EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: RICK SCHMITZ, BACKGROUND ARTIST ON THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: WEB OF FIRE

From exclusive solo outings to an upcoming PlayStation only appearance in Marvel’s Avengers, Sony currently has a digital lock on the escapades of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler: Spider-Man. Though he was free to swing around on Nintendo’s systems throughout the 90s, it was once Sega who held a brief monopoly on some of the character’s video game escapades.

From the arcade, to the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), the Game Gear, Sega CD and even the Master System, if there was a piece of hardware that Sega released, it had its own Spider-Man game. Simply put, when it came to Spider-Man, Sega did what Ninten…didn’t?

This was true even for the ill-fated add-on the 32X. Launched in North America in late 1994 as a way to get a little more life out of their aging 16-bit machine, the 32X quickly dropped price as consumer interest shifted towards 3-D capable hardware like Sony’s first foray into the market, the PlayStation, and Sega’s own Saturn.

In early 1996, the 32X would receive its final piece of software: The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire, developed by BlueSky Software. This would mark Sega’s final time publishing a Spider-Man game, and the character’s last starring role until Neversoft’s Spider-Man was released in the year 2000.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Web of Fire, and I reached out to Rick Schmitz who worked on the game to talk about its development. Credited as a Background Artist, Rick’s duties also included concept art, level design, storyboards and character animation. Since the days of BlueSky, Rick has gone on to work on titles like Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies, EverQuest and The Lord of the Rings Online. Currently, he’s working on a comic book called Tux which you can expect to hear more about very soon.

CBVG: Was The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire something that BlueSky had to pitch to Sega, or did they specifically seek out the studio to work on the game?

RICK SCHMITZ: I can’t remember at if this point we had been bought by Sega or not, but either way we had an ongoing relationship with Sega: they would come to us with things they wanted us to do and we would go to them with things we wanted to do. We were originally set to do an X-Men game for Sega, which we were pretty excited about. We were pretty far into sorting out what the characters would look like when the plug was pulled on that project. Another studio got the license for the X-Men and we got the Spider-Man title to make up for losing the X-Men game. 

CBVG: What time approximately did development start on Web of Fire?

SCHMITZ: I can’t give you an actual date. As I recall we spent a lot less than a year working on it.

CBVG: Did the sales of the 32X or Marvel’s pending bankruptcy change the scope of what you originally had planned for Web of Fire? How involved was Marvel overall with the game’s development and what was your working relationship with them?

SCHMITZ: We never worked directly with Marvel. The producer at Sega handled all of those sorts of communications. The internal workings of Marvel didn’t effect us at all. I think we recognized that the 32X had a limited lifespan, so getting the game out quickly was important.

CBVG: The likes of Eel, Thermite, and Blitz aren’t exactly what you would call mainstream supervillains. Can you offer any insight as to why this roster was chosen for the game? What about the inclusion of HYDRA?

SCHMITZ: Yes, that is a very weird roster. Our license didn’t include any of the main Spider-Man villains… again, I think what was because another studio had a lock on those characters.  HYDRA seemed to us like a good source for enemies because, like in the comics, you have an endless number of canon fodder goons to fight, some higher level Dreadnoughts and then the bosses. It was a good choice from a game design standpoint. But yeah, Spidey vs. Dragon Man is a bit weird.

CBVG: Given that his popularity in the 90s wasn’t a fraction of what it is today, what brought about adding Daredevil as a support hero?

SCHMITZ: I think this was during or just after the Millar run on the book, so my guess is that he was fairly popular at that time, but perhaps not popular enough to carry his own game title, so he made for a good inclusion to our game.

CBVG: Did you reach out to other studios who had worked on Spider-Man titles for Sega before starting work on Web of Fire? How hands on were Sega throughout development?

SCHMITZ: Sega wasn’t very involved at all beyond their producer who would check in our our progress from time to time. We were an established studio and to be honest I think everyone at Sega was focused on the Saturn and didn’t really care what was happening on the 32X/Genesis (Mega Drive). As far as I know we didn’t talk to any other studios about making Spider-Man games, but of course we were aware and played other Spider-Man titles and we knew what we wanted to do with it.

CBVG: BlueSky had developed titles for both the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive). What did the 32X offer that those other devices didn’t? Was the plan always to make a 2-D side-scroller?

SCHMITZ: Yes. The 32X was billed as a sort of bridging device to keep players on the Genesis (Mega Drive) until the Saturn arrived. We had a game engine that has served us well throughout all of our Genesis titles, so we decided early on to use it here too, but to add whatever horsepower the 32X offered to make this game shine. The engine is for making side-scrollers and its what everyone on the team had a lot of experience making, so it made sense to play to our strengths.

CBVG: Was there anything that you learned from making VectorMan that you then applied to Web of Fire? Was there much difficulty transitioning between the two projects?

SCHMITZ: As an artist, the biggest challenge for me personally was transitioning from making the background art from scratch to adapting 3D art that was produced in-house to make the environments more look more believable, yet still be efficient. Which is to say, we still were using a tile-based system to make our backgrounds, and adapting 3D rendered art to that system was challenging work. Now that I think of it, it was the first time I made concept art that someone else had to render out in 3D… I suppose that experience served me well in later years in my career.

CBVG: What was it like designing for a comic book property like Spider-Man over some of the other licenses that BlueSky worked on?

SCHMITZ: We knew that this game lived or died based on how the web-swinging felt. That was something that we learned from playing other Spider-Man games. I give a lot of credit to the programming team for iterating on that over and over to fine tune it to something that is intuitive and fun. Our in-house Producer was also pretty key in making sure that this was just right.

via Chris Baker – SUPERHEROdotVG

CBVG: The Amazing Spider-Man: Web of Fire is a game that is sold for several hundred dollars online, even going up close to a thousand sealed at certain conventions. As someone who worked on it, does it surprise you to see the price so high?  

SCHMITZ: It completely blows my mind. Let’s be honest, the 32X never really caught on fire, so the notion that our little Spider-Man game is now something that is sought after by collectors and fans is amazing to me. That said, I think it’s a good game, probably the best of the 32X titles. We came up with some cool stuff and we had a fair amount of creative freedom with the project… probably a lot more freedom than people currently have on Marvel titles.  ;)

You can keep up with Rick and his work on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and his ArtStation page. His own personal website can be found HERE.

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