|Scenes from “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions”|
Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is back in action on next gen video game consoles courtesy of Activision and developer Beenox. However, this time around he may not look exactly as you remember him. “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” involves the shattering of a mystical tablet and the Spider-Men of four different dimensions trying to put the pieces back together across the Amazing, Ultimate, Noir and 2099 universes.
The game is heavily influenced by the vast Spider-Man lore and seeks to build upon previous video game experiences while creating something unique and original. This time around, Marvel‘s flagship character is placed in a story written by veteran “Amazing Spider-Man” writer Dan Slott and features a bevy of familiar voice talent including Neil Patrick Harris. Activision and Beenox have pulled out all the stops to deliver the most ambitious Spider-Man video game experience yet.
CBR News spoke with Dee Brown, Studio Head at Beenox, who discussed everything from the challenges of building four distinct worlds to building a better webslinging engine.
CBR: Activision has had this license for some time. What was their goal for this particular Spider-Man game as they explained it to you?
DEE BROWN: My boss at the time came to me and said, “Would you guys be up for a Spider-Man title?” and I was all excited. I mean, yeah of course, that would be really cool. That’s pretty much it as far as direction from Activision. So then what we did is looked at all the Spider-Man universe and we looked at all the comics.
The Spider-Man universe is so big – there’s no way you can feel any limit going into a Spider-Man game – we wanted to do something fresh, something unique. It would be for us our breakthrough title. It’s a much bigger title than any of our previous games so we wanted to offer something completely new, and something kind of crazy like the four universes.
Did you run into any problems in terms of the universes you wanted to use, or did you choose four and get to run with it.?
That’s pretty much how it happened. Video games are simpler than people think, in some respects. We looked at all the universes – the way we wanted to do it is we wanted to offer something where there was a contrast in each universe. We didn’t want to offer the same thing twice. For example, we have Amazing with this old, vintage comic book art style and his web-based combat, and then you have Ultimate. But Ultimate is really more cel shaded, the black suit which is very different and it feels different – same thing for all four universes. That’s also how we picked the universes, making sure variety would be there.
Is the game single player only, or are there co-op or online modes that allow for more than one player at a time?
It’s all single player. We really feel like Spider-Man is a character that feels like a natural, single player game, a single dude.
How do each dimension’s characters and abilities change the gameplay? Are there ever times where, for example, you’ll be playing in Noir and feel it would be nice to have some ability that belongs to Amazing’s character or is each one particularly suited to its own unique space and experiences?
I think each one is perfectly suited to what he encounters in the game, and we’ve also really paced the levels and the game so that you’re always experimenting and trying new things. So you may have a fighting section somewhere, and then in 2099 you go into this crazy skydiving sequence, or when you’re in a fighting sequence in 2099 you have the Accelerated Vision which allows you to dodge incoming missiles, for example, from jetbikes that are flying all over. So this is the kind of thing where not only does is it feel different from a gameplay standpoint, but also from the art style as well. That’s gonna offer a lot of variety, but it has been a challenge to make sure each one would be as cool as the other. Sometimes we would add a cool feature to one and then the three others all the sudden feel like they’re missing something. It was a bit of a challenge there, but I think we made it [work.]
Obviously you’re working with the same game engine for each world, but did it ever feel like you were working on four different games? I can imagine you throwing up your hands and saying, “We should have just made one!”
Oh, yeah. Sometimes when we were having those crazy ideas we’d say, ‘It would be so much simpler if we had only one Spider-Man.’ Certainly, it was a challenge. Just a simple example, if you look at our game there’s a bunch of enemies in there, but you cannot have the gangster guy [from Noir] in the 2099 universe. We had a bunch of assets we had to do just because we couldn’t – there’s no way the assets in one world would be compatible with another world. In that respect, it certainly felt like we were doing four games. That’s also how we did it; we had four teams, each assigned a specific world, and that was a huge challenge.
Does the game let you, maybe when you beat it, take a Spider-Man from one dimension and use him to play through another?
