Superheroes are in Bryan Intihar’s DNA. Speaking to NME from his California home, the creative director behind blockbuster action game Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is surrounded by artwork of his fave web-slinger. He still remembers where the paint on his childhood Spider-Man toy faded because he held it too tightly. There’s a photograph of him as a child at Christmas, posing with bright green, oversized Incredible Hulk gloves. Growing up, he admits to once wearing “six to eight” comic book-themed t-shirts because he “didn’t know what superhero” he wanted to be that day.
Since 2014, Intihar has been living that little boy’s dream. His first game as a director was Marvel’s Spider-Man, released in 2018. It is still the best-selling superhero game of all time. Its spin-off, which introduced a second webhead besides original Peter Parker, Brooklyn-based Miles Morales, launched to critical acclaim in 2020. Comics fans fell in love with Spidey’s trademark humour and heart, while the thrill of swinging through the streets of Manhattan remains unmatched.
This month, Intihar and California studio Insomniac Games eye greater heights with Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. The sequel lets you play as both Morales and Parker, while the introduction of classic villain Venom means even more is at stake for the pair.
“We’re going to show something that has not been done in our Spider-Man franchise, something really epic,” Intihar says, pointing to Spider-Man 2’s stunning opening battle with skyscraper-sized baddie Sandman as an example. “Technically and individually, we’ve raised the bar for what we can do.”
Before Intihar was working for Insomniac, he was writing about the studio as a games journalist, another job he “dreamed” of doing as a child. While he grew up gaming – laughing, he recalls practising Mortal Kombat 2 fatalities on his parents and “scrounging quarters” to play at the local arcade – actually working with them was a distant fantasy. Instead, Intihar studied psychology at the University Of Connecticut, with hopes of becoming a clinical psychologist. But in his final semester, a part-time job at GameStop and an internship at Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine kicked off his career in writing, where he spent years covering releases and meeting developers.
During this time, he was impressed by Insomniac’s passionate work culture and the kindness shown to him by its founder, Ted Price, who Intihar considers a role model. Inspired, he left journalism behind to join Insomniac Games as a community manager. He worked on the studio’s fan-favourite Ratchet & Clank titles, along with the grittier Resistance series. Eventually, Intihar made the jump into game production with Fuse, a co-op shooter that challenged players with saving the world from a company making alien-enhanced weapons. Tasked with organising everybody from writers and designers to the game’s creative director, Intihar was “thrown into the fire” – but says the experience was formative.
“That first year on Fuse was one of my favourite years ever, because that was when I really learned how games were made,” says Intihar. Gradually, he was given more opportunities to “flex some creative muscles”, including on Sunset Overdrive, a vibrant post-apocalyptic game that became a hit. He was ready for the big leagues.
“I’m making this game for that kid with the Incredible Hulk muscles, holding his Spider-Man toy”
When Sony approached Insomniac about making a Marvel game, Intihar saw his chance to step up. He adored the way that developer Rocksteady fleshed out the DC Comics universe with its Arkham series of Batman games, and dreamed of doing the same for Marvel. With that vision now within his grasp, he marched into Price’s office. “I remember Ted going ‘We don’t need a producer right away’,” recalls Intihar. “I said ‘I don’t want to be the producer. I want to be the creative director.’”
“I’ve never been that assertive before,” he says, surprised at how confident his younger self was. Though Intihar speaks loudly when he’s excited, he’s rarely forceful unless he’s praising a peer. Yet his passion won out, and he got the gig. Job done, right? Wrong.
“Those first couple of years as a creative director were not fun at all,” admits Intihar, who struggled heavily with imposter syndrome. “I was like… what’s this former journalist and producer think he’s doing, making a video game? I felt I had to prove myself to everybody, that I knew everything at all times and could answer any question. That went horribly wrong, to the point when the team told me I had to trust them. That was a big wake-up call. Around half-way through the project, I learned to let them do their thing.”
Now, trust and collaboration are two of Intihar’s greatest values as a director. Whenever he’s asked about his achievements, or why Marvel’s Spider-Man succeeded, he praises dozens of his colleagues, and frequently apologises if he thinks he might be forgetting someone. “It was a really good thing that those first years were rocky,” he says. “Or I wouldn’t be the creative director I am now.”
