LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Interview – Phil Ring Talks Taking Batman Out of this World
Written Thursday, June 05, 2014 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
TT's LEGO games have been enjoying massive success for years now, with a winning formula that's stood the series in good stead since the LEGO Star Wars Video Game first surfaced back in 2005.
Now, not only is the third LEGO Batman on the cards, but licensed LEGO games are in their dozens. Does that mean that TT Games is resting on its laurels? Producer Phil Ring doesn't think so, telling us that the studio is always looking for new things to do with its LEGO titles.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham shifts the series into outer space (get our preview here), as the danger of Brainiac looms, threatening to destroy mankind. Cue more DC Super Heroes than ever, including Martian Manhunter, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cyborg, Wonder Woman and new addition Plastic Man, among a myriad of others.
Can LEGO Batman 3 shake things up a bit? Read our interview with Producer Phil Ring to find out what he thinks.
This is obviously the third LEGO Batman game, but I think I've actually lost count of how many LEGO games this is now. It must be difficult to come up with new spins to keep things fresh.
We always look at what we're trying to do and we always want to push new things, so we want it to feel fresh for people; something they've never played before. What's great for us is that we actually get two ways to do that. We get to see what LEGO is doing and what they're creating and think what we can do to push things from a LEGO perspective, but then Batman and the DC Universe is so rich that we've barely scratched the surface in the first two games. So we've got this huge amount of content that we get to include, so we include some brilliant characters and some brilliant locations, and then also as the team do a fantastic job in pushing the tech forward, we look at what we can do that we couldn't have done in the previous games. What can we do that's new, where can we go, what kind of things can we see?
That's really one of the driving factors behind the fact it's called LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. We're going Beyond Gotham, we're going into space, we want to show that side of what we can do with a LEGO title.
Is it becoming increasingly challenging to innovate within what is quite a tightly established formula though?
The team do lots of testing and lots of trying new things to see what we can do to make it feel different. We're always very aware that we want to have something that's going to feel new, and one of the ways we do that is having loads of families in the office and loads of kids. We want to make sure kids are playing it who've played the previous LEGO games and are still excited and surprised by what they can do and what they can see. We're always trying to push things within not just the story but also the mechanics and what's new. And also refining, making sure that anything we've had in previous games, we're listening to feedback from consumers; what did they like, what didn't they like, and how can we make it better?
What's the exchange of ideas like between the various TT Games LEGO teams?
It's great for us, because we have all of the different departments throwing stuff around and constantly coming up with ideas, even when it comes to something as simple as jokes. When we're writing the script we'll have the main part for all of the cut-scenes and there's all of the in-game dialogue – people talking in levels – so if someone comes up with an idea for a line they think might be funny or something they want to see because they're a DC fan, they can throw the idea in. If we think it's something good, fantastic or whatever, then yes, we'll throw that in and include that. And that's what's brilliant for us is that's what happens internally within TT, but it also happens with DC and with LEGO, so we're always in constant communication with them and we always want to make sure that we are a LEGO Batman game, so it needs to be authentic and faithful to the DC Universe.
They'll throw in ideas, like did we consider this character or that character, and we'll say “yes, that's fantastic, brilliant; we'll add them, put them here, this one can be a boss encounter, or we'll add them to the roster and make the best out of all the things that are accessible to us.
Have you attempted to include LEGO The Hobbit's structured builds in an adapted form for LEGO Batman 3?
We always look and see what we've done in previous games and what we can improve upon, change or what will also fit with the IP. One of the things we actually had in LEGO The Hobbit was this idea that you can collect all of these different elements for building those structured builds, so you collect bits of wood and granite, and so on. We just looked at it and thought, we can't see Batman collecting wood to build a catapult, so we were sat there thinking we should do something that's really authentic to the IP, but it's one of those things where we're still very much in development, so we're still coming up with ideas and coming up with changes. There's nothing to say that someone down the line is going to come up with an idea that would fit brilliantly and allow us to do something slightly different and introduce it to the Batman world and Batman fans. And it would still make sense within the IP. We're always trying to see what people liked in the previous games and how we can improve it, but it has to fit within the world we're playing with.
In LEGO Marvel Super Heroes you introduced the big figs, and I noticed that Killer Croc is now a big fig. Are there any other character types that will be introduced in LEGO Batman 3 that we haven't seen before?