There are a couple of surprises when you beat the game that I can’t talk about, unfortunately. There are a lot of alternate costumes, though. They’re really cool. One of the greatest things is… often I’ve found when I play games, those alternate costumes unlock very late in the game, but in our game there are a bunch and they unlock as your progress through the game. So you can immediately activate them, and it shows up in the menu with all the costumes when you play. It’s pretty cool.
Speaking of costumes, in the Ultimate dimension, is he in the symbiote costume the whole time?
Yeah, he is. Unless you put on an alternate suit, of course.
He’ll keep the same power set that’s native to the Ultimate world, it doesn’t change with the costume?
Most people know Ultimate Spider-Man as straight up Spidey in the red and blue costume. Was that ever something that people questioned? Can he go back and forth like he could in the previous game, “Web of Shadows,” switching between standard and regular and the different powers inherent to each?
We wanted to do something that was different from the other universes. We wanted to have him in the black costume, and as you play the game you’ll see that all his moves and the combos – his Rage Mode as well – it’s all built around the black suit. If we would have allowed him to switch back and forth between the suits, that would also have meant giving us another set of moves. Keep in mind that we have three other Spider-Men, each with their own moves and stuff like that, so that would have been crazy. But again, the alternate suits make it pretty cool so you can change your character. Also, we had Dan Slott on board to make sure that all the story enforcement was really good.
I’m going to ask you more about Dan’s involvement in a minute, but given that so many artists have shaped Spider-Man’s various looks over the years, did you work with any comic talent or look at any specific renditions for each dimension, or was it all in-house artists and character designers who shaped the game’s visuals?
For the story we had Dan Slott, but for the visuals we [were] inspired by the comics. So for example 2099, of course we looked at the design from the comic books, and for Noir as well. We looked at what the artists had already done in the comics, but we did not hire any specific talent from the outside. We have a very talented art team internally.
The story for the game must be fairly complex in order to unite the four different worlds and styles of gameplay. How did the story take shape, and did you develop an initial outline prior to Dan Slott coming on to write it or was he involved from the very beginning?
Dan was not brought on board at the very beginning of the project when we were in early prototyping – as soon as we started production and working on the story, Dan was brought on board. He worked on the story from the start. First we had a phone call with him; I remember when we first sort of pitched the idea to see how excited he would be about this game, and as it turns out he was more than excited. [laughs] He couldn’t stop talking. Basically, he was just getting all these ideas like, ‘Hey you can do this and it’ll be so cool and you can do that.’
That was just the beginning. After that we did a brainstorm at the studio where Dan got out his ideas, then we went to dinner that night and he continued giving ideas – he was just too excited – and then he worked on the whole project with us. He was a really great, great guy. I’m glad we had him aboard.
Given that webslinging is one of the major components of a Spider-Man video game, how did you approach that given the knowledge that there have been umpteen different Spider-Man games? How do you make your version the best and improve upon what’s been done before?
There were a couple of challenges with that. We certainly looked at the webslinging from “Web of Shadows,” how it was looking and feeling, but then again we have a very different setting from “Web of Shadows” — or any previous Spider-Man game, for that matter. We’re not set in Manhattan; we have all those crazy environments to fit each specific boss. We had to make some adjustments to make sure that the player would be able to easily navigate all kinds of environments, from closed rooms to huge spaces to the crazy jungle of Kraven and all those sorts of things, so we did some adjustments in order to offer that to the player.
Who did you work with in terms of voice talent? As I understand you attempted to get people who all had previous connections to the Spider-Man mythos.
Neil Patrick Harris for Amazing Spider-Man. We have Christopher Daniel Barnes for Noir. We have Josh Keaton for Ultimate, and we have Dan Gilvezan for 2099. Those are all actors that have voiced Spider-Man at one point in their careers. We really wanted to make the voice talent really authentic to the Spider-Man experience.
Anyone else you can mention?
Well, we have Stan Lee. He’s the narrator for our game so we’re very happy he’s on board with that part. We have him saying “true believers” and everything you would expect from Stan Lee being just pure awesomeness.
