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Developer Chat: Batman: Arkham Origins Senior Producer Ben Mattes

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Posted on July 25, 2013 AT 11:00am

The DC Comics booth was abuzz as always at this year’s San Diego ComicCon, as demos of Batman: Arkham Origins and other DC-inspired videogames were available for the first time to the public. While everyone else was playing, I had a chance to catch a quick tutorial from Jim Lee on how to draw Aquaman, and found out how much he hates drawing scaled armor. But then I headed back to the movie costume displays and met briefly with Warner Bros. Montreal senior producer Ben Mattes to talk about some of the work going on with Batman: Arkham Origins.

EGM: What made you want to include a small-time villain like Copperhead in Batman: Arkham Origins, and what inspired the character’s drastic redesign?

Ben Mattes: I tell this story differently than Eric [Holmes, Arkham Origins’ Creative Director], but I remember the meeting where we decided to go for it. We had a big bulletin board up with a lot of different assassins on it. First and foremost, we had the assassin angle. So we were looking at KGBeast, we were looking at Firefly, we were looking at Lady Shiva, we were looking at Copperhead. All these different characters. Anyone who might’ve, sort of had the word assassin in their history. And then we were looking for elements that would match different components of gameplay. So we were saying “this one would make a good challenge for freeflow combat” and “this one would be a good option because it could challenge your navigation” or whatever the case may be.

So as we were looking at the board, we realized we didn’t have a ton of women on our roster and that was frustrating and disappointing for a variety of reasons. And Ames Kirshen, who is the vice president of production for all DC properties at Warner Bros. Interactive, kind of likes the idea of the Copperhead character, and likes the idea of this acrobatic, contortionist character. And there was this merging, this alignment of the stars, where we said we have an idea of what the gameplay could be with this character. We’ve got an interesting angle in terms of this being an assassin, but we’re looking for more females, let’s pitch the idea of a refresh, a rebranding, of the Copperhead character and make it a visually appealing female character.

At first Ames and DC were a little hesitant. They weren’t against it, but they needed some convincing. And so working with our character concept team, we put together a few compelling character pieces that showed how visually appealing this character could be with her claws and her tattoos and her costume. And while doing this, we’re describing the image we have of her being a dangerously seductive contortionist, and that was a cool image that everyone could see in their heads. Imagine her wrapping herself around Batman and using her claws to attack and poison him. It was a pleasing image we all thought would be cool.

Once that happened, we got [DC Comics’ chief creative officer] Geoff Johns on board, and then the rest was just implementation. And as we revealed at the San Diego ComicCon panel, the motion capture of her was probably the point where everyone looked back and said, “See, I knew it would work!” We all thought it would be cool, but then we got these three really talented actresses and we hodgepodged together their MoCap, glued it all together to create the Copperhead experience in the cinematics we’ve shown, and that’s really when it clicked.

And then to have Geoff Johns talk about it at the panel and give credibility to the character by saying she’s going to become canon, she’s going to become a character you’re going to see in the New 52, is really validating, and shows the working relationship between us and DC—which has been great—but it also shows the importance of videogames as a medium in the overall DC space. The Arkham games sell. They get millions of eyes on them. And so they’re becoming increasingly powerful and important just as a platform to influence the canon of this character, which is very rewarding and exciting for us.

EGM: You mentioned the New 52 and how the Arkham games are now influencing that. The New 52 is very young, and the Arkhamverse is in its infancy as well. Because of its freshness, are you guys tempted to reach for Batman’s newer history, as it might have a more viable audience, or do you like staying rooted in Batman’s lengthy pre-New 52 history? 

BM: Generally speaking, everything is on the table. We are more influenced by the older comics for sure in regards to references and inspiration and try to steer clear mostly just of the movies, TV Shows, and other media. What’s more important than if our inspiration is from old or new comic material, is if it makes sense to the Arkhamverse, because it is young and it is its own unique branch of the DC timeline.

Hypothetically, let’s stick The Court of Owls into the Arkhamverse. We go back then and ask if that makes sense, especially since Origins is Year Two and very clearly Court of Owls isn’t Year Two, so there are some things where the chronology of our story dictates who we can and can’t have in it. But in regards to what books or authors or anything—it’s all available. We just have to make sure it stays consistent. And that’s not necessarily a DC mandate. I mean, they appreciate that we hold ourselves to that even before we put options in front of them, but we want to make sure that we are building a cohesive, coherent universe first and foremost. Because first of all, we’re huge fans and that’s the world we want to play in, and we don’t want to create an experience where the fourth wall is broken for those extra hardcore fans who find inconsistencies and lose that sense of immersion because there’s something about our narrative that breaks and fractures their sense of understanding in the universe.

EGM: How hard is it to keep that consistency with a prequel, though? You have a lot of new villains and gadgets that weren’t around in the first two games.

BM: You know, it’s really not that hard if you put gameplay first. We’re not ashamed of it. We’re proud of it. We didn’t sit there thinking that we needed to create an awesome gadget, but it needs to be technologically inferior to Arkham Asylum and so we need to limit him. That’s not how you make an exciting game. We wanted to make a game that felt like an upgrade over the previous two games in as far as Batman’s capabilities, even though this is chronologically taking place before Arkham Asylum. As a player, do you accept that the chronology means Batman should miss some punches, the Batclaw cable should snap once in a while, and the Batarangs shouldn’t fly as far? It would be frustrating instead of an empowering experience.

Luckily, though, there is a very well-established component of the canon that makes it all moot. Batman never leaves the Batcave with everything. It’s part of the character. He has different outfits, different gear, different vehicles, different versions of weapons, different versions of gadgets, different suits, and it’s always been accepted that based on the different challenges he may face, Batman will use some subset of his arsenal to use in that encounter, and so we’re just staying consistent, really, with that part of the canon. In Arkham Origins, Batman finds a need for the remote claw, and so narratively we can still be consistent. It’s just part of who he is.

EGM: Well, as long as he never brings out the Bat-Shark Repellant again, I think we’ll all be okay with that. So, you have a new Joker voiced by Troy Baker and a new Batman voiced Roger Craig Smith. Besides the fact these are younger versions of the characters, what made you want to change the actors and what went into choosing the new actors?

BM: Really, younger is it. That was the main reason behind the decision to change voice actors.  It’s not that we don’t love Mark [Hamill]. It was simply the fact that we needed a voice actor who could sound like he was the Joker, but seven years younger from where Mark typically played him.

And everyone acknowledged that need. We are an early career story. We needed our voice actors to be younger men who have younger sounding voices, but who can still very much play the characters the way that Mark and Kevin would’ve played them. We didn’t want Troy to re-invent the wheel and come up with an all-new Joker. We wanted him to the deliver us the Joker who becomes the character played by Mark Hamill in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

So what went into the casting was listening and auditioning tons and tons of some of the best male voice actors in videogames for that angle. And trying to make sure we found partners who understood and embraced that, and saw that as a huge opportunity rather than a restriction or a confinement or some sort of limiting factor. And both Troy and Roger immediately keyed into that in their auditions. You could actively hear them trying to do their versions of the vocal mannerisms of Mark. And it became quite evident to us early on in the process that these were our actors—not just because they could deliver the voices, but because they embraced the challenge so wholeheartedly and are so respectful of the giants whose shoulders they were asked to stand upon, which is exactly what we were looking for.

Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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