My Spidey Sense is Tingling: An Interview with Peter David

by on October 14, 2011

The latest in a long line of Spider-Man games is released today, developed by Beenox and published by Activision, but written by Mr Peter David, the co-creator of Spider-Man 2099.

We recently had the chance to have a chat with Peter, and he is a wonderful character, full of energy and love for his work, and we’ve transcribed our interview here for you all to read.

GodisaGeek: In relation to your current work, what would you feel are the challenges when writing for videogames, and do the unique aspects of the medium change your approach or focus?

Well the big challenge of course in situations like this is that you’re dealing with a great many more people. It’s easy to say I’m the writer for the game and to a certain extent that’s correct but it is very much a group effort. I was brought up to Beenox and we sat there in a room for a solid week hammering out all the aspects, all the dramatic beats, everything about the game from top to bottom. As opposed to when I write a comic book, essentially I just sit in my office and I write the story as it appeals to me and it goes off to an editor, and that’s pretty much it.

This is very much a large group effort and that can be very challenging because your ideas and plot beats are subjected to a great deal of scrutiny, and everything gets taken apart and put back together, and even when it reaches a point where everybody has come to the conclusion that what they’ve got is absolutely dynamite, you then have to send everything to Marvel, and Marvel will come in with a clear eye and say “Yeah you guys didn’t consider this”, and we’ll be banging our heads against a wall because Marvel is right, we hadn’t thought about that and now we have to tear apart an entire section of the game and start over. So there’s very much a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ process to putting together a videogame.

GodisaGeek: So does it feel more restrictive to write for a videogame, due to the collaboration?

I don’t think restrictive is the right word, the word is as you just said, it’s more collaborative. To a certain degree it actually forces you to raise your game, because when you’re by yourself in a room and you think you come up with a pretty good idea, that’s what you go with. When you’re in a room with five other guys and you come up with an idea and you think that it’s pretty good and you put forth the idea – then three of the guys say “Yeah, that’s pretty good” but then the fourth guy says “You know what would be even better…” and takes what you’ve come up with and tweaks it in a particular direction or comes up with something even better on top of it, then that’s what you go with and the only circumstance that I would consider it to be restrictive is if you as a writer are not willing to check your ego at the door. If you go in there with the feeling that everything I have to say is the best possible iteration of how we’re going to do things, they yeah, you’re going to feel like you’re working in a straightjacket.

But if you’re willing to leave your ego at the door and leave yourself open to what the best possible idea is going to be, and if you’re willing to admit to yourself that what you’re going to come up with can be made even better by somebody else in the room, then it’s going to be a very exciting process.

In terms of limitations, they don’t exist any more than working in comic books with a character who you do not own, is going to be restrictive, and I’ve been working on licensed characters or characters I don’t own for more than a quarter of a century, so I’ve learned to pretty much take those “restrictions” in my stride.

GodisaGeek.com: What would you say the most difficult thing about writing for a videogame is?

A very easy answer, the time contraints. For instance, I would get an e-mail from Beenox and they would say “Peter, as the game has progressed we’ve put in this particular situation, and we need 45 seconds of dialogue between Peter Parker and Miguel O’Hara that would set it up”. Not 46 seconds, not 43 seconds, 48 seconds is right out. They need 45 seconds of dialogue, 10 seconds of dialogue, 15 seconds of dialogue. The dialogue constraints are part of the gameplay, they know how much screentime they are going to have, now they need dialogue from me to fit that alloted space. So I would be sitting there writing dialogue and saying it at a reasonable pace whilst using a stopwatch to make sure I was bang on time in terms of what they needed.

I’ve never been so glad to be dealing with two characters who spend most of their time with masks that cover their mouths, it makes it a lot easier!

GodisaGeek.com: It terms of this project, how early were you brought in? Were you the writer from the very beginning?

I honestly don’t know, how long between the time that they said “Let’s have a Spider-Man meets Spider-Man 2099 team-up game” and they got on the phone, I honestly don’t know. I can tell you that there had been some development work already.

