Who is Spider-Man without a devious gallery of supervillains to fight? Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is already generating controversy with long-time fan favorites like Kraven and Venom. But they are not the only familiar faces that protagonists Peter Parker and Miles Morales will encounter. Among the antagonists is a villain who has been a quiet fan favorite for decades: Lizard. And like the other protagonists of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, getting Lizard’s appearance and movements 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 collaborated with Marvel to put our own spin on it. It can come from the gameplay or the narrative.”
In this case, players will notice that the Lizard appears in two different forms. “There’s a more classic Lizard, who has a lab coat and pants,” Chew continues. “He is smaller and human-sized. He can also communicate with Peter. But our version of the Lizard is leaner, meaner, bigger and greener, in every way. He wears no clothes and has lost all humanity. So, we can’t communicate with him. “That’s a really big difference.”
The graphical prowess of the PlayStation 5 console makes all of Spidey’s enemies look more impressive – you’ve already seen the terrifying level of detail in Venom’s incredibly sharp fangs and slimy tongue. But what about Lizard’s reptilian skin?
“We looked at a lot of lizard skin to investigate,” Chew replies. “The thing about lizards in real life is that their skin is actually very dry. Most people who looked at our Lizard at first said “it’s not slimy enough.” But I think it’s a nod to what people expect a lizard to look like: it has that lizard skin, but it’s actually much brighter than what you’d see on a real lizard.
“We also put nails in it. For design references, I tried to look at real-life lizards that looked a little more prehistoric, because some lizards can look fluffy and cute. She was looking at spikier, more snake-like, and more aggressive references. We also wanted eyes that looked 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 and his eyes actually react to the 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 is the simulation of realistic muscle movements. “We’re also doing muscle simulations: looking at real animals or real human actors and seeing how those muscles deform and running simulations. “I think it’s amazing that we’re able to do this at this point in game development, but it’s also kind of subtle, because you might not always notice that difference until we disable all muscle simulations.”
Insomniac’s unique version of the Lizard also features a very skillful technique where it sheds its own skin – a stunning image to behold. “Again, we also looked at what that looks like in real life. “Our artists used a program to simulate how the skin could move and flutter in the wind.”
It’s one thing to create a compelling character model, but it’s another thing to make him move in a way that conveys relentless primal ferocity. Chew explained the ideas used during the crucial animation process. “The lizards actually move very close to the ground, which is not very intimidating. In the comics, Lizard is more bipedal and upright, making him more human. We had to thread that needle: he’s bipedal but he still has to maintain some of that lizard-like appearance, which is why he has 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, power and speed.”
Overall, Chew, Marvel and the team are happy with the fan reaction to the Lizard and other supervillains. “We have a lot of people here who know the comics very well, so we offer reveals and previews for that rabid fan base. We know people want to see Lizard in his lab coat and then they want to see what happens and how he grows. We have fun leaving breadcrumbs for the players.”
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 arrives on PlayStation 5 consoles on October 20.