Marvel Games VP Bill Rosemann Unpacks the Joys & Tragedies of 'Marvel's Spider-Man 2'
Marvel Games VP and Creative Director Bill Rosemann reflects on the difficult choices Peter Parker and Miles Morales face in 'Marvel's Spider-Man 2,' as well as the joys of working on the game franchise.
When Marvel's New York gets overrun by Kraven and several other terrifying villains, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Men will pull out all the stops to protect the city—even if that means making some pretty major sacrifices. In Marvel's Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker and Miles Morales face their greatest challenges yet as their personal lives become entangled with their Super Hero alter egos… and that's entirely by design.
Speaking to Marvel.com, Marvel Games VP and Creative Director Bill Rosemann explained why sacrifice is a critical element of Spider-Man storytelling and how it puts the characters' true natures on display. He broke down the role the villains play in the game's themes of body horror, as well as the way the comics inspired certain elements of Marvel's Spider-Man 2. He also pointed out his favorite Easter eggs, shared the joy of working on the game franchise, and so much more.
MARVEL.COM: Tell me a little about Harry Osborn's journey in Marvel's Spider-Man 2.
BILL ROSEMANN: What's so great is that he had a presence in the first game. During a lot of the side missions, Peter was listening to messages that Harry left for him. What we loved is they were very positive things, ways to clean up the city, to follow the inspiration of Harry's mom. Harry was there, in a way, for Peter, even when he physically wasn't there.
In the first game, in famous comic book style, we were told, "Oh, he's off in Europe." And then, surprise! He's not! He's here, but he's very sick. So as the game begins and Harry comes out, think of all the things he's dealing with. He's missed a chunk of his life. He's still dealing with his illness. As you saw at the end of the first game, there was something in the pod with him. Now we see that it was the symbiote. So that must have had an effect on him while he was in there!
So Harry goes on a journey of—as with the other characters—what do I do with my life? I'm here. I have the financial backing of my father. What am I going to do going forward? It's our old North Star: with great power comes great responsibility. Harry embraces some power, but as they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely, so he's on a slippery slope.
Harry's journey very much reflects the journey of Peter and MJ and Miles in that they have challenges in their life, they go through things that they think are going to be the answer, but they may—if left unchecked, if you give in to your darker side—lead you to a very bad place. We'll see how Harry comes out of that journey.
MARVEL.COM: This game has Venom. It has Sandman. It's got Lizard and Mysterio and the Beetle and so, so many other members of Spidey's rogues gallery. How did you find the right balance between all these villains and our two Spider-Men?
BILL ROSEMANN: When you look at the first game, it was all about thinking about and looking at Spider-Man's connection to science. A lot of the villains, as with most Spider-Man villains, get their powers either through a science accident or through technology. So most of the villains in that game—whether it was Vulture, Rhino, eventually Doc Ock himself—relied upon tech and science… even Electro, with what he was wearing. That was the theme of the villains selected there.
Then, with this game, a lot of it was we were talking about body horror. When you have Venom, it's the fear of what is happening to me and what's happening to my body. That's where you have Lizard, even Sandman, when you see him and it's just huge Sandman and you start seeing what's inside of him. So that was a big part of it.
Then Kraven himself is—I don't know if it's body horror, but physically, he's very imposing. He's a scary dude. That's what we want to hit on. I think it's easy to make fun of some characters, depending on when they were invented and how they were portrayed, but I firmly believe that most characters are just waiting for the right creator.
We had very, very smart, talented people who created these characters and yes, sometimes they need a bit of an update or translation from one medium to another. But if you study their first appearance, read analysis about them, look at them through the years, you can dig into what makes them great and why they've survived for so long.
So even Kraven gets at the horror part of it in that he's really scary. Yes, he's ingested the herbs and he has enhanced abilities, but really, it's his willpower. He's decided, "I'm going to hunt the greatest game." In the first game, Shocker wanted to rob a bank for his own reasons. Kraven wants to hunt you! That's scary! So that was part of it, the theme of body horror, and let's look at all the villains that we could have and who would reflect that, add to that. That's how we made some of those decisions.
MARVEL.COM: Were there any villains you ruled out?
BILL ROSEMANN: We each had our favorites. When you are behind the scenes working on something, everyone needs an internal editor, right? We have people who have that function. But part of telling a great story is it can't be everything. Sometimes you need to focus and, in the case of villains, we want to give each one a time to shine through storytelling, through gameplay, and make sure they feel like they're all part of this one story.
Then you just start making decisions. We have a whiteboard list and we may have to take some names off, but we're like, "Well, the great thing is that, if this game does well, there possibly could be more!" I don't know! In all things Marvel, whether you're creating comics or movies, animation, whatever, sometimes you think about the long game and it just becomes an opportunity, like, "Hey, we couldn't use them here. Let's make the decision for the right reasons, and hopefully, maybe—I don't know—they can end up somewhere else."
MARVEL.COM: What can you tell me about the comics that inspired certain elements of the game?
BILL ROSEMANN: With regards to Kraven, as with Venom, as with all the villains, we start doing research. Sometimes we have Kraven stories that we love: "Hey! Top ten Kraven stories! Let's read them all!" So at least we're aware of what happened, so that we don't accidentally repeat something or there's great ingredients there to use.
We went through decades of Kraven stories. We looked at his introduction. There's always magic to a first appearance. Then, luckily, there's so many great books that Marvel Publishing creates, whether it's DK, you name it; there are so many really great scholarly works where you can research and then get quotes from the creators. What were they trying to say? You have to understand what the creators were trying to say. What are these characters a metaphor for? What makes them unique? What makes them memorable? So you start there.
