The phrase “Summer Blockbuster” has become infamous among Americans. We all know that the latest and greatest movies that Hollywood has to offer will be released during the summer months. But what if instead of watching a summer movie, you were actually playing the summer blockbuster yourself? Well in the video game industry, summer style blockbusters happen all year round. Games such as Call of Duty Black Ops II and Halo 4 locking down the Fall season, and Grand Theft Auto Five and Tomb Raider locking down the spring season. People have begun looking at these games as not only a form of entertainment but something that would rival paying to go see a movie in an actual theater. With today’s games gaining larger and larger budgets, there has been an extreme increase of movie quality cut scenes in games and also a number of famous actors are making their way into the world of voice acting. If it isn’t obvious by now, I will be choosing the perspective of Film Theory and I will also dive into a little game called Batman Arkham City.
Batman Arkham City was released in October of 2011 and was a sequel to Batman Arkham Asylum. Both games have gained critical acclaim from many video game sites such as IGN and Game Informer. Batman Arkham City takes place a couple years after Batman Arkham Asylum. Since that time many of the criminals have been placed in a prison within the city of Gotham where the criminals have begun to run crazy without any law and order. Of course in natural Batman fashion, his arch nemesis The Joker has come in contact with a poisonous toxin that he plans to send to every hospital in Gotham. Seems a tad cliche even for a series that has made millions doing plot lines very similar to this exact one. But its not just the story that has grabbed my attention for this essay, it is everything else that these great games have begun to do to the video game industry. Batman Arkham City not only has a gripping story but one that allows the player to make different decisions that will ultimately affect the outcome of the story. From the huge Sandbox game play to the graphics that will leave you asking, “How can these graphics get any better?” Rocksteady has done a great job of also keeping hardcore Batman fans busy after the main story has been completed. May 29th of 2012 Rocksteady released a Game of the Year Edition for Batman Arkham City that came bundled with a downloadable extra game called Harley Quinn’s Revenge. This DLC pack is guaranteed to have you playing for at least another two hours and has a story that may leave you feeling a tad creepy. (Miller, 2011) For those real Batman nuts, the DLC packs allow the player to have access to every Batman costume that has ever been released. From the very first costume that writer and creator Bob Kane created in May of 1939, all the way to the newest Batman costume from the films that Hollywood director Christopher Nolan remade in 2007.
But before we go into my theory for this essay we need a little more background into what exactly is Batman Arkham City? Batman Arkham City is an Action-Adventure/Stealth based game that was created by Rocksteady in 2011, as I mentioned before they had created Batman Arkham Asylum in 2009. Rocksteady is based out of Highgate, North England. The company was created by Jamie Walker and Sefton Hill. They were later published and help funded by Time Warner Productions and also famous RPG Studio Square Enix Europe. (IMDB, 2012) Until the creation of the two Batman games, no studio had successfully produced and created a comic book game that was received well by the general public. But in 2009 with the release of Batman Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady had finally delivered a comic book game worth talking about. One aspect that has made games such as Batman super popular is because of the talent they have brought in to do the voice acting for the game.One actor that has won many awards for his work is Mark Hamill. The actor is the voice for the extremely popular Joker. Hamill has been doing the voice acting as The Joker since the Batman cartoon series which was very successful during the early 90’s. (IMDB, 2012) So then who better to do the voice acting for the game then someone who has defined the voice for that character? Another voice from the cartoon series also made his way over to the game is experienced voice actor Kevin Conroy, who has been the doing the voice of Batman for over 20 years. (IMDB, 2012) So with an extremely talented cast to do the voice acting, you would think Rocksteady would just stop there. But in order to make a game as good as possible, Rocksteady’s next mission was to create graphics and gameplay that was some of the best that anybody had seen in this current generation. Both Batman Arkham City and Arkham Asylum were produced under the very popular game engine called “Unreal”. Games that have used this tech include Gears of War, Infinity Blade and Unreal Tournament. The Unreal engine was created in 1998 by Epic Games and has become one of the most popular graphic engines in the current Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 era. So with great voice acting and amazing graphics there is one other element that has set Batman Arkham City apart from the rest of competition and that is the sound. The game was composed by Nick Arundel and with the release of the game came a soundtrack that featured famous artist such as Serj Tankian, Black Audio and Coheed and Cambria. With the voice acting, gameplay and sound set, Batman Arkham City still isn’t done with all of the things that make it a great game, and also a game that would rival any good Hollywood blockbuster. Cut scenes are one of the main ingredients in making video game resemble exactly what a movie would be like, and don’t worry, Batman Arkham City doesn’t falter there either. Legendary writer for the Batman Animated Series that ran from 1992 till 1995 Paul Dini was one of the lead writers for Arkham City along with Rocksteady founder Sefton Hill. Paul Dini has been writing and directing for the DC Comic book world for over 20 years with such titles as Superman: TV Series and the underground cult hit Batman: Beyond. (IMDB, 2012) Each cut scene in Arkham City is crafted so perfect by the team at Rocksteady that it allows you the player to almost at times sit back and forget that you are even playing the game.
