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Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions impressions and interview with producer Meghan Morgan


At a pre-E3 event a few weeks ago, Activision finally took the wraps off of the third of four universes that Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions will travel through, and Peter David geeks everywhere cheered: the game is going nearly a century in the future to the Spider-Man of 2099. We got an early look at gameplay in the new universe, and it's hyperkinetic, with vast future cityscapes full of flying cars and neon setting the backdrop to the skull-emblazoned dark blue figure of the future Spider-man flipping and kicking in dizzying aerial fights.

The future setting wasn't the only new footage we saw -- Activision also showed off another Noir level, set in a carnival atmosphere, where stealthy Spidey was pitted up against that universe's Norman Osbourne, a.k.a. Goblin, a crime boss. That level was much slower than other parts of the game we've seen -- until Spider-man got spotted, at which point the music spurred into action ... and Activision moved on to the 2099 reveal.

Gallery: Spider-man: Shattered Dimensions E3 2010 | 14 Photos

The 2099 Spider-Man will be pitted against a new enemy never before seen in the future continuity: Hobgoblin, remade just for the video game. His origin is a mystery, and one of Spidey 2099's goals is to figure out which other villian is behind his creation. We were also told that Miguel O'Hara (the alter-ego of Spidey 2099) would be voiced by Dan Gilvezan, who played the cartoon web slinger back in the 1980s, joining Christopher Daniel Barnes as the second revealed Spidey actor to voice the character in-game.

The future Spider-Man will have "enhanced senses," and will be able to slow down time during battle, with cool graphical effects to match. New York City in 2099 is a gigantic place, having grown up rather than out, and while there is some exploration, the gameplay will often encompass "freefall" areas, where Spider-Man tumbles through the urban depths, fighting enemies as he glides and falls. We didn't get to play the game (we will at E3 itself), but the level looked as impressive as the other universes we've already seen, with the added bonus of seeing one of the most popular non Peter Parker incarnations of Spider-Man in action.

After Activision's demonstration, we sat down with Activision senior producer Meghan Morgan to talk about the 2099 reveal, and what else Activision has planned for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.

Joystiq: Would you say 2099 was the most requested alternate universe?

Senior Producer Meghan Morgan: In terms of what we've seen on the boards, in terms of what people are talking about, I would say yeah, maybe. In terms of why we picked it, which is maybe where you could go with another question, it looked like it would translate so well from the comics to what we can do now with graphics on next-gen consoles. It was just there waiting for us to take and translate it into a video game. And nobody's done it before. So it was so exciting to be able to announce it today.

For Amazing, there's the cel-shading. For Noir, it's black and white. What would you say is the major aesthetic as far as 2099?

I would say really sleek. Really futuristic. It's definitely that, for Spider-Man. And I want to put this in reference of, what is normal for Spider-Man? For Spider-Man, I think it's definitely a break from what you're used to seeing. It's really futuristic, really sleek, really high tech. Kind of Blade Runner-stylized feeling to it, which I think its unexpected for a Spider-Man game graphic style. In the Amazing universe our graphic style is very expected -- and yet I think they've done a great job with it. They've blown it out, it looks, well, amazing. But in terms of 2099, I think it's definitely out of the box for what people are expecting graphically from Spider-Man.

Can you mention the changes you had to make to the costume for 2099? You mentioned changes to the trenchcoat for Noir.

Right. In the comics, he does have these little web coil kind of things, and with Marvel's blessing, we did not include those on his model, just because they didn't translate very well. They're there, when he freefalls. But when he's in battle, and when he's standing there, they go up into his suit, is what we're saying.

So it's science, really.

Well, it's the future.

In terms of gameplay mechanics, in Amazing, you've got the web melee, you've got stealth in Noir, what's the 2099 mechanic? What's the big gameplay crux?

Well it is the freefall, because there will be a lot of mid-air battle. With the city being built-up vertically, and with all of this action going on mid-air, there's a lot of opportunity for the players to have interactions with villians in the air.

