In brightest day, in blackest night, if there's one thing you can be sure about, it's that whenever a new Lego game's announced, we get very, very excited indeed. So when we got the chance to sit down with the Philip Ring, Executive Producer on the newly announced Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (for more on which, you can find our preview here), we jumped at the chance to talk co-op, collectibles, age ranges, and, of course, Lego Island...
After Lego: The Hobbit, we were kind of wondering where you guys and girls were going to go next. How come you chose to go back to Lego Batman?
We had a story that we haven't tied off, basically. We did Lego Batman 1 and then Lego Batman 2, and at the very end of Lego Batman 2 we kind of teased Braniac having some involvement, and [he] was looking for something. He sees Lantern's ring and the energy coming from it and kind of goes 'I found it'. We knew that it was somewhere we always wanted to go back to, so we sat down and went ok, [let's] tell this story of Brainiac and what he's trying to do. It kind of seemed like a natural fit to us, to expand upon that, [and] really show this world as we wanted to.
Where is this going to fit in the sort of heirachy of Lego games? I mean, The Hobbit was more like a role-playing game, with it's loot and things, while LEGO Movie was more a traditional LEGO platform/adventure game. Is any of that stuff going to be carried across into Batman, or is it going to be more of a traditional Lego Batman game?
We kind of pick and choose what we try to do - we always try to kind of make things suitable [for] the worlds that we'll be playing in. And that idea of crafting and collecting objects in The Hobbit seemed to fit really well within that kind of franchise. For Batman, it's a bit of a different thing where we wanted to introduce things like the suits and have those as big things you can upgrade. But we're not entirely sure whether Batman would collect wood to build something (laughs)! So we kind of wanted to say 'ok, that probably wouldn't fit within the DC universe; that wouldn't be something we'd expect these characters to do', and so we introduced the idea of things like fuel and power cells and other stuff that's more within the tech world and Batman focused.
It's something we wanted to do as players were playing through - they get to upgrade the suits and pick which upgrades they want. It's something that you kind of get a bit more towards the end (of the story, not the game), and it's something you can purchase with studs. We did toy with the idea of having an entirely separate currency for upgrading, but you know what? Studs work really well; everyone understands what studs are, so lets just use those. I mean, it's something we still haven't finalised - we still might say 'actually, we could add something that's really cool that we haven't thought of' as a kind of way to upgrade these suits. But the current thinking at the moment is this'll be something that as people are collecting the studs they'll be able to purchase upgrades which then apply to that version of the character.
The way we're thinking is that with all the different suits, there'll be upgrades for each of them, and you can pick and choose which ones you want. So you can say 'oh I particularly like the space suit. I want to upgrade the space suit. That's my go-to suit whenever I'm kind of not doing anything that's puzzle orientated. That's what I want to upgrade'. That's the kind of way we're looking at it, letting people pick whichever suit they want to upgrade, then they upgrade that, but by the end of the game the idea is you'll have gone and upgraded everything anyway. I mean, we want you to see the new version of everything anyway!
What sort of things will you be able to upgrade on the suits?
Erm. I think I'm going into a bit too much detail here. We've got some cool things in there, some things that are really kind of functionally useful, but we've also got some things that are a bit wacky and fun. So there's going to be a bit of variety as to how you can upgrade. (Watch out for a disco suit, then - Ed)
And of course the fact you can change suits at any time means that you can have a favourite suit and switch into it whenever.
Yeah, exactly. We did the suit swappers in the previous Batman games, and they worked really well to introduce the concept, but we knew that we wanted to have something that was a bit more instantaneous. We wanted people to turn round and go 'this situation requires this suit' and be able to instantly switch to it. But also have that freedom. To say I want to just run around in the space suit because I love it, and then they can do that. Or I want Robin's illumination suit, so they run around as the illumination suit.
One of the things we've been talking about at Everybody Plays, that we were hoping might get featured into a Lego game eventually would be the ability to have more players in co-op. Is this anything you guys have ever thought about doing? Or experimented with?
It's something that we have kind of thought of internally. What our biggest thing at the moment is that we don't want to just do it arbitrarily for the sake of it, if you will; we want to make sure that when we are introducing it, it's for the right reasons. It's either something that's, from a mechanics point of view, we can do something really cool that we haven't been able to do with two players, or if it's something that would really kind of help from a story perspective. So yeah, we want it so that these four playable characters - or whatever number it ends up at - are kind of simultaneously on screen and interacting at the same time. But from what we're finding at the moment is the two player thing is really the sweet spot and seems like the perfect number of people - things don't get too frantic with too many people on screen, people still know what they're doing, we can do some really cool things with co-op puzzles and stuff like that. So yeah, two is our big number at the moment; it's the one that works.
It's just come from playing things like Super Mario 3D World and Lego: The Hobbit, where you've got a big group of dwarves, and you're stacking them up and things. It'd would be easier to get them all organised if you were playing in a group!
It's something we still always think about. As I say, its just finding that right fit so that we can introduce the characters and be sure there's enough for everyone to be doing something. And we don't want to have it so that we've got two people that are doing everything, while the other person is just hanging around, not being able to do anything at the moment. So we need to make sure that when we do introduce it, there's still a huge amount for everyone to do all the time.
One of the things we were thinking about earlier was whether The Lego Movie's affected how you're going to be writing Batman for this one? Because that kind of changed his Lego personality a bit.
(laughs) Yeah, erm. The Batman in The Lego Movie was a brilliant version of Batman and we thought it was a lot of fun. But we still wanted to kind of include our own version, as we've kind of built up this character over a couple of games now, and it was brilliant for us because we still get the ability and freedom to do that. So we wanted to continue on the story of our version of Batman. As cool as that Lego Movie version is, if we dropped that straight into our Batman world, I think it could be a bit jarring.
