Emerging from the Batcave today on the consoles, and in two weeks on PC, Batman:Arkham Asylum sees the caped crusader take on his old nemesis The Joker in one of the darkest videogame adaptations of the famous Batman yet. Paul Dini is probably most famous for his work on arguably the best Batman cartoon in Batman: The Animated Series, creating the character of Harley Quinn and, most importantly to us, is the scriptwriter for Batman: Arkham Asylum. We flew out our questions (taking our Shark Repellent Spray) to Dini on Arkham, Mark Hamill and why we won’t be seeing Catwoman in our trail through the madhouse…
The Reticule: Arkham Asylum looks set to include a veritable army of Batman’s most deadly adversaries. Was it difficult trying to incorporate them into the storyline in a way which made sense, rather than just being an excuse to have them all in a Batman game?
Paul Dini: Yes that’s why we did not use every Batman figure – for instance Catwoman; she has never been portrayed as mad enough to be in Arkham Asylum so there was no way we could work her in to the story as it is based there. It was the same with other characters that did not fit the story of the script well, so we left them out. Again the same with The Freeze – he is a very self focused character and so there was no place for him in this script. Also: The Mad Hatter, we were heading in a slightly darker direction in this game so he would not have been a great fit.
TR: Without revealing much, are there any characters in Arkham Asylum who will come out as being particularly memorable?
PD: Scarecrow was a character that we really downplayed in the game but he is a character that really tests Batman to the core. I was amazed at how the team was able to bring the character to life.
TR: Having been primarily a writer for animation previously, how did you find writing a script for an adaptive experience, where you can’t dictate what the player is going to do?
PD: In a situation like that you have to stay one step ahead of the player and the choices they might make. We had to write the script to accommodate that, so sometimes many times and in different moods. It took me back to reading children’s ‘choose-your-own-path’ books but obviously a lot more intricate than those of course, but it was really fun coming up with the ‘what if?’ scenario.
TR: While it’s been stated before that the game isn’t based on A Serious Home on Serious Earth, the premise seems rather similar. How, if at all, did that book influence the writing of the game?
PD: They really are two different things, there was no way to turn the book into a gaming experience, there are similarities, however we tried to make it about what Jokers reason was for bringing Batman into Arkham for his farewell party as this is really one of the last times Batman will battle The Joker. So the game and the book are not really the same in tone.
TR: The animated series of Batman was often much more mature and dark than its Saturday morning timeslot suggested, but could still be enjoyed by kids. Batman: Arkham Asylum is aimed at the mature audience, so was that liberating to finally be able to explore the more mature side of Batman, that you hinted at in the animated series?
PD: Oh yeah this was a lot of fun to do. It threw a lot of the restrictions out of the window, although there were still Batman taboos we could not break such as giving guns to Batman to kill adversaries. The level of intensity was a little more extreme so we were able to include everything that we wanted to whilst keeping the fantasy element intact. I’d like to think there is something in the game for angry teenager in all of us.
TR: The game is obviously going to benefit from the success of the Batman franchise in Hollywood, but the cast and writing staff are all taken from the animated series, making it seem to be far more a game based around the animated series. Have you felt obliged to move more towards the more contemporary film version of Batman?
PD: No, not really – it’s monsters and animals that we create in our world. The Christopher Nolan movies place Batman as close to real world of crime as is possible, we did not want to go there with Arkham as it would be too realistic. Heath was great in the movies, establishing how the Joker could look. But it would not work in our world – it would have meant the game might have been slightly lacklustre. You can stretch things a little more in a game version creating a more fantastic environment.
TR: A good deal of the villains in the game have been heavily adapted from the comic and cartoon versions. How much influence did you have over that? Do you feel these characters need to be contemporised to work today?
PD: I had a large amount of input into the way the characters were depicted, I wanted to make them darker: “lets make them play for keeps”. The team did a really good job of bumping up the characters. For example I wanted to make it clear that Harley Quinn was out of her mind and The Joker does not care so much about her – he only wants to use her for his own gain – whereas Poison Ivy is a law unto herself: slightly hedonistic and selfish. I didn’t really want her to be part of the group she wants to be let alone and would delight in killing Batman.
TR:What was it like writing a script for Mark Hamill, did you tailor the script to suit his portrayal of The Joker?
PD: Yeah I did, Mark has left a stamp on The Joker just as valuable as Heath and Jack. When I write for animation I think of Marks voice, he brings a sadistic dark side to the character. I had so much fun writing it – I could really tell he was going to love it. When I heard the first recordings I knew it was going to be fantastic as Mark really got into character and when I saw him recently he said “I really like the way you wrote it” to which I replied “I really like the way you played it!” He really took The Joker to another level it’s a pleasure to write for him
TR: The Batman mythos has become increasingly labyrinthine in depth and character over the decades; does it become hard adding to it, or do media forms – particularly gaming – help give it scope for expansion or reinvention?
PD: I think that every time something comes along like Batman or any other superhero, it becomes part of pop culture. It’s like telling tales, just about characters, and every time a tale is told someone comes in and adds to the mythos. How different is that today from people telling stories around the campfire long ago that would get passed around? It enables you to revisit elements of the portrayals gone by – not in the same dialog of course – but you can take a little of the idea and add to the mythos and add to the character. My hope is that people will feel the same about that and become part of Batman’s ongoing history.
Thanks to Paul for taking the time to speak to us. Check out our demo impressions here and stay tuned to The Reticule for our Verdict, closer to the PC release of Batman: Arkham Asylum.