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Looking back at Batman: Arkham Asylum

With their first venture into the world of superheroes, Rocksteady Games have created something developers have been attempting for over 30 years: a superhero game that’s actually worth playing. In fact, more than that, it’s the best darned superhero game this planet has ever seen. Still in shock at the sheer magnitude of it all, we caught up with senior gameplay programmer Paul Denning to find out how they managed to pull it off...

Above: Paul Denning, senior gameplay programmer

Cutting cutscenes

“It was smoke and mirrors in a lot of places, but we were very keen to keep the player immersed as much as possible. In Resident Evil 5 there are moments where you’re playing and you find yourself in a completely different place and you think: ‘Well, hold on. I wasn’t really here – you’ve just cheated to get me here,’ and we really didn’t want that.

“One of the cool things we did was in the second Scarecrow encounter. At the very end when you become young Bruce Wayne, it looks like it’s all scripted and sequence based, he’s crouched down over his parents and nothing happens. Then you realise that if you push a button you’re still in control – and you then walk off. That was a really powerful scene and we really enjoyed putting that together.

“There are limitations in what you can achieve in the time you have available, we have a very dedicated team and they worked very, very hard to pull off all the cinematics. If we’d had more cutscenes they probably wouldn’t have been as high quality as they are now. We would have been sacrificing quality for quantity which is something we never want to do.”

Choosing the villains

“Once we got the initial design underway we were looking at characters that could test Batman. A lot of the villains we used can better Batman in their core disciplines. Bane beats Batman in terms of brute strength, and The Riddler is smarter than Batman. But they are all very flawed as well. So, if you can’t take them on in their strongest area you can certainly take them on in another way – so that’s where the gameplay ideas originated from.

“There are just so many characters that there’s no way we’d be able to get all of them in properly. You’d end up with miniscule appearances that were just throwaway. People would say ‘Oh, you didn’t do my favourite character justice..’ So we went for the biographies and the collectibles instead to give the fans what they wanted without doing them a disservice. A lot of these characters are just as good as the ones we’ve used. Some of them aren’t as well known, but when we look on the forums we find people talking about characters you never expect there to be a big following for.”