Marvel Games VP Bill Rosemann Breaks Down the Great Responsibility of Making 'Marvel's Spider-Man 2'
Marvel Games VP and Creative Director Bill Rosemann discussed the development of 'Marvel's Spider-Man 2' and teased the growing stakes of the game.
With great creative power comes the great responsibility to deliver a video game of epic proportions—and no one knows that better than the teams that made Marvel's Spider-Man 2. Following the massive success of both Marvel's Spider-Man and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the creatives behind Marvel's Spider-Man 2 faced the challenge of making a game worthy of not only its title, but also of the two Spider-Men that lead it.
Speaking to Marvel.com, Marvel Games VP and Creative Director Bill Rosemann offered a look behind the scenes at Marvel Games' work with Insomniac Games on the development of Marvel's Spider-Man 2. He explained how the teams used Spider-Man's famous axiom—"with great power comes great responsibility"—as a guide for their work on the game. He dove into the game's themes of isolation, as well as the real world inspiration behind it. He also teased "the growing stakes" of Marvel's ever-expanding New York, broke down the art of adapting the characters for a video game, praised the cast, and so much more.
MARVEL.COM: Where do you even get started on a project like this?
BILL ROSEMANN: With Marvel's Spider-Man 2, we began where we always begin with every Marvel game: looking to the source material and decades of comic books. In this case, this is the third game in the franchise, so we have Marvel's Spider-Man and Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales to build upon; those are the foundations. So, there were story plotlines that were put into play or at least seeded in the earlier games.
That's the other place where we start, is from story. The gameplay was established in the first two games, and Insomniac has done an amazing job of adding all these new features to the gameplay, from the new abilities to the Web Wings. It's really amazing how they took the challenge of not just creating more, which is great, but also adding to. To that point, what do we add when it comes to the story and the overall experience? We go to the comics, and we had a general idea of where the game's narrative was going.
Quite frankly, we start with just a few people in a room with a whiteboard and we start writing down characters, locations, moments, emotions. What are all the ingredients, if you will, that we're going to have in this tasty meal? That's where it all begins, is us getting together as fans and talking about all the things you could have if you were to tell a story involving Spider-Man, Miles, MJ, and Venom. There's decades of stories!
So it's all about sifting through and finding all the elements, all the details, and putting them all on the table. Then, from there, the Insomniac writers, the narrative crew, everyone working on gameplay and cinematics, they all have a voice and they start having ideas and picking things and asking.
MARVEL.COM: Following the success of the other two games, did you feel any additional pressure with Marvel's Spider-Man 2?
BILL ROSEMANN: I can only speak for myself, but the general attitude is we put pressure on ourselves from the very beginning. Nine years ago, when we first started talking, we looked at and focused on and hung up on our mental wall the idea of, "With great power, there must come great responsibility." That is one of our driving North Stars. So that's where the pressure comes from.
It's three amazing teams all coming in together to form one team. You have everyone at PlayStation, everyone at Insomniac Games, and everyone here at Marvel Games and the larger Marvel family. Our power is we're able to work with each other, because throughout Marvel history, we know that it's people who tell the stories, right? We had these amazing characters, but you need great talent and you need great people to work together and collaborate to tell great stories. So our power is, collectively, we have amazing creators who are at the top of their game.
When I talk about Spider-Man, I say he's the greatest character in all of literature in my heart of hearts. That's another great power. We get to work with these amazing characters that are beloved around the world.
So what's our responsibility? Our responsibility is to do it right—to not only not mess up, but meet expectations and exceed expectations. We always say, "What is the Spider-Man game that you wanted when you were younger (or at any age) and wanted to show people why these characters had such an impact and had such meaning in your life?" That's our internal pressure.
Added to that, given the success at a quality level, a sales level, the review level, you name it—the bar has been set and all of us have what I call a championship mentality. If you're part of a sports team, you're not here just to play. Playing is fun, but we want to be the best. Our goal is to create the next great chapter, make fans happy, surprise people, bring delight, and continue to grow, continue to top ourselves.
So it's a good pressure. It's a good pressure of, "We had success. Now we want to top it." It all comes from ourselves. I think that's a common thread throughout Marvel is, "We drive each other to create the best storytelling that we can." Great power, great responsibility, great pressure, but great opportunity.
