Spider-Man 2 isn’t Your Average Video Game Sequel

Creative head Bryan Intihar unveils the narrative secrets and gameplay improvements of Spider-Man 2
Published: 24 October 2023
Spider-Man 2. SONY

The anticipation is palpable: Spider-Man 2 is set to swing onto the PlayStation 5, promising to be bigger, bolder, and even more thrilling than its award-winning predecessor. The buzz is hardly surprising; the game has been put together by Marvel and Insomniac Games, the who previously built iconic franchises like Spyro and Ratchet & Clank. Insomniac was ultimately acquired by Sony after the huge success of the first Spider-Man game, and since then has been diligently at work on the sequel.

But what can fans expect from Spider-Man 2? We caught up with Bryan Intihar, the creative head behind the series, to delve into the narrative depths, gameplay innovations, and the vision driving this eagerly awaited sequel.

Spider-Man 2 (left), Bryan Intihar (right). SONY

A big highlight about this game is certainly the Venom symbiote bonding with Peter, stripping him to his abilities, but at a cost. Can you delve into the challenges this bond presents for Peter?

Bryan Intihar: The symbiote story has always been significant for any Marvel or Spider-Man fan. Its portrayal over the years has resonated with many. Given that this is technically our third Spider-Man game—following Spider-Man and then Miles Morales—we aimed to take our characters to uncharted territories.

Emotionally, we approached the symbiote as a metaphor for addiction. This perspective isn’t solely about the impact on Peter, but also on his circle of friends and family. It’s a narrative that pushes Peter into unfamiliar territory.

As players delve deeper into the game, the bond with the symbiote intensifies and Peter undergoes profound changes. There’s a moment in the launch trailer where Peter exclaims, “You’re not the hero.” It’s hard to fathom Peter ever making such a declaration.

On the gameplay front, this presented a golden opportunity for us to showcase a different facet of Peter. Both Peter and Miles are incredibly powerful characters with their unique superhero abilities.

Introducing the symbiote allowed us to amplify and celebrate the sheer, raw strength it offers. The symbiote, in essence, isn’t just an alien entity. It profoundly influences Peter emotionally and redefines gameplay mechanics. It’s been genuinely exciting for our creative team to stretch our capabilities in narrating Peter and Miles’ story in ways we hadn’t explored before. This shift has dynamically impacted both gameplay and narrative, and that’s what excites us the most.

Spider-Man 2 gameplay. SONY

This is the third game in the series. How has the development process evolved? Were there any lessons from the first two games that have been incorporated into this third instalment?

Bryan Intihar: When we started the journey with Spider-Man 2, we began from the ground up. Our aim with the first game was to showcase that we could craft a compelling Spider-Man experience. The feedback from the first game gave us clear indications of what players loved, and the subsequent message was: “Don’t tamper with what’s already working.” For instance, swinging and traversal mechanics were highly appreciated. So our approach was to enhance it further, not overhaul it.

One of our guiding principles has been to juxtapose the superhero fantasy with a relatable, human story. While we dive into the darker realms with characters like the Symbiote and Lizard, our intent remains to narrate a heartfelt story.

Reflecting on areas of improvement, we realised that boss fights needed more depth. We also wanted to amplify the exploratory elements in the open world. With Spider-Man 2 being exclusively developed for PlayStation 5, it was crucial to harness its capabilities, be it faster traversal speeds, seamless hero switching, or grander set pieces.

In essence, our philosophy was to preserve what’s cherished and enhance areas ripe for improvement. As we approach our ninth year since beginning our Spider-Man journey in 2014, the familiarity and rapport within the team have been invaluable. The core leadership from the first game remains intact for Spider-Man 2, mirroring a seasoned sports team that’s in sync. It’s been rewarding to witness this bond, especially when new leaders emerge and take on added responsibilities. For me, observing this evolution has been one of the project’s highlights.

An annoying trend with video game sequels, is when characters will helpfully “misplace” all the last game’s gadgets (so the developers can spend time giving the character’s new tech to play with). Thankfully, this game doesn’t do that. But did that make coming up with new powers and gadgets that much harder?

Bryan Intihar: It’s a challenging balance. From a player’s perspective, it might seem puzzling when certain capabilities are stripped away in sequels. One reason is the time gap between releases; players might forget game mechanics, and developers sometimes reset to help everyone get back on track. But that aside, our primary focus was ensuring continuity in the characters’ power sets and gadgets.

