Sony's presentation at E3 2018 had been one hell of an hour for the makers of the PlayStation 4, as they demoed first-party published titles like The Last of Us Part II, Ghosts of Tsushima and Death Stranding. But as Spider-Man came into view in the final 15 minutes, there was buzzing excitement in the crowd. Those other games were more than a year and a half out each, but for Marvel's Spider-Man, it was a few short months before it came out to the world.
For the past two years Sony had been demoing Spider-Man cinematics and gameplay, but this one was different, as Spider-Man faced off against five members of this game's Sinister Six -- Mister Negative, Scorpion, Vulture, Rhino and Electrode -- and their henchmen locked up in the super-prison known as the Raft. Never before had a Spider-Man game brought to life so many of these famous comic book villains in one game. It took a special developer to make the sauce work.
It was a tactful choice to feature just four first-party games at the largest gaming expo in the world, and telling of Sony's success on the PS4.
Spider-Man was set to release in a lineup full of other jaw-dropping Sony experiences, like the 2018 retelling of God of War and new IPs in Horizon: Zero Dawn and Detroit: Become Human. Long gone were the days of Sony being a mile behind Microsoft in the modern day console wars. Its software successes led it to be the console king in the battle of the PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One.
It's part of why, for the PlayStation 5's release, Sony is leaning on one of its best studios, Insomniac, to deliver another astounding experience. With the PS5 will come Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the sequel to the 2018 game that reimagined not just the web slinging hero, but what it means to be a superhero game. The new title will look to take that a step further.
"The team is extremely proud of the accomplishment [of the first game]," Brian Horton, who worked on Marvel's Spider-Man and is the creative director for the Miles Morales sequel told ESPN. "We left nothing on the mat for that one, there was a lot of effort put into that game. But what's great about Insomniac is that we look at our successes and continue to build on them."
After being acquired by Sony for a reported $229 million in August 2019, Insomniac is at the center of PlayStation's gaming future. Sony is once again betting that, as with the PS4, their first-party creatives, now known collectively as PlayStation Studios, can make them the favorable console for gamers.
Alongside studios like Naughty Dog (the Uncharted series and the Last of Us series), Sony Interactive Entertainment Santa Monica (God of War) and Guerilla Games (Horizon), Insomniac is tasked to knock two PlayStation 5 early lifespan titles out of the park.
With Miles Morales, they've done that -- presenting an unique and engaging tale of family and the coming-of-age, both in-and-out of suit, of a Black teen in Harlem. They've been asked to do the same with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, a new spin on a legacy franchise in the PlayStation portfolio set to land in 2021. It's a lot of pressure for the Southern Californian games studio, but if both Spider-Man games and previous Ratchet & Clank titles are any indication, they're up for it.
"It's an honor. When we were acquired by Sony, we had this amazing opportunity to not only just work closely with Sony, but to be a part of the family," Horton said. "To be trusted with the launch title for the PlayStation 5 is an honor and it's a challenge we gave to ourselves to maximize everything we've been given in these new features.
"We're standing on the shoulder of giants working on a game after 'Spider-Man.' It's such an important game for Insomniac and also for the fans of Spider-Man. We're excited about the opportunity to bring Miles Morales to games for the first time."
What both Spider-Man titles and the new Ratchet & Clank game seem to have in common based on gameplay footage is movement.
The first Spider-Man was revered for its ability to make web slinging through New York City feel deep and seamless. Insomniac's ability to think outside the box as developers and no longer used tethered nodes invisible in the air, like Spider-Man games of the past, but rather allow users to connect to buildings, is no shortage of great programming. They took it a step further in Miles Morales allowing his Venom -- or bioelectricity -- to present new ways to move.
For Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, one thing focused on in gameplay trailers has been warping and being able to have fast combat movement, all while firing off various weapons. It's impressive work from Insomniac, but to Horton's point about iterating, it comes after the studio made another game praised for movement years ago: Sunset Overdrive.
"It's a through line that you can see all the way across every franchise we've ever done at Insomniac," Marcus Smith, who is the creative director of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and has worked at Insomniac on other titles for 15 years, said. "Everything is a learning curve that elevates to the next curve. Sunset Overdrive was a continuation of the [previous] Ratchet & Clank [for PlayStation 4]. In terms of presentation, that's where we've been leaning lately.
"Even going back to games like Fuse, that really pushed us into a direction of a lot higher presentation value than we had been doing previously. Our emphasis on fun sometimes lends itself to rapid response over good-looking animations and smooth transitions and that's where Sunset started to push things to where we were getting both. It was easy to move around but it looked pretty good. Spider-Man took that to a much higher level where the presentation and polish was so much tighter. It really did look like film quality."
Smith pointed to how games like Feral Rites, a virtual reality adventure-brawler, led the team to the creativity in melee combat in the first Spider-Man title. As he's worked over the past decade and a half at Insomniac and even seeing them develop Spyro the Dragon games while working at a consultancy with a neighboring office, he's seen the company take what works and look to push the envelope further.
That lack of complacency is uncommon in game development, but it's much needed as the weight of the PlayStation 5's early successes partly lies on Insomniac. That leads to its own pressures for the development staff.
"It's a lot of pressure. You don't want to mess it up," Insomniac's Spider-Man: Miles Morales game director Cameron Christian said with a laugh.