Spider-Man 2 is a big moment for both the series and the PlayStation 5. As a PS5 exclusive, Spider-Man stands to be able to leverage the platform’s technology in ways that previous games in the series have not. As part of our big Spider-Man 2 hands-on preview, IGN had the opportunity to sit down and interview several members of the Spider-Man 2 development team, where we asked the team about all the ways the upcoming sequel is leveraging the PS5’s tech.
Our interviews are broken up into two: the first is an interview with Mike Fitzgerald, the Director of Core Technology at Insomniac, and Jeannette Lee, who is the Project Director for Spider-Man 2, which dives a bit more into the technical side of developing Spider-Man 2. The second interview is with Doug Sheen, the Senior Programming Director at Insomniac talks a bit more about the programming side of things
Check out the full interview below, as all the rest of our Spider-Man 2 coverage ahead of its release on October 20.
‘A culmination of everything we’ve learned developing for PS5’
So, being developed from the ground up for the PlayStation 5, what have you managed to push further now that you’re developing just for next-gen?
Mike Fitzgerald, Director of Core Technology: For us, this is really a culmination of everything we’ve learned about developing for this console. We did Spider-Man Remastered, Miles Morales, and Ratchet and Clank. And so as our fourth title for the PS5, we’ve really gotten to leverage everything we’ve seen in developing those games. Our performance mode for this title is as ray tracing on by default. We’ve really expanded that ray tracing, ray trace reflections throughout the game. It’s on the water and the oceans and really gives more realistic picture everywhere.
We of course, use the SSD and the storage solution on the console to really even more affect gameplay-wise. In the first couple of Spider-Man games, we really used it to get rid of the loading screens, but now you see it getting used to offer faster traversal through the world. When you come off those slingshots in the open world, I think you’re going about three times as fast as we could in the first game, and our fast travel and character switching, just really open up that space and let you do more. I mean on top of that we have characters that are more detailed and lifelike that help us tell better, more nuanced stories.
Jeannette Lee, Spider-Man 2 Project Director: We also have the Dual Sense controller with the haptics and that adds a layer of immersion that is really awesome that we get to play with. So you saw in our demo and the particle accelerator having to hit that sweet spot. In addition, all of our cool audio technology 3D audio, so you get to hear iconic Tony Todd Venom in that sort of immersive, it’s spooky. It’s really like the first time we heard that performance was really something really great.
What did you do with the audio specifically?
JL: Sound? We have 3D audio and a whole new suite of sort of, you’re technical.
MF: Well, I’ll just say our audio team has been working with 3D audio pipelines now for a little while on this console and they’ve really figured out how to do it really well and they approach designing all these missions and the soundscapes for these missions in a new way with ambisonics and positional audio for even more of the objects that are in the scene. So whether you’re in the middle of that Emily-May Foundation area and you have people up on different balconies and behind you, you can hear where everything’s coming from even to greater effect than in our past games.
So back in Miles, you were talking about a temporal solution that allowed you to offer different graphical options. So how have the graphical options been? You sort of touched on it a little bit, is my question.
MF: So really the foundation for how we decide to render things is we like to have our resolution be dynamic and then we have a pretty robust temporal anti-aliasing solution that lets us scale that up and down, do different dithering effects with materials and things in the scene. And what that means is we get to leverage, we get to take the players’ preference about how they want to play the game and also make sure we use all the features of their display in the console as well. So whether you have VRR television, 120Hz TV, whether you like playing at 60fps or 30 or 40, if you have 120hz TV, we really get to tailor everything to best utilize that tech.
After we did our tech piece about Miles Morales, we actually included a third graphic option. So we had performance and visual before and then I can’t remember what it was called off the top of my head, but that sort of became standardized in the industry. I see everybody having the free setting fourths just came out and they have those similar ones.
