Interview With Gameloft’s Spider-Man Unlimited Team


Spider-Man Unlimited is an endless runner that we at Whateveraspidercan have always enjoyed. Simply type in Spider-Man Unlimited or SMU into the search bar and you’ll find a variety of articles on our site that cover the mobile app. With the recent introduction of Titan Spideys and a large update on the way, I reached out to Gameloft to interview the Spider-Man Unlimited team about game design, game balance, new content, and more. Read on to learn a bit of history about the game’s development, and the thought process that goes into creating and maintaining the popular Marvel app. I’ve split the interview into three articles for ease of reading, with the first part found below. (WASC): First off, would you like to introduce yourselves?

Tatiana Nahai (TN): This is Tatiana Nahai, the Product Manager for Spider-Man Unlimited.

Kyle West (KW): And I’m Kyle West, the Game Community Manager for Spider-Man Unlimited.

WASC: Very nice to meet you guys, and thanks for having us. Let’s jump right into the first question.

Part 1: Game Design and Design Philosophy

WASC: What sets Spider-Man Unlimited apart from other endless runners is the multiple styles of motion and actions, with running, swinging, climbing, falling, and fighting bosses. The system proved to be a breath of fresh air that broke up the monotony of a simple run/jump/slide design. How did the developers conceive this system, and closely related to that question, how did the overarching idea of Spider-Man Unlimited come to be?

TN: We knew that endless runners were really popular and felt that people really enjoyed them, but there hasn’t been an endless runner that really broke the mold for what you could do, and the gameplay (of Spider-Man Unlimited) really works well for mobile devices and for a super hero character like Spider-Man. For the analysis of the game-play, we started from the beginning by looking at Spider-Man’s core powers. That was the key differentiation, how to make an endless runner that is true to the branding and true to the character. Originally the idea was for it to be a 100% swinger game, but through testing various gameplay styles and trying to implement innovative systems, we found that ultimately it didn’t really work. The gameplay was a bit boring, and led to questions such as what happened when spider-man went on the floor -then he could just run. 

Originally the idea was for it to be a 100% swinger game

We reassessed the gameplay to focus more on a typical runner, but with great elements of swinging, fighting, wall climbing, and sky diving that allowed for gameplay differentiation. It was really just a core analysis of what spider-man can do and what his core powers are, as well as a lot of research and development in terms of what worked and what didn’t. We played around with a lot of gameplay modes as well, like a first person hitting mode and a dimensional run where you ran into mini Green Goblins, but ultimately weeded out the modes that didn’t perform as well, creating a really strong balance in the end.

WASC: I would say that you have a winning formula here, and knowing that it was originally a 100% swinging game that branched into other game types, when exactly did bosses come into play?

TN: Well we always wanted bosses. When we were swinging they were kind of flying around, but it was a bit complicated when we had the swinging plus the bosses. We always knew we wanted boss attacks; however, for a runner it was really hard to figure out exactly how to do that because the game constantly had to be moving. Whereas in a normal fight you would not be moving in a straight line, but rather staying in and moving around in one place. Again, it was a lot of research and development on what worked and what didn’t, and also what a casual gamer could experience and really enjoy without it being too overwhelming.

WASC: Bosses are what really impressed me from the get go. I started playing when the game first came out, and when I got to a boss I was staggered by the sequence, because I did not expect that whatsoever in a runner. It really works well

TN: Right, it definitely made the game a lot more mid-core whereas the original intent was to make it for kids who could play, though I think transitioning into more of a mid-core gamer audience just naturally suited the economy of the game anyway – with the amount of spiders that we release and the rank up system that we have.

WASC: The Spider-Man Unlimited Team was given the chance to create a brand new world and story. Considering that there are some interesting character interactions in the game such as the Superior Spider-Man talking to a version of Doctor Octopus, I would think the writers can have some fun with the dialogue. Is there a specific overall script the game follows, or are the writers given more of a guideline, and get to fill in the blanks with quips and banter?

TN: A little bit of both. The core story is the Sinister Six and the dimensional variations of each character/Spidey, so that always needs to be the key story and play some sort of part in whatever we do. Spider-Verse slightly went in a different direction, but it still had that core story in it, and that’s really the only restriction. In terms of narrative and stories we talk very closely with Marvel about stories that we can do. As the product manager and real owner of the content, I identify the best possible stories and themes that we can do, and then discuss it with the narrative designer. He comes up with the dialogue and core story which we then consult with a Marvel writer. Specifically we work with Fred Van Lente at Marvel Comics, who gives us his feedback on the dialogues and any ideas he might have to improve them.

