WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!
I'm Thomas Wilson, and I'm the creative director for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.
WP: The past Spider-Man games that Activision has done have been fairly straightforward action-adventures focusing on one particular character. With the new game, Beenox has chosen to incorporate multiple versions of Spider-Man. What was the inspiration behind taking a new direction in the way you approached the game design?
TW: The answer to that is pretty obvious. We wanted to take a new direction. When we learned that we were going to be working on this game, I asked myself, "What can we bring to the table that would be different and unexpected based on past Spider-Man games?" We have some creative freedom because it's not tied into a movie, so I turned to my producer, who's a huge comic book fan, and I asked him, "Is there anything from the comic book world that we haven't seen yet?"
This is when some of the ideas emerged that we come up with new dimensions that could exist. From there, we realized that people who were playing the game would expect the classic Spider-Man to be there, but if we could incorporate other dimensions, we had our selling point for this game. We knew that from the first screenshots that people would see, they would be hooked.
WP: Everybody knows class Spider-Man, but what kind of research did you do to make sure that you got those alternate versions correct?
TW: Well, it's quite simple. When I turned to my producer and asked, "Is there anything we haven't seen?"
He said, "Well, let's see. There's Spider-Man 2099."
I asked, "Spider-Man 2099? What's that?"
He said, "It's Spider-Man in the future."
I said, "Spider-Man in the future? How cool is that?"
I was not aware of that, so what Stephane did was brought all these comics to work, and I brought them with me, and I went through the 80 comics or so of Spider-Man 2099.
Then for Spider-Man Noir, there were only three comics out by the time we came up with the idea of having this dimension in our game. We just looked at the comic, felt strongly about it, and felt we could bring something new in terms of gameplay mechanics and art directions, so we took the idea from there and that was it.
In terms of what's interesting about our favorite comic books, I think the whole Civil War area was kind of interesting, which we saw in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance II. I think that series was a good one.
It's pretty much just looking at the comics, getting the feeling for each of the dimensions, and transpose that into the game.
WP: Let's delve a little bit into the specific game features. Can you give us a quick overview of what's common and what features are specific to each of the dimensions: Classic, Noir, 2099 and Ultimate? What differences will players expect?
TW: To talk about the overall game features, we have to talk about the story itself. The story revolves around a mystical artifact known as the Tablet of Order and Chaos, and at the beginning of the game, the tablet get shattered. These fragments are sent through the four different dimensions that we have in our game, so it's up to each Spider-Man to retrieve a piece of the tablet. We have 13 levels total, 13 villains to fight, and each level is tailored to a specific boss every time, for a total of 12 levels and the final boss battle. We have three villains per dimension.
The idea is that every level is really a battle with that villain. It's not just a villain you encounter at the end of the battle. It's really a fight; the boss is omnipresent in that level. For instance, we've revealed Kraven. The level takes place in the jungle, so Spider-Man will have to chase after Kraven in the jungle, and it's really specific to that boss.
The game features include 12 levels. We have four worlds, four different Spider-Men. Each Spider-Man shares a similar combat system so that players who are jumping from one dimension to the next will feel at home with the controls. It's not like you have to relearn each Spider-Man move. They share a common ground for combat and navigational moves.
In terms of game features, we're moving away from an open-world game, so we're talking straightforward level design. The levels are fairly open, though, because you can web-swing pretty much everywhere. You can zip yourself with your web on different perch points. You can climb pretty much everywhere. You fight a lot of guys; this is a combat game, after all. These are the features that are sort of shared by all the different Spider-Men. You have first-person combat, which is new to the Spider-Man game world. As much as we like our villains, we also hate them, and this is the perfect opportunity to see the bosses up close and beat the crap out of them in a very personal way, so that's super fun.
WP: Can you go into the differences between the different Spider-Men? Will they have a different feel and powers? Or did you keep it pretty general so there wasn't that jarring difference for players?
TW: Actually, we worked a lot on making them feel different because it was kind of expected. For Amazing, his specialty is web-based combat, so we pushed the notion that Amazing could form shapes with his web, so combat is very spectacular. Spider-Man can form hammers, maces, giant fists, spike balls, and these are all web-based attacks that are exclusive to him. This is cool because we have a lot of reach. You can pick up pieces of the ground or the floor with your web and use them as sort of swinging mechanics, almost as if you have whips. That's totally exclusive to him.
If we're talking about Noir, it's a completely different experience. It's almost an experience totally apart from the rest. We slowed down the pace of gameplay, and this time around, I don't know if we can say that we made it realistic for a superhero game, but the characters in Noir have guns that will definitely hurt Spider-Man. Instead of going in and punching and kicking all over the place, you really need to take your time and take down the enemies one by one. The way to do that is to use shadows to your advantage. All of the levels are taking place at night. If you move into the light and you're seen by guards, then you'll get shot. It's really a stealth gameplay mechanic that we're applying to Noir, but what's interesting is that we're delving into the creepy-crawly aspect of the spider: being able to climb on walls and web your targets one by one. We have really cool takedown animations, depending on where you're standing. Whether you're perched on a wall, behind a character or near a wall, we have multiple animations for takedowns.
If we're talking about 2099, then we're talking about a character who doesn't have as much reach in terms of web attacks, but he's got claws. It's a super-fast-moving character, a character that will leap toward his target and strike really fast. Spider-Man 2099 actually moves faster than the other Spider-Men. Also, we have something exclusive to him, which we call the accelerated vision. It's something drawn from the comics, and the idea is that Spider-Man can see objects that move at high speeds. The way we translate that into the video game format is that you'll find a lot of characters that shoot missiles at you, and you can slow down the time around you. You can have a slowdown factor that will slow down everything around you while you keep the same speed that you have. This is a perfect mechanic during combat to actually avoid being shot by missiles, and you'll only find that in 2099.
