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WonderCon 2011 - Activision Spider-Man Panel Report

The Activision Spider-Man panel, which took place on Saturday, April 2, 2011, was moderated by Dan Amrich, Social Media Manager for the famous video game publisher. He introduced the panelists: Dee Brown, studio head of Beenox, the Quebec-based video game development company; Gerard Lehiany, Creative Director of the upcoming Spider-Man: Edge of Time game; veteran comic writer Peter David (“the man with the two greatest first names in comics”); Josh Keaton, the voice of Spider-Man across several media; and T.Q. Jefferson, VP of Games Production for Marvel (“nothing happens without his say so”).

The first part of the panel focused on Activision and Beenox’s most recent production, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (released last September), which featured four different versions of Spider-Man collaborating to fight Mysterio. Brown said Beenox had taken the risk of featuring the four versions from a desire “to do something amazing, no pun intended.” Lehiany said the team had wished to craft challenges that only Spider-Man, as opposed to any other comics character, could meet. The result, a “Spider-Man sample platter” in Amrich’s words, has led to Activision naming Beenox the primary developer for all future Spider-Man games.

Keaton, who voiced Ultimate Spider-Man in Shattered Dimensions, was asked if his performance as the video game character differed from his work in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. “The thing that usually changes is his age, so I’ll either pitch him up or pitch him down,” said Keaton, who said there were certain “core truths and elements” that he liked to keep consistent in all of his Spider-portrayals.

Keaton is not only a voice actor, but also a committed gamer, having played through and finished Shattered Dimensions right off the bat. Peter David, who had written the game, was still getting the hang of playing it. “You have to understand that once upon a time I thought I was hot stuff because I could master Pong,” he said.

Brown revealed that Beenox had started working on Edge of Time before Shattered Dimensions had shipped, with the desire to push the latter game’s combat system even further. Edge will feature Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 working together “despite a temporal difference of nearly a century.” The audience was then treated to the world premiere of the trailer, which features the memorable tag-line “the only who can help me is already dead—a hero has no future if he has no past.”

Lehiany said the game will be single-player, with both Spider-Men playable across a connected timeline. The premise involves a scientist from 2099 going back in time to destroy Amazing Spider-Man and rewrite history, forcing both heroes to band together for preservation. A series of causes-and-effects will ripple across the timelines: “While playing Amazing Spider-Man, the player will be able to interact with things that will actually affect the 2099 timeline. On the other hand, when the player will be playing as Spider-Man 2099 he must be very, very careful in reacting, because a lot of things can change: a wall can appear, some can disappear…because of what Amazing Spider-Man is doing in his own timeline.” A picture-in-picture effect allows the player to see the other Spider-Man affected by the cross-time impact of his gameplay. If, for example, Amazing Spider-Man is fighting a prototype robot, and Spider-Man 2099 is fighting a later version of that robot, Amazing Spider-Man could destroy the prototype, denying its future existence and making it disappear from 2099.

Brown said the staff had been inspired by time-travel films like 12 Monkeys, and credited Peter David, Edge of Time‘s writer, for emphasizing characterization throughout the game. David said it was “tremendously exciting” working with Beenox, because “most creative endeavours as a writer consist of sitting in your office by yourself,” whereas with the game “I went up to Quebec City and we locked ourselves in a conference room for a week and just hammered out all the aspects and threw things around.” He noted the many challenges of the time-travel plotline: at least once a day they had to stop and rethink everything after causing a paradox. Assembling the script from many sections often seemed like assembling a jig-saw puzzle.

David, who had co-created Spider-Man 2099 in 1992, was asked if his approach to writing the character had changed over time. “Absolutely not” he responded. “He’s exactly as I remember him because I pretty much ignored everything that everyone else has ever done with him ever since I stopped writing the book.” Much of what David had done to initially define the character involved heading in the opposite direction from Peter Parker’s persona. This ensured that when the characters interacted in Edge of Time, they would not get along well at first. “Each of them thinks the other one doesn’t have their priorities straight.”

Brown stated that Edge of Time will not be a sequel to Shattered Dimensions, and though Edge arose from several ideas originally conceived for the earlier game with the intent to explore the 2099 universe, it will be a “stand-alone offering.” T.Q. Jefferson noted that Spider-Man stories usually happen on a certain level, with something personal happening to hero or his city in danger, but this game presents a much larger challenge, since the future is at risk.

Keaton revealed that the voice of Spider-Man 2099 will be none other than Christopher Barnes, who had voiced the main role in Spider-Man: The Animated Series from 1994. Though in separate booths, the actors were enthusiastic about getting to act in the same room together.

David wrapped up the panel by assuring hard-core Marvel fans, who had left online comments raising the issue of Marvel’s continuity policy, which dictates that unnatural interference in one timeline doesn’t affect that timeline’s future but instead creates a different new timeline. David said he could not go into much detail, but the game would make a nod to the established policy. “Don’t worry, we know, we’ve got it covered” he counseled.

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