When choosing a theory to talk about, nothing seemed more familiar than film and I don’t think that just applies to me. As a general public I feel we have turned to movies as not only an entertainment device but more of a personal release or getaway. Millions of people flock to movie theaters around the world to see the latest movie that have come out that month. Movies and reality tv have become a conversation starter for many people and at times can spur on some heavy debates over what movie was great and what movie did not meet expectation. In the world of video games, making a game to resemble a movie-like experience is something that has been going on for sometime now. But at first this idea of making a game into a movie wasn’t received very well. “For instance in 1995 computer game Phantasmagoria was one of the most popular games of the year and a top seller, but Computer Games Magazine called it, “ This hotly-anticipated game, overblown, unintentionally hilarious and incredibly dull, labeling it a disaster.” (Wolf & Perron, 2003) Going over exactly what Phantasmagoria was, the book explained it was “selective, branching-type and menu based” to me this was surprising that this game wasn’t received well by the critics, because this is exactly what we see in todays games that have become very popular and almost the normal practice. Games like Infamous, Walking Dead and Mass Effect 3 have a story that allows the player to be involved in not only the game play, but you the player, have the ability to affect the outcome of the story. With the popularity of companies such as GameStop and Amazon buying used games have become very familiar around the video game community. Many gamers have turned to the method of buying a game and beating the main campaign and then return the game before ever digging into any other factors that the game has to offer. Which brings me back to my point that game developers have turned to making games more interactive and letting the user choose his or her path. These games tend to have alternate endings and more than likely have a story that feels like a movie.
“Another common approach assumes that an interactive storyworld consists of a core plot with some variations. The designer defines an initial state for the storyworld, then defines each of the dramatic branch points in the storyworld.” (Wolf & Perron, 2003)
In the case of Batman Arkham City, the player is given the opportunity to play as Catwoman and Batman. Without spoiling events that take place towards the end of this epic journey, the Catwoman missions put the user in a position that will ultimately affect the outcome of the story, and can change the outcome of Batman’s fate drastically. For me small and little tweaks that Rocksteady did in their game like have the Catwoman stories made playing the game an utter joy. Arkham City was probably a game that I would have only played once and returned to my local GameStop. But with the process of adding a story that would have an alternate ending, made me want to keep coming back time and time again. “The gamer of a movie game has to feel he is apart of the movie, that he is in the movie. That is where the fun lies. As we know not only is the gamer lead to identify himself with the main stereotyped character, but this character becomes his surrogate in the diegetic universe, the avatar.” (Wolf & Perron, 2003) Perron has hit it exactly on the head with his quote, this is how I felt after beating Batman Arkham City. I felt as if I was Batman and was making his decisions that ultimately affected the final story.
The perspective that I have choosen from our class study is Immersion.
“Immersion means the player is caught up in the world of the games story (the diegetic level) but it also refers to the player’s love of the game and the strategy that goes into it (the non diegetic level).”
(Wolf & Perron, 2003)
I found the topic of player emotion and immersion to be one that seemed like the most important factor in playing video games. Some people just look at video games as toys and not entertainment. Video games in general during the early years were not even consider a form of media rather a hobby or fad that would eventually die off, but we all know that isn’t what happened.There is no better feeling then battling through a game for five hours and conquering a final boss to top it all off. The emotion and overall experience that a player has is what will make or break a videogame and in the world of videogames that tends to be either a studio that will make it or a studio that will ultimately fail. Games that make a player think and also provide a challenge have made the experience of the player also change drastically over the past decade. Games such as Ninja Gaiden and Dark Souls have been popularized for their difficulty, so much so that they have created a new dynamic that helps shape the interactivity and that is player to player conversation. Gamers now ask for feedback from their friends and other gamers through community chat rooms and forums that will help them reach the final goal or objective.
