Shaba Talks Spider-Man: Web of Shadows

This October, everyone's favorite wall-crawler will be defending Manhattan from a symbiote invasion when Spider-Man: Web of Shadows hits store shelves. With the city under quarantine, Spidey will have to choose his allies from both the heroes and villains that are left. Allies like Luke Cage face an array of symbiote-possessed enemies, from average New Yorkers to a squad of Iron Men to Wolverine himself, with claws exploding from every inch of his black-clad body.

To complicate matters, Spider-Man's also been infected with the symbiote, a develeopment with serious story-based consequences that Activision says will change the game. Spidey must try to harness its power without letting it consume him.

Back in August, CBR News spoke with writer Brian Reed, who penned the story for the upcoming game. This week, we tracked down Tim O'Neil, Shaba Games' Lead Gameplay Programmer, to learn about the developer's approach to Web of Shadows, and what sets it apart from previous Spidey games.

CBR: As a developer, Shaba has a history of making extreme sports games (Grind Session, Tony Hawk, Matt Hoffman). How did that experience influence Web of Shadows?

Tim O'Neil: Shaba's history actually includes a lot of games that have led to the game we've made with Web of Shadows. Our first (unpublished) game was actually a hoverboard racing/fighting game that included a gravity-based grappling hook! We quickly realized that fast paced movement and combat were seriously hard to do, so we changed gears a bit and decided to focus on the fast, fluid character movement first and foremost, eventually making the skateboarding game Grind Session. Following that, we had run-ins with Tony Hawk, Matt Hoffman and my personal favorite: Wakeboarding Unleashed. which featured fast, fluid movement with a character tethered by a rope line to a speed boat performing a wide arsenal of tricks as they went through the environments; seeing the parallels yet?

A couple of years later, we made Shrek Superslam, which was a Smash Bros / Powerstone hybrid brawling game. While it wasn't the biggest selling game in history, it was our first real exposure to doing fast paced combat and a great learning experience.

Little did we know that all of these experiences and lessons would accumulate to create a fantastic recipe for a superhero game, although it was never quite planned that way. When we heard about the opportunity to work on Spider-Man, it all just clicked. It was very much a Karate Kid moment where we realized that we hadn't just been fixing up Mr. Miyagi's house and cars for him, but we had actually been training for the challenges ahead! We were able to come into the Web of Shadows project and very quickly lay down a vision for how the fast and fluid movement would mesh with the super-powered combat in a way that simply hadn't been done before.

By not being attached to a movie, you guys had some freedom in creating a new storyline for this game. How did you settle on the concept of a symbiote invasion?

The symbiote invasion storyline came from our desire to increase the intensity of the players' experience, make the game world suit Spider-Man's core abilities, and to strip away as many extraneous elements as possible. To do this, we needed to provide Spidey with enemies that could rival his abilities of high-flying aerial movement, wall crawling and dynamic fighting. In addition, we really wanted to throw the player into a city that was chock full of enemies that actually felt like threats, so that instead of spending all of their time busting up simple crimes and running errands for civilians, they would spend all their time defending themselves and their allies from super-powered enemies.

The long history in the comics of alien symbiotes creating some of Spider-Man's most compelling enemies seemed like a natural jumping-off point, and blowing that up into an invasion was the perfect fit for the type of game we wanted to craft.

A lot of what we've heard about so far is that the combat is very different from previous Spidey games. What makes the fighting system in Web of Shadows unique?

Our primary goal was to combine the web-based movement that is iconic of Spider-Man with fun and accessible combat on the ground, in the air, on the walls and while swinging. Combining these two elements of the game and also opening up wall and aerial combat immediately set us on a different path than previous Spider-Man games and into a rather unique space in action games as a whole.

To achieve these goals, we decided to approach the combat system holistically, to create a set of moves in each state that would flow together seamlessly to create a synergistic system, instead of feeling like disparate elements that were thrown together. We steered away from complex branching sequences to initiate long strings of attacks in any one mode in favor of more direct, purposeful actions for each button that would change based on which state the character was in at a given time. We tried to make the purpose of each action clear and distinct from each other so that any player would be able to quickly understand how each element worked and begin combining them together.

With this approach, the hope is that when confronted with combat scenarios, the player will quickly be able to make tactical decisions and react accordingly without requiring master-level memorization of a large number of button sequences. In essence, by refining the tools, we give to the player in any one state we empower them to be more creative and capable with those tools and have more fun in employing them.

Much has been made of the ability of Spidey to wear either the red and blue suit or the black symbiote suit. How does that choice factor into the actual gameplay?

