Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was crafted with reverence – Interview

Josue Benavidez, Design Director on Marvel's Spider-Man 2 discusses game creation and handling Marvel's extensive history.
venom marvel's spider-man 2

Marvel stories have long been part of our collective lives, in one form or another. Beyond the cinematic machine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many of us grew up watching Marvel cartoons – The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, X-Men Evolution – or playing with Marvel toys and arcade games.

For the team at Insomniac Games, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 represented a chance to play in this vast, sweeping Marvel Universe, indulging in a passion for the source material, while carving out its own unique chapter of superhero history.

According to Design Director Josue Benavidez, balance was essential in this development process. “We’re all huge Marvel fans and comic fans,” he told GamesHub. Benavidez is a self-described “big fan” of Marvel, and particularly of Spider-Man, as they share a love for science.

“At the same time, we want to make sure that we’re telling a story that’s our own. When we start working on the story, we think ‘well, how can we make this our story?’ How can we tell a story that we know players are going to enjoy … but at the same time, something that’s unique for us?”

Spreading tendrils

The tracks for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 were laid early, in the closing stages of the original Marvel’s Spider-Man, but from minor teasers – Venom’s appearance in a mysterious tank, and the arrival of the Osborns – Insomniac pushed the bounds of its established world, expanding the corners of its map, and exploring deeper, darker themes in this sequel.

marvel's spider-man 2 review
Screenshot: GamesHub

Benavidez describes this process as highly collaborative, with multiple teams working closely to elevate the game’s core ideas, as brought to life by the Insomniac narrative team.

Insomniac’s writers were “there from the beginning” of the gestation, with designers then supporting this team by implementing combat and exploration mechanics, and collectibles that tied into the wide picture. Per Benavidez, ensuring that everything wove in together, from story moments to collectible robots, was core to building out the world of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 – all in service of providing a “juicy story” for players.

Read: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 Review – Swing, Swing

“We wanted to make even the small contents important and meaningful,” Benavidez said. “We wanted to make sure that we fulfilled that fantasy of a Marvel New York.” In crafting their own approach to such an iconic world, the Insomniac team also worked “really closely” with Marvel itself, in order to better shape the game’s story and character arcs.

“Our relationship with Marvel is really good,” Benavidez said. “We talk about things that we want to do, and they talk about things they think would be fun to see. It’s a really supportive relationship.”

Comic book roots

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Image: Insomniac Games

WARNING: Light spoilers follow for the comic inspirations behind Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.

With Marvel’s input, Insomniac set about spinning its own web of the universe’s grandeur, picking from beloved comic runs and stories across multiple eras of Spider-Man. With plenty of other ‘competitors’ in the scene – notably, Sony’s own upcoming Kraven the Hunter, Venom 3, and other entries in the filmic SPUMC – the studio was determined to carve out its own, well-defined place in the extended Spider-Universe. “We’ve always been focussed on telling the story in our own way,” Benavidez said.

Rather than worrying about the wider Spider-Man universe, Insomniac primarily focussed on the original Marvel comics to flesh out its tales. Kraven’s Last Hunt was clearly a major touchpoint for the development team, with Kraven’s psychology and desires lavishly brought to life from these pages.

“It’s a story we find very compelling,” Benavidez said. “I think it works really well, with other elements of our story. We look for ways we can create unique and interesting overlaps … again, we’re just super big Marvel fans, and that’s such a huge point in that character’s story that we wanted to tell.”

In Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, the context and circumstances of Kraven’s Last Hunt are reimagined – again, with that all-important balance. A reverence for the source material, and a need to innovate, and push the limits of storytelling. In this case, Last Hunt is weaved through with the evolution of Venom, and of both Peter Parker and Miles Morales, with the Insomniac narrative borrowing key plot points as a means to drive home the darker stakes of the game’s story.

