Redesigning: Batman Arkham Knight's Ace Chemicals Dungeon
The images from Batman and Okami do not belong to me.
Ace Chemical’s visual cues are lost in the world. The game has a very cohesive look which, while immersive and engrossing, sometimes fails to differentiate between intractable objects. A large part of this is the rain and the puddles. The slick wet texture homogenizes the visuals of the world, reflecting all the lights constantly and making puzzle cues disappear. For example, the Batmobile’s power wench can only grab handles lit by red or yellow lights. Making the handles larger and more recognizable would provide a more intuitive visual cue system for players to understand the next step in the puzzle. This is compounded by the reflecting lights in the water. Another visual cue that I lost when playing was the explodable walls. Okami a similar mechanic in a world which is arguably just as visually homogenized by its brushstroke shader, but Okami’s exploding walls have a repeating visual cue in every explodable wall: the big crack. AK’s walls also have cracks, but the cracks are visually different in every wall. The fix for this is Detective Mode, which feels like cheating. I play all games on easy mode and I very rarely feel shame for picking the easy route, but Detective Mode feels like picking “insanely easy” difficulty mode. It simplifies a very complex visual world, to point of asking, why bother building this ultra-packed world I only need to interact with a pulley and a breakable window? Replacing the Detective Mode with more recognizable visual cues makes the player feel more in tune with the world, allowing them to psychologically view cues as symbols for mechanics. Okami’s walls teach the player that this is a symbol for the bomb mechanic, quickly establishing a new avenue of agency and not hampering the pace of the game. The walls in AK do impede pacing. To explode a wall, Batman must stop, enter a new menu, select exploding gel, spray it on the wall three times in different spots, stand back, and then detonate. The mode of interaction is much slower than the tank combat of the Batmobile and the grappling, gliding, fast combat of the other sections of the game. In the Ace Chemicals dungeon, when the player is just feet away from the fear toxin bomb, maintaining the illusion of urgency is essential to suspend the player’s disbelief and keep them in a state of flow. Changing the mode of interaction with Batman’s gadgets can keep the urgent pace. One way would be to have Batman know what gadget to use on the wall automatically. The player would press a button when approaching the wall and Batman would perform the gel operation himself, maybe with some monologue to explain his reasoning. I argue that this does not remove the player’s agency in this situation as there’s only one correct way to progress against the wall anyway. This would fit into the cinematic nature of AK’s seamless play to cutscene transitions. Another solution, both narratively and mechanically is to have the Batmobile perform gadget functions.
Akrham Knight's walls
The Batmobile’s Character Design
The Batmobile is a character. Its animations have personality, its remote-control mode has somewhat autonomous action, and it has motivation. Especially during this section of the game where Batman urges Robin to stay behind, the Batmobile fills the sidekick gap. The vehicle is comparable to Dogmeat in Fallout. It is loyal, protective, nigh indestructible, and full of interesting mechanical foils to Batman’s abilities. The police are fascinated by it, and henchmen fear it. Narratively, its character could be further explored by giving it part of Batman’s current ability set. Using the above example, the Batmobile can shoot down explodable walls much quicker and more efficiently than Batman’s exploding gel. I argue giving the gadget capabilities to the Batmobile would therefore quicken the pace of play, given more mechanical important to the Batmobile, and give its character a more endearing/useful angle. Finding a vantage point to park the Batmobile to remotely access internal exploding walls could also create interesting spatial relationships in the map and enhance the Batmobile’s platforming gameplay.
