Game di­rec­tor and co-founder, Rock­steady Games


Who doesn’t want to look into a mir­ror and see Bat­man star­ing back, at least for a mo­ment? Rock­steady has taken that fan­tasy and built a de­tec­tive story around it, repo­si­tion­ing play­ers in the Dark Knight’s evoca­tive world. Game di­rec­tor and co-founder of Rock­steady

Sefton Hill dis­cusses the chal­lenges and plea­sures of re­build­ing a much-loved char­ac­ter in VR.

What was your goal with Bat­man Arkham VR?

We wanted to cre­ate some­thing that was re­ally VR fo­cused, and de­signed for PSVR from the ground up. So a lot of tra­di­tional me­chan­ics and sys­tems, and re­ally our learn­ings of the past how­ever many years, have gone out of the win­dow, and we had to re­learn those skills and that craft. That gave us a re­ally good start, and there was a great en­ergy about it – do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent but in a world and with char­ac­ters that we’re ob­vi­ously very fa­mil­iar with. One of the things that re­ally ex­cited us is the re­ally strong sense of pres­ence. That feel­ing of be­ing trans­ported to some­where else, but also tak­ing on the role of some­one else, was re­ally mov­ing, and we were sur­prised at how pow­er­ful that was.

The sec­tion where you have to in­ves­ti­gate a bru­tal attack on Nightwing is shock­ing. Do you think VR’s ca­pac­ity for greater emo­tional res­o­nance creates a need to think more care­fully about scenes?

Yeah, I think that’s a good point. We didn’t want any­thing that felt gra­tu­itous or ex­ploita­tive – it’s very easy to cre­ate lots of jump scares in VR. But what we wanted to do was tell a story that was more psy­cho­log­i­cal. By ac­tu­ally putting you in­side Bat­man’s headspace, and let­ting you be­come him, that story res­onates much harder than it would in a third­per­son game where there’s still a dis­tance be­tween you and the char­ac­ter. So see­ing Nightwing at­tacked and killed is a re­ally pow­er­ful mo­ment.

Did you en­joy work­ing on a more fo­cused ex­pe­ri­ence?

[Laughs] Yes! There’s a place for both kinds of games, for sure, and I don’t see VR im­ping­ing on tra­di­tional gam­ing – I see them as com­ple­men­tary – but purely from a cre­ative-di­rec­tor point of view it’s quite nice to work on some­thing that’s shorter and more punchy, and with a shorter turn­around time to re­alise that vi­sion. As op­posed to some­thing like Arkham Knight, which was a huge un­der­tak­ing with around 130 devs work­ing on it for three-and-a-half years. That’s a long time to be work­ing on some­thing. [With Arkham VR] we re­ally wanted some­thing that was high-in­ten­sity and emo­tion­ally pow­er­ful, and that didn’t feel padded out in any way.

Did you achieve ev­ery­thing you set out to with PSVR?

I think be­cause it was purely de­signed for VR from the ground up, we were able to re­ally max­imise the ex­pe­ri­ence. Ob­vi­ously we’re push­ing the ma­chine as hard as we can, and we try to do that ev­ery time we make a game – but we’re do­ing that all in the name of telling the best and most pow­er­ful story that we can. We didn’t feel there were any re­stric­tions pre­sented to us by the tech­nol­ogy. I don’t think there was any­thing that we looked at and re­ally wanted to do but were un­able to.

What’s your take on the PSVR hard­ware de­sign?

I think it’s nice in that it’s re­ally ac­ces­si­ble, and re­ally easy to use. You do have a ca­ble run­ning from all three head­sets back to the ma­chine, and I wouldn’t say we quite have the per­fect so­lu­tion to VR yet be­cause I think it’s go­ing to have to be wire­less for that, ide­ally. But I’ve used it for hours and hours play­ing Arkham VR, and it feels very com­fort­able. Apart from the fact it spoils the look of your hair, I’ve not had any is­sues with it at all.

As game cre­ators, what does that ac­ces­si­bil­ity mean?

It’s some­thing that we’ve tried to em­brace, to re­ally make the game as a great en­try point for VR. Some­thing that doesn’t make you mo­tion sick. I guess we felt a weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity – be­ing Bat­man, be­ing a launch ti­tle… We think it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to be a lot of peo­ple’s first VR ex­pe­ri­ence, or there­abouts, so we want it to be some­thing that peo­ple pick up and re­ally em­brace and un­der­stand the power of VR through.

Arkham VR works best with Move controllers – is hav­ing to also find a DualShock so­lu­tion prob­lem­atic?

You have more free­dom with Move, and a much bet­ter feel­ing of reach­ing into the world. Ob­vi­ously we sup­port the DualShock, as well as one or both Move controllers. But the con­trol schemes are mas­sively dif­fer­ent, and it does take a lot of work to get the right bal­ance so that play­ers get the op­ti­mal ex­pe­ri­ence across all three of those op­tions. That was a pain in the arse! [Laughs] But we’re aware that not ev­ery­one’s go­ing to have Move controllers at launch, so we wanted to make sure that ev­ery­one was still get­ting a re­ally pow­er­ful ex­pe­ri­ence with the DualShock, too.

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