Arkham Asylum art director on rebooting Batman

GDC 2010: Rocksteady's David Hego explains the approach taken to polishing up the Caped Crusader's tarnished image in games.

Who Was There: Rocksteady art director David Hego delivered a presentation on last year's hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, titled "Rebooting a Super Hero Video Game IP."

What They Talked About: Hego kicked off his talk with a warning.

Rocksteady strived to nail the gothic look.

"I'm a bit French," he said, asking the audience to forgive his accent.

Hego ran down a bit of background on Rocksteady, saying the studio started with 40 people but ramped up to 65 by the height of Arkham Asylum's development. The team is an experienced group, he said, with a strong belief that attention to detail is what makes great games.

With Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady inherited an existing intellectual property with a lengthy history. Hego said it was tricky to do because the developers weren't starting with an empty canvas, and they had to keep true to the license. That made for a considerable amount of pressure, as Hego explained by adapting a different hero's truism.

"With great characters come great expectations," Hego said.

When the team started preproduction, Hego said they tried to expose themselves to as many treatments of Batman and read as many of the comics as they could to properly get a feel for the character and iconic settings like Arkham Asylum. Hego said Arkham was always going to be dark and gothic, which meant the developer could incorporate features like architectural gargoyles and really emphasize lighting in the visuals. Despite the generally dark tone of Arkham, Hego wanted it to be colorful at the same time, with lush plants, flowers, and weather effects helping to expand the game's palette.

Hego said he wanted a hyperrealistic visual style for the game, with exaggerated light and shadow. Hego pointed to fashion magazines and movies like Avatar as being hyperreal and said the goal for Arkham Asylum was to mix that sensibility with the stylized portrayals of the comics. In the models, that meant focusing on the skin, facial features, hair, and lighting, from "getting the wetness of the eyes" just right to the virtual makeup characters wore. One of the biggest advantages of incorporating the stylized look and fantastic characters into the otherwise realistic visual style was that it sidestepped the issue of the uncanny valley, Hego said.

Hego showed off some original concept art of Batman from the game, pointing out touches used to give the costume a more "real" feel, with hints of a military theme. He pointed to the textures used for the fabrics on Batman's suit, as well as details like little rivets in different parts of the suit.

The Joker was a bigger leap from concept art, Hego said, since the comic book version of the character is almost always grotesquely stylized. His sidekick, Harley Quinn, was also a fun character to tinker with, Hego said, because rights holder Warner Bros. allowed Rocksteady to play with the design in more significant ways. They pushed her more gothic, he said.

As for the environment, Hego said the developers tried to include a variety of architectural looks with Victorian and Gothic styles, corridors and gardens, newly built medical wings, and more ancient catacombs. The developers also tried to slant the player's perspective, making environments extremely vertical to give the asylum an imposing feel. They also tried to take straight things and make them crooked where possible, be it a pipe on the wall or a tree in the courtyard.

Despite the variety, the game isn't that huge, Hego said. He said the entire game broke down into 40 rooms, 34 corridors, three exteriors maps, and three special Scarecrow maps.

Hego also wanted to give players a lot of contrasting environments. Even if someone lives in a beautiful seaside home with a spectacular view, it becomes normal after a short period of time, Hego said. To keep gamers from normalizing their surroundings, Rocksteady mixed up the types of environments, as well as the balance between warm and cool lighting. Varied lighting not only breaks up the monotony of a scene, Hego noted, but also makes it less obvious when the developer uses the same textures and models.

Quote: "She could be working in London, in Camden Town. That's the kind of people who work there." --Hego, on the more gothic design of Harley Quinn in Arkham Asylum.

Takeaway: Batman: Arkham Asylum looked great, but it wasn't just a matter of talented artists and technical horsepower. The development team at Rocksteady had to be clever in the way it used both of those to create a cohesive gameworld that appeared to have a wide variety of locales, all with a relatively small team of artists.

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116 comments
GothamKnight13
GothamKnight13

or 20 to 30 hours like gta but it has to have a good story to hold up that long

dbzpranav
dbzpranav

The first game was mindblowing but so addictive that the campaign felt woefully short! I hope the next one has ATLEAST 15 hours! Who wouldn't love 15+ hours of that game eh?