The big figs do make a return, and we have things like Cyborg being able to transform into a bigger version of himself – kind of a big fig form that enables him to encounter bigger enemies. We've got a few different bits and pieces that we unfortunately can't go into too much detail on at the moment, but we're trying to do some interesting things with some of the stuff that exists within the LEGO world, and there are some really cool things we can do.
We returned to some of the characters, so like Killer Croc (at the point we made LEGO Batman), big figs weren't a thing; they didn't exist. Now that we've got that ability, we decided to revisit some of these characters and do new versions of them, so we've got a new version of Killer Croc and you may have noticed Solomon Grundy as well, who we've also made a big fig. They really fit in with the characters themselves and that's who they are within these worlds. There'll be other characters we're revisiting to make into big figs, and it also means we get to do characters that we previously might not have done before, so we've added a whole bunch of new ones.
You said earlier that you work alongside LEGO on each game. How close is the collaboration during development?
We work really closely with LEGO. We're constantly having meetings with them, exchanging constant communications and we're showing them what we do, what they like and what they don't like. At the same time, they're helping us and showing us what they're doing. We'll have discussions about playsets. how we can include different things, how we can make things really iconic and just how we can include as many of the LEGO sets as we can as well.
We've seen kids loving the fact that they can hold a mini figure in their hand and then see it come to life on-screen, so the more of that we can do, the better. It's that link between the two that kids love, because it means that when they're not playing the game and they're off playing with LEGO, they can build things and bring stuff from the game to life. Having that link is really great for us.
Has it ever worked the other way around, where the dev team has created a LEGO set for a game and it's ended up becoming an actual LEGO product?
Some bits and pieces, yeah. We've worked very closely with LEGO for a while now, and we actually did one that existed for LEGO Batman 2. There was an exclusive LEGO mini figure for the electric suit in the game and that character actually ended up becoming an actual, real mini figure that was exclusively available with a book. So we have that kind of great relationship with (LEGO) and we're always discussing models, showing our stuff to them and having that really good relationship about what we can do, and it's great to have that kind of link up.
Can it be tempting to get carried away and go overboard creating too much stuff for a LEGO game?
The model builders are fantastic and they do a brilliant job of building LEGO models, then sharing them with the team to then be implemented into the game. We end up with a huge amount of stuff and a huge amount of variation in things as well. For example, something like the Batrocket might be built and it won't be the first iteration that ends up in the game. It'll be changed and refined, redone again just to make it as cool as we possibly can. We often have vehicles that have a few variations that never see the light of day in-game, but have been created at some point inside our offices.
Whenever you see a LEGO creation in-game then, is that something that's been physically built for real? Is that one of the rules; that each LEGO model should be possible to realistically build?
Yeah. We've always wanted to make sure that we're authentic to the LEGO experience, so the models that you see have been built to ensure that they can exist as a LEGO element within the real world. That's true for about 99.9 percent of the models; there's the odd one or two things that we make slight adjustments to just from a gameplay perspective and a scaling perspective as well.
LEGO models are fantastic and you can make some brilliant, huge things, but some of the time we make things that are ridiculous. Because we're within a digital space we can do that, but sometimes we have to make things that are slightly outside of what could exist in the norm. Most of the models that go into the game can be built and we actually have had them built at some point. You walk past the modeller's desk and all of a sudden you'll see something that you've been looking at for two weeks in the game, and you'll be like, “hold on, that's the model”. And the modeller will have built it to make sure it works. It's brilliant!
Do you feel like the success of the LEGO franchise means that you'll always have to adhere to the framework that the audience expects from a LEGO game? Does it hold you back at all?
When we're working on the LEGO games we have this formula for what we hope works and we hope people enjoy, and they seem to like what we do with the LEGO games. But we're always pushing things and trying to figure out what we can do that's different. There's always a lot of prototyping in the games and there are always things that we want to try and expand upon.
It's a case of coming across something we developed in the game that we thought could become its own thing, like say for example a simple game mechanic, that might be enough to make it into something brand new, something we've never done before.
We'd be happy to embrace that, if you will. We're always looking to see what we can do that's new and I think it's just that case where if we hit on an idea or a spark or something that we can take off on a total tangent, then yeah, we'd love to do that if we thought it was something that people would like to play. Ultimately, it's always about making something that people are going to enjoy and have fun with.
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham will be swooping into action later this year for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U and PC.