The mid-‘90s were a transitional time in gaming. Make no mistake, the shift from pixels to polygons was on. The industry was in the midst of focusing solely on 3D gameplay. All of sudden, industry favorites and perennial 2D classics the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros had new competition, thanks to charming new rivals such as Crash Bandicoot, Croc and Banjo Kazooie. While there will always be a place for a fun, side-scrolling platformer, a game such as the 1997 cult classic Spider, published by BMG Interactive Entertainment and developed by Boss Game Studios, did something completely different. Marrying both the 2D platformer and the 3D adventure game genres, Spider spun up a wild gameplay concoction that if not for a weak marketing campaign, could have been so much more of a success than it ultimately became.

Spider’s charm wasn’t just due to a unique take on gameplay, however. It was weird- like a late-night Japanese anime on Adult Swim weird, but in the best way possible. Playing the role of a scientist who was forced to transfer his subconscious into a nanotech-enabled spider, after a band of henchmen (from another scientific research company) shot him and stole the technology he used to control the arachnid, the scientist must now traverse through 32 levels as an inch-tall being in an attempt to get his invention back and become human again before an evil brain steals his body entirely.

If that wasn’t enough, Spider has detachable legs in which he can attach weapons to. Aside from a standard punch attack, Spider can acquire homing missiles, a flamethrower and even has electric and gas attacks, as well as a boomerang. The fact that everything around him is a danger to him too, thanks to his diminutive size, navigating around the game’s levels and enemies, which consist of everything from a science lab to cybernetic hornets, is far more enjoyable than it could have been otherwise. Add in some defensive properties to the Spider’s leg attachments and there’s even a level of strategy amid the fun. Away from combat, Spider is a delight for another reason- you’ll actually feel like a spider while playing. Due to Spider’s ability to crawl up walls and slowly descend on strands of web, making your way through each level is fun. As a result, it was quite a departure from anything else that was available at the time. What could have been a standard platformer, with a cool story, is something far more interesting. Again, there was nothing like Spider available on PlayStation at the time. This, of course, made it a huge risk, but one that could have a massive payoff as well. For BMG, this was seen as a game that could put them on the map.

A game this unique however requires you to play it in order to to find out how different it actually is. BMG knew this better than anyone, which is why the game’s cover art was designed in a way to pull you in as well. Ask yourself, how many games have a tarantula on the cover with a shotgun and a knife attached to their front legs? Ahead of its time? That’s an understatement when it comes to Spider. Behind its fun story, solid platform gameplay and a cool cover, Spider definitely had the recipe to be a success during the PlayStation era. Just like Five Nights at Freddy’s, Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac all did after Spider’s release, the game presents its weird main character and world in a way that’s charismatic and easy to get lost in.

Why Spider wasn’t the mainstream hit it should have been, in spite of everything it had going for it, ultimately had more to do with business than anything that occurred during the development cycle. Serving as the game’s Executive Producer was Don Traeger, who absolutely knew how to market and promote a game to the masses. Hired at BMG after over a decade of stellar work at Atari and later Electronic Arts, where he was responsible for creating the EA Sports Network, AKA EA Sports, Traeger had a track record of success. Traeger was also the Producer on EA’s first internally developed game, Skate or Die. Now with BMG, Traeger, the self-admitted troublemaker, had the task to travel the globe and meet the publisher’s signed developers to find out what the games the company had under its umbrella that could become hits. Spider was one of only three games the candid Traeger had real faith in. The others were Grand Theft Auto and Courier Crisis.

“The game was developed by Boss Game Studios and they were based in Seattle, right under the nose of Nintendo,” Traeger said. “They were all from the UK, but they all somehow ended up in Redmond, developing games, it was weird. Maybe they got a Nintendo contract or something. By the time I got there to check out the game, I was feeling bad. DMG (the developers of the original Grand Theft Auto) had promise, but most of the games BMG had signed were really bad. But when I got to Redmond, the guys at Boss Games were really cool. They had Spider in development and it was pretty awesome with this nanotech spider running around. The graphics cool and they were hardcore gamers. They weren’t joking around. They had code. They weren’t hiding their demos on me. I spent a lot of time there with them because they were close and they’d come up here. Everything on that game delivered because those guys were good. Their two main guys, Colin Gordon and Rob Povey were super organized and did things in a way I was familiar with when I was in EA. Just really good people. They were a pleasure to work with and I would have gladly worked with them on other projects.”

Despite being one of Traeger’s three pleasant surprises at BMG, he surprisingly didn’t have to be nearly as hands-on with the team as he was with other games in the past. Again, according to Traeger, the guys at Boss Games were that good. For all intents and purposes, the development cycle was rather uneventful, but that was perfect because BMG needed a hit. Spider, at that time, was poised to be one. “I didn’t have to provide much creative input,” Traeger said. “They were a pretty smooth self-operating team. I’d just go up there and give them thoughts on what they were doing. I just had to stay out of their way.”

