Post Script

In­ter­view: game di­rec­tor


Sefton Hill,

Rock­steady co-founder and Arkham se­ries game di­rec­tor Sefton Hill is about as in­side Bat­man’s head as it is pos­si­ble to be, hav­ing ded­i­cated eight years to mak­ing play­ers feel like the world’s great­est de­tec­tive. Here we ask him about shap­ing an ad­ven­ture that peels open Bruce Wayne’s mind for all to see, and in­tro­duc­ing fo­cus to the open-world tem­plate. Your Gotham is full of char­ac­ter. What do you have to take into ac­count when fill­ing up a city like this? Some­thing that I guess we learned from Arkham City was be­ing able to make sure the player can see, and be drawn into, all these ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, and also fun­da­men­tally mak­ing sure that they all feel dif­fer­ent. We also wanted to cre­ate a city that had a re­ally high den­sity of con­tent, and ev­ery­where you looked there was some­thing ex­cit­ing to do. And some­thing that I think the step to [new hard­ware] re­ally al­lowed us to do was fill the city with con­cur­rent game­play – all these events and ac­tions and things you can get drawn into are all there, all run­ning at the same time. I do think it comes back to those ini­tial de­ci­sions when we were look­ing at de­sign­ing all the dif­fer­ent mis­sions. I kind of hate the term ‘side mis­sion’, be­cause it makes them feel like they’re sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, and some­thing we re­ally wanted [was for them] to not feel like that. The mis­sion wheel works hard to de­clut­ter the game. Did you feel like that was some­thing you took away from mak­ing City, or from the in­dus­try as a whole? A lot of de­sign is through kind of frus­tra­tion – when you’re try­ing to ac­cess all of this con­tent in other open­world games that I play, try­ing to un­der­stand all of that con­tent can be very frus­trat­ing. So we came up with the idea of the mis­sion wheel. It was an idea that I came up with quite late, a cou­ple of years in, once we’d got in a lot of the mis­sions. We wanted a good way for the player to con­tex­tu­alise all the mis­sions very quickly. Be­cause when you’re just scrolling around on a map pick­ing icons, it doesn’t have any kind of heart and soul be­hind it, it doesn’t ex­plain the con­text be­hind what you’re do­ing. So we wanted a re­ally quick way – there are 14 of these Most Wanted mis­sions in the game to go af­ter – for the player to re­ally un­der­stand the con­text be­hind those. The tone of Arkham Knight’s writ­ing is dif­fer­ent – it’s more hal­lu­cino­genic, and digs into the darker parts of Bat­man’s psy­che. How did you ap­proach it? Well, I guess up front we knew where we wanted to go with the story, but ob­vi­ously we have this ve­hi­cle, a way we can re­ally delve deep into Bat­man’s psy­che and give you that kind of unique look through Bat­man’s in­ner mono­logue. So that was some­thing that al­lowed us to show his work­ings, and al­lowed the writ­ing to be darker, more emo­tional and ex­pres­sive of what’s hap­pen­ing be­hind the scenes. The core theme of the game is how Bat­man’s al­lies are his strength and his weak­ness, and he has some re­ally dif­fi­cult dilem­mas in that. I think that one thing we were re­ally try­ing to do was fo­cus the game – be­cause of the size of the game, I didn’t want to lose that heart and soul that we had go­ing right back to Asy­lum. And Bat­man faces some real tough dilem­mas; at times he can be a real bas­tard. But, you know, I think we take you on that jour­ney and you can un­der­stand why he has to make the choices that he does. The Bat­mo­bile plays a mas­sive role. Did you come to the plan­ning phase with a lot of its uses in mind? We def­i­nitely came with a lot of ideas, and worked on it with Adam Do­herty, who’s the player code di­rec­tor. But fun­da­men­tally, we didn’t want [the Bat­mo­bile] to feel a sep­a­rate en­tity to Bat­man; we wanted it to feel like the ul­ti­mate Bat­man gad­get. That was re­ally the fo­cus of what we wanted. We never planned for there to be dis­crete driv­ing lev­els and then you never get the car again – we were only go­ing to do it if it was some­thing that was to­tally in­her­ent to the de­sign right from day one. It did de­velop over time as well. I can’t say we started off with the way Bat­tle mode works; [it’s] com­pletely dif­fer­ent to Pur­suit mode. We knew we wanted those ar­eas in the game, but the way that’s con­trolled, that’s some­thing we it­er­ated on over time. Say­ing that, we al­ways have a rule that if it’s not good enough, it doesn’t stay in the game. When you al­ready have a stealth sys­tem as good as the Preda­tor rooms, why in­tro­duce ve­hi­cle stealth? The Cobra tanks were some­thing we in­tro­duced to cre­ate va­ri­ety in the Arkham Knight’s at­tacks. He’s got the lighter drone tanks that he’s us­ing, and in a sense we saw that as anal­o­gous to the freeflow com­bat, as some­thing that was fast-mov­ing, some­thing where you keep your combo go­ing, and has a sim­i­lar feel. [But] we wanted some­thing that feels like a threat, even when you’re in the Bat­mo­bile, and that’s when we got to the idea of the Cobra tanks kind of hunt­ing you down through­out the city. It had a good feel­ing right from the start. It is anal­o­gous in some ways to the Preda­tor rooms, but it’s sort of a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence. Again, it’s part of that thing of the Bat­mo­bile as an ex­ten­sion of Bat­man that we quite like… And we had this beau­ti­ful play­ground of Gotham as well. We wanted to en­sure we were us­ing that, so that Bat­man’s use and knowl­edge of that, and the player’s use and knowl­edge of that, were pushed to the fore.

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