Imagine my excitement when I was offered the opportunity to interview Dax Ginn and Guy Perkins from Rocksteady about their first venture into the mind-blowing world of VR and the challenges they faced when developing Batman: Arkham VR.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really convinced that VR would be much more than a passing fad, that is until I tried Batman: Arkham VR. The experience not only blew away all my expectations, but quickly convinced me that if implemented correctly VR had the ability to take us to places and have us experience things we’ve only dreamt of. It was mind-blowingly good.
Batman: Arkham VR, literally places players in the shoes (bat-boots) of the Dark Knight. As the Batman, you not only get to don the legendary cowl but have to use all of your mystery solving prowess and gadgets to help solve an all-new mystery.
Now, of course, everyone, whether they will admit it or not, have at some stage thought of how great it would be to be Batman. What made you decide to make Batman: Arkham VR? Is it something that has always been at the back of the mind of the team?
As we were finalizing the development of Batman: Arkham Knight, our feeling was that we were not going to make another Batman game and that we would be closing the book on our time with the Dark Knight. It was around that time however that the industry was getting very excited about announcements that VR was soon going to be a reality, and we were invited to take a look at the PlayStation VR dev kit by Sony to see if we might be interested in working with it. After some relatively quick prototyping, we were amazed at how well the technology suited Batman’s detective abilities, and from there it didn’t take us long to commit to creating another Batman game. This time, it was an experience that was designed from the ground up to give players the opportunity to BE THE BATMAN in VR.
During my hands-on time with Batman Arkham VR, I got to briefly see Wayne Manor, some of Gotham and of course the Batcave. Rocksteady had already created these areas in great detail for the Batman Arkham games. What challenges were there in re-creating these environments for Batman Arkham VR and might we be seeing even more familiar environments such as Arkham Asylum and Gotham police Station as well?
Perhaps the most significant challenge when creating environments for a VR game is the fact that the only way to really know what the environment feels like is to experience it in VR. This means that our artists were having to almost constantly be jumping back and forth between their 3D modeling package and the VR world in order to check that the scale and atmosphere of their work looked and felt right. We wanted to allow the player to visit a wide range of iconic locations in Batman: Arkham VR, and so the mystery that Batman is investigating takes him to a lot of legendary places throughout Gotham City.
Movement in VR games, in general, seems like a challenge and implementing it without it detracting from the overall experience seems like it can be tough, especially considering that it could cause nausea in some people. How did you work around these issues?
The possibility of nausea and discomfort for the player was something that we took very seriously and ensured that we were addressing from very early in the development of Batman: Arkham VR. As an industry, we are all learning how to design around these issues, however, our approach on this game was to keep player movement to an absolute minimum. It is possible for the player to move between set location points in an environment, but these points are static which we felt offered the most comfortable solution for players.
Batman: Arkham VR is a narrative-driven experience that focuses more on Batman’s abilities as a detective and less on his fighting skills. With the main focus on the narrative, how linear is the experience? Will there be different endings for instance, depending on the choices you make?
The story is a murder mystery, so there are a lot of clues that the player will discover and a lot of theory jamming along the way, but ultimately we wanted to create a VR experience that tells a highly polished and very classic Batman detective story that leads all players to the same, high impact end point.
In the Arkham games, I always enjoyed exploring the various crime scenes and looking for clues and basically feeling like the world’s greatest detective. How does PSVR help you immerse the player in these moments?
VR as a technology is perfectly suited to forensics and crime scene investigation. Whether you are using Batman’s high-tech gadgetry in order to locate clues in a crime scene, or using Batman’s sheer fearful presence to interrogate a villain, the sense of reality that this technology brings is incredibly impressive. The PlayStation VR offers players a level of immersion that games have never had before to build believability into everything that game creators do.
Do you think that it would be possible to experience combat as the Dark Knight in the near future, or do you think that VR’s current limitations would make this difficult?
I think the most limiting factor with combat is the lack of physical feedback when a punch connects with its target. In the game world, the enemy would be hit and fall over but for the player, they wouldn’t feel anything in the real world. So this isn’t really a limitation with displaying VR, it relates more to the relatively undeveloped input and feedback technology that currently exists.
Now during my hands-on time with the game, I was really pleased to hear Kevin Conroy’s voice guiding me as Batman. Could this mean that we might see a certain clown prince of crime voiced by Mark Hamill in Batman Arkham VR?
During the development of Batman: Arkham VR what other challenges, besides the movement and navigation, did you face?
The biggest challenge that we faced across the studio was the fact that we had never done anything like this before. All of the systems that we had created for our previous games in the Arkham trilogy were more or less redundant for VR, which meant that we had to build new systems and mechanics from the ground up. In a perverse kind of way though, this forced us to approach the design of this game in a completely dedicated way which added immeasurably to the quality of the final experience.
If you had the opportunity to develop a VR game of any other Superhero property, which one would you chose and why? Superman would be an obvious choice for readers – mostly because of his ability to fly. Is this an option in the future?
Although we have said it before, Batman: Arkham VR is definitely our final Batman game. At the moment, we haven’t made any decisions on what we are going to do next as a studio.
What does the future of Batman VR look like? Will there possibly be an accessory that allows the VR to fit inside a Batman mask or something similar perhaps?
That sounds pretty high-tech. Perhaps that a job for Bruce Wayne’s R&D department.
Fortress of Solitude would just like to thank Ronelle from Ster-Kinekor and the Team from Rocksteady for the opportunity to do the interview.