Spider-Man: Edge of Time – Interview With Executive Producer Brant Nicholas

As a pretty big fan of comics and someone who grew up with the love of Spider-Man, it always excites me to see that a new Spider-Man game is being made. At the same time, I’m always a bit cautious because many of these games turn out, well, to put it in a nice way – bad. With Beenox’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions that was released last year, new life was breathed into the webslinger and I have to say, I loved it. Needless to say, when Activision put Beenox in charge of all future Spider-Man game development, I was pretty relieved that future titles were in capable hands.

In anticipation of Beenox’s next endeavor with Spidey, I was able to pass a few questions by Brant Nicholas, executive producer at Beenox to find out a little bit more on the newest Spider-Man game, Spider-Man: Edge of Time, before its launch next week. I was able to find out more details on the story, maps and environment,  costume and rewards unlocks, fan-service, and even the possibility of multiplayer in future Spider-Man games(?). Plus Nicholas gave his thoughts not only on Edge of Time but comic book games in general. Here’s the full interview including some of the questions that you all (our readers) submitted:

Executive Producer Brant Nicholas, Beenox

GxC: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, that Beenox also developed, was pretty successful at breaking the mold which previous Spider-Man games had set for it. It brought new life to the comic book superhero(s) in video games. What kind of new experience can we expect from Edge of Time to set it apart, not only from Spider-Man games of old, but even that of Shattered Dimensions?

Brant: Spider-Man: Edge of Time is a whole new experience for our fans.  While some elements of the game (i.e. the general feeling of combat), will be intentionally similar in design to Shattered Dimensions, that is because some aspects of that game were right-on and didn’t need to be changed to deliver another awesome experience!

In contrast, one of the things our fans begged for more of was a deep, immersive narrative, that wove the personality of Spider-Man throughout the story.

In Edge of Time, our Creative Director, Gerard Lehiany, worked hand-in-hand with Peter David to create an awesome paradox of inevitable progression toward your own death as Peter Parker.

When this is combined with the cause-and-effect gameplay (called “quantum causality” in Marvel lingo), your actions in the past have direct impact on the future. Inversely, when you’re in the future, actions in the past directly change your reality. This can cause massive changes to your enemies mid-fight, seemingly simple objectives to suddenly become incredibly complex, and even the environment to change right in front of your eyes.

In addition, the temporal rifts that are opening up have had unpredictable impact on both the Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099. Each have new abilities that can be unlocked through the in-game skill-tree, allowing you to move faster than any opponent, create decoys through the technology of your suit or even create a flux around you where time is frozen just long enough to use it to your advantage.

GxC: Shattered Dimensions also took a fairly linear approach in regards to the game’s environment instead of an open world which was common in Spider-Man games before. Can we expect generally the same approach to the environment and maps in Edge of Time?

Brant: With Spider-Man: Edge of Time, our goal first and foremost was to tell a deep and immersive narrative.

Part of telling a great story however is that, at times, you need the player to go through a certain sequence of events for the story to evolve. In some ways, this is an element that every game shares in order to help the player progress.

That said, there are many different environments throughout the game that offer huge areas for exploration. One example is a giant hydroponic jungle set in the future where you have to battle bosses, and achieve multiple mission objectives in order to progress onward.

Each of these are their own sandbox area where the player just gets to have fun exploring and feeling like Spider-Man swinging all over the place and dishing out super-hero justice on tons of bad-guys.

Nevertheless, if the player remains there too long, it’s possible to lose the sense of urgency and progression of the story-line. Like everything else in games, there always has to be a balancing act involved between driving the narrative forward and exploration. Both are fun, but too much of either and they start to lose their flavor.

As always, it’s good to learn from not only your past but that of others as well. If you made a mistake, how do you correct it or avoid it? If you did something right, how can you improve on it? One of the main problems any developer has with creating a Spider-Man game is the camera and all of the angles that it can flip around in. How is that handled? Those were the ideas behind this following question sent in by a reader:

GxC: What kind of feedback did you guys take (if any) from Shattered Dimensions (and otherwise) to shape the development of Edge of Time?

Brant: As mentioned above, one of the main pieces of fan-feedback was the request for a super-deep story in Edge of Time.  Looking back, everyone on the Beenox team is super-proud of what we achieved!

We also put a ton of work into the camera animations. One of the unique problems of being Spider-Man is that the player can put the camera into some pretty impossible situations to program around. While we can’t possibly write code to take every possibility into account, it’s definitely come a long way.

GxC: So far, everything we have seen makes Spider-Man: Edge of Time look like a fairly serious and dark game. However, Spider-Man is known for his sarcasm and humor. Has the webslinger’s personality been kept intact? What kind of balance can we expect between the serious nature of the story and the generally expected comedic relief that Spider-Man provides?

