A successful film sequel and a widely promoted game in both Commodore Format and Commodore Force magazines here in the UK from between 1992-1993. Konami, not often known for releasing their own C64 games at that time, decided that their computer licence of Batman Returns should be spread over to the C64 as well as the others.
Who better to recruit for the job, but a member of Denton Designs, Roy Bannon. Already producing the great World Class Rugby for Audiogenic the year before, Roy was given the job of the C64 conversion, along with Ally Noble, Dawn Jones and Paul Salmon helping with the graphics.
To follow Roy’s progress through the game, a number of previews were shown in both Commodore Format and Commodore Force, with the latter in particular going further by doing a short-lived ‘Diary of a game’. This showed a gradual process of the game, showing much promise and gorgeous main character animations ported across from the Amiga version. The game followed the exact same design as the Amiga conversion and followed closely to the film.
However, it seemed that all was not well when the final diary entry in Commodore Force didn’t really focus on progress of the game at all. It strangely depicted Roy going off on holiday and deciding that the game should take a hike. No further diary entries were shown of the game. You can see the diary entries in the downloads below by the way.
By this time, it was late 1993 and the Commodore 64 market was in rapid decline. Roy himself confirmed to GTW that the game was canned by Konami, because they felt that it wasn’t a viable project to continue with and money couldn’t be made on it.
According to Roy, only two levels were actually ever fully completed. The first level being fully complete and playable, and the second level half completed. There was likely to be bits of the other levels running, but with no game play implemented. Our guess is that the level maps and graphics were all completed, so really it was just music and other levels to be finished. Paul Salmon suggested that the conversion was coming on very well and was playing very well too, with all the complicated fight sequences in place too with the two levels that ran.
Once the Amiga version eventually surfaced, it was completely panned by the press and was a disastrous title overall. It was seen as lacking excitement and was just a simple platform title with the Batman name applied to it. Perhaps though things could have been different with the C64 version? Will we ever know?
It is hit and miss as to whether anything still survives of the C64 game, and after many years things haven’t been forthcoming. A series of demos were created for Konami, but Roy has not been able to find anything. Demo copies sent to the magazines are likely to have been long discarded, even though we have tried those routes.
John Heap, Paul Salmon and Ally Noble all confirmed that they no longer had anything of the game. Although Ally has suggested that there could be old disks in her attic, that hopefully someday could be examined.
The hope now sits with Roy and some other miraculous way for the game to be saved. It doesn’t look good though i’m afraid.
Contributions: Roy Bannon, Paul Salmon, John Heap, Simon Scott, Jazzcat, Andrew Fisher, Ally Noble, Mort (for scans), Martyn Carroll
Roy Bannon and Paul Salmon speak to GTW about work on Batman Returns…
“Nice to know there’s still an interest in the C64.
This many years later the memory of details of Batman Returns is getting very blurred. To answer you’re first point the game was canned for the basic reason that the powers that be decided Batman Returns on the C64 was no longer a commercially viable product. In other words no-one thought they could make any serious money out of it. The game itself never got past a couple of demos for Konami.
The game was basically a ‘conversion’ of the Amiga version although development was running in tandem (the C64 version was actually further ahead than the Amiga version for a while). If you’ve seen the Amiga version then the C64 version was complete to the first level and had a largely complete second level. Development never got beyond that point although of course a lot of groundwork had already been done in terms of animation systems and the rendering of Batman and baddies, missiles etc..
Over the years I’ve been in contact with some guy in Australia (sorry can’t remember his name) and I’ve said to him I’d try and dig out any stuff I had for him. I recently had the chance to do this when Rage (who I worked for) went bust and I had a few weeks spare time. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything – although this is no guarantee that nothing is lurking about. John Heap (then joint owner of Denton Designs) may be able to help you more as he obviously knew more about the game from a commercial viewpoint.
He may have some bits and pieces as may Ally Noble (the other joint owner of Dentons). She was the main artist on the project and was a bit more conscientious about keeping bits than either myself or John.”
