain plot elements and character elements that were discarded for whatever reason or another because they just either impeded the gameplay or straying too much into the realm of the feature film or the graphic novel. And it’s hard to cut those things out, but it must be done. Also in some cases, we were limited by the characters we could build and you know it’s like if we’re going to bring in certain characters for a line or two; we have to be judicious with how we do that because you have to build the character from the ground up. Whereas you can build a whole variety of enemies and allies for Batman, it’s like is the cameo value worth it setting the schedule back a little and the expense involved in constructing these characters. So there were things that we dropped along the way. But we sort of at least in my head, this is a collaborative endeavor, much the same as animation, probably much moreso and this is really a team project and not really the same situation like I’m writing a book and giving it to the artist. And then the artist calls me up and says I can’t draw pages 4-9, it’s like what’s the problem. Well . . . because obviously he can, its one guy working on it; but here you’ve got a whole team and then you’re kind of limited by what the game can do.

Joker is the constant antagonist in the game and he’s constantly taunting Batman. And in hearing the voice, Mark Hammill’s voice is noticeably different than what it was in the animated series. Kevin Conroy said Mark’s just getting old.

PD: *Laughs*

Was that intentional on Mark’s voice, was he modifying his voice?

PD: He did modify it to match the look of the game. The look is so dark and gritty that his voice went to match that. This guy is a killer, he is a sadist. He plays this very grotesque life and death game with Batman. So, even though his voice had the same shifts and in some cases the same up and down cadence which is what I love about Mark’s voice, he did keep it really rooted in the gutter, in the dark almost. This is the voice of a murderer, not a whimsical clown who uses whoopee cushions and stuff like that.

TVO: Did you learn anything new about Batman in the process of making this game, even though you probably already know everything there is to know about Batman?

PD: Yes I did. I learned what is . . . there are a few scenes where I was really able to push him and get inside his head and get to where he lives and see the different defenses he puts up to keep his inner-self from getting out to his enemies, but also keeps his inner-self from himself. And when those barriers are shattered, how he deals with that and how he comes back from that. And I think that’s the most intense level of the game, and that’s probably the thing that most mirrors the subplot in the movie is where — because you can’t go into a situation like Arkham Asylum and be un-changed by it. You have to confront your demons, and you have to confront that line that separates you from the guys you put in there. And that to me is the most fascinating realm of this game.

Interview with Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman

The voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy.

Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris: Mr. Conroy, are you surprised you were able to play Batman as much as you have, almost 20 years?

Kevin Conroy: Of course. I’m surprise that it’s lasted this long. I thought it would a couple years at best as an episodic TV show which is what it was for Fox.

TVO: Batman: Gotham Knight was a lot of fun. Were you surprised when you saw that Bishounen, very young, fresh faced version of Bruce Wayne/Batman in that animation?

KC: *Laughs*.

TVO: You even used sort of a lighter, almost sort of an effeminate Bruce Wayne sort of voice.

KC: It was youthful, it was a youthful version. And yeah, everyone likes to see themselves young, *laughs*. Yeah, I liked it.

TVO: Since this is not the same Batman as the animated universe, and the Batman you play in Public Enemies is also a different Batman, do you ever want to try anything different in your portrayals of the Dark Knight?

KC: No. I think it’s important for the actor, the character to be the same because that’s what the audience has come to know. So even if he’s drawn differently or if he’s in a different universe because this is a very different look for Batman [in Arkham Asylum], the heart’s the same. It’s got to be the same guy. The audience will tell in a second if it’s not which is why they hired the same voice. They wanted it to be the same man, even if he looks different a little bit, the style is different. The guy has to be the same guy.

TVO: Do you and Mark Hammill ever get to record together as Batman and The Joker?

KC: Oh always. Oh always. We’re always together recording. Warner likes to always have the actors together so there’s a lot of interaction. This was unique in that it was done separately. No, Mark and I have worked together for gosh 18 years. We’ve gotten to know each other.

TVO: So when you record together, it’s like a radio play?

KC: Its a radio play, absolutely, that’s exactly what we do. And Warner is unique that way. A lot of the other studios don’t do that. Disney likes to really control everything, they like everything isolated. I don’t think they get as good performances that way.

TVO: Do you have a favorite piece of Batman merchandise like a toy, or a statue, or a drawing?

KC: I have a wonderful collection of cels that I’ve accumulated over the years that I love. And I have a sculpture that I call the “Poosh” (?) sculpture that was done by a San Francisco artist, and it’s a sculpture of Gotham. And its got a pendulum of Batman that swings through the skyline. It’s really awesome.

TVO: I loved the idea of Batman together with Wonder Woman, and Batman singing and humbling himself to save Wonder Woman from being a pig. What do you think of that and that idea that Batman can never be happy with a woman?

KC: That’s always been the tension about him, who he would get paired up with. There’s always been that tension. But, I love to sing and Andrea knew that. So she got Bruce [Timm] to write that in. They were really creative because they knew I like to sing, so that was done as kind of like an inside goof to me.

TVO: Anything new that surprised you in doing Public Enemies?

KC: Well there’s a huge surprise in it that I’m not allowed to talk about.

TVO: Looking at all the other characters Batman has interacted with, was there ever another character you would like to get a shot to play as?

KC: No, once you’ve done Batman, what else are you going to do? He is the man . . . Once you go Bat, you never go back.

The Batman: Arkham Asylum video game is now available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC from Eidos and Warner Bros. Interactive.


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Jeffrey Harris
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