The Black Suit Saga was also a clear inspiration, with Insomniac pulling from years of comic history to depict Peter Parker’s emotional struggle with control, weaving this into a wider narrative about power and responsibility – the core themes that have always dogged the Spider-Man mythos. “There was a lot of pressure on making sure that we delivered, but also making sure we had our own spin on it,” Benavidez said. “It was something we were very passionate about making sure we got right.”

Elsewhere, this elevation of comic book source material can be seen in the depiction of Venom – in his various forms. Those familiar with the excellent Cullen Bunn and Donny Cates Venom comic runs will find plenty to pore over here, with elements of these stories being lovingly and dramatically weaved into the game’s dynamic, ever-changing tale.

Even beyond these core plot elements, the most important aspect of developing Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was in understanding Peter Parker and Miles Morales – and particularly, what makes Spider-Man so compelling, and so enduring, across multiple decades of comic history. Here, Marvel’s input, and the team’s own reflections, allowed Insomniac to bring these characters to life.

“He’s very relatable, right?” Benivadez said. “I think a lot of people see in Spider-Man things they would like to see in a hero. He’s grounded. He always has strong relationships with the people around him. That’s one thing we think about when we make these games.”

Push and pull

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Screenshot: GamesHub

Insomniac Games set out to achieve something incredibly ambitious with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: telling a Spider-Man story with unbound creativity, and an incredible story that could finally be realised on screen, with the aid of video game technology, and the talent of its developers. According to Benavidez, the team weren’t specifically trying to ‘one-up themselves’ from the original Marvel’s Spider-Man – with the core focus remaining on player enjoyment – but nevertheless, it certainly feels like the team has gone bigger and better with this sequel.

“We love telling big stories,” Benavidez said. “We love having really exciting and explosive conclusions to our stories. I think that’s just where things naturally [ended up] going. We have these awesome characters, and we’ve got a great cast, and also a bunch of great writers. This is sort of where you end up.”

With the course of the story being guided by the writing, and by destructive, game-changing characters like Venom, the end result is an epic, eye-catching adventure that becomes more tense, and more terrifying with each chapter – culminating in a finale that feels larger and more impressive than any we’ve seen in Marvel tales on-screen.

“From the beginning, we wanted to build off the Marvel movie feel,” Benavidez said. The team strived to capture the fun and freedom of these films, while also building a grounded world that felt believable, engaging, and in parts – frankly overwhelming in scale.

They also wanted to emphasise a core point of difference from the world of the movies: that players could actually control and embody Spider-Man in this adventure, giving them a real sense of ownership of the journey.

Read: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 sold 2.5 million copies in 24 hours

“That’s one of the things we love to do as much as we can – let players control, and actually use the Spider-powers themselves, and figure out interesting ways they can combine things. As much as we can, we’d like to let players have fun. [We] create games that are a toolbox of toys to play with.”

Players can freely explore Insomniac’s version of New York, familiarise themselves with the landscape, get to know individual citizens – and in that way, form a bond with the world, and form that all-important sense of responsibility.

It’s something video games, in particular, excel at – and something that cinema struggles to capture. In devoting hours of your time to a unique, compelling world, it starts to become more real, and more relatable. And in moments both quiet and over-the-top, Insomniac does a brilliant job at solidifying this relationship.

With Miles and Peter at the heart of its story, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 leans into spectacle, while providing space for those quieter, more impactful character moments. Like Spider-Man himself, the game is multi-faceted: it’s a spectacular superhero story filled with blockbuster set pieces, and it’s also a character study of family, and the importance of relying on friends.

“Spider-Man has always been pulled in different directions,” Benavidez said. “We’ve got our big blockbuster, super high action missions, but then we also have more character-focused missions. There’s lots of little gems and nuggets in there, and fun little moments that get to deliver an experience that’s a little bit different … I really hope players play through the story, and get to experience that push and pull.”

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is out now for PlayStation 5.

MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN 2 – PS5 Launch Edition

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05/15/2024 10:07 pm GMT

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.