Gotham is a partial open world. Ace Chemicals is a dungeon within that world. In RPGs, dungeons are just that: linear, inescapable places that prevent exit until the conflict is dealt with. However, Ace Chemicals is escapable, and it’s even required that the player leave to deliver hostages to the GCPD. Narratively, closing the exit is an opportunity for another layer of character development for Batman. Since there are only 2 living hostages to rescue and 2 passenger seats in the Batmobile, perhaps Batman saves the two hostages but must chose to deliver them to safety or stop the Arkham Knight from escaping. Maybe the choice is to deliver them from safety and lose time to reduce the bomb’s blast radius. Even as the story stands, Batman could squirrel the two hostages away in the Batmobile and never deliver them to Gordon. Then the two hostages could then have developed personalities instead of being pieces of exposition for Batman. The dynamic of the plant workers forced to help Scarecrow is very interesting narratively, but none of the plant workers are present in the central mixing chamber helping him use the equipment. Perhaps choosing to save them would later give Batman a smoke pellet with increased cover range (a gift from chemical workers wanting to show their gratitude), while the fear toxin’s escape could increase the overall attacks of minions in the city. On the other hand, if Batman chose not to deliver them to safety and stop the bomb, the minions wouldn’t be effected but Batman would be haunted by the deaths. When attempting to deliver the hostages, the Arkham Knight could destroy the entrance ramp, destroying a source of power for the player and dramatizing the mood.
The Arrival of the Arkham Knight
The player meets the Arkham Knight at Ace Chemicals. His design and plane are intriguing, but his dialogue with Scarecrow on the radio chatter could give the player insight into his character. Historically Batman’s villains have very complex relationships with him. Batman is usually the bland end of the conversation. The villains don’t claim to just hate batman, they are in love with their dynamic. This is the motivation behind Scarecrow, who needs Batman’s presence to “feel the fear he craves.” However, when Scarecrow asks the Arkham Knight why he hates Batman, the player gets a flat “You wouldn’t understand.” In the interest of keeping the player in the dark, the Arkham Knight could have given at least some detail as to his motivations. This could also play into his combat style. The Arkham Knight fights with an unmanned drone, allowing him to taunt Batman through their fight. Perhaps he could say “I don’t need to be there in person to kill that old man” to hint at their relationship.
My redesign would retain the opening scene with the AK wanting to kill Batman from his chopper, but Scarecrow overriding him. Batman would then wonder why the chopper doesn’t shoot. AK would then shoot out the bridge, the tanks would open fire, and Batman would grapple into the compound. Oracle would still suggest hacking into the terminal, but would discover Scarecrow and AK’s radio chatter here. Scarecrow wants more troops left behind, but AK send the plane full of soldiers out anyway. Oracle comments on the division of power. Batman can then hack the terminal by stealthly or blatantly attacking the guards.
This is my redesigned map of the exterior of Ace Chemicals. Objective points are marked in green, and batman is the little yellow bat. This redesign does not change the subterranean areas of the map.
Batman gets the ID signatures. Oracle specifically mentions jumping to the top of the Ace Chemicals sign to reinforce environmental feedback. Batman notices that there more guards guarding the crane controls than anything else in the map. The Ace building would also have less overhangs to better allow Batman to see the tanks lying in wait on the other side. He comments that we’ll need the Batmobile to get through them.
Batman gets 2 living signatures of plant workers. (The three dead workers don’t serve the plot besides giving Batman more motivation to find Scarecrow, but I think he has enough motivation and the threat of killing living hostages is heightens the interest curve.) One of the workers is a high-level engineer, the other a laborer. Batman can see the labor’s signature close by in the gate house.
Batman fights the minions in the gate house, verifying that the laborer is alive. However, several minions escape with the hostage in the chaos. Their radio chatter asks another crew to “prep the test chamber with Scarecrow’s fear gas.” Oracle comments that the test chamber is designed to lock from the inside and that she can’t find a way to unlock it. Batman suggests using the Batmobile and opens the gate, summoning the Batmobile and jumping in. The Batmobile enters the plant by remote control: Batman does not leave the plant to retrieve it.
The AK warns his troops of the incoming Batmobile and deploys a tank squad. Batman destroys the tanks and the AK silences radio chatter, asking if Batman can hear him.
