Paul Dini

Batman: Arkham Asylum exposes players to a unique, dark and atmospheric adventure that takes them to the depths of Arkham Asylum – Gotham City’s psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.  Gamers will move in the shadows, instigate fear amongst their enemies and confront The Joker and Gotham City’s most notorious villains who have taken over the asylum.  Using a wide range of Batman’s gadgets and abilities, players will become the Invisible Predator and attempt to foil The Joker’s demented scheme.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is already available for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 and is released on Games for Windows (PC) from today. To celebrate the release I got the chance to interview the games writer, Paul Dini, and talk all things Batman.

Why do you think that Batman/Bruce Wayne has remained so popular? What has motivated you to keep coming back to work with the character over the last 17 years?

Paul Dini: I think his popularity is linked to the mask and cape which represents being brave, strong, intelligent etc. With Batman / Bruce Wayne I find that the more I write about him and his dual identity the more I learn. There are constantly new areas of his character to explore. When I am fully immersed in Batman’s world he is always in my head, in the background, sometimes I see something that sparks a story, not always about him, but maybe another character from his world in general.

Batman: Arkham Asylum seems like a midway point between the animated shows and comics, and the Christopher Nolan films. Was this something you aimed for? Did Rocksteady already have a specific visual style in mind when you were brought on board?

Paul Dini: The Christopher Nolan movies place Batman as close to real world of crime as is possible, we did not want to go there with Arkham as it would be too realistic. Heath was great in the movies, establishing how the Joker could look. But it would not work in our world – it would have meant the game might have been slightly lacklustre. You can stretch things a little more in a game version creating a more fantastic environment. Instead, I mostly approached the game how I approach scripts for animation, aiming for three big action scenes each half an hour and then working to an end point. Also in a video game you have to stay one step ahead of the player and the choices they might make. We had to write the script to accommodate that, so sometimes many times and in different moods. It took me back to reading children’s ‘choose-your-own-path’ books but obviously a lot more intricate than those of course, but it was really fun coming up with the ‘what if?’ scenario.

How much control did you have over the storyline in Batman: Arkham Asylum? Were scenes written to fit specific game play elements (detective mode, “we want to show of this physics engine”, etc) or were game play elements secondary to telling a good story?

Paul Dini: They’re on equal footing as we wanted to build a good experience for gamers, but also for Batman fans.

Did you and Rocksteady look at specific Batman stories during the creation of Batman: Arkham Asylum, other than Grant Morrison & Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum story?

Paul Dini: We did look at those but to be honest they weren’t so much of an influence to us and we looked at them more for similarities.

A lot of the characters in the game are still under wraps, but there are rumours that Firefly, Hush, Zsasz (who you featured in recent issues of Batman: Streets of Gotham) and Calendar King (who was in the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode you wrote) will be in the game. Do you find working in multiple mediums lets you examine different aspects of a character, or do you just like those characters?

Paul Dini: It was going to be difficult to try to incorporate all characters into the storyline and that’s why we did not use every Batman figure – for instance Catwoman; she has never been portrayed as mad enough to be in Arkham Asylum so there was no way we could work her in to the story as it is based there. It was the same with other characters that did not fit the story of the script well, so we left them out. Again the same with The Freeze – he is a very self focused character and so there was no place for him in this script. Also: The Mad Hatter, we were heading in a slightly darker direction in this game so he would not have been a great fit.

Bruce Timm described Harley Quinn as “lightning in a bottle”. What do you think Harley adds to a game like Arkham Asylum that the Joker doesn’t or can’t? Was she always going to be part of the game?

Paul Dini: Harley is so much fun to write. I had a large amount of input into the way the characters were depicted, I wanted to make them darker: “let’s make them play for keeps”. The team did a really good job of bumping up the characters. For example I wanted to make it clear that Harley Quinn was out of her mind and The Joker does not care so much about her – he only wants to use her for his own gain – whereas Poison Ivy is a law unto herself: slightly hedonistic and selfish. I didn’t really want her to be part of the group she wants to be let alone and would delight in killing Batman.

You’ve written for comics, live action, animation and games, was it your intention to work in all these different areas? Do you think Batman works better in one medium over any other?

Paul Dini: Now more than ever whether for comic or TV you are presented with opportunity to go from one medium to another…and from there is a natural leap into animation. Every new opportunity is a challenge. It really depends on budget and with animation your comic book character is not hampered by anything; you can put him anywhere in any environment. If you tried this with movies it would be costly and runs the risk of failing.

In the last few years any comic character who gets a film seems to gets a computer game, do you think that there’s a comic character who really deserves to make the leap from the page to a game console?

Paul Dini: Most have already made it! There is a huge online gaming world and most of the DC universe are there. I can’t really think of a character… It is such a natural progression as comic book characters are so adaptable.

I’ve read online that you’re a hunter and a cryptozoologist, have these interests helped you get under the skin of Batman or his rogues gallery?

Paul Dini: Not so much this time around. I prefer to keep my hobbies separate, like an extra curricular activity.

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