“I would love to be able to talk about that,” Ben Arfmann, the Narrative Director of Spider-Man 2 tells me in the most apologetic, sincere way after a particularly spoilery, forward-looking question. “We love this game. Are so excited about this game. I’m really hoping that fans love it in the same way that we do. And we’re going to be so lucky to get to tell more stories. [But], for right now, I think what we can talk about is the game that comes out October 20.”
Earlier this week, io9 sat down to not just play several hours of Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man 2, which comes to PlayStation 5 on October 20, we got to grill Arfmann and Spider-Man 2 Advanced Sr. Writer Lauren Mee about all things Spider-Man, Spider-Verse, and more. And sure, on a few occasions, those questions were unanswerable. But Afrmann and Mee were happy to provide a few teases, as well as a ton of insight into the development of the new game.
We talked about playing as two Spider-Men, all the new villains, the side characters, the Across the Spider-Verse cameo, making Spider-Man stories in a world that’s madder than ever about the character and so much more. Check it out below!
Germain Lussier, io9: I’d like to start big picture. How is this game more of a true sequel to the original game than the Miles Morales game?
Ben Arfmann: I don’t use terms like “true sequel.” In our mind, all these stories are essential chapters in the Spider-Man story that we’re telling across them. It is a culmination of the last two titles because we told a story about Peter, we told a story about Miles, no this is really a story about the two of them. And for me, the thing I’m most excited about this is two playable Spider-Men and the way that we weave them back and forth. I think that’s super, super exciting. So for me, that’s why it feels like this is essential.
Lauren Mee: Yeah. And one thing that I think is really cool about Spider-Man 2 is that in both Spider-Man 1 and in Miles, it feels like we’re seeing them kind of the beginning of their journey where in this game we’re getting deep into some of the most challenging moments of their Spider career. Like they think they’re at the top of their game, but then by the time we get towards the middle of the game you go ‘Oh, man, there’s a lot here that they really need to unpack and learn about themselves to be better men and better heroes.’
io9: Earlier today we learned that the game gives you the chance to flip between the characters at certain points in the game. Tell me a little bit about how that impacts the story, how you kind of write it, how far it goes, etc.
Mee: So the place where we see this the most is in the open-world content. So you’ll see there are multiple different press lines, crimes, and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man moments where we have lines that account for which Spider-hero you’re playing at the time. So it feels really unique to each of them. And you might have seen this as you were playing through, but there are parts where one of them will swing in and come and help the other spider hero out. So you do get that sense that either Spider-Man can do almost anything. But then there are other moments that are really specific to them in their stories.
Arfmann: Yeah. In the main storyline, we’re really going for maximum dramatic impact. So it’s kind of cinematic where the handoffs between the characters are choreographed to be the most emotional, intense moments. But then, like Lauren is saying, in the open world with a lot of side content, the cool thing is that you can switch between the two heroes. There’s some content that’s exclusive to either Pete or Miles, but there’s a lot of stuff like Lauren was saying, we can do it as either hero, and the amount of play or expression that that gives is really cool and fun. And it’s complicated because you have to account for all of these what-ifs. Like what if the player does five of these pieces of content as Miles? But that it’s a fun challenge. It makes the job fun.
io9: So obviously Miles is used in the first game which acted like a little tease of what’s next. Then Peter appears briefly in Miles’s game. How early on did you have the concept of this particular game where you have a single story with both of them and they’re both playable? How early was that the goal?
Arfmann: My memory is this was a thing from the beginning. I know that I was always super excited when I came on the first Spider-Man game, the fact that we had Miles in the game. Like, even though it was human-playable Miles for most of it, right? That was always the promise and excitement. So that’s been a thing that we’ve been working towards for a while, and it was really foundational when we were figuring out what this game was going to be like, what the themes are, what the gameplay is like with two playable heroes. A question I know that we asked ourselves a lot was, ‘Okay, how is it different with two Spideys? How does this story change because you’ve got two Spider-Men? So it’s from the beginning.
io9: Well the timing certainly worked out. Spider-Man: No Way Home had three Spider-Man. The Spider-Verse movies have hundreds. How much does it help you knowing that the idea of there being more than one Spider-Person has become that much more prevalent in the mainstream in recent years?