Spider-Man Unlimited Female Spideys
WASC: Was the addition of Female Spideys and Monster Spideys planned from the conception of the game, or did these ideas arise after the game’s release? /

TN: Monster Spideys were not planned from the conception of the game, or immediately when we were launching it. Our core task was/is to look at the available content and bring those characters into the game. We saw that there was a series of Monster Spideys that were available for use, but we had to figure out a new deal for them. With the female characters, Spider-girl was always planned, and when we found out about Spider-Gwen’s release way back, months before she was announced, we were planning on having her in the game immediately -along with Silk and a lot of the other female characters. The creation of Spider-Verse really initiated that. Without Spider-Verse, Spider-Gwen and Silk wouldn’t have existed, and it would have taken us a little bit longer to look at other core female characters like the Ultimate Black Widow and Spider-Woman.

WASC: When animating the motion of the male and female characters, how did the team decide what range of motion/style of running the spiders would employ?

TN: That’s a bit of a technical question. Our animators were really well versed in Spider-Man branding and how he acts, moves, and interacts with things, so we had tons of references from the previous Spider-Man games we had done, the Spider-Man movies, and the comics themselves. We really wanted to keep pushing different reactions and different animations, and I think specifically when we released the subway sequence, the animations that came along with the subway such as the Spidey Sense, and the animations of free falling and jumping from building to building were all really accurate to the core of what Spider-Man is, so much so that we never had a comment from Marvel ever saying that this animation feels wrong for the character.

WASC: Before we move on, quick question, Spider-Gwen or Silk?

Both: Spider-Gwen!

WASC: Indisputably spider-gwen?

TN: Yeah! Definitely. The interesting thing about Spider-Gwen is she has a very core Peter Parker type style where she is kind of a vigilante type, and Silk doesn’t necessarily have that as much; she’s trying to be normal and she’s trying to work in the world after years of being in a bunker, and it’s just a different story to the core spider-man story which is more about balancing life with super heroism as a hated character. Silk is trying to have a normal life.

WASC: She wants to be more obscure.

TN: Yeah exactly. I just think the way they did her is.. different, well it’s good to be different. If everyone had the same core Peter Parker story it would be really boring, I just like the way they did Spider-Gwen’s.

WASC: Speaking earlier on animation, the set pieces of the game’s levels are fantastic, and I’m really digging Mysterio’s level.

TN: That’s my personal favorite as well.

Spider-Man Unlimited Mysterio
WASC: Where does the creation of these levels begin and end? Does the team think of the design philosophy of the gameplay and obstacles then lay a matching design over it, or do they work the other way around? For example, every stage has an obstacle that requires the slide mechanic, but they are presented in different forms such as a broken road or a laser beam. Does the team think, “There should be a laser in Doc’s level, make that the slide obstacle,” or, “we need a slide obstacle… Doc Ock uses lasers, let’s use those!” /

TN: With the original conception of the environments we talk about what we need: we need a running environment with Doc Ock, and a new environment for Mysterio, etc. The first thing we do is come up with concepts that we approach Marvel about, and then Marvel will provide their feedback. For instance, with the Mysterio level, what was fun was that we had asked their (Marvel’s) feedback for a Mysterio environment, and their feedback was to do a film set in New York, because Mysterio is a studio actor. I thought that’d be really interesting, but the problem with that is that it wouldn’t be visually different, so we proposed the idea to do a dream world environment. Marvel’s concern was that it was going be too Dr. Strange, so it was a little bit of a back and forth explaining that the dream world would undoubtedly be Mysterio, and then Marvel had the idea to make it part of a storyline. That’s the core collaboration on the environments.

Once we get that approved we send rough sketches of general concept art of what the environment will look like and check if Marvel is cool with that. Next, as the environment is being created by the level design team, the team says, “we need X amounts of obstacles to swing over/jump over, we need the boss attack to be this, and we need various side buildings or walls enclosing the long environment.” They kind of fill in the gaps based on the brand and what works for the brand, then create them in a varied way so it really feels different. The obstacles all feel distinct, like the lasers vs. the roads you slide under feel different, so you’re not thinking, “Oh it’s another obstacle to slide under,” it feels part of the environment.

Next: Interview With Gameloft's Spider-Man Unlimited Team, Part 2