Monday, October 19, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Today I feel like writing about Batman. I played it awhile ago, and really, really enjoyed it. Much more than most things I play. You can read about the game in detail elsewhere, but the way the combat and stealth blended, and how story presentation blended into the game really worked for me. After playing the demo, I was intrigued; starting the game, I enjoyed it; and by the end of the game, I was a fool slathering for more. I played every challenge to "3 bats," and even played through the game on hard, not to get all of the achievements (first time I've done that) but just because I wanted to play more Batman. But the thing that intrigued me most was that others enjoyed it alright, but just didn't get that into it. I wondered why.

The common theme seemed to be the combat. Others enjoyed the stalking parts, but hated when they were forced into a combat situation. Many described defeating enemies in hand to hand combat as just mashing buttons. I contrasted this to my experience, where I never button mashed, and was genuinely invested in going a step further, trying to kill every thug in one combo without getting hit, and eventually, trying to do it with lots of variety. I always felt a perfect balance of required skill and potential failure, where failure felt like my fault, and something that I could overcome (players blaming themselves is a real boon for design; maybe more on that in a future post)).

Dissecting the combat complaint, it seems safe to say that the feedback (visual feedback, the challenge, experience bonuses) they got from combat wasn't interesting or accessible enough to enjoy. Knowing where the game fell flat would be difficult to dismantle, and could vary greatly from player to player. Visual feedback, challenge, and experience bonuses are all subjective, but to make matters worse, solving combat feedback goes beyond balancing components in combat and into balancing it with stalking feedback because in the players' minds, they compete as tools for disabling opponents. (Even if (if!) the designers saw them as separated since stalking was generally for enemies with guns, and combat for melee enemies.)

So some toolbox (i.e., potentially bad) thoughts:
  • To reduce competition between stalking and combat
    • Make clearer tools for changing combat scenarios to stalking scenarios, and vice versa.
      • For players that enjoy stalking more than combat
        • A clearer device for getting a group of melee thugs to disperse and wander, allowing you to stalk them
        • A flashbang that gives you a cleaner way to get back into stealth mode without getting shot (balance with long timer?)
      • For players that enjoy combat more than stalking create clearer tools for handling guns with thugs
        • Dodging leaves you invulnerable to gunfire (long enough to dodge again)
        • Batarangs disable thugs with guns (they might already do this without my knowing; I noticed Batarangs prioritizing giants over normal thugs)
    • Blend the experience bonus feedback between stalking and combat clearly
      • I somehow was unaware of how stalking experience bonuses worked
      • Make a stalk kill like a strike against an opponent (x2 if upgraded)
      • Being detected between "strikes" ruins a combo
  • If combat feedback needs improvement
    • And the problem is with the challenge...
      • Remove combo ruining...
        • When "blue" thugs hurt you with electricity
        • When "red" thugs blocks your attacks
        • Or make it so you can dodge out of a committed attack (correct your mistake)
      • Give more leeway (if possible, it often isn't) to counter
    • And the problem is experience then separate thug-beating specialty from experience gain
      • Experience gain is flat (stalk or fight, x dead thugs = y experience)
      • Tie high combos and technique challenges to special in-game rewards, such as bonus Riddler content
        • This puts challenge objectives into the main gameplay
        • Challenge gameplay was brilliant because it taught you cool things about the game, but only once you unlocked challenges, and without main-path gameplay relevance
I use the word "clear" because there may be mechanics that already do what I want, but that I didn't understand. And of course, the developers may have tried these things and have great reasons why the above wouldn't work. But that's my free cents. Everyone I know enjoyed the game on some level -- and this was especially true for me -- but it's interesting to note game dynamics that left some wanting, and fun to think of ways that might bridge the gap between my experience and theirs.


  1. Interesting thoughts. I LOVED this game. I'm playing through it again on hard just to play it again, much like you said. I think the combat system in there is genius, possibly the best I've ever played. But that's just me.....

  2. It's quite good. I like games that abstract what the protagonist would be thinking about instead of the mechanics of various actions. E.g., Batman may not be trying to figure out the mechanics of parrying someone -- that comes out of years of training and is more or less instinct -- but he still has to watch his opponents to know when to shift focus from offense to defense.

  3. What a coincidence that little after I complete the game I see a post here on it. I loved the musical influences from "The Dark Knight" and the gritty and maniacal ways of the joker. Just like Heath Ledger's version, this joker's motives and plans arent understood even by the Bat himself. My arm would get a little tired during multiple enemy combat but that didn't hinder the fun. Getting hit felt like a major flaw on my part coz I didn't block or see the hit coming fast enough and death was a result of your own ineptitude not some silly game quirk! That definately reminded you that Batman was human though. Also the puzzles, while not rubic's cube material were brilliant in slowing the zapping of braincells by forcing you to ask yourself "what would Batman do?"!

  4. I noticed that I usually blamed myself for getting hit, too, which I agree is a sign of a good system. Although sometimes their mind reading of my direction inputs and target intentions was frustratingly off (though only in some of the harder challenges). I loved the combat.