Monday, August 31, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum - The proof that a license can be turned into a great game

Many attempts to develop a game after a movie license have yielded lukewarm results.

Some games are good but don't seem to draw heavily from their source material, except for the characters and the overall graphic style. In other words, one feels like the license's characters have been pasted onto a generic gameplay.

Other games are just too weak on gameplay.

This has resulted in the common wisdom that games based on strong licenses are just not up to the job. Therefore, any upcoming title based on a license is ususally welcomed with skepticsm.

The release of Batman: Arkham Asylum is showing us that one can develop a great game based on a license. What have they done that other developers have not ?

first, the developer, Rocksteady, did not attempt to follow the script of a movie or a comic book. They did build a real story but based on the very specific constraints of a game.

Second, they identified the elements that are most representative of the license. I am talking of the graphical style of course but also the type of actions available to the hero, the way the combats are introduced, the overall pace of the game, the combat situations, the dialogs style, etc.

Third, they build a game system and a level design that showcase those elements. They applied good old-fashion game design recipes. They probably got great support from their publisher, Eidos Interactive: The time and ressources to polish and tune the game.

Success did not lie in innovative game mechanisms but simply in the understanding of what makes a great license tick and the wisdom to do a well-crafted game.

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