One Knight In Armature: An Interview With Jack Mathews

As bright as the spotlight that beckons Batman, I’ve made my love for Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate quite clear, both here on the site and Nintendo World Report’s Connectivity podcast. When I finally bested the last of the game’s villains, I couldn’t wait to pick the brain of Armature Studio, the folks behind the game. I got in touch with Jack Mathews, a director of Blackgate, as well as one of the founders of Armature Studio, and was able to discuss Batman, the expectations for someone who worked on the Metroid Prime series, and why they develop for handhelds.


What is the meaning behind the studio’s name?

Jack Mathews (JM): When we first started the studio, the idea behind it was to develop prototypes, then use distributed development to use outside resources to ramp up development of the game. An “Armature” is the substructure of a building or a sculpture, so it seemed to make sense. Of course, over time, we have evolved to a more traditional studio model, so the only part of that business model that remains is the name.

Many games set out to have Metroid-like design, but I’d argue that few are successful. What is the most difficult part in developing an exploration heavy game, and how does Armature Studio address it?

JM: Metroid-style games have a huge amount of hurdles to overcome. Due to the backtracking and exploration, you need interesting environments. Due to the “item-based progression” (using abilities as keys rather than, well, keys), you need to be able to have cool enough items that are fun, but also interesting challenges that make the player feel smart when they realize they can use the tool they just got to help them on something they saw awhile back (hey, there was a weak wall and I just got explosive gel!). All of this stuff hits the player abilities, the room and scenario design, and the art direction. It’s very difficult to keep all of those moving pieces together.

As for what we do to address it, intense amounts of planning.

With Blackgate being Armature Studio’s first original title, was there additional stress in delivering a product that would show just what you’re capable of?

JM: Yes.

What does Armature Studio bring to the Arkham series?

JM: We bring a new perspective on the franchise, and a new game type. Additionally, we brought Suicide Squad to the fold, which was fun.


The game’s map suffers from being an overhead, 2-D representation of a sophisticated 3-D world. A map akin to what we saw in the Metroid Prime games would have suited the game very well, what were the reasons behind not pursuing something similar to that?

JM: We were hoping we could get away with a simpler map due to the 2.5D, and we were wrong. By the time we knew how badly it needed to be fixed, we were out of time.

When Armature took on the title, were certain mechanics familiar to the Arkham series a requisite for your game?

JM: Free flow combat, grapnel, and gadgets were the most obvious.

Armature Studio has ties to Retro Studios and the Metroid Prime series of games. Does this history help or hinder when it comes to what your audience expects from you?

JM: It helps and hinders. It helps because people know what sort of thing we do, but hinders when it creates expectations.


In developing for the 3DS and Vita, what would you say is most important in working with handhelds?

JM: Know your limits.

When working on a franchise that began as a video game, you’re obviously making products that appeal to that one audience. The Arkham series, however, appeals to both fans of the comics, movies, and games. How do you make a game that appeals to so many audiences?

JM: We didn’t have to. We were able to build on the franchise successes of Arkham and concentrate on that portion of the franchise.

We honestly don’t see a lot of high profile work on handhelds out of North America. Armature obviously bucks this trend, so what is it about the 3DS and Vita that appeals to you?

JM: What appeals to us is that we do not need a 100 person team to make games. We can run reasonably lean and mean.

In a Game Informer interview, Mark Pacini admitted he sees the bad in the games he’s worked on. Does this remain the case with Blackgate?

JM: Yes. He will forever do this, it’s one of the things that makes him a great designer.


Regarding your work on Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and the upcoming Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, are you looking to deliver a home experience ‘on the go’, or something more tailored for handhelds?

JM: With both of those games, we are trying to do justice to the games that came before them. Both of them are trying to put the exact experience in the players’ hand, not so much to tailor it to the platform.

When you’re bringing another studios work to a new platform, is it difficult to not think “Well, we would’ve done this instead” and act on it?

JM: When working on other studio’s projects, I prefer to just look at it as an insight into the way other people work. So it’s usually the opposite – we’ll see something particularly cool or clever, and think “why didn’t I do it this way before?”

Was there anything learned from NetherRealm Studios and Kojima Productions in bringing their works to the Vita?

JM: There are always things to learn when you peek behind the curtain.

Thanks so much for your time!

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate can be purchased in-store and online for the 3DS and Vita. 


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