Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is the latest ex-PlayStation exclusive to rock up on PC, following a collaborative effort between original developers Insomniac Games and porting specialists Nixxes. It’s also a skyscape-swinging, baddie-decking good time, so says Alice Bee’s review, and one that comes with plenty of special features just for the Windows version. I’ll be posting a more performance-and-hardware-focused guide to it later this week, but in the meantime I called up Jurjen Katsman, founder and senior director of development at Nixxes, and Mike Fitzgerald, core technology director at Insomniac, for a chat about how Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered makes the jump to PC.
I had some questions about additions to the game’s technical toolkit, like improved ray tracing and a surprise AMD FSR 2.0 implementation, but first thing’s first: the swinging. Arcing between Manhattan skyscrapers isn’t just a traversal mechanism but lies central to whole game’s "become Spidey" fantasy, and it was only ever initially designed for controller play. How difficult was it to recreate the sensation of swinging on a PC’s mouse and keyboard?
“It was a road, I guess, to explore,” Katsman admits. I think when we started, we certainly didn't feel like we had a lot of obvious examples of other games, like 'Oh, we should sort of mirror what that game was exactly doing.' I think this is far more unique."
“We started out with some initial attempts, and then we kept iterating on those with some feedback from various people in the studio. Then we went external, we started also bring in people from Insomniac, all playing like 'Hey, how was this for you guys?' Just to get that feeling across, and to keep iterating on that, adding other methods for people to reconfigure it, other ways to tune in slightly differently. And then we do a whole bunch of external user tests where we have people coming in, and make sure they feel they're getting that feeling.”
"If it's right for everyone, then why are we even allowing you to configure it?"
Nixxes did have some flexibility to deal with the swingfeel issue, thanks to the good old PC staple of customisable controls. “What to me is really important is not that the default mapping is the right one for everyone – it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that. If it's right for everyone, then why are we even allowing you to configure it?” Katsman continues. “It can't be right for everyone. So we’re doing something that is hopefully right for the majority, but I always feel it’s far more important that when somebody tells me like 'I don't like that mapping you did there' I'm like, 'Okay, well, can you map it the way you love it?'”
“To me, it's really critical that everybody can map it in a way that they feel like 'Yes, I feel empowered, I feel this is a great way to play.' And then there are always people who feel like a gamepad is just a better way to control third-person games, and for those we supported DualSense, including a lot of DualSense features, and pretty much every other game controller you could imagine using for a game like this on PC, with all with their own unique icons on screen. So I'm pretty sure everybody should be able to find a good way to swing though the city.”
The swinging sensation wasn’t the only thing that needed adapting. While the original Marvel’s Spider-Man launched on the PS4 in 2018, Nixxes would have to port – as the 'Remastered' name suggests – a more visually and technically complex version for the vastly more powerful PS5. For the PC edition, Katsman was faced with the prospect of ensuring that Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered would run on budget PC hardware as well as the latest and best graphics cards.
“It certainly was more challenging than we had initially expected,” he tells me. “I think one way to look at it is like 'Oh, this is a PS4 game, right?' Well, it wasn't really, as somebody had already made it a PS5 game and did something with that hardware. Also, they were already making use of all the PS4 hardware in the best way, and really exploiting that. So it certainly gave us some new challenges to optimise for lower-end systems. But still, I think our overall performance is still in a good spot. We always look back at our previous games and often need to go up a little bit as time evolves, but they still seem pretty reasonable.”
“And if we look at devices like the Steam Deck, for example, I think we’re really proud of how well we run on there. On that mobile device, you can just sit there and play this game – that's not something we had necessarily expected. There's definitely challenges there.”
"There's many other things possible with ray tracing, and we might explore more of those in the future at some point."
Although Valve themselves didn’t forsee developers making games with the Steam Deck in mind, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered suggests the handheld PC isn’t being ignored either. Vid bud Liam and I have both tried it, and after a vital pre-release patch, it plays quite tidily. To Fitzgerald, making a game Deck-friendly doesn't require bespoke development, but trying out the system while simultaneously working on a PC game made it hard to ignore.
“I wouldn't say we made any compromises to also get it to run on Steam Deck…When it was announced, and as our own employees and friends started to use it to do things, it was like 'Man, it'd be really cool if we could get running on this thing.' So to add that as a goal during development and push towards it, I think, was just an extra bonus for us.”
Katsman adds that some handheld customisations have in fact made it into the final game. “There are some extra scalability options we did actually add as we were testing on the Steam Deck, like, “Oh, this would really help for that.” But we make sure we default to what we feel are the right set of settings to play on the Steam Deck. I think there's a few UI tweaks, to be visible on that screen size – we wouldn’t necessarily change the UI for somebody's 4K screen, but we do have some special cases, specifically for the Steam Deck, that work well.”
At the opposite end of the hardware spectrum, Marvel's Spider Man Remastered has more than a few concessions to high-end PC owners, including ray traced reflections than improve on those of the PS5 version. Nixxes, despite having experience with other ray tracing effects (like RT shadows in, appropriately, Shadow of the Tomb Raider), are sticking to reflections only for now – but, as Katsman explains, that might just suit a New York setting that’s about 50% glass walls and 50% rain-soaked roads.
“In this kind of environment, the city with all the reflective windows, I think that is really where reflections are a prime example of what we can do with ray tracing”, he says. “It's something that Insomniac already explored for the PS5, so building on that was the natural choice to take. And I think that every time I swing through the city, that really was the right choice. Every time I hang off a building, and look at the city behind me or the streets below in that reflection, I really feel that this is the right feature for this game. But there's many other things possible with ray tracing, and we might explore more of those in the future at some point. But this certainly felt right for this game.”
