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.

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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.

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The Knight Is Young

It’s really odd how much I worried about *deep breath* Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (henceforth known as Blackgate). Since its announcement, I’ve been a regular worry wart, fretting over just how good it would be.

It’s not as if I have any stakes in the product, I just enjoy good games. And if that good game is also a Batman game, then I’ve hit the lottery.

But why I worried so much is the talent behind it. Armature Studio, formed by ex-Retro Studios talent, has been rung through the ringer, noting themselves to be the victim of the video game industry’s constant ‘shifts’. Blackgate marks the studio’s first self-created project, and as such, I wanted them to he able to shine. Thing is, it’s no always a treat to work on a licensed property. Previous Arkham games were incredible, but would Warner Bros. give Armature the freedom they needed?

While I can’t say there weren’t any hardships, I can certify that Blackgate is awesome. How’s that for a criticism?

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The Determining Factor

While there has been a fairly large disparity between the hardware that powers Nintendo and Sony’s portables, my decisions on which to support for the rare multiplatform games is never as cut and dry.

As I said, these situations are rare, becoming even more so in the current 3DS and Vita generation. However, the same game releasing on two separate platforms has plagued me before, and will again with the upcoming Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate.

Barring any technical differences, the decision comes down to preference. Rayman Origins was an easy choice, as the 3DS version was quite the turd, and gave off the impression that my screen had been glazed in petroleum jelly. The Vita version ran perfectly, so yeah, the choice was clear as crystal.

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Sometimes though, it simply comes down to preference. Take Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward for instance. I had played through (and subsequently had my brain pour out my nose) the previous installment, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, on the DS, so my heart naturally preferred the 3DS version. While I was assured the story would not tie into the two screen setup as 999 had, I still felt it most natural to play it on my 3DS. Sure, the Vita version looked better, and didn’t ship with a game-breaking bug (which I painstakingly avoided), but I couldn’t help myself. That’s not to say the 3DS version didn’t have it’s own benefits. The form factor of the 3DS meant I could sit it down on the arm of the couch and read my way through the game, not having to hover over it as I would on Vita. The game’s layout made more sense too, I could easily display my hints and scribblings on the top screen as I used the bottom to solve the puzzle. Nothing amazing, of course, but they were elements I appreciated.

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Now I’m facing a similar situation with Batman. I’m having zero luck in tracking down footage of the 3DS version, relying on written impressions to build an idea of what to expect. The Vita version looks stunning, but if the two screen setup of the 3DS is used well I may pick it up there instead. From what I can gather, the touch screen acts as quick access to switching items and gadgets. If Blackgate takes as much from the Metroid series as implied, a map being down there will be a huge selling point for me.

While the situation is few and far between, I go into panic mode when it comes down to making these decisions. Sadly, the coverage portable games receive leaves much to be desired. I’m basically bugging folks on Twitter and email for information on their game. Hopefully things get easier, lest a few more of my brain cells pop in deliberation.