It was on a breezy Tuesday morning that a lucky group of Batman fans gathered at the Warner Bros London building. They were all there to meet some of the talented team that worked on the recently released Batman Arkham City. The ever lively community manager Sarah guided everyone into the theatre room for what was to be an unforgettable morning.
The whole point of the event was to reward fans of the game who have always supported the team throughout development. Sarah started off the event by giving an outline of what was to come. The community event was basically a set of presentations by different members of the development team and those present could ask them questions. It was also possible to try the exclusive pre-order Joker’s Carnival challenge map. Anyone brave enough would then try to get the highest score but it would have to be done on the huge cinema projector. The three top winners would get amazing prizes such as signed posters and collectors edition. But everyone that tried to get the best score would still get a nice reward.
The first presentation was about the animations in the game and was done by two of the animators, Adam and Danny. The animations team only works with animations in game. A capturing studio was set up at the Rocksteady offices, so that motion capturing could be done. For those not familiar with motion capturing; it involves using tight suits and that reflect light to capture data. This data is then transferred to specialised 3D Studio software on Macs. What’s great about it is that the data is easy to be used on different thugs that have a similar skeleton structure. The duo admitted that it’s easy to spot some of their ticks by looking at how some characters move. It’s actually something positive as it makes the characters feel more realistic. Motion-capturing also made it much easier animate certain movements.
One of the biggest challenges for the animators was the bosses. Since they have unnatural skeleton structure; it would have been impossible to capture date naturally. So the team had to modify some of the motion capturing data collected. Alan worked on two of the bosses throughout the project. So each team member worked on a particular section of the game. The number of animations in the game was doubled when compared to the previous game. But the team didn’t stray too far from the working formula and instead focused on adding what they thought would work. Due to the scale of the tasks at hand three extra animators were added to the team.
In order to try and avoid collision issues, poses were used to try and blend the use of code. Such issues mentioned included Batman’s cape clipping through enemies. Fortunately the code was blended with the animation poses making it difficult for such issues to occur. Wondering who did the motion-capturing for the female animations? The boys admitted that they had to do some of them as it wasn’t always possible to hire someone on short notice. Animations are subtle and hard to spot the gender from motion capturing date so it didn’t matter. It would have been harder to hid it if it was a cinematic scene. It was revealed that Danny did the motion capturing for the upcoming downloadable character Nightwing, Max Fanning did the motion capturing for Catwoman which caused some of the audience to laugh and Alan did it for Batman. It was about two and a half years of hard work for most of the team. Adam fondly recalled how his favourite animation was the back claw slam that Batman does in combat. Danny mentioned that his favourite animations are from Nightwing but everyone will have to find out why when the downloadable content is released. These revelations concluded this presentation that focused on the animations found within Batman Arkham City.
It’s strange to imagine but the artists in Batman think about the game world before starting to design the characters. Concept art is an important step in the development of a game as it influences the direction of the game’s visual style. The art team’s plan was to expand on the original game without taking any ideas from the films. The world created is meant to feel as if it would infect anything that physically touches it. It’s supposed to be that section of town that everyone avoid because it’s where all the human scum tends to hang out. The team felt that early concept art felt too similar to the world of Blade Runner. Fortunately inspiration for the final concept appeared thanks to the unpredictable British weather. The artists noticed how the weather in London on a particular day went through various variations. This was the basis for the uncomfortable atmosphere of Arkham City where the bad weather is relentless.
Are you reading this and do you want to be a concept artist? Then get ready to spend lots of time coming up with concept art. Just one of the artists presenting drew approximately six hundred pieces of concept art and the other about three hundred. One of the most difficult tasks on hand oddly enough was to come up with designs for the Penguin thugs. There were forty five version of these thugs alone. One of the artists mentioned how Robin was his least favourite character at the beginning of the project. Ironically he ended up being tasked with designing the new Robin. His goal became to make him interesting but keep traits that are familiar to fans. Team was amazed that some of the enemy designs such as the one armed twins would never get approved. Fortunately they did as the game would not be the same without these bizarre characters.
The level design team went through the first few minutes of the game so those that haven’t played it yet should skip this paragraph. Initially there was no guard .near the door where Bruce is being held. He was put there to make sure that players don’t get stuck or attempt to return to the room. Ivy would originally come out of a lift when Bruce was walking towards the line. This dialogue scene slowed down the pace of the story so had to be removed. The queue for getting into Arkham City was originally longer but it was slowing down the pace too. Once inside the level designers made sure that people learned the basics of counter. The reason is that most people never got the hang of countering in Arkham Asylum so it was imperative to teach them properly. These decisions are made so that the game continues to keep players interested to the very end.
The character artists did a superb job with the Arkham City cast. Harley for example is a lot meaner in this game. They added detail that pushed the character design to the next detail. The gargoyles have returned in this game and look even more menacing than before. One of the ways that the team tackled design on a larger scale was to create proper and then add them to the environment. There’s certain parts in the game where cut-scenes and in-game visuals are merged together. It’s possible to have a seamless transition between both because of editor characters that are used to integrate with the cut-scenes. The first major boss at first was to be confronted in a swamp but it was changed to a lab in order to reflect the Victorian Frankenstein theme. Giving players hints is vital so that’s why lights are used to do this particular task. Funnily enough it’s also possible to notice that the music is in synch with the light pads on the floor during the boss battle.
The competition took place after the presentations were over. Some of the fans had a go at the challenge map and a few of them managed to get some impressive scores. The Rocksteady team did a great job in connecting with the fans by letting them ask any questions and speaking with them throughout the morning. It’s not often that the developers gets to see their fans so it was very nice of them to organise the community event.
Written by Diogo Miguel, who represented This Is Xbox at the Batman: Arkham City Community Event