Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes VIDEOGAME PREVIEW
Think you know the Lego games? Think again because Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes is shaking up the formula like a Bat-fist to the jaw. For the first time in a Lego game the characters are fully voiced acted, meaning grunts and guffaws are a thing of the past. Even more importantly than that, developers TT Games have only gone and built the whole of Gotham City for you to fly/drive/run-at-super-speeds around with 52 distinct DC characters. The only way we could be more excited was if they’d built a genuine, 1:1 scale Lego Gotham City in the middle of England. To mark the UK release of Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes on 22 June we spoke to TT Games associate producer Matt Ellison about the game.
SFX You’ve built the whole of Gotham City out of Lego! Why was that?
Matt Ellison We wanted to create our interpretation of Gotham City. It came out of the story we want to tell, because a lot of the story revolves around Gotham. It starts at the Man Of The Year award, and goes on from there. Once we had the idea we wondered how far we could take it, and this is where we’ve ended up. We’re really pleased with how it’s turned out. We’ve done some big areas before that work in a similar sort of way. Hogwarts is probably the closest. At first you’re restricted a bit, because we don’t want people flying off into any direction, we’ve got to keep it manageable. As you go through the game more becomes available and then once you’ve finished the story anything goes in the city at that point. It’s been great to be able to create it and have our interpretation of Gotham, because it’s a dark place with lots of criminal undertones, and having these giant Lego Minifig statues in there gives it a different personality. Having all the vehicles, the planes, the cars and the boats and of course the flying characters, it’s great for us to be able to do that as well.
Have any other takes on the character inspired your own Batman?
We always look at what other people have done. We have come up with an original story for this game and we’re really pleased that we’re able to tell this new story. A lot of the decisions fall out from that, so once you’ve got the story we then ask how can we make that work best in the game? With reference to the characters, for example, we worked very closely with DC and they wanted some of the new 52 characters. We’ve got their outfits in the game. And of course we work very closely with Lego, so wherever they’ve got toysets we also want to make sure we’ve got those toysets in the game as they appear in the toy. It’s a balance between toys that exist and other sources for inspiration on the characters. And we look to DC for a large amount of that because it’s their brand. They want these characters to be as cool as they can be. They want their representation put across in the game, and being able to take their knowledge and put it in the game makes for a better all round experience at the end of it.
Why have you chosen to give the characters in the game full voice-acting this time?
It’s been one of the biggest new things. We did Lego Batman one without it, but here, especially when designing the cutscenes, the story’s conveyed through the voices for the vast majority of it. Without speech we had to spend a lot of time directing the player and using signs or murmuring and pointing. T hat was always part of the Lego charm and we still made sure those cutscenes were funny. As soon as we put voices into the game we realised it just added to that because it meant we didn’t have to spend as much time trying to get the story across. The story comes across in a much more natural way now and we can use the speech to tell jokes and add a new sort of humour. The character interactions haven’t actually changed much in the cutscenes – the interaction between Superman and Batman would have been the same in previous games where we didn’t have speech, but because we do have speech we can now literally just tell jokes as well. We’re able to get the best of both worlds. We want these interpretations of the characters to be the Lego versions of the character. When people say, “Which version of The Joker do you prefer?” We want to add ours to that list. And then we’ve got some great voice talent as well, like Clancy Brown voices Lex Luthor, so we’ve been very lucky with how we’ve been able to get these great people to do the voices and we’re really pleased with how it’s turned out.
How is your Batman different from previous takes on the character?
Because we are a kids game we have to make sure kids are able to play our game and understand it. We do have a Batman who is still fairly dark. He’s still quite a recluse. He doesn’t want Superman’s help at all. That’s a common theme throughout the story, which is true to the fiction. We just made sure there’s humour with how he works with Robin and Superman. We like how we’ve struck a balance between him being dark and quite moody. He’s quite an English character almost and that comes across in a funny way. We like the balance that we’ve struck up with Batman. Superman is quite arrogant and very much, “Look how great I am!” And that’s really funny as well. The interaction between those characters is what makes the game funny.
