It could be argued this design treatment draws as much inspiration from the seminal Arkham trilogy of video games as it does the comic book source material but, then again, that’s no bad thing. Rocksteady’s seminal work of translating the essence of what it means to be Batman into three eminently enjoyable video game experiences has become the set text for superhero adaptations, and there are already signs Insomniac have added their own ingredients into the formula.
They’re helped, of course, by the fact Spider-man is a very different character. He operates in daylight hours, for a start, and has a sunnier disposition too, wise-cracking his way through combat encounters with an agreeable levity that’s at once alien to Bruce Wayne. And then there’s that agility. For all his balletic grace, Batman moves and fights with the rigidity of a wardrobe; Spider-man flits around foes like a flea. And, of course, he swings.
Intihar frequently returns to the theme of movement when discussing the game. It’s as central to the character of Spider-man as detective work is to Batman and getting that feeling right of swooping in and out of New York’s avenues and alleyways was a key priority for the developers.
“When I was doing research for this game I very quickly said, those webs had better attach to buildings or people will be really pissed,” Intihar laughs. “So that was like step one: we had to get that. For us it’s a level of accessibility.- I want to pick up the game and be able to play it and feel like Spider-Man, but we also want to give you opportunities to try things and be more expressive.
“We wanted New York City to be a character in itself and have a lot of detail but sometimes that actually becomes a pain in the ass when you’re traversing. So it was a battle between the environment team wanting to create this awesome super-detailed New York City but the traversal team wants to keep you moving fast and fluid. We said we want to do both and that’s where a lot of the parkour elements came from.
“We don’t do it in the demo but if [the player controlling Spider-man] had missed his mark and landed on one of the rooftops, you can just keep going. Like that sequence you saw inside the building? Those moves apply to the open world whether you’re on a rooftop or even on the ground. If you go back and watch the video from [the press conference], there’s a part where there’s a fire escape and he literally just leaps over it. So for us it’s a matter of keeping a detailed world, keeping your fluidity and momentum going, then have levels of accessibility but at the same time a level of mastery, so people who have put multiple hours in there are constantly discovering new things.”
Returning to Intihar’s initial introduction, it could be argued there’s actually a fourth design pillar: narrative. As is Sony’s want, Spider-man will very much be a story-driven adventure set in a sprawling, open world and starring a mature, 23 year-old Peter Parker in a unique escapade unconnected to existing comic book plots or the current Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“We have a great relationship with Marvel and when we talked about story we talked about what makes a great Spider-man story we boiled it down to when Peter’s world and Spider-man’s world collide, that’s when the magic happens,” explains Intihar. “You’ll notice that when Spider-man makes it to the top of that construction site he says Martin Li, he doesn’t say Mr Negative. Because Martin Li, as Yuri Watanabe mentions, runs the food shelters – and Aunt May works at the food shelters. One of the reasons we actually really liked Li was to have that collision of two worlds. And that’s something that throughout the story is really going to be driving the narrative.”
Inithar refused to be drawn on whether you’ll get to play as Parker but will concede Spider-man is as much of a story about the man in the mask as the man behind it.
“It has to be that,” says Intihar. “A lot of people have been asking me about the [Spider-man Homecoming] film and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When I think about those movies and why they connect with so many people these days, it’s because they go beyond the action. I look at someone like my sister-in-law who doesn’t care about comics, doesn’t really know about superheroes, but she’s there day one because they deliver a human story. And we have to do that to stand out and be considered on that level.”
Insomniac Games will also need to do that in order to attract the not inconsiderable number of new users Sony Worldwide Studios Chairman Shawn Layden needs in order to push PlayStation 4 console sales through the 100 million barrier. It will require a superheroic effort for sure, but from what we’ve seen so far, Spider-man is up for the challenge.