Batman: Arkham City
The anticipated follow up to last year’s Batman: Arkham Asylum is due for release in 2011, with Rocksteady Studios at the creative helm. But what can we expect? More meticulous, moody art? New characters to share the Bat-shaped spotlight? ImagineFX spoke to the game’s art director David Hego and concept artist Kan Muftic to find out more.

What’s the biggest challenge when redrawing a famous character?
Kan Muftic: You may think that there’s not much you can change when redrawing such iconic characters as Batman, The Joker or Catwoman. But if you put your characters in vibrant environments, they evolve and ultimately they change.

Instead of thinking about the surface details, I spent time thinking about things that could have happened to them and how those events would have affected their appearance. For me, they need to exist in a world first before being designed. The world we created in Batman: Arkham City (AC) is a very dark, polluted and extremely violent environment. Everything within the walls of this sprawling super-prison follows this grim nature and so the characters need to be the kind of people that would be able to survive it.

I say people, because that is what many concept artist nowadays forget: the characters are people and the more we can relate to them, the greater the chance of empathising with them. In our case, it is extremely important to give those icons of pop culture a breath of life and something players can relate to.

Were you ever nervous about the direction you were taking your version of Batman?
David Hego: [Rocksteady] now has enough experience to be confident with where we want to take Batman. The last game, AA (AA), was highly acclaimed by the press and the gamers and this is something we are very proud of. In AC, we are continuing to explore the ‘Arkhamverse’ - our version of the Batman world we created here at Rocksteady.

We are always looking to surprise players and Batman fans. For example, in AA we completely redesigned the character of Harley Quinn to give her a fresh look that was more inline with our ‘Arkhamverse’ and her role in the game. In AC we will bring a lot more surprises and we have a lot of very exciting announcements to make very soon.

It’s now known that Catwoman will feature in the game. What or who was the inspiration for your version of the feisty feline?

DH: We have been working closely with DC Comics and WildStorm Productions on the main characters of AC, so it is natural that the first concept of Catwoman came from Carlos D’Anda at WildStorm. We needed to make sure that the design of Catwoman suited the art style of AC. She had to look sexy of course, so she fits well in the ‘ugly men and beautiful girls’ creative direction for our characters. In terms of her outfit, it had to feel slick and modern.

We moved away from a hand-crafted cat suit to get closer to a near military kind of gear. The texture of the fabric had to be cutting edge, octagonal honeycomb style, while not being too futuristic. Our gothic, dark world is, in a way, very contemporary while feeling out of time. The characters need to look realistic and plausible, and at the same time stylized with an attitude.
So what is the inspiration? Our knowledge of the Batman universe, our experience working on AA, and a strong creative desire to stay consistent in expanding our vision of the Batman world in AC.

How does game play/technology determine how a character looks?

DH: Technology has always been a driving force that determines the way a character looks in a video game. The amount of polygons, the power of the consoles, and the amount of detail have constantly increased through the years and the different generations of hardware. We are now reaching a point where we create models containing millions of polygons and then we bake the normal maps that are applied on a 20,000 to 40,000 polygon model. The amount of detail, combined with the increasingly complex shaders, allows us to toy around with hyperrealism. This is a direction we started in the previous game and we are continuing to develop.

In AC, we are pushing our character technology and tools further - the skin and hair look incredibly real and facial expressions are very life-like. However, we are aware that hyperrealism can bring the fearful problem with the ‘uncanny valley’ - everything looks so nice, but weird at the same time. This is why we ensure that our characters contain a nice touch of stylization, which creates an awesome cast of believable heroes and villains.

Batman is one of the few DC characters to survive redesigns. Why do you think this is?
DH: Batman is a great character on his own and he has an incredible cast of awesome enemies too - just look at The Joker! This is a very rich universe that fans never get tired of. At the very core of his personality, there is something very deep and very compelling about Batman that gives him an eternal appeal, so although many artists have redesigned and redrawn him over the years, they have all remained true to the central principles that define Batman both as a man and as a superhero.

We have a very close and creative working relationship with DC Comics and they are the perfect partner for us to look to when we are bringing our own Rocksteady twists to Batman, but we all understand that there are a number of absolute sacred elements of Batman’s personality that we have to respect. We don’t see this as a restraint and we are absolutely committed to creating a game that is true to every facet of Batman’s persona. This means delivering an incredible game play experience in terms of combat and navigation, as well as forensics, stealth and the darker, psychological sides of Batman. He is an incredible character with a rich and intriguing history, and we are drawing inspiration from every element that we can in order to develop a truly extraordinary game in Batman: Arkham City.