Exploring Spidey's "Shattered Dimensions"

Spider-Man games have over the past few years seen their share of ups and downs, proving that it's not easy to nail down a winning formula for a Spider-Man game that will meet both the gameplay and story expectations of the webslinger's fans. Earlier this year, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick famously called out the past five years' worth of Spidey games, and he was frank in his acknowledgement that they needed to do better moving forward. Developer Beenox has been tasked with delivering a Spider-Man experience that's worthy of the name, and they've taken a unique approach to their new game, "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions."

For starters, instead of following a story from the comics, movies or cartoons, Beenox brought on fan-favorite writer of Marvel's "Amazing Spider-Man" Dan Slott to create a completely new and original story for the game. They also built the game around four different incarnations of Spider-Man ("Amazing," "Noir," "2099," and "Ultimate"), each with their own style of gameplay. To top it off, voice actors from four incarnations of Spider-Man cartoons returned to voice the Spider-Men in "Shattered Dimensions." This combination of variety, originality and fan service has gamers very hopeful that Beenox found the aforementioned winning formula.

"Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" will be arriving September 7, and CBR recently spoke with the game's producer, Beenox's Stephane Gravel, about why "Shattered Dimensions" is the game Spidey fans have been waiting for.

CBR: Stephane, Beenox has had previous experience with Spider-Man on the PC side ("Spider-Man 3," "Spider-Man: Friend or Foe," "Ultimate Spider-Man"). How did those games help inform what you're doing with "Shattered Dimensions?"

Stephane Gravel: As a matter of fact, all previous Spider-Man games were really important to us. We played them all and wanted to make sure that we understood what was fun and what wasn't fun while playing a Spider-Man game. By looking at those past games, we quickly understood that the core Spider-Man experience is being able to do everything Spider-Man can do in the comics, movies, and TV shows. So we definitely focused on those aspects when developing "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" and we think that what you can find in the game is really respectful of the character and his universe.

Where do you think Spider-Man games have struggled in the past, and what did you find most challenging about designing a game (or four) around Spider-Man?

Making a game with Spidey isn't an easy task-he's super-strong, he can crawl on walls and he has web that he uses in combat or to navigate. So your basic videogame rules when trying to confine the character somewhere are gone! So what you need to do, in our opinion, is make sure that everything "feels" like it's true to the Spider-Man mythos. Every decision we made for the game had to answer that simple question: "does it make sense to the Marvel Spider-Man universe?" If the answer was 'no' then that feature or level or enemy had to be changed to make sure it makes sense in the universe.

One of the main challenges was to decide which abilities would be unique to which character. We really like these abilities and having to decide which Spider-Man can do what wasn't an easy decision. Also, at some point, you must remember that Spider-Man is a true hero and there are some things he would never do, period. So we had to think of solutions for such occurrences, like when enemies were thrown off a high ledge, for example. In these cases, we made it absolutely clear that no enemy is ever killed - only defeated.

What are some of the specific ways the styles of play differ in the four dimensions in the game?

The difference is both in the type and in the pacing of the different gameplay as well. For example, in "Noir," while you can succeed by going toe-to-toe with your foes, it's much better to stay in the shadows and get behind your enemies in order to take them down silently and efficiently. On the opposite side, in "Ultimate," since hurting enemies and getting hurt by enemies helps you fill your Rage Meter, it's better to rush into the enemies' ranks and get right into the action. In "2099," there will be times where you fall from really huge skyscrapers, resulting in some really hectic base-jumping sequences. Also, since you can slow-down time with your Accelerated Vision, you can turn the tide of a fight only by triggering that power at the right time. Finally, in "Amazing," you have a good mix of action sequences and exploration. The combat is really accessible but if you want to learn the different combos, it becomes quite deep and satisfying as Amazing Spider-Man can create a large number of weapons using his webs.

How substantial are each of the four universes (i.e how much of each universe will we get to see)? Could each of these dimensions have comprised a stand-alone game?

