'Marvel's Spider-Man' Director on More Mature Peter Parker Story in New Game

Spiderman PS4 Bryan Intihar Inset - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Insomniac Games; Unique Nicole/FilmMagic
Bryan Intihar opens up about the importance of getting the feeling right for swinging through New York City, the inclusion of Mary Jane as a playable character and making J. Jonah Jameson a podcaster.

Insomniac Games has swung into the Marvel universe with the upcoming Marvel's Spider-Man game, available Sept. 7 exclusively for the PlayStation 4. 

The new open-world adventure marks the first licensed title for Insomniac — known for such series as Spyro the Dragon and Ratchet & Clank — in its 24-year history. Spidey fans will likely not be disappointed when they get their hands on the webslinging action game. The studio has managed to capture the feel of swinging down the alleys and trafficked streets of New York City and using their spider senses and superhuman strength to take down the Big Apple's most notorious criminals.

While Insomniac has long since proven its acumen at producing blockbuster titles, Spider-Man presented an additional challenge in adapting a beloved character to gaming.

Director Bryan Intihar caught up with Heat Vision to discuss the pitfalls of crafting a new Spidey tale that appeals to longtime fans and newcomers alike and also the myriad difficulties of capturing the character's web-slinging action in a way that feels satisfying in gameplay. 

First and foremost, you absolutely nailed the feel of swinging around New York City. How challenging was it to get that mechanic down?

It’s extremely hard. We knew right away that was the number one thing we had to get right. Everyone identifies that with Spider-Man, and to swing around is the ultimate fantasy fulfillment. Before we even had a city built or a Spider-Man model we had a guy on a string and were getting the sense of the mobility. We took a lot of our base that we built for Sunset Overdrive and taking that impression, that flow and bringing all that Spider-Man DNA and combining it.

I also love that as we go through the city we have New Yorkers interacting with Spidey — either asking for pictures and high fiving him or calling him a menace.

I didn’t even know that they were going to have NPCs reacting to Spider-Man and when I saw it I was like, "That is the coolest thing ever!" Sometimes, you’ll walk up to somebody and they’ll point out something in the open world that you can do.

Is what we see in the game an accurate recreation of New York City?

It’s not a 1:1 model, but we wanted to capture that picture of what people have in their head, their fantasy of going to New York City, but put some Marvel into it with Avengers Tower, the Wakandan Embassy and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. How can we make it feel like a Marvel New York City but not be so restricted to reality. We also had to create a world that is fun to swing around so we took some liberties with making buildings taller or shorter.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made a lot of characters very familiar for fans, but the Peter Parker we see in this game is very different than Tom Holland’s Spidey in the films.

Early on, we decided we weren’t going to do an origin story because it’s been done to death. We then asked, what are some times in your life that really stand out and shape who you are? I said, "I really remember what it was like when I first graduated college for the first time. What if we just introduced him eight years later?" He’s not married with kids, he’s still very Peter Parker, but what does it feel like when he’s a young adult. We just felt that was a really fun time to focus on in his life. We thought it’d be a nice complement to what they’re doing in the movies. Here’s Peter Parker graduated college, he’s a scientist. Peter is looking for that father figure, that mentor, trying to make a name for himself. I just remember how much my life changed at that point in life in terms of friendships, relationships and Peter is also uncovering, "Hey, I might be a superhero but there’s times that even I need help." And that really comes through with the MJ character. She helps shepherd that journey that he goes on.

Mary Jane offers a much different gameplay experience than Spidey. When did you make the decision to make her a playable character?

When we were talking about the arc of Peter, what’s the journey we want him to go on, part of that was he realizes he may have superpowers, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need help. Who could help us carry that theme across? MJ seemed like a very logical choice, but we thought, "What kind of role can we give her to help with the development of that theme? She’s been an actress, that doesn’t work. What if she were an investigative journalist where she’s more on the front lines? Well, that fits perfect. Then we decided that it would mean a lot more and help the story if you got to experience playing as her once in a while, because we wanted her to be a much more capable contributor to the story and in order to do that she had to be playable at times. I also think it’s interesting to be in a superhero world and not be a superhero.

Another character you gave a modern overhaul to is J. Jonah Jameson, who hosts an Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theory podcast.

Things like podcasts and radio shows are so popular right now, and we thought someone with a voice like J. Jonah Jameson would be perfect for that, so we figured it would be a nice modern take on the character. Again, his feelings on Spider-Man are not very different from how you’d expect from the comic, but how he delivers that is different.

How much creative freedom did Marvel give you?

A lot. We had a lot of flexibility. We never worried about what the MCU was doing because they’re doing their own thing and we don’t work with Marvel Studios, we work with Marvel Games, and those guys are pretty much caught in the loop of what’s going on. I think we always try to do is be very respectful to the franchise and DNA of the character, but don’t be afraid to mix things up a little bit. I didn’t want people to play the exact same story they’ve read or watched in a book or a movie. You’re going to be with this game for multiple hours, much longer than a comic or movie, so we’ve got to give you something that’s going to surprise you once in a while. Marvel was super supportive of our creative decisions because they were a part of it.

With this being an open world adventure, do the narrative and player choices affect the universe you're playing in?

The main story is the main story, but what I will say is that as you play more things in the open world will open up to you. As the game goes on there will be more side activities that will open up related to a bunch of different characters or just citizens of New York.

Will there be multiplayer?

It’s a single player game.