Batman Returns

Game director Sefton Hill on design, review scores and getting some sunshine.

Batman: Arkham City is finished, and a tired Rocksteady Studios can emerge from its development bunker and catch some rays. Launch is imminent, and the team is excitedly awaiting your reaction to what is expected to be one of the biggest games of the year.

Ahead of his developer session at Eurogamer Expo 2011, game director Sefton Hill chatted to Eurogamer to discuss Arkham City design decisions, reveal just how important review scores can be, and offer his thoughts for the future.

Eurogamer: Batman is finished. Can you go on holiday now?

Sefton Hill: It's been a hectic last nine months, where we've been pushing towards the end. With Arkham City it's been, if anything, a lot more ambitious than the first one. We've worked harder. We've worked longer. We didn't want to rest on our laurels and do something similar. We wanted to push ourselves again. I always felt we were still improving when we were finishing the first game. So we set ourselves this goal of taking Batman into Gotham City. It turned out to be a lot of hard work. It's been worth it, but it has meant I haven't seen any sunshine for about nine months.

We have a few things. We are still working on some unannounced DLC stuff at the moment. That's keeping us busy. So we're not completely done, but the main game is done, which is great. We will keep watching the forums. The community is important to us, so we look at what they like, what they didn't like. And there is some scope to fix any issues that come up as well, any exploits people find in challenge maps or whatever, through normal patching. But, to be honest, with this game we've done a phenomenal amount of testing and I'm happy with the game we've got.

Eurogamer: Do you care about review scores?

Sefton Hill: It's hard not to. Only because what you don't know is how people are going to take it. I don't care about every individual review score, but it's great to have everyone behind the game and enjoying the game. In a sense you can't help but feel it validates your work. But at the same time, if everyone turned around and said they didn't like it, that would probably hurt a bit and I would probably just convince myself they were wrong. I guess they do when people are saying it's good, and if they don't like it, I'll convince myself I don't.

Eurogamer: Did the critical acclaim and success of the first game put pressure on you when it came to making the sequel? Does that affect you in any way?

"With this game we've done a phenomenal amount of testing and I'm happy with the game we've got."

Sefton Hill, game director, Batman: Arkham City

Sefton Hill: It definitely does add a lot of pressure. There are good sides and bad sides to it. It's great to know when you're working late nights and weekends it's something people are going to play and they're really anticipating. It gives you extra motivation to know what you're doing is worthwhile. I say that, working in games is awesome anyway, so I'm not complaining in any way. But obviously if you know people are eagerly waiting for something, you feel the responsibility, but it also motivates you to make it as good as it can be as well.

Having said that, my attitude for most of the development was to put that out of my mind and always make decisions that are about making the best game we can make. I'm firmly of the belief you have to make the game you want to play. I want to make the Batman game I want to play, that gets me excited and gets us passionate as a developer.

Then other people will see and feel that passion when they play it. I don't believe in second guessing what the mass market want. Maybe that works for some people, but it's never worked for me. Our methods are: what do we want to play? What's the most exciting Batman game we could play? Right, let's make that, and hope that passion comes across and other people will pick that up and enjoy that. That was our attitude on the first one and our attitude on this one. If you stop and worry too much about it, it would drive you properly insane.

Eurogamer: Batman looks great. Is hardware at the stage where you're able to implement ideas without a concern for tech and horsepower, or does it still impact upon you realising ideas and features?

Sefton Hill: It definitely affects things in terms of, it's not easy. Creating Arkham City has been a tremendous technical undertaking. Our engine teams, optimisation teams, art teams and design teams have had to do a phenomenal amount of work to get this game to run and optimise it and run at a solid 30 frames a second throughout, while creating such a richly detailed city. So it's definitely not easy. And it does impact things to the extent that it's a challenge.

But when we first sat down and we said, what do we want to do with this game, we'd put all these ideas on the table about what we thought would make the best Batman game, and all those ideas are in the game. We didn't take things off. Huge credit to the technical team, who said, look, we'll make it happen. You design the best game you can think of and we will work hard to make that happen. Those guys did a phenomenal job with that. All credit to them because there are a lot of technical achievements in there we'd never done before and taken on. Our attitude has always been to make the best game we can possibly make. We don't do technology just for the sake of technology. The technology was always to create this living breathing city.

So I guess the answer is, no, it didn't change the design. But yes it was bloody tough.

EGTV travels to the home of Batman: Arkham City - Rocksteady Studios.

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