Basically, the game is divided into three acts, with each act encompassing a level of each dimension. If I were to roughly sum it up, I would say that each universe has a fair share of screen time which is about one-fourth of the game. However, the story is mostly lead by Amazing Spider-Man so that dimension has a slight edge over the others in terms of moving the story along.

You've brought in a first-person element to some of the combat. How will that work, and why did you decide to go in that direction?

We believe that a superhero is only as good as his enemies and as much as you love Spider-Man's enemies, you also hate them. So having the possibility to get up close to and punch Kraven, for example, in the face while he's taunting you and interrupting his lines-this is so satisfying! We thought of these sequences as a reward or a treat for the player so they are pretty easy to control: left stick to deliver left punches, right stick to deliver right punches and pull down both sticks to dodge incoming strikes from your opponents.

In addition to the gameplay differences, the visuals of each dimension are very different. As you designed the four dimensions, were there particular artists that you looked to for inspiration?

We didn't really look at specific artists but rather at specific genres or periods. "Amazing" was inspired by the vintage comic books of the Golden Age: washed out colors, thick outlines, and basic colors. The look for "Noir" was inspired by - surprise - noir graphic novels the like of Frank Miller, for example. For "Ultimate," we wanted a look that would be reminiscent of modern age comic books so there are lot of vibrant colors and cartoon shaders as well. Finally, for "2099" which is set in the future, we just wanted to have a city that looks really futuristic, that would basically send your senses into overdrive: lots of traffic, animated billboards, complex next-gen shaders, etc. Think of "Star Wars" (Coruscant) or "Blade Runner," if you will.

Outside of beating up the bad guys, what are some of the other things players will be doing in the game?

There is plenty of stuff to accomplish unrelated to combat. For example, there are rescue missions, escape sequences and secondary objectives; these will allow you to unlock bonuses like alternate suits, concept arts, bios, etc. Also, each Spider-Man has access to a plethora of moves but not all of them are available at the beginning of the game; you must collect Spider Essence in order to "buy" these moves. You can gather that by either defeating enemies, collecting Spider Emblems, or completing one of the 180 challenges offered in the Web of Destiny.

You've put together an amazing voice cast with Neil Patrick Harris ("Spider-Man: The New Animated Series"), Josh Keaton ("The Spectacular Spider-Man"), Christopher Daniel Barnes ('90s "Spider-Man") and Dan Gilvezan ("Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends"). How did you end up deciding who would be the best fit for each version of Spidey in "Shattered Dimensions?"

That was a tough choice, but we went with what made sense in our mind. Josh Keaton is the youngest actor and was a perfect fit for the teen angst of "Ultimate" Spidey. On the opposite, CDB brings maturity and grit to the character, and that fits better with the more down-to-earth Spidey of the "Noir" universe. NPH is such a funny actor, his voice and repartee was just perfect for the "Amazing" universe Spidey. Finally, since Spidey "2099" isn't Peter Parker but Miguel O'Hara, we wanted to go with the actor that hasn't voiced Spidey for a long time, and that would be Dan. It's really nice to hear an actor yelling "shock", the favorite curse word of the future!

The pre-order exclusives through different retail outlets include Spider-Man costumes ranging from the Cosmic outfit to the Iron Spider. Will those be unlockable in the game for people who didn't pre order, or perhaps as DLC down the road?

The only costumes that are not unlockable in the game are the Cosmic Suits. Otherwise, all other skins are available for unlock when you complete enough challenges and collect sufficient Spider Essence.

Will there be a comic tie-in to the game, and is Dan Slott writing that as well?

There isn't a comic book tie-in to the game, but since the game draws on so many references and interactions from the comics, each universe in the game truly feels like it is based on the comic series of each of the four universes. On the other hand, having a comic tie-in to tell our original story would be awesome though!

"Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" will be released on September 7, 2010 for the DS, PS3, Wii, and Xbox 360. For more information on the game, head over to the official website at www.spidermandimensions.marvel.com.

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