MF: So I think I want to say for those titles, we had Fidelity Mode, which had the full 4K in ray trace reflections, and then we had a performance mode which turned the ray tracing off and rendered at a lower resolution. And then we were able to add I think around launch, if not just after the performance RT mode as we called it, which was trying to be the best of both. And for this game we’re really able to deliver that as a baseline performance mode. There’s no mode of this game that has the ray tracing turned off, no need for it. We’ve really figured out how to deliver what we feel like is the right Spider-Man picture and visuals and we want to make sure every player is seeing that.
The character faces and just the models and the expressions that come through with the actors really making you feel the emotions that they’re feeling with the expressions on their face. What have you added in Spider-Man 2 that’s really something that you’re proud of?
MF: I think in this demo here there’s one cinematic where Miles and his mother are having a conversation before you go off and do some Spider-Man stuff and Bobby, our animation director, was pointing out that there’s not a lot of dialogue in that scene. So much of that story is told from their faces and the way they’re emoting and reacting to things from each other. And that’s really new for us in this game that we’ve been able to do that we’re scanning faces with more fidelity and we’ve built out more of our processing pipelines to handle that in more detail. Certainly our models are more dense than they have been in the past. There’s some scenes in this game that have four or five, six main characters on the screen at the same time. That’s really challenging for my team to optimize and get running in frame sometimes, but it really opens us up to tell more complex stories with these characters.
So do you have more city areas now?
JL: Brooklyn and Queens? Yeah.
Can you tell me a little bit more about how they’re sort of their own characters and how you’ve made them unique?
JL: Well, the great thing about them is you sort of have your tried and true skyscrapers in Manhattan and once you get to cross the river, which is experienced on its own, hopefully use the web wings to do that and experience the speed at which you can do that. You get over to sort of our Spider-Man stomping ground. So you get to visit May’s house and explore and Queens and get that more sort of neighborhood feel and it’s lush trees. And then for Brooklyn you get Brooklyn visions and Miles’s sort of like high school stomping ground and that really comes across in some of the activities and the adventures you can have in these neighborhoods.
MF: It’s cool. Queens has a very residential feel to it that’s a little different from parts of Manhattan. Brooklyn has its own landmarks of course. We’re excited for players who know Brooklyn are familiar with the area to find unique buildings that they recognize from our New York in the same way.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the character models and the Peter and sort of what’s happened with them as characters over the last, it’s been nine months in the story’s timeline?
JL: So the great thing in this story is we sort of have these established characters, both of our Spider-Man, you hopefully love them, and they’re at different points in their lives. Miles is facing what does he do after he graduates high school and what is the next step in his life as becoming an adult and what he wants to pursue. And for Peter, right, he’s struggling after the passing of Aunt May and how to constantly balance those duties of paying the bills and being a Spider-Man. And once we add in symbiote and Kraven showing up into this story, we really get to experience the way in which those challenges really manifest and affect our Spider-Man.
So hopefully when you played, you saw how the black suit is maybe affecting, are normally quite wholesome, Peter Parker. And you got to experience how Miles is able to approach the conflict in his life right now that maybe not having as much confidence about knowing what he’s doing next.
What’s something in the game that you’re particularly proud of to see? Actually for the first time rendered in the engine, actually on the screen in front of you?
JL: I mean, I’m blown away by some of the way we were able to bring the symbiote to life, the symbiote powers that Peter has in the black suit have a very visceral and powerful feel to them both visually and while you’re playing. I think that experience is going to sort of put you in the shoes of do you want to take that black suit off or do you want to give into that power?
MF: I think that I’ll expand on that a bit. Just the process of understanding what the symbiote would look like and how it would behave pretty much took the entire development of the game. I think it impacts everything else. If you make it look too watery, well then venom’s kind of weak. You make it too solid and it’s like a weird octopus and it needs to be gooey and we don’t have ways to animate these crazy, sort of, imagine it in your head, but ways that this substance might behave throughout the game. So it really went from animation tools, animation techniques, material treatments from a technical art team, how environment was laying things out. And it’s really just super multidisciplinary to bring it into a cohesive form.
Did you do anything to improve the hair technology last time we talked about hair and all that stuff and well, the reason I brought up the faces is because the lighting that’s going on in the game, it’s still very impressive. Would you see the light hitting the character just and lighting on the side of the face, can you tell me a little bit more about that technology or it’s changed?