Batman drives to the test chamber and rips down the loading door. The laborer is locked to a pipe in the test chamber and begs to be saved. Batman finds the chamber door open and enters, the door sealing shut behind him. The AK and crew appear and the AK’s monologue is delivered as he preps a canister of fear toxin to be injected into the chamber. However, when the AK says “I know what you’re thinking, who is this guy?” Batman responds with “No, I’m thinking about how you can’t kill me because your boss wont let you.” The comment on the AK’s power in the relationship infuriates him and he orders the crew to shoot Batman and the hostage, forgetting the gas canister. Batman breaks free and deals with the minions while the AK gets away. Batman then frees the hostage, who begs Batman to save his boss, the engineer in the Central Mixing Chamber. Scarecrow has been using the engineer to create the correct toxin ratio and will be there with him. The hostage asks for Batman’s forgiveness, explaining that he thought Scarecrow’s men were inspectors and that his boss had asked him not to let the inspectors in. The hostage wanted to spite his boss, but everything spiraled out of control. This subplot is meant to be a foil to the Scarecrow/AK relationship and provide foreshadowing. Batman puts the hostage in the Batmobile. Just as he’s about to exit to deliver the hostage, the AK destroys the rest of the bridge, taunting Batman with a choice: fly out with the batwing to deliver the hostage all the way to GCPD where Commissioner Gordon has been forced to retreat. Either way the bomb will go off in 20 minutes. The laborer hostages asks Batman to get his boss first, regardless of what he chooses to do. Oracle says the only clear way to the Central Mixing Chamber is down a broken elevator on the other side of the map.
Batman and the Batmobile make their way to the other side of the map using the crane. Batman fights the second round of tanks, and then confronts the AK’s drone. The battle ensues, but the AK targets the Batmobile’s passenger section, and his taunts relate to killing the passenger inside and distracting Batman from his time. When Batman defeats him, he claims there is only 10 minutes left until detonation.
Batman clears the elevator crank by using the Batmobile’s gun. He enters the elevator shaft and drops into the control room in the original level. The engineer is there, manning the console. Batman defeats those guarding him and tries to get him to the elevator (which is batmobile controlled, like the original level.) The engineer is a salty bastard who wants the laborer to pay for letting in Scarecrow’s men, but goes with Batman anyway. Before leaving, he explains that the blast can be contained with 4 canisters of neutralizing agent. Two are in the control room, and one is in the Central Mixing Chamber, guarded by Scarecrow himself. Batman and the engineer apply the two canisters. Batman returns the Batmobile to find it surrounded by minions. He cannot leave the car with the hostages inside because if he’s too far out of range he can’t remotely control the cannon. Without shooting off the minions, they will destroy the car and the hostage. Batman must choose whether to grapple the hostages back to GCPD or keep them in the car and drive down to the Central Mixing Room, the heart of the blast.
If Batman chooses to grapple back, he will save the hostages. Later that night they will make a special smoke pellet that confuses enemies as a reward for saving him. However, Batman will not make it back in time to insert the remaining neutralizing agents and the blast will send low level of fear toxin all over Gotham, making enemies on the street harder to kill. The Joker will appear because of Batman’s guilt for not saving to two hostages, and the Batmobile must be salvaged by the Batwing, putting it out of commission for a while, however, when fixed, it will come with and enhanced after burner and a new ability to release a decompressed burst of air with will knock down nearby enemies and clear an area of fear toxin.
If Batman chooses to keep the hostages in the car, he will drive to the Central Mixing Chamber (which is guarded by one squadron of minions instead of two) and confront Scarecrow after clearing out his minions. Batman manages to get the two remaining canisters in place, but Scarecrow releases his personal stash of the fear toxin into the chamber. The scene will play as it does in the original level, but the fear toxin will enter the Batmobile where it will infect the hostages. They will rip each other apart thus killing them. The Joker will appear as he does in the original level, and Batman will escape the same way.