San Francisco — After making three “LEGO Star Wars” games, you’d think Traveller’s Tales would have it down pat by now.
But lightsabers and Batarangs aren’t quite the same thing.
“LEGO Batman: The Videogame” producer Loz Doyle told me at the Game Developers Conference last month that the team is still working on what the Wii version’s control scheme will be like. “We’ve been messing around with the different ways we can do the Batarang,” he said. “We don’t want people throwing their Wii-motes out the window. I can just imagine mothers calling us up. We are working on it.”
So while I didn’t a chance to see the Wii version of the game, Doyle gladly demo-ed the Xbox 360 version for me in a W Hotel suite, a block away from GDC.
With Doyle having worked on all three incarnations of the “LEGO Star Wars” games, I wondered what it was like for him to transition to a new IP. “It was quite strange at first because I’ve been doing ‘Star Wars’ since 2003 or something, so then I had to switch to a completely different universe and different characters,” he said. However, Doyle and co. were allowed more creative freedom this time around, since the games aren’t strictly based on movies like “LEGO Star Wars” was.
The game is broken up into 18 levels, with three different story arcs (six levels per story arc) featuring the standard two-player, drop-in/out cooperative play (online co-op play is available for the Xbox 360 and PS3). The stories were penned by Traveller’s Tales, with approval from Warner Bros. and DC Comics after they were written. “It seemed only natural that the over-arching story was a big breakout from Arkham Asylum,” Doyle said. “Once they broke out from Arkham Asylum, they break off into three groups, which enables us to have three stories that aren’t linked to each other.”
They weren’t inspired by any one medium: “I think everyone on the team has at some point watched all the films, the TV series, the animated series, read the comics,” he said. “We’ve got some massive Batman fans up at Traveller’s Tales, so that was really useful. But yeah, I don’t think we took particular inspiration from a specific film or TV show, it’s more that we kind of looked at a character, and we built the story up based on how that character would behave.”
While I didn’t get my hands on the controller, I did bombard Doyle with questions as he played through some early levels. Read on…
legobatman_catwoman_281.jpgThe Batcave is naturally the hub area for the Block Knight, similar to the Mos Eisley Cantina and Dexter’s Diner in the previous “LEGO Star Wars” games, while Arkham Asylum serves as the hub for the villains. Doyle explained that there are both Hero and Villain Story modes as well as Freeplay mode. He showed one of the game’s early Hero levels called “There She Goes Again,” which stars Batman and Robin as the main playable characters. Following a cut scene showing Catwoman stealing a diamond, Doyle switched between Batman and Robin as the pair chased down the feline fatale, facing a slew of bad guys along the way. A bat symbol that appeared on the screen meant that Batman was readying his Batarang; placing it on different areas of the screen, he could hit five different targets in one throw, splitting anything LEGO in its path. When I asked if five was the maximum, Doyle explained that you can upgrade the Batarang to hit up to 10 targets. Meanwhile, an “R” symbol represented Robin’s Batarang.
“One of the things that was great about ‘LEGO Star Wars’ was the different abilities that all the characters had, which really gave good variety to the game,” Doyle said, prefacing the fact that in Hero mode, you could only play as Batman and Robin. “Because they are the dynamic duo, we needed a way of getting different abilities into the levels because we felt that was a really strong feature.” Their solution? At various points throughout the level there are “suit signals,” where the character can build loose LEGO pieces to form a little platform which reveals a new suit for either Batman or Robin; once built, you simply jump into the signal and swap your default suit for the suit that’s in there.
The first one I saw was a magnetic Robin suit, which enables him to walk up magnetic surfaces, even walking up walls and upside down on ceilings. There was also the Batman Glide Suit (self-explanatory) and the Batman Demolition Suit, an outfit that gave Batman the ability to place up to three bombs which can be detonated. The bombs can destroy silver LEGO pieces and are used for puzzle-solving and getting into hidden areas. But special suits weren’t the only way to help the characters progress through the level. Doyle showed the characters building a helicopter, which one piloted and the other grappled from the bottom, still able to use his Batarang.
legobatman_harleyjoker_281.jpgNext, the producer showed us Villain mode, a level called “Little Fun at the Big Top,” which featured Harley Quinn (who we recently unveiled) and the Joker as playable characters. While there aren’t any special, ability-altering suits for the villains, the villains themselves have special powers that fit the characters’ personalities. For instance, the Joker uses uzis as his weapons and an eletcric hand buzzer that electrifies enemies and powers machines; Harley Quinn has a superjump that lets her jump higher than the other characters, and she’s also got “security bypass,” an ability to blow a kiss or do a little dance that makes security guards swoon and let her get to where she needs to go. The point of this level was to capture Commissioner Gordon in order to lure Batman to the fairgrounds. (Doyle died a few times while trying to ensnare the commissioner amid the throngs of cops; it was hard to resist grabbing the second controller to give him a hand.)
Here are some other informative tidbits I picked up from the demo:
* Each story is playable from either the Hero or Villain point of view. (For example, in the aforementioned levels, you could also play as Catwoman trying to steal the diamond or as Batman trying to rescue Commissioner Gordon.)
* You’re able to switch characters without being next to each other, unlike in the previous “LEGO Star Wars” games.
* The camera has been adjusted from the “LEGO Star Wars” series to pan back further and further away (but not too far) when the players are separated in two-player mode.
* There will be strictly vehicular levels in the game, although Doyle declined to say what they would be. (The press release states that the Batmobile, Batwing and Batboat will be available.)
* There will be collectibles. While I did see objects that looked like the “mini-kits” from “LEGO Star Wars,” Doyle said those were place-holders. “It will be a similar sort of system [as ‘LEGO Star Wars’]. The collectibles are different; they’re not to collect vehicles, they’re to collect other trophies. We’re going to design them to be more Batman-style.” There will be 10 per level.
* As for the DS version: “It’s not a port, it’s completely done separately. It’s done at Traveller’s Tales by the same team that did the ‘Saga’ DS version, and they’re a really, really good team. It’s kind of the same but different, and there’s a lot of touch screen in there.” He declined to say anything about the PSP version.
* The music I heard in the demo was most definitely Danny Elfman’s compositions from the “Batman” films. While Doyle did confirm I was right, the team is still “finalizing the arrangements.”