Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Art Behind Next-Gen Batman

What Would Batman Do?
Game Director Sefton Hill made the directive right at the beginning of the 'Batman: Arkham Asylum' project that every aspect of the project - from the game design through to the art had to be true to the Batman Universe and to Batman's own personality characteristics. "We based all our decisions around this simple principle," says Hill. "This made life a lot easier for us as it gave us a touchstone that would let us know if we were ever going off track, all we had to ask was, 'What would Batman do?' This resulted in the final product being true to the Batman brand, and produced a rich authentic experience for both the Batman disciple and those new to the caped crusader."

Lead Character Artist for the 'Batman Arkham Asylum' game, Andrew Coombes, walked in from a traditional fine arts background, even training as a sculptor. Over the years, he's worked in a variety of art fields from a bronze foundry in East London, sculpting ten metre high street floats for Disneyland Paris Millennium Parade, then working on the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy. "I have been in the games industry for the last seven years," says Coombes, "the last four years spent at Rocksteady. When I started in 2005 there was thirty staff which has steadily grown to over seventy."

Rocksteady Studio was opened in 2004. The company is based in Highgate, North London in a converted factory, purpose-built for making games. "It is by far the most enjoyable place I have worked and much of that is down to the efforts of the directors Jamie Walker and Sefton Hill, both industry veterans, who make the studio a place where you want to be," explains Coombes.

"The studio is fitted with a motion capture stage including full facial capture capabilities, and a sound studio. This means that we can produce every element required for our projects on site when we need them, without having to rely on external support. This allows us to prototype and experiment with ideas very quickly and produces a more refined final product as a result," adds Coombes.

"There is a strong emphasis on smart scheduling and constant self reflection to keep our projects on course and on time, this is a major factor in Rocksteady's ongoing reliability and success."

The main work area is a huge open-plan plant filled space where the entire team works together. The open plan approach helps people from all departments to communicate more effectively.

