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The Challenges Of Creating A Free-Roaming Spider-Man Game


The Amazing Spider-Man is Beenox’s third Spider-Man game. As a result, they were afforded a fair few creative liberties, such as being allowed to set the game after the events of the upcoming movie and including characters like the Black Cat. It’s also their first free-roaming Spider-Man game, where you get to swing around Mahattan as you please.


With this knowledge in mind, we asked Beenox Studio Head, Dee Brown, a few quick questions about how they designed the world and missions, and also about the Nintendo 3DS and Wii versions of the game, which won’t be free-roaming like the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.


When you’re designing an open-world Spider-Man game, how is it different from designing an open world game like GTA or Red Dead Redemption? What kinds of details do you need to think about while designing the city?


Dee Brown, Studio Head, Beenox: Throughout free-roaming experience in The Amazing Spider-Man, Beenox has worked super-hard to bring the city of Manhattan to life. There will be similarities and differences to all other games out there, but two of the biggest differences are the amount of interior missions that we use to help tell the story, and the outdoor world where Spider-Man’s powers, speed and agility can really shine.


When we designed the objectives throughout the game, the key was to always focus on Spider-Man’s unique powers. As a character, Spider-Man is all about agility, balance, coordination and what we call “go anywhere” gameplay that is different from almost any other game out there. This gives players the ability to literally go anywhere they want to, at any time, making the process of creating environments much more complicated than if there was just a ground-plane and a couple pre-specified overhead observation points. It also creates unique challenges for things like cameras, etc.


In Manhattan this posed a unique challenge since the city needed to look beautiful at any level, whether it be on the ground fighting thugs, on the roof-tops engaging snipers, or base-jumping from the top of Oscorp Tower. We constantly had to be sensitive to the limitations of the hardware which would have been much simpler to manage if we could keep the player within 1-2 stories of the street.


Web Rush ability aside, how is the regular web-swinging in The Amazing Spider-Man different from past open-world Spider-Man games like, say, Web of Shadows? What sorts of tweaks do you make while designing and animating that part of the game?


One of the key pillars in The Amazing Spider-Man game was the notion of making the player feel like they really are Spider-Man. That means that we wanted to offer a much closer perspective on the main character. When you look at games like Web of Shadows or even other Spider-Man games, the experience felt more like you were controlling Spider-Man from afar. That’s something that we focused a lot on with the web swing in particular, and it translates really well into the game.


When you get your hands on the controller, it’s immediately obvious just by looking at how we designed the camera perspective. Instead of the camera being really far away from the main character, it is actually much closer. Especially when you are web swinging, you are much closer to the character which makes you feel the vertigo effect as you’re swigging through the streets of Manhattan. It’s a significant improvement from past Spider-Man games and something unique for the license.


We also use several different web swing systems depending on the types of environment that you are playing in. Each has different strengths, and it transitions seamlessly in the background so that the player never realizes that the mechanic has totally changed out from under them. The transitions are truly seamless, and the end-result is a completely refreshed web-swing experience.


How closely do you collaborate with Sony Pictures or Marvel staff that are working on the movie? How much access do you have to the film itself, and what kinds of dos and don’ts do you have to adhere to while adding new characters like the Black Cat?


Right from the start, it was very important to us to have our game stand out on its own and not rely too much on the movie. At the same time, we still wanted to be true to the movie universe. In the beginning of the production we met with the staff from Sony Pictures and Marvel quite frequently, including Mark Webb and several key production staff members at Sony. The goal of our time together was to have a better understanding of how they were going to handle the Spider-Man universe in the new movie.


It was at that moment that we understood that they were going to take a much more grounded approach to Spider-Man as a Super Hero. As we progressed through the production and the scripts for the movie and the game grew ever closer to being finalized, we were able to become more independent and develop our unique contributions to the game. Every time we introduced a new character like Felicia Hardy or Rhino to this Marvel / Sony universe, we worked with both of them very closely to craft a new origin story for each character. The Amazing Spider-Man is our third game with Marvel, so we have developed a great working relationship with them along the way.


Car chases and bank robberies are two kinds of side missions in the game that you can encounter while swinging around. What others can you tell us about?


There is one particular character that is really cool! He’s kind of an extreme reporter who is flying all over Manhattan in a blimp. This character will give you all sorts of cool crazy extreme sport moves, stunts and races to perform as Spider-Man, which is really fun and it will test your web-swinging and Web Rush abilities and showcase how good you are at getting around the city.


Another one that we can tell you about is that even though this character is not a reporter in this new rebooted universe, a series of events will end up with Peter getting his hands on a journalist’s camera. With great photography comes great responsibility, and Peter finds himself tasked with a bunch of photo missions and objectives, both indoors and out, where Peter will feed reporters with images for various stories and conspiracies throughout the game.


What is the Nintendo 3DS version of The Amazing Spider-Man like? Retailer descriptions say that only the HD versions are open-world. Will the 3DS version be close to the console versions at all?


The Amazing Spider-Man for the Wii and for the 3DS is actually based of the same code base and game assets which means that they share the same gameplay.


All players will get to experience the story, and of course, Spidey’s iconic web-swinging. We’ve optimized the experience on the Wii and 3DS to take advantage of their unique platform differences and motion controls, which means that players will have a different experience with the game on those platforms.


While the Wii and 3DS versions won’t have Spidey “roaming” between story missions, there are still plenty of collectibles, unlockables, and in-game challenges awaiting the wall-crawler, on top of large areas to sling through and intense combat with numerous enemy types. The Wii takes combat and web-slinging to new levels of immersion thanks to its motion controls, and the 3DS version will also have several unique mini-games that use its touch-screen.  The NDS version follows the same storyline, but is an entirely different game with platforming elements.


If held side-by-side, all of the “level based” missions are very similar to what will ship on the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms, just optimized to fit the Nintendo platforms’ unique capabilities.

Ishaan Sahdev
Ishaan specializes in game design/sales analysis. He's the former managing editor of Siliconera and wrote the book "The Legend of Zelda - A Complete Development History". He also used to moonlight as a professional manga editor. These days, his day job has nothing to do with games, but the two inform each other nonetheless.