The suit that the player chooses to use will change a number of elements of the game. For one, the combat moves and the associated animations are almost completely unique between the two different suits, so right off the bat, the player will get a very different feeling depending on which suit they choose. While wearing the classic red suit, Spidey's moves are faster, more agile, and the player can use his webbing to subdue and control his enemies. While wearing the black symbiote suit, the combat will be slightly slower, but the moves will feel more forceful and aggressive. The black suit also enables Spidey to pick up and throw cars at his foes, which tends to cause a lot of splash damage.

In addition to the combat animations, the storyline and cut scenes will change based on the choice of suit. While most of the main plot points will unfold in a consistent manner, the fundamental outcome of the game will change based on the player's choices, and a different set of heroes (and villains) will help out Spidey in his adventures depending on which suit is chosen.

You've introduced a bit of an RPG element to the game with an upgrade system. How will players be able to enhance Spidey's abilities?

The upgrade system contains a large number of unlockable moves and power upgrades that will both make Spidey stronger but also give him access to some pretty fantastic moves later in the game. There is a unique set of upgrades and unlockables available for both Red Suit Spidey and Black Suit Spidey, and the player can choose between these two sets, mixing and matching abilities to create the (anti)hero that suits their desires. The player is awarded experience from defeating enemies, performing long combo attacks and completing missions. As the game advances, certain moves are made available to be purchased assuming the player has collected enough experience.

In addition to the combat and mission-oriented unlockable system, there is also a parallel exploration-based upgrade system that will enhance Spidey's health and movement abilities. Throughout the city, there are an absolutely massive number of collectible tokens hidden around the city that can be collected to increase Spidey's level rating. The more tokens are collected, the higher this rating goes and the higher the rating goes the faster Spidey will be able to move and the more punishment he will be able to take. That being said, we've tuned the game such that someone who isn't interested in collection can complete the game at a low rating level, but the dedicated fans that collect a lot of the tokens and achieve the higher rating levels will be rewarded with the biggest, fastest, craziest swinging experience ever seen in a Spider-Man game to date. To give you a sense of it, at the top rating level Spidey can get going fast enough to vault from side of Central Park all the way to the other without with one massive swinging leap (that's over half a mile for anyone that's counting)!!

One of the biggest challenges in dealing with a hyperkinetic character like Spider-Man is being able to keep the camera following him. How are you dealing with that in this game?

One of the very first things we looked at changing when starting Web of Shadows was the camera. We actually started with the simple assumption that seeing where you were going isn't always the most important thing, particularly during combat. The very fact that Spidey is so hyperkinetic might make this seem counterintuitive, but when you are engaged in combat with someone or chasing a target then what is often more important than where you are going, is where your target is at. The additional benefit from this assumption is that your targets rarely move as frenetically as Spider-Man does so not only do you get a smoother view of the scene but it also serves to provide a much more cinematic view as well!

In addition to targeting enemies, the other aspect we wanted to build into the camera system from the notion of player control. No camera system is going to perfectly predict what every player wants to see at every moment so giving the player direct control over the camera at all times was a core goal we established early on.

Based on those ideas, we rebuilt the camera system entirely around the notion of targeting enemies and framing Spidey and his foes as much as possible while still retaining full player control over the camera at all times. Whenever there are enemies nearby, the player can lock the camera onto any one of them, set it to focus on the most relevant enemies engaged with the hero or manually control it with the right analog stick. We've worked hard to make the camera adaptable to all sorts of players and all of this is accomplished with the left trigger and right analog stick (on the PS3 and Xbox 360).

Will players be able to pick and choose how and when they complete certain missions, or is there a predetermined order the game follows?

The game takes place in an open-world environment, but the main story line itself is told linearly. There are a number of side quests that can be undertaken at any time and many overlap with the central plot. As the story advances, the city and its inhabitants change pretty dramatically. But at any given time, the player will have a clear set of goals to push the story forward or a series of objectives to pursue in the city to advance their character.

In terms of the characters Spidey will run into in Web of Shadows, we've heard Kingpin, Venom, Rhino and Vulture for villains; and Luke Cage, Wolverine, and Nick Fury for good guys. Any other characters you can tell us about now?

We can't confirm or deny any more characters at this time, but the unconfirmed rosters that have appeared on sites like Wikipedia and IMDB aren't far off -- although they aren't necessarily accurate, either.

Are there any plans for downloadable content in the future?

Never say never, but for the time being we're completely focused on getting Web of Shadows out the door and onto the shelves.

Spider Man: Web of Shadows is slated for an October 21 release on the Xbox 360, PC, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii and DS. For more information on the game, head over to www.seizecontrol.com.

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