Looking back at Batman: Arkham City with director Sefton Hill

Batman Arkham City game director Sefton Hill

We recently had the chance to sit down with Batman: Arkham City director Sefton Hill to look back at the game and talk about both the making of the sequel and his thoughts on it now it’s finished. There’s some great stuff in there about working with DC and how it was made. Essential stuff if you’re a fan of the game. There are spoilers though so if you’ve not played it yet stay away. 

OPM Rocksteady’s first game was PS2’s Urban Chaos: Riot Response. It didn’t sell that well, but was critically well-received. Did the good press give you the confidence to do justice to a licence as big and beloved as Batman?

SH As a developer, we were just really excited to take on Batman. How could you not be excited about working on something as phenomenal as The Dark Knight? We felt the world deserved a good Batman game and that’s something we really wanted to deliver. We knew Batman’s past was chequered.

At the same time, it was a fantastic opportunity. When we started, the team was only something like 35 people, if that. But everyone was still super-excited. Back then, we were just looking at different concepts. And we had an idea for Batman that [then-publisher] Eidos just happened to love.

We’ve always felt our studio’s philosophy has been to make games that are just inherently fun. With Urban Chaos, even though it was made in a relatively short space of time, it was critically pretty well-received. So we felt, given more time and the right opportunity, we could make something special.

OPM How did making City compare to making Asylum? Were you given more freedom by Warner Bros to go where you wanted with the sequel because you’d already earned their trust?

SH We were given more freedom, to a certain extent. But I think that came about more when we were six to eight months into the development of Arkham Asylum, when Warner Bros finally got a chance to really play the game.

When we first met them and DC and started talking about the initial story, they were very positive and supportive. But when they finally got their hands on it and got to properly understand what our vision for Asylum was, I think that’s when they got the feeling we were huge Batman fans who weren’t going to try to make the character do things he shouldn’t do.

I think that’s the point they really got confidence in us. After Asylum came out and we were planning Arkham City, that’s when Warner Bros was even more excited. Because we’d already had this critically acclaimed game on our hands, it knew we could make something special.

I feel like the relationship with DC has been really strong. We’ve worked with Paul Dini on the story, but also DC specifically has given us a lot of freedom. Generally, the feedback from DC is all positive. It’s usually like, ‘Oh, so you’re using Deadshot in City? Do you know he does this and this and this?’ It’s all about throwing ideas our way, rather than saying ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘we don’t want to see that’. The things DC contributes are really positive, and as the licence holder, it’s always said it wants to be adding to rather than restricting from our games.

OPM What was the mission statement going into Arkham City? 

SH The biggest thing for us was to take Batman into the city. We’d realised Batman within the confines of the asylum, but his spiritual home is in Gotham, so that’s where we wanted to take him. From there, we had to work out what taking him to Gotham City means.

So, for example, what would be your worst nightmare being in that metropolis? That’s how we came up with the concept of the walled-off city where all of these villains are locked in together. Obviously, that’s a nightmare scenario, whether you’re a tooled-up billionaire vigilante or not.

OPM You’ve gone from an asylum to a sectioned-off part of Gotham. Is the next natural step to give players the whole of Gotham to explore?

SH What, like Batman: Universe? [Laughs] Well, it’s never a specific goal of ours just to make a bigger game. It was just a specific goal to try to make a better game. If we felt that a better game would have been focused on just Batman and one other character, then that’s what we’d make. There’s not necessarily an exponential explosion in terms of game scale, it’s purely just what we think will make the best title.