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GamingI’m Sefton Hill, Creative Director at Rocksteady Studios, the creators of the Batman: Arkham series of video games. Ask me almost anything!

Dec 22nd 2016 by SeftonHill • 12 Questions • 269 Points

My short bio: Hey Reddit! My name is Anthony van der Meer and I am the 23 years old director of Find my Phone. After the film went viral on Youtube, I saw a lot of questions. So now I am here to answer them. Feel free to ask about the legal, technical, ethical or cinematic aspects of the film.

Film Trailer Please excuse my English, I am not a native speaker/writer.

My Proof: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpN9NzO4Mo8&t

http://imgur.com/XNnt7yV

Q:

Any new projects you'd like to tease us with? Big fan!

A:

Will you do a second movie if the phone goes back online again?


Q:

We're very hard at work on our next project but we won't be releasing the details for a while. When we do you guys will be first to hear as we want to get the community involved heavily in what we do next.

A:

Yes, check the last 15 seconds of the film ;)


Q:

How does it feel coming from Urban Chaos: Riot Response to being known as the creator of the single best superhero game of all time?

A:

When? We need Find My Phone: Roamin' in Romania ASAP.


Q:

It's surreal even now. When we made Arkham Asylum we had no idea it was going to be popular until very late in development. I remember demoing the game to the publisher at one time and there was 2 people from the publisher in the room. After about 3 minutes of the demo, they went and got someone to join then someone else, and then someone else. By the end of the demo there was about 50 people crammed into this tiny room. It was then that we started to think that we might have something a bit special.

A:

Love the title. It's hard to tell. I will focus the sequel on the complete life cycle of the phone.

A prequel about where my iPhone ended up will probably be released before that. I am in the pre-production of that film now and I am planning on releasing it next year. It all depends on the developments of the story


Q:

Dear Sefton Hill,

How did you and your team got started on the Batman franchise? Did someone came into your office and asked: Do you want to make a batman game?

Greetings from the netherlands

A:

Hey Anthony

I thought your video was really interesting and I like the way you edited it. I have a couple of questions I hope that's alright.

First what made you curious about making a film about your phone being stolen?

Secondly what sort of ethical considerations did you do before, doing and after shooting your shortfilm?

Cheers from Denmark!


Q:

Hi! You know it's strange but that almost is exactly how it happened! We were working with Eidos and they acquired the rights to a Batman game as part of a deal with WB. At the time I think it would be fair to say that no one thought there was a lot of value in a Batman game. Eidos asked us whether we'd be interested and we couldn't believe it. We thought it was the best thing ever. I remember announcing it at the team meeting and the whole team went crazy! We get to make a frickin Batman game? Are you kidding me? How cool is that?!

A:

Hey! Thank you!

There were a couple of things that made me curious about the story of a stolen phone. Let me summerize it for you.

  1. My iPhone got stolen by a thief who did it in such a way, I am almost certain she was a trained professional thief. Since she would probably never use the phone herself, it made me wonder. What would happen with the phone after the theft? Where would it eventually end up?

  2. Whe tried to track the thief through find my iPhone. We could only follow the phone for a few minutes. By the time we and the police were close to the phone, it went offline. Although this sucked, chasing the thief was actually pretty exciting.

  3. I had a lot of personal information on the iPhone. When I lost it, I suddenly realized how much we all depend on our smartphones. It isn't just a device we only communicate with. It's far more intimated than that. I think it is one of the most intimated devices a person can use (we take it everywhere we go, communicate with our loved ones and affairs with it, make (nude)pictures etc.) Having aces to all that information could tell a lot about a person, even the things he or she would never share with other people. That kind of creeps me out. By making the film I wanted to create awareness of that. Imagine you getting hacked!

About the ethical considerations:

Before:

I had a couple of rules I followed. For instance, I did not want the phone to be found. It had to be clearly stolen. Also, if the thief sold the phone immediately, I would follow the location of the phone and collect some metadata to find out where it would end up. If it was just sold in the Netherlands again, I would deactivate the app and start over with a new phone.

During:

I wanted to follow the phone until I had enough information to make a story. Alltough I collected data everyday, I did it only once or maybe twice a day, at different times each day. I would stop collecting data after a few weeks and than collect weekly and eventually monthly if necessary. This has to do with proportionality. But after two weeks, the phone went offline.