That thought of even more ray tracing features is an enticing one; from what I’ve played, ray traced reflections in Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered look the absolute business, adding extra pop to an already vibrant NYC. But like all ray traced effects, there’s a sizeable performance cost, and keeping running speeds from dropping further proved another challenge for the porting teams to tackle.
Compounding this was the nature of the setting. The massive, modern open world was giving the reflections plenty of opportunities to shine (Fitzgerald jokes that Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered “might have more mirrors than any other game that I can think of”), but when you're tracing that many rays, surely the scale would also present performance challenges?
“We certainly ran into quite a few,” Katsman concedes. “First of all, what we're seeing is that on the PS5, where we have lower-level access to the hardware, some things become easier, we're not as dependent on different drivers to handling things slightly differently. It took quite some effort to get it get it efficient enough [on PC]. And if you look at the large scope of the open world, if you think about it you can be hanging off a building on one side of the city and you can look all the way back into reflections of the other side of the city. So the world we’re casting those rays into is gigantic, and needs to keep updating as you're streaming along.”
“We certainly ran into different bottlenecks than we would necessarily find on console. Even right now we're still adding some extra tweaks and configurability for users to control what makes it into the reflections. How do we balance that out with the crowd density, for example, then the density of traffic, so people getting on a lower-end system can still have an experience they will really enjoy? But yeah, the size of that city is unlike anything we have ever ray traced into before.”
“It's a unique challenge of an open world because the character moves so quickly through it,” Fitzgerald adds. “Sometimes he walks at ground level. Sometimes he's up at roof level looking over the whole city and you really have all these different profile problems to solve. Moving quick, moving slowly, seeing everything, seeing nothing, and there's not many constraints that you can rely on. And then adding the ray traced reflections is… oh, yeah, you can also be looking in any direction, functionally, and at the same time right, south, and north.”
"DLSS is only available on specific Nvidia hardware, so we feel it’s really important to offer something else."
To help dull the performance impact, Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered is equipped with a variety of upscaling options on PC. Besides Insomniac’s own ”temporal injection” upscaling system, IGTI, Nvidia DLSS and AMD FSR 2.0 will both be usable at launch. The latter, surprisingly so, as it wasn’t mentioned in the initial PC features announcement. Nonetheless, Katsman says it was always the plan to include FSR as an alternative to the Nvidia GPU-only DLSS.
“I think for us, it's important to support as many of those as possible. DLSS is only available on specific Nvidia hardware, so we feel it’s really important to offer something else. I guess we could have just stuck to the Insomniac solution [IGTI], but there's certainly gamers who would love to have FSR in there as well. And I see no reason no reason to not make sure to have that option. So it definitely was always on the list.”
This, according to Fitzgerald, is a commitment to the drastically more diverse nature of PC hardware – and to PC players themselves. “Really broadly, our goal with this version was to make sure that PC gamers feel like we're honouring the platform, and respecting the way people come to the platform and have different hardware and different input preferences, and really trying to offer as much configurability as we could across the board so everyone can do what they want to do.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered also supports DLAA, Nvidia’s AI-based anti-aliasing tech; think DLSS without the upscaling. I mention that DLAA uptake isn’t nearly as common among developers as DLSS, to which Katsman suggests that DLSS is “easier to sell” because of its performance benefits. DLAA can provide the same kind of visual quality improvements, though – including in this very game, where the DLAA looks a touch sharper than the default TAA setting. Katsman personally uses DLAA in conjunction with the game’s dynamic resolution scaling,so that DLAA stays in effect above 60fps, and switches to DLSS when performance would otherwise drop below that threshold.
“I think that's how we initially used DLAA, sort of as a side effect of doing that dynamic setup”, he continues. “But then we also really felt like hey, if we have that anyway, then why not make that a choice for users? And compared to having the initial dynamics to add, it's not a massive extra set of work to support that. So I really feel we should, and people with high-end graphics cards can then take advantage of it.”
Not everyone, of course, has the hardware for the likes of DLSS, DLAA, or ray tracing. But the game looks better than fine without them, especially NYC itself, which is comfortably one of the most well-realised “realistic” open worlds I’ve visited. Streets are packed with civilians ready to hail, heckle or simply gawk at our passing superhero, and there’s a density of environmental detail that would rival almost any linear game. Something I’ve repeatedly found myself doing is peeking into the semi-randomly generated interiors that fill out apartment buildings, each window showing what looks like an actual room. It’s a trick – as Fitzgerald explains, it’s a combination of cube maps and shaders, not real 3D spaces – but by constantly reprojecting the interior cubes based on the angle you’re viewing them at, windows avoid looking painted-on, and entire blocks end up looking a lot more like real places.
PC players will have the run of the city when Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered launches on August 12th, and the current plan is to return to New York later this year, when Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales also launches on Windows – again co-developed by Insomniac and Nixxes.
"I think we have the ability to keep patching this for as long as it is needed."
I ask if we can expect the same kind of PC-exclusive tools and tricks for Miles Morales as well. “We haven't announced any feature lists yet,” Fitzgerald replies, “but I think what players can expect is basically the same treatment we've given to this game.”
“[Miles Morales] is built on the same version of the engine as Spider Man Remastered was. And so if we find more opportunities for optimisation or features as we wrap up that game, I think you'd also see that come back to [Miles Morales].”
As for the much more imminent release, starring original Spidey Peter Parker, Nixxes won’t be loving and leaving it after the 12th. “I think when we launch a title, we don’t see the date we launch it as the end”, Katsman says. “Ideally, there's not much wrong, so we won't have to patch for that, but even then, maybe some new features come around some new technology comes around and we can still add in. I think we have the ability to keep patching this for as long as it is needed.”
“Is that the next year? Is that two years? I don’t know. We tend to surprise ourselves.”