In the wake of the mega hit, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Studios, in collaboration with Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, has released the game’s highly anticipated sequel, Batman: Arkham City. Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City uses Unreal Engine 3 to push video game consoles to their graphical limits, and the result is heart-stopping excitement in an immersive, massively explorable world. Critics and players alike are heralding it as an innovation in the genre, and even more impressive than the original, with Game Informer calling it “The Best Licensed Video Game Ever Made.”
Paul Denning, senior programmer at Rocksteady Studios, attributes much of the success to the fact that the studio sets a very high bar in all they do. Their aim is to hire extremely talented individuals, helping to contribute to the company’s overarching desire to deliver the best possible game from every perspective. And Unreal Engine 3 was a big part of doing just that with Arkham City.
“Unreal Engine 3 is an amazingly powerful toolset,” said Denning. “There are always new things to learn and new features being added. We had been using the Unreal Engine for about a year before we started Batman: Arkham Asylum and it really helped us learn how to tackle some of the key challenges in making a game of that style. However, without the experience of making Batman: Arkham Asylum, we’d never have been able to push the game engine further for the sequel. System refinements coupled with the talent we have in the studio has allowed us to make a much richer world with more detail, characters and features than any other title we’ve ever made.”
Part of the challenge of Rocksteady’s overall vision for Arkham City was to add a living, breathing, open city as the centerpiece of the gaming experience. Denning reports that this team worked right up to deadline in order to perfect the world. Their goal was to deliver a complex game world, replete with detail, from neon lights in every district to dazzling effects lighting up all corners of the world– all while maintaining 30 fps. The result, says Denning, isn’t about the size, but about the level of detail, which he believes may be the most sophisticated in gaming so far.
“For Batman: Arkham City we spent quite some time on the Detective mode visuals,” said Denning. “In Batman: Arkham Asylum, we had the Detective materials draw behind the post-process layer and used base colors to allow them to punch through the blue tint. This led to a very limited color palette and blocked out models. In Batman: Arkham City, we moved all the models that were highlighted into newly engineered layers that have given us so much more control over look and color.”
According to Denning, one of the essential resources during the build was the Unreal Developer Network (UDN), which allowed the Rocksteady team to keep a close eye on key insights and solutions to challenges they encountered as well as offer their own advice and solutions when possible.
“Unreal Engine 3 makes so many areas of the game much simpler, yet at the same time more powerful, that we forgot how we even made games before learning some of the core areas of the engine,” explained Denning. “The time I save writing code on previous projects that a designer can now simply hook up in Kismet means I can focus my efforts writing those key little moments that really set our title apart from our competition. I’d not recommend anything else.”
In addition to UDN, Denning found the monthly updates and upgrades to Unreal Engine 3 integral to the final success of the game. “While no single innovation or improvement led to unique gameplay aspects, I can say that the multitude of upgrades we saw over the game development cycle all went towards truly pushing the envelope of what is possible in a third-person action adventure. We hope to be remembered as an outstanding game among the high-quality releases of the year. I’m most proud of delivering a fully-realized city at a solid 30fps that’s more detailed and alive than any other game on the market with a graphical fidelity to rival any current generation game.”
Judging from the overwhelmingly positive response to the game, that mission is accomplished.
At the time of the this writing Batman: Arkham City is the second highest MetaCritic-rated PS3 game of all time (96) and the fifth highest MetaCritic-rated Xbox 360 game of all time (95). In addition, four out of the top 10 MetaCritic-rated Xbox 360 games of all time, and three of the top 10 MetaCritic-rated PS3 games of all time use Unreal Engine technology.