Spider-Man 2’s swinging has never been bettered 13 years later – here’s the story.
Spider-Man 2 was released on June 28, 2004, by Treyarch. It still serves as a benchmark for Spider-Man and superhero video games more than 13 years later. But it isn’t the battle that is remembered. It’s not the side missions with the balloon kid or the pizza delivery. It’s also not the fantastic ensemble of baddies. It’s the swinging, the pure joy of flying over, over, between, and frequently smacking into structures. We may thank a designer named Jamie Fristrom for Spider-Man 2’s tantalizing playground of needles to thread, a true-to-life Spidey simulation.
As technical director, Fristrom came up with the concept for Spider-Man 2’s swinging system, developed a prototype, and piloted it to completion. He designed one of gaming’s most beloved and enduring movement systems roughly a year before the creation of Spider-Man 2 began in earnest.
Fristrom explains, “It was something I wanted to get in on Spider-Man 1.” “We were probably six months into the creation of Spider-Man 1, and I wasn’t thrilled with the swinging as it was. With only decorative webs reaching up to the sky, it’s virtually flying. Something a little more realistic was what I was looking for. But, because the prototype I managed to come up with at the time was rather bad, we didn’t change horses in the middle of the race.”
Fristrom was attempting to build something that had never been done before. Rocket Jockey, a racing about cars with grappling hooks on either side, inspired him in 1996. “You could attach them to a pole and whip it around, or you could attach them to a beach ball and pull it into the goal,” Fristrom explains. “And because those grappling hooks were ropes with hooks, inertia, and momentum, it suited my tastes.”
He began by physically installing swing points at building corners. It was a start, but it wasn’t very adaptable. Players would frequently stick to the walls between the points in playtests. It felt clumsy, so he and his colleagues experimented with increasing the number of issues.
“Another designer, [Eric Pavone], was the one who started putting more and more points in the universe – on the walls, all over the place,” he explains. “We started putting in hundreds of points and thought, ‘yes, the more points you add, the better it gets.'”
It would have been wonderful to add limitless points, however owing to technology limitations, this was not achievable (Spider-Man 2 was built for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and original Xbox). As a result, Fristrom and his colleagues got creative, and with the help of programmer Andrei Pokrovsky, they discovered raycasting as a workaround.
Raycasting is the process of scanning physical geometry using radiating rays. It was utilized in the original Doom to depict environments about the player. Still, Fristrom and his colleagues were utilizing it more like echolocation, a method of detecting appropriate swing locations. This allowed players to swing from anywhere in the game world where the rays intersected with the game world, including the edges and sides of structures, thereby creating an endless number of swing sites. Fristrom had finally caught his elusive white whale. He was prepared to present it to upper management.