With the movie in theaters now, excitement for "The Amazing Spider-Man" is running at a fever pitch. Fans can celebrate at home by playing as the legendary web-slinger in Activision's new game, which went on sale last week. Gamers take control of Spider-Man, swinging around New York and stopping random criminals while facing familiar foes such as Rhino and Scorpion. The game returns to an open-world exploration system, which we haven't seen since the release of "Spider-Man 2" on previous generation game consoles back in 2004. This will be a welcome change.
Beenox, the team that previously produced such "Spider-Man" fare as "Shattered Dimensions" and "Edge of Time," handled development on "Amazing," and it looks like they had a fun time doing so. But to get more perspective on the game's development, CBR News recently chatted with its executive producer, Brant Nicholas, about the ins and outs of this latest effort.
CBR News: With the "Amazing Spider-Man," we see that the team decided to go back to an open-world environment, like the one previously explored in "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2." What prompted this decision? Was it something Beenox always wanted to try?
Brant Nicholas: Truth be told, we are all huge Spider-Man fans here at Beenox. We've wanted to go back to a free-roaming environment for the longest time, but as I'm sure people can imagine, the amount of work to create something like this is absolutely insane. Did we feel pressure in trying to tackle a free-roaming game and living up to everyone's expectations? Absolutely!
With such a strong Spider-Man legacy from "Spider-Man 2," "Web of Shadows," "Shattered Dimensions," and more, our team worked super-hard to find the best combination that we could for the final game.
With so many awesome games out there as inspiration, we really had to pick and choose our feature set carefully. We were constantly debating what would build the best Spider-Man experience in Manhattan. At the same time, we really poured our hearts into getting as much as we possibly could into the game. In the end, it shows in the little things like some of the crowd AI systems, the traffic, in general the 'life' throughout the city and how it changes over the course of the game. In all fairness however, this is our first shot at creating a free-roaming experience, and without giving any spoilers, we've already got a list a mile long for all the things we want to do in the future.
How tough was it putting together the mechanics for the game, and adding all of Spidey's little swing mechanics to make sure he looked completely natural? Were there some creative motion capture sessions involved or...?
A little song, a little dance, a lot of motion capture and hand-animation, then finally two feathers and a touch of black magic added for spice... In reality it was nothing more complicated than a lot of hard work and iteration by the Beenox team.
We've been working on the game for years, and as the levels and city matured, the needs for web swing and Web Rush matured as well. We would find ourselves with something that we liked, then a new level or piece of boss-combat would be introduced, and we would end up having to extend Spider-Man's animation set yet again.
One of the problems with animating a super-hero like Spider-Man is that it's a bit tough for someone to actually move like that, even on a motion capture stage. In addition, the very design itself makes Spider-Man super difficult to design for because he is the kind of super hero that requires what we call "go anywhere gameplay." At any point in time, a player could decide to crawl up into some random corner of any area or room in the game and then complain that they don't like the camera.
In terms of animation, this meant that we needed hundreds of options and additional variations to try and accommodate any possibility that the player might encounter. This pushed the memory of the consoles to their limits, especially in Manhattan where there was so much that had to be loaded all at the same time. It was super tough to create animations for every contingency and still be able to cram it all onto the disk. In the end, however, we managed to get tons of animations for just web swing and yet even more for Web Rush finished in time. Just be sure that you upgrade your skills when you play so that you get to see them all!
Tell us about the in-game combat. It's cool how you can use your webbing, combos, and involve environmental objects into the fray.
We have completely rebuilt our combat system from the ground up. The Beenox team took our inspiration from [director] Marc Webb's reboot of the Spider-Man character as a super hero that is more "grounded" in reality than might have been the case in previous incarnations. This new Spider-Man isn't perfect. He can still get roughed up pretty badly in a fight, and we wanted to bring that experience to our game as well.
In practice, this led us to completely re-imagine Spider-Man's combat system from the ground up, based on moves inspired by a Mexican wrestling style called Lucha Libre. In short, it's awesome, and represents Spider-Man's extreme agility and speed in combat, while still keeping things grounded in reality as much as possible.
This means that you get to take Spidey all over the place in combat! One minute you're throwing punches and kicks, the next you are flipping around the head of another opponent, and in the next second, flinging webs out behind you to snap backwards into the face of the enemy you left behind, or even grabbing objects around the world and launching them at your opponents. When it's all said and done, we worked hard to make sure that the player is always in control as much as possible while also keeping it challenging if you do miss a dodge.
