Assembling Marvel’s Avengers: Spider-Man

Crystal Dynamics has taken some big swings with the latest character to join the Avengers. Senior Designer Scott Walters reveals how they pushed the game further than ever for Peter Parker.
By Duncan Heaney

The Amazing Spider-Man has swung into Marvel’s Avengers!

Playable exclusively on PlayStation, the young hero makes a big impact in the Avengers’ world, where he forms a tentative friendship with Kamala Khan and Black Widow. With his webs and agility, he’s quite unlike any other hero on the roster - so how did the team work him into the game?

Whenever Crystal Dynamics starts work on a new hero, they look to the source material, and Spider-Man was no different. As Senior Designer Scott Walters explains:

“We dig through everything - the comics, the cartoons and the movies and more - and try to identify what’s iconic to the hero we’re creating.

In the case of Spider-Man, we knew off the bat that we wanted to have web-swinging, wall-crawling and his agility accurately represented in the game. It was really important for us to nail the feeling of moving around the environment as Spider-Man.”

Swinging into action

Of course, full unrestricted swinging was a form of traversal quite unlike anything else in the game. While characters like Black Widow and Ms Marvel can swing on certain objects, the team wanted Spider-Man to be able to move without those limitations.

The question was… how?

“It was one of our goals to make Spider-Man’s swinging feel open and fluid, like he’s launching himself through the air,” explains Walters. “When you think about Spider-Man, he’s a character who’s almost always in the air. He can’t fly, but it’s the next best thing.

“We started early on by discussing things like how realistic do we make the web-slinging? Is it physics-based? Do the webs have to stick to objects, or can we fudge it a little? The decision ultimately came down whether we were aiming for ultra-realism or fun.

“Naturally, we chose the approach that felt better in the players’ hands.”

Realism vs fun

Walters and the team decided that Peter would always be able to swing, even if he didn’t have the luxury being among the concrete canyons of New York. As Walters says:

“If there is terrain nearby that the webs can stick to, they will. But there are lots of environments that aren’t as built up as the city, like the Siberian wilderness or bombed-out desert of the Future Wasteland, and we didn’t want to restrict ourselves or the character.”

The first thing the team did was to implement a basic physics-based system and implement tweaks from there. A dedicated group of engineers assembled to focus specifically on this element of the character, building out the existing swing system to be more free-flowing and universal.

Swinging indoors was a particular area of concern, and it’s something the team focused on getting right early on.

“We paid special attention to making sure that even in confined spaces swinging felt good,” says Walters. “We didn’t want players to constantly smack into the ceiling or the wall, so there was a lot of fine-tuning we had to do to adjust that.”

Crawling the walls

Of course, Spider-Man isn’t just a swinger - he’s a wall-crawler too. Spider-man can run freely on walls in multiple directions. This opens up all kinds of options to players - if there’s an objective on top of a tower, for example, the web-head can scale it in seconds and get there much faster than other characters.

But the team knew that for the true Spider-Man experience, they’d have to go further than that.

Walters says: “We always intended that Spider-Man should be able to run on walls, but a big part of the discussion early on was about slower wall-crawling traversal. How do we do it? Should we do it? After all, there aren’t a lot of occasions where players will want to move that slowly on a wall.

“But we ultimately decided that Spidey is the ‘friendly neighborhood wall-crawler’ so it would be a little weird if he couldn’t do it. Even if players aren’t going to use it much, it’s so iconic to the character that it had to be there.”

Implementing the new feature wasn’t easy though. The ability to jump onto a wall and move in all directions brings challenges with it - camera controls, what happens when you get to the edge of a wall and much more.

“It took a lot of very talented people to solve those challenges,” says Walters. “It’s worth the effort though because the character just wouldn’t feel authentic without it.”

Leaping into battle

When it came to building Spider-Man’s special ‘Heroic’ moves, the team once again looked to the comics, movies and beyond. It was obvious that Peter’s fighting style should include webs, but the team wanted to go deeper than that.

“We homed in on his scientific skills,” says Walters. “Peter is very smart - he invents a lot of his own tech, and we looked at ways to incorporate that into the game, particularly in the combat suite.”

“For example, one of his Heroic moves is a web bomb. One of Spider-Man’s iconic villains is the Green Goblin, who throws pumpkin bombs. Peter’s repurposed those and filled them with web fluid, and he can use that to quickly web up a large group of enemies - and even pull them together if you upgrade it.”

In addition to the bombs, Spider-Man can use Wrecking Ball to smash down on wide area with his webs, and a Spider Drone. According to Walters, the drone was actually one of the hardest things for the team to develop.

“The thing that we spent the most time on was definitely the drone. We’ve done similar things before, like Kate Bishop’s stationary Decoy, and Black Panther’s Kimoyo Beads that follow the player. For the Spider Drone, we wanted to combine all that functionality into one ability.

“So, Peter can either have the drone follow him, or he can send it to defend a particular area. Essentially, you have a mobile turret that leans into Spider-Man’s abilities as a support character for the team. It took a lot of effort to get it, and the upgrades, to feel just right, but it was also the most interesting ability to work on.”

A supportive superhero

While Spider-Man is a skilled melee fighter, more than capable of taking out foes directly, his role on the team leans more towards support than offense. That’s emphasised by his webs, which do more than just entangle foes.

Walters explains: “Spider-Man is naturally geared towards crowd control, and he’s able to inflict the ‘webbed’ debuff on enemies. We put a lot of focus into his upgrade path, and how his webbing can affect enemies, beyond just immobilizing them.

“By investing upgrade points you can make it so that when webbed enemies are defeated they drop regen packs or Heroic orbs. Not only does it help your friends when playing as a team, it gives the Wrecking Ball and Web Bomb greater impact, as all these pickups fly out of defeated enemies!”

Running out of web fluid

It’s not just the hero’s strengths that Crystal Dynamics look at when they’re assembling their roster of Avengers - they also look at their limitations. It’s this that often leads to interesting and surprising gameplay, and keeps the team balanced. For Walters, one thing in particular stood out from the comics:

“One of the things that stuck with me, since I was a kid, was Spider-Man running out of web fluid, falling, and having to try to reload his web cartridges mid-swing. We didn’t implement that aspect for the traversal - we didn’t want to force the player to suddenly plummet through the air - but we did implement that in the combat.

“It’s something I think that’s iconic to the character - his web-shooters are gadgets that he made, as is the web fluid. So, to reflect that in the game, as well as to balance the combat, we added a reload mechanic.

“You have an ammo counter, which you can refill, but you’re going to want to do so at advantageous moments like in-between combat beats or after taking out a particular enemy. You don’t want to get caught mid-fight with an enemy and have to reload. I think that’s an interesting mechanic that we brought directly from the source material.”

Final thoughts

Now that Spider-Man is playable on PS4 and PS5, the team is eager to see fans flipping and thwipping in the game.

Walters says: “Spider-Man was the first Marvel character I was ever introduced to, and I’ve been a fan for longer than I have any other character. Working on the character was a joy.

“I’m especially impressed by how we really pushed the boundaries of the game, and what players can do with his expanded traversal and combat.

“We had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to achieve with Spider-Man and the final character really hits that target. I’m immensely proud of the whole team for bringing him to life in such a cool way.”

Spider-Man is available in Marvel’s Avengers on PS4 and PS5 now. In addition to the web-slinger, the free update also includes the new Klaw Raid, which will test Earth’s Mightiest Heroes like never before, an increase to the level cap, a new gear upgrade system and more!

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