Insomniac Spider-Man Interview

Marvel’s Spider-Man has been a critical success on its release and I got the chance to ask Ryan Schneider from Insomniac Games about the development of the game.

What was it like working with such an iconic character as well as world?  And did you ever feel any pressures?

Working with Spider-Man was every bit as thrilling as you’d expect.  What was unexpected though was feeling like we became friends with Spidey throughout development.  That’s because of our close collaboration with Marvel and Sony.  We learned so much more about the character and what makes him so beloved – his profound sense of relate-ability and likeability.  As for pressure, if Spidey can handle the pressure of several million New Yorkers counting on him to protect their city, the least we can do is focus on doing him justice in a video game!

Where did you start with the story of the game given the years of content featuring not just Spider-Man?

It was an easy decision for us. Spider-Man’s first “coming of age” story is something we’re all familiar with, the spider-bite heard ’round the world.  What hasn’t really been told is his second “coming of age” story – what happens to Peter Parker when he graduates from college and is trying to figure out life in the big city as a new member of the workforce?  In our case, Peter is a budding research scientist.  As storytellers and world creators, it was important to us to tell a completely fresh story, and we’re grateful that Marvel and Sony gave us the creative freedom to do just that.

And how do you feel the story fits into this world / do you feel fans of both the movies and comics will enjoy it?

Of course we do!  Ours a unique story that has its own place in the Marvel Spider-Man universe.  We know from talking with fans all over the world that they were clamouring for a new story and we’re very happy to have been granted the opportunity to create one for them.

With such a vast array of enemies to faces how / why did you pick the ones in the game?

It’s true that the Marvel Spider-Man universe is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the seemingly endless array of characters to choose from.  That was honestly our biggest challenge, to pick which characters who best fit the story we were trying to tell.  So we looked at enemies who had compelling emotional backstories where their sinister worlds and their more human reasons for breaking bad were in potential conflict.  Martin Li as Mister Negative is the perfect example.  He’s a successful business person and philanthropist who has greatly benefited New York City through his FEAST shelters.  On the other hand, he’s a powerful villain who has an army of Inner Demons that can harness negative energy to do very bad things.  Exploring this dichotomy was important to us because we focused heavily on bringing out the more human part of Spider-Man in the game via Peter Parker and his life journey.  When proverbial worlds collide between human and superhuman, that’s where storytelling magic lives.

It looks like the city plays as big a part in the game as Spider-Man what was it like to build it and where there any challenges you faced doing it?

Our interpretation of Marvel’s Manhattan is an idealized version of the city.  It’s supposed to represent the best parts of New York City, or as our art director Jacinda Chew puts it: “what you envision about New York when you close your eyes and see and hear the city in your mind”.  The in-game New York City is exponentially larger than any other city we’ve created in a game before, which was a challenge we were eager to embrace.  Being able to add in authentic city landmarks along with iconic Marvel buildings such as Avengers Tower was a joy.  My favourite part was seeing all the citizens and cars buzzing through the city, and being able to interact with people just as the Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man would.  That said, we especially love hearing stories about fans being able to find the street or even apartment where they live!

How does the XP / skill system work in the game and how did you go about picking each one?  Also how many suits will there be in the game beyond the pre-order bonus ones?

There are nearly 30 suits in the main game, with more on the way through our upcoming City That Never Sleeps DLC content.  The first chapter is coming out next month, called The Heist, and it features none other than the Black Cat herself.  We have a deep skill system in place.  You can earn XP to craft and upgrade gadgets, unlock suits and suit powers, and you can choose which progression path you want to take for growing your own Spider-Man’s overall skill set.  I like powering Spider-Man up to be an aerial combat master so he can yank enemies into the air, fling them any which way or web shoot them to walls, take away their weapons and re-direct them back to wherever they came from.

And which move / attack /skill / gadget are your favourite?

My favourite gadget has to be the Spider-Drone.  I love having a little Spidey buddy at my side helping dispatch enemies, especially later in the game when I sure could use some help!

Do you get to play the game as Peter Parker instead of just being Spider-Man all the time?

Yes, you do get to play as Peter Parker.  This is very important in the game as I mentioned earlier.  We are trying to emphasise the human in superhuman.  To do that, we want to show off Peter’s emerging skills as a tech innovator and research scientist.  We also want to highlight simply what a great person he is as he interacts with inhabitants at the FEAST shelter.

Will there be any Easter eggs or cameos for other Marvel characters from the wider universe i.e a Hulk or Thor maybe?

We’ve got plenty of Marvel-themed Easter Eggs in the game.  Come play and find them!!

When not on main missions what sort of activates / events will we get to play?  And how do there fit into the overall game?

Since our version of Manhattan is so darned huge, there’s quite a lot to do.  Spider-Man has plenty of time to be the friendly neighbourhood helper he’s always been, solving random crimes and even chasing down some pigeons for an elderly caretaker.  There are also plenty of collectables to find, such as Spider-Man’s many backpacks stowed around the city, many featuring Easter Eggs.  You can complete Research Station missions that Harry Osborn had been working on, as well as challenges that a certain Spider-Man nemesis has set forth throughout the city.  Finally, many enemies have bases that require a good liquidation every now and then.  Spidey will definitely have his hands (and feet) full there.

The combat looks very fast and fluid and captures the Spidey feel how did you go about building it?  And how many moves / combos are there?

Good question.  Not sure how many actual moves and combos there are, other than a lot!  We’ve been grateful and impressed by how people have analysed Spider-Man’s combat techniques, and the fighting systems he seems to be drawing from.  As for the combat itself, next to traversal, it was the most important part to nail in creating the game.  We were laser-focused on creating an experience that made Spider-Man feel like an acrobatic improviser.  Meaning, he was eight years into being Spider-Man and the equivalent of an athlete in his prime.  He could make any number of gameplay choices spontaneously, such as how to use throw-able objects, call upon gadgets, chain combo enemies, or use the environment around him.  That’s why our favourite compliment is when some says, “I felt like I was Spider-Man”.

What do you feel was the most important feature to nail just right to get the feeling of being Spider-Man just right?

Similar to my answer above, you have to nail traversal first.  It all starts with web-swinging, because that’s truly what Spider-Man is known most for.  We wanted players to experience the rush of what it must feel like to fly through a densely populated Manhattan, while also empowering players to feel like they themselves are a superhero.  We even made ground traversal satisfying through adding a parkour system.  Hurtling through fire escapes, over cars and debris and around barriers is such fun!  And you don’t even have to stretch before or after you do it!

Do you feel this is the start of a now Spider-man series or is it the first step into a bigger Marvel games universe in the same way as Iron Man was the starting point for the movies?

One never knows.  We’re very excited by the game we created and the response it’s enjoyed so far.  The critical praise and fan reviews have exceeded our expectations and while we’re thrilled so far, we’re still keeping our heads down in the moment to focus on great downloadable content through the three City That Never Sleeps chapters.

Is there anything from the Spider-Man world you wish had made it into the game or you would like to see being added down the line?

We’re actually adding little things here and there via patch such as New Game-Plus.  It’s great to have that option to tweak the game further, time permitting.  Anything else that didn’t make the game was cut purposefully and without regret.  Insomniac has been making games for nearly 25 years now, so we have a good handle on what we think players will find fun.  If it doesn’t quite feel fun enough to us, chances are it won’t be a great fit for the final game.  We’re sincerely proud of everything that made it into the final game.

Also will Spider-Ham be in the game?

Wouldn’t that be great if he was?!

Marvel’s Spider-Man is out now and is exclusive to PlayStation 4, and you can read our full review of the game here.

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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