Interview - Ans Beaulieu (Producer Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition)


Interview - Ans Beaulieu (Producer Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition)
With the Wii U launch hype now in full flow, and consoles proving notoriously difficult to get hold of, we had the chance to speak to Ans Beaulieu, producer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s launch title Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition in Toronto this week…
Click: So, we’ll start with a question we’re sure you’ve been asked many times before. Batman: Arkham City is a title that has already been available on other systems for more than a year now – what was it about the game, and the Wii U console, that made you think it was a good fit for the launch lineup?

AB: Since the Wii U is a brand new console we wanted to take the opportunity to develop a title for it. We saw a very good opportunity with the GamePad, at the beginning we were thinking about how we could use the new features offered by the Wii U, but the second we saw the GamePad we thought “this is the Bat Computer! This is making sense”… gameplay-wise and story-wise it just made a whole lot of sense for us. That was the starting point and we put a lot of effort into trying to make the Bat Computer add to the immersion. You’re playing as Batman in the game, and now you’ve got your own Bat Computer to use in the game.

Click: How have you implemented the GamePad within Armored Edition?

AB: We tried several things, you know, it’s a launch title so there are no previous examples of how to use the system and the controller. We tried lots of different things internally and with players too, and then adapted everything as we went. One of the first things we saw was that people weren’t used to using two screens. It’s not like on the DS where the screens are close to each other – one is away from you on the TV and the other is in your hands, so training the player to use those two screens and make gameplay relevant to those two screens was one thing we worked very hard to achieve.

Click: Having played the game on the Wii U at various events over the past few months, one thing we noticed was that Armored Edition feels a lot more immersive than the other versions of the game…

AB: I think the audio plays a huge part in that. One of the first things we see with players is that when they hear audio communications coming through the GamePad’s speakers they say “Oh wow! That’s great” and that adds to the immersion. One of the key points of the story of the game is the Bat Computer, and getting that information coming out from the GamePad in audio is more visceral.

Click: How did you find developing for the system?

AB: It was challenging, but definitely rewarding. It’s exciting having new technology to explore and that’s real new ground – that was fun for us.

Click: There have been quite a few people saying that the Wii U isn’t as powerful as it could have been, but from our understanding it’s more a shift in development style, with more importance placed on the GPU than the traditional CPU oriented development. Is that a big change for developers?

AB: With developing for different systems it’s always a case of trying to achieve something similar through different means and techniques. In this case the console is different from the PS3 or Xbox 360. As you can see from the game the performance is, in certain conditions better and in certain conditions not as good, depending on the strength of the console at different things – but overall it’s essentially the same experience visually in terms of frame rate, while it’s stronger when it comes to anti-aliasing. There are other things, though, where we had to make concessions. The overall experience, when you play this side by side with say the PS3 or Xbox 360 version, is pretty much the same, technically.

Click: This is obviously a first generation title, and we’re going to see a lot more from the system in the future, but how excited are you for the console?

AB: I’m very excited! I’m seeing the reviews and seeing the other games, or trying to since it’s sold out almost everywhere [laughs], and it offers different gameplay. It’s not just better graphics, you can do that easily by just pushing up the textures, but it’s different gameplay and figuring out how to use the main screen and the touch screen. It’s very exciting for us.

Click: Is it possible to play Armored Edition with Pro Controller, or is it only compatible with the GamePad, given the heavy GamePad integration into the gameplay?

AB: It needs the GamePad. Because it’s a launch title and we wanted to explore the possibilities offered with the GamePad we really pushed that side of things. To use the Pro Controller we would have had to tone down certain features and compromise on certain things and we didn’t want to do that. It was choice that we made to make it a GamePad focused game.

Click: It must be nice to be developing for a system that offers so many control options…

AB: Yeah, definitely! It’s very exciting.

Click: Armored Edition offers all the DLC released for the previous versions of the game, but are there any all-new additions that we didn’t see on other platforms?

AB: Yeah, we’ve got some new stuff in there. We have additional features like the new suits for Batman and Catwoman which offer much more than just a cosmetic change; we have the B.A.T. mode combat assistance in the game. We were careful with this because the original game had perfect combat – we didn’t want to mess with that. So we tweaked it a bit for the B.A.T. mode for when you have very long fights to make it a bit more impactful and more exciting without changing the balance too much. And, if you don’t like it or want to be hardcore and perform difficult combos, you can choose not to use it. For beginners, especially when they’re in a tough spot, it will definitely be an appreciated feature!

Everywhere in the game we took special care to give several options to the players. It’s our first game on the Wii U and we weren’t sure how the players would react, so we’ve got classic controls in there for those who would prefer to play that way, we’ve got gyroscope control which you can turn off if you don’t like, or use it in combination with the analog sticks which I find very convenient – it lets you make the big movements with the thumb sticks and the small adjustments with the gyros which works very well – but it’s really up to the player. Our aim was to give the option to the players so that they can play the game the way they want to play it.

