The Amazing Spider-Man: A Conversation With Activision Producer Doug Heder


As fans of Dusty Cartridge and gaming as a whole, by now you should have seen the controversial reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man. Alongside it naturally came the movie tie-in which you can easily grab a copy from via your local retailer.

What better time then, to enlighten you on our musings with Activision Producer Doug Heder a little while back. Read on as we talk about what it’s like to develop for a movie tie-in, the pressures of licenced games and why this game is better than fan favourite Spider-Man 2.

Combat is unquestionably very similar to both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Was that a conscious decision?

It’s not so much a conscious decision as it was you’re just inspired by other great games out there and you look at Spider-Man, I mean just from a power point of view and he’s actually very different to Batman. So there are some elements that are similar in the structure of that combat system but when you look at it at the end of the day he [Spider-Man] is a much more agile character and he’s very quick on his feet and very nimble. Spider-Man kind of does a lot of that dancing when he fights, that’s kind of his style. You like to have fun with it. With his opponents, he doesn’t take the fight too seriously. So you know, I would say there are maybe some similarities there, but I think I look at it more as a collective. If you look at a number of different games that try to do some different things, and especially the work that Beenox has done on the past Spider-Man games where they were sort of experimenting with combat in new ways, like Shattered Dimensions, this was the natural evolution of that.

The game follows the movie, can you tell us what the process was like working with the studio and how the story continues?

We started working with the studio from day one. As soon as the title was announced, that there would be a new movie, Marvel let us know. And we’d been long time partners with Marvel and so we were really excited to learn they were going to do a reboot of the whole Spider-Man universe. So of course that not only means a clean slate for the movies, but a clean slate for the games.

So it’s a new way to approach Spider-Man, take him on a new adventure, re-interpret some of the characters, famous moments from the Spider-Man lore that are going to be retold again for the first time. We were working with many other types of partners, as early as it was available, and were brought into Sony to read the script. We got to meet with the director of the film and learn about his vision and where he was going where the possible stories could continue after the events of the film.

So that was really great to be able to sit down and get a mind-share from him. The assets from the film became available, so we were able to see and touch the suit and see how heavy it was. So you get a sort of sense of okay, they’re going with this tone and style, so working with the filmmakers in that sense gave our designers and artists materials to base their designs off and keep harmony between the worlds. But to your point, it is a continuation of that world, so not only are we trying to maintain a harmony, but trying to build upon the foundation the movie lies for this larger universe. So we take themes, characters, ideas. Maybe they only mention them in passing or alluded to in the film, but here is our opportunity to explore that and find out what happens with Peter Parker next after the events of the film.

Did Seamus Fahe work with the writers of the movie?

He was brought in, the way that game writing and development works a little differently to the way Hollywood approaches it. Your initial designers actually do a lot of the groundwork when coming up with the script and the story elements so you kind of lay down the backbone and then you typically tend to work with writers to bring some structure and more of a polished tone to that. So he did come in early on, he was also involved with and got to read the script from Sony. He was not directly involved with the film, but just given his experience of understanding the industry and writing for that medium and that format gave him certainly a level of the standard of game writers.

How did you go about recreating moments from the movie.

Very carefully. None of the moments in the game are repeats of anything you will see in the movie. So it’s all new things, but when you build a story, you think what would make for an interesting three, five or six act structure and where are these characters going to go and obviously you’re looking to find those set pieces. I will say this; we have an all new villain in the game that has their own arc. You’ve got some really big set pieces with that villain. That villain creates a lot of other sub villains in the game and you’ve got a lot of other interesting set pieces with that.

Did you run into any difficulties with how fast Spider-Man moves now inside of an interior environment?

Spider-Man’s movement in general is a challenge. No other character in video games can literally crawl, walk and run on any surface that you can see in the room. That’s really, the planning that has to go into level design and geometry, just everything that goes into it, you just have to approach it a whole different way than a traditional third person action game or a first person shooter. One of the big challenges that Beenox had with the tech was how do you keep the velocity of Spider-Man where it feels exciting and fun to the player but stream a city live without losing that data and stream it fast enough. So they really had to do a lot of work to optimise their engine to optimise and create that experience.

When you go into interiors, you’re obviously not in an open world environment anymore, so your movement does change a little bit based on that fact but you still have web swinging abilities. You’ll see that there’s different ways to move around that world. Depending on how you want to approach it and how quickly you want to get from point a to point b, again web rush takes a whole new meaning when you’re inside an interior level as it is a contextual based mechanic. So when you’re in a tight enclosed space, what web rush will do for you will be to different to when you’re in an open environment. So what I’m alluding to is the fact that while you can perform stealth moves and stealth gameplay you’re not necessarily going to do in an open world.

Come get some!

Licenced games receive a lot of negativity within the gaming industry. Is that something you worry about, or implement measures in order to prevent?

Look, you tend to look at licensed games as a genre somehow, but just like movies there is romantic comedies that are good and romantic comedies that are bad. You’ve got good licenced games and you’ve got bad licenced games. I mean you’ve got good original IP and you’ve got bad original IP. There is no secret formula and a good game whether its licensed or owned IP takes as much hard work and time and risk as anything. So some of its luck of the draw, some it happens to tie into what the audience is looking for. You try to do your best from a publisher and development standpoint and try to create something you think is going to speak to that appetite and that desire. If you just look historically at what Spider-Man has done, our movie tie ins have actually been our best selling and our most critically favourite games of the series. So it is kind of unique to Spider-Man for that sense.

For us particularly, with this movie tie in, it makes a lot of sense given that it’s a reboot; it just lends itself to a reboot of the gaming license itself. So you know we’re bringing in elements and mechanics that have never been tried in a Spider-Man game. You know if you play around and experiment with web rush and some of the new navigational and combat tools, all that stuff is new stuff for Spider-Man. Even the camera system being so much closer in to Spider-Man gives you a whole new sense of speed and vertigo and verticality to the world that’s just as cool as Spider-Man 2, the beloved movie tie in game. You put that in now and it doesn’t come close to what Beenox have accomplished with this new game.

Would you say the movie tie-in deadline is the issue with most movie games that causes generally low quality?

Yeah I mean the deadlines are always going to be a challenge for better or for worse. Obviously you gotta do what makes smart business sense. Do you spend more money on building a game you could never make on it then you’re going to drive yourself out of business pretty quick. But you know, with this game, we actually had the longest development cycle we’ve ever had for a Spider-Man game. Beenox have been working on it for two years. They started working on this before even finishing shattered dimensions. We learned about the movie in early 2010 and Beenox really started concepting some designs, knew that they wanted to aim for this freedom experience that was at the time for them extremely ambitious, they had never done anything like that. If you look at the last two games they have done they’re very level based, linear experiences, but through those experiences they were able to do a lot of trial and error and try some new things. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t, but they were able to take them in their stride and brought all those leanings together into The Amazing Spider-Man.

The Amazing Spider-Man is out now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.

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