It’s an attitude that Yuri Lowenthal, who voices Peter Parker in the Spider-Man series, respects. “[Working] with him has allowed me to learn to trust the process and trust directors,” he tells NME over Zoom. Lowenthal also struggled with imposter syndrome, and sometimes worried he wasn’t good enough to play Spider-Man. Intihar helped relieve that feeling. “I’ll obsess over my performance when I look at it, but if the director says it’s good, I’ve learned to walk away,” he says. “That’s really helped my brain and my soul, to be able to do that – Bryan helped me get there.”
When we pass this on to Intihar, he beams. “A big thing [as a director] is learning to trust people who are really good at their job, help clear the way for them to work better, and provide clarity so they can move with confidence. And when they do a great job – which they always do – fucking tell them!”
“Maybe my ‘rah-rah’ nature isn’t for everybody, but it’s who I am”
Intihar does so often, recalling times when he’s run laps of the studio’s performance capture stage after a productive session, or gushed about a “fucking awesome” scene in a group Zoom call. “Maybe my ‘rah-rah’ nature isn’t for everybody, but it’s who I am,” he says. “And I want people to know exactly who I am.”
“This shit is really hard,” he continues. “Sometimes it feels like you’re hitting your head against a wall over and over again, and when you finally break through, you should celebrate those victories. Ninety per cent of game development can be really tough, but that 10 per cent makes up for it. It carries you through those tougher times.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is shaping up to be one of those victories, with a five-star review from NME and widespread critical acclaim. In the ambitious sequel, New York City’s finest vigilantes have their work cut out for them. Spider-Man protégé Miles Morales is trying to find his place in the world after his father’s murder, while Parker has traded his signature red costume in for an inky-black symbiote suit. These new threads give him powerful abilities, but the alien symbiote is alive and takes Parker down a dark path, making the superhero believe he needs the new powers it gives him as they warp his mind and twist his relationships.
In tandem with sadist killer Kraven The Hunter and toothy terror Lizard, Intihar agrees Spider-Man 2 tells a “darker story”. Additionally, Peter’s relationship with the symbiote is used to explore themes of addiction. “This isn’t the sweet Peter Parker that we love,” he says. “There’s a roughness to him.”
For Intihar, “one of the best parts” of Spider-Man 2 is the way it tests and expands the relationship between Peter and Miles. “The north star that we’ve had since the beginning of working on this thing was wanting to deliver the Spider-Man fantasy,” he says. “But it’s equally important to tell that relatable, human story. When you get people to care about stuff outside of the mask, they’re going to care even more when Miles and Pete are inside the mask.”
While Spider-Man 2 goes to some dark places, it doesn’t lose the “heart and humour” that made the first game so popular. Instead of respinning the spider’s web, they’ve found ways to expand it. “We didn’t fuck up the stuff people liked from the first game,” says Intihar, pointing to the addition of web-wing gliding, new battle abilities and parrying. “We didn’t screw up swinging, or combat. We found things that people liked about it and looked for opportunities to lift them up.”
The biggest of these additions has been making both Miles and Parker playable characters, which fans can jump between at the push of a button. Making this work has been a “big part” of Intihar’s job – and it’s something he’s incredibly proud of pulling off.
“Writing a game that features not one but two heroes is unbelievably complicated,” he admits. “It’s really hard because you’re telling a story of the world, of each of them, and then you’re telling a story of them together. It’s a miracle these things even get made.”
As he talks, Intihar is a bundle of nerves and excitement. He’s “pumped” to show off his team’s achievements, but acknowledges the expectations surrounding a game of this size are monumental. However, Intihar believes that fans are right to expect the world and points to Sony’s animated Spider-Verse films, which blew up the box office thanks to their stylish visuals and heartfelt stories. “I need my game to be that,” he says. “Otherwise I won’t feel like I truly did my job.”
Like Spider-Verse, millions around the world will likely flock to Spider-Man 2 – yet for Intihar, his target audience lies much closer to home. “I’m making this game for that kid with the Incredible Hulk muscles, holding his Spider-Man toy,” Intihar says. “I never lost that love.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 launches on October 20 for PS5