Tim O’Neil Interview: Spider-Man Web of Shadows

tim-oneil

Tim O'Neil Talks Spider-Man

Tim O’Neil / Lead Gameplay Programmer of the pending Spider-Man Web of Shadows game was kind enough to answer our questions.

GVK: What is the background and setting for the game?

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is set in New York City and at the outset of the game Venom learns how to clone his own symbiote to infect others which in turn causes Spider-man to be re-infected with the Black Suit symbiote. This event triggers a massive invasion where NYC is overrun by symbiote-infected minions of Venom and Spider-man along with a few of his friends (and enemies) is left to face off against this alien army.

GVK: What can you tell us about the A.I. in the game?

Our primary goal with the game was to marry the web-based movement that is iconic of Spider-Man with a combat system that would allow the player to fight on the ground, on the walls, in the air and while swinging. To achieve this goal we had to create enemies that could pose definite challenges to Spidey in all of these modes. The game includes friendly and hostile characters that can fight with you and against you on the ground, crawling on walls or flying through the air which was no mean feat for the A.I. team.

As encounters happen anywhere and everywhere, the ai is very aware of its surroundings. Don’t be surprised to see enemies jumping from building to building or ambushing you from the wall as you try to swing by.

The main goal of the ai is to provide you with challenges for your mechanics. Rather than have weakling enemies that you grind through until you hit a boss with completely unique mechanics, our enemies cover the difficulty spectrum with the bosses being the ultimate challenge for those skills. For instance, the shooter AI is meant to train the player to move like Spider-man. If you run up to shooters, you get shot. If you swing, bounce off the walls, and then pull yourself into them with your web from the air, they don’t stand a chance. The “heavy” AI is the opposite. They defend themselves from your aerial attacks, and want nothing more than for you to get close to them so they can smash you. They train you to use more advance techniques, like webbing and swing kicking. You won’t find any bosses that you can button mash through, but there are also a wide variety of tactics you can use to defeat them.

GVK: What are some of the locales and missions gamers will see in the game?

Most of the action in Web of Shadows takes place in and above Manhattan which is quarantined by S.H.I.E.L.D. early in the game. Rather than spending our time adding lots of unique locations we dedicated our resources into making every inch of the city be interactive and destructible. You won’t necessarily be pulling down whole city blocks or collapsing buildings, but just about everything else is destructible and reacts (explosively) to the player’s actions creating a very dynamic feeling to the city.

Players will be challenged with a wide array of missions as the story and city advance. Our focus with Web of Shadows has been to tell a compelling story and create a game where it is fun to fight your enemies in the way you would expect Spider-Man to fight with a tight integration between combat and movement. As a result most of the missions will revolve around combat, defeating enemies, protecting allies, rescuing and escorting civilians, etc, etc.

GVK: What are some of the moves players will be able to do?

Players will have access to a wide range of moves to combat their foes. My personal favorite is the swing kick which is just what the name implies. The fun part is that the faster Spidey is swinging and the better the player times his attack, the more damage will be done and the farther your targets will fly. If done properly the player can take out a dozen foes with one massive swinging kick and send them flying two city blocks down the road!

As you advance through the game over a hundred new moves become available across the Red and Black Suits that the player can add to their arsenal. Each new ability is more and more powerful and features bigger, flashier, more dramatic visuals and sound FX to highlight the action.

GVK: What gaming engine will you be using and what enhancements will it bring to the game?

For Web of Shadows we began from the Spider-Man 3 engine and overhauled it extensively. This framework allowed our team to work in parallel and to start answering some of the high level gameplay questions on cameras and combat while the underpinnings of the graphics and AI systems were being thoroughly revamped. At the end of the day there is very little old code left over and most of the outwardly visible components have been remade, but this head-start was invaluable to crafting the game we have today.


GVK: What have been some of the biggest challenges and rewards in crafting the game?

There have been a lot of really challenging aspects of this games development (aren’t there always?) but for me the two that stand out the most have been the development of the new combat system and the city transformation as the story progresses, each for different reasons.

The new combat system was a big undertaking that involved the cooperative work of designers, animators, scripters and programmers who had to collectively answer a number of questions that simply hadn’t been answered before. Sure games have individually had fantastic melee combat, great ranged combat and awesome character movement before… but to try and put all of those together so that they flowed seamlessly and to add vertical surface fighting as well was a huge leap and I’m very proud of how so many people came together to make it work.

As the game goes on and the story advances New York is transformed from its everyday, normal state into a very different place. The city begins to look like an infected warzone with rubble everywhere and signs on infection all over the place. Making these changes on such a large scale was very challenging not only for the art staff who had to create all the new assets but also for the engineers who had to figure how to fit it all into a big streaming, open-world environment. Looking at the game today and looking back at our earliest concepts I’m still amazed at how close we’ve come and in a lot of way exceeded the initial vision that we laid out for ourselves.

GVK: What sort of enemies and heroes will players face and will there be boss battles?

There absolutely are boss battles with some classic Spider-Man villains as well as some of Spidey’s old friends! As in real life, when an alien invasion occurs you can’t always trust who are your actual friends and who are your actual enemies.

GVK: How do players game new skills and abilities in the game?

The game features a robust upgrades and unlockables system that allows players to create the Spider-Man that best suits their tastes. The player is awarded experience for defeating enemies, performing long combos and completing missions. This experience can then be used to purchase upgrades or unlock new moves for the Red suit or for the Black suit, each of which have their own unique upgrade paths. As the game advances more and more abilities become available for purchase and Spidey increases in power dramatically.

In addition to the combat-driven upgrade system there is an exploration-based advancement system that rewards the player with advance swinging and jumping abilities. To facilitate the exploration upgrades, there are a massive number of collectible tokens blanketing the city and as the players collect these tokens their rating level increases. As their rating level increases they gain access to faster swing speeds, higher zip jumps as well as higher maximum health and ‘special attack’ values.

GVK: Does the game offer multiplay and if so, how does that work?

We have focused all of our energies into crafting the best single-player story experience possible and hence the game does not feature a multi-player option.

GVK: How do NPC characters figure in the game?

The NPCs in the game will serve as quest-givers, allies in combat, enemies to defeat and poor souls to escort and/or rescue at varying points through the game and these relationships will change over time based on the player’s actions and choices in the Red and Black Suits.

GVK: The scope of the last game was huge in terms of the scale of the city how has it been improved upon for this game?

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve maintained the scale of the city but gone to great lengths to make every inch of it destructible and reactive to the players’ actions. It has been a massive undertaking and we couldn’t have achieved our goals without a lot of fantastic work from the artists at both Treyarch and Shaba.

Gareth Von Kallenbach is a syndicated movie & game critic, writer, author and frequent radio guest. His work has appeared in over 60 publications worldwide and he is the creator of entertainment site "Skewed and Reviewed".