When we finally got the balance of moves, timings and abilities just right, the whole team knew it instantly. It's a blast to just wade-in to a large group, fight for a bit, use Web Rush to retreat, dodge their flashlights while you heal, perhaps take out an enemy or two using stealth, the dive right back in again. Our team wanted you to choose how you wanted to fight, so it's really down to individual preference and how you level-up your skills that will influence the way that combat unfolds.
How did you go about deciding which enemies would be used in "The Amazing Spider-Man?" He has so many villains in his rogues gallery. Were you just trying to find ones that were related to the film's story?
This is a huge question, but the best way to explain it without revealing any spoilers is that in the new rebooted universe, Curt Connors has been hired by Oscorp to conduct human-animal "cross species" research. With our game being an epilogue to the events of the film, we've worked hand-in-hand with Marvel and Sony Pictures to find classic Spider-Man enemies that could fit within the realm of cross species experimentation such as Rhino, Iguana, Scorpion, Vermin, and more!
Were there any challenges to putting together the graphic engine? You guys seem to cover a lot of ground with it.
For this game, Beenox had to reinvent our game engine from the ground-up. Manhattan pushes the current console hardware to its limits, and it really became a labor of love for our tech teams to see how far we could go with the civilians, traffic systems, enemies fighting throughout the city, and more.
How many missions are in the game overall? We're not chasing after some kid's balloon like we did in "Spider-Man 2," are we?
For those legacy fans, yes -- we actually did think about putting the balloon mission into the game, along with some appropriate humor to go with it. It only lasted about 5 minutes however. That said, without spoiling anything on average speed playthroughs our best QA testers were clocking between 15 to 30 hours of gameplay.
There are of course missions that are core to advancing the storyline, but also tons of content around the city for you to have fun exploring. Also, the city changes over time as the story progresses. Hint: Be sure to upgrade your Tech Tree: Spider Tracers to find everything...
How thrilled was Stan Lee to be a playable character in the game (via downloadable content)? Did he have any say in his comic book page-capturing mission?
It was a blast to work with Stan (again) on this game! Like always, he's awesome to hang out with. For "The Amazing Spider-Man," Stan and Beenox went back and forth for months reviewing and iterating on the script and dialogue for his character. One of the benefits of Stan having been a writer was that he helped us to craft the lines to fit him perfectly! As a playable character, he's got special quips and banter that make Spidey jealous!
We also get to play as Rhino with another DLC pack. Tell us about that. Is it like a "bull in a china shop" thing?
Literally a bull Rhino in a China shop! With the Rhino content, Marvel and Sony Pictures gave us permission to let the player be one of the villains.
Now you can finally rampage throughout Manhattan racking up points for smashing cars and building up velocity! (We've even included leaderboards with your friends as well!) Just be careful -- there are things you can hit that will slow you down.
We've heard rumors that Bruce Campbell is back in the voice acting line-up. He was such a blast in previous games.
Don't worry! At Beenox, we're probably the biggest fanboys out there! One of the points about Manhattan that I did not mention above is that we've actually brought Bruce Campbell back!
Just like with Stan Lee, it's not just a cameo. Bruce gets to play an extreme news reporter that has challenge missions for you as he flies around Manhattan in a huge blimp over the top of the city. If you can get high-enough and Web Rush to his blimp, he'll offer you some challenges to see how good you have gotten.
There are a ton of different challenge missions and he is constantly taunting you depending on how well you're doing. Bruce was a blast to work with during the recording sessions and it really makes it fun when you're playing to hear him mocking you in the background!
Finally, do you see Spider-Man games becoming even more expansive from here? Can you imagine putting together a "Shattered Dimensions 2" using open-world environments like this?
At Beenox, we're always dreaming of making a continuation of the "Shattered Dimensions" storyline. We love Spider-Man in all of his incarnations, and that game was a blast to create!
As I mentioned above, one of the great things about using our own technology for our games at Beenox is that we can leverage it for everything we do in the future.
Without revealing our future plans, or giving any spoilers, with "The Amazing Spider-Man's" Manhattan as a starting line, you can be sure that we will keep building from here!
"The Amazing Spider-Man" is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS.