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.