DC Comics/Warner Bros.
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.
9) Hints about the events of Arkham City were tucked away in a room fans never found. The guys are Rocksteady, cocky bastards that they are, started planning Arkham City seven months before Arkham Asylum was even completed. This allowed the developers to include a hidden room, which teased what was to come in Arkham City.
Unfortunately the room was so well hidden that no players were able to find it. Basically, in the Warden’s Office there’s a wall that requires three explosive gel doses to knock down. Six months passed and nobody found the room, so finally Rocksteady threw up their hands and just told everybody how to find it. I kind of wish they hadn’t — how awesome would it be if the secret wasn’t discovered until, like, a decade later?
10) The villain of Arkham City was hidden in Arkham Asylum. Arkham City spoilers ahead — Okay, so the Joker/Clayface may have been the final boss of Arkham City, but Ra’s al Ghul was the real top villain. He was the one behind the whole Arkham City scheme. Anyways, in a bit of foreshadowing, Ra’s actually makes an appearance in Arkham Asylum. In Dr. Young’s office, if you look closely you’ll notice a body bag with a toe-tag reading “Ra’s al Ghul”. Return to this same room later in the game, and the body bag is now empty. Ruh-oh.
DC Comics/Warner Bros.
Ra’s could use a serious pumice-ing.
11) The villain of Arkham Origins was also hidden in Arkham Asylum. Black Mask, the main villain of Arkham Origins was also teased in the game. I’d say that’s impressive two-steps-ahead thinking by Rocksteady, but they didn’t develop Arkham Origins. Still, a cool example of Rocksteady planting enough seeds for an entire complex franchise in a single game.
12) A lucky fan is memorialized for all time in the game. One of the cells near where you encounter Clayface contains a strange one-armed inmate who looks a lot more detailed and specific than most of the generic thugs populating the facility. That’s because this inmate is based on a guy named Luke Oliver, who won a contest to have his likeness inserted somewhere in the game. Ol’ Luke probably thought he was going to end up in another forgettable licensed Bat-game, and instead ended up forever memorialized in an enduring classic. Not bad.
DC Comics/Warner Bros.
13) So are most of the game’s developers. Even the floor holds secrets in Arkham Asylum. Throughout the game you may notice various photos littering the floor of the asylum. These aren’t just random textures — they’re actually the faces of the dev team.
14) The game has a gloriously passive-aggressive approach to pirates. Arkham Asylum, like a lot of games, can detect if it’s been pirated, but instead of completely locking pirates out, Arkham Asylum just makes one minor change — if the game detects piracy, it disables Batman’s glide ability. For a while this makes the game harder, but not unplayable, but eventually players will reach a gas-filled room they can only escape via gliding and are left the figure out what the hell is going on. Amusingly several folks playing pirated versions even went to Rocksteady’s forums to complain, only to find themselves the subject of some choice zingers from the game’s development team.
DC Comics/Warner Bros.
If you pirated the game, prepare for a 20-foot flop onto your forehead.
15) The Arkham titles are not the most popular Batman games out there. The Arkham games may be the most acclaimed Batman titles of all time, but they’re not quite the most popular. That title goes to the Lego Batman series. For instance, Arkham Asylum sold around 9.5 million copies across all platforms, while the original Lego Batman sold around 12.5 million. I guess there is an audience for goofy Batman.
And that brings our tour through the halls of Arkham to an end. What about you folks? What are some of your favorite Arkham Asylum moments or Easter eggs?
Thanks as always to Joel Stice for the Fascinating Facts format!