The Gameological Questionnaire

Mark Pacini

Mark Pacini, director, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

For the first time in Gameological history, a developer apologizes for not having enough dumb ideas.

By Matt Gerardi • June 13, 2013

Last week, we asked Gameological readers to submit questions that we could pose to developers on the E3 2013 show floor. We picked five of our favorites; those questions constitute The Gameological Questionnaire.

Mark Pacini founded the Austin-based Armature Studio in 2008 after leaving Retro Studios, where he was the lead designer on all three Metroid Prime titles. After overcoming some well-documented hurdles, Armature is gearing up to release its first game, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, a portable addition to the Arkham series. The spinoff throws the Caped Crusader into a prison whose secrets open up as Batman collects gadgets—sort of like Metroid, you might say. Blackgate will be out on October 25.

The Gameological Society: If Blackgate had a super-deluxe $1,000 edition, what would you put in the box?

Mark Pacini: Oh, god. I’d put a copy of myself in so I’d explain everything. We always talked about that—if something is wrong about your game, and someone doesn’t understand it, the running joke is, “We’ll just ship you with it so [you] can explain to everybody.” That would be the super-deluxe version.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

Gameological: There are new consoles coming out. In terms of game design, what kind of exciting things are on the horizon that you couldn’t do before?

Pacini: I’m really excited about the game DVR stuff, because I think you can do a lot of stuff outside of just recording your video. There can be a lot of interesting things that players can do community-wise, and I don’t think it’s just, “I’m going to make a video of the latest kill that I did.” I think you could do a lot of things from a gameplay standpoint. If you get a headshot on somebody, a picture gets taken and sent to you, with who took the headshot—with their name and everything. Suddenly, it’s a community-based thing. If something’s always being recorded, you’re always being watched while you play, not in a bad way. You could always rewind and get that information. Developers can use that, too, in a way to enhance your game experience, rather than just being video recording. I think there’s a lot of potential for that.

Gameological: If an alien species discovered your game as the only remnant of humanity, what would they learn about us?

Pacini: Wow. They’d only learn that we can move left to right. I don’t know if you remember that story, I think it was called “2D,” and the whole civilization was in two dimensions, and that’s how they lived their lives. [He may be thinking of Edwin Abbott Abbott’s novella Flatland —ed.] The really odd restrictions we put on the player here in terms of how they can move, [which] make sense to us, would not totally make sense to someone else. That’s probably a horrible answer, but I can’t think of anything wittier.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

Gameological: What wine pairs best with your game?

Pacini: A bitter wine. It is Batman. It’s dark and smoky.

Gameological: What was the craziest idea that came up in production that didn’t make it in?

Pacini: Our art director, Todd, has really crazy, verging on extremely odd ideas. Mainly it was—I don’t have any of them, but he could probably come up with something funny. I’m more pragmatic, so I don’t have a lot of really stupid ideas, I’m sorry.

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  • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

    Hmm!  I could go for a Metroidvania-styled Batman game, perhaps.

    • RidleyFGJ

      That was Arkham Asylum in a nutshell. That was the reason I got excited for it, as I was under the impression that it was going to be another iffy Batman game with nothing to show for it except a repulsive art style. I was sure happy to be wrong.

      This new game is so conceptually sound, especially since it’s promoting non-linearity by having the bosses being able to be taken on in any order.

      • http://tmaiblog.wordpress.com/ Chalkdust

         I never really thought of Asylum in terms of Metroidvanias… if anything, in my mind it’s a Zelda clone at its core.  An ‘overworld’ with a series of landmark dungeons to be visited and explored primarily in one pass each.  Sure, there are small secrets you can come back to once you’ve found the applicable tool, but it’s more diffuse, with the exploration going back and forth between open/expansive spaces, and confined ones.

        A Metroidvania to me is a much more confined, labyrinthine thing where you’ll be returning to certain areas multiple times (either just in the course of exploration, or specifically because you can now get past one of the gated mechanics).

        I suppose there are similarities (they are both variations on the adventure genre at their cores), but Zelda-clone and Metroid-clone bring distinctly different experiences to my mind.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      The pedigree is solid, that’s for certain.  And I do love 2D Metroidvanias.  I hope this does well, mostly because I’d like Armature to get a little more traction in the industry.  I want to see what else they can do.

    • http://twitter.com/zhandlen Zack Handlen

      I hadn’t heard about this one before, and now I really really want it to be good.

  • TreeRol

    That’s probably a horrible answer, but I can’t think of anything wittier.

    That was actually a superb answer. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, and I’m glad he did. It doesn’t necessarily say much about his game specifically, but it answers the question in a pragmatic, thoughtful way.

    • Marozeph

      I find it pretty interesting that what was originally a technical limitation has become a legtimate design choice. In the era of the PS1/N64, a lot of people probably expected 2D games (or at least 2D movement) to go the way of the dinosaurs.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      It’s more interesting when developers don’t give a “proper” answer to these questions. It reveals a lot about them personally.

  • Brainstrain

    “…if something is wrong about your game, and someone doesn’t understand it, the running joke is, ‘We’ll just ship you with it so [you] can explain to everybody.’”

    I feel like that’s important to understand for anyone working in the entertainment industry. Young writers especially seem to think that, because they can make sense of it in their head, they don’t have to -do- anything to help the reader make sense of it. NOPE. That’s the whole damn job.

  • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

    I did not know this game existed until just now, and given my ambivalence about Arkham Origins (City and Asylum are amazing, Origins is from a new team and maybe I don’t need another game in the same vein), I’m super pumped for Blackgate now.

    Also, I could use some good games on my 3DS that aren’t first-party Nintendo titles. 

    • Matt Gerardi

      I did play some of Blackgate. It seemed neat. 2D with the combat from the Arkham games ported over. It’s definitely more interesting then Origins, which is just a bigger Arkham City.

      • http://starttocrate.tumblr.com/ Http Lovecraft

        Interesting! Is there like a hub world, or a level select, or is it ‘open’ ala Super Metroid?

  • muddi900

    Is there any video of this game available anywhere?