After:

I made sure to anonymize the man. Not only did I blur his face, all the phone numbers you see in the film mis at least 2 digits and I have shuffled the numbers a bit. Even the house in the end doesn't have a number. I think a lot of people didn't notice this. This was of course intentionally. I always hate it when tv shows blurr and make it extremely ugly and messy.


Q:

Who's your favorite super hero, super villain, and game developers?

A:

Why not confront him? Also, how do you feel about the responses regarding the nationality of the thief and ongoing refugee discussion?


Q:

Super hero is easy (and obvious!). Fortunately I've got to work with and for the big guy for 9 years now and it's an amazing privilege. Villain is a great question because I have a soft spot for so many of them. I've always liked the desperation of Riddler and we've had great fun writing his dialogue. Favourite developer? I'd have to go with classic Nintendo.

A:

It was never my intention to confront the guy because I was investigating where stolen phones end up. I was hoping the phone would turn up somewhere else, which it did 7 months later. Even though the story of this guy stops at the end, the story about the phone still continuous on.

I think the reactions regarding the nationality, where people blame his behaviour on it are terrible. It is a fact the guy was a Egyptian. In the film I wanted to tell a story about the human side of the thief, and religion and ethnicity are a big part of somebodies identity. That's the only reason I mentioned it.

But the thief could have been anyone. It's just coincidence. It also doesn't say anything about the country he is from. There are always idiots who will blame bad behaviour on ethnicity. Fortunately the big majority just sees a man as a man and not as race or colour.

The opposite reactions were people claim I made the film to spread hate and Islamophobia are just as bad and actually are quite racist as well. Just because I am a western white guy doesn't mean I hate Arabic people.

But it's typical for the time we are living in.


Q:

Which actor, in your opinion, is the true Batman?

A:

I really enjoyed watching your film, it was beautifully made. So here's my question:

Most of my projects will involve privacy, hacking and cybercrime

What got you into these topics, was it from a young age or a recent thing?


Q:

It has to be Kevin Conroy! Before we even got to work on Batman, his was the voice I could hear in my head when reading the comics. And to add to that, he just a genuinely great guy to work with. Man, I'd love to have his voice. Imagine having the voice of Batman!? The closest I'll get is that he recorded my answerphone message for me at one of our sessions (just don't tell anyone at WB).

A:

I started to get interested in these topics when I was around the age of 19. I always liked technology but was never really thinking about the negative consequences have. I was and am very interested in Wiki leaks and the Snowden revelations. Snowden really kickstarted my interest in the subjects. When I did research for the film I really dived into the material as well. I now am politicly active on these subjects by giving speeches and workshops, soon even for politicians to help defend our privacy rights.


Q:

Hey, goodbrother Sefton! incredibly dedicated fanboy here.

My question is regarding a possible patch for Arkham Knight to upscale on PS4 Pro... Could we potentially see something like other games have done? (upscaling to 1440, native 1080 w/higher framerate etc)

The answer from devs is normally "we have no plans at this time" ...which is heartbreaking as an early adopter. I truly believe the Pro has breathed new life into certain titles and after putting so many hours into both the PC and PS4 version, I'd love to have a reason to go back to Gotham!

Thanks to you and your team for making me feel feels that I didn't know I could feel over the years!

A:

Could you expand on the legal aspects? Is what you did legal?

Great film by the way, next time I hope you'll manage to work with a smartphone producers company to install a hidden sim inside the phone so you have full control, and somehow fake the "powered off" status of the phone itself.


Q:

Good to hear from you. We're happy to make you feel the feels! Unfortunately we are not planning a patch for PS4 at this time. I know that's not what you want to hear but better to be honest. We did release a patch for Arkham VR to support the Pro, which is a nice piece of tech. I'm looking forwards to playing it with my new 4k TV!

A:

I was operating in a grey area. It basically comes down to this: Spying or hacking someone is illegal.

But technically I was doing it with my own device. As an artist and journalist I had a have a some more rights.

There are a few important things I had to take in account. - proportionality; I couldn't just spy as much as I wanted but only collected the necessary data I needed for the film. This is also why in the sequel I will focus on less privacy sensitive data. - social importance: The reason I made the film and came up with the concept. - maximizing the impact while minimizing the negative consequences: I got a lot of media coverage, in every interview I explain my motives. On the other side I censored the data of the guy.