Drawing inspiration from the comics, we infused a touch of the "Insomniac flair" into the gadgets. While Miles is defined by his unique abilities like bioelectricity and camouflage, we wanted the first mission to showcase both characters with a rich arsenal. We took cues from the comics, specifically the Iron Spider arms, which also harks back to the first game with Otto’s mechanical arms. This led to the idea of Peter adapting that tech, enhancing it, and incorporating it into his toolset. It was essential to ensure both Peter and Miles felt powerful and distinctive, giving players a choice in how they wanted to engage.

As the game progresses, players will see Miles’s powers evolve, intricately tied to his personal journey and his interactions with characters like Martin Lee. Peter’s evolution is also evident with the introduction of the symbiote.

Our objective has always been to make players feel like Spider-Man from the get-go. Every game starts with swinging through New York City because we want players to immediately connect with that exhilarating Spider-Man sensation. When it comes to combat, the emphasis is on delivering that authentic Spider-Man experience with a mix of classic and new tools.

Spider-Man 2 gameplay. SONY

Given the sandbox nature of a Spider-Man game, there usually needs to be a balance between free exploration and structured narrative. How do you approach this balance?

Bryan Intihar: Honestly, we don’t strictly adhere to a 50-50 model. Depending on where they are in the game, players might delve deeper into optional or open-world content.

Reflecting on our previous titles, we identified a need to elevate the quality of open-world content. In a Marvel game, storytelling is paramount. Our goal was to ensure every piece of optional content offered a gripping narrative, whether it’s a brief standalone quest or a chain of events that build and culminate in a climax.

Furthermore, we aimed to instill a richer sense of exploration and discovery. We wanted to move away from merely relying on UI and waypoints. Instead, we integrated more environmental cues. For instance, after introducing Sandman, players might notice sand clouds in the distance, sparking their curiosity and drawing them into new experiences.

Lastly, we wanted to better integrate the main story with the open world by emphasising the cause and effect. For instance, in the first Spider-Man, after a significant event like the helicopter chase with Mr Negative, the aftermath would quickly vanish. We wanted the effects of such events to linger, making the world feel more dynamic and interconnected. By weaving narrative into the environment and enhancing exploration, we aimed to ensure the main story has a tangible impact on the broader world.

Working with a giant like Marvel must be exciting. How involved are they in the creative process? Do they give you autonomy, or are there specific directives about what can and cannot be done?

Bryan Intihar: This is a question I get asked quite frequently. To be honest, working with Marvel has been nothing short of fantastic. There might be a general apprehension when collaborating with IP holders—this fear that they might be overly protective or restrictive. However, my experience has been the complete opposite. Marvel consistently encourages us to think ambitiously and to be bold.

Many of us at Insomniac are avid Marvel enthusiasts, and we’ve grown up immersed in the Marvel universe. This deep-rooted respect for the brand ensures that we handle the material with care. But while these characters have been around for decades, we believe that fans don’t just want a carbon copy of what they’ve read in comics. They crave surprises while still feeling that the core essence of the characters is intact. Our guiding principle has always been to honour the original DNA of these characters while not shying away from innovating.

Of course, the Marvel team comprises exceptional storytellers and game developers. We’d be remiss not to seek their insights and feedback. So, while people might expect a restrictive dynamic, our collaboration with Marvel has been incredibly harmonious and remains one of the most fulfilling aspects of my career.

There’s loads of new games out at the moment. What sets your game apart from the rest? And, I am going to say you can’t mention Spider-Man

Bryan Intihar: To be candid, my personal game playing this year has been a bit sparse. I’ve set a personal rule for myself: I don’t play other games during a year we’re launching our own. Hence, I’ve only recently begun catching up, I just wrapped up Jedi Survivor and eagerly queueing up Final Fantasy XVI next. The sheer quality and quantity of releases this year are remarkable.

So take this with a pinch of salt, but I’d say one big aspect of our game is the cinematic scale we’ve integrated into an open-world environment. We’ve really tried to inject blockbuster-esque moments, reminiscent of linear game narratives, into our expansive, dynamic world. From the get-go, our game gives players an experience where massive, gripping set pieces seamlessly mesh with the freedom and spontaneity of open-world gameplay.

It might sound a bit audacious, and I hope I’m not overlooking any other game doing something similar, but this blend of cinematic immersion and open-world exploration is something we’re genuinely proud of.

Originally published on Esquire ME

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