Have you added more variety to the types of missions in the game this time round?
A lot of that comes down to the characters, whether it’s characters the exist within Batman and the rest of the DC world, there are some really distinctive characters. They all look incredibly different and they’ve all got different abilities and different skillsets and we’re able to utilise those and turn them into game mechanics, and that’s what sets the characters apart. And we’re able to capture the character’s personalities. So with Green Lantern he’s got his own Lego, that only he can use, Flash runs really fast… there are a lot of characters that are a natural fit for a videogame and being able to combine them all into one is great for us to be able to do.
Will all 52 characters feature in the story in some way?
The story does revolve around Lex and Joker teaming up and Batman, Robin and Superman teaming up to take them on. There’s a lot more story that goes into it than that, but they are the core of the story. Other characters will make appearances throughout the game as you play through. They’ll either be in levels or they might have odd lines or when you’re in the hub when you find the boss encounters they might have a line there. So there are other personalities that appear throughout the story. The opening cutscene especially features more different characters from the Batman side of things. You see Harley Quinn, Riddler, Penguin, they’re all in that opening cutscene, and a couple of others appear towards the end as well.
How have you changed the combat for the sequel?
For a Batman game it’s important to have combat in there. It’s a very action-packed franchise. We didn’t want to go too far with it because it’s a kids game and we wanted to make sure we weren’t alienating any of our target audience. So it’s still very simple – X is punch and after you get your combo high enough you can press B and he’ll do a special move that might be funny. Different characters have different moves that will give a different animation. You can also pick characters up with B and then press X to throw them, so that gives a bit more variety as well. Then of course you have freeze breath and all these other mechanics that can tie into combat if you want to use them. Robin in one of his suits has a freeze gun, so there’s other mechanics that can all be applied to combat if you want to.
Are collectables still as big a part of the game now you’ve placed more emphasis on story-telling?
It’s still very much, collectables are definitely there. In all 15 levels there are 10 mini-kits to collect. There are 20 red bricks, 50 citizens in peril to save throughout levels in the hub and 250 gold bricks just for interacting with stuff, finishing levels with lots of studs, and exploring the world. The great thing with the hub is it’s packed full of Lego and things to interact with and things to do and things to see. Round every corner there will be something else for you to do and you’ll need different characters to do it, different suits to follow the puzzles through. There’s still a lot of stuff to collect and lots of hours to be spent collecting studs, and those core values of a Lego game are all still there. And even though this is a more story-driven game than perhaps we’ve done before, the traditional mechanics of Lego – smashing stuff, collecting studs, playing co-op, all that stuff is still very much there and centre-stage for us.
How does co-op work in the open world sections?
The co-op is still dynamic split screen when you’re in levels. In the hub, because the camera is different to levels – in levels it’s fixed, it’s not fixed in hubs – split screen wouldn’t work because you would have two characters running together and the whole idea of the screen merging together wouldn’t work, so it’s a fixed split screen when you’re in the hub and it has to be that way because of the camera movement we’ve got in the hub. In levels the dynamic split-screen is still there and is still one of the things that’s really great for co-op play because it’s one of those that we couldn’t go back to just having people go too far apart and then they have to stick there. When kids especially are playing together the fact that they can go their own separate ways and still help each other out is vital to our games. It’s fixed in the hub through necessity.
In the past year there have been two very different takes on Batman in videogames alone, what do you think it is about Batman that lends itself to these very different interpretations?
He’s a very strong character. He’s a character that a lot of people enjoy watching. Our take on it is we wanted to take Batman and Joker and add Superman and Lex and ask what would happen if that situation arose? And that’s how our story evolved from that. From the Lego perspective. We’re always conscious that we want to make it family appropriate and that’s always in our mind when we’re coming up with what we can do, and that’s why we try to go down the humour road, that’s a more natural fit for Lego, we try to make it funny. We want people to be laughing when they see our cutscenes and appreciate that we do try to add humour to our interpretation of that world.
The Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes UK release date is 22 June.
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