MARVEL.COM: All of the characters introduced in the game so far have had a little Insomniac twist to them. I'd love to get your thoughts on what you need to make the character feel like the one the audience knows and loves, while adding or changing a little something about them?
BILL ROSEMANN: When presenting characters and adapting them to a new medium, that's number one, is you have to respect every medium. Comics are comics, movies are movies; this is a game, number one. There are so many decisions that happen simultaneously. When we pick a character, it's not random. There's all these goals. Number one: how does this character drive the story forward? How do they add to it, complicate it, mirror the heroes? These physical challenges, how do they symbolize the internal challenges that are going on in our characters?
So we start with, "What is our overall experience that we would like the players to go along?" Then there's all the fun stuff of just, hey, on a whiteboard: "Let's nerd out. Let's just write up all the villains. Who have we used? Who have we not used? Let's go through decades of stories." We think about some of the classic members of Spidey's rogues gallery. We think he's got one of, if not the best rogues gallery in the Super Hero biz.
So first, who haven't we delivered? Then, how can we pick them to connect to the overall story? Then, of course, gameplay: what will be really fun? Then, also, from Marvel's Spider-Man to Marvel's Spider-Man 2, technology has advanced. We have the PlayStation 5, the Dualsense controller. What characters can the new technology really bring to life and vice versa?
Now, for how we adapt them, again, do our research. We are very lucky that we have true Marvel fans, not only, of course, here at Marvel games, but at Insomniac, at PlayStation. So they really know their stuff. That said, it's always great to take a step back and really do your research and understand: what does each character represent? Who invented them? When? What was the new aspect they brought to the Spider-Man story? How can we be true to their authentic core, but how can we make them unique?
We don't make any surprises just for surprise's sake. Hey, the players are us. We're the players. We can smell it a mile away, so we don't want to change things just because we can. There's the questions of, "When was this character first introduced, and what was the medium? Are we going from two-dimensional drawings now to very modern cinematic graphics? How might we adapt or update their costumes, as far as materials, texturing?"
As Bryan Intihar, Senior Creative Director at Insomniac, said very well, it's our collective approach to "have respect for the DNA but we're not afraid to mix them up." The reason we're not afraid to mix it up is because we do have respect for the DNA. It comes from a place of understanding. At the same time, it's, "Use what's there." There's brilliant, brilliant characters that have been designed over the years. Creative giants brought these characters to life. So, number one, use what's there.
Then, number two, decide, "What are some of the adaptations we need to make to go from one medium to another?" Then, "How can we surprise and delight the players?" Beginning with Spider-Man with a white spider symbol, our goal is that all characters are instantly recognizable, but unique and ownable. So you say, "That's Spider-Man," whether it's Peter or Miles, "Oh, but that is the Spider-Man from Marvel's Spider-Man and Marvel's Spider-Man 2!" That applies as well to all the villains, all the supporting cast—everything should be instantly recognizable, but unique and ownable.
That all starts with respecting the core, going to the core content, the comic books—looking at everything, actually! Looking at animation, film—we look at it all. It's all ingredients. Then we trust our creators to pick and mix and match and give them that freedom to express the characters, and we know they will do it in a great way, because again, they're fans.
MARVEL.COM: You've been working with folks like Yuri Lowenthal, Laura Bailey, and Nadji Jeter for some time now. What is something they brought to Marvel's Spider-Man 2 that particularly impressed or surprised you?
BILL ROSEMANN: I'm so glad you asked about our performance cast because they are also part of our family, part of the team. The same thing that applies to our friends at Insomniac is to the actors. They are fans. They have the passion. They've also done research and have their own ideas and the wealth of their experience to draw upon.
As with anything throughout Marvel's history, we try and connect talent to characters, and then start having discussions. Then there is the flow of suggestions and ways of playing things back and forth. So I would just say the cast is top notch across the board; their passion, their skill level, their talent, the relationships they've developed amongst each other, with everyone at Insomniac and Marvel Games and PlayStation. They're a pillar to the game as well. It all comes down to their knowledge, their passion, and how they want to express and breathe life into these characters to make them their own—recognizable but unique.
MARVEL.COM: What about our latest addition, Tony Todd? What did he bring to the table as Venom?
BILL ROSEMANN: I spent a limited time with him at San Diego Comic-Con and just really had some great discussions about our path and our love for Spider-Man and Venom and the experience of the game. What I learned is Tony is a very classically trained thespian, if you will. What's so great is he drew upon his vast experience—as did all the voice actors, but everyone takes a different path, right? So Tony really drew upon the wealth of his experience, whether he was acting on film or on stage, and his voice is one of his instruments. In addition to physical acting, he knows that his voice is an instrument to play.