MF: Well I’ll give credit to our lighting department. We have a whole team of folks who, especially in those cinematics, are very carefully constructing lighting rigs to light the characters from the right way for every individual shot. If you could see it without the camera changing, you’d be surprised at how much changes between every shot to get it just right, just right. We definitely expanded on it from a tech point of view. Certainly in the demo you saw Kraven who has a luscious hairy, well hairy…
JL: He’s hairy everywhere!
MF: But it’s more affected by physics and wind and feels a lot more cohesive. I think MJ’s hair, as you’ve seen, is down and that is not to be understated from a challenge point of view. I think in games you so often see female protagonists and characters with hair that’s up because,
JL: That’s way easier to animate and deal with.
MF: And to have it low and over the shoulders and need to behave correctly as she turns her head and all that was a challenge. But I think it was a fun challenge.
Just put it in a bun because that’s far fewer triangles.
MF: That’s what you see a lot.
JL: She’s got beautiful red hair we want to, well, show it off.
Given that this is technically the third entry into the series, how do you keep it fresh? How do you innovate gameplay wise to keep the interest?
MF: Well, I think we know we have a really strong foundation from the first couple games and we’re not trying to change for change’s sake. There’s a lot that people love about these games that make them Spider-Man games. It’s about understanding what that is and then ways to try something different and make it new. And as you add new things, you got to make sure they fit together in the right way.
JL: And I think our team is also normally very excited at the opportunity to continue to innovate. I think we want to satisfy people, make sure they’re happy with their experience. We’re not straying too far from something that they know and love, but we want to surprise them and we want to give them new toys. So in a lot of ways it’s almost like what will be cool? Could we add something like this? Or something like that? And we also have an open and collaborative team and I think that that goes a long way into some of the best ideas come from the most unexpected place on the team and you end up with these really delightful moments that bring that sort of fresh perspective and change to something like the third game in a sort of series.
MF: Well hopefully you got a sense with the Web Wings, how it’s not about, okay, we have wings now and that’s the new mechanic. It’s about how do they fit with swinging. How do they add to each other to create new fun ways of going around the city and really build up even what was great about the first game or the first two games as you’re adding something new for the third game.
Approvals wise. I read an article, something building, you can get the licensing rights, so you had to replace it. I can’t remember. It’s of some famous building that you have to get copyright. Were there any other sort of licensing challenges that you faced? Was it just that one building.
JL: I think, I mean what we really try and do is work with, we work with SIE and all of our Sony family to make sure the best sort of expressive version of our New York City we can do. I think sometimes doesn’t quite work out how we want to, but it also sometimes gives us an opportunity to highlight things a little differently. We also get to put little Marvel Easter eggs in the city that maybe don’t exist in real life. So it’s sort of threading that needle of sure that real life building isn’t there, but neither there is Avengers Tower.
MF: That’s true.
JL: We get to put Avengers Tower in our game as opposed to maybe a real life building.
Can I find any, I don’t know, iconic bar locations where other Marvel characters may be hanging out.
JL: You’ll have to play.
MF: You’ll have to explore New York City and Marvels New York, see what you can play. Certainly have adding Brooklyn and Queens added a lot of new opportunity to add more Marvel stuff.
I saw a lot of people theorizing that one of the locations in the trailer was maybe where Logan was hanging out. That’s all I really have for you both. Is there anything else that you want to say to everybody about Spider-Man 2?
MF: I’m just excited for people to play and I hope they have a great time. A lot of care and love and effort went into this game from a whole lot of people who’ve been working really hard on it and I’m just excited to see all of that realized for players.
JL: We love seeing the reactions of the players and we want people to have a great time. So every time we release anything, it really does give us good energy to hear people’s thoughts and feelings and excitement and it really does keep this going. So I hope everyone is satisfied and they love what we did.
‘The most complex things I’ve ever had to make’
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever programmed in your life?
