Spidey-powers - handy when you've left your lunch at home.
Let’s face it. More often than not movie tie-in games are utter pants. The Amazing Spider-Man is different though. Rather than be a slave to the events of the film, the game is set after Marc Webb’s upcoming blockbuster and will pack in more villains than the Green Goblin’s birthday party. Developer Beenox has been making Spider-Man games for years – most recently linear adventures Shattered Dimensions and Edge Of Time – but for The Amazing Spider-Man they’re returning to an open-world Manhattan, complete with a brand new storyline. To find out why you should swing into shops this Friday to pick up a copy we spoke to Beenox Studio head Dee Brown. “You’re going to see that this game is nothing like the two others. We’ve actually revamped everything from the combat system, the Web-Swing, we’re giving you Manhattan. It’s something that is going to feel really, really fresh. It’s going to be the next evolution in the Spider-Man franchise.”
SFX: It’s been a number of years since the last open world Spider-Man game, why go back to that format now?
Dee Brown: It’s been four years since the last one – Spider-Man: Web Of Shadows. It was very important for us to go back to open world because we started this game with the idea of giving to the player the ultimate Spider-Man experience, to make the player feel like Spider-Man like never before and in order to be true to that promise we had to go back to Manhattan. This is the ultimate playground for Spider-Man and that allowed us to do all sorts of craziness from a navigational standpoint, so that was super-important for us to bring that back. That being said in the first two games that we did, we had a more linear format, and in the background we were working on what was going to be the next big thing for Spider-Man. We really wanted to do something completely fresh for the fans and so we didn’t want to just bring back Manhattan. We wanted to bring a new evolution, something that would be a huge step forward compared to past Spider-Man games.
So what is that evolution?
From a visual standpoint we’ve reworked the engine entirely to be able to throw on the screen what you’re going to see. This is by far the best-looking Manhattan you’ll have ever seen in a Spider-Man game, that’s one thing. The second thing is we’ve reworked a lot of the navigational mechanics of Spider-Man. We think that if you look at Spider-Man as a superhero compared to others, what is truly unique about him is the way that he moves around, his web-swing, his web-zip abilities, how acrobatic he is as a character, so we’ve been developing several mechanics in order to give you that feeling. So, as an example, the web-swing experience in Manhattan has been completely reworked. Probably the most immediate change people will notice is how close the camera is this time around, which gives you an incredible sense of speed and vertigo like never before. Just navigating in Manhattan is an experience in itself, even if you’re doing nothing else than web-swinging around, it’s just incredible the sense of speed and agility you have.
Scorpion - should have used skin cream.
What can you tell us about Web-Rush?
Web-Rush is the big innovation we’re offering to the players this time. The Web-Rush is a way for us to push that incredible acrobatic nature of Spider-Man much further than in the past. What happens is that in the game, at any time, you can push the Web-Rush button and it’s going to slow down time and you’re going to be presented with a variety of situational choices which are based on what you see on the screen. It could be anything, and once you pick a destination and release the button the game actually calculates, in real time, a spectacular animation to get you to that point. So you’ll be in a street and you’ll be looking at a building and you can hold the Web-Rush button and you can select a spot on a building to get there. Well sometimes a bus will be going by and Spider-Man will jump on the bus, run on top of it then propel himself in the air and land on the building. Sometimes there won’t be a bus and you’re going to us a flagpole instead to do a few twists around it and then jump on the building. Some other times you’ll kick from one building to the next before you get there in a parkour-inspired fashion, so this gives you a very unique way of navigating the environment and pulling off stunts like only Spider-Man can do. And that’s just the way it’s applied to navigation. We also have a different application in boss battles and in combat, which are pretty cool, and always tap into the unique navigational abilities of Spider-Man.
How have you filled Manhattan with things for Spider-Man to do?
We like to refer to Manhattan as a “free-roaming experience” rather than an “open world”, meaning that we have both the side missions in Manhattan and a lot of indoor missions as well. In Manhattan you’re going to have random crimes that are going to pop up which you’ll have to solve. But we’re also introducing much more elaborate crime fighting this time. So, for example, at one point there’s a bank robbery gone wrong. The NYPD has actually blocked the entire street and Spider-Man will have to jump in and solve a deadlock between the police and criminals. That’s a bigger, more staged situation that is really cool. We also have car chases, a character called an extreme reporter who gives you all sorts of navigational challenges in Manhattan. We are also giving a camera back to Peter, so he has picture missions, where you have to take pictures of different things to help a reporter uncover an Oscorp conspiracy. And we are also providing you with what we think is the coolest collectable ever in a Spider-Man game, which are comic book pages that are scattered around the city. So as you collect comic book pages on the ground or flying in the air you eventually unlock full comic books in the Marvel universe. We’ve implemented a comic book reader in the game and you’re abele to read entire comic book issues directly in the game. That’s actually the first time Marvel has ever allowed that.
The indoor areas have always been somewhat problematic in previous Spider-Man games. Have you taken a different approach to them in this game?