“The fact that in the case of the video game the “viewer” becomes a “player” means that the relationship between the user and the media changes. The interactivity of the video game appears to promise a different relation to the narrative and experience of the game, as well as a different relation to history.” (Tanine, 2010)
In the academic journal “The World War II Video Game” the author hits on many points that I have reflected above, about how film and games are simultaneously changing the world of media. No longer will an actor just have to be chained to movies. The world of motion capture or Mo-Cap, has allowed actors to display their performances not only on the silver screen, but it has allowed them to show their talents through games. Actress Ellen Page who has been in many famous movies such as “Juno”(2007) and most recently the blockbuster smash hit “Inception”(2010) has been challenging herself as an actress and has tested some uncharted waters with her new endeavor. Coming out in 2013 Ellen Page will star in a new Interactive game called Beyond: Two Souls. In the game Ellen page plays a young teen who finds out that her whole life, she has had a little helping hand. What helping hand you might ask? Well the helping hand is a ghost that has followed Ellen Page’s character her whole life. With actresses like Ellen Page making their way to video games, there is no telling what we will see next in upcoming years. Among the actors featured in Batman Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, like Mark Hamill and Kevin Konroy I feel Rocksteady has captured lightning in a bottle with the two Batman games. They have allowed the player to not only to play has the caped crusader, but they have also allowed the player to feel as if they were getting the movie experience on their own couch. Mentioned in the quote from above is the feeling of interactivity, the most important factor that Batman has captured is the ability to have the player feel as if they are making the story evolve and change during each punch and kick.
With over fourteen weeks of perspective and many topics to choose from such as feminism and violence. I felt that Film Theory and Immersion allowed me to best explain what kind of gamer I have become over my life. Games such as Uncharted, Infamous and of course Batman Arkham City have allowed me to play experiences that make me extremely happy. When thinking of other reasons that made me feel compelled to write about Arkham City was my love for film. Over the past two years I have studied film and even taken screenplay classes that have made me understand the in’s and out’s of the film industry. Without any hesitation also one of the biggest factors were the films from director Christopher Nolan, Batman Begins (2007), The Dark Knight (2009) and the newest in the Batman saga The Dark Knight Returns. (2012) (IMDB, 2012) Each one of these films have been critically acclaimed and have even made people that weren’t fans of comic books actually died hard believers. But with every believer there are thousands of doubters that say video games should stay separate from films and films should stay far, far away from video games.
“Because fidelity to the original is of low priority when porting from games to cinema, direct adaptations of video games—with rare exceptions—have little in common with the aesthetics and conventions of the source material, and resemble the game primarily only in mise-en-scène and costume design.”
Over the years directors and Hollywood producers have been trying to push video game movies down our throats and in turn have made people shy away from playing these games. Mentioned in the academic article above, was Tomb Raider. This Play Station classic was seen to many as a game that finally had made being a female protagonist a cool thing. But with the release of the film in 2001, people came to realize that maybe movies and video games weren’t meant to share the same stage. Other video game adaptations that have made poor showings at the box office are Prince of Persia (2010), Doom (2005) and last but not least, Resident Evil (2002). Now those film adaptations haven’t made great impressions on many fans around the world, but I feel that games should be games and films should remain the same. I also feel that if done right, both can steal great ideas from one another and create great things such as Batman Arkham City.
In conclusion, Batman Arkham City is not only just a good video game it is a great one. This game to me is exactly what makes playing video games fun and entertaining. A story that you can engulf yourself in and play for hours and hours. With the world of video games struggling like it is, people are constantly looking for a game that makes paying sixty dollars to GameStop a no-brainer and I feel that is exactly what Rocksteady has done with this gem. People are wanting more of a movie experience with their games and more than anything just want a story that makes them feel like they had something to do with it. With the introduction of large packs of DLC that will keep you playing hours after the game is done, to the re-release of Batman Arkham City: Armored Edition for the Wii U. Arkham City has made playing video games not just an entertainment, it has made the player a part of the game. Lastly, without being too Fanboyish one of the main factors of me choosing Batman Arkham City for the game to cover was simple. When I get home and I have an hour to kill I choose one game and one game only, that is Batman Arkham City. This game has so much to do and a story that is so engaging that I don’t ever feel guilty playing it. If you haven’t played this game I would highly recommend it and just know that it is going to be a fun ride. What other game can you fight Two-Face, Bane, Mr. Freeze, The Penguin and of course The Joker? And that was just to name a few of the most notable villains that Rocksteady has put in this game.
Work Cited Page: Academic Sources
Brooker, W. (2009, April). Camera-eye, cg-eye: Video Games and the “cinematic. Cinema Journal, 48(3), 122-128.
Tanine, A. (2010). The world War II Video Game, Adaptation, and Postmodern History. Literature Film Quarterly,38(3), 183-193.
Wolf, M., & Perron, B. (2003). The Video Game Theory Reader. (1st ed., Vol. 1st, p. 238). New York: Routledge.
Facts and Dates:
Miller, G. (Designer). (2011). Batman arkham city review. Retrieved from http://www.ign.com/games/batman-arkham-city/ps3-55050
IMDB. (Designer). (2012). Batman arkham city . Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1568322/