The Batman: Arkham trilogy is one of the most revered series in modern video games. Developed by Rocksteady Studios, the games put players into the role of the Dark Knight as he fights crime and combats supervillains using a variety of skills and gadgets. Last year, the trilogy game to its conclusion with the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Knight, but fans were treated to a big surprise last June when Batman: Arkham VR was announced.
Developed for the PlayStation VR, which launches in October, the new game will let fans become Batman and put on his costume in virtual reality and experience what it’s like to be the world’s most famous crime fighter. A short demonstration was shown at conventions such as E3 and Gamescom for attendees to try out, and the response has been phenomenal.
Dax Ginn, brand marketing producer at Rocksteady Studios explained to [a]listdaily why Batman was the ideal character to feature in a VR experience. He said, “Batman has a wide range of elements to his personality and it is this breadth of abilities that makes him so well suited to so many different forms of interactive entertainment.
“The core experience of Batman: Arkham VR centers around Batman’s abilities as ‘The World’s Greatest Detective.’ Players will solve a brutal murder using all of Batman’s detective and forensic skills, and it is this aspect of Batman’s personality that fits VR so perfectly as a technology. Using gadgetry to search for clues at a crime scene and reconstruct critical moments of the story feels like a very ‘Batman’ thing to do, and it also feels incredibly satisfying to do it in VR.”
Key components of the game involve identifying a killer in a classic detective story style from the first Batman comics. “Gamers will have the opportunity to travel to a range of iconic locations throughout Gotham City in order to pursue the killer and engage in interactions with some of Batman’s best-known villains from the Arkham-verse,” said Ginn. “The Batcave is just one of these locations and the player will be able to utilize the full power of the Batcomputer across a number of consoles within the Batcave.”
Although players will not have the open world exploration from traditional Arkham games, they’ll still get to visit a number of legendary locations throughout Gotham City. Ginn explains that “the way that we have developed Batman: Arkham VR is quite different to the way that we have built our previous Arkham games. Players will not have the freedom of navigation that they will have seen in the other games in the Arkham trilogy, but what they will have is a very intensive experience in each of the locations to which they travel. The process of crime scene investigation is very intensive and requires a lot of analysis of the environment, so players will really get a very deep understanding of the locations within the game.”
Batman is almost certain to encounter recognizable supervillains while investigating a case, but Ginn is keeping quiet about which ones are making a VR debut. “The story is very involved, and we are looking forward to allowing players to unravel the plot of the story as they play, so I don’t want to name any names when it comes to supervillains, as that would be a pretty significant spoiler.” Ginn also said that “the impact of a face-to-face encounter with a well-known enemy is that much more powerful when done in VR.”
Given how the game was demonstrated live at conventions such as Gamescom and E3 this year, we asked Ginn what his favorite reaction from an attendee was. He replied, “the most common reaction has been the way that Batman: Arkham VR makes players genuinely believe that they are Batman, and the thing that gives me the most enjoyment to watch is the way in which players relate to Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler. There is such a long history between the two characters that this lifelong relationship plays out very easily when talking to Alfred. Some players are respectful, some are dismissive, but everyone acknowledges his presence and his importance in the life of the Wayne family.”
With the positive reaction Batman: Arkham VR has gotten so far, the natural question is whether or not Rocksteady is interested in developing a longer—perhaps even full-length—VR experience in the future. “Our primary focus at the moment is on the release of Batman: Arkham VR,” Ginn said. “It has been a challenging and incredibly enjoyable game to create, but at the moment we have not made any plans for future VR titles.”
According to Ginn, Rocksteady began experimenting with VR development after shipping Batman: Arkham Knight in June of last year. The company chose PlayStation VR as its launch platform because “the technology of PlayStation VR was something that the team felt very comfortable with, and we were able to build compelling gameplay very quickly, so it was a natural fit for us to continue that development through to launch.”
Ginn also discussed how, as a technology at the start of its lifecycle, VR faces many of the same challenges as any other new technology. “Without exception, everyone who tries VR for the first time is immediately impressed by the sense of immersion and believability that it offers—but the number of people who have access to VR is still relatively small. It is a technology that has to be seen to be believed, but it is only a matter of time before a critical mass of gamers have had the opportunity to experience VR for themselves.”
That being said, Ginn also discussed how Rocksteady had to adopt a whole new approach when developing a VR experience. “The lesson that we learned very early was that a lot of the systems and preconceptions that we held as a team did not translate to developing for VR. All of our navigation and UI systems needed to be redesigned from the ground up. Additionally, we needed to reset our heads to develop a first-person game rather than third-person. So perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to develop for VR and make decisions that are right for a VR game, rather than a traditional console game.”