"In terms of 2099, I think it's definitely out of the box for what people are expecting graphically from Spider-Man."

Villians in 2009 -- you created a Goblin for that universe. Why not use one of the existing 2099 villians?

We wanted to do something really special for the game, and Hobgoblin, although he exists in a couple of other universes, doesn't really exist in 2099 yet. But we thought we could blow out his character design, giving him some really futuristic high tech wings, lots of cool colors, and really take advantage of what that character looks like, but future-ize him. He seemed like something that we could have fun with, but because the gameplay stuff for 2099 is in the air, the fact that he flies lends himself to situations where there can be mid-air battle.

Any other 2099 characters that we'll see -- Lyla?

Maybe. We're not saying anything else.

So yes.

I'll say that you'll see a lot of cameos in the game, just in general, amongst the four different universes.

Well in Amazing, there was a Stark billboard, and in 2099 we saw a sign for Stark/Fujikawa in the back.

Wow, you're really paying attention.

Will we see other Marvel superheroes, either 2099 or current, in the game?

This is definitely a Spider-Man universe game. So while there will be cameos from other characters, it's focused on the Spider-Man universe as opposed to the Marvel universe as a whole. So we're not making a 2099 game with Spider-Man in it. It's a Spider-Man game.

You guys are getting a different voice actor for each Spider-Man, and specifically, you're getting a Spider-Man voice actor for each Spider-Man, a voice actor that's played Spider-Man in the past. Neil Patrick Harris hasn't been announced yet, and there are a finite number of Spider-Man actors available, so ...

Well we haven't announced two yet. We've only announced two so far, Noir and 2099. Doogie? This is Doogie Houser?

And I didn't watch the 80s series, so I don't even know this guy [Dan Gilzevan, who voices Spider-man 2099]. But Miguel O'Hara, 2099's Spider-Man, is a very different character from Peter Parker -- did you have to work with him on that?

Totally. What we did more of was figure out how we wanted to tell the story in the script. So we worked really hard on making sure that the dialog was as authentic as possible. And then when we got the voiceover, Dan, into the booth, we did have to show him who he was playing, because he wasn't very familiar with 2099. He was familiar with who he was in "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends." So definitely Miguel O'Hara is older than Peter Parker in the Amazing universe, and he's a scientist, so there's a little bit of a different kind of style to it, but we didn't want to take him out of his element so much. There was a little bit of that, about bringing him up to speed on what we were doing with the game, about what 2099 was all about, and who he was really playing. But he did a great job, he's a pro.

Have any of these guys done video games before?

Out of the entire cast that we have chosen, most of them have done video games before.

What about the "Spider-Mans"?

The Spider-Mans ... Yes.

One of the things that seems like a logical concern is the game being a jack-of-all-trades. You'll have four different graphics styles, four different gameplay mechanics, four different voice actors playing four different Spider-Mans. What are the internal concerns over diluting any one experience, and how would you communicate that to an audience, or potential consumers?

Definitely. It's definitely something we've been focusing on really right from the beginning. We wanted to make sure that the player didn't feel like they had to learn a new game every time they switched from universe to universe. So it was really important for the developer at the beginning to make sure that the combat system at its core was unified throughout the game. And fun. And the control scheme was unified, so that once you learn a move or you unlock a four-hit combo or whatever, you have that even if you travel from universe to universe. So that you're not relearning or constantly trying to remember, oh wait, I remember that was in this one universe, but now I don't remember what it was in this other universe. So in each of the different universes, if you have the four-hit combo in Amazing, you also have it in Noir. But the animation that plays is different. And then on top of that, each universe has its own unique gameplay mechanic, like the stealth, freefall, web-based combat. But it's not the entire experience.

So any worth that goes into balancing or polishing, animation, etc., that sort of applies across the board?

Across the board, yes. And that was really important to us, throughout the entire course of production. Because graphically, the styles are so different. And Spider-Man himself looks totally different as you travel from universe to universe. With the way the game develops, as well as the overall feeling you get from the game, meaning what he sounds like, what he says, what his overall reaction to things are, we want to make sure that those things were kind of as true to what he is as possible.

