This is not the Harley Quinn you know.
As Gotham Knights creative director Patrick Redding puts it: “He has reached a point where he knows who he is. She has a very clear sense of what her identity is, and she’s going to present herself in a much stronger and more developed way as a supervillain..”
Gotham Knights’ Harley Quinn is a very interesting case study on how to adapt a much-loved comic book character. His looks, his voice and his style of villainy are immediately recognizable, but his story and his reason for being have radically changed. The overall villain philosophy has guided Warner Bros. Games Montréal throughout the design process:
“All of the villains we’ve included in Gotham Knights were chosen for various reasons.“, explica Redding. “First of all, we knew we wanted recognizable members of the rogues gallery, but we also wanted specific ones that had an interesting relationship with Batman, where once you took Batman out of the picture, it made that character wonder, ‘Well , what is my function now? In a world where I don’t have my main nemesis, what do I do now?“.
While in the case of Mr. Freeze that argument seems to have led him to commit more crimes, Harley’s story from Gotham Knights is more personal and interesting. For starters, the team chose to represent an older and wiser Harley than we’ve ever seen in a game, one who no longer gives in to the whims of others.
“We made a conscious decision to let her be a slightly older version of Harley Quinn than we’ve seen elsewhere, and that influenced a lot of decisions.“, dice Redding. “It’s factored into a lot of the acting choices that have been made in the cutscenes. His fighting style has been taken into account. It also influenced the way he presents himself, how he dresses up. And, as we’ll see in some of the central chapters of the Harley Quinn story arc, even how she introduces herself to Gotham City.“.
However, the most important thing is that it is not about a different Harley Quinn, but about one further along on your personal timeline than we are used to seeing. As Redding says, this Harley”has already gone through two main acts of its history“.
“We’re familiar with her as an accomplice and girlfriend of the Joker, and something of a pathological love interest. And we’re familiar with her breaking free of that and finding herself in her Suicide Squad era, where she’s sort of semi-coerced into doing the right thing or doing terrible things for good reasons, sort of an anti-hero. people love this character so much who wants to support her. So they want to see her doing things that at least have a positive result, even if she does it in a crazy and chaotic way.“.
“The idea of Harley veering in the direction of good has been very well explored in many places. So we thought, ‘What if we take her the other way? What if Batman’s absence and the rise of his successors inspires Harley to say, ‘Well, why don’t I finally get to have my supervillain career on my own? I have all kinds of ideas. I am a brilliant psychiatrist. There’s all kinds of crazy things I can do, especially in Gotham City.“.
Sure enough, this Harley Quinn’s superpower is self-actualization: After spending years working in the shadows of others, she’s now unleashing the real Harley on Gotham.
Indeed, the superpower of this Harley Quinn is self-realization: after spending years working in the shadow of others, now is unleashing the real Harley on Gotham. For the art team, it was a fascinating process to find what this version of the character could look like, as you can see in the different sketches in the gallery above.
“I don’t even know if it’s about physically aging her.”says the character’s art director, Jay Evans. “It’s more of a confidence that the character has that maybe she didn’t have before, at this stage in her life as a supervillain. But visually it was great because we were able to do a new take. This had not been done“.
Initially, the team he just built on what we had already seen from Harley: the same type of haircut, the same type of clothing, even making her more closely associated with the riotous gang of Gotham Knights, who will ally with her at times. Jianli Wu, associate character art director, said the design was well under way before the team was told to scrap it and try something new:
“The criteria they gave us was to make it really fresh, new and iconic. That was one of the key words that I remember from that process. And it was a great challenge, but it was also a very exciting opportunity for us to tackle this character, because it’s not often that we get to deviate that much from his iconic haircut and all that. They told us not to do that. We want something new.’ So that was really liberating from an artist’s point of view, and very challenging. He is probably one of the most challenging characters that we have designed in the team“.
The result is a Harley that references the character’s past in new ways. His fighting suit makes use of the black and red diamond-accented design that was part of his original appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, but pushed further, with the diamond design made more prominent. His hair and makeup have changed, even his iconic hammer has “grown up”.
“This is Harley Quinn, although from the point of view of the silhouette or the haircut, she has changed a lot“, dice Wu, “which is different from, say, Mr. Freeze, we kept the dome, the goggles and all that. For her, we broke that“.
This constant balance between the Harley we know and the Harley we will know touched every part of its design, even how to fight.
“We had a very specific vision in mind for Harley.”says game director Geoff Ellenor. “She is more herself than she has ever been in her imagination in our Gotham. She has taken this opportunity to say: ‘I am really a bad person. This is the version of myself that I want to be. I want the freedom to do whatever I want in Gotham.’ And when we got down to designing her combat, we loved the old ‘I’ve got a big hammer.’ But if you take it to the Gotham Knights aesthetic, it becomes a giant, heavy block of metal that, later in the boss fight, has a bunch of sparkly, articulated electrical gear attached to it to make matters worse..”
Harley is not usually one of those who fight hand-to-hand. In fact, her villainous plot is to provide the inhabitants of Gotham with implants that remove her inhibitions and allow them to live her best life alongside her, which inevitably leads them to violently attack you when you try to stop her.
“Her moveset is all about moving through this crowd of enemies that she attracts, because she has all these devotees just essentially slowing you down and distracting you.Ellenor continues.And she constantly keeps that hammer going and she’s very strong, she’s very powerful, she’s extremely agile, so she can dodge a lot of your moves. And it’s always about the player(s) trying to get a chance to interrupt something Harley is doing and do damage to her before that big hammer comes down on you again..”
“They’re going to need a nemesis, and who better to do it than me?”
Ultimately, like any game boss, Gotham Knights’ Harley Quinn is first and foremost a support item for the player, designed to offer interesting story and gameplay aspects. But the way the team has turned her into that role it’s a wonderful way to honor one’s character.
Redding points out that it is a good reflection of what the Knights of Gotham themselves are experiencing. It’s about four companions who are forced to grow up and take on the role of the main hero. He is doing the same thing with a supervillain. Where the Joker has always been a mirror for Batman, it seems that Harley intends to do the same favor to whoever is presented as the new Dark Knight. Redding sums it up in words that could have come from Harley’s own mouth:
“Heck, if they want to be the new protectors of Gotham City, they’re going to need a villain. They’re going to need a nemesis, and who better to do it than me?“.