In a still from the game Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Spider-Man is swinging his way towards the camera through the dusky city streets. There are tall buildings in the background, as well as some pretty holiday lights seen strung across the boulevard.

Behind the Mask with James Ham and Brian Horton: The Making of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales

By Reena Bassil

With great power comes great responsibility—whether that includes shooting webs, scaling walls to protect the city, providing amazingly quick quips, or even in creating incredible games like Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The character of Miles Morales was initially made popular via comics and animation, but this fan-favorite action-adventure game welcomed an original, modern take on the culturally diverse Super Hero into fans’ homes because of the amazing team at Insomniac Games and PlayStation in collaboration with Marvel Games. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Insomniac Games’ lead animator James Ham and creative director Brian Horton to learn more about what went into making this game; its dedication to showcasing diversity and cultural inclusivity; and some of the heartwarming cinematic scenes such as the game’s Afro-Latino inspired Christmas dinner. (And, if you love food, feel free to check out some of the recipes inspired by Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Afro-Latino culture on here!)

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales quickly became a fan-favorite after launching in November 2020, not just for the game’s incredible storytelling, animation, and swinging mechanics, but also for its relatability. As the lead animator, a big part of Ham’s role is bringing characters to life through animation, while Horton (as creative director) works with his team at Insomniac Games to set an initial vision and to steer projects to quality and cohesiveness. “My goal is [to find] the core of a character,” Ham explains, “and create an animation that a player will enjoy and feel what the character is feeling.”

“The feeling of having to fill big shoes really spoke to me,” Ham continues, speaking of Miles Morales; “I see Miles as an inspirational comic book figure, and we wanted to make sure we did him justice in our game.”

With the introduction of Miles in Marvel’s Spider-Man and the continuation of his story in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, fans were offered a glimpse into an authentic representation of diversity through the lens of an Afro-Latino teen growing up in Marvel’s New York. One such instance was in a touching holiday dinner cinematic—where the titular character sat down with his Puerto Rican mother and diverse group of friends to enjoy a traditional holiday meal. The food was meticulously researched to ensure every dish was specific to the Puerto Rican roots of Miles’ mother, Rio. Diverse representation in games is key to the players’ experience when games are made for such a wide range of audiences, as Ham explains: “Seeing parts of yourself, things that make up who you are in a character you love creates a bond and leaning into that aspect really helps bring in the authenticity of a character like Miles.”

In addition to bringing Miles’ Spider-Man to fans through the game experience offered in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the Insomniac team also manages to capture an authentic NYC experience that offered fans a look at inclusivity beyond the main character and through the lens of a living and breathing city itself. In order to achieve this, Horton told that the team conducted extensive interviews with residents in East Harlem to capture the finest details: “The decorations in the house and street, the murals, the music, and the characterization and behaviors of the people were all scrutinized and refined throughout production.”

When asked about the process, Ham adds, “We had consultants on the project like Evan Narcisse that brought their personal experiences living in New York to our story; Evan was critical to ensure we had details like the corner bodega, barbershop, and local restaurants.”

Insomniac Games’ mission is to make a lasting and positive impact on players’ lives... and for employees like Ham and Horton, inclusion means giving everyone a voice and not being afraid to hear and see different perspectives. “Inclusivity is in the bedrock of what it means to be an Insomniac,” Horton shares. “We continue to work hard to make our culture more diverse, equitable, and inclusive every day.”

In a still from Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Miles is seen with his mask off, looking off camera to the right. It’s night and there is a light snowfall; several tall buildings and lights are seen behind him.

Ham began his career in video games at Naughty Dog as an animator for Uncharted 4. After working on Infinity Ward and contributing to the Call of Duty franchise, he transitioned to Insomniac Games where he felt fortunate to work on both Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

"Be creative, find ways to push yourself and think outside of the box."

James Ham

Horton's first job was as an artist at Disney Interactive in 1994. He worked at numerous studios before he joined Crystal Dynamics as an art director for Tomb Raider, and then game director of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Five years ago, he joined Insomniac Games as a creative director and worked on Marvel’s Spider-Man and Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Insomniac Games - Brian Horton

"Play as many games as you can and learn what makes them fun. Once you understand that games are crafted to provide a player experience, you can start to design your own games."

Brian Horton