Saturday at WonderCon in San Francisco, Activision spoke publicly about Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for the first time.
The panel featured writer Dan Slott, voice actor Christopher Daniel Barnes, creative director Thomas Wilson from developer Beenox, and Activision’s senior producer, Meghan Morgan. The panel was overseen by GameSpot’s Ricardo Torres and included a public Q&A portion.
The Game and the Spider-Men
Shattered Dimensions features four Spider-Men from four different slices of the Marvel Universe. They are all working in their own space to recover the Tablet of Order and Chaos; that’s the core objective and it is spoiler-free. Only two incarnations of Spidey have been revealed – Amazing Spider-Man, which draws from the classic 1960s comics, and Noir, which casts Spidey as a gritty 1930 hero. The other two dimensions have yet to be revealed; they didn’t even dare hint at them. So let the speculation continue.
Interestingly, the four worlds came about because someone on the development team suggested that rather it would be great to play all the different worlds of Spider-Man the team was researching. So they pitched four to Activision, and that’s how it came about. Megan says the universes were chosen were chosen for their variety – “not only visually, but what would provide the most unique gameplay experience.” Dan connected on a different level: “As a fanboy, I was geeking out – ‘Oh, we get to be THAT Spider-Man?! That’s so cool!’”
The Spidey you won’t play: Peter Parker. “You might hear some Peter dialogue,” said Dan, “but this is really about four Spider-Men, so it’s about the fun of being Spider-Man. Do you really want to take off the mask, go to the Daily Bugle, watch TV and eat sandwiches? No; you want to get out there and kick some butt.”
Each Spidey shares a core set of combat mechanics, but features something special and unique to their chapters. For instance, all Spideys will feature the same basic combat and movement controls, but Amazing’s gameplay features lots of web attacks, and moves that Thomas described as “super-acrobatic.” As for Noir, he said “I don’t know if we can say we made it super-realistic,” but you will use more stealth aspects in the grittier world, taking out enemies one-on-one and crawling on walls and ceilings a lot more. He noted that guns are quite lethal in the Noir world, so it will not be the kind of gameplay where you’ll be able to simply charge in and hope to survive. Both Thomas and Megan promised that the other two unannounced dimensions will also have their own unique flavor.
Thomas also revealed that the game will feature something called the Web of Destiny, a challenge system that encourages replay value and challenges gamers to “approach levels in different ways and unlock new abilities, movies, concept art, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and alternate suits” (but not, as Christopher joked, “Armani Spider-Man”).
Also, boss fights sound…interesting. If you watch the trailer again, you’ll notice what looks like first-person combat against the bosses – and that’s real. Thomas confirms the first-person sequences will not be quick-time events; those fights unfold in real-time, using the joysticks and buttons to land uppercuts and jabs. Sounds risky, but the team is enthusiastic; I’m curious to see how it plays.
The game will feature 13 villains, one for each level. The story is split into three acts; each of those acts will feature a level in each of the four dimensions. Part of the fun for the team has been working with recognizable foes in unrecognizable realms – for instance, you’d expect to see Kraven in Amazing, but maybe not Hammerhead in Noir. “It’s new, but it works,” promised Thomas.
When asked if there would be one villain who would tie all four worlds together, Dan answered with a slow, ominous “Yes.” Hmm.
Who’s Beenox? A fair question – it’s a 300-person studio up in Quebec, and most are rabid Marvel fans. Previously the company worked on PC versions of Spider-Man 3, Friend or Foe. Activision acquired the studio in 2005 because, as Thomas said, Beenox was “known to be true to the license that we’re working with. We pay tribute to the source material.” Despite the miles between Activision in Santa Monica and Beenox in Quebec, the team meets via video conference several times a week to make sure the project is moving in the right direction.
“Four worlds, four art directions,” said Thomas. For Amazing, “We really wanted to play tribute to the vintage comics. It feels like it’s been hand-drawn, the environment is flatter and feels more painted – you get a little bit of nostalgia looking at the screenshots.” For Noir, he says the team didn’t want to do black and white, but instead went with “a little Frank Miller style approach, more inspired by Sin City or the Spirit.”
All four Spider-Men will have different voices, but each of those voices should be recognizable to fans – all have portrayed Spider-Man before in their acting careers. The one confirmed was on the panel – Christopher Daniel Barnes, who played Spidey in the 90s cartoon, is the voice of Noir, as heard in the trailer. “I am a huge Spider-Man fan – to be involved in this, you have to be a fan,” he said. And while he hasn’t been too active as an actor, he said yes to this gig quickly. “I had put all this [acting] stuff aside and moved into a different phase of my life, and they called me,” he said. “When you go into the [voice] booth, it all comes back.”
The director said to start with what he would have done 13 years ago, but then gave some direction on where to take it for Noir: older, darker, a little more cynical…” “So basically,” said Chris with a laugh, “he’s me. This new character is much more appropriate for me now. Noir is so dark…I felt oppressed in the performance. It’s a great honor to assume that character. You’re the latest incarnation of an icon, and you have to honor it.”
The audience asked several questions which were artfully deflected by the team – namely, “will Venom appear,” “does Stan Lee have a cameo,” “who are the other voice actors,” and of course, “can you give us any hints as to the other two dimensions.” When asked how many Achievement points the title would offer, Thomas misheard the question and quipped “I have about 30,000.” That got a laugh.
One astute audience member noticed that multiplatform games are often not created equal – say, the PS3 and 360 will have something that the Wii won’t. Thomas made sure to say all three console versions were being made by Beenox and all would offer the complete experience.
Like all good panels, this one ended with freebies – double-sided posters for everybody, showing character portraits of Noir and Amazing Spideys. I grabbed some of these to give away, so listen to the weekly podcast and you might win one.