I had a chat with Sefton Hill, chief game designer at Rocksteady Studios, in Las Vegas last week. The man's team just made two terrific Batman games, so it was time we talked about stuff. Stuff you might consider to be spoilers.
Off-limits topics: The thing about Harley Quinn at the end.
Let's get into it:
Kotaku: Why did the game have more than 400 Riddler trophies to find? That seems like a lot.
Hill: "It's more to do with the requirements to make it feel... [like] there was something on every square foot of the game... We didn't sit down and say, 'We need 440 trophies.' It was: 'What feels like a good number of trophies in this area?' 'What feels populated but not over-saturated?' That was where we came out. We happened to narrow that number.
"We designed them at the end of the game. We sort of have all the mechanics in place, so then it's: 'How do you push the player with different unique challenges?' We tried to be creative with all 440. We have a little bit of a different spin on requiring different gadgets, so it wasn't just a chore to pick these things up... It's kind of easy to just stick them in the most obscure parts of the level and make people get them. We wanted to put them in such a way where you'd go to them and say, 'Okay, now we're here, what do you need to do?'"
Kotaku: How about the villains? Why did you have so many of them?
Hill: "[The thinking behind] selecting the villains we wanted in there was to show you that this place was a melting pot of all the vilains in Gotham. We did make a conscious decision that you weren't going to get one villain's story for 10 hours. You were going to see a little bit of how Penguin is, and a little bit of Ra's Al Ghul.
That was a conscious decision on our part and a little bit of our storytelling ... that's what we wanted to get across. You get a little bit of an experience with these villains, but you don't get their whole story ... We felt that gave the best feeling of being in this super prison facility versus just running across a couple."
Kotaku: And did you maybe use so many that you couldn't have any good ones left for any future games? [Note to readers: Hill wasn't going to — and didn't — acknowledge if his team is indeed making another Batman game.]
Hill: "I think these are such great characters ... I'm not trying to put artificial restrictions and thinking too far into the future because it's going to affect other games or other plans."
Kotaku: Isn't Alfred kind of a jerk to Batman in this game?
Hill: "His role is kind of a moral centre. He's always reminding Batman of what he should be doing... I think someone has to be able to put Batman in his place."
Kotaku: And Robin? Why does he only have a cameo?
Hill: "We originally didn't have him in the main story. But we're always looking for authentic ways for Batman to collect his gadgets. Batman can't just open chests and find his own gadgets around the city. We had plans for Robin in the DLC and we thought it was a good place to introduce him and show a relationship, but, for me, the most powerful Batman stories are the ones where it's Batman against these villains. We wanted to show that this Robin existed in this universe. And is pretty badass. But we didn't really want him to get in the way of Batman's relationship with the villains."
Kotaku: Do you know how many Robins there have been in this universe? Have you figured your Robin lore out?
Hill: "We do have the Robin lore figured out."
Kotaku:How many Robins have there been in this one? 440?
Kotaku: Why hasn't there been a Batmobile in these games? The new one does take place in a city, with streets...
Hill: "One of the things we really wanted to achieve with Arkham City was delivering Batman as the ultimate vehicle, gliding and diving and moving through the streets. We felt that was a more unique experience than the Batmobile. It was really new and fresh. That's why we didn't put the Batmobile in, not that we have anything against the Batmobile."
Kotaku: How did you decide to have Batman punch a shark?
Hill: "We were thinking about traversal and puzzles for Batman and about what Penguin would do if he took over a museum. What kind of exhibits would the museum have? We had this concept of a natural history museum. And we thought it would be interesting that Penguin would repurpose it ... as kind of this torture chamber. So that was really how we started.
"And then we had this idea of the different weaponry in the torture chamber. We had the shark. OK, how does Batman interact with the shark? ... One of the ideas we originally had is the shark comes out and grabs the raft. And then Batman pulls out shark repellent and he opens it up, and inside the shark repellent was a massive knuckle duster. And he just smashes the shark on the nose. And then we thought: maybe the tone is going a bit wrong... then we thought we'd slip it in for New Game Plus. We decided not to."
How is the Joker's health?
Hill: The Joker's dead...
Kotaku: Really? The last time you guys told Kotaku that...
Hill: "We don't want to... that was the events in the game. We don't want to cheat the experience."