The Keys To The Batmobile – Designing Batman's Iconic Vehicle

by Jeff Cork on Mar 07, 2014 at 08:00 AM

The Batmobile has been an integral part of Batman since the character’s earliest days. He’s used it to scour the streets of Gotham City before he ever encountered the Joker, in fact. The Batmobile has been central to some of Batman’s most memorable movie scenes, too, from cutting stilt-wearing clowns off at the knees in Batman Returns to splitting into an armored motorcycle in The Dark Knight. The vehicle has been incorporated in games, to varying degrees of success. With Batman: Arkham Knight, Rocksteady Studios is finally giving the Batmobile the attention it deserves. We spent a lot of time during our cover-story visit discussing the vehicle. Read on to learn more about its creation and how it will fundamentally change the way the Dark Knight fights crime.

Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy has incrementally added ambitious new elements. For its inaugural entry, Batman: Arkham Asylum, the studio introduced audiences to its own unique take on familiar settings and characters. The sequel, Arkham City, expanded the world beyond Arkham Asylum’s padded walls, giving Batman a chance to patrol the streets of the city-turned-prison in an open-world environment. Arkham Knight adds additional freedom – and power – thanks in large part to the Batmobile.

The team had always wanted to include the Batmobile in its games, but aside from a cameo in an Arkham Asylum cutscene, it never happened. That was due in large part to technical constraints. “It’s scary doing the Batmobile,” says creative director Sefton Hill. “It’s a big thing that we haven’t done before. And I think that was at the same time we made the decision to go next gen, because we are next gen only. … We didn’t want to reel in our ambitions for the Batmobile.”

Those ambitions go deeper than its sleek carbon-fiber surface. The Batmobile isn’t a traditional car; as you can see in the game’s CG trailer (and as we saw during a gameplay demo), it’s seamlessly integrated with Batman’s traversal. He’s able to speed along the streets of Gotham City and then launch out at will, ejecting hundreds of feet in the air and hurtling down in a controlled glide. Or Batman can call upon it in an instant, leaping into its cockpit as it races to him. Reducing those kinds of mobility barriers was critically important – whether it’s getting inside of it or keeping track of it once he’s out. 

“It’s never a burden,” says Hill. “That’s the idea. We don’t want it to be something that you’re ever thinking, ‘Oh, where’d I park the Batmobile? Is it going to take ages to get here?’ The idea is it’s always sort of tracking Batman so it’s always just around the corner for you to call in if you need it. You really get used to the fact that you’ve got one button press on L1, press it at any time. … It’s always adding to the experience. That’s really important to us. It’s not a protection mission to protect the Batmobile.”

After all, despite his armor plating, Rocksteady’s Batman is far from bulletproof. He’s more than capable of handling himself in fights – the series’ free-flowing combat system is proof of that – but he doesn’t fare as well against multiple armed attackers. The Batmobile offers a counterpoint to that vulnerability. Players can switch between exploring Gotham City as a deadly, but mortal creature of the night, and a far less subtle version, cocooned inside an indestructible shell. Behind the wheel, Batman is able to crash through most of Gotham – lampposts, retaining walls, and fences be damned. Scarecrow is threatening to unleash a deadly toxin into the city, which is one reason why Batman isn’t concerned about stepping on the gas. “[T]his is a pretty drastic situation, so the Batmobile has to be fairly uncompromising in the way it’s dealing with them,” Hill says. “So smashing through things is what Batman needs to do to get the job done.”

 Gotham’s thugs aren’t oblivious to what this wheeled wrecking ball is capable of, either. They amass in crowds and riot in the streets, but they have a tendency to scatter when Batman arrives. “All you need is the Batmobile,” says A.I. and combat programmer Tim Hanagan. “You turn up in the Batmobile, and they might not stick around. That’s basically it. They’re scared of the Batmobile – you would be, if you were a lone man with a baseball bat, at most.” Anyone foolish enough to mess with the car when Batman’s busy will get a shocking surprise, too; the Batmobile is equipped with a defensive taser unit to protect it from would-be carjackers and thieves.

On the offensive front, the Batmobile is equipped with a vehicle immobilizer, which fires a nonlethal missile at fleeing cars. After all, Batman’s official policy is that he doesn’t kill – but he does need to stop fleeing enemies in their tracks to interrogate them. 

During our visit, we asked if players would be able to use some form of fast travel to get across Gotham. The response was simple: “You’re looking at the fast travel system,” Hill said. “I think we felt that it would take away from the experience rather than add to it because moving through the city is definitely part of the game.”

Rethinking Gotham City
Early in development, Rocksteady dropped a prototype of the Batmobile in the existing Arkham City map as an experiment. The results were disastrous. The team immediately learned that what works on foot doesn’t translate to a satisfying vehicular experience. Streets needed to be widened, so players could turn without bonking into too many walls. Building heights were increased as well to accommodate the Batmobile’s ejection seat and Batman’s improved mobility. “Arkham City was quite claustrophobic, so if you were really good at the grappling and gliding you could nick between the small buildings. But here we have a lot more negative space between the buildings, so it’s much easier and more enjoyable to glide around,” Hill says.


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