Did you have much interaction with Marvel throughout the development process in terms of approvals and restrictions, or were you given free reign to do what you wanted to do?
Something in the middle, I would say. Initially they were on board with the four dimensions idea. We certainly had to check with them to make sure that we were within the license for our various ideas. We also wanted, for our game, to be able to give something new for the Spider-Man license, so we decided that we would create some villains that have never been seen before in some specific dimensions. I’m thinking about Hammerhead in Noir, or Hobgoblin in 2099; they don’t appear in the comic books. Marvel was totally on board with that and they helped us figure out the look of the characters and when we were doing the initial concept art we would do a back and forth with them. They along with Dan Slott would make sure we were right in line with the license.
Did any of the new characters or villains you and your team created end up going back and being used in the comic books? Was there anything that you created that they realized was too good to leave just in the game?
Maybe. We’ll see about that. They were pretty excited about some of them.
What was the time frame of the game’s production, specifically in terms of how Disney’s acquisition of Marvel affected the process or not?
It didn’t change anything, from my point of view at least. They were just as cooperative as before. I think it happened in the latest stages of the game.
Are there any unique attributes to each console’s version of the game, or is the experience seamless regardless of how you play it?
[The Xbox 360 and PS3 versions] are really identical versions of the game. Even the Wii version really has everything that the PS3 and 360 versions have, plus some Wii-specific gestures and controls, of course. We’re offering the same experience on all three platforms.
What about plans for future expansions or downloadable content?
We’ve not revealed DLC plans as of today. Does that sound official enough?
What’s your favorite dimension to play and why?
In the end it is Ultimate because of the way that the levels are done. It just fits my play style better. You are always swarmed with enemies, and then you can activate your Rage Mode and everything blows up. There’s a lot of adrenaline. The pacing of those levels is just insane. Actually my favorite level of the Ultimate [dimension] has not been revealed yet, so I can’t tell you what it is unfortunately.
But Noir has been my favorite for a long time, though. Each one, at some point, has been my favorite. As I was saying before, when we’re adding this cool new thing to a world it would become my favorite for like a week, and then I would move to the other one. I really like each of them, but Ultimate just fits me better.
You brought up Rage Mode, which actually started me thinking about something. Ultimate and 2099 each have left bumper “enhanced modes” with Rage Mode and Accelerated Vision, but Amazing and Noir don’t have something like that. How was that decision made?
Well, it depends, because they each have more of something else. Noir has the stealth elements, which isn’t present in any other world.
It also has the Takedowns.
Yeah, exactly. And Amazing has all the crazy web stuff, so it’s just a question of balance. We don’t have this extra mode, but then the Rage Mode and the Accelerated Vision don’t work the same way either. They don’t provide you with the same benefit. It’s just different play styles.
From what you’ve played, which world is your favorite?
The look wasn’t what I was expecting. I was anticipating something that looked more like “Web of Shadows,” but the way you guys tweaked it to make it different from that, and different from Ultimate even, made it more intriguing to me. It’s similar to Ultimate, but Ultimate has a lot more button mashing and encourages you to go crazy, but Amazing has more intricacies with the web design. I dug it.
With more time, I might go with Noir. Not knowing all the stealth mechanics I was getting spotted a lot the first time through.
In addition to the stealth and the takedowns in Noir, there are actually some fighting sections as well. We’ve paced the levels in such a way that you get to go from a small stealth section to a big brawl. There’s a big scene – actually right after the scene that you’ve played – where you end up between trains and then there’s a train coming at you and you have to dodge it while fighting the enemies. It’s really cool, and there’s no stealth involved there.
In the level that I played, the game seemed heavily weighted against getting spotted. When it’s meant to be hand-to-hand combat, do the mechanics or AI change for more of the melee scenes?
The way we do it is that then the enemies don’t have weapons. Well, they don’t have firing weapons like guns, but they have baseball bats and there’s this huge guy with a sledgehammer that is coming after you. Then there’s the train in that particular section, and there’s a fight in a bar at some point that’s pretty cool.
“Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” is available September 7, 2010 for the DS, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360. For more information on the game, check out the official website.