Parts from the interview on C64.com
[Q] Your next game was to be the title which has been subject to various stories and mysteries over the years, Batman Returns. How did you find yourself working on possibly one of the last C64 games to be released?
[A] My next title for the C64… A few years elapsed working on other formats. This period is all a bit vague. I was drinking a lot and the company was in dire straits. We were presented with the script just before the movie was released and put in a bid, I think. Negotiations went on for about six months. We eventually started it for C64 and Amiga with a view to doing Atari ST. Of these formats, only the Amiga was really still alive in the market. As the question implies, the C64 was hardly worth developing for in terms of sales/profit.
[Q] Did you feel at the time that it was rather late in the C64’s time for a big conversion?
[A] I’m afraid so.
[Q] As a conversion, how did you feel your attempts were shaping up? Screenshots depicted something rather special in the making, and certainly excited the last remaining users of the machine. Did it scroll and move fast for example?
[A] As the basics were developed and because we wanted to do justice to the main character, it had to run in a frame. We used 16 sprites on Batman, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the C64 only had eight without a raster split. With everything I’d learnt on previous titles, I was enjoying pushing the machine to it’s limits.
[Q] Commodore Force tracked your progress with the game, showing approximately four levels over time. Were these levels pretty much complete at the end? How complete would you say the game was (as a percentage)?
[A] Ooh… From the Amiga version – which was eventually completed – I think there were five levels. The C64 version had a complete level 1 (gameplay tested), level 2 (not gameplay tested), level 3 (graphically and basically coded complete), level 4 and 5 not started.
[Q] Did Paul Salmon do the C64 graphics or was it a one man team on the conversion?
[A] As far as I recall, Paul was taken on to help Ally with the graphics but produced very little. Ally produced the Batman figure and then got a friend of hers to help with the other characters.
[Q] Was it a decision by Konami or Denton for the game to be cancelled? We are guessing it was because the C64 was dying out.
[A] It was Konami who canned it. Denton’s lost an income stream when it was cancelled, and when they sold the rights, we had to bust a gut to finish the Amiga version. Those were desperate days. Me and John did 70 hours straight to hit a deadline, had five hours off, then had to do another 24 to get it work with one of the many versions of the Amiga out at that time.
[Q] In the very last diary instalment that you wrote for Commodore Force, the diary took a rather bizarre turn where nothing was spoken about the game. I think you went on holiday? Did you know at this point that the game was canned and Commodore Force asked you to write a last instalment anyway?
[A] Pretty much. We hadn’t had word for definite but we were basically told they wouldn’t be making the next payment unless something had changed in the market. Word was Commodore were still planning a console version of the C64 which could have revitalised the market.
[Q] And the inevitable question, but it is known already that you have had a good search for remains of the game, but sadly without any luck so far. How do you rate the chances for anything to be found of the game?
[A] Pretty low. There may be something lurking somewhere, but even if there is, can anyone still read CPM 5.25 inch disks?
Q) With Batman Returns, do you have any recollections about your time doing the C64 development with Roy Bannon?
A) “Dentons asked me in to try to improve the gameplay of their Batman Returns project – it turned into a total redesign – but I was developing the idea on the Amiga and ST, and had very little to do with the C64 adaptation; a couple of sprite sets I think, the map of course and a few other odds and ends graphically… As for Roy, I was probably a bit remote from the newer Dentons people, having worked there for a number of years, going back just to troubleshoot this particular project, so I’m afraid I don’t remember much about working with Roy, though I’m sure that this means that he was well up to Denton’s high standards…”
Q) Can you remember much about how B.R was shaping up on the C64 and how well it played?
A) “The game was a beat ’em up arcade adventure, heavily featuring Catwoman and the Penguin’s clown-assassins – I thought it was coming along quite well, the complicated fighting sequences had been established, most of the graphics were in place, the gameplay worked well…. The Amiga version certainly was fun, at least…”