Like the original Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales before it, the recently released Spider-Man 2 is a bombastic superhero journey. With two Spider-Men on hand in Peter Parker and Miles Morales, plus the introductions of Kraven the Hunter and the alien symbiote who’ll become Venom, the sequel can’t help being a bigger beast with more stakes and big plot turns worth talking about. Naturally, we just had to pick the Insomniac Games team’s brains about how those decisions were made—and what they could possibly lead to down the line.
Days before the game’s release, Insomniac’s narrative director Ben Arfmann and advanced writer Brittney Morris had a spoiler-heavy discussion with io9 about Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, which covers both the main story and some side mission content.
Justin Carter, io9: Let’s start with Kraven, who comes to New York looking to find a worthy opponent. How’d you settle on him having killed several of the first game’s main villains, which hangs over much of the story’s events?
Ben Arfann, narrative director: Whenever we talked about this game, we talked about it being a darker, more mature story than the first two Spider-Man games, and part of that involved raising the stakes. With Kraven, we really wanted to build up the idea that if he truly was the World’s Greatest Hunter, and he can’t have that title if he’s not collecting some heads.
Brittney Morris, advanced writer: We wanted to make sure he was extremely menacing to both the heroes and the player. It’s one thing to show him filling up a camera space while being intimidating, and it’s another to show the kind of impact he has. We needed to give you a glimpse of what he was capable of, like in the beginning of the game when he breaks that guy’s neck.
Arfmann: I love [our] Kraven and his actor Jim Pirri so much. I remember when we released that first gameplay trailer that opened on him in the woods, there were reaction videos where folks had no idea what game was being shown. They saw the first guy and were like, “Eh, is that really Kraven? He’s okay,” and then they saw the actual Kraven, and people were universally flipping out. We’ve got a lot of great villains, but he’s one of my favorites.
io9: Alongside Kraven, we’ve got Venom, who’s Harry in this universe. He’s drawing on elements of [main Venoms] Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock. Did you ever feel you were taking too much from either?
Arfmann: Our process is always: we read everything, we watch and consume everything that exists around these characters and in these stories. Then as [senior narrative director] Jon Paquette always says, we forget about everything. We try and ingest all of it and then do our own thing. You can see influences from other stories, as you say. But when we were telling it, all we were thinking about was our Harry Osborn and Peter Parker, and trying to figure out how to put them on this incredible collision course that would challenge them both emotionally. We love Eddie’s Venom, and we definitely wanted to tell our own Venom story—one that was unique and interesting, and also build on this distinct lore we set up.
io9: It feels like “Harry as Venom” was a fairly open secret ahead of the game’s release. I’m curious, were you driven to deliver a twist that had to be equal to (or an escalation of) the Doc Ock reveal from the first game?
Arfmann: I don’t think we necessarily thought of things in that type of way. Whenever we tell a Spider-Man story, we always come back to, “The man underneath the mask is just as, if not more important, than the mask.” The human drama that Peter and Miles go through is what makes the game really relatable, and what keeps fans coming back to them.
The idea of telling a Venom story was something that we knew we wanted to do super early on, and we had conversations about that even during the first Spider-Man. For us, that meant: How do we get those personal hooks? How do we make Venom matter—not just to Spider-Man, but to Peter as well? Having Harry be the person who becomes Venom just naturally laid a track where there’d be so much drama here between these two friends.
io9: Was the playable Venom sequence something you knew right away you wanted to do? Was it ever possible that we’d play as proto-Venom earlier in the game, and then the real deal?
Morris: We determined that sequence very early in production, and knew it was something we wanted to do. As we were talking about what “must-have” moments need to go into the game, I think we collectively understood that if we have a Venom game, we need to be able to play as him. It’d be such a missed opportunity otherwise. We’re game developers, but we’re also fans, and so we knew what we wanted, and that players would probably agree that’d be the right move.
Arfmann: I remember in the earliest macro conversations with Jon and [co-directors] Bryan Intihar and Ryan Smith that playable Venom was a thing we knew was going to be our act break between Act Two and Three. Everyone could feel that it would have players’ jaws on the floor, and when we started production on it, the team really got behind it right away.
The designer on Venom was Shane McCloskey, who worked very closely with a core team to develop his moveset and figure out what the playable space was going to be. It was just one of those things where you could feel everybody getting so enthusiastic and bringing their A-game into it because it was an amazing moment that would make fans lose their shit.
io9: Usually with Venom, Carnage doesn’t take too long to follow behind him. But it was surprising to see him set up through side missions [via the Flame quest chain] rather than the main story.
