When Activision says "Spider-Man is timeless" they're speaking a little more literally than most. Last year's Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions had a comic book writer (in that case, Dan Slott) tell the story of four Spider-Mans across space and time. This year, for Spider-Man: Edge of Time, they've hired a comic book writer, Peter David, to tell the story of two Spider-Mans across time.
This time around, however, developer Beenox is making these two disparate Spider-Mans inextricably linked, with their fates so intertwined that things you do in one time as Amazing Spider-Man will save – or damn your brother-in-arms Spider-Man 2099. For more on these two characters and the adventure you'll guide them through this fall, we sat down with Associate Producer Kevin Umbricht.
Newsarama: Kevin, the first thing Spider-Man fans will recognize here are the voices. We have Josh Keaton, who voiced Spectacular Spider-Man and the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man TV series and Christopher Daniel Barnes, the 90s Spidey here as Amazing and 2099; why do people keep going back to these guys for this character?
Kevin Umbricht: Well that was crucial to the story. We really wanted to go very story-heavy with this, and that meant getting the right Spideys to pull it off. There's some heavy subject matter; yes it's a comic game, yes it's time travel, but it's really about these guys having to work together with the limitation of not being in the same room together, learning to trust each other with only their voices. They're leading each other to certain areas, achieving certain goals.
Nrama: How much freedom were you able to give Peter David in crafting the story?
Umbricht: As much freedom as he wanted! He worked with Beenox, we went up, sat in a room for an entire week and hashed out the bare bones of the story, all the plot twists and characters we wanted to put in there. So he was integral. Beenox came up with the concept of the two Spider-Mans working together across time and these cause-and-effect gameplay moments affecting the other universe.
Nrama: So you knew you were using 2099 when you went to him?
Umbricht: Yeah, this story was starting to be developed while we were working on Shattered Dimensions, the idea came up, "What if we did this interconnected gameplay" and it didn't really work for that game. So we thought we'd focus on it for the next game, pitched the idea, got it greenlit, and Marvel was on board with the concept. We really wanted to start right away, right when Shattered was finished, to go into this game.
Nrama: What's the big advantage to keeping it going down two roads at the same time versus making one really focused Spider-Man game?
Umbricht: Well it is one really focused Spider-Man game! It's hard for me to explain without giving away too many plot details… Yes, you're ping-ponging back and forth between the two timelines and controlling the different Spider-Mans at different points in time, but it's all intertwined in this one story so really it's the overarching story of this alternate timeline that's created, and the two of them working together to both restore the original timeline and avoid the death of Peter Parker.
Nrama: What else can you tell us about the new 2099 character that Peter David created that is behind all this?
Umbricht: His name is Walker Sloan. He's head of the time research laboratory at Alchemax. He's not as noble as Miguel, and he really wants to rebuild the company in his own image. He can't get to the top, so he's going to use his technology to go back in the past, start Alchemax with all the knowledge of the company from the future, but start it before the technology boom. So he's ahead of the curve on everything, and able to build the corporation up much bigger and more powerful than all of the other conglomerates.
Nrama: We saw him, we saw Anti-Venom (in the closed door presentation); are there any other villains you can talk about yet?
Umbricht: Not now… we'll be rolling them out, giving you the slow tease.
We're really excited about Anti-Venom because he ties so heavily into the story. We wanted to introduce him to an audience that maybe doesn't read the comics, say "this is why we chose this character, he has these abilities to cure people, normally used for the power of good." But because he can cure, he's really the only character that can once-and-for-all defeat Spider-Man. Because the essence of Spider-Man is the radioactive spider; you take that away from him, he's once again just this 20 something nerd. A little bit easier to defeat than a superhero.
Nrama: Can you answer this… will we see any crossover of villains, where we see Miguel fighting villains from the Amazing timeline or vice-versa?
Umbricht: We have… it's safe to assume… we're gonna have fun with both timelines. What you know of the 2099 universe, we're gonna mix things up a little bit, so you may see new characters there, but you'll also see big things happening in the present day as well.
Nrama: All people really want is Ravage 2099 to show up in this video game.
Umbricht: No, they don't. No. They. Don't. (laughs)
Unfortunately, that character didn't fit within our story. (laughs)
Nrama: What are some of the mechanics that you developed or carried over from Shattered Dimensions to make these two characters feel unique?
Umbricht: It was an expansion from Shattered Dimensions, basically. We used the combat from the last game as a jumping off point, then built it from there. "How can we really differentiate these characters? How can we get the fighting styles very different?" We didn't want just here's another Spider-Man doing kinda the same thing. So we were focusing on more ranged attacks and abilities for Amazing Spider-Man. Using the webbing a lot more, using his spider-sense and this new move called Hyper Sense, which is tapping into his spider-sense to do combat moves as well as evasive techniques. We were really focusing on the elegance of his combat and the acrobatics.
Whereas Miguel is more in-your-face. He's close quarters, using his talons a lot for swiping attacks. He has pulsing energy area attacks, things like that. So we really give them their unique feel for the combat as well as their personalities.
Nrama: I think some people will be surprised that have seen some of the early screenshots that it's what the gameplay actually looks like in motion. What kind of overhauls did you guys do to the graphics engine for this?
Umbricht: Pretty much everything. This is the next evolution of Beenox's proprietary engine. So as much as they come up with a new game and new storyline and new characters, they come up with new ways to bring that on the screen with new tech, new effects, new everything. So it really is the next step.
Umbricht: Well aside from the epic boss battles against characters you've never fought in a Spidey game before, it's really the cause-and-effect tie-ins to the story. Because the timelines are linked together by the time gateways between the two timelines, the actions of one Spidey in his time directly affect the other. So while you're playing the Amazing "present day," things that you do will affect the narrative, and you see the immediate affect going on via the picture-in-picture. You're not only seeing what's at stake, but also what you've done. Sometimes it'll go as planned and tad you'll have saved the day, but sometimes, because it's time travel and you never really know what's going to happen when you change something, that butterfly effect, you'll get a completely different outcome from what you were expecting. And then while you're playing on the other side in the future, you have to react to what the other Spider-Man is doing off screen. So if he defeats enemies or destroys things, the world around you will change. So you'll be going down one path and boom, a wall comes up in front of you and you have to find a way around it. Enemies can appear and disappear; things are constantly in flux in the future.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!