No writing emotional songs then?
No, he's sticking to the kind of Lego Batman game kind of Batman.
Does Lego Batman 3 still have a kind of open world hub? The previous game had Gotham City to wander round, but how does the space setting of the new game change things?
That's the thing - where we're trying to drive the player into the universe, into space, it's kind of changing the way we're going to do the hub. It kind of feels like we need to do something different, as we want to keep it fresh. So yeah, we don't actually have the Gotham-style hub because we leave Gotham behind very early on, and this is where we're going kind of elsewhere. So as a result, we're kind of doing something that's a bit different; a bit kind of more suited to being in space and where you go.
Does that mean there'll be no side quests and things?
Oh no, we're still definitely looking to include side quests. We've got some clever bits and pieces that we're trying to include that we hope people are going to really enjoy. So yeah - there's still going to be side quests and still going to be lots and lots to do outside of the levels and once you finish the story.
It just won't be one sort of big open world hub? There'll be like several or something?
Yeah, we're looking more to that kind of thing. The fact that we're in space means we get to go to a whole new set of different locations, so we want to make sure they're exciting places for people to explore. There's always going to be things to find. For example, things like the Watchtower - we get to revisit that and go back there a few different times, as a kind of example.
I guess kind of like The Lego Movie game worked, where you had little sort of hub worlds for each area?
Yeah, sort of. It's kind of like its... It's a tricky one because unfortunately we can't go into too much detail. But yes, its something kind of in that vein, but also still a bit different. Because like I said, it's something a bit different and a bit new and a bit fresh, being beyond Gotham and being in space - it's kind of a tweak on that.
So you're going to be visiting lots of different planets as the game goes on? Are these official DC planets or are they going to be stuff made up for the game?
Very much [official]. The Lanterns play a very big part of the story and we get to go to some of the Lantern worlds, so that's going to be quite important, to make sure that we are still grounded in the DC universe, and so someone who is a massive DC fan gets to see a version of the worlds you may not have seen before. To see this is what it would look like within a Lego world.
One of the things we were talking about earlier was about the sort of age group you guys are targeting - some of the Lego games recently have been ramping the age/difficulty up a little bit. I mean, Lego: The Hobbit had lots of text only clues, riddles and things, so probably aims for a slightly older audience. Is this game going to be aiming for a slightly older audience as well or?
No - we're very much still trying to target the young core audience; that's who we want to make these Lego games for. Of course, we're always trying to get the balance right so it's available to everyone, so that it's not just considered a children's game, but a family game that everyone can play. And we know we have that kind of older audience as well - the DC fans, and even the adult fans of Lego - we wanted to make sure that we're catering for the whole spectrum. So we're always tweaking to make sure we give enough guidance so that very young gamers won't get stuck and they'll be able to go through everything - that kind of balance of holding their hand and stuff versus the sense of achievement because they've managed to figure it out on their own regardless of what age range is playing.
In terms of collectables and stuff, are there going to be any new collectables added for this game, or is it going to be similar selections to previous games?
There's a huge amount of collectables still. We always kind of want the key things to keep coming back, so we want things like the mini-kits, red bricks, those kind of power bricks and those abilities and extras. So yeah, lots of bits and pieces that are still in the works if you will - I mean, this is our first showing of the game so we're still kind of tweaking and changing and adapting the way that we're developing the game. Nothing finalised yet, but we're kind of looking at the same sort of vein; we want these kind of collectables and things to unlock cool things for people.
The last time we spoke, I think we may have mentioned our love of the first Lego game, Lego Island, and how we really want to see a new one of those. I mean, since then we've had Lego City Undercover, which was a sort of original Lego story, kind of in the same vein as Island. Are there any plans to do anything like that again? Or has Lego City Undercover perhaps not being as much of a success as was hoped kind of killed off any ideas for anything like that again?
No, we love being able to play in these worlds, both with the new IPs that we introduce but also the core Lego properties as well. There's some brilliant characters and some brilliant worlds. So we're always looking at [what's available] and thinking at what point do we have something that we can really dig into and make a game and story out of. That's kind of why we're doing that and for Lego Batman 3 - we knew that we had that cliffhanger in Batman 2 and wanted to revisit this world with all the characters and do some cool things. So if anything did come up in the meantime where 'you know what, we could make some really kind of cool Lego play theme related game', something like Undercover or something like that, then you know we'll always be happy to revisit it. It's just getting that initial spark of the idea that turns into something that we think would be a lot of fun to make, and hopefully a lot of fun for people to play.
Last question - is there a dream film franchise that you guys haven't yet got your hands on that you think would do well with the Lego-fication?
Erm, it's a tricky one. There's kind of like a whole host of film franchises that always come up - we find we get a lot of requests 'can you make Lego x, y and z'. And I mean, it's crazy the franchises that we've already had the privilege of working on - the big ones. We've worked on Star Wars and Batman and Lord of the Rings and we're kind of still a bit in awe of the fact we get to play around in these worlds anyway. So, I mean, there is always a kind of 'what's the next franchise, what's the next kind of idea, is there something else that we could do'. But at the moment we're entirely focused on Batman because we get to get back to the DC universe and play around there. I mean, from a kind of dream franchise perspective, I think I've ticked off half of the ones I would always want to pick anyway! So I'm really privileged to do these!
So I guess at Gamescom we'll be expecting the reveal of Lego Island 3?
(laughs) Yes, something like that! No, like I said, we're very much Batman at the moment. We've got a lot we want to include in this game so everyone's just giving it all just to get Batman 3 as good as it possibly can be.