Progression -- does that happen across all of the universes?

The majority of the upgrades are universal, so once you upgrade, you have it across the board. And then there are a number of different ones that you can target specifically, like this is a Noir universe upgrade, and I'm going to work towards it. But for the most part, most of them are universal.

Is that linear, or is it a tree? Are you prioritizing things or just leveling up?

There's an upgrade tree. It's kind of both -- some of the upgrades you'll get just through a natural course of playthrough, even if you're not an objective kind of player. So just through natural course of playthrough you'll unlock a majority -- not a majority meaning 85%, but you'll unlock enough so that you feel like you've upgraded. But if you did want to be more goal orientated, and feel like you want to work towards unlocking these things, you can do that as well because there is a tree.

Is there a game-plus option, where you can go over and fill out that last little bit?


Beenox is a relatively untested developer, especially for this audience. How difficult will it be to convince people that this is licensing that you're really putting more effort into?

"That was one of the pillars of our concept from the beginning, that we really wanted to stay as authentic as possible with this."

That's one of the things that we've really tried to do with the entire campaign, starting with when we revealed the game. We've really put a lot of effort into choosing what we show and how we show it, to the effect of really showing that yes, we are doing something different with this game. That yes, it's not just another Spider-Man game, it's not just your average Spider-Man game. It's not just what you're expecting, this is something totally unexpected. And I think that just, even from the response that we've been getting to the concept in general, people are, if anything, intrigued. Whether we're swaying the people that have drifted away from the brand a bit or drifted away from the license in general, whether we're swaying them or not I don't know yet, but I think we've intrigued them and piqued their interest, even just relaying the concept and revealing the worlds one at a time the way we have.

The game was in development before Arkham Asylum came out, and Arkham Asylum obviously changed the perspective on comic book video games, specifically that it wasn't based on a movie, it was really very comic book-driven. And that seems similar to Shattered Dimensions, where you have something very much in the comic universe, not in the greater universe, if you will. Have you taken any influence from that game, in terms of how you're designing the game and presenting it to fans? And what are your thoughts internally on the sort of stage that that game set for you?

I will say that we've really looked at some of the things that Arkham has gotten big props for -- authenticity, for staying really true to the brand, for not being swayed, like you said, or being crammed into the story of a movie and that's it. And sacrificing some of the things that make that character who that character is. And that was one of the pillars of our concept from the beginning, that we really wanted to stay as authentic as possible with this. So like you said, we've been in development since before they came out, so we were validated by that in a way, that we were on the right track and that there is an audience for superhero games if they're done right. Arkham has a huge production value, everything is polished, the cinematics look awesome, the scriptwriting is great, the VO acting is excellent, not to mention the game is fun. So it seems like their polish on that, they really spent a lot of time, and that resonated with fans, so that's one of the things that we've been focusing on since the beginning. And then just the fact that the reviews have been so positive for them for doing that, has further validated us that we're on the right track.

Has that increased Activision's support for the game? Like: If polish is that important, we need to get this right, because there is an audience for it if it's done right and that takes time. There were severalyeah delays for Arkham, and that resulted in increased polish when the game was released.

I agree. Hopefully you'll agree when it comes out that we have taken that time and focused in on making sure the graphics look good, the game plays well, that the tech is right there, that the script is very believable. And again I know I keep bringing it back to VO acting, but I think we had a lot of work to do based on some of our other iterations of Spider-Man, in terms of being true to who the characters in this universe are, and I think that this is going to be a healthy candidate in the ring of a real authentic experience.

Last question: how is the work on 1602 coming?

[Laughs] Oh, nice try.


That's the one you really want?

We did a poll on Joystiq and readers said they wanted it.

I know, I saw! It's "Peter Porker," isn't it? Is that right?

Just saying: if you guys want a million seller, Spider-Ham is it.

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