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.