Doug Sheen, Senior Proframming Director: It is the most, definitely the deepest and largest system with the most impacts on player experience and number of things that we need to account for and just the general, how people are really looking at the game, what they’re expecting of the game, what they want to see out of it in terms of input, in terms of flow, in terms of animation support, in terms of everything else…it’s definitely the most complex thing I’ve ever had to make.
Wow. What about the gliding?
DS: The gliding wasn’t as complex necessarily, but to get it right took a lot of feel and so for us, there was a lot of making sure it integrated with what we already had that was really great. And so we had traversal that flowed and went through the city and people really loved from the first two games. And I think making sure that we were building on that with the next one, the web wings really allowed us to integrate that in and figuring out a way to balance that and make sure that it kind of integrated, didn’t take over, didn’t subsume everything, but was something that people could use. And then just making sure we got all the mechanics of it, of getting that feeling of flight, making sure that we were getting that underlying element of physics to it so that it felt right to people, but also then getting the gameplay element on top so it would control correctly, integrate correctly, get all the extra little bits that could influence it so that players could really feel like they were a master of the system.
This is the biggest city you’ve ever built and you can auto-swap between these two characters. What’s being utilized to make that possible?
DS: We have a lot of great streaming tech that we’ve been developing through a lot of the games that we’ve made in terms of being able to load different parts of the city. We’ve got our whole team working on different elements of it. And I think that the greatest thing for us on the tech side with the PS5 was that SSD and was that pipeline that’s in there with all the hardware decoding and all that kind of stuff. And so the ability for us to be able to just bring in massive amounts of data so quickly means that even though you can go so much faster in this game than you could the previous one, the PS5 can keep up no sweat with just bringing all of that data in and allowing us to have all of that there, stream it and get it there.
And so we built systems. We had something that was like, what if we made the fastest fast travel it ever was? And so they had the idea of what if you just went from the map and dropped it right into that location? And we tried it and we were able to just quickly get something up and running. We’re like, if we polish this, it’s going to be awesome.
And so it’s a new experience. It’s something that we haven’t, you don’t really see in other games. And it’s something that we can really literally only do on PS5 right now because of how fast the hard drive is. We that we don’t know where you’re going to be. You could just exit the map whenever you want. And so our ability to make that jump is something new. We do the same thing when you’re swapping characters. We’re jumping to somewhere else in the city as the other character catching up on what they’re doing, what they’re up to at the time. And so being able to make that jump and make it quickly and all the underlying tech with streaming and all the different things, all the layers of stuff that we stream in and what we keep in memory and what we don’t is a big part of that structure. And those layers are a big part of what allows us to be so fast.
Was part of learning how to harness that technology utilizing what you learned on Ratchet and Clank, for example, and then implementing that in this engine?
DS: Yeah, I think so. It started out, everything we do here builds on each other and makes our next game better. And so we had a lot of streaming stuff and everything from building open world games and then we go into Ratchet and all of a sudden we’re like, well, now we want to just jump instantly. And so you get those things, you hit the crystal, you jump from world to world, and we want to drop and reload the next thing and figure out the mechanics of all of that. And so you get into, then we say, well, how can we use that? How can we use that in the next game? And so when we came into it and we looked at what the team was doing on Ratchet, and we looked at what we could do in this game, we said, well, they can jump. We can jump. We’ve got all this technology. And so just moving it forward in that way definitely inspired us and allowed us to keep building.
You kind of touched on technology. So overall it’s the third entry into the Spider-Man franchise since the original. How are you innovating? How are you pushing things further?
DS: One of the great things about having the last two games is that it gives us a lot of confidence, a lot of knowledge about what works. And so we can take that and we can start to push forward into new places. And one of the things that we really wanted to give players the ability to do was have more tools that they can use strategically. And so a lot of what that means is that we have a slotted ability. So we learned something from Miles with some of his venom abilities. It’s like how do we take those to the next level? How do we push those further?
And so having things like the symbiote abilities for Peter that kind of come in that you can use strategically, that you can use as kind of a power move that didn’t exist in the previous game as a way that we can really allow players to express themselves, to have solutions to problems that might’ve existed in the last game that they didn’t have good solutions for and had to use just base systems so they can express themselves in a lot of new ways.
