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Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of  Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Exclusive: Behind The Scenes Of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

November 19, 2010 | By Staff

November 19, 2010 | By Staff
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The latest issue of Gamasutra sister publication Game Developer magazine, available for subscribers and for digital purchase now, includes an exclusive, in-depth postmortem of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, written by Beenox's Martin Rheaume.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions includes four distinct incarnations of Marvel's popular superhero, from the classic Amazing Spider-Man to the more obscure 1930's-inspired Spider-Man Noir.

The game's four worlds each feature unique aesthetics and gameplay mechanics tailored to each version of the web-slinging protagonist.

Developer Beenox is a subsidiary of Activision and had previously worked on titles including Guitar Hero: Smash Hits and Monsters vs. Aliens, as well as the PC versions of several previous Spider-Man titles. Shattered Dimensions, however, was the studio's first chance to fully develop a title based on a comic book license.

These excerpts, extracted from the November 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine, reveal various "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" highlights from throughout the creation of the game.

Throughout the article, Beenox reveals how the game played to the strength of its license, how the studio underestimated the task it had assigned itself, and the miscommunication that impaired the internal audio team.

Four strong visual directions

With such a wealth of history behind the established license, Beenox chose to highlight a handful of the character's most iconic styles.

"From the beginning of the project, we wanted a game with four visual themes in order to differentiate the game, and provide players with the opportunity to get to know other Spider-Man worlds. We conducted research into the different universes that the license offered, and created mock-ups for the styles we had selected. These mock-ups were presented to the technology department and technical artists to determine whether we could reliably recreate these graphical styles with our engine.

Subsequently, the technical art director and his team developed "recipes" for each universe which the team used as their guide when working on each universe. To help keep the different styles as distinct as possible, most of our artists focused on a single style in order to make sure they would be experts in the universe they were working on. We ultimately went with Ultimate Spider-Man, Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, and Spider-Man Noir."

Communication With Activision And Marvel

When working with such a beloved universe, the studio made sure to work closely with Marvel to ensure the game stayed true to its source material.

"From the get-go, our relationship with Marvel went really well. They really liked the concept of showcasing four different versions of Spider-Man, and collaborated really well with us on the story and the involvement of the current Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott, the necessity of some cosmetic changes, and the choice of villains.

Regarding the villains, especially for a really recent series like Spider-Man Noir, it was nearly impossible to come up with three distinct villains from the recent comic books, so Marvel was really open when we asked to use Hammerhead--a classic gangster-looking bad guy from its Amazing universe.

Marvel was also open when we wanted to update some characters for the future, like Hobgoblin and Scorpion, or simply create a brand new villain for the universe. In fact, it was Marvel that proposed to go with a female version of Doctor Octopus 2099, which turned out to be a great idea.

As it turned out, they were also very open to the cosmetic changes we proposed for the characters. For example, in the Spider-Man Noir sections, the license holders agreed to our proposition of modeling our in-game character on a concept by Marko Djurdjevic, the artist behind the design of the character.

In that version of the character, Spider-Man Noir wears a short leather vest instead of the trench coat that is seen in the comic books. Also, they gladly accepted the under-the-armpit redesign of the web-foils of Spidey 2099 that we proposed. We believe that this design allowed us to craft a much better looking sequence in the game when Spidey 2099 has to use his foils to control his freefall."

Young Design Team On A Large-Scale Game

With Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions as one of the studio's most ambitious projects to date, Beenox's established development habits were pushed to their limits under these new conditions.

"At Beenox, we historically have staffed our production teams with new graduates. This worked very well for us when we were a port house. We have a very comprehensive internal technical training program, and this four-to-eight-week training course allowed us to quickly develop autonomous programmers. We followed the same process with many of our designers as well, and thus had a very young team when we began development on Spider-Man.

We had one creative director and one lead game designer managing the creative and artistic vision for the project. The lead game designer was in charge of level design and game design. When creating more "kid"-oriented titles, this structure was solid, but with the integration of four different universes and a license such as Spider-Man, it was clearly inadequate for a game of this size and scope.

We underestimated the amount of work it would take to get the creative director and lead game designer on the same page about the vision of the game, first of all. From there, this had to translate into overall game design, and then into individual level designs that were in line with that vision.

Due to the time and effort it was taking these two people to manage a young team while also designing the game, we ran into situations where the direction was not always crystal clear to the entire staff. On top of this, we were certainly starting to feel the pressure of our deadlines and the weight of the importance of our high-profile brand.

This created some frustration for the team, but once we identified and realized what was going on we were able to course correct and bring everyone back to focusing on the initial vision. However, at times, the upper management of the studio had to jump in and work with us to get the team back on track."

Sound Design: The Forgotten Team

As changes to the game's content and structure changes throughout the development, the studio's audio team was left unable to work based on final game assets, and was thus pressured for time as the game neared closer to completion.

"Along the chain of production, many design choices occur, and just as many changes are made, if not more. When delays happen at any stage in the process, the last team in the line of production is the one trapped against the deadline wall. This was the audio team on Shattered Dimensions.

As the entire development team iterated on every aspect of the game simultaneously throughout development, nothing was ever really final until the very end. Hence it was impossible for the audio team to start working on anything with final quality in mind, and it was very hard to determine what portions of the game could be worked at what time, with minimum risk.

Eventually, when everything in the game reached final quality simultaneously, the amount of cumulated audio work was just too much for the team to handle. Enemy behavior, music, voice-over and final cut scenes all came on line very late in the production process--just as bugs from QA were starting to come in.

Keeping the audio team in the loop and planning accordingly was not an issue at the start of the project or when a major change came up. The real issue was the little changes, those types of things that happen almost every day. These issues were simply not addressed and thus accumulated into large problems at the end.

The multidisciplinary team dedicated to mechanics and level design was not aware enough of the impact their changes had on the teams that followed them down the production line, namely the audio and the visual effects teams. They were very rarely warned of what was happening, and the mechanics and level designers didn't realize that the extra time spent on a feature was, in reality, eating into the schedule of other teams.

We tried using an automated tool to notify the audio team that something had changed. The animators had an option called "Animation Time Changed" that they could enable when they submitted data directly to source control. This option would automatically send an email to the audio team. Unfortunately, this function was pretty much forgotten by everyone.

A detailed scan of all of the modified animation would have prevented the audio team from missing anything, but most of the changes didn't impact audio, and it was very time consuming to investigate each animation individually."

Additional Info

The full postmortem of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions explores more of "What Went Right" and "What Went Wrong" during the course of the game's development, and is now available in the November 2010 issue of Game Developer magazine.

The issue also includes a feature revealing the Game Developer 50, outlining the most influential people in the industry, as well as articles on creating in-game shadows and a design-based deconstruction of Castlevania III's opening level.

Worldwide paper-based subscriptions to Game Developer magazine are currently available at the official magazine website, and the Game Developer Digital version of the issue is also now available, with the site offering six months' and a year's subscriptions, alongside access to back issues and PDF downloads of all issues, all for a reduced price. There is now also an opportunity to buy the digital version of November 2010's magazine as a single issue.

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