Interview

Beenox talk Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Stefane Gravel spins us a yarn

A Soho basement might be house to the kind of seedy, secret criminal hideout that Spider-Man might infiltrate for the good of London Town ...were he on vacation from New York for some reason. But there's nothing underhanded about the Soho basement I'm in to see Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. After playing the game, I find some time to throw a few questions the way of its producer at Beenox, Stefane Gravel, to discover what made the team go with such an unusual approach to the game.

I've had a go with a few of the different modes in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions today. It's a really interesting decision to go with four different play styles within one game. Whose idea was it and what prompted the decision to go with it?

Well, basically it was Beenox's idea but right at the beginning of the project when we did research, because something that was clear to us right at the beginning was that we wanted to create something that was new, that was fresh, and that was never before seen in a Spider-Man game. So we looked all those comic books and that's how a lot of people in the team discovered all those universes. All of them knew about Amazing Spider-Man. Some knew about Ultimate Spider-Man. But Spider-Man 2099, and Spider-Man Noire, and other dimensions, they were new to the team. So during meetings and brainstorm sessions we were going, "we could do a Spidey 2099 game or we could a Spidey Noire game" and... we were not arguing but we were discussing which one would be the best universe to go with. At some point somebody raised their hand and said, "Well, maybe I'm nuts but I'd like to play them all." Everybody round the table was like, "What? You'd like to play them all?" and it was some sort of enlightenment. Everybody knew at that point that that would be the idea that was new and fresh. So that's how we approached Activision: here's our pitch, we want to do a game that involves four different Spider-Men in four different worlds with four different art styles, and they were on board with it right at the beginning.

Like you said, there's Spider-Man Noire in the game, which I'll admit I'd never heard of before. How close has the team worked with Marvel? Have you, for example, spoken with the artists of the different comics?

Well, we didn't talk to the artists themselves, but we spoke with Marvel a lot. They sent a lot of references as well, so we mostly use references from Marvel. But as soon as we had that idea of going with four different worlds, we approached Marvel to get a writer that would be really familiar with Spider-Man, and that's when they proposed Dan Slott, who is currently writing Amazing Spider-Man. So he was brought on board right at the beginning, and he brought ideas with him and how we could link all those four universes together, and which powers - his idea was to involve the Tablet of Order and Chaos, which is the sister tablet of an existing tablet in the comic book world, so that does exist in the Marvel canon. So he brought that idea, and then we had the idea that the tablet would shatter and the villains would get a piece of the tablet, and they will become more powerful. So we exchanged ideas with Dan, like "OK, what powers would that villain gain that would still fit the character but would be brand new and something nobody would expect?" So he was really involved, and Marvel proposed ideas, they proposed villains, we proposed villains, and we read the forums as well to see which villains were the ones fans wanted to see in the game. So - we go with that villain because the fans like him, we have a good idea of location because every location is made to fit the particular villain. It was all a creative process in which Activision, Marvel and Dan were involved.

Like you said, Dan has brought his own story to Shattered Dimensions. Is the story going to echo some of those found in, say, Spiderman Noire or is it really its own separate thing?

It expands from the comic books. Basically, right at the beginning of the game we explain who the four Spider-Men are and how are they all tied together. Like you said, Spider-Man Noire is not really well known, Spiderman 2099 is not very well known ... Ultimate Spidey is known by more people, but why does he have the symbiotic suit? That's explained at the beginning of the game also. We will reference existing lore from the comic books too, so readers and long-term fans will get stuff that they know about, and the other players - well, it will just be funny to them or relevant to the game and it will fit as well.

The way you're talking about it, it sounds like it's really going to be geared at aficionados of the books. Are you worried about people who don't know Spider-Man that well but want to play the Spider-Man game, that they might be overwhelmed by all the Spider-Men and different universes?

The fact that we use a unified control scheme will help because once you've learnt the controls it's going to be the same control scheme for each universe. So you start the game playing Amazing Spider-Man, you get to learn the controls, and then you move to the other universes. We present to the player those universes as well, so even if you're not familiar with those worlds you get a bit of background, you get to know for example that in Spidey 2099 it's not Peter Parker, it's Miguel O'Hara, and it's in the future. The same thing for Spidey Noire, it's not the Spider-Man you know, it's a brand new Spidey that it's in the past, and it's more like a crime noire novel approach, and the player will get it right at the beginning of the game. There have been instances in the past of games that do respect their license but that everybody enjoys and that's what we were aiming for.

In the Ultimate Spider-Man mode you can enter a Rage mode. Are there other buffs and power-ups that you can collect in the game?

You don't have power-ups, per say, but you unlock new moves over the course of the game. When you defeat enemies or when you collect what we call the Spider Emblems, you get Spider Essence, which is basically the currency of the game. So by collecting Spider Essence you get to buy upgrades to existing moves, to your health, to unlock new moves, and to unlock alternate skins for each Spidey.

Are some of those alternate skins going to be stuff from the far reaches of the Spider-Man universe?

Yeah, it's a nod to other dimensions that are out there that we considered using but did not, but there are also some really popular skins, so it's a mix of different Spideys.

Is there any chance of any appearances from other characters in the Marvel universe in Shattered Dimensions?

We do have some guest appearances, but unfortunately I can't talk about that right now.

So roughly how long will the game take to complete?

Well, if you were not into completing all the challenges, I would say about 10 to 12 hours, probably. If you want to complete the game 100% then it's about twice that - around 20 hours.

Any plans for DLC at this stage?

Not at this time.

OK, final question. If you could be any of the Spider-Men - Spidey Noire, Ultimate Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man or Spider 2099 - which one would you be if you had to narrow it down to one?

Uh... (long pause) um... that's hard! I mean, during the course of the production I jumped from one favourite to another. At some point I really liked Amazing Spider-Man, he's the one I've known since my childhood. But then we did the Rage Mode thing with Ultimate and he became my favourite. Then we got that futuristic city in 2099 with the flying vehicles and animated billboards and it became my favourite when I saw this. And then with Spidey Noire, we're really proud of the visuals in the whole game but particularly Noire.... Oof...

On the spot, pick one! (chuckles)

Well, I would say Amazing, only because it's the one I've known since I was really young, but I love them all really! (laughs)

Excellent. Thank you very much, Stefane.

Oh, you're welcome.

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