Mee: I mean, I feel like seeing Spider-Man be popular in all these different ways is really exciting. It feels like it’s empowering, motivating. I mean, it’s great.
Arfmann: You know, when we’re telling our stories, we’re focused on telling our stories. And so, like, when we’ve been architecting these games and the narrative that we want to get to, it’s just focusing on our characters. But definitely, like we love Spider-Man. No Way Home is incredible. Across the Spider-Verse is so much fun. And I think the pleasure for me as a fan is seeing all these different interpretations, all these different characters feeling like every type of person who comes to interact with one of these Spider-Man titles can find a hero that they might see in themselves or somebody they love which is such a special experience.
Note: James Stevenson, Director, Community and Marketing, Insomniac Games, was sitting in on the interview and at this moment chimed in.
James Stevenson: To add a little bit, go back nine years ago when we started making these, Bryan [Intihar, Creative Director as Insomniac] was thinking about adding Miles then and we didn’t know anything about Spider-Verse, and we didn’t know about the Homecoming films. So we were making this stuff kind of siloed from Sony Pictures Animation and Marvel Studios, then we’re seeing all the cool stuff they’re doing. And now we talk more. But yeah, early on it was like everyone is in their own little separate silos and we’re all building stuff that you know, is interestingly related but we had no idea at the time.
Arfmann: Totally. I remember working on Miles. We knew we were going to do Miles for a while, and it was before the first Spider-Verse film had come out. So public awareness of Miles was not as great beyond comic fans. But like, as we were working on that, I remember meeting with the Sony Pictures guys, right, and talking about what they were doing. And it was like everybody had this vibe of like, “Dude Miles is dope, this is going to be so much fun.”
io9: The best example of that type of crossover is the Insomniac Spider-Man appearing briefly in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (seen above). I’m not sure you’ll be able to answer but how did that come about? What were those conversations like? And either way how excited were you when you found out?
Arfmann: Yeah I mean I think that’s a little bit above both our pay grades. [Laughs] But I do know that, like you’ve got team members at the studio who talk very closely with SPA, Sony Pictures Animation. There’s a lot of cross-pollination that happens there, but that was a thing that we knew about and were working on for a while beforehand. Like James was saying, there’s a lot of awareness across both worlds right now, which is fun. And it’s cool that like there’s a little bit of overlap, but they’re very much their own stories so it’s giving fans many different flavors.
io9: So now that fans are getting more used to this multiverse idea, is there any chance that’s something the games could tackle? I mean, maybe it’s teased in this game, I obviously haven’t played the whole thing, but have you considered maybe teasing something like that for the future?
Arfmann: I mean...there are things that we can talk about today. It’s mostly what you experienced. I would say that we were really focused on telling stories about our two Spider-Men in the world that they live in and the drama that exists there and that’s the focus for this game.
io9: Okay, well, we do know this game tackles one of the most famous Spider-Man stories with the black symbiote suit. Tell me what you can about the decision to make that a part of the game and what that was like?
Arfmann: I mean, it’s definitely it’s a thing that we were really hyped on. And again, we’ve been very lucky that we’ve gotten to tell this many stories in the Spider-Man world. We did know that we wanted to do something with the symbiote when we were working on the first game. And like, I think that we were so excited to add to that lore, to tell another great symbiote story, to tell a really amazing Venom story in particular. And we shared some of that today, but there’s a lot for fans to discover when they play the game. That’s one of the things that I’m most excited about. And I do think that this is a fantastic Venom story that stands out very proudly from the rest of the world.
io9: I know everyone is very excited about that too. But there was no Venom at all in the demo we played. So I have to ask, how integral is he? Can you give me a percentage? Because it seems like things start with Kravem and the Lizard and Venom’s part in this is being kept secret.