They knew in general terms that they wanted to have, for instance, a sequence where Spider-Man 2099 is plummetting down an elevator shaft, as they had done a similar sequence in Shattered Dimensions, and that had been very popular – so when something is very popular you do more of it. I was brought in at the point where they knew certain sequences, but you have to have a whole story, and a series of events that get Spider-Man 2099 to that point, and when he gets to the bottom of the elevator shaft, one hopes in one piece, there has to be story elements that lead out of that and continue in a particular direction.

So that was the point where I was brought in, where they had a general idea of certain visuals and story elements, but they then needed someone to come in and sit down with the guys and actually put the story together.

GodisaGeek.com: In that respect, do you feel that with your writing, you had a heavy sway on how the game turned out in terms of narrative, and scenarios?

Oh yeah, I was brought in specifically for that. A number of my ideas including the development of key characters, key villians and key bosses to fight were all stuff that I came up with. I casually suggested at one point “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if this happened?” and that turned into one of the major climactic beats of the game, so I was very very much involved in the narrative including the development of certain characters and certain aspects that end up being linchpins of the story.

That said, it’s not something I came up with in a vacuum. Ideas that I came up with were batted around and improved upon and then sent to Marvel for their input, then we incorporate all of that. So yes, I was very much involved with the creative process but again, very much a collaborative endeavour.

This way I can say that, as it leaves me the latitude to say, if people really like stuff about the game I can say “Yeah, that was me” and if there is stuff they hate I can say “Yeah, that was the other guys”. (Peter Laughs)

GodisaGeek.com: Nowadays there is so many more ways to tell a story so much more you can do with a character, how exciting is it to be writing for videogames?

Oh it’s tremendously exciting, you have to understand it took me a while to really get caught up and in the loop of what videogames could accomplish, as I was there when videogames consisted of “Pong” and I thought that I was really hot stuff, ‘cos I could do pong, y’know, just bouncing a little electronic ball back and forth. So the notion that videogames actually have stories and character development, all that kind of thing, was a new notion to me.

Although, when it first starting cropping up a few years ago, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised, because to people who are outside of comic books, to people who aren’t that familiar with them, they are surprised that there are writers for comic books. I tell people I write comic books and they look at me blankly and say “Comic books have writers? I thought there were just artists, just visuals”.

It doesn’t occur to them that there are people who sit down and plot the story and develop the characterisation and tells the artist what to do. So I now find myself on the same learning curve as people who were outside of comics as I discovered more and more about the world of video games and came to realise and appreciate just how much thought and detail and creativity goes into the stories that are crafted for these games. It’s a long way from Pong and Donkey Kong and Ms. Pac-Man.

GodisaGeek.com: As game development itself moves on, with sound and visuals improving, one thing that sadly can get left behind is story telling. With a genuine storyteller like yourself brought on board it is very exciting for fans, but this isn’t your first time doing videogame writing is it? You’ve written Shadow Complex, and contributed to Epic Mickey?

I did write Shadow Complex, but I didn’t write Epic Mickey per-say, my involvement with Epic Mickey was that I wrote mini-comics for the app for the “Tales of Wasteland” that were comic book stories set before the events that actually occur in Epic Mickey. So it kinda fleshed out the world in which Epic Mickey takes place. I also did a full blown adaptation of the Epic Mickey videogame, and that’s going to be released as a graphic novel I think some time soon, as is available in Europe since last year.

GodisaGeek.com: What does the future hold for you as an author, what can we expect to see next?

Well I’m currently involved in a publishing venture called Crazy8Press.com. A group of friends of mine and I are endeavouring to put out our own books via electronic medium and via trade paperback, and the first of those offerings which is called “The Camelot Papers” and which is by me is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and for those in the UK you can buy the book directly through our website Crazy8Press.com.

In addition, I continue to write for Marvel Comics X Factor and Stephen King’s Dark Tower.

…and with that, our time with Peter came to an end. We hope you enjoyed the interview.

Spider-Man: Edge of Time is out today!