The most important thing is the motive. I did this project to start a discussion about privacy on smartphones and make people aware of the issue. I believe the film is a very effective way to really show what kind of data you can collect and what the consequences of it can be.

Even though not everyone gets the point at first, people now subconsciously realize that getting your smartphone hacked is possible, easy and the amount of data you can collect is enormous. I hope all people who see the film will realize the risk of getting hacked on smartphones, by hackers and governments. On computers, most people use virus scans, install updates and some people even put tape on their webcams while almost nobody even considers how vulnerable a smartphone is, and what the implications of getting hacked mean.

I think the film already created a lot of awareness and started discussions about it. I don't want to encourage anyone to redo this experiment because the film already made the point. I didn't make the film for entertainment. Hacking of phones is a big business and there are plenty recent examples of phones getting hacked. During my research I came across a lot of malware for smartphones that was sold pretty cheap. The problem is already there, unfortunately people are not as aware as they should.

That doesn't guarantee I won't get thrown in jail, but I did the best I could to prevent it while still be able to publish the film


Q:

How frustrating was it waiting for monthss for someone to discover that easter egg hidden in the Wardens office in Arkaham Asylum, before you guys just revealed it? How proud were you guys of making one so hidden that you guys had to spoil it?

A:

how did you get all the resources needed for the video? was it hard? how long dit it all took you?


Q:

It was actually fairly rewarding to be able to hide something in relative plain sight. Obviously no one really thought to look and to be fair it was quite obscure to actually blast the Warden's office as we didn't give any hints.

What has surprised me more is the speed with which people find the Easter eggs since then! You guys are amazing at finding them no matter how hard we hide them. The one in Scarecrow's boat in Arkham City required the Crytographic Sequencer in a location with no clues that it needed to be used, and someone found that with about a day or two.

A:

I took me about a year of technical research before making the film and a year after making about the legal consequences the film might have.

As a student I didn't have a big budget. I paid for the film myself, so from paying the composer of the music to buying the phone and testing different spyware.


Q:

What Batman mythos did you pull from the most while making the Arkham franchise?

Also are you guys working on your next project yet and if so can you say if there will be any time of announcement sooner or later?

A:

How did you do that zoom into the map? Was that google or apple maps? Was it a screen capture? I've tried doing it but can't manage it in one click.


Q:

Anything and everything! We were very fortunate that Geoff Johns gave us complete freedom to tell the stories that work best in our medium. Although we would speak to DC fairly often, there was never any significant limitations placed on us, and I think it was this approach and freedom which allowed the games to work. I have to give those guys a lot of credit and appreciation for trusting us with their most prized possession!

A:

I used Google Maps and recorded the screen really closely so you can see the pixels


Q:

Hi! My brother got me Arkham Asylum for my Birthday on Aug 25th, 2009, My first real introduction to Batman apart from the films, and since then the Arkham Trilogy has informed my love of Batman and have been the games I always go back to. You might even say I'm one of the more crazy ones...

My question is kinda of Spoiler-ish so I'll tread with caution, In Arkham VR we see clear connections and motivations that lead into the Narrative of Arkham Knight, How much did this story inform Arkham Knight or was it conceived entirely Afterwards?

A:

What are the unexpected/interesting results of your film going viral?


Q:

Firstly, great work on your 240% playthroughs! It's the dedication of players like you that make us work as hard as we do.

(Warning: Arkham VR spoilers ahead)

The events of Arkham VR were always in our mind when writing Arkham Knight, but we had never planned to make them explicit in a story, until Arkham VR presented that opportunity. We always had the idea that Joker had started to infect Batman gradually, and indeed we actually hinted at this in Arkham City when you see Freeze turn into Joker for a few frames. Arkham VR afforded us the opportunity to fill in this critical beat for the fans.

A:

I wasn't expecting the film to go viral. So that was actually unexpected for me.


Q:

Hi Sefton! I absolutely love all the Arkham games. My question for you is this:

How difficult was it to actually design the Batman suit for Arkham Knight game? Not only the brainstorm aspect of it, but also to code the textures and whatnot. I don't really know that much about computer animation but it seems like a tedious process. Also, was there any other ideas that you guys had for the suit that didn't end up in the final games?

P.S. the suit from Arkham Knight is by far my favorite suit design from any Batman game or movie so good job!

A:

What's the first thing to consider when doing a film. Is it story? Characters? Scenes?


