Bringing the Villains of Gotham Knights to Life

It is no secret that Batman fans are excited about Gotham Knights. The Batman franchise has been one of Warner Bros. Interactive’s biggest titles. Batman: Arkham Asylum changed how gamers saw the caped crusader in video games. It was dark, brooding, and gave a new layer to the classic character. It was also a game that showed what was possible with comic based games, and that they could do more than be a shallow experience.

Now, more than a decade from that release, Warner Bros. is getting ready to release their latest entry into the Batman franchise, Gotham Knights. This new game takes players to a very different Gotham, one where Batman is no more, and the people he helped train must pick up his mantle. Focusing on four different heroes, Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood, Gotham Knights challenges players to pick up the pieces after Batman’s death, and try to find a new peace for the streets of Gotham.

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With the start of gamescom, Warner Bros. gave eager fans a new taste of what they could expect from the new game. Exposing the villains players will be facing, the new trailer gave a glimpse of the world and the rogues’ gallery waiting when they jump into Gotham Knights. With the new details about Gotham Knights from the latest Villains trailer, CGMagazine took the time to sit down with game director Geoff Ellenor and cinematic director Wilson Mui to talk about the game and what players should expect when they dive in this fall. 

CGMagazine: In the latest trailer you introduced a lot of iconic villains to the universe. How did you go about picking which villains to use, and what was the process like getting that all approved and put into the game?

Geoff Ellenor: I mean, our process with DC was really easy, it was really fast. Internally, it was a nightmare, because there are so many good villains to choose from. I think we settled on the ones that we did, because there is a strong synergy between just the type of gameplay that we wanted in Gotham Knights and also the way that we wanted to connect their stories with the main story of the game.

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CGMagazine: You mentioned there being so many villains that you want to include, were there some that just did not make the cut this round?

Geoff Ellenor: Oh, absolutely! I mean, like you have got to realize, at the start of this conversation, we have a lot of design and comic book fans rushing up with a PowerPoint stack of their seven favourite villains, like we would have potentially been working on Gotham Knights for another six years. In order to tell a cohesive story, we eventually honed it down to our favourites and the ones that we thought brought something distinct to the game, something that was not elsewhere in the core package of the game.

We were just really, really happy with the villains that we have, and we are excited that we finally got to show you all the trailer because I have been excited about Clayface for around three years and not been able to tell anybody.

CGMagazine: Over the years, these villains have changed and morphed as new creative people get involved in their comic storylines. How did you nail down how these characters would feel in this game?

Wilson Mui: So, there are a couple of things. Obviously, early in our game, you will find that the three of them have some unfinished business with Batman and that actually spearheads those missions.  The three villains actually have their own character arcs in the game, so in terms of the style that we took a lot of references from previous versions.

I will give you an example: Clayface’s backstory is the last moment that he met Batman, Batman threw him in the reservoir, he got shredded to bits by the turbine and as part of that, coming back into this game, he is in the midst of trying to come back together. So, it is those types of stories and backstories that we wanted to respect, but all the while also revitalizing the look and the gameplay to make our villains unique in Gotham Knights.

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CGMagazine: Gotham Knights take a different turn not having Batman as the main character. How did that change, how the story progresses?

Geoff Ellenor: I mean, it is really the seed idea of everything about Gotham Knights. We have all these cool Bat family characters and what it is like for them to go out and do Batman’s job. Similarly, on the villain side, as Wilson Mui said, they have unfinished business, and so that was the creative seed that kicks off the start of Gotham Knights’ main story. It also is really, really important foundationally to who these villains are in Gotham Knights, what they are up to, and how they feel about the Knights standing in the place of their predecessor.

Wilson Mui: We wanted to make sure that our versions of Harley Quinn, our versions of Mr. Freeze, our versions of Clayface were going to be memorable, and we wanted to refresh that, and I can honestly say with that character arc. We see them transition from when they initially find out that Batman is gone to now looking for their new nemesis in the Gotham Knights

CGMagazine: I have noticed that each one of these main characters has a very different style, a very different character. How will that play into how the story unfolds, and how will that change when it comes to the villain interactions?

Geoff Ellenor: Philosophically for us, the stuff that happens in Gotham is the same regardless of which hero you choose to play and that cascades somewhat into the villains as well. The villains do similar stuff, regardless of who you are, there are some changes in their interactions. Redhood and Clayface do not have the same dialogue as the other heroes, but fundamentally, the stuff that the villains get up to, their evil plans are the same regardless of which hero you play. What is different is the more subtle nuances of the storytelling, in the sense that the Knights do not feel the same, so they do not react the same way in every situation. 

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Wilson Mui: Absolutely, there are different dialogues, there are different nuances. Some cinematics are specifically built for each hero. So, you are going to get scenes for example, Harley Quinn’s relationship with Nightwing is very different from Harley Quinn with our Robin, because in our game, they have never met, they meet for the first time in Gotham Knights, whereas with Nightwing, they have had a history.

So these are things that we had to bridge in terms of storytelling, the cinematic, that makes sense to stay true to the form of what has been told in the past, but giving our fresh take on it, and really trying to make our versions of the villains and also for our nights, super memorable.

CGMagazine: I wanted to quickly touch on the fact that there are four different heroes in Gotham Knights. How was that as a developer to try to bring the game with so many options into fruition and was there ever any stress that this is too many or not enough to tell the story you are telling?

Geoff Ellenor: The second thing I never worried about. I absolutely felt several times during the making of Gotham Knights that four heroes was a lot to deliver. Now that we are on the other side of having them there and being able to play them, it is really great, but it was a long journey, because it is literally four different progressions that have to scale well against one story and one set of challenges. 

Also you have to have synergy, like there are capabilities because if I am playing as Nightwing, and he is playing as Batgirl, we have some different capabilities that go together. There is some strategic stuff, there is balancing all the player strategies that went along with that. So, it has been an intense road, but we are really, really happy with what is there now. It is genuinely fun to play solo, and fun to play with any combination of matchups together. It was a lot of work, but we are really excited that people are going to get to play it.

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Wilson Mui: It is really four storylines in one. Again, there are the nuances, there are differences, but each hero has their own character arc that helps them progress through the knighthood. They all are dealing with trauma in their own ways, and they are going to have a custom set of cinematics that tell that story and within the cinematics, they deal with each other.

Robin will be in one scene with Jason and then Batgirl will be in another scene with Nightwing. Those are scenes that are custom per hero. So for that, it is really about the investment of seeing how they rely on each other and deal with each other as they come to terms with Bruce’s death, which is very impactful for all of them.

Geoff Ellenor: They all feel differently about what are the challenges that they are going to have to face in the city. They feel differently about Batman’s death. They have different relationships with Alfred. So, there is a lot of depth in storytelling in there, depending on who you choose to play as.

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CGMagazine: Now that you are almost at the end of the road for this game, what are the key things you want the audience to take away before they jump into this game?

Wilson Mui: Well, I can certainly say from the cinematics, I treat each scene like a layered cake, and we try to throw in as many Easter eggs in there as we could. In game view, all the cinematics, all that storytelling, all nestled in one is really meant for the player to understand the four of them undergoing that same emotional process and becoming the next knight together. That is something I think is going to be very, very interesting for all the fans.

CGMagazine: Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap up?

Geoff Ellenor: Honestly, I would just say, I personally think that the villains are some of the most fun content that most of us have ever got to work on, and we absolutely cannot wait for people to experience them.

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