The lights are on
We’re spending all month shining the spotlight on Batman: Arkham Origins, but this month also brought word of another game in the Arkham fiction. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate serves as an accompaniment to the console game from Warner Bros. Games Montreal. Designed by the team at Armature, Blackgate is a 2.5D Metroid-style game coming to Vita and 3DS that sends the Dark Knight swooping through the corridors of the infamous Gotham prison. While you may not be familiar with Armature, you likely know them from their previous studio job; many of Armature’s developers were the team leads behind the original Metroid Prime games from Retro Studios. We talked with game director Mark Pacini to learn more about the upcoming game, as well as his studio’s ties to one of the most acclaimed Nintendo game series of all time.
GI: Tell me about Armature. Who are you, and what brought you to this Batman project?
Mark Pacini: We were established five years ago by some ex Retro employees – myself, Todd Keller and Jack Mathews. I was the game director of the Metroid Prime Series, Todd was the art director, and Jack was the tech director. We broke out from Nintendo, started our own thing five years ago, and we had established a relationship with Warner Bros. They had come to us with this opportunity that they were looking to make a 2.5D-style Arkham game that was in the Metroidvania flavor and they thought we’d be a good pairing to it, since we were really familiar with that style of game. We made three of them, so it was a great fit and we were huge fans. I’m personally a huge fan of the Arkham franchise, so it just seemed like a really good fit.
How long have you been working on this project?
Since spring of last year.
What are some of the mechanics that you have transferred over from the console version?
That was actually kind of challenging in the beginning, because we wanted to give the player enough tools to unlock and progress in a world just like in a normal Metroidvania game. What we did is we went through the back log of the past two Arkham games and looked at the things that we thought would work well in our game. Climbing the grapple is our jump, so there’s no jumping in the game, you use the grapple to get up higher. We have glide – you know the glide allows you to go down over longer lateral spaces. Crouching and climbing and things like that are all from the console game so taking that small kernel of abilities, we are actually able to do quite a bit, and then we just supplement it with the gadgets that we thought would work well in a more 2.5D perspective. Things like the batarang and the gel launcher. The gel launcher is a slight adjustment to the explosive gel that’s in the console version, where Batman sprays it against the surface. We’re using it more like the movie version, where you can shoot it over more of a distance, so you can utilize the space on the screen a little bit more. Along with that there’s a bunch of gadgets that he has that we will reveal at another time.
You have a mechanic for targeting a particular person or location on the map – how do you handle that in terms of control mechanics?
We’re actually still working on that part. Basically, determining how much control and pacing we need for the player to have. Do we allow them to point at an exact place? Do we allow them to use more of soft targets in the world? Right now we are exploring a bunch of different opportunities – nothing’s absolutely locked in just yet.
How have you integrated Metroid-style gameplay?
It’s a very good blend of the two – of Metroid and Arkham. The one change that we did end up making it that there’s no XP in the game, so everything is item-based. The reason we did it that way is to give the player more of a sense of collection in this game. That was a design decision. If you unlock an ability based on experience, you might not have necessarily traveled to that place and gotten something. It’s the general overall experience that you have in the game, it’s that experience of getting that XP to buy that item, but what we wanted to do is put everything into an item-based system that you place into the environment, that gives you the motivation to explore the areas of the building. So that it gives you that flavor of: “Oh, I want that ability I can get up there,” rather than “I need to beat up some more guys to get the XP to unlock this thing.” I think it fits well for our style of game.
How have you brought in elements of the free-flow combat system?
We had to build that from the ground up. We made it so that Batman is still moving right to left, but the enemies have depth to them; they can be in the foreground or the background. So all of the free-flow system will still apply, but it’s just scoped for the handheld. What we wanted to do is make sure it felt more like Old Boy the movie than like Old School the game. That it wasn’t just enemies lined up behind each other – that you still felt like that you were encompassed by enemies that were around you but you still have the limitations of right and left. Again, that’s something we are continuing to polish right up to when we’re going to be finished with the game. I think that we are going to have a really good, true feel of that free-flow combat system even though the application of it is different.
What are some cool things you can do with the predator-style system?
We wanted to stay true to what was cool about previous Arkham games and their predator modes, which is kind of luring people around and picking them off one by one, and see a sped-up stealth aspect to the game. So because you can’t look around in 2.5D, we had to add a few more layers of feedback to the player. For example, you can see the sightlines of the enemies, which immediately allows you to know whether you are seen or not by enemies. When Batman is in detective mode, you’ll change color based on their proximity or based on how close you are to being seen. We have the same sort of vantage points, floor grates, silent takedowns, glide kicks, weapon use, and breakable walls – a lot of the same complimentary things that were in the console game, that you’ll be able to play in this game. But obviously the feel of it is a little bit different because of the perspective.
What was attractive about Blackgate prison as a setting for your game?
It made sense [laughs]. A prison’s very easy to understand how it would link together. The way we are developing the game is the exact same way we developed the Metroid Prime games. Almost to the tee of how rooms are constructed and snap together and everything. So it’s something that we are very familiar with how it goes. And that’s how we were able to do it in such a short period of time, is that we already knew how to do all this stuff. However, this isn’t using any technology that’s being used in the console, so we had to write it all ourselves. All of the predator stuff, all of the movement – all that was done from absolute scratch, so luckily we knew how to fundamentally make a game like this without having to figure that out. We had a leg up there, but then we had a leg down on the tech side. Where we are right now is a really good place to finish out the game. Yeah, a prison absolutely makes sense for the game.
[Next up: Pacini discusses leaving Metroid (and Nintendo) behind]
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