Interview: Matt Ellison Talks LEGO Batman 3, Obscurity And Humour

The seemingly endless stream of LEGO games is set to continue with Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham next month, and it’s one that is utterly vast, drawing characters from all over the DC universe and even including some people from the real world.

There’s core people from DC itself joining a cast that otherwise ranges from the mainstream heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman – who now has her classic TV theme play whenever she flies – to the more obscure villains Music Meister and Manchester Black.

It’s largely going to be those mainstream heroes that are tasked with taking on Brainiac’s dastardly plan to shrink down the universe, and I was privy to a new level in which he’s attacking an already partially shrunken Earth, with the core of the Justice League – Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman – pitted against him. As you tramp around Paris and London, these areas are quite unique in being entirely comprised of LEGO bricks, rather than a mixture of LEGO and traditional 3D level design.

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It was following this that we had the chance to sit down with Producer Matt Ellison and chat about the game.


TSA: LEGO Batman 3’s quite a big sequel, but there’s a hell of a lot of LEGO games coming out at the moment. Do you think there might be a saturation point with LEGO, or is there no such thing as too many LEGO games?

Matt Ellison: I don’t think there is, personally! Whenever we’re announcing stuff, and with LEGO Batman 3 we’re’ announcing characters quite regularly – there’s over 150 to announce…

TSA: You can sort of spread those out a little bit. [laughs]

Matt: Yeah, we can spread those out. [laughs]

But there’s people who are always wanting more. We still get people writing to us and saying, “Can you make this? Can you make that?” So while they’re asking, we’ll continue making them.

TSA: The big thing in this game is that you’ve taken Batman out of Gotham, even more characters and so on. What was it like to be exploring that whole DC universe, rather than being confined to one location?

Matt: Yeah, it’s been really fun, because we did have the opportunity to go to lots of places that people don’t go to very often. So there’s lots of really iconic planets, that all have different vibes and colours associated with them and can be visually very impressive when you go to all these places, and there’s lots of cool looking characters there to unlock and see develop as you got through this game.

So yeah, it’s just fantastic to be able to go full board on everything DC. The roster is much, much broader, and there’s more obscure stuff in there, a lot of stuff that real comic book guys will recognise and pick up on, but then the core characters are there as well. We’re covering as many bases as we possibly can, basically.

TSA: Talking about those characters, what you’ve previously said you’re doing with a lot of the main characters in the story seems to be putting a very different spin on them and altering their personalities. Is that important, so you’re not stuck in a bit of a rut with these characters?

Matt: I’d say it’s important, because it’s critical to our story! But it is done in a more humorous way, and it does result in things that are very funny.

So, throughout the cutscenes when this is still in play, characters like Joker and Lex are just behaving in ways that you just wouldn’t normally see them, especially Joker. It’s crazy, really, but people are going to enjoy that when they go through the story.

Cyborg is afraid of absolutely everything and Flash is really greedy, and he’s grabbing everything he possibly can and stashing it away…

TSA: And there was a point where Batman rebuilt the Eiffel Tower with a bat built into it…

Matt: That’s a separate thing, really. That’s just us having a bit of fun with that nature of LEGO, where we’re able to do that and Batman’s just like, “No, it’s fine to have a bat symbol in the Eiffel Tower.” But then they correct it and put it back the way it’s meant to be.

TSA: Superman. He’s such a goodie two shoes! [laughs]

Matt: [laughs] But yeah, we are able to have a lot of fun with LEGO, where we’re able to build these things, knock them down and put them back together again. That’s the nature of LEGO.

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TSA: And with that level, where you’re going to Paris and London, had the twist that the whole level was made completely out of LEGO bricks, compared to the usual mixture of 3D levels and LEGO blocks. That’s quite an interesting twist.

Matt: Yeah, so we have both here. There’s the more traditional levels and then we have this one where Braniac’s shrunk down the Earth and turned it all into LEGO, and we had that style in LEGO Movie. So it’s taking that concept and having that visual style represented here is a good opportunity for us to incorporate that, because it’s something that people responded to very well.

It makes it feel more LEGO-y – which is a horrible word, and I shouldn’t have used it – but it’s really good for us to be able to do that, because people can see that and go, “I wish I could build that!” And you could, if you had the right bricks you could build that stuff. Probably not all of it, but you could take an individual thing and build it. A couple of them are sets that LEGO have done in their architecture range.

So there are a number of things that we try to do to make it as authentic as it could possibly be.

TSA: You moved on to show us reams and reams of the characters in the game. What would be too obscure for you to include it?

