Nipples. They’re like fun little slices of pepperoni on the vast pizza that is the human body. Most people have them. Video game characters, though? Not so much. In fact, former Insomniac artist Xavier Coelho-Kostolny thinks there’s a credible case to be made that he’s the only person ever to sculpt Spider-Man’s nipples in a video game.
During his tenure at developer Insomniac, Coelho-Kostolny created a great many things, but Undies Spider-Man may well be the pointy pinnacle of that veritable mound of chest flesh. A bonus costume for 2018's PS4 Spider-Man game depicts Spidey in nothing but his mask and underwear, the result of a mission in which he hallucinates and, at some point, takes off most of his clothes. This is briefly played for laughs before Spider-Man quickly re-dons his trademark combat pajamas. However, you can unlock the suit—or lack thereof—to wear anytime by completing all main and side missions in every one of the game’s districts. Of course, in a hyper-detailed triple-A production like Spider-Man, every inch of Peter Parker’s body had to be given meticulous attention, including the Peter perkers on his chest.
Coelho-Kostolny first revealed that this delicate task fell to him on Twitter last week, in response to a tweet from another former Insomniac artist about how video game development teams debate adding nipples, as well as argue over various opinions about how they should look and whether or not they’re within a production’s scope. It might sound silly, but details, no matter how small, require time and money. If they’re not done right, they can detract from the rest of a multi-year-long production.
“Sculpting nipples is a bit weird despite having made dozens of characters for video games, mostly because nipples can be horribly detrimental to the production process,” Coelho-Kostolny told Kotaku in an email. “We use cloth simulations for a lot of loose clothing like t-shirts, for example, and that simulation tends to get caught on small details like nipples, so they’re things that character artists generally avoid putting into models unless you’re specifically supposed to see them.”
But Undies Spider-Man demanded nipples. The first and most important step was to figure out how to make them fit Spider-Man as a character, as well as the rest of the game Coelho-Kostolny and the team had been working on for years. This meant that even though he enjoys giving characters distinctive traits, Coelho-Kostolny had to look at nipples—which can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and shades—with an eye toward mass appeal.
“The most important thing is making sure his nipples weren’t distracting,” he said. “As a character artist, I have to consider how certain details will read when you finally see them in the game, so having unusually dark nipples, for example, would make people focus on them instead of the overall effect of Spidey being mostly naked.”
In Spider-Man’s case, there was an additional, compounding pressure: Insomniac was working with Spider-Man, a globally beloved superhero who’s been around since 1962. You can’t just Crayola some little circles on his chest and call it a day. So Coelho-Kostolny had to study up.
“In terms of what makes a nipple worthy, I’d say it comes down to making them just as aesthetically pleasing as the rest of his figure. I definitely had a look at the scene in Spider-Man (2002) when Peter Parker wakes up and realises he’s now absolutely jacked. Scenes like that are [a] great reference for colour and placement,” he said, also noting that he “used a lot of underwear models as reference.”
He came up with a pair of nipples that are small and unobtrusive. They are, in case you’re wondering (and you are, by this point, almost certainly wondering), similar to one another, but not exactly the same.
“While they’re not identical, pixel-perfect duplicates, the nipples are largely mirrored,” said Coelho-Kostolny. “During the sculpting process, it was easiest to work with mirroring turned on, and then add some tiny variation later when painting textures. There are some other areas of the model/texture that are intentionally not mirrored, such as some small freckles and skin texture. This helps avoid the feeling that there’s a seam running down the middle of the model.”
All of this attention to detail resulted in a character model that looks super-heroically shredded. But Undies Spider-Man goes further than most male video game heroes. Some, including Kotaku sister site io9, have even deemed him hot. Spider-Man is, after all, a very physical superhero. His movements are acrobatic and flexible, some of them carrying a balletic grace. Seeing his perfectly sculpted muscles move and quiver in pursuit of these motions adds a new, almost gaze-y dimension to the proceedings.
Hotness, said, Coelho-Kostolny, was a conscious goal.
“I absolutely took a good amount of time to consider what would make him, for lack of a better term, hot,” he said. “Everything from how vascular his arms were to the placement of his underwear on his hips got some sort of special attention, and I’ll admit I did all of it for the express purpose of adding a little beefcake to what is otherwise a pretty mild game in that regard. I mean, sure, an incredibly fit dude can be hot, or he can look like a weird vacuum-packed muscle monster. I absolutely wanted to err in the direction of making him hot.”
While Undies Spider-Man’s proportions are largely the same as every other Spider-Man in the game, there’s a key difference: “As a little side note, if you compare the Undies suit and the Advanced suit, you may note that the Undies version’s butt is just a little bit perkier. Gotta know your audience.”
Given that both games and comics have a long history of objectifying the heck out of women and turning men into the aforementioned muscle monsters, Coelho-Kostolny is glad he got to flip the script a little.
“As someone who’s worked on some unbelievably sexist female characters for my job, it felt great to work on a male character who I had more or less free rein to make hot and subvert some of the rampant sexism biased against women in the game industry,” he said. “Knowing I was going to make something that potentially millions of people would see, I wanted to make something that celebrated how a male figure can be sexy, appealing, and not an overtly exploitative or a weird power fantasy.”
In the end, it took a “couple” days for Coelho-Kostolny to figure out “an appropriate size, placement, and colour for the nipples themselves.” Every suit that went into Spider-Man had to be approved by Marvel, and while you might figure that the one where he’s nearly naked would’ve come under extra scrutiny, the Spider-Nips passed muster on the first try.
“I actually count it as a point of pride that [Marvel] didn’t have feedback on the nipples,” said Coelho-Kostolny. “It meant I did ‘em right!”