The indoor levels give you a choice about how you want to approach every situation. Stealth is one way, you can use the dark corners in your favour, you can use the Web-Rush to move from one spot to the next very precisely, and then go above and take them down, silently. Or you can use interactive props in the environment to defeat your enemies, or you could always jump right in and use your combat abilities against your enemies. We wanted to give the player a choice about how you want to approach a situation. Some players are of a more aggressive nature, let’s say, and they might want to go through and blast everybody in their way. Some others will appreciate the stealth aspect of the game, so it’s all about choice really.
The Amazing Spider-Man is an epilogue story to the film, what has that decision allowed you to do that you wouldn’t have been able to do had you done a straight retelling of the movie’s story?
We all know that movie games have not always had a stellar reputation in the gaming world. And right at the beginning of the game we were dead set that we wanted this game to be outstanding, an incredible game that would be great on its own. And the key thing that we thought was really important to do was to set the story after the events of the movie, so it would give us a lot more creative freedom. Because if your story is a retelling of the movie then it’s going to be very hard, or complicated, to expand on that story, and you’re very much tied to the movie experience and frankly we don’t think anyone who has seen the movie wants to replay the movie. It’s much more interesting to see what happens next, so this is the angle that we took. It allowed us to introduce new villains from the Marvel universe to the movie-world, and it gave us so much more freedom.
Helicopters are handy for hitching a ride.
Did you pitch that approach to Sony, or was that idea something the film-makers came to you with?
We pitched that to Sony. We pitched it at, what my very well have been our first meeting with Sony and Marvel. We said we really wanted our game to happen after the events of the move, and they were cool with that. Obviously we had to pitch the story, to Sony and Marvel and Marc Webb also in a meeting, and everybody really liked the twist that we gave our story. Because while we do have our own story we still had to be true to how the characters are portrayed in the movie and be very careful about not spoiling the movie. There are a lot of key themes from the movie we’ve tried to integrate in our game – the relationship between Peter and Doctor Connors, his relationship with Gwen Stacey… it’s still very much grounded in the same universe as the movie.
The film is retelling the origin story of Peter Parker, is he still learning his craft by the start of the game?
When you start the game the basics are behind him, he is now Spider-Man, but not in full force, meaning that we have introduced a level-based upgrade system and as you progress and defeat enemies and perform side-missions you’re going to gain experience, which translates well into the theme of Peter learning his powers. As you get experience you get to pick new powers and evolve as Spider-Man.
We understand you’re creating new origin stories for some of the villains. How important is it to put your own spin on established characters/storylines?
Since the movie is a completely new origin story for Spider-Man, any villains we brought to our game had to have a new origin stories as well. So if I take The Rhino for example, in the comics he’s a guy in a suit, but this time around he actually is a rhino that has been mixed with human DNA, so he’s not a human, he’s a rhino that has evolved into something half-human. This is kind of in line with the way they are treating the cross species in the movie. With each origin story we’ve always had to work with both Sony, but most importantly Marvel. They were very particular with that, with reason, these are their characters, but we’ve had a great time working with them. They were really great partners in crafting an origin story that actually makes sense for our game, but also for the Marvel universe.
The Rhino still can't take his suit off, becasue this time he is the suit.
Will the story be canon? Will future movies acknowledge events in the game or is this like a branching timeline?
It’s something in-between. It’s certainly not meant to connect like The Amazing Spider-Man and a potential sequel, it’s meant to be its own storyline, although we’ve been consulting with Sony and Marvel to make sure we’re not potentially messing up a sequel in terms of how we treat certain characters, or what we do in the game. So it should fit in the overall storyline, it should not mess things up, but it’s not meant to be a bridge between the two movies.
Games are becoming increasingly important as a storytelling medium, how much emphasis do you place on narrative compared to combat, navigation, action etc?
Narration in games nowadays is not something where you can just strap a story around your game and be done with it. It’s something that needs to be at the core of your experience. We actually had several people working only on narrative in the game and narrative goes beyond the story. It is about how the player should feel at a particular moment, should he be sad? How can this be translated, not only in the story but in the music, the visuals, everything needs to support this. So for example, rather than having day and night cycles, depending on where you are in the story, Manhattan evolves and the mood of Manhattan fits where the story is. At one point in the story something bad happens to Gwen and Peter and when you get out in Manhattan it’s a much heavier atmosphere, there’s huge clouds in the sky, the music, everything fits the particular mood we want in the story. We’ve been very careful about that. The vast majority of our scenes have been mo-capped. We put a lot of energy into the story. It’s something that will be a very high production value for players.
Are there any favourite Spidey moments, whether they be from the films or comics, that the game has been influenced by?
Definitely. When we started The Amazing Spider-Man we looked at the movies and brainstormed the coolest things, and everybody kept talking about moments where Spider-Man was doing some crazy acrobatics. All those incredible sequences in the movie where he’s moving super-fast from one place to another. There’s this one sequence in the movie where he’s diving in-between a truck and another car that gives this incredible feeling of speed, and it’s all those moments that influenced and gave birth to the Web-Rush because we wanted to give that power to the players, to be able to trigger those kind of crazy moves. And also in the first movie when he’s Web-Swinging at just about car level and you can hear the wind and the cars as you fly by, that’s something that definitely influenced our game, and hopefully you’re going to see that. When you’re Web-Swinging around you’re going to be as close as possible to that feeling they are giving you in the movies.
The Amazing Spider-Man UK release date is Friday 29 June.