Morris: For this game, our priorities were mainly on Pete and Miles, making sure to showcase them as developing heroes from beginning to end, and also doing a Venom story in our own way. We also had a number of villains that deserve their own time on screen, and we didn’t just want to make them one-dimensional—we really wanted to give them motivations and desires. To do all of that in a way that’s meaningful and a good experience for players, you need time.
Arfmann: Like we were saying early on, we knew that we wanted to tell a great Venom story. Anything that would distract from that wasn’t on brand, but at the same time, we’re huge fans of Carnage and Cletus Kasady. We didn’t want to shortchange that story by not giving it full service. At least in this game, we got to introduce our version of Cletus and also do some work on the relationship between Peter and Yuri Watanabe, who’s now become Wraith. If we’re gonna dive into that Carnage storyline, we want to make sure to really give it everything that it deserves.
io9: You said earlier you basically knew right away that you wanted playable Venom. Does that also apply to ending this game with Miles as the “main” Spider-Man from now on?
Morris: It always felt very natural, and I think we all collectively thought it would happen. To me, it shows a great deal of evolution from Miles; at the beginning of the game, we see him struggling to figure out what he wants to do with his life. By the end, we had Miles carrying the burden of saving the city, and also carrying Pete when Pete wasn’t strong enough to carry himself at various points.
That’s what’s been so cool about writing a story about two Spider-Men: they’re both strong, and one of them can be strong when the other is not. By the end, Miles is more confident and he’s like, “Yeah, I got this. How much worse can things get after what we just went through?”
Arfmann: To echo what Brittney said: the idea of a two Spider-Man story was always really essential to this game. I think pretty early on, we knew that we wanted to have that moment of handing the reins over. And as we developed it, as we started to lay down more track leading up to that moment, it just felt more and more right.
I think it was Jon who wrote that scene in Aunt May’s garage, and it’s one of my favorite scenes. The way that Miles intuits exactly what Pete is thinking and stops him from stumbling through trying to hand over the mask. Miles going, “You know I got this, bro,” it’s such a great moment between the two of them. And it felt like such a natural conclusion; I’m not sure when specifically we decided to do that, but it always felt like the only way the game could end.
io9: Before getting Miles to that point, he gets sidelined as Peter becomes more enmeshed with Harry and later the Symbiote. That’s clearly by design, but did you ever worry about short-changing Miles too much?
Morris: I joined [the Spider-Man 2 team] maybe about a month into production, and remember being asked how I felt about both Spider-Men. They asked, through the view of a player who didn’t know what happens next, if I felt like the distribution between the two leads was okay. There was always a constant checking in and going back to our north star to make sure that we’re headed toward the kind of story that we wanted to tell with these two heroes.
Arfmann: We always knew that this wasn’t a mentor-mentee story, this was about two Spider-Men who are incredibly good at what they do. You see in the opening with Sandman that they’ve got this solid partnership, which then gets challenged by not just Harry and the Symbiote, but also Mr. Negative. All these things are coming in to challenge that core partnership.
Throughout development, we pushed and pulled things in different directions, because we pride ourselves on being a team where great ideas can come from anywhere. But we always had this confidence that we were going to do service to both Spider-Men and tell an exceptional story starring them both.
io9: Along with giving Miles a promotion, you’ve introduced Cindy Moon, aka Silk, into your universe. Of all the Spider-heroes, I don’t think anyone was expecting her. What made her so appealing over someone like Eddie or Gwen Stacy?
Arfmann: Cindy’s always been a really compelling character in the comics who, similar to [SM1’s] Martin Li, hasn’t really gotten a ton of exposure outside of the immediate fanbase. There’s something really exciting about taking a character who we love, who not everybody’s had a chance to meet, and exposing her to a wider audience.
Morris: I’m so excited to see what we do with Cindy.
Arfmann: Exactly. That was the real drive with her, and figuring out who Insomniac’s Cindy Moon is a really exciting challenge. And we also have this interesting complication that [Cindy’s dad] Albert is dating [Miles’ mom] Rio, and we’re thrilled to explore how that creates a new iteration of this character that folks already love.
io9: One last question. Peter, Harry, and MJ all got a Symbiote during the game. Had you ever thought about giving one to Miles?
Arfmann: …I’m gonna plead the fifth.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is out now for the PlayStation 5.
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