Click: That seems to be an approach that many developers are taking now. It seems that we’re finally realizing that everyone plays games differently, so those options are important. Does that make things more difficult from a developer’s perspective?

AB: It’s not easy, but that’s the way to do it if you want people to enjoy your game. We present you with a game that we love, but you may want to play it differently or experience it at your own pace – that’s what we try to provide.

Click: Is there ever a concern when you have an idea that it might not work for everybody? Do you have to keep that in mind when trying to offer all these options?

AB: Yes, and that’s always difficult. Like a movie or anything else, a game is a matter of taste – you’re either going to like it or you’re not. We try to please as many people as we can, but it’s not going to be for everyone. Like I said we tried as many options as possible, but at some point we’re not going to be able to do everything, we need to focus on the experience that we present to the player.

Click: It must be nice to present, for want of a better phrase, a “grown up” title on a Nintendo system for a change?

AB: [laughs] Yes! It really is. And the original title was so great that it was really fun to work with it – the assets, the gameplay and the storyline are all top notch.

Click: How long ago did you start developing the game?

AB: I can’t go into precise details, but about a year ago.

Click: What’s your favourite new feature in Armored Edition?

AB: Definitely the Bat Computer. If you’re looking for the Riddler’s trophies or search and explore the game a bit more, the sonar function is very convenient. It’s great to have it all accessible in real time, without having to stop the action. Of course, you have to stop looking at the main screen, but that’s something we’ve played with, you know, this is the Bat Computer and you are Batman, and Batman can’t stop in the middle of a fight and say to the thugs “wait a minute guys, I just need to look through my inventory” [laughs} Some people won’t like that, but we love it and that’s something we wanted to present to the player because it’s a different style of gameplay.

Click: That’s actually something that we’ve really liked about some of the Wii U launch titles – the action just keeps going in real time, and that’s something that’s really cool!

AB: Exactly. And since Batman is a stealth game it works really well. In combat you’ve got all the quick gadget access there at your fingertips. You don’t need to go through the menus to equip a gadget, everything is there, and you’ve got all the classic controls of the original game there if you want.

Click: So to round everything up, what’s the additional content that players can expect from Armored Edition?

AB: All the DLC is there. The Revenge of Harley Quinn is there. All the skins are there; you can play as Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, all the original skins are there as well. You’ve got all the content there from the Game of the Year Edition.
Click: Given that the game features all the DLC from the previous release, are there any plans for additional DLC just for Armored Edition?

AB: No, we don’t plan on supporting further DLC.

Click: [While playing] We’re still getting used to the button layout on the Wii U… [laughs]

AB: A and B? [laughs] That’s something we noticed that came up in the focus groups a lot. At the beginning we had the same physical layout and people weren’t looking at the prompts and were hitting the wrong buttons because they were used to them being elsewhere. We did test that with players a lot [laughs] It’s the simple things sometimes…

Click: How are you expecting the public to take to the game, given that a lot of them will probably already have bought the previous release on other systems?

AB: It’s going to be up to the player, of course, we know that and that’s why we wanted to propose a new experience rather than just a straight port. It’s a different way of experiencing the game and the story and I find this to be a very different take on it. I’ve played all the other versions, and the Wii U version is different, but lots of fun. Is that enough for players who owned the original? That’s something we’ll have to ask them, but for someone who has never played Arkham City before it’s a great way to experience it. Everything’s here on one disc.

Click: Was there every any concern, given Nintendo’s family friendly reputation, that there might be a backlash of sorts from some quarters because this is Batman, and it’s violent?

AB: It’s part of the game, but we were very confident that this was going to attract a lot of new people to Nintendo. The fact that there’s a lot of mature content in the launch lineup is an example of that. They came to us and proposed we work with them, and such a high quality game as Arkham City was something they really wanted to have as part of the launch lineup.

Click: We’re really impressed with the Wii U overall so far, we’ve had ours for a few weeks now and we’ve really been enjoying it. Are you excited by the potential it has?

AB: We’ll see with the new games that there are lots of possibilities with the GamePad and console that we have yet to explore, and I think we’re going to see some really exciting things happening on the system in the next few years. As Nintendo like to do, it offers players a whole new way to play games, so it’s up to developers now to find the best way to utilize the potential offered by the GamePad and the console.

Click: It must be very exciting for developers when a new system is released?

AB: Definitely, but it’s also scary at the same time because you have no previous games to show you what you should do, or what you shouldn’t do. It’s all new to us, but we’ll try to get the most out of it!

Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition is available now in North America, and from Friday November 30th in Europe, exclusively on Wii U.

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