On a recent trip to Sydney to check out Spider-Man on PS4, we had the chance to speak to Insomniac’s community director, James Stevenson.
How long has Insomniac been working on Spider-Man?
James Stevenson, community director: “I would say a little under four years – somewhere in that ball park. We started just after we finished Sunset Overdrive. It’s one of the longer games I’ve ever worked on, but it’s been a lot of fun, and it’s kind of weird to almost be at the finish line.
So – the meme that got posted for the game going gold. Was that your idea?
“I can’t totally take credit. One day in the office there was a version of that that didn’t have the gold disc or the ‘gone gold’, and it just took over all the conference room TVs. They made some changes for the gold announcement and I just thought it was brilliant. I honestly never thought we’d actually be able to use it. At some point someone tried to put it in the game, and then they go ‘oh it goes approved by Marvel; it’s going into the game!’ and I thought holy cow. At that point it very quickly became my plan that we would announce that we were gold with that image and we got the team to add some more stuff to it – which then became the finished product. This all started to coalesce right before I left, and I was in Japan emailing people and they sent all these options back, then I was sending it to Sony and Marvel and just waiting for someone to tell me ‘no, we can’t’. Then, everything happened and we posted it, and thankfully millions of people saw it and hopefully made people’s days a little better.”
Was there anything you approached Marvel about including in the game and they said no?
“One of the members on our team was always trying to get Spider-Man to say the word ‘balls’. It would just be a reaction to things that happen; he always said it, so he kept trying to get us to get Peter to say it. Honestly though, it’s not like we have these big things we want to do, and Marvel’s like ‘you can’t do that’. They certainly have their guidelines for Spider-Man, but for us it was all about creating an authentic Spider-Man experience, so we didn’t want to go and do something crazy and outlandish, and they’re just there to help guide us where they can and collaborate.”
What kind of access were you given to the Marvel archives?
“We had plenty of comic research and access. We were given access to every Spider-Man comic – not that you could ever read all of them, there are just too many. Of course there’s Marvel Unlimited, where you pay a certain amount every month and you get access to all the comics. Basically it was put to me – ‘here are some of the things we really liked,’ and I was told time and time again that everyone should read Ultimate Spider-Man, that’s the starting point. Someone might say ‘we want to include Rhino’, so they’d go and find out everything they could about him. Thagt was the approach. We didn’t get special access to Homecoming or anything – and before you ask, not Far From Home either. When the Captain America: Civil War trailer came out, they showed Spider-Man and his eyes, and we were like ‘we did that too!’ but we didn’t know Marvel Studios were doing it. We thought hey, we must be on the right path if we’re doing similar things. Even some of his gadgets in Homecoming we have similar things. I guess it’s good that we’re on the same path, just independently. Hopefully it’s great minds think alike and not the blind leading the blind.”
There have been a lot of comparisons made to Batman Arkham’s combat – was that game a direct inspiration?
“Any time you have a character fighting a group of enemies in the middle of the game like that you’re going to get some comparisons. I think the way we see it is there’s a lot of differences. Spider-Man is a much more agile character; he’s not a bruiser, he’s not going to take a ton of hits. He needs to be dodging and leaping over enemies, zipping around. He’s using webs to web guys down, to pull himself around, to swing through the air, to zip; he’s using aerial combat or he’s launching guys up into the air and juggling them and pulling guys up to him. He’s also using the environment at all times and grabbing things and throwing them; and then on top of that just gadgets as well. So, you’re always going to probably have some basic comparisons but it was all more about getting up into the air, about zipping around and using his webs in the environment to make him really feel like he’s Spider-Man.”
Playing through, you notice you really want to get airborne as quickly as possible.
“Holding on square to launch guys into the air is your biggest friend, ’cause it’s like once you’re up in the air you don’t have a whole mob trying to punch you, you’re now up and above them – you’re more agile than these guys – so you have to try and take Spider-Man’s agility and his webs and the environment into your favour to get through the game, especially when the guys start having a lot of weapons.”
When the community found out Insomniac was making a Spider-Man game, was there ever any one request that people made to be included in the game?
“There has always been some feedback… like the funny thing is they go through everything we put out with such a fine toothed comb. Screenshots, frames, video. We have to be so careful to scrub all our own stuff just to make sure we don’t accidentally reveal something. So, there was like a bug that he was missing a line in his suit and they kept noticing and we fixed it and the team put another video out and it’s like that bug’s there, that’s old right? So, they fixed it and it broke again so they fixed it for good. There was stuff like that when it’s like, man they notice everything. Even off the E3 build we got some feedback from the community that was about the traversal. The guys looked at it and they tried to improve one of the areas that people talked about – the web swinging speed – and we sped up the web swinging after that to as fast as we could. So, there is always moments of little titbits where we’re listening, we’re trying to improve things. At the same time, we’ve definitely got a strong vision for the game, so we’re sticking to our vision. We’re going to do the things we want to do story-wise and character-wise but when it comes down to these little game things, there’s this ravenous fanbase that is excited and tears apart everything little thing we do. They sometimes have good points and so when we’re able to make changes that will make them happier with the game while not compromising our vision for it, we’re always happy to do that.”
Finally – can we expect a Stan Lee cameo?
“If there was a Stan Lee cameo in the game, I wouldn’t tell you. No luck for you today.”