Spider-Man 2 DS Q&A

We chat up Karthik Bala, CEO of Vicarious Visions, to find out more about Activision's Nintendo DS launch title and development for the handheld.

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Fresh from a fist-pumping earnings call for the second quarter of fiscal year 2005, Activision is riding high on the success of a pile of blockbuster licenses. Key to that success has been developer Vicarious Visions, who is producing the Xbox version of Doom 3 and has also handled the Game Boy Advance versions of Tony Hawk's Underground and Shrek 2.

Now, Activision again calls on Vicarious Visions to provide a high-profile title that will not only pad its bottom line and increase its exposure, but also introduce the company to a brand-new platform: the Nintendo DS. First revealed at Nintendo's Gamer's Summit in Seattle earlier this month, Spider-Man 2 for the DS features traditional 2D platforming gameplay rendered with a smooth 3D engine, and it uses the DS' touch screen input. It will be released on November 21, the same day as the Nintendo DS hardware.

To find out more about Spider-Man 2 and development for the Nintendo DS, GameSpot spoke to Karthik Bala, CEO and chief creative officer at Vicarious Visions.

GameSpot: Nintendo seems to be making a strong effort to round up significant support from Western developers for the launch of the Nintendo DS. When did Nintendo approach Activision/VV about starting this project, and when did work begin?

Karthik Bala: We were talking to Nintendo and Activision in March. The DS seemed like a device with great potential, and we all agreed that Spider-Man would be a great character to bring to the launch. The project itself started late spring. It’s been a really short development cycle for any game, but especially considering we had to produce an all original Spider-Man game with a brand-new design, content, and technology that really would showcase the unique capabilities of the DS.

GS: Many of the DS games shown at E3 used 2D graphics, so Spider-Man 2's use of 3D was something of a shock. What was behind the decision to use 3D graphics instead of 2D?

KB: Vicarious Visions had a breakthrough title with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for the launch of GBA. It was groundbreaking in many ways and surprised people on what the GBA was capable of doing. We wanted to again do something surprising and innovative for the launch of the DS, and this was a chance to create a high-performance 3D experience not possible on the GBA.

GS: What is it like to program on the DS? Has there been support from Nintendo in terms of libraries, development tools, assistance?

KB: The DS is a really well-designed piece of hardware, and it is a real joy to work with. Nintendo has been extremely supportive and has developed some great tools for developers. They are putting a lot of effort into supporting third-party developers and publishers, which is of course resulting in great titles for the system.

GS: Spider-Man 2 uses the DS' touch screen input to let the player quickly select special moves. Are there other uses of the touch screen during gameplay, and can you describe them?

KB: In addition to the 'buffet of moves' that players unlock during main gameplay, we also have some fast-paced touch screen games to add some new spice to boss fights. In the Doc Octopus boss fights, the gameplay switches to a first person mode in which Spidey has to impact web debris being flung by Doc Ock. In another mission, players have to diffuse bombs hidden around the city by Vulture by carefully pulling the detonator cap out of the bomb. There are quite a few touch screen challenges that keep the action varied and fast.

GS: For all its bells and whistles, Spider-Man 2's game design is ultimately derived from straightforward classic, licensed action platformers. As game designers, have you been exploring further possibilities of game design with the DS hardware? Making a game that revolves around the touch screen, perhaps?

KB: Absolutely. When creating a launch title, or any title actually, we always have to carefully pick our areas of focus. For a launch title, though, the hardware is constantly changing and it is not until very late in development that we get 'final form factor'--essentially the final hardware which we can hold and fine-tune the gameplay. But now, after finishing our first title on the DS, we know the hardware inside and out. We can go back to all the ideas we left on the cutting room floor and bring them to fruition on future titles.

GS: Of all the different features of the DS, which are you most interested in and excited about for the future?

KB: The wireless and Wi-Fi capabilities of the system are really intriguing. It can really open up truly networked portable game experiences--which can result in new forms of gameplay we’ve never seen before. Couple that with some cool new user interface options, thanks to the touch screen and even voice recognition support, and you have some amazing game design possibilities. As developers and diehard gamers, the team at Vicarious Visions is really excited about the future of the Nintendo DS.

GS: Thanks, Karthik.

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