One of the major reasons that the Batman: Arkham series from Rocksteady has been so successful is the look and feel of the game. It is as if the Dark Knight has leapt right from the pages of Detective Comics and onto our TV sets. And one of the key men behind this feeling is the Art Director on both games, David Hego. David did a short panel at GDC explaining what inspirations went into Arkham City and also a few problems they noticed in Arkham Asylum, like Detective Mode, and how they tried to fix them.
Right from the get go, David admitted that being Batman is pretty freakin’ cool. And so game play was always the primary pillar for both games. The combo systems, the gadgets, the villains, etc., but this is still a visual medium so although some may see the art of the game as having taken a bit of a secondary role, it was still vital to the experience and knowing this, he and his team had a monumental task on hand as they wanted to give a respectful interpretation and thus created their Arkham-verse. Their representation, although a bit different, still needed to have Batman’s DNA all over it from the locations to the characters designs, like making the Penguin’s monocle a broken bottle.
And so when it came to actually crafting Arkham City, he and his team looked to blend the late 19th century Art Nouveau movement with the very modern Hyperrealism. The hyperrealism comes out best in many of the game’s character models, but much of the architecture took on more of the Art Nouveau style, like the Wonder Tower, which was modeled after the Eiffel Tower, one of Art Nouveau’s most easily recognizable works.
He also spoke to the challenges he had in designing Arkham City, like fixing the Detective Mode as he reminisced about how heart breaking it was to hear players spending the entirety of Arkham Asylum in that mode. And so they removed everything that was not vital from that mode so navigation and combat became much more difficult and compelled players to play the game it was meant to be played.
Another problem Hego spoke to was normalization. “Normalization is when the player stops being in awe of what they see on the screen. And what happens is a normal part of gaming. You start getting into the action and the game play and the narrative and you stop focusing in on a lot of the details of the environment. And even many of the subtle color schemes of Arkham City’s levels hurt us because they appeal to the base instincts of gamers where we have an ice level with Mr. Freeze, the steel mill is a fire level, Poison Ivy is our jungle level, and so on. So we need to combat this with a lot of variety. Contrasting elements and color schemes to keep things entertaining. So we create a lot of clashing in many of the levels. We added a lot of fanfare and the giant white clown faces to the steel mill to help fight the oranges and reds, for example. And so we just keep clashing in the hopes of creating new and still interesting environments.”
Hego also talked about how much the posters and Riddler clues spoke to the world they wanted to create without being too distracting to the player and taking away from the experience and even removing details in many areas with enemies and NPCs so that the player would focus on the objectives at hand.
All in all, Hego’s brief talk was an interesting look into seeing how this gorgeous world was created and how much care went into making sure we players and fans were happy while Hego and his team were still able to express themselves creatively in a way that fit into the game play and story.