Imagine taking the best characters and elements of your favorite fictional universe and weaving them into a new story that captures the imagination of fans.
That’s what Emmy-winning TV writer Paul Dini did in creating “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” a video game coming out in late August. Buzz is building online for the dark, cinematic game, which reimagines a brooding Batman and his most notorious nemesis, the Joker, for an experience that’s reminiscent of “The Dark Knight” blockbuster movie. You want mayhem, insanity and brutality Get ready for all of it. “This is the Batman movie I would have liked to have written,” said Dini, who was scheduled to discuss the game during a panel Saturday at Comic-Con International, the huge celebration of comic-book culture in San Diego, California. “This is him with all the good stuff.” The atmospheric game pits Batman against Joker in a battle of wits and brawn after the Clown Prince of Crime traps the Caped Crusader inside Arkham Asylum, Gotham’s psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. After the trap is sprung, the Joker releases the inmates, including some of Batman’s most ferocious enemies: Bane, Harley Quinn, Mr. Zsasz, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc. Batman has appeared in video games since 1986, but none as ambitious or complex as “Arkham Asylum,” which draws much of its inspiration from the character’s comic mythology. The game will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows. It’s being developed by Rocksteady Studios and will be published by Eidos Interactive in conjunction with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and DC Comics. (Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment is a division of Time Warner, which owns CNN.)
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As the lead writer for the game, Dini said he was given a clean slate to work from. Because there was no movie, graphic novel or comic tie-in to follow, he was able to create an original story. Dini’s familiarity with the main character may help win the hearts and wallets of gamers. Winner of five Emmy awards, Dini has worked on Batman comic books and written episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” and later, “Batman Beyond.” Dini, who has also written for the ABC-TV hit “Lost,” said he was influenced by Batman lore from character creator Bob Kane, the Batman comics of the 1960s and the Dark Knight graphic novels of Frank Miller. In creating his story’s look and tone, Dini said he chose his favorite elements from different incarnations of Batman. For example, the game emphasizes Batman’s intellect and use of technology by solving puzzles with the help of such tools as X-ray scanning and a pheromone tracker. “Detective work is a crucial game element,” Dini said. “There are a lot of forensics aspects to the story.” If you’re expecting a Heath Ledger-like Joker in “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” you may be disappointed. With his less-smudgy makeup, spiky green hair and maniacal cackle, Dini’s creation looks and acts more like earlier versions of the iconic villain. Kevin Conroy voices Batman in the game, while the Joker is voiced by Mark Hamill, known to millions as Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” movies. Conroy and Hamill were scheduled to join Dini at Comic-Con this weekend. Both actors also did the voices in “Batman: The Animated Series,” making the game feel very familiar. Sterling McGarvey, a senior editor for G4TV, said the game’s developers were smart to rely heavily on the animated TV series. “An entire generation of Batman fans grew up with the animated Batman,” he said. “It is a beloved, storied franchise with very few good games.” The Internet is full of videos showing glimpses of the game, including movie-like trailers, demo gameplay, characters and layouts of Arkham Asylum. Among Batman fans and gaming reviewers, early reviews have been strong. Brian Crecente, editor-in-chief of Kotaku.com, said he likes the way the developers combined elements to create the ultimate Batman from the fans’ perspective. “Part dark, broody Batman, part serious crime fighter, but also part detective,” Crecente said. “Batman has this huge universe. Why not cherry-pick the best stuff and put it in the game” A key character in the game is Arkham Asylum itself, with its spooky corridors and Gothic architecture. Dini loves its “mix of dark, creepy, steam punk and Victorian” and calls it the perfect location in Gotham City for the gameplay. “It is a totally over the top mansion with gargoyles on the inside,” added Crecente. “Very cool.” Dini heaped praise on how the developers made his story come to life. He hopes fans who know Batman will love how familiar it feels, while gamers will love the action. “Fans of the canon will be happy,” McGarvey agreed. “But the game was designed more for the Batman fan than a hardcore gamer.” Crecente describes the game’s combat as fluid and quick, with a martial arts feel. Acting as Batman, players will be able to hide in the shadows and stealthily take out their enemies. All the gaming mechanics in the world won’t save Batman unless fans get drawn into the story. Remember Lego Batman But Dini seems confident that gamers will respond to his vision. “Nobody loves a good Batman story more than I do,” he said.