When it came to thinking about making him part of the game—and again, there was a lot of people on the Insomniac side that were coming up with great ideas. As with the rest of the cast, it was perfect casting; someone who brings all that experience and skill and love and appreciation for the character. Tony loves Venom. He was just going on and on about what he means to him and the freedom and the power. As with everything at Marvel, it's all about connecting the right creators to the characters that they love, and then you step back and let them express themselves, make it their own, and create magic.
MARVEL.COM: Marvel's Spider-Man introduced us to Marvel's New York. Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales brought us to Harlem. As you expanded the world even further for Marvel's Spider-Man 2 with Brooklyn and Queens, how did that impact the kinds of stories you wanted to tell?
BILL ROSEMANN: I just want to applaud our friends at Insomniac. They could have just stuck with the same map, but they put it upon their shoulders that, "We need to deliver more to the fans. They deserve it." And it's fun!
I think the growing map represents the growing stakes of the game. Everything's getting larger and bigger. The characters are growing up. They are experiencing losses. They're going through trauma. They're having to pick each other up. They are growing as people.
At the same time, the world is expanding. However, it's not done randomly. When you talk about and start making those lists of locations, those boroughs that you mentioned—Brooklyn and Queens—are so important to Peter and Miles. It makes sense if we were going to add, of course we should add the boroughs that helped form these characters.
So what that does, as well, is it opens up the map—the field, if you will—and offers players different experiences. By that, I mean the boroughs are different. All the boroughs are different, and we've done our research. Where you may have the big skyscrapers in Manhattan, you might not have that in Brooklyn and Queens. How does Spider-Man—both Peter and Miles—get around? From that came the Web Wings! That was all intentional.
So we want to offer more. We want to be authentic to the characters. We want to continue the story by getting bigger, but logically, and always thinking, "What are all the things that we can deliver to the players so that they have an awesome time?"
MARVEL.COM: What is the greatest challenge you faced while putting Marvel's Spider-Man 2 together?
BILL ROSEMANN: It comes down to real life. This game was made during COVID. A big chunk of it was. Just think of all the challenges everyone faced in their personal life. Then, in the business of creating a game, we had to adjust; everyone had to go home, and how do people work individually, but yet still have that team environment that you have to have to create games or create anything Marvel? Everything is so collaborative.
So that was the challenge: how can we use technology and all of our efforts to keep people connected, keep people's spirits up, get the work done on time, of course. I think part of that is reflected in the game. I’ve read reviews that smartly pick up on the theme of loneliness.
As the game starts, we have this close knit group of friends—Peter, Miles, MJ, and now Harry—and they're all confronted by events in their life that they’re grappling with individually. MJ is trying to further her career as a reporter, which is complicated by dealing with the new owner of the Daily Bugle, one J. Jonah Jameson.
Meanwhile, Peter is still processing the death of Aunt May, which takes the form of him inheriting her house in Queens. So Peter is trying to figure out, "How do I pay the mortgage and protect May’s legacy?" He’s still wrapping his head around a major life decision: "I no longer have Aunt May. How do I go on?" Miles lost his father and then had the adventure in Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and was reunited with his friend. I don't want to give any spoilers if you haven't played that, but what's a Spider-Man story without trauma?
Then there's Harry... If you played the first game, there was someone in the tube that Norman was speaking to, and that was his son. That was done to show, "Why is Norman doing all these things?" He's trying to heal his son! He lost his wife. He doesn't want to lose his son. So there's Norman going through all that, and now Harry coming out of the healing tube and trying to get caught up with his life. So at the beginning, they all have challenges and they're all trying to solve them on their own.
Part of the theme of the game—I mean, even in the name Spider-Man 2, there's two Spider-Men, and in our tagline, "Be Greater Together." With the symbiote and Venom, there's a dark side of that: we are Venom, together. Those are some of the challenges and temptations that our characters must face. But ultimately, you look at the box art, when the Spider-Men are together, they are greater.
So it's moving from this loneliness to connection. It was a really challenging section of life and history to go through, but from that comes great art. So from everyone's individual experience, I think everyone contributed to tell this new story that is ultimately hopeful and uplifting and inspirational and fun.
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