Brant: Without doubt, Edge of Time opens up with a serious revelation…you see the death of the Amazing Spider-Man. From that moment onward, it’s an adrenaline-fueled race to avert that single unavoidable fate. You can’t imagine how many uber-geek arguments erupted during the development about if it is, or is not, possible to change your fate even if you know it.

For myself however, there is one inescapable truth involved here…this is Peter Parker we’re talking about. Of all the characters in the Marvel classic universe, he’s probably the one least able to resist the opportunity for a well-placed pun!

While I’ve already played through the game multiple times in a development capacity, it’s still a blast. I even still find myself laughing out loud at some of the jokes – much to my own embarrassment! Without doubt, the never-ending banter back-and-forth between the two Spideys is still my favorite part.

It’s great to know that Spider-Man is still keeping his humor despite the fact that the whole world and his life is at risk. On a bit of a side note, many of us are also waiting on some other big titles this year. With so many awesome looking games coming out, including a few comic book based titles, I was curious to find out what kind of “edge” Edge of Time would have on the competition.

GxC: Superhero games, especially ones with established comic book icons are a pretty big task to take on. With games like Batman: Arkham City, and X-Men: Destiny, coming out around Edge of Time’s release, what can gamers and comic book fans look out for that will make Edge of Time really stand out from the crowd?

Brant: In truth, we’d love it if every super-hero had their own line of games! Comics are a source of endless imagination and creativity; and, in my humble opinion, this world could use a little more of both!

Admittedly, the teams at Beenox are proudly some of the biggest Spider-Man fans in the world…and we think it shows. Fans that love the comics will probably buy them all because they love the characters and the deep story that drives through each.

One of the other elements that really makes Edge of Time shine is that you get to play Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099. The Marvel universe lets us push the character’s powers to new limits so you can do what could never happen in a more realistic universe.

GxC: In the game, gamers will play as The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099. However, you guys have added some alternate costumes such as the Identity Crisis, Future Foundation, Big Time, and the brand new Miles Morales Ultimate Spider-Man costumes. It’s always a treat for comic fans to see these. Are there any others that we can look forward to unlocking in the game?

Brant: Absolutely!  We’ve designed a system in the game called the “Web of Challenges.”  With it, any player can get special unlocks and rewards. At any time, as the player is going through the game, they will be notified that a new challenge is available. They can either choose to activate it right then in the level, or they can go back at any time and try it directly from the main menu. No more missing a challenge just because you over-wrote your save file.

With those rewards, you can purchase upgrades and mods to both Amazing and 2099, such as tons of new costumes (beyond those listed above), lots of concept art from the ‘making of’, tons of character figurines, etc. With our previous games, Beenox has shown how much we love to pack extra fan-service into our games, and we went even farther with Edge of Time.

We may have some more things to talk about for the future, but you will just have to wait and see!

GxC: Along that same line of thought – It’s not uncommon for MARVEL games to have cameos of characters from other comic books, we even saw that in Shattered Dimensions. Are there any cameos that we can expect to see in Edge of Time?

Brant: Now…that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it… ;-)

Well, you can’t say I didn’t try! At least he was a great sport about it. I’m sure we will have something sweet in store for us when the game does release. Fan-service, crossovers, and cameos, it’s kind of MARVEL’s thing. Now, with that same thought in mind, the fact that the MARVEL universe is so vast and many times several characters from different comics are found in one game, it would be pretty awesome for some co-op/competitive action to be included in a Spider-Man game, right? Well, that was the thought of one of our readers who wanted to ask this following question:

GxC: Spider-Man games are generally expected to be a single player experience, you play as Spider-Man and save the day. However, we can not ignore the massive role that multiplayer games have taken in changing the industry today. Was multiplayer ever looked at as an option for Edge of Time, or will it ever be considered for future Spider-Man games?

Brant: Our goal for this game has always been to focus on the single-player experience to give Spidey fans a deep, immersive experience playing as Spider-Man.

On the other hand, as part of Activision, it is hard to think of a company that is more passionate about delivering great multiplayer gameplay time and time again.  Rest assured that we’re working in the background to come up with super-cool stuff for each new game.  We just can’t tell you about it yet…

Now, for all of us comic fans out there, be it a fan of the books, or even just TV shows, Peter David is likely a well recognized name. For someone that has a pretty impressive resume under his belt, I can only imagine what it would have been like to work with him on this project. So I had to know, is he as awesome as his work?

GxC: Finally, stories are extremely important in comics and games in order to really involve the fans. How has it been to work on the project with an award winning comic book writer like Peter David and on something as complicated as the subject of time?

Brant: Simply put, it was awesome. Peter David is the ultimate blend of prolific bard, geek, and fanboy rolled up in one person. He loves to build complex universes in which to evolve his stories, and there is little more convoluted than the chaos caused by time-travel. I couldn’t imagine a more perfect writer to team up with!

I’m ready for it! Are you? Make sure all of you Spidey fans check out Spider-Man: Edge of Time when it hits the shelves next week, October 4th, 2011!

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