ATLien712
ATLien712

The first 1 was awesome, the second one is also gonna be awesome... they should also make a V for Vendetta game

sinfulperfxshun
sinfulperfxshun

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE I WOULD BE ABLE TO SUGGEST A GAME OR AN IDEA FOR A GAME TO THE DEVELOPER OF BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM

Acid_Kenobi
Acid_Kenobi

Was a great game, at least a great building block for a sequel, hopefully longer this time :D

HappyApryl
HappyApryl

best batman game I ever played, loved it, cant wait for the sequel!!!

CrazyBahal
CrazyBahal

Batman:AA is great without any doubt

btaylor2404
btaylor2404

Probably the best comic book hero game ever made. Fantastic game, can't wait for part 2!

megatrunks
megatrunks

It is the best Batman game ever.

andalore
andalore

Cannot Wait For the Sequel, Arkham Asylum was one of The Best Games of '09.

SithChampion
SithChampion

@kubb724 Haha no need to apologize. Its your opinion. Anyway that's great you're going to give Watchmen a second chance. Ha do watch it high though. It'll be effin cool.

kubb724
kubb724

@SithChampion..i do agree with you on the Bale voice that was annoying when he "growled" everything he said as batman ..it was just stupid and now that i see you as a real nerd comic fanboy i can see how some one like me that would say watchmen was boring would bother you and i apologize . lol and to be honest watchmen was the only movie i have seen NOT high , which for some reason i can only fully understand movies in that state of mind you no? but becuase of you i will watch it again and see what goes on =]

SithChampion
SithChampion

Really with the negative comments? I can't believe those who fall for those crap Batman movies. Okay, I will admit that for entertainment purposes, yes the Batman movies were good and action-packed and good acting and all that gay s**t. Especially with Christian Bale's incredibly GAY Batman raspy voice in the Dark Knight. But me, being a nerd comic book fanboy, I am highly critical of how inaccurate comic-to-movies are and I truly feel Hollywood should not touch them. @kubb724 I know a lot of people who feel the same way. In fact all my friends hated it and didn't understand what was going on (I think they're just weak-minded fools). Also, Alan Moore (the creator of Watchmen) refused to watch the movie. I didn't say the movie was good, I just said it was the most accurate comic-to-movie to date. But now I will say it. Watchmen was an awesome movie. Plus we got to see blood and that hot chick's t**s. What's boring about that?

kubb724
kubb724

@SithChampion..watchmen was the stupidest boring sh!t ive ever seen ...batman is cool and they did good with batman movies and they even pulle off the SEQUAL ebing even better then the first IMO

player_leo
player_leo

I'm really glad the team didn't follow the Joker from Dark Knight. I saw a really early shot of Batman AA and they had Joker with the Glasgow smile which turned me off to the game. Later I saw a picture of Batman and I learned that Kevin Conroy (Best Batman ever) and Mark Hamill (Best Joker ever) were signed to do the voices and I was hooked. The Batmoblie, though not useable, looked awesome, not like the monstrosity Hummer H2 Ferrari from the current Batman movie mistakes. Even Sandy Collora's Batman: Dead End was a better Batman film and a much better Joker too. But the game has to be the best adaption of Batman ever. Can't wait for the sequel. I hope to see Riddler and Ra's al Ghul.

MrHatnClogs
MrHatnClogs

Would be cool if they could incorporate a Co-op Challenge mode. You could pick different characters like Batman, Robin (Grayson), Robin (Drake), Nightwing (Grayson), Batgirl, Catwomen (She is in a complicated relationship with Batman) etc.....Maybe even a few special unlockables of other DC Heroes that are relevant to the Batman franchise like Superman?

gsplst
gsplst

@SithChampion True, Hollywood does such things sometimes, one of such examples is Transformers, that was ugly and disgusting what they have done to the famous comics and cartoons... but now we're going to have Transformers: War for Cybertron and it looks promising. So games are sometimes made better than movies. Looking forward to the next Batman game, I'm sure it will be even better than this one! Not sure why, Batman reminds me Half Life 1 somehow...

SithChampion
SithChampion

@gsplst Batman Begins was the best Batman movie ever created, but it was still highly flawed. And The Dark Knight was extremely overrated. I hate how Hollywood F***KS up every single comic-to-movie production. They need to get the stories right or just leave them alone as comics. The most accurate comic-to-movie was Watchmen and even that was still flawed. Anyway, yes this game is damn awesome.

gsplst
gsplst

One of the best games ever created! Together with Batman Begins, one of the best movies ever created!

