Scaling up in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: how Insomniac created a new version of Lizard

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Scaling up in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2: how Insomniac created a new version of Lizard

What's it's like to tap into the reptilian brain… and body.

Who is Spider-Man without a devious rogue’s gallery of Super Villains to battle? Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is already bringing the heat with longtime fan favorites like Kraven and Venom. But they’re not the only familiar faces that protagonists Peter Parker and Miles Morales will encounter. Among the antagonists is a villain who has been an understated favorite of fans for decades: Lizard. And just like the other headliners in Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, getting Lizard’s look and movements down right took a lot of effort.

“The first thing we always do when we look at a Marvel character is reference the comics,” says Jacinda Chew, senior art director at Insomniac Games. “And then from there, we collaborate with Marvel to put our own spin on it. It can come from the gameplay, or because of the narrative.”

In this case, players will notice that Lizard appears in two different forms. “There’s a more classic Lizard, which has the lab coat, the pants,” Chew continues. “He’s smaller and human-sized. He’s also able to communicate to Peter. But our version of Lizard–he’s leaner, meaner, bigger and greener, in all ways. He’s not wearing clothing, and he’s lost all humanity. So, we’re not able to communicate with him. That’s a really big difference.”

The graphical prowess of the PlayStation 5 console makes all of Spidey’s foes look more impressive–you’ve already seen the terrifying level of detail of Venom’s impossibly sharp fangs and slimy tongue. But what about Lizard’s reptilian skin?

“We looked at a lot of lizard skin for research,” replies Chew. “The thing about lizards in real life–their skin’s actually really dry. Most people who looked at our Lizard kept initially saying ‘he’s not slimy enough.’ But I think it’s a nod to what people expect a lizard to look like–he’s got that lizard skin, but it’s actually much shinier than what you’d see on a real lizard.

 “We gave him spikes, too. For design references, I tried to look at real-life lizards that looked a bit more prehistoric, because some lizards can look kind of soft and cute. I was looking at spikier, more snake-like, more aggressive references. We also wanted eyes that look more like animal eyes. If you look at cats, their pupils grow at night. We made those kinds of eyes for him–when light hits his eyes, they look smaller, his eyes are actually reacting to light. We did a lot of research on how to make that happen in real time on the PS5.”

Another use of the PS5 console’s powerful hardware comes in simulating realistic muscle movement. “We are also doing muscle simulations–looking at real animal or real human actors and seeing how those muscles deform and running simulations. I think it’s incredible that we’re able to do this at this point in developing video games, but it’s also somewhat subtle, because you may not always notice that difference until we disable all the muscle simulations.”

Insomniac’s unique take on Lizard also features a very slick technique where he sheds his own skin–an impressive visual to behold. “Again, we also looked at what that looks like in real life. Our artists used a program to simulate how the skin might move fluttering in the wind.”

It’s one thing to make a great-looking character model, but it’s another thing to make it move in a way that conveys unrelenting primal ferocity. Chew elaborated on the ideas used during the crucial animation process. “Lizards actually move very low to the ground–it’s not very intimidating. In the comics, Lizard is more bipedal and upright, so more human. We had to thread that needle–he’s bipedal but still has to maintain some of that lizard look, so he’s got that curved back. The idea behind his movement is that he moves at a speed that feels fast but heavy. The animation team deserves a lot of credit for conveying that strength and power and speed.”

Overall, Chew, Marvel, and the team are happy at the fan reaction to Lizard and other Super Villains. “We have a lot of people here who know the comics really well, so we cater reveals and teasers for that rabid fan base. We know that people want to see Lizard in his lab coat, and then they want to see what happens and how he gets big. We have fun dropping breadcrumbs for the players.”

Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 hits PlayStation 5 consoles on October 20.

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