Marvel’s Spider-Man is shaping up to be the best Spider-Man game ever made, and we were lucky enough to sit down with creative director Bryan Intihar to learn a little more about the Insomniac Games developed PlayStation 4 exclusive. In our wide-ranging chat, we touched upon how the Burbank studio embarked upon imagining its own Spider-Verse, and we also learned the secrets behind the release’s slick control scheme. Don't forget to read our hands on impressions through here.
Push Square: You talked [in your presentation] about how you created your own Spider-Verse for Marvel’s Spider-Man. Talk a little bit about the process of coming up with that; you want it to feel new but you also want it to be familiar, right?
Bryan Intihar: It started with the idea of [Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s] worlds colliding. That was the start of everything. And then we looked at the characteristics of Peter: he’s very relatable, he’s very vulnerable, he’s somewhat awkward – but when he’s Spider-Man and he puts that mask on he’s very confident [and] he uses humour to reduce the amount of tension or stress in a situation. So we used that as our baseline for everything and said to ourselves, “What story do we want to tell here?” And we picked that age of 23 because we thought it would be a very defining time of his life, and then we just thought about what you go through at that stage; you’re starting a career and reshaping your friendships.
And then, within that, we looked at where we want to surprise people. So, for example, where he works and who he works for is very different. As is putting Norman [Osborne] in a role where he used his success to launch a political career. Also, what happens if [Peter] and Miles [Morales] are in the same universe? Miles isn’t coming through some portal – this is literally him in the same world. So we just wanted to mix [up] the familiar and have it be fresh; you’ve seen the movies and read the comics, so let’s surprise you.
The controls are one of the most important things in this game. There’s a lot that you can do, but obviously you don’t want it to be completely overwhelming. There’s almost a ballet that you do with the controller [when swinging]; there’s a rhythm to it. Talk about how you designed the controls.
It took a long time. It took a long, long time. We officially ran out of buttons on the controller in the end, I think. So, we wanted you to feel like a superhero right away, but we didn’t want to overwhelm you with so many things that you can do. The first mission [which introduces all of the systems and mechanics] we iterated on a ton, purely because of training and how much we can throw at the player. But what surprised me, and what the team did really well, is that they really bought into this idea of improvisation. So they really allow you to add many more skills and abilities over time, so there’s a sandbox nature to it where you discover more as you play the game.
You can get around New York City very quickly in this game and it’s very fun, but if there was no purpose to it then the novelty would wear off. How have you kept the open world interesting and ensured that there’s lots of things to do?
One thing we wanted to do right away is to treat New York City like a character, and we wanted the city to have its own arc and feel. Just like our characters change over time, so too does the city. It was really important to us that the different districts in the city felt different, and that as you progress through the story new activities open up.
But a lot of what makes New York City memorable is the people, and so we didn’t want to make a game where something happens early on and everyone disappears [or is evacuated]. We wanted the city to react to the events that happen, and we wanted the people to reference things that are happening in the game. My favourite thing is going down to the crowd, and sometimes they’ll point out things of interest which will get marked on screen.
We like the [fictional in-game] social media feed as well!
Oh, cool! Thank you for mentioning that, I’m so glad someone found it. Yeah, it gets pretty funny, the guys had a lot of fun with that.
This project was probably a dream for your animation team, right? Can you talk a little bit about how you get the athleticism that’s associated with the character, but still keep it very responsive on the controller?
Our animation team is unbelievably talented – they’re awesome. And I think one of the secrets is that they work really closely with the designers and the gameplay programmers. So our lead traversal animator sits pretty much right next to the lead traversal programmer, so they’re pretty much lock and key in everything they do. And then they’re constantly in talks with the designers who are building the world.
Can you talk a little bit about the art direction? It’s got quite a realistic look to it, so talk about designing the characters.
Well, hopefully you can tell it’s a very narrative-driven experience. We were definitely going for a certain presentation level with our narrative, and we just thought that with the types of emotion we wanted our characters to display, going a little bit more realistic with the visuals was going to help with that approach. And that was the decision: it was about the story we wanted to tell and how we wanted to tell it.
Did you ever feel any pressure to include or exclude a certain character?
100 per cent, yes. I think that everybody has their favourite character and supporting characters and villains, but at the end of the day, some people will be super happy and some people will be wishing there was someone else in there. We had to do what was best for the experience, [both in terms of] the story we wanted to tell and in terms of a gameplay challenge. So we just tried to find those best matches. It’s a pretty big cast so hopefully we got a lot of peoples’ favourites.
You’ve got to save some for the sequel, right?
What’s it been like at Insomniac these past few years? This feels like a project that was a match made in heaven; if we were picking someone to make a Spider-Man game it would have been you or Sucker Punch so…
Well, that was a rumour before it was announced, right? Yeah, it’s a great match for us in terms of gameplay and tone. Personally for me, I’ve always been a big Marvel and Spider-Man fan, so I couldn’t imagine being able to work on something like this. That being said, we feel a lot of pressure; every time we’ve shown it people get more and more excited, but… It’s ready to come out. I’m ready for 7th September to come.
Well, thank you so much for showing it to us, and thank you for talking to us as well. Best of luck with the launch.
This interview has been lightly edited for readability. Thank you to Bryan Intihar for talking to us and Sony for hooking us up. You can read our first impressions of Marvel's Spider-Man through here.