This week Batman: Arkham Origins Backgate comes to consoles, and since we never pass up an opportunity to talk Batman ’round these parts, let’s take a moment to chat about the original Arkham game, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Made by a small team with little of note under their belts, Batman: Arkham Asylum not only proved that superhero games can be great, but it raised the bar for all licensed games period. It’s no coincidence that most blockbuster superhero movies no longer come with an accompanying slapped together video game — in the wake of Arkham Asylum getting things so right gamers would no longer give them the time of day. So, here’s a few interesting facts about the best damn superhero game of all time…
1) Batman: Arkham Asylum owes its existence to a failed The Dark Knight game. Isn’t it strange that The Dark Knight, the most popular Batman movie of all time, never got a video game? Well, actually, there was a The Dark Knight game in the works. The Dark Knight video game was an open world title being developed by EA and Pandemic Studios (the guys behind acclaimed titles like Star Wars: Battlefront and Mercenaries). Unfortunately the game fell apart and wasn’t anywhere near ready by the time The Dark Knight hit theatres in mid-2008. The failure of the game led to a whopping 100-million dollar loss for EA, the shuttering of Pandemic and the loss of over 1000 jobs. Ouch.
The failure of The Dark Knight game also had another, more positive side effect — EA’s fumbling of Batman meant that Eidos, who also had their hands on the license, pretty much had free reign to do what they wanted with Batman. Without much to lose, and the bar set very low by EA, Eidos handed Batman to Rocksteady Studios, a small independent British developer that had only made one game at that point (the only decently review Urban Chaos: Riot Response).
2) A tiny team was responsible for Arkham Asylum. When I say Rocksteady was small, I mean it. When development of Arkham Asylum began Rocksteady had a mere 40 employees. By the time the game wrapped they were up to a whopping 60 employees. By comparison 500 to 1000 people work on your average Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty game. Compared to that the Arkham titles are practically indie games.
3) One guy spent over 2-years on Batman’s cape. One member of the small team working on the game was a guy who toiled on nothing but Batman’s cape for over two years straight. He had to come up with over 700 unique animations and sound effects in order to capture it’s full flappy glory.
DC Comics/Warner Bros.
Two years well-spent.
4) Batman’s explosive gel is actually whipped cream. Hey, you know Batman’s explosive gel that he sprays on walls in cute little bat-shapes? Doesn’t it sound a lot like somebody emptying a can of whipped cream? Well, that’s exactly what they did to get the sound effect. Here’s hoping Batman doesn’t ever mistake his explosive gel for whipped cream — I’d hate to see him go out in a tragic strawberry shortcake accident.
5) The game’s combat originally played like something out of Guitar Hero. Arkham Asylum’s brutal, free-flowing combat is one of its best aspects, but believe it or not the game’s combat was originally torn from rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. At one point in the game’s development the game would go into a 2D perspective when you had to fight somebody, then you had to time your blows as colored circles crashed into one another. I have to admit, I now kind of want to play this original DDR Batman battle system, and by “kind of” I mean “desperately”.
Admittedly, this is pretty gritty stuff.
6) The Scarecrow sequence was initially going to have Eternal Darkness-like sanity effects. The part of the game where you face off against the Scarecrow is one of Arkham Asylum’s best, most mind warping sequences. Originally it went even further, including various fourth wall-breaking twists, such as the game cutting to a fake reboot screen. Ultimately the developers cut this stuff out of fear it would legitimately bewilder gamers and possibly make them shut off their systems out of confusion. Even if they had wanted to leave them in, Rocksteady might have run into legal trouble as Nintendo actually patented sanity effects when they published Eternal Darkness.
7) Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn were physically played by the same dude. While Arkham Asylum managed to snag most of the iconic voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series, when it came to physical motion capture performances, most of the main characters were played by Art Lenavat, who was just some dude who happened to work on the animation team. So, before you go and get too excited about Harley’s sexy sashaying, just imagine most of her moves being performed by a video game developer in a carpal tunnel brace. Wait, that makes it better for you? Uh, well okay, no judgement.
8) The audio from Harley interview tape was lifted directly from Mad Love. Audio interviews with the inmates are one of the many things you can collect in Arkham Asylum. The audio from Harley’s interview is mostly lifted from classic Batman: The Animated Series episode “Mad Love”, which of course was written by Paul Dini, the guy also responsible for Arkham Asylum’s story.
This, by the way, was printed in the “kids” Batman comic.