EPIC DIARIES: Batman: Arkham Asylum

EPIC DIARIES: Batman: Arkham Asylum

By Mark Rein

June 5th 2009 at 11:13AM

An Epic tale of the Dark Knight

The door to a part of the DC Universe never seen before outside of comic books is about to be opened: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Eidos and Rocksteady Studios are using Unreal Engine 3 to bring Batman: Arkham Asylum to PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

“We have always seen technology as a means to an end, so for this reason we switched to middleware as soon as we moved onto PS3 and Xbox 360 development,” explains Sefton Hill, director and owner of London-based Rocksteady.

“We evaluated the different options in the marketplace, and Unreal Engine 3 was the best choice for us for two main reasons. First, the creative tools for artists and designers are excellent. Second, the design of the tools is driven by a game development studio which shares a similar philosophy to us – that the creative staff must be empowered to unleash their imaginations to create great results. This gave us every confidence that, as Epic developed Unreal, it would remain consistent with Rocksteady’s requirements in the future.”

Development started with a team of 40, many of whom had been working with UE3 on various game concepts. That team eventually grew to over 60. When the game ships, total development time will be 21 months from start to finish including pre and post-production.

“Using Unreal allowed us to start work on the gameplay from day one,” adds Hill. “When creating your own technology, the game team is often waiting for the technology team to deliver their tools, which means that even games that have been in development for over two years have often had less than one year of work on the gameplay.”

Hill believes UE3’s tools remove technology hurdles that restrict many creative professionals from being able to realise their potential. He said the tools make game development about the talent and imagination of artists and designers as opposed to just engine programmers.

“This also frees up your engine team to be much more creative, as well. I know some of our engine team have found ways to use the tools which has surprised even Epic.”

Another advantage of using UE3 is its cross-platform interoperability. Hill said each platform has its own inherently unique requirements, so it’s important to tailor content to maximise cross-platform results. He added that using UE3 allowed work on all three platforms running very quickly.

“We have an excellent relationship with Epic, and I cannot speak highly enough of them,” adds Hill. “They have developed such powerful technology, provided great hands-on support through the Unreal Developer Network, and have been excellent hosts when we have visited them. All this, and they still find time to develop amazing games!”

Rocksteady’s team makes full use of UE3 technology to bring Batman’s spectrum of dark environments to life.

“This universe is so rich and diverse; we set ourselves the goal to build a game world with the Batman DNA flowing through its veins,” said Hill. “A key reason to set the game on Arkham Island was to have the player see and feel the history of this universe as they play. Our overall goal was simply to deliver an authentic Batman game that was great fun.”

Batman: Arkham Asylum is the third game featuring The Caped Crusader that’s powered by UE3. Midway released Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last year, and Sony Online Entertainment is developing the MMO, DC Universe Online, for release early next year.

Thanks to Rocksteady Studios for speaking with freelance reporter John Gaudiosi for this story, which will be posted in full at www.unrealtechnology.com

To discuss anything raised in this column or general licensing opportunities for Epic Games’ Unreal engine, contact: mrein@epicgames.com