The other thing that's exclusive to 2099 is freefalling, so we have base-jumping sections, high action sequences where you dive at high speeds toward a villain that you're chasing. There are definitely different mechanics attached to each Spider-Man, and although they share a common combat system, they'll be animated differently when they fight.
WP: Tell us a little bit about the story line and how comic book writer Dan Slott came into play.
TW: At the beginning, we knew that we wanted to go with the concept with multiple dimensions, but what we needed was a story that would tie it all together. What we did is we turned to Dan Slott to actually flesh out a story that would make sense for the player to travel through different dimensions. He came up with the Tablet of Order and Chaos because in the comic book world, in the Marvel world, you have multiple tablets, such as the Tablet of Life and Time. From there, he just fleshed out the basic concept of the story for the entire game, and that was a great help because we had someone who is the actual writer of the series right now, so we knew that we'd have something that would fit with the character.
WP: When you were talking with Dan Slott, did you ever go back and forth about which ideas would work and wouldn't work? What was something that would have made a good feature but wouldn't be a good fit for Spider-Man?
TW: It was interesting to see Dan Slott be this super-excited guy when we talked about the concept. We told him, "Here's the concept: We want to make a game with four different Spider-Men in different dimensions." He just said, "Ooh, that's cool!" We just told him our needs in terms of story, how the game would unfold, what the structure was behind it, and what we wanted to do. It turned out that we were pretty much able to do anything we wanted. Dan was super helpful at finding creative solutions to always allow us to do what we wanted.
One thing that can be said is that the tablet was the perfect opportunity to allow us to give new powers to the supervillains because that tablet holds great power. We were able to incorporate new, additional powers to the supervillains that fans of the comic book series will not expect, things that are new and exclusive to the game. Dan was also great at coming up with ideas for that, so it was a great working relationship with Dan Slott.
WP: You briefly mentioned the first-person aspect, and when we saw that in the demo, it was definitely very cinematic, almost Quick Time Events-inspired. What was the philosophy behind introducing the cinematic moments? Did you want to get up close and personal? What kind of effect were you trying to convey to the player?
TW: It was quite easy. We wanted to punch the villains in the face. (laughs) That was pretty much the inspiration. In a lot of the action games out there, you'll have a boss and you'll fight him, and that boss is about your size or a little bit taller. We felt that internally, we have a very robust facial animation system. We really wanted to see the bosses from up close, almost like you could feel them breathe down your neck. The idea is to see Kraven up close and have him say something like, "I hate you, Spider-Man!" Being able to stop him and punching him in the face was just that perfect candy that we could provide to players.
These are used at specific moments during boss battles. It's either the boss surprises you or you were at a moment where you've taken enough energy out of a boss, and it acts sort of as a final sequence to finish a boss. This is how we apply it. We really wanted to give the candy to a player. We didn't want to complicate the mechanic. We didn't want to go with a QTE sequence, so it's more of a punch-out minigame, where you use the left and right sticks. On the Wii, you use the Nunchuk and Wii Remote to actually swing at the villain. The villain can block and counter-attack and you can dodge these moves, but it's a very simple and fun mechanic that anybody can enjoy.
WP: What was it like working with the different voice actors?
TW: Working with the different voice actors, what we wanted was to have great voice talent for this game. The four characters who will be voicing the Spider-Men have, at one point in their lives, voiced Spider-Man before. For Noir, we have Christopher Daniel Barnes, who used to be the voice of the TV series during the '90s of Spider-Man. He's done a great job of applying his voice to Spider-Man Noir. We also announced Dan Gilvezan, who is doing the voice of Spider-Man 2099. He used to be the original voice talent for the classic '80s series back in the day. It's great working with these actors because they can totally understand the character and inject their own personality into it. Now that we have four different dimensions and four different Spider-Men, we can make it feel like they are four different characters, and that's great.
[Editor's Note: After this interview was conducted, Activision revealed that Neil Patrick Harris will voice the Amazing Spider-Man and Josh Keaton will be Ultimate Spider-Man. Harris lent his voice to 2003's Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, and Keaton played Spider-Man 2008's The Spectacular Spider-Man.]
We have great voice talent. Both casual gamers and fans will definitely enjoy the quality of the voice acting in the game.
WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions a game that's worth playing?
TW: That's a good question. I would run down the list. The answer is variety. That's the overarching concept of this game. Four goals. Four Spider-Men. Four different art directions. Thirteen villains. We're talking about 13 different locations, so it's not just New York City, but different locations all over the place. All combined, I think that will make a great superhero action game.
WP: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?
TW: One thing we can talk about is how we will incorporate multiple challenges in a game. It's not just about going through a level. The player will be challenged with a whole lot of challenges that will reward the players for being good at what they're doing with the ability to buy additional moves. We have this whole reward system in the game that I think will make players want to come back for more and play the levels again.
WP: On a more personal note, I'd like to get an idea of what games you like. If you go all the way back to the days of the Intellivision and Atari, what are one or two superhero games that you remember playing?
TW: There are multiple, but I definitely remember The Incredible Hulk. The guys who actually worked on Prototype worked on that, and that game was super fun. You felt like you were Hulk, you felt like you were destroying things, but at the same time, you had the power to leap over buildings and everything. That game, I really enjoyed.
I also enjoyed Batman: Arkham Asylum. I think they did a really good job at making you feel like Batman. That was great.
I would also point out the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance series, which is great for people who like superheroes because you get to play as a lot, and that was great.
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