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We’re not going to lie – the main reason we attended Rocksteady’s panel at D.I.C.E. was in hopes that it would give a slight hint as to what its next title might be. It didn’t. What we got instead, however, might be even more interesting.
When Rocksteady’s co-founder Sefton Hill set out to give a speech at D.I.C.E. entitled “Escaping the Asylum,” his goal was to detail how the developer adapted its linear adventure game into a massive, open-world experience. When attempting to get it together, however, he noticed that it was even more interesting at how little it actually needed to adapt things. Instead, they just applied the same logic they used for the linear game to the open-world one. He called it the “Arkham Recipe,” and he shared it at the show.
Hill said that the first part of the formula is to make sure that, right away, the game is immediately enjoyable and easy to learn. It’s the developer's job to entertain, after all, and it wanted to make sure that the game was entertaining out of the gate. The way Rocksteady accomplished this was with the free-flow combat, which gave players the feeling of being Batman right out of the box without needing to learn any complex mechanics or go through lengthy tutorials.
While Rocksteady wants it to be accessible out of the box, it isn’t about to limit the complexity of the game on the whole. With that in mind, it gradually ramps up the difficulty with new enemies that require new mechanics to defeat. This makes sure the player is continually being challenged, as well as continually learning mew mechanics in the way of combat and sweet new gadgets. New mechanics give the player new ways to defeat new enemies, fueling the deep gameplay.
Rocksteady constantly changes things up in its games. It’s not strictly a fighting game or a platforming game or a puzzle game, but it has mechanics of just about every genre at some point. The Riddler gameplay in requires to think like a detective, the hunting gameplay of the complex rooms requires players to play like a predator, the platforming requires players to learn to navigate and control Batman, and the combat gameplay… well, obviously it requires players to learn to beat people up. Rocksteady says that mixing these all together creates an unorthodox design that gamers like.
One of the most important elements, however, is keeping things authentic. Rocksteady doesn’t just want to sell a Batman game, it wants to sell one that actually feels like a Batman game. This means the main character can’t kill people, and he can’t use guns. While this sounds encumbering (and, in a way, is), it challenged it to make new gameplay to explore these limitations and to use them to its advantage.
So, what can we take away from this? A few things. Namely, that whatever Rocksteady is working on next will follow this formula of embracing their license while mixing in unorthodox design decisions with deep core mechanics. And it will likely star Batman.