Q:

Firstly, I'm glad you liked it! We actually started with a different suit for Arkham Knight, which was closer to the classic Arkham Asylum / City look. I've always been a big fan of this classic look because it feels like the comics come to life. I've always resisted the urge to change it just for the sake of making something different.

However, after we'd lived with the classic look in game for a good few months, it didn't feel right alongside the tech of the Batmobile. Man and machine as one was our goal for gameplay and visuals, so we redesigned the suit using the same materials and fabrics as the car. We probably did about 10 different concepts for the outfit before refining it down to what's in game now. After that it takes the incredibly talented character team about 4-5 man months of work to create the model and what you see in game now.

A:

I always start with a story idea. I always try to minimize the characters and make a draft were I just summarize the crucial scenes to tell the story. I think that's a good way to start.


Q:

Hey there, Sefton! Love the work you guys have put out, including good ol' Urban Chaos.

Seeing as Batman has been your largest game to date - how much of the ending to Arkham Knight did you guys have around the creation of Arkham Asylum? Obviously, without giving much away to others, it manages to have some great full circle moments.

Also (I shouldn't cheat and ask two questions, but what the hell), what was the moment in Arkham Knight that caused the M rating? I remember hearing that WB asked you guys to edit a specific scene to bring it to a T rating and you simply refused to budge (as a hopefully up-and-coming writer, I applaud your team for that).

Sorry for the long message! Thanks!

Edit: Some typos.

A:

Loved your film! Are you planning on doing some other projects like this?


Q:

We didn't know exactly where the story was going to end when writing Arham Asylum because, to be honest, we didn't even know we were going to get to work on a sequel, let alone the trilogy. We also went into it with attitude that Batman wouldn't know so why should we.

We just wanted to ensure that every event in the story actually meant something and really impacted the world. You see so many stories where everything has to reset back to how it started, and we wanted the player's investment to mean something.

For the second question, I think there were a good few scenes but the Jason Todd torture scene was definitely a no go at T, but is obviously crucial to the plot. I must admit I was freaking out when it was suggested this needs to go, so fortunately it all worked out, and WB / DC supported us all the way.

A:

Thank you!

I am working on a lot of new projects, including a prequel (what happend to my iPhone?) and sequel (the full life cycle of a stolen phone) of Find my Phone.

Most of my projects will involve privacy, hacking and cybercrime but I am also working on a film about education.


Q:

Can you explain the ending of Arkham Knight?

Btw, that man bat in arkham Knight.....scared the shit out of me.

A:

"the more sympathy I got for him" - I can't really wrap my head around this. You knew that he was a thief and was selling cocaine to that girl, who probably was mentally ill. He was also having sex with her (or both girls), what I'd qualify as something what a decent person would never ever had done.
How could you have any sympathy to that guy?


Q:

I've kind of given away the answer to the first question in this answer: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/5jrxnv/im_sefton_hill_creative_director_at_rocksteady/dbihoru/

Yep, Man-Bat got me a good number of times and it was my idea! Because it can happen nearly anywhere in the city, you would never know it's coming. Often, during development, you would hear a loud scream from the other side of the studio and you'd know someone had just been Man-Batted.

A:

Well, I have answered this question a lot so I will quote a previous answer. "I started to feel sorry for the thief because I interpreted all of the data I got in a way which made me feel sorry for him. What if I wanted to see him as a criminal? Or a terrorist? The data would allow me to do that because some of his behaviour can be found suspicious. In the end I was actually shocked when I saw the guy in real life. He didn't look as lonely, sad and old as I thought he looked in the footage I took. Instead he looked pretty fit, smelled like drugs and came very aggressive and suspicious towards me. I saw this man every day, two weeks long so I thought I knew him. The para-social band I had with him (a one-sided band trough a screen) fooled me."

To add some extra things. As you may not realize, just because the guy bragged about the girls to his friend, this is not solid evidence he actually does what he says. Also, a lot of information wasn't translated before I met him in real life and felt sorry for him. This is btw a common problem that a lot of spy agencies also face, collecting data but don't have the capacity to have their translations and analytics on time.


Q:

Hello Sefton, Arsenal supporter over here and of course massive Batman fan. What do you think of our title chances this year ?

A:

Good man! I'm a season ticket holder but unfortunately I can't say it's looking good. :-( Let's hope I'm wrong! Still, when it goes right, it's the most entertaining team we've had for a good while.