This September, Sony PlayStation and Insomniac Games will let fans swing through New York in Marvel’s first true console blockbuster game since the PlayStation 2 era. At SDCC, fans finally got a bigger glimpse into Marvel’s Spider-Man story. A narrative built by a team of writers which include comic veteran Christos Gage. At the lead of those scribes, Jon Pacquette from Insomniac Games who took part in the SDCC Hall H panel that made all our Spider dreams come true.
We got to speak with Jon shortly after Marvel Games Hall H presentation on what the crowd saw and what he’d have hoped the legendary Steve Ditko would have said about this new game’s story and experience.
COMICS BEAT: First of all I have to say congrats to the Marvel team and Insomniac for absolutely nailing the Hall H presentation. I was already excited for this game more than any Marvel game in the past 10 years but now I wish we could just skip August altogether.
So let’s start with the story trailer reveal. The trailer shown made it seem as though Norman Osborn was the main villain of the game or at least more so than Mister Negative. Was that the plan all along to red herring the audience?
Jon Pacquette: So one of the big things that we revealed was silver sable. And when we were designing the story we knew we needed to have sort of an antagonistic force in the city. And so we settled on her character and Sable International as that antagonistic force. It’s somebody that has the same mission as Spiderman, she’s there to do the same thing that Spiderman is doing which is they keep the city safe. But, naturally, those two are going to be at odds. Spider-Man is labeled the masked menace by Norman Osborn who’s in that position of power as Mayor.
CB: So have we seen the character we didn’t see at the end of the E3 footage?
Pacquette: [laughs] I’ll let you figure it out.
Mister Negative and the inner demons are still the evil force. Osborn as Mayor brings in Silver Sable to clamp down on them because he doesn’t trust Spider-Man. So we haven’t revealed just what direction Norman Osborn will take in the game, it’s something we’re guarding closely.
CB: So he’s taking the J. Jonah Jameson role.
So what was it like for you and the team to work with a seasoned comic book writer like Christos Gage?
Pacquette: It’s great. It’s great because nobody knows the Marvel universe better than Christos Gage. I’ll tell you that right now. You know, any kind of idea that we had he would he would say “Oh yeah. Back on this run in 82…” He’s really encyclopedic and it’s not just the facts that he knows about. He knows the DNA of the characters. Whenever we would have a scene that might pull a character in a different new fresh direction he would say “that’s totally cool but just keep in mind that the fans like this character because of X Y and Z. Right.” So he was an invaluable member of the team.
CB: Were you yourself a comic book fan?
Pacquette: Oh yeah! Big fan, never a writer of them though. Back when I was a kid, I had subscriptions to Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker Spectacular Spider-Man and read them voraciously.
CB: What was it like for you as a fan to get this call about doing a Spider-Man game?
Pacquette: Dream come true! We were finishing up Sunset Overdrive and there were rumors in the hallways that we might be able to work with Marvel. People were like which character should we do? should we do these characters? In my head, I’m like oh my God if we do Spider-Man I’m going to freak out because that is literally a dream come true.
When I was in film school the Raimi movies came out and I was like that is like the exact story I would want to write as a Spider-Man movie. Now here I am getting to write a Spider-Man game which is way longer than a movie, hopefully by the end on par or better.
CB: Was there a particular challenge going from a fan of, to writing the character?
Pacquette: There was definitely a transition like first I had to get over the nerves. Right. I’m sitting there at home and I’m typing my first scene, which is actually like an exploratory scene. And I type “Spider-Man” and the realization that this isn’t fan fiction, this could be real stuff in this universe I’ve loved since I was a kid hit and I felt the weight of it.
When we met Bill Rosemann and talked about how many fans there are and how important it is to get the character right, you have a little bit of paralysis there you know. It’s about write stuff, write stuff, write stuff, throw it out if it doesn’t work. You get there almost by brute force but by the end, you’ve hopefully created something people say is “cool cause it’s like this character but not totally.” So yeah it was a challenge and thankfully games take a long time to make.
CB: When it comes to making games, story sometimes falls in priority, even for studios with the best intentions, to gameplay mechanics or something else visually. When it comes to the white spider suit design was the visual in place before or was it built out of the story before you ever saw it?
Pacquette: It happened at the same time really. And the reason is mostly Bill Rosemann. He was like you know you can have whatever suit you want but there’s just got to be a natural story reason. There’s got to be a reason why it’s a white spider and a story behind that. A reason why he creates that specific suit and I think people are going to be really hooked by that arc.
CB: You get one shot at a first impression with a character that has over 1000 issues of content. How do you boil down which characters to use and fit without overstuffing the barrel?
Pacquette: We’ve we’ve had many characters in the story that are no longer in the story. Like I mentioned in the panel we do a lot of rewriting a lot of stuff. I mean all of us on the team are in love with the Spider-Man universe and in love with all characters and we want to use them as much as we can but in the ways that tell the best story.
So yeah I mean that was definitely one of the more challenging parts because at some point you reach saturation. You don’t want to have too many characters in the story you just can’t really grok what is happening in the story. So you know eventually. We got to the point where we’re like OK that’s enough, we can’t really support more characters in the story.
CB: Insomniac has said there will be additional story DLC. Is there a chance we’ll see those characters removed from the script in any of that DLC?
Pacquette: You might. Currently, we have three DLC projects planned.
CB: Most games now want these massive worlds or sort of put too many locations that story can’t support. How important was it for Insomniac to put a central focus on New York and keep the audience there?
Pacquette: What does it mean to embody the character of Peter Parker when you’re playing a game? It’s all about the play of your Spider-Man fantasy. So if I want to be Spider-Man right, I also want to be Peter Parker and I want to live in New York City. Those two things kind of go together. So we didn’t really talk much beyond that because we wanted to get New York City right.
Plus it’s really fun to swing through tall buildings.
CB: Was there a moment in this process where you said you were on the right track with this game?
Pacquette: Yeah I’ll give you a little anecdote. You know, we do usability tests all the time, we bring in people to play the game and make sure that our messaging is working, make sure that people know where to go, what to do. You know, they don’t get stuck in a place that’s too hard or whatever. All games do that. But we also asked story questions like “Were you ever confused at all?” We’ve done these useability test throughout the last several months and the scores kept getting higher and higher, I think as the cutscenes got more polished. And I think story was one of those areas people are really in love with, which for me I’m like “Yes!”
There’s a moment, you know, we all have that moment where we’re like — I have no idea what I’m doing–. It’s a syndrome. It’s like oh my God nobody knows if this is going to work. And I went out to dinner with the God of War guys after they shipped and I’m like you guys made a great game, tell me all your secrets. They were like, “We didn’t know it was going to work, about three or four months before and we still had no idea.” So I think it’s common with everybody.
CB: Those are always great stories to hear from developers. Lastly, once the game is in people’s hands and we’re all loving it; what would you have liked to hear from someone like the late great Steve Ditko about this game if you could have shown this to him?
Pacquette: “It makes me feel like Spider-Man.”
I think it’s the highest compliment especially coming from somebody like Steve Ditko. That’s what we’re really trying to do. Like I said, it goes back to that fantasy think we all as kids dream about. Putting on our web shooters and you know putting on that spider and swinging through the skies. That’s what video games let you do.
I’m looking forward to having people play this and experience something good, something exciting, something action-oriented, maybe a little sad at times. That’s what being Peter Parker is all about.
COMICS BEAT: Thank you to Insomniac and Marvel Games. It’s insane that the game teased three E3’s ago and headlined Sony’s presentation on two of them, is finally nearly here. PlayStation’s exclusive Spidey game just carved out a new milestone as the only game to headline a presentation in SDCC’s illustrious Hall H. A place usually reserved for the Jason Momoa’s and Robert Downey Jr’s of the world.
Marvel’s Spider-Man will swing into retail exclusively for the PlayStation 4 on September 7, 2018.