It also allows us to, we’ve got, this is really the first one where we have two Spider-Men in the game at the same time. And so allowing them to have those divergent abilities that are a little bit different that you have to know what you’re getting into with each one, that you can solve different problems a little bit differently in combat, goes a long way towards what we can do.
Some other things that we really look for. By introducing the Perry mechanic and that defensive mechanic, we were able to really leverage that. It was really amazing to see what that did for our boss fights. So if you played the game today, you got a little taste of what the lizard fight might look like, and being able to have that one-on-one fight and have them force you to pay attention to read the fight, to understand what the boss is doing, and to know which defensive move you have to use at the time to know when to use your offensive moves. And the fact that every one of our bosses can respond to all of those abilities that the players have means that you’re getting a better fight, you’re getting a deeper fight, a more mechanically sound fight that is really allowing players to have those intimate fights that are really climatic.
They still have great narrative driving every single one of them, but just the mechanics and the gameplay of it also is really, really satisfying and really gives us the opportunity to do that in a much better way.
And then traversal, it’s just adding things like the gliding with the web wings, adding things like the slingshot and just making sure that those all integrate together. And again, just building and giving players new things. And so one of the things that we do in this game is we double the size of the city. So we’ve now got Brooklyn and Queens there, but Brooklyn and Queens don’t, they’re not built like Manhattan is, they’re a lot lower, they’ve got a lot more trees, a lot of things like that.
And then you’ve got the river in between and we say, well, how do you traverse all of that? You can just swing, but it doesn’t always work. It’s not always the optimal way to do it. And so having the opportunity to bring in the web wings, bring in the slingshot, and give you a sense of, oh, I can traverse different, there’s a different personality to my traversal as I go around the city and go around the different places and have that experience as something that is really new and really interesting and gives each of those two new boroughs kind of a new feel to how you experience it while still being Spider-Man, man.
Could you just tell me a little bit more about how, because it’s been nine months since the previous games, in terms of timeline, how have Peter and Miles matured since that point in time?
DS: I think there’s still always that struggle for some of the characters. I mean, you can’t have Spider-Man without him trying to balance between his personal life and his Spider life.
And so I think for Peter, he’s in a position where he’s trying to find a way. He basically lost his job at the end of the first game when ADA’s lab shut down. And so he’s trying to find how to move forward, how to move forward after May’s death and how to put his life back together on the personal side. And so there’s struggle for him there and moving forward with some of those things.
On the Miles side, he’s just about to graduate from high school and he’s got to figure out what he’s going to do, and he’s got this Spider-Man thing that’s a growing part of his life, but what is he going to do with the rest of it? And so how he interacts and how he makes choices there, what he’s trying to figure out the next phase of his life looks like, not just with Spider-Man, but as Miles Morales and what that means for him. And he’s got his family around, he’s got his friends around and how they interact with him and play with that.
Without cheating and saying, Spider-Man. What’s been your favorite comic book video game in the last 10 years?
DS: Well, 10 years is tough. I am personal to the original Arc of Asylum game. I think that mechanics and level design wise, it’s just beautiful. It’s so great that first one. I think that the other two were great in their own way, but the novelty and the newness of it was so good with the original arc of asylum. And so for me, that game was just absolutely fantastic.
We’re sitting here today, we’re playing Spider-Man 2. It’s a six-month-old build. We talked a little bit about how Ratchet [and Clank] learnings will help you improve Spider-Man 2 and utilize that technology. Can you see anything already in Spider-Man 2 that you can utilize for your future projects?
DS: I don’t want to talk too much about future projects. I will just say that we are always building on what we have. Part of what makes our games great is that we are always hanging onto what we’ve done before.
Why? What else you got?
DS: There’s some other game that we’ve talked about. I don’t know.
Can you dive into more about the city’s larger, right? You have the three different areas to go into. Tech-wise, there was that photo that sort of blew up right, of New York of Times Square then versus now. So what sort of enhancements are we seeing in the screenshots that you’re putting out? If you could just break down.
