In the wake of last year’s Arkham Asylum, it must be tough to be given the task to develop a new comic book-influenced videogame, but Activision and Beenox have a few surprises up their sleeve with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Such as doing away with a lot of the trappings that have been repeated over the recent cycle of games featuring ol’ web-head, including open-world segments and an explorable New York City, in favour of something more linear and story-driven.
Shattered Dimensions‘ most striking aspect, however, comes from its central flourish. The story takes place across four separate dimensions, each corresponding to a particular spin on the Spider-Man character. Only two have been announced so far, and they are the Amazing and Noir universes, with the former being the familiar world of the hero’s main ongoing series, and the latter being the dark, Depression-era re-imagining from 2009’s limited series.
Each universe has a distinct look and approach, with the Amazing missions bathed in primary colour washes, and featuring a focus on various web-slinging attacks.
At the recent London preview event, a mission was shown from an early, rough build of the game, in which Spidey was taken out of New York, and sent to a wild jungle in order to battle Kraven the Hunter. The Noir level, however, was based around a shady, gritty palette of light and shadow. This time around, stealth was key, as Spider-Man swung from ground to perch, out of sight, in order to perform take-downs on goons in an industrial estate operated by mafia boss, Hammerhead.
It is certainly an intriguing set-up, although this is more of a tease than anything to justify significant anticipation. The two unannounced universes will prove key to this, as with ‘stealth’ and ‘fast paced action’ gameplay modes out of the way, it’s a little tough to think of other Spidey incarnations that could offer such distinct playing styles. (Any true believers out there got a hunch? We’re thinking maybe Spider-Man 2099. Grant us your wisdom in the comments!)
More information will trickle out as we edge nearer to the game’s September release date, but for the time being, I had the chance to pick the brains of the game’s executive producer, Meghan Morgan, and producer, Kevin Umbricht, asking them to fill us in on Shattered Dimensions‘ plot (that reportedly has contributions from Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott), as well as explain their approach to the character.
As this isn’t a movie tie-in game, it seems you’ve had a lot of freedom to take a different approach with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. How did that develop from the planning stage?
Meghan Morgan: Yes, tonnes of freedom. We really wanted to identify what we’d done successfully in a lot of our previous Spider-Man games, and also figure out what the fans enjoyed, figure out how to highlight those things, but then also add an element of freshness, and give the fans a brand new experience while still staying true to who Spider-Man is.
Kevin Umbricht: Working on the comic license, as opposed to the movie license, means we’re not locked into any specific story, any specific characters. So, we came up with the concept first, that there was going to be these four different universes. There’s hundreds of alternate universes for Spider-Man, so we focused in on four that we thought would make for great gameplay, and that would also work with each other and contrast each other. So that you’d have a variety of experience, but a very cohesive experience.
So, you are having these four different universes, which are being tied together by an over-arching story. Could you fill us in on this main narrative?
KU: We’ve created the story with Marvel. Throughout Marvel history there have been a few of these tablets, the Tablet of Life and Time, and they just introduced, a few years ago, a sister tablet, the Tablet of Death and Entropy, so we have created, in conjunction of those tablets, The Tablet of Order and Chaos, which holds all the universes apart from one another.
And Spider-Man, in a fight, inadvertently shatters the tablet, and the pieces are spread across the different universes. So, each of the Spider-Men in each of those universes is enlisted to go and find the shard of the tablets. And each of the pieces fall into the hands of the villains, who are the major bosses in that universe. So, they are bestowed with additional powers, based on having the tablet, so you’ll fight them in their traditional form, and an enhanced form later on.
And as the pieces are collected, they’re reformed, and order is restored.
As a comic fan, I really appreciate this multiple universe approach, because with films and games that are adapted from comics, they try to make an amalgamated, idealised version of the character, which is quite the opposite of what is great about comics, where you can have multiple ongoing books, limited series, one-shots and short pieces showing different sides of the same character.
You’ve only announced two of the universes you’re using so far – the Amazing and the Noir ones – but could you tell us about the process you went through in choosing these distinct takes on the Spider-Man character?
MM: In terms of the Amazing and the Noir universes, they’re both visually very distinctive from each other. That’s one of the main reasons, when we looked at which of the main universes we wanted to choose, we wanted to choose universes that would provide, graphically, a lot of interesting variety for the player, but also where Spider-Man felt somewhat different in each universe, so we could really provide unique gameplay moments or experiences for the player that differ from universe to universe.
We haven’t announced what the other two universes are yet, but we can tell you that they are as different from each other as the two that we’ve announced today. And they’re just as exciting and deep and visually stimulating.
KU: We had a real great opportunity with the Noir comics just coming out. They’re brand new, four issues last year, and four issues are just coming out now. So, we’re really giving the fans of this series its own game, but we’re also doing the reverse of giving the casual Spider-Man fan, who might not know the Noir universe, giving them exposure to it, hopefully. So, then they could go out and read the comics.
But we’ve also had the chance, since there’s not that much history in that universe, to work directly with Marvel to flesh out the universe a little a bit. We were able to create villains that are exclusive to the game, like Hammerhead. He isn’t in the Noir comics, but we worked with Marvel to create him. It was a fun playground to put Spider-Man into.
It’s very true to the Noir comics, he’s still Spider-Man, he still has the same abilities, but with the darker tone of the Noir comics we were able to bring that to the videogame itself.
MM: On the flipside, with the Amazing universe, because that is the classic Spider-Man that is known and loved by everyone, that’s a must have in every Spider-Man game. And as Kevin said, we wanted to maintain the essence of who Spider-Man really is, and not take anything away from his core competencies. To provide the player with everything they would expect from a Spider-Man game, and then more. And that’s one of the main reasons of choosing the Amazing universe as well.
I know you can’t talk about the other two universes you’re using, but will they be familiar to Spider-Man fans? Are they based on established takes on the character?
KU: …sure. [laughs] I mean, you have Amazing, that everyone knows. You have Noir, that probably a small set of people would know. So, you’ve already got our spectrum. So, I think it’s safe to say the others fall in between. We’re not creating anything specific. This is something the fans will know and enjoy.
Meghan Morgan and Kevin Umbricht, thank you very much!
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions will be available for PS3 and Xbox 360, and in Nintendo Wii and DS versions too.