RedWave247
RedWave247

BIG fan of Arkham and if the Rocksteady guys are reading this: thank you. It was, hands down, the best Batman game to date and possibly the best superhero game to date. I hope, though, for the sequel that they don't use Joker so much. He was great for the first game and really was the best part of it, but Batman's rogues gallery is so wide and diverse that a number of them could have that same starring role. Two-Face is the first that comes to mind, of course. I say this as a huge Joker fan, but he's had his time to shine; give it to someone else, now. Also, I hope to heck they do a great Superman game, as well.

e1shw
e1shw

This was truly the best Batman game to date that has been released. Hands down. :)

davisbe76
davisbe76

I've seen other comparisons to Web of Shadows, and while I have always been a bigger Spidey fan, I have to say that Arkham Asylum truly is the best. The controls, while a bit more confined, still allow plenty of freedom. The storyline, while still linear, is much more open, and I prefer the rewards for returning to prior areas to unlock trophies and additional content. While WoS had a great upgrade system, it still was a bit too much for such a chaotic game. Still, we're all winners when it comes to this new superhero game genre!!!

Ghostquote44
Ghostquote44

HaHaHa... Get ready for number 2! (Batman Arkham Asylum 2)

RonTorque
RonTorque

Interesting, after AA i became more interested in Batman IPs

Truf89
Truf89

I knew it was going to be good when I saw the dark theme from the stills they showed before it came out. This truly is the best Batman game ever made...so far..

deejaynita
deejaynita

this version of game batmen is in another dimension, and can't compare with olders

anique
anique

AA has one serious flaw: It ended :(

sporccoitaliano
sporccoitaliano

nomorepain4u what web of shadows wasnt enough? that game killed bro.

manhunt420
manhunt420

This game was bad to the bone...FOREAL!

Sepewrath
Sepewrath

AA was a spectacular game. Nothing beats that moment when you first come out high over Arkham, with the full moon and Gotham in the background, a great moment.

Phazevariance
Phazevariance

That game was so good. The games lately have been great like ME2, AC2, Batman AA, ... which is great for all gamers.

SicklySunStorm
SicklySunStorm

such an awesome game, and a demonstration of what the right people can do with a superhero game... definitely redeemed the Batman license, for sure. Now, they just need get Rocksteady to do a Superman game, get Doomsday involved, and I'll be a very happy man

fleshimp91
fleshimp91

Just bought it second hand. The game is awesome and I've been up playing it. Been hard to when there's an awesome MP game out now..

Exactlamento
Exactlamento

@shkar have you ever seen Batman the Animated series?!! Mark Hamil is right up there with Heath Ledger as the joker. Jeez...I can't stand you ppl that think you know about Batman lore by just watching the two most recent Batman movies. wow go home...

pete_merlin
pete_merlin

Batman was my favorite from last year

Amit_88
Amit_88

loved this game can't wait for the sequel this year

ColonelX24
ColonelX24

They did a great job with AA, nowhere near tarnishing Batman's legacy. Can't wait for the second game, we finally get to go to Gotham.

commanderPOWER
commanderPOWER

I don't think Batman had a tarnished image in games prior to Arkham Asylum, more so that AA just really upped the ante for any sort of comic related titles in the future.

nomorepain4u
nomorepain4u

develop a spiderman game. that would be sweet. cant wait for this game.

4BD3L4ZIZ
4BD3L4ZIZ

it was great but i selled it when i've finished it because it doesn't have multiplayer and the only defaut i found on this game is the locations. They looked the same. Other then that the game was awesome. 9.3/10

KrazzyDJ
KrazzyDJ

Finally, Batman got justice (on the video game front) with Arkham Asylum. This game has already made it's sequel as one of the most anticipated games of 2010 / 2011 / whenever it comes out.

qUaRaNt1n3
qUaRaNt1n3

honestly i felt this game deserved game of the year. hope the next one will be just as awesome

shkar
shkar

I am so missing the Heath Ledger JOKER and totally got used to it.......and now when I look at the JOKER of the this game it's just lame and stupid.......

Gezquester
Gezquester

I love this game, looking forward to the second.

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

good game, good info

Dan21278
Dan21278

lol "I'm a bit French". "In the models, that meant focusing on the skin, facial features, hair, and lighting, from "getting the wetness of the eyes" just right to the virtual makeup characters wore" It's that attention to detail that made that game awesome. Sometimes I feel like people who make games rush them. If you rush something it will never be as good as it could be if you took your time.

Hekynn
Hekynn

That would be awsome if they do that! Batman rocks!