We got a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Batman: Arkham City at GDC 2012, and how the developers took the journey from the Asylum and in to the city. The presentation began with Rocksteady's art director David Hego playing a clip from Arkham Asylum, bringing us back to 2009, when the city was just a very curious object in the distance. Both Batman and the player could gaze at the city, in the hopes of one day crossing that river and kicking some urban ass; and we would do so two years later. In a very concise 30-minute presentation, David went over the many key points in going from the asylum to the city.
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Of the valuable lessons learned, he briefly touch upon the effectiveness of modular assets. That was coupled with the constant and seemingly obvious reminder that Batman is very cool and to make sure the player truly felt like Batman. He continued to make very sensible statements regarding how gameplay is king and how art supports that gameplay. With that kind of foundation, Rocksteady had 27 AAA skilled (many veteran) artists on board going into Batman: Arkham City.
Across both games, creating the Arkhamverse was the result of six years of work and Rocksteady's privileged take on the Batman universe. It was key to put in as much of Batman's DNA as possible, where there was no such thing as being too super referential. Working off a canvas to create the world, Rocksteady looked to Gothic architecture and Victorian vertical designs first in Arkham Asylum and continuing this with Arkham City. This also resulted in having a lot of Art Nouveau throughout the city. While the Batman universe is traditionally seen as very American, that did not stop Rocksteady from giving their world a very French and English style.
Normalisation: With the best of games, a player can get really engrossed whether they get in a zone, have tunnel vision or both. This results in "normalisation" where the player is focus in playing that he’s ignoring the surroundings. Rocksteady went with the age-old solution of never holding back in adding variety to all the environments.
Want to add even more character to your environments? Clashing visuals help create environments that haven't been seen before. With Arkham City, that involved pairing conflicting objects like a very industrial-looking power plant and having a ferris wheel nearby.
Rocksteady also had the very sensible design choice of creating a rich history in their vision of Arkham City. From the studio’'s perspective, it's not about making a forward-thinking city. Everything should look like it has a backstory to it. They imagined a Gotham City that has been built upon itself, not that all different from Jack The Ripper England. To dig into the city's layers would equate to opening a tomb. David added that posters, propaganda or otherwise helped a great deal in conveying a sense of history.
Readability: Compared to Arkham Asylum, Detective Mode was cleaned up with a stronger focus on navigation. They also limited the amount of visual information in comparison to Asylum, as some Asylum players actually kept Detective Mode on the whole time. You can't do that in Arkham City; you need to turn it off in order to play the game properly.
With a much larger world comes the need for navigation aids. One of the most simplest choices is by adding landmarks, a simple idea to help the player navigate.
Rocksteady was also very cognizant of how characters are contrasted against backgrounds whether they were designed to stand out or be hidden in the shadows. This emphasis in contrast was very much influenced by cinema. Furthermore, they delved into how removing details in one place enhances the details in another.
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With the game's cast of characters, there was a strong awareness of balancing hyper-realism with some character depictions of stylization. This sense of diversity also extended to having a spectrum of ugly and beautiful characters.
If you like reading about the history of classic games, why don't you take a look the making of Gauntlet?
By Miguel Concepcion