Craig Hubbard on Creating Chaos in ‘Gotham City Impostors’ [Interview]
Launching last week on Xbox Live, the PlayStation Network and PC, Monolith’s mutliplayer first-person shooter Gotham City Impostors has been a talked about title among comic fans. Initially controversial for its Batman-themed gameplay (Batman would never tolerate a Batman vs. Jokerz gang war), the game has since won over many gaming sites, with CA contributor Andy Yen praising the public Beta for fun gameplay and thoughtful executions of its concept. ComicsAlliance got in touch with Gotham City Impostors lead game designer Craig Hubbard to learn more about what went into creating the first ever Batman-themed shooter. Learn more about the creation of GCI, its comic book ties and more after the cut.
ComicsAlliance: Can you give us a little background regarding how Gotham City Impostors came to be and how Monolith became involved with the game?
Craig Hubbard: We were between projects and didn’t have a big enough team to make a full-fledged game, so we latched onto the idea of a downloadable multiplayer game. We had a blast working on F.E.A.R. Combat, the free multiplayer release we did after F.E.A.R. shipped, and the thought of another project along those lines was immensely appealing.
We approached DC Comics with the premise for the game and they guided us in developing it into a legitimate (if unconventional) part of the Batman universe.
CA: The game is pretty loosely based on David Hine, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens’ “Impostor” storyline from Detective Comics #867-870. What (if any) other Batman stories from comics, animation or movies influenced the game?
Actually, real life was our chief inspiration. Between all the people who dress up like Batman at conventions and the headlines we were starting to see about actual Americans taking to the streets to fight crime in superhero costumes, it was easy to imagine how much more extreme those phenomena would be if Batman actually existed.
CA: One of GCI’s special features is character creation, which allows players to customize the kind of Bats or Jokerz they want to be. What gameplay incentives will players have to experiment with different types of characters on either side of the war in terms of abilities and weapons?
CH: There are several customizable elements. The only one that directly affects gameplay is your Loadout, which includes weapons, gadgets, support items, body types, selectable bonuses, etc. As you level up, you can unlock new options and further tailor your loadouts to your play style or favorite gamemode.
Costumes are purely aesthetic, meaning they’re mostly a way to express your personality. And Calling Cards, which are displayed to anybody you kill, consist of several components that can only be acquired by completing challenges, making them the perfect way to show off your accomplishments.
CA: When the game was announced, the idea of a gang dressing up as Batman to kill villains was a little controversial among some hardcore comic fans. The game employs a pretty overtly humorous tone and its opening tutorial addresses most of these concerns, but what other efforts has Monolith made to distance the murderous actions of the game’s Batpersons from the true Batman to help avoid fan dissonance?
CH: Well, the concept of gun-toting, Batman-inspired vigilantes came directly from the comics and movies, but I can understand why fans might wonder why we’d choose to make a game about these impostors. The simple answer to that is that I love the notion of guys who are inspired by Batman and want to be like him but lack both the budget and the moral fiber to measure up to his example.
I know another complaint was that Batman wouldn’t tolerate these guys, which is absolutely true. He doesn’t tolerate them, but he can’t be everywhere at once. They’re like flash mobs. It’s not that hard to disperse a single flash mob with teargas and fire hoses, but if three spring up simultaneously, you have to accept that some show tunes are going to get sung somewhere in your town tonight.
In any case, it seems that once people play the game, most of those concerns go away, so I hope skeptics will at least download the trial and check it out for themselves. If nothing else, I think they’ll be gratified by the reverence and enthusiasm that have gone into the game.
CA: There’s a certain secret identity aspect of the game that’s been played up in its animated promos that’s sort of reminiscent of Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy comics and the old Looney Tunes shorts with Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog. How deeply does the game explore the two sides of the battle for Gotham City? Do these characters need a deep philosophical reason for battling or are they simply forces of nature emulating the definitive agents of law and chaos in their city?
CH: One of the things we liked about the premise is that it didn’t require a lot of exposition, which is perfect for a multiplayer title. I’m a big fan of Hemingway’s iceberg principle: just show the audience enough to fill in the blanks themselves. I resent being bludgeoned by needless backstory.
Both the examples you cited are models of brevity. They give you just enough context for you to understand and enjoy the struggle.
CA: The game’s cartoony visuals stand in contrast to its lethal tone. This affords a level of clarity and color to maps that they may not have otherwise have had if the game had gone with a darker/grittier aesthetic like, say, Batman: Arkham City. What do you hope players will get out of this somewhat nontraditional, brighter take on Gotham City?
CH: We were a little nervous about deviating from the more familiar depiction of Gotham City by night, but a lot of our aesthetic choices were made in support of the actual game experience. With darker environments, we ran into big problems with target recognition. It’s very frustrating to get shot by enemies you can’t tell apart from teammates or, worse, can’t see at all because they’re in the shadows. Once we began exploring different times of day, the game became a lot more fun to play and significantly more interesting to look at.
Some of the “cartoony” impressions comes from exaggerating the proportions of the characters, which we had to do to distinguish the body types from each other. Fighting a Mighty calls for very different tactics from fighting a Speedy, so it’s imperative that you can tell them apart quickly. More realistic proportions didn’t work as well.
Gotham City has certainly been portrayed in lots of different ways over the years, so we’re hoping that players will accept our interpretation as yet another perspective on a well-known and well-loved city.
CA: What can you tell me about what kind of Easter eggs fans can expect to find in the title? What details found their way into maps? Will any familiar faces from Batman comics be making cameos? What about the Caped Crusader himself?
CH: The game is one giant love letter to the Batman franchise, so there are references all over the place. Finding them is half the fun, though, so I’ll leave it to fans to figure them all out.
CA: It’s early in the game to ask about downloadable content, but are there any plans to expand GCI with add-ons down the road?
CH: Yes! We will be releasing our first major downloadable content pack for free in March! It will include:
-A new map, the “25th Floor”
-Over 100 new customization options, such as new weapons, support items, fully themed costume packs, and Calling Card elements
-More matchmaking improvements
-Join-in-Progress: Players will be able to join a match, even after it has started
-Numerous additional fixes to resolve potential connection errors