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June 29, 2012

‘Amazing Spider-Man’ game: The heroic art of quip-slinging

Posted in: Games

Spider-Man does whatever a spider can — wall-crawling, for instance, and web-slinging — but the character is just as famous for making bad jokes while saving the city. For the just-released “The Amazing Spider-Man” video game, the task of creating Spidey’s quip-slinging fell to the game’s lead writer, Kevin Seamus Fahey, a 36-year-old television screenwriter whose credits include “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Forgotten,” and “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena.” We spoke with Fahey about the challenges of keeping up with Peter Parker’s quick wit.

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HC: How does writing for a game differ from a TV show or a comic book?

KSF: When you’re writing a comic, there’s more solitude. TV is by committee. You’re in a room with half a dozen people, staring at each other for eight or 10 hours a day. With games, you’re also working in groups. But instead of a roomful of writers, you get a roomful of developers and producers. At the end of the day, it’s the players’ experience that matters most. They control it. Or at least they have to feel as if they’re in control. With “Spider-Man,”  the big thing is choice. You get to be Peter Parker, and you can choose what you want to do next. So how do we make every decision dramatic and important? Each choice needs consequence that makes the story move forward but also makes the player feel that he was in on it all.

HC: Everyone knows that the possibilities in games aren’t limitless, though. How do you deal with that?

KSF: People use words like “sandbox” and “playground.” But even playgrounds have railings. And that’s OK. People get it. As long as you have enough fun choices and enough to keep them in awe, people are OK with that.

HC: “Amazing Spider-Man” arrives in theaters on July 3. How does this game relate to that film and what distinguishes this game from the previous Spider-Man releases?

KSF: We didn’t retread what the movie did. The game is a stand-alone story. It operates in the same world, but it picks up where the movie drops off. It will enrich the movie experience. Secondly, there’s the ticking clock. As Peter Parker, the player has a personal connection to the incidents in the game that it propels them to solve the problem, be the hero. They’re not bogged down by what might have happened in the movie. Finally, we have the Web Rush game mechanic. Any time during combat, you can trigger the Web Rush feature and the screen shows an explosion of silhouettes of where you could be. The engine gives you a unique path to that destination. It presents you with choices and a spontaneous cinematic way to get there.

HC: Tell us about a writing challenge you faced while working on this game?

KSF: I spent two solid days on a single dialogue. It was for a scene where Spider-Man’s hanging from the ceiling and a guard walks in trying to find him. I was supposed to write a few variations of what the guard says. “Where are you?” “Please show yourself.” “Hands up!” That sort of thing. You type the dialogue into an Excel spreadsheet, and the game randomly selects a line from the list when it’s appropriate. I came up with about a dozen lines that I thought were pretty good. I hand them in. Then the developers come back and say, “That’s nice. Can you write another 102 lines?” Turns out, there are lots of instances where guys are looking for Spider-Man. I really had to wrack my brain.

Concept art for “The Amazing Spider-Man” (Activision)

HC: That sounds super tedious. What was most fun about the job?

KSF: Writing the mutant put-downs. I lived in New York for a while, so that prepared me well for that task. There’s also a mock Twitter
feed in the game of people reacting to what Spider-Man is doing.

HC: Can you give us a few examples of Spider-Man’s quips?

KSF: Sure!

“The Amazing Spider-Man”: Hello, kitty. (Activision)

The following dialogue samples were provided later by Activision:

1) Spider-Man to Alistair Smythe’s robots: “Easy. Nice robot.  After all we’ve been through, don’t you think we should try to talk this over?  We don’t have to — Owwww!  I guess not.”

2)  Spider-Man to Felicia Hardy: “Not so fast, Felicia.  When you get out of prison, you should think about changing careers. But keep the costume.”

3) Spider-Man in a fight: “Whoa! Hey! Settle down! We’re not all made of metal around here — Hey! That’s a wall. That’s a wall! Wall! Wall! Stop!! Ugghff.  No, don’t worry.  I’m OK. Thanks for asking.”

4) Spider-Man to a baddie: “I’m going, just don’t expect a friend request anytime soon.”

5) Spider-Man upon entering a villain’s lair: “Wow! I think I saw this place on ‘Cribs.’  The spooky secret underground bunker episode.”

6) Spider-Man upon taking electrical damage: “Fried spider … is NOT on the menu!”

– Alex Pham

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