The lights are on
Another feature of Metroid-style games is the save room. Are you doing save rooms, or a different structure?
There are no save rooms. We’re not restricting you to save stations or anything like that. It’s more of a checkpoint system. There are checkpoints, but there’s also a system where you can save anywhere. It’s very forgiving.
How is the game world structured?
One of the one big things in our game is that you can go off to do any boss in any order. So that’s an innovation that we are really trying to push in this game. You can pursue any of the major bosses in the game in whatever order you wish to; you aren’t forced to go in a particular way. We don’t want you to break the game, but if you can exploit it in a certain way that we haven’t thought of, that’s awesome. So it’s conceivable that players will have abilities that don’t necessarily jibe that great with the boss.
We’ve kind of taken some cues from other games where if you have a particular item against a boss, you’ll just rip them a new one, but we don’t tell you what that item is. That is something really cool that hopefully will encourage players to play the game more than once to try and find different ways of getting through the game either quicker or exploiting things like that.
The game is coming to both 3DS and Vita. On the 3DS are you still scanning by touching on the bottom screen, and then it projects on the top screen?
Some features are different. They function a little bit differently because on the 3DS the play screen’s on top, but there will be some differences for sure.
What is your mechanic for storytelling moments?
They’re going to be 2D animatics that we’re doing in-house at Armature, but they’re very stylized, and they’ll be fully voiced over.
Does Blackgate take place before or after the console Arkham Origins game?
After. We worked closely with the Montreal studio. We want players to play in whatever order they want. If you want to play the handheld first, console, whatever it is, we’re not spoiling anything in their game, or vice versa.
What can you tell us about the storyline of the game?
Basically, there’s an uprising in the prison created by some big-time characters from the lore, and Batman has to go in and figure out what’s going on. And obviously there’s a lot more to what’s going on than just a straight up prison uprising.
But a strong majority of the game is taking place in a prison?
Yeah, the intro level is not in the prison. For the remainder of the game – there are a lot of different areas of the prison.
Stepping away from the game for a minute, why did you leave Retro? Do you want to talk about that story a little bit?
I was there for eight years. When you work for Nintendo, Nintendo’s an awesome company. They’re great to work for. It’s hard, challenging work, but it’s rewarding at the same time. But given that regard, there’s a limited amount of things you can do in Nintendo. You can’t work on other platforms. You kind of work on games that they would like you to work on, so after doing three of the same games in a row, we were kind of like, we’d really like the flexibility to do other things.
And that’s really what it came down to was we didn’t have anything against Nintendo or Retro or anything – they’re all great people, we still talk to them all the time, and we still have a great relationship – but having an independent studio, one day you’re working on Batman, the other day you’re working on something else, and that’s kind of what we wanted to do. We would have never been able to work on Vita, or 3DS – it wasn’t something that Retro was gunning for. And Armature as a studio, we’re hopefully able to make some announcements later this year on what we’re working on next, and those are, again, forward thinking on consoles, and things we weren’t able to do before.
Starting Armature when we did was a very difficult time in the game industry. And the game industry continues to be difficult. Right now as a studio we’re in a really good position and there are a lot of opportunities that we’re going to be able to pursue that we wanted to five years ago.
How big is the studio at this point?
Right now we’re over 30 people. We started off with 10 five years ago.
Your team has been one of the big mysteries of the gaming industry in the last five years. You have this great team, and people wondered: What are they working on? Do you want to talk about that gap?
As a short answer, we’ve been a heavy victim of the game industry as it is right now in terms of the shift from social, then to mobile, then to micro transactions, then to large publishers not wanting to fund large projects with independent studios – we’ve been a victim of all of that.
And we’ve had great opportunities that have slipped off of our fingers that had nothing to do with the quality of the things that we were doing. [Editor's Note: After this interview was recorded, it was revealed that Armature worked on a cancelled Mega Man project] However, we’ve learned a lot as a company in terms of where things are going and how to continue growing; it’s a very volatile environment. Hopefully later this year we’ll be able to announce some original things that we’re doing.
Console specific things?
I can’t say what it is. Right now we’re concentrated on our relationship with Warner Bros. They are so awesome to us, and this journey that we’ve had so far with the Arkham stuff has been awesome. They’ve given us a ton of creative freedom, and nothing but support. This has been a really great experience for us because it’s been so horrible the past couple years, not from the things that have happened to us, but just the opportunities that just evaporated.
The Metroid Prime series remains popular with fans. Do you feel like you can look back at that series now and appreciate it from a distance?
Yeah. I never played any of the Metroid games after they were done, just because I was just so sick of them. When you work on something for two years straight, and play it for two years straight, it’s really hard to go back and distance yourself from it. When you’re in it, you don’t understand what you’re making, you’re just kind of trying to get it done and try to make the best decisions that you can. It’s hard to step back. It’s been a long time since we produced something, so for me I want Armature to be not the company that used to do Metroid Prime. I don’t want us to be just the guys that did that. This is going to be the first game that is truly an original Armature game, although it’s based on the property of an existing franchise. It’s our first step, and I think that from there we can continue on with making interesting games. What’s kind of cool now is that more independent games that are not mainstream are being looked at more seriously now, not by publishers, but by other alternate funding. There are a lot of other developers and other publishers that are wanting that sort of content that aren’t the $20, $30, $40 million games. They want to have these smaller games and I think that right now is a good opportunity to be an independent studio that has the potential to make those types of games. Not the indie games, not the big games, the in-betweeners. I think that’s it’s the right time for us.
Even though you don’t want to be seen as the ex-Metroid Prime guys, fans are going to be excited when they know ex-Metroid Prime guys are going to be making a Super Metroid-style game.
I hope so. I hope we don’t disappoint them. That’s always my fear, because I think everything we do sucks. But that’s just me because I thought all the Prime games suck. At the end of the day all I see are all the bad things. Prime 2 was a blur to me. It was so quick, it was so fast. That thing just went out the door and it was a very divisive game. People either liked it or thought it sucked, and I can completely agree because I couldn’t tell you what that game was because it happened so quickly. Prime 1 was the best designed game. Prime 3 I feel is the most fun one to play. Prime 2 is divisive. You either like it or you don’t. That’s kind of the way I look at it.
It is the same thing here with the Arkham game. All I see at this point, because we are knee deep, we’re in the woods right now in development, and all I see is all the crap that’s wrong with it. In my gut I feel like, yeah, it’s going to be cool. I’m excited for it. But at the same time, I hope we don’t disappoint people and I hope that they like it. We’re trying our hardest. I would like to play a game like this, so hopefully everyone else will, too.
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