Batman Was Great, But Remember, Batman Was Late

Game delays are big news and bad news. But once a game comes out and proves to be good, game delays are often forgotten news. Batman: Arkham Asylum was delayed in 2009. Its lead creator recalled that forgotten moment.

You would think that delaying a game is an awkward process. The game is closing in on its completion date. The studio needs to be finished. Ads are placed. The publisher wants to start selling the thing and making money.

You'd also think that Arkham Asylum game director Sefton Hill of Rocksteady Studios might have had butterflies in his stomach when, earlier this year, he and his team broached the topic to the games publishers that the game, which was planned for a late June release, could benefit from being pushed back.

He doesn't tell the story as if he had much fear at all: "We discussed it with Warner Brothers and Eidos and said, 'Look, we believe we have a really good game here.' What we all agreed to do at the outset was put the time in and make sure we deliver a game worthy of Batman. ... [We]said what we really need to do here is spend this additional three months to make sure we tidy the game and deliver the game that we all set out to do. To give Eidos and Warner a lot of credit, they backed that 100%."

For consumers, the delay turned out to be two months. Arkham Asylum slipped from June to late August, when it was released to rave reviews. It seemed such a short delay, in fact, that some gamers thought they sniffed out a different motivation. "I think there were some rumours that it had just been delayed for more sales, but that wasn't true. We were still working on it like crazy."

What did change in Arkham Asylum while the team labored for a couple of extra months? Hill was unable to specify any notable design changes, no new gadgets or altered levels. "Some of the things we worked on that aren't immediately apparent is things like the [data-] streaming times," he said. "You never see any loading screens when you're playing the game. And that's stuff that takes a lot of time to do." Hill said the delay also helped the team optimise the game's framerate.

Hill made the delay sound so easy. Surely it wasn't that simple? He said it was the product of a team confident in their potential, an attitude that would empower other studios to also get their publishers to give them the extra time their games might need. So to get that delay, he suggested, a development team must have "confidence in the game." They also need "to be able to show that [added]time is going to be well spent. I think if you can do that, any publisher is going to buy into that. I think where it becomes difficult is if you're arguing from a position of weakness, if the confidence isn't there."

It sounds like one of those things that's easier said than done. It sounds like one of those things that requires a publisher and a developer to be working together happily, which is not at all a given. And it sounds like something that, as a gamer, would be awfully hard to take.

It also sounds like something that gets forgotten, because as 2009 recedes what lingers about Batman: Arkham Asylum is how good it was. Not how late it was.


Comments

    I don't think delaying a game neccesarily increases the sales: the longer the time between advertisement and sale, the less impulse buys you get.

    Also, delays are forgotten because that wasn't the game at all. When you saw Watchmen, did you say: "took them long enough"?

    No, delays are only brought up again for defective titles, as then it leads the player to think: they couldn't have used that time to work on the game, because it's terrible. If a game is brilliant, though...

    Its only when a game gets huge delays and the end result is still a pile of junk that you have cause for concern, I’m not too phased at game delays, I would gladly wait a few extra months if it means the game gets that extra layer of polish. I’m not surprised that the developer said that the final delay wasn’t used to alter any levels or add content, most games have all their content fixed by that point, I’m guessing it was used to fix bugs, test the game and just generally streamline the experience. Could you image this game full of bugs and glitches?. If they can make the second game as good as the first, I say take all the time you need.

    This is a great example of how the system should work - the devs should be self-aware enough to know when something needs more time, and the publishers should be willing to give them a bit of leeway on release dates. When developers are forced to release a game on someone else's timeline, the game almost always suffers for it - see 95% of movie tie-in games for evidence of this.

    To draw an analogy, when you go to a restaurant you trust the chef to know when your meal is ready to be served, you don't try and tell him to serve it half cooked - that way lies food poisoning.

      Couldn't have said it better myself. If only more games were delayed. I'm all for getting my games on time, but I'd much rather get a game 3 or even 6 months late and have it the way it was supposed to be. Pretty sure Miyamoto said "a delayed game is eventually good, a bad game is bad forever". Good read.

      I think the problem with movie tie ins is that the developers aren’t really trying to make a good game, they just want to squeeze the fanfare for all its worth. This game didn’t have any movie deadline to meet, so yea that’s why they took their time, and that’s the difference between a good game and a great game. I think with the exception of X-men wolverine pretty much all movie tie ins were half baked this year. Avatar was a perfect example of this, such a good premise wasted on a rushed game.

    Who cares about the delay? It was awesome - it's not like the game didn't come out like say Duke Nukem Forever. Are you desperate for story ideas Stephen?

    Yeah and remember how good Duke Nukem Forever turned out to be despite all the delays?

    I'm only fussed by delays while I'm waiting for a game I've hotly anticipated. But I soon forget it when the days roll around, and most times the long wait has made popping in the disc (or in XBLA's case, downloading it) for the first time. Arkham Asylum turned out pretty awesome, so the delays didn't bother me. If devs need more time to polish up parts of the game, especially MP modes (I'm looking at you; MW2) I certainly think they should take the time they need, fix up all the bugs and get all the features to the best they can be, it's definitely worth the time.

    I wouldn't feel too bad - i think Splinter Cell Conviction has a lot to live up to with all those delays. Weren't we expecting that game in early 2008 or something?

    Max Payne 3 isn't taking off that great either. Its release was originally planned for like now?

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