Although it’s been over 20 years since the game’s release, Traeger still has fond memories of the project and the first time he played it. “It was cool,” Traeger said. “It was a hybrid action/adventure. It had a cool storyline. Some games, the mere mention of their names makes me shudder, but my initial thoughts on Spider are happy ones. I liked that they didn’t try and make the game about this cute little spider, either.”

But this spider unfortunately never got a chance to truly show its web to the masses. By the time the game was released on PlayStation, BMG had been sold to Take-Two Interactive, eventually becoming what we know today as Rockstar North. All of a sudden, one of BMG’s best chances at being a success was now ironically stuck in its own web. Not your average video game experience, the unusual lead character and gameplay hybrid, its two strongest innovations, were the very things that made it more of a cult game than the big hit it could have been. It didn’t matter that the game garnered solid reviews from outlets the likes of Gamezilla, Gamespot and Absolute PlayStation either. With the end of BMG, unfortunately came the end of Spider as well.

“It didn’t do big numbers and wasn’t really marketed,” Traeger said. “As I remember, just as it was released, BMG was falling apart. I don’t think it had a lot of support. It didn’t help that it wasn’t really a mainstream game. It had some science-fiction elements too and maybe it was a bit too dark for a mainstream release, but it didn’t get any help from being released by BMG and would have benefitted by being released somewhere else. I said before these guys were right now the block from Nintendo, but I don’t think it was really in that mold. I did think it fit the Genesis market a little better, but that, of course, was a smaller market.”

While we all know Rockstar Games as one of the most successful game companies ever, Traeger saw BMG as a company that could have been just as influential if they were patient with the few special games they had. “There were only a few games that shipped on that BMG label before they pulled the plug,” Traeger said. “They were this big music conglomerate and I think they just got scared or games were too expensive for them, so they pulled the plug. Unfortunately for them, the next year, Grand Theft Auto came out and it was in 3D. They were sitting on a gold mine and didn’t even know it.”

That doesn’t mean Spider’s story is completely sad though. If nothing else, Traeger was personally affected by its release, in a way he could have never expected. “When we were done and celebrating, I was at home and I got a knock on the door,” Traeger said. “So I go to the door and there are these two zoologists at the door with a box in their hands. They said we have this gift for you from Boss Games. And it was a tarantula. So I ended up having him for about three years. I had a pet tarantula thanks to Big Boss Games. I kept him in a terrarium in my den and my housekeepers would never go in that room. We learned a lot about them and my daughter named it ‘Ranchie.’ We really learned to appreciate him. They’re really cool. They shed their skin, I had no idea. The first time he did it, I thought he died. I was all bummed out. A few days later, he came crawling out of the sand.”

Unfortunately, Boss Games Studios’ virtual spider never did get the second chance at life he deserved. Although Big Boss Studios released five more games from 1997-2000, including Top Gear Rally and Twisted Edge: Extreme Snowboarding, they never brought Spider back. They also never did another platform game. The same can’t be said for Traeger, however, who went on to continue his solid career after Spider. Soon after the demise of BMG, Traeger formed his own independent game studio, originally known as DT Productions and later Pacific Coast Power and Light, which eventually became a wholly owned subsidiary of THQ. Over the next decade Traeger produced a slew of successful games the likes of Nuclear Strike and Jet Moto 3, as well as titles featuring the Disney, Power Rangers and WWE licenses. With all of that experience, Traeger has obviously seen a lot of games over the years. As far as Traeger’s concerned, Spider got caught in a web somewhere between the classic 16-bit games of the late ‘90s and the sexy new 3D games that came after. Regardless, Traeger’s time with Spider was a special one for him, even if he sees the game as far more influential than it’ll ever be given credit for.

“I think it should be remembered for its technical achievements,” Traeger said. “It was released at an interesting time when graphics were changing from 2D to 3D. Grand Theft Auto got caught in this ‘purgatory’ as well, but it was a more mainstream idea. The original Grand Theft Auto was 2D. The guys at Spider were really pushing the envelope more in terms of the 2D/3D hybrid. I think whenever you’re doing something at an early stage like that, people are going to get confused. “It reminds me of this time when I was at Atari and working on Paperboy, one of the first 3D games and the way we did 3D back then was to use more of a diagonal perspective. The developer wanted the game to take place on real streets and it was super different. Put Spider in the same category as one of those games during that transitional period, like one of those rock bands that never hit it big, but all the big bands cite them as an influence.”

Patrick Hickey Jr. Patrick Hickey Jr. (330 Posts)

Patrick Hickey, Jr., is the founder and editor-in-chief of ReviewFix.com and a lecturer of English and journalism at Kingsborough Community College, in Brooklyn, New York. Over the past decade, his video game coverage has been featured in national ad campaigns by top publishers the likes of Nintendo, Deep Silver, Disney and EA Sports. His book series, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Game Developers," from McFarland and Company, has earned praise from Forbes, Huffington Post, The New York Daily News and MSG Networks. He is also a former editor at NBC and National Video Games Writer at the late-Examiner.com