Hi everyone, Hispanic Heritage Month is officially on and here at Insomniac Games we are proud of the work that has gone into cultural portrayal of the Morales family and East (sometimes referred to as Spanish) Harlem in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales . As someone of Hispanic background, I felt a strong connection to Miles’ story, so I’m excited to share the details that have helped establish the representation of the game and bring significant recognition to people like me in Marvels New York. I was honored to speak to Insomniac’s writers, artists, animators, and audio designers who worked with dialect trainers, counseling groups, actors from across Latin America, and our own studio talent to make sure the Hispanic rendering feels real and specific. The team also traveled to East Harlem to study the neighborhood and learn about the people who keep making it a vibrant place to live.
So let’s talk about how the environments were affected, starting with Miles’ apartment. Originally owned by his grandmother, the apartment pays homage to Puerto Rican culture and celebrates Miles’ roots. Paintings depicting Puerto Rican dancers and pueblos hang on the walls, alongside flags, straw hats, and family portraits. Meanwhile, on the shelves and as fridge magnets, you will find Puerto Rican staples such as Coquí frog statues, inspired by the country’s national animal. The set also includes wooden Santos figurines alluding to Abuela’s religious upbringing. During the sequence La Nochebuena, Rio can be found frying tostones in the kitchen, while pastels cook in a stockpot. In addition to a bowl of arroz con gandules, keen eyes can also discover other delicious dishes such as flan and fresh empanadas on plates. When we spoke to Puerto Rican counselors, they remembered their childhood and Christmas meetings and gave detailed descriptions of visits to their grandparents. Specifically, we wanted the Puerto Rican players to feel at home and secure, so we included the little details that take them back to the moments they grew up.
Music also plays a vital role in connecting Miles to his legacy. In La Nochebuena, Players have a choice of music for the party, each of which embodies key characters in Miles’ life: a jazz tune written by his father; an R&B track from Uncle Aaron; and from Abuela, a salsa tune that some call Esta Navidad (“This Christmas”) by Puerto Rican salsa musicians Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe. You can also hear at the Rio Morales election rally La Gozadera, a reggaeton dance tune by the Cuban music duo Gente de Zona. The selection was inspired by songs that can be heard at Latin American events: the Willie Colón classic can be heard at family celebrations at Christmas time, while Gente de Zona spices up parties and invites Latin Americans to celebrate their diversity with song and dance.
On the streets of East Harlem, you’ll notice other Hispanic cultural touchstones: beautiful murals depicting the lives of the people in the community – friends, family, camaraderie, older players playing and kids playing sports; Ambient sounds of salsa music attracting neighbors to dance in the streets; and the balconies and alleys are roofed with Puerto Rican flags. One aspect of Harlem that also caught the team’s attention was the family businesses that line each block. These are stores run by the people of the neighborhood, the heart of Spanish Harlem, who inspired us to get the details right. We had to give these places life and authenticity so that the players would feel connected to this part of the city. It was important that the neighborhood was more than just a setting, but gave the players a home to fight for.
For Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, The team wanted a diverse and memorable cast that would accurately reflect the neighborhood and stand out from the rest of the city. People are at the center of the story and world of our game, so we focus on representation through their personality and appearance. This was accomplished by scanning actors who more accurately characterized the real Harlem people, capturing their different skin tones, the ages of the community members, and their unique fashion sense. Our team of writers have also researched the backgrounds for each of these characters in order to tangibly connect them to Harlem. Teo Álvarez and Camila Vázquez, owners of Teos Bodega and Pana Fuerte, are examples of our teams working together to create characters, landmarks and stories that enrich the neighborhood with levels of personality, diversity and connectedness.
It was also important to the authors to portray the nuances of language and relationships through dialogue. During the recording sessions, our scriptwriters and actors were given a glimpse into the mix of Puerto Rican Spanish and New York English with the help of a dialect coach. As a result, the actors who played Miles Morales and Rio Morales captured the intricacies of Spanglish and mirrored conversations we had with our parents growing up – or maybe still! Parents are often a source of love and concern, and we wanted players to feel this through spoken nuances. For example, during the Rhino chase sequence when Miles lies to his mother about the coconut milk, the conversation is most of time in English. But Rio catches him lying: “Mira, mijo, no seas mentiroso! ” (“Don’t be a liar!”) It was almost like being scolded by my own mother!
The team wanted to put the players in the roles of Miles Morales, not just as Spider-Man but as a teenager who finds himself in East Harlem. It was important that Miles and the community were wholeheartedly represented, from something as obvious as real dialogue and even small details like fridge magnets. As a second-generation Hispanic American, the game’s focus on representation gave me a moment of appreciation that allowed me to develop and make a deeper connection with Miles me Feel like a plausible hero in this world. The care that has gone into the details of the game is incredible and I’m excited to share some of these examples with you today.
For a behind-the-scenes look at the creators of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, I recommend checking out the Creator-to-Creator series in the video below.
Haven’t you thrown yourself through Marvel’s New York as Miles Morales? Find out more here!