Arfmann: I definitely can’t say percentage-wise. [Laughs] What I can say is we were sitting down with a couple of our animation leads and we were talking through some of the sequences in the game and there are some sequences in the game when we’re reviewing them over the last couple of weeks related to Venom where we’re like, “Man, at some point somebody should have told us no.” Because it’s crazy. The stuff that happens is wild. There are some really big moments that I’m so excited for people to get to experience.
io9: Fair enough. That’s awesome. So we’ve got Venom, we’ve got Kraven, we’ve got Lizard. The Osborns are in the demo and obviously the previous two games used a lot of villains. Talk about the importance and challenge of balancing Spidey’s rogue’s gallery.
Arfmann: That is one of the most fun aspects of Spider-Man, is he’s got this incredible rogue’s gallery. And I think the thing that we always focus on when we’re working on our projects and I know Bryan talked about this, too. The man under the mask is as important, if not more important, than the mask. So we really look at how these different villains challenge the human being. Like, how do they challenge Pete, how to challenge Miles? The conflict between Miles and Martin Lee, with their history with Miles’ father is really big. Lauren architected a lot of the Miles/Martin Lee part and that has got some of my favorite moments across any medium in terms of like really big emotional meaty stuff. So usually whether it’s like the Osborns or Curt Connors, we’re looking for that human connection. And so when we’re thinking about these rogues, it’s like, how can each of them pull the heroes in different directions and challenge different aspects of them and start to get at that growth Lauren is talking about.
io9: Another thing that’s great about these games is also we get so many of the other Spider-Man characters. Mary Jane, Ganke, etc. Tell me a bit about developing their stories this time around. Plus how much more to do might they have in this game?
Arfmann: Yeah, I mean, I would say that they’re both definitely in the game. [Laughs]
Mee: Yes. Something that’s really exciting to me about our side characters is that they also tie into the core themes of our main characters. So like, where both Pete and Miles are struggling very deeply with the man in the mask, in a way, MJ kind of is too, because she has this new role with Jonah as her boss. And she’s always been someone who’s really dedicated to truth. And when you have someone as your boss who dictates the rest of your life, you have to just find that balance between like, who am I as a journalist and a human being, and who am I as someone who needs to pay my bills, try to make a difference. And it’s funny because, like, Ganke in a way has to balance those things to where he also is going to school and he’s also trying to go to college. But then he’s this support system for the Spider-Bros. You don’t have Spider-Man without Ganke. So yeah, he’s trying to balance all those things to see that in their relationships with each other.
Arfmann: I’m also really excited that Hailey is in the game. Hailey Cooper, who’s a character from Miles, returns and is maybe a little bit of a romantic interest for Miles. Like I’m really excited about Hailey in this game, but specifically, the moments between her and Miles. Our two actors Nadji [Jeter] and Natasha [Ofili] are so much fun together, and it’s really special from the start.
io9: I love that. Back to villains, because we love them, what if anything can you talk about the line between starting with Kraven and eventually leading to Venom, if that’s even right from what we’ve seen?
Arfmann: So I can’t speak to the order of operation but there’s definitely like the world’s greatest hunter in a story that also features like this terrible monster Venom. It’s like “Oh, man.” That was really juicy right from the beginning. Some of my favorite sequences in the game involve some...paths crossing. But I can’t talk about the order of events or anything
Mee: They feel very connected. They don’t feel like two disparate things that happen. Their stories make a lot of sense together.
io9: These days, when we’re talking about Marvel, we love to talk about what’s next. Even before the new thing comes out we’re looking to the future. And these games have done that in the past. They always have some DNA that ends up following through to the next game. So, what can you say about what this game, Spider-Man 2, may tease about where future games could go in the future?
Arfmann: I mean, I would love to be able to talk about that. We love this game. Are so excited about this game. I’m really hoping that fans love it in the same way that we do. And we’re going to be so lucky to get to tell more stories. [But], for right now, I think what we can talk about is the game that comes out October 20.
io9: The game that could hypothetically, possibly tease, what might be coming in the future?
Mee: Well, the dream is that you finish the game and go “Holy shit. I need more of this.”
Stevenson: Maybe there’s a post-credits scene.
Arfmann: Yeah it’s definitely a Marvel experience.
Spider-Man 2 hits PS5 on October 20.
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