DS: That up. Sure. I don’t want to talk too much for Mike Fitzgerald, who’s our Core Director, but I can talk a lot about what they’re doing. It really comes down to we’ve got our distant building system, which is our imposter system that we draw, and that’s been upgraded to have new LODs and things that we stream in. That’s again, the PS5, allowing us to swap that stuff out on the fly.
We’ve done a bunch of work in terms of lighting. Our lighting engine has gotten a lot of passes and changes. We’ve done a lot of work on what our street lighting looks like and how that works and what the material responses are. We’ve gotten a better handle on ray tracing and more things being able to be ray traced and supported and built up through that. We’ve got new things with our sky boxes in this game look ridiculous, and the way that our sky renders and the way that the light comes through in that and the work that they’ve done to make sure that our open world looks really amazing at all the times of day that it shows up.
And so we’ve got additional things with what we’ve done with foliage, what we’ve done with just the way that we leverage Houdini and procedural generation to get our ground planes and stuff looking great. So there, there’s all kinds of elements, not to mention just how our characters look, how everything else looks that come into play to bring it together and make it really look next gen. I feel like even looking at the Remastered game when we’ve played, when I’ve been playing Spider-Man 2 for so long, and I go back and look at some of the old games, I’m like, I don’t realize how much of a jump it is until you see it next to each other. When you really A-B test it, you’re like, wow, this is a huge jump. In terms of fidelity, in terms of execution, in terms of just how clean everything looks.
Kraven’s a main character in Spider-Man 2, is it just a happy accident that the movie is happening at the same time as he’s a main character in your game?
DS: Yeah, I mean, it’s great that as a character, he’s getting some more exposure. I would say that we made our choice long ago about who was going to be one of the main, who our main villains were going to be, who was going to be there at the beginning of production. When we first started talking about this game, we knew it was going to be Kraven, and so we didn’t really talk about it with so many pictures or anything like that, but it’s definitely more of a happy accident that just getting more exposure for the character. And I think we do a great job with him in our game, and I think his arc and his interaction, the characters and everything is a really fun journey.
Can you specify a little bit more about how the Peter-only missions differ from the Miles-only missions?
DS: I mean, in both cases you’re obviously Spider-Man, but the big ones, it’s going to come down a lot of times to who is in the right place or what their struggle is. And so there’s going to be some, like we showed in the demo in May where you play as both and they’re together. There’s going to be some where Peter is following up with his friends or people that he knows or some other lead. And so I think that it really is about the narrative and how the story carries through and where those characters are positioned and what they’re placed at. That really drives it a little bit. And so in terms of without giving too much away about the story, there’s very much, both characters have a really strong arc and we invest a lot into their story for each of them. And so I think playing the game, you’ll definitely see that each of them is in the right place. But beyond that, you just get a chance to play as both. They have their own abilities. We present opportunities to the player to leverage their unique abilities as you go through each of those missions. And I think that it ends up being, it always ends up feeling like the right Spider-Man for the mission.
Can you dive in a little bit more about the Rogues Gallery? We talked about Kraven. Venom’s obviously a character, and then it’s not Eddie Brock. That was a big story that IGN talked about. How did you land on utilizing a different Venom as the antagonist?
DS: I don’t want to get too much into where we end up going with Venom for the most part, but I will say that it was really important for us to tell the right story for how the symbiote impacts Peter’s life. And when we look at what that is, we obviously show early or at the end of the first game and hear that there’s some connection with the symbiote and Harry and how they’re trying to heal his sickness.
And so what we really wanted to focus on was making sure that it felt like how the symbiote was interacting with Peter and what that took him on and the journey that he had to go through, and how that symbiote brings something out in him that maybe he hadn’t exposed or hadn’t really thought about much. And so for us, what we let that drive our choices, and part of Eddie Brock is a fantastic character and everything, but for us it was really about figuring out how the symbiote and Peter interacted and how that impacted his life, and making sure to keep focused on that element.
Destin Legarie is IGN’s Director of Content Strategy
Taylor Lyles is IGN’s Reporter.