Much has already been written about Marvel’s Spider-Man, Insomniac Games’ excellent take on the House of Ideas’ most beloved superhero. Spidey’s dazzling adventure sees him zipping through New York City and fighting a whole slew of classic villains, including Electro, Kingpin, Vulture, Mr. Negative, and quite a few more we won’t spoil. The point is that Spider-Man has his hands full. Luckily, he has a new suit to help him fight these dastardly villains.
The Spidey suit featured in Insomniac’s game isn’t the one you grew up with. While there’s a distinct Steve Ditko influence in the game that harkens back to Spidey’s earliest adventures and players have the opportunity to unlock the classic suit, the studio sought to modernize the suit while also paying homage to Ditko’s great work.
No, the new suit shouldn’t offend the Spider-Man purist, but it does feature some noticeable tweaks, such as the big white spider symbol that stretches across the torso. Additionally, the almost knee-high boots now look like trendy sneakers while his gloves are closer to padded gauntlets. So nothing too significant but why the changes in the first place?
I spoke to Insomniac art director Jacinda Chew at a recent PlayStation event about how the team approached the new suit, why certain things were specifically redesigned, and just what’s going on with Spidey’s footwear.
“We needed to modernize the suit,” Chew explains. “That was definitely something that was really important to us. The other thing too, if you look at comic books, it’s all 2D. It’s not photoreal. You have to translate what that 2D design might be if it existed in real life. When I design a suit, I always think about, ‘Well, what would a 23-year-old, would-be superhero [wear]? How would he design his suit and what would his influences be?'”
Chew reveals that the goal was to create a look that Spider-Man might wear in 2018 New York City.
“One of the first things you’ll notice, for example, is that he’s not wearing a red boot. But I was thinking, if [Peter] were a modern person living in New York, what would he be influenced by? I thought he’d be influenced by athletic gear and sneakers. So that’s why you look at it, and if you ever go around swinging, you’ll see the bottom of his shoes actually look like a sneaker, and again, it’s short like a sneaker.”
The traditional red and blue color palette is still in play in the new suit, with an added splash of white. Interestingly enough, each color has its own specific function in the game. That was especially important for Chew and her team: each element of the suit should be designed with functionality in mind.
“I also looked at athletic wear and compression clothing, basically,” Chew says. “You’ll see that his suit’s got a lot of paneling. And each of the colors actually represents something specific. The blue is the most flexible part of his suit, so it’s placed where he needs the most flexibility like when he raises his arms, things like that.”
“You can see that the red part is actually still flexible but it’s a little bit thicker,” Chew explains. “There’s even red paneling on his thighs, so if he’s swinging close to a building, it’ll protect him from, I guess building rash, if he scrapes against the building. And then the white. It’s located on his gauntlets, shoes, and chest so it’s like a flexible carbon fiber. So when he’s blocking or when he’s punching, that’s where you would want that protection to be. We definitely thought a lot about the materials of the suit and translating to real life.”
Indeed, it’s a well thought out suit and Insomniac worked closely with Marvel Games, the entertainment company’s video game branch, to make sure the new costume wasn’t betraying any aspect of the character.
“Marvel Games really knows their stuff,” Chew says. “They know the Marvel Universe so I never felt that we were in unsafe territory. Even when we were designing the suit, they would give us their feedback and their advice and same thing with the story. What’s really cool about Marvel is that they have a really, really deep lore. In fact, I believe they have an archivist so if you ask them something, they can look up anything.”
Spider-Man wasn’t the only character Insomniac changed for its game. J. Jonah Jameson, for example, is more popular than ever as a right-wing radio pundit on a mission to soil Spidey’s good name. Mary Jane Watson, traditionally a model and actress, is now an investigative reporter. The studio also looked at the villains. Chew shares that a bit of thought was put into modernizing Electro, the classic rogue first introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man #9 in 1964.
“If you’re familiar with classic Electro, he pretty much wears a green onesie and he’s got this giant yellow star that frames his head,” Chew explains. “He was one of the more challenging characters to reproduce into modern times. I’m like, ‘Well, that’s pretty iconic but he’d look pretty dorky if he walked around like that now.'”
Needless to say, Electro needed to change his look to fit in with the other characters. Electro’s classic green onesie wouldn’t even cut it at SantaCon, that most awful of New York City traditions.
“Basically what we did is you look at these classic characters and you think about what’s classic about it, or what’s iconic,” Chew says. “For me, it was the green and the yellow coloring, and then also that star. What we did was we just put that star, kept it on his head but we actually translated it into a scar on his face. So if you look at the scar on his face, it’s actually star-shaped.”
Fortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie, which departed from the original color palette to turn Jamie Foxx into a blue nightmare, Insomniac honored Electro’s green and yellow while adding a modern twist to the villain’s abilities
“We kept the colors. The green and the yellow. But we actually created a vest that basically gives him the power to have electricity. Because I believe in the comics, it was a little bit more magical. That’s one example of translating something that has been done before into something that’s more modern and recognizable.”
Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man and his world accomplishes something that has sometimes proved to be a bit difficult for other game studios and major film studios: a modern re-telling of the Spidey mythos that subverts the original material while still celebrating it and translating it for a new era. Marvel’s Spider-Man is indeed amazing.
Marvel’s Spider-Man is out now exclusively for the PlayStation 4.