With Batman at the Baftas
On Friday I went on a hair-raising adventure with Batman and right up until the last moment it looked as though our mission might be doomed to failure. Okay, rather a colourful description of my day spent compiling a report for the Ten O'Clock News on the video-games Baftas, but that's how it felt.
Rather than produce a straight account of the winners in an awards ceremony we wanted to give some picture of the scope of Britain's games industry and the challenges it faces. We looked down the list of nominees and found a game that was in the running for no fewer than eight Baftas, and had definitely been made in Britain.
Batman Arkham Asylum, as well as being a commercial hit - though on nothing like the scale of something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - had been well received by the games critics as something of an artistic breakthrough. So on Friday afternoon, we set off for Rocksteady Studios where the game was developed.
It's housed in an industrial unit in North London, where we were shown into a large hangar-like room to find dozens of people at work on the next version of the game. My cameraman and I almost squealed with delight - most offices these days make for terrible pictures, but this was different. It was dark, with the only light coming from screens filled with images from the game illuminating the faces of the developers. On the walls were posters with Batman Arkham Asylum artwork. Through another security-controlled door we came into a motion-capture studio to find an actor and a crew working on audio and movement for a game scene. While most places we visit now look and feel like call-centres this was more like the set of an arthouse movie - which in a way it was.
Then the PR people stepped in - sadly, we could film virtually nothing. Everything on the screens, every line of dialogue, every reference to a character in the game, was absolutely top secret. The games industry seems to have taken a lesson in PR strategy from Apple - the less you tell people in advance about your new product, the greater the speculation and anticipation.
Still, we came up with a solution - put some images from the old game on the screens, and get the actor to go through an old scene. Then shots of ten developers in T-shirts and jeans morphing into their dinner suits to head off to the Baftas.
I shared a taxi down to the ceremony with the Rocksteady crew, and found out a bit about them. The company's co-founder Sefton Blake has an unlikely background - he studied philosophy before getting into games design, and is the game director for Batman Arkham Asylum. His colleague Jamie Walker started his career 20 years ago as an artist, and has worked as creative director on many top titles including Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.
Together they've created what appears to be a very smart combination of British technology and creativity, a plucky contender to take on the world's game industry giants. But in February they announced that Rocksteady had been sold to the American media giant Warner Bros - like so many small British firms in this and other industries the founders decided that they couldn't make it on their own.
After getting a few shots on the Bafta red carpet, I left the Batman team at the Hilton and headed back to my office to edit my report for the Ten O'Clock News. But as the evening progressed, and I monitored the Baftas ceremony via the online stream, I got more and more nervous.
In category after category, Batman Arkham Asylum was nominated - but lost out to games made by industry giants like Sony and Activision. The story of the night seemed to be the triumph of Uncharted 2, a game made in California for Sony, which carried off four Baftas. Then at last a victory for Batman in the gameplay category, so at least the game I'd featured in my report had some relevance.
And then shortly before 10 pm in the very last and most important category, Game of the Year, despatching Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 2 with one mighty blow of his mailed fist, dribbling around Fifa 10, and leaving Uncharted 2 lost for words, Batman soared to victory.
In an edit suite at Television Centre (or Gotham as we like to call it) there were whoops of delight. Not that we aren't of course completely impartial about games, as about everything else. But isn't it great to see a plucky Brit run off with the big prize in a major event? Even if he's wearing bat ears, skin-tight lycra and a cloak and works for Warner Bros.