WB Games Montreal on the importance of listening and responding to feedback – on Batgirl and more

gotham knights devs on why batman's absence brings out the best in its superheroes

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Yes, Batman is actually dead in Gotham Knights, said Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment at San Diego Comic Con last month. And not only is the Dark Knight dead in the upcoming action-RPG, he stays dead – affirmed by the developer in its bid to put internet speculation to bed once and for all. Which makes sense, given the fact Gotham Knights is hinged on The Bat’s absence, with Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood and Batgirl filling the city-saving void left in the former’s wake. We saw more of Batgirl in motion recently, whose dazzling combat style blends Jiu Jitsu and Capoeira with Gotham-style gadgetry to great effect; whereas we’ve seen equally impressive snippets of the other superheroes we’ll side with come October 25 over the last few weeks and months.

It is of course hard to picture a Gotham City missing the Caped Crusader, but, actually, having Batman around in any capacity here would have hindered the tale Gotham Knights aims to portray. “It simply wouldn’t have made it easier to have Batman present at all, actually, because anywhere he is, he just takes up all of the space, he takes all of the air out of the room,” explains executive producer Fleur Marty. “And so it was so much more interesting to start afresh without him.”

Emerge from the shadows

gotham knights devs on why batman's absence brings out the best in its superheroes

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Games)

OPINION

gotham knights devs on why batman's absence brings out the best in its superheroes

(Image credit: Warner Bros Games)

With Batman out of the picture – one of the most iconic superheroes of all time, one who has cast his cloak over comic books, film, television, video games and just about every other medium over the last 80+ years – Robin, Nightwing, Red Hood and Batgirl have their work cut out for them in Gotham Knights. Despite WB Games Montreal having once developed 2013’s Arkham Origins, it’s worth remembering that Gotham Knights has no ties to the Batman Arkham series whatsoever, but its moody tone, and fast-firing close-quarters combat certainly reflect the past works of Rocksteady Studios.

Echoing the assured sentiments of colleague Marty, the game’s lead writer Ceri Young reckons Batman’s absence here will only help the Knights in realising their potential as city saviours. She says: “I think [Batman’s absence] really drives these characters. There are various points where each finds themselves asking: ‘If Batman were here, I think this is how he’d handle it’. But they don’t have him, and so they have to figure out how to do it their own way and that’s where a lot of their interest and drive lies.”

Gotham City minus Batman is indeed an interesting hook, but from the perspective of would-be players, it was instead Batgirl who most recently stirred interest regarding her appearance in Gotham Knights. While hosting a Q&A with members of the game’s official Discord last month, creative director Patrick Redding shouldered criticism levied at Batgirl’s character biography, how she features in-game, and how this appearance relates to her comic book lineage.

gotham knights devs on why batman's absence brings out the best in its superheroes

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Those familiar with The Killing Joke graphic novel will know Batgirl is left paralysed after a brutal run-in with supervillain The Joker, after which she assumes the role of Oracle – a character who uses a wheelchair, and supports Batman remotely from the Bat Cave. In order to explain her return to physical combat in Gotham Knights, the devs originally said Batgirl had undergone training to “recover from her wounds,” so that she could “return to active duty as Batgirl”. In response to suggestions this characterisation was underwhelming and offensive, that profile has since been expanded with mention of “extensive training and rehabilitation”, with WB Games Montreal also partnering with accessibility charity AbleGamers to best portray Batgirl’s past injuries and path to where she is now.

“The feedback from the community has been really good, and we’ve been listening,” says Young. “We worked with AbleGamers to work on Batgirl’s story. We know that Oracle is really, really important to people and so we don’t want to take anything away from that, even though she’s not Oracle in our game. But we do have that history. She will talk about being Oracle; we will have references to that history.”

“Also, her paralysis and recovery is something that is still very much part of her story. You’ll see in the belfry – a space that’s set up for her – she wears a back brace that’s part of her costume, so it all still fits into part of her story and it’s definitely not something we wanted to erase. We definitely want to pay homage to that and honour it, while having the character be in a different place than she is in the comics.”

Marty adds: “One thing I’d like to clarify is that, yes, we have absolutely listened to the community, we clarified Batgirl’s bio on the website, and we are working with AbleGamers to get all of this right. But in thinking about how we represent Batgirld having been Oracle, wearing the back brace – all of that was already in the game, it’s just we… we didn’t communicate very well around it. And we realise that was a mistake.”

“And so, yeah, it’s been really important for us to listen to the community and make sure we’re very clear on what’s included in the game. When developing any game, you can’t take every idea that everyone has, but, wherever possible, we’re really listening to the community and that’s one of our favourite things about this entire process.”

New dawn

gotham knights devs on why batman's absence brings out the best in its superheroes

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Games)

“We know people really love the Arkham games, but we really are our own thing.”

On the development side of the fence, Marty considers the evolution of ideas as another of her favourite things about working on Gotham Knights. She describes seeing concepts develop from storyboard stage to animatics to full-blown, fully-voiced cinematics as “awesome”, and hails the depth of character-building. Not just between the game’s central foursome, but among its peripheral cast in the likes of Alfred the butler. For Young, seeing how each of Gotham Knights’ four protagonists reacts in the same situation – “every single scene is written four times for each character,” says Young – has been a joy, with each contributor bringing their own ideas and opinions to the writer’s room table.

With all of this in mind, and given the fact Gotham Knights is fully-playable in single-player and two-player co-op, with four distinctly different characters to switch between throughout the game, Young and Marty’s suggestion that Batman would be a distraction here seems bang on the money. Gotham Knights is its own thing, independent of the Arkham series and elements of its comic book series source material. With Rocksteady hard at work on Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, DC aficionados and lovers of the Batman universe have plenty to look forward to in not so distant future.

“Yeah, to be extra, extra, extra clear: there is no continuity between Gotham Knights and the Arkham series,” says Marty. “They are their own games and we are our own game. We see making this game as more of an opportunity than a challenge in that regard.”

Young adds: “Absolutely, and we really wanted to write a fresh new story for these characters, one that doesn’t tie into the Arkham games. We just started from zero, and we said: ‘Okay, who are these characters? What do we know about them from the comics? What are their personalities?’ And then we take out that man, and we let them respond and react to that.”

“We know people really love the Arkham games, but we really are our own thing. We’re taking these characters and putting them in a new situation and writing something completely new for them.”


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