Then you start hunting, finding covers, panels, moments. They can be panels from different comics from different decades, but they can all add up. So yes, of course, "Kraven's Last Hunt." Everyone loves that story! So it's like, "Okay, let's go back and reread that. Let's look at that." But then let's look at even modern stories. There is a great depiction of Kraven by Marco Checchetto, who drew some great shots of him, and those are some of the visuals we looked at that had that an impact.
So we look at everything. We always ask each other, "What excites you about this character? What do you want to do?" It's that magic mix of what has come before: let's pick all the things we like, let's think of the purpose of this character, but then, what's something new? Not for the sake of just doing something new, but do you have a new idea, a new presentation?
In this game, Kraven has all this technology and his hunters, and that's really not been done before. Usually, it's just him out there. We had whole discussions about, "What does that mean?" and "How can he be the hunter if he also has help?" and "Oh, sometimes you'll go on hunts and people will walk and will scare the game forward. They'll flush out the game." So we thought about that as well.
It's a messy, fun process, but we always are trying to go to the core, crystallize what we love, and be true to the creators and the source material. Then, if needed, add something new to the mix.
MARVEL.COM: Peter and Miles must make some pretty terrible choices in this game. Where do you draw the line between what they can handle and what would break them?
BILL ROSEMANN: People sometimes ask, "Why do you do horrible things to these characters?" And we say, "Well, it's done out of love." We want to give the characters a moment to show the world why they're heroic. They have to be knocked down in order to be given a chance to stand up.
You always want to test the characters and put them in a position where they question themselves, where they have to dig deep. It goes back to that famous Spider-Man story from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #33, where Peter has all that weight on his shoulders and he almost gives up and he eventually digs deep, and that all comes from him and his feelings about Aunt May and trying to make up for the death of Uncle Ben. You want to put characters in situations just like that.
As for the decisions they have to make, there's a quote from a movie about humor; they say, "If it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it's tragedy." We want to bend our characters. We want to push them, but you don't want to ruin them. We very much feel like they are real people. So we're always asking ourselves, "What would they do?"
They have to make sacrifices. That's the nature of Spider-Man. He always, always makes a sacrifice. When Spider-Man wins, Peter Parker loses. When Miles wins, Spider-Man loses. That's why we love them. They make tough decisions. Then, usually, the decisions they make impact the ones they love, because the best Spider-Man stories are when their civilian life collides with their Super Hero life and that the civilians that they love are in danger from their Super Hero life. So it's all webbed together, if you will.
A lot of it, when it comes to how much we hurt them and push them and make them make tough decisions, it comes out of love and ultimately, "How do we show the world why these characters are great?" It just has to feel right.
MARVEL.COM: What is your favorite Easter egg in all of Marvel's Spider-Man 2?
BILL ROSEMANN: The Coney Island scene is really fun because, as we were coming up with names of the different rides and attractions, we wanted to do nods to existing Spider-Man things and villains. I don't even call them Easter eggs. I call them details. I call them building blocks.
When you play a Marvel game, it should feel like you're in the Marvel Universe. Here, we're in Marvel's New York. We didn't want to have Coney Island Super Villain themed, but you would imagine that heroes and villains are known and they're almost like celebrities. So you'll see some rides and attractions named after some deep cut characters. That's a lot of fun.
There's a certain auction house. I didn't even go to see if it's still there. There's a certain auction house called Rosemann's that was in Marvel's Spider-Man. That was a delight for me to discover. That was a nice Easter egg, if you will, from the Insomniac team. So, kids, go check it out! Is Rosemann's still standing? I hope it is! A proud, proud institution.
MARVEL.COM: I'm not going to lie to you, I'm a little obsessed with "Swing" by EARTHGANG; I've been listening to it on loop. Tell me a little about how that came together.
BILL ROSEMANN: I give all credit to the team at Insomniac. Music has always been an important part of Marvel and specifically Spider-Man, going back to the different theme songs that we all love from different cartoons and shows. I mean, Spider-Man was the star of the first Marvel rock album. His history with music goes back a long ways.
Sound! I love talking about the sound, because the audio, the special effects, the music, it all is inspired by the characters. That's just another way: how can we use everything—in this case, music—to express the emotions of the characters, bring to life the overall story, have fun? That's all part of it, too, and to show how our Marvel characters are part of the real world.
In the real world, we have music and we have our favorite bands and the songs that are playing, people will call it the soundtrack of your life. What was playing during a certain moment of your life? So all those sort of decisions and just, hey, how can we have fun, be cool, and how can we widen the invitation of creators to come to Marvel, to come into the video game sphere, and then introduce players to artists they may not know?
MARVEL.COM: What would you say is the thing you're most proud of in all your time on Marvel's Spider-Man 2?
BILL ROSEMANN: I think, collectively, we're proud of the ongoing player reaction from the first two games. That's the most satisfying. We're lucky that we get to collectively work on something that's not just going to be hidden in a box in a closet. It's going to be played and experienced by millions of people.
Whenever I talk to someone and they ask me what I do, their eyes light up and, "Oh, did you work on the Spider-Man game?" and they tell us stories. Everyone at PlayStation and Insomniac has the same experience. That's what I think we're most proud of, is that it worked. We have created these games for the hope of bringing people joy, and it has.
I think that's what we're most proud of, is how happy and the fun times people are having, the memories they're creating, the way they can point to it and show people in their lives why they love this character. Maybe we're even creating the next generation of video game developers and Marvel storytellers! I don't know what's better than that.
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