Swinging in Spider-Man and design by focus group


Hey gang, your old buddy Justin McElroy here. I just wanted to take a moment to talk about something that wouldn't have fit in my Amazing Spider-Man review, largely because it's only vaguely related.

Primarily, I want to talk about swinging, so you should read the little sidebar in there about how the system has been dumbed down from the Neversoft and Shaba games.

When I previewed Amazing Spider-Man at E3, I asked about the swinging, largely because I've been overweight my whole life and as a result have grown to depend on a certain caliber of escapism from my electronic entertainment.

I was told that Beenox had tested five different methods of swinging before settling on the hand-holdy version in the game, which the focus groups had overwhelmingly preferred.

I didn't dwell much on it in the moment, but the more I've seen others express disappointment in Amazing Spidey's swinging simulacrum, the more I've been irritated with it.

Of course this kind of swinging is going to test higher with a bunch of randos, it's really easy! Swinging in previous games has been tricky, it's taken hours to master, but it's ultimately rewarding and provides an increased fidelity of control.

This is something a play tester would never realize, but it's something a good, confident developer should.

It's tough to care about a series of licensed games. You see them get put into the hands of a new dev that's fired up about the property, you watch with anticipation as that dev gets the boulder half way up the mountain. But then a more efficient way of making the games is made, the dev is pulled off for someone new and the boulder starts sliding back to the bottom. All you and the other superfans can do is watch glumly and wish someone in power cared as much as you.

I complain about diehard fans a lot as a critic. At times, when I'm trying to give a balanced critique of a product or developer, their blind devotion to a product can be kind of frustrating. But when I get fired up about something as goofy as swinging in Spider-Man, it's a great reminder of why diehards are so important.

Publishers aren't going to care about games like you will. Developers will try, but when the solvency of their studio is on the line, who can blame them for choosing the easy swinging?

Video games need people that care about the minutae others are unwilling to. To remind developers and publishers that games are more than a line item. The moment those diehards stop caring is the moment that developers make every choice based on that nebulous moving target of public approval. On that day, we end up with games that everybody sort of likes, but nobody loves.

So I say keep caring. Keep worrying about the dumb stuff. Keep yelling back when developers and publishers and even journalists tell you your concerns are petty. Games need stewards. Maybe franchises don't, maybe characters don't. But those perfect little moments when you fling yourself through the air and catch yourself on a web and make you feel powerful in ways that books and movies never could? Those are moments worth defending.