Matt: I don’t think anything’s too obscure.

TSA: I mean, you’ve got things like Batcow, and I don’t think many people really know what Batcow is…

Matt: Batcow, I think, is the height of our obscurity in this game.

TSA: I looked it up, and Batcow’s actually a fairly recent addition?

Matt: Oh yeah, Batcow’s a new one, but one of the designers in the team said, “We should have Batcow in the game,” and everyone went, “Who’s Batcow?” So then he showed the comic, and yeah, it’s a real thing!

TSA: But you’ve also got other obscurities like Music Meister.

Matt: Music Meister is a good one for us, because he’s visually very good. He looks different, he’s got musical attacks and looks very cool. Actually, he was one that was surprisingly asked for a lot.

It was one of those that got a lot of attention, so it was great to be able to do that, and there were other characters as well, where people kept on asking for them. Blue Beetle was one, who again is fairly obscure, but loads of people wanted him.

There are a multitude of different ways that we end up with the roster that we have. There are the main story characters, we’ve also got the ones that LEGO are making playsets for, so whenever there are the toys we try to get those characters into the game.

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TSA: Are they making a Batcow toy?

Matt: I don’t think he is coming up. I don’t want to be a spoiler guy, but… [laughs]

TSA: Well I’m actually quite disappointed by that. [laughs]

Matt: But then we also talk to DC about who’s hot right now, who’s coming up, who we should be including, what they should all look like, what outfits we should be using. All of that stuff for the DC side of the effect is there and done properly. That’s very important for us to do 150 characters, but do them all properly, so they’ve got the right hat, they’ve got the right abilities and they animate in a way that’s right for that character.

There’s a lot of focus on making sure that’s correct, so that whoever your favourite comic book character is, even if it’s Batcow, is done in a way that’s accurate for Batcow.

TSA: It’s surely a big effort across the board, because you’ve obviously got the animators, but then there’s the guys working on the script and lines for these characters, and then there’s the voice actors, who must have a ton of fun playing with these characters.

Matt: Yeah, and again, a LEGO game allows them to have a lot of fun. I mean, Batman is front and centre in this, but Batman himself isn’t necessarily that funny by himself…

TSA: You should see his stand up routine! [laughs]

Matt: [laughs] Dark and brooding humour.

But the way that he interacts with the other characters makes him funny, and Robin in this game is hilarious. Batman’s relationship with Superman is also very funny too, but we have that throughout the cast. Flash and Cyborg bounce off each other a lot in this, so there’s all these other little relationships.

TSA: Do you have these pairings and mini groups that you like to play around with?

Matt: Not explicitly, but the nature of our games are that you’re playing through the story and you’ve got two or three characters that you can switch between in a level, before you can come back in free play and have whoever you’ve unlocked.

While there will be groups, in this game we have good guys and bad guys coming together. So you’ll be playing as all of them, basically, so it’s not necessarily pairings, but you’ll have a group of characters that you’ll be playing the story levels as.

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TSA: You also managed to get Adam West onto the cast, which must have been a dream come true to work with.

Matt: Yeah, that was top of the wish list, basically, being able to do a 1960s themed Batman. It’s our bonus level, and it’s by far our most in depth bonus level we’ve ever done. We really have gone to town on it!

It’s just an amazing opportunity to be able to do that, because people have grown up knowing that he’s Batman basically, and being able to have a LEGO interpretation of that is great. He was doing all of this great voice over on it, and he’s just a very, very nice guy.

The other thing is that it’s the 75th anniversary this year of Batman, so that’s the other thing the 1960s level ties into, being this anniversary type feel to it. It’s about what the history is of Batman and that side of things as another reason for why this is in there.

TSA: Finally, it’s something that was literally just revealed, that they’re planning on making a LEGO Batman spin off from The LEGO Movie. Have you any idea what’s going on there?

Matt: See now, I don’t know anything about that. What I can say is that […] the Batman in LEGO Movie is different to the one we have in this, so whilst Troy Baker has been our Batman in LEGO Batman 2 and in this one, we did take some of the styling of that LEGO Batman in The LEGO Movie and say, “Oh, there’s some fun stuff we can do with that.” So we’ve taken some of the humour side of things.

Specifically for a movie, I don’t know anything.

TSA: It’s just going to be quite confusing when you have to make LEGO The Movie… Batman… no, I’m confused already just trying to explain what that game would be!


Thanks to Matt for taking the time to chat with us about LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. You can check out our previous previews of the game for more about what it’s bringing to the table, ahead of its release in just under a month.

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