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Beenox on the Trials and Tribulations of Developing a Spider-Man Game

“I think Beenox’s take on the Spider-Man franchise allowed fans to get excited to play a Spider-Man game again.”

Between 2001 and 2007, Beenox did not develop a single original game. Instead, the studio worked as a porting house, adapting at least 15 games for PC and Mac, including several movie tie-ins such as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Madagascar, and Spider-Man 3. Beenox’s experience with movie tie-ins led to the studio’s original work on The Bee Movie in 2007 and Monsters vs. Aliens in 2009, and its experience porting Spider-Man games resulted in the studio being handed the reigns to develop original Spider-Man titles in 2010.

As part of Spider-Man Week, OnlySP spoke to Beenox co-studio head and creative director Thomas Wilson about the company’s work on Spider-Man games.

Wilson worked as creative director on Beenox’s first original Spider-Man game, Shattered Dimensions. “I was overseeing the game development from start to finish; from the early brainstorming sessions all the way to the final product that shipped on the shelves […] I was art directing, level designing, and working on storytelling all at the same time!”

The game had a strong effect on the developer and, in retrospect, is viewed as one of its greatest accomplishments. “Our goal (and our mandate) was to rejuvenate the franchise and create excitement around gameplay innovation,” Wilson said. “I was, of course, familiar with the character, but not as much as our senior producer, who was a diehard comic book fan. As I was looking for inspiration, I turned to him and asked: ‘Is there anything in the comic book franchise we haven’t seen translated into a video game yet?’ I got immediately hooked when he showed me comics of Spider-Man 2099 and Spider-Man Noir.”

Shattered Dimensions is iconic for featuring Spider-Men from four different realities Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 2099, and Ultimate Spider-Man. Bringing these four characters together presented a fantastic opportunity for Beenox. “Shattered Dimensions was packed with content fans could sink their teeth into, with four different Spider-Men to play and 13 villains to fight,” said Wilson. “Although I wish we had more time to polish the final product, the team delivered a fresh, fun, and visually distinctive experience that fans still remember to this day.”

“It was an honour to work with Marvel and to design games with such an iconic character […] Having the opportunity to start fresh with Shattered Dimensions was extremely exciting. Digging for reference within the comic book space, brainstorming about which villain Spidey should be fighting, designing the combat system and boss encounters […] it was a blast!”

This unique dynamic also presented some fun encounters for the studio, as Wilson recalls one of his favourite events: “Comic Con! Meeting the fans, seeing their reactions as they see the trailer or the game for the first time. I was blown away when I got to the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions panel and saw four guys dressed up as our four Spider-Men!”

Beenox Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions Comic-Con

Following its work on Shattered Dimensions, Beenox was tasked with developing the game based on Marc Webb’s 2012 film The Amazing Spider-Man. “I started as the art director on The Amazing Spider-Man but eventually ended up as the creative director for both titles,” Wilson explained. “As the art director, my responsibility was to design the world and the visual language for the first time, including the look of the city, the characters, and the enemies you had to fight. When I moved back to the creative director role, my tasks were similar to […] Shattered Dimensions.”

As a moviegoer, Wilson was incredibly excited to be working on the film’s video game adaptation. “You can imagine how much I was geeking out when we were sitting down somewhere in Sony’s office reading the script ahead of time in full confidentiality before everyone else! Visiting Sony’s studios while the movie was in pre-production [and] talking to the concept artists and costume designers who were creating the magic was exhilarating.”

The Amazing Spider-Man marked the character’s return to an open-world environment. “Although fans enjoyed our level-based approach, we could see the need for a return to the open-world genre,” said Wilson. “Refactoring our proprietary engine, we built a city editor from the ground up to let artists and designers build an entire city in the shortest time possible. In parallel, we started crafting open-world game design and mechanics, so players could enjoy the freedom of fighting crime and swinging through the city.”

The move to an open world was a decision that Wilson believes the community accepted. “I think it was perceived as a welcomed return to Spider-Man’s home turf […] To this day, I’m still being told by people who learn we’ve been making these games how much fun they had swinging through Manhattan or fighting a particular villain. It always warms my heart because, after all, we do this for the fans!”

“People have no idea how much love, passion, and care go into making these games. Are they perfect? Far from it! Do we wish we had more time, more budget, more resources to develop them? Of course! But by the end of the day, we can only hope there’s a kind somewhere having a blast playing our games.”

After all his work on Spider-Man games, Wilson has one particular memory that stands out to him in particular. “All of this work also allowed me to meet Stan Lee in person. Not only did I get to meet him, but I also got to play his bodyguard on the way to our booth! The security team was short on staff, so they asked us to form a circle around him to push the crowd en route to where Stan Lee would be signing autographs. Achievement unlocked!”

Beenox Spider-Man Stan Lee
Thomas Wilson (far right) with Stan Lee.

With today’s release of Insomniac Games’s Spider-Man, Wilson only had positive comments to make. “I must say I’ve been watching the development […] very closely. As a fan of Insomniac’s games, I look forward to play it and see what they created. In all honestly, it also brings a sense of nostalgia and it makes me realize how much I wish we could have had five years to develop any of our Spider-Man games.”

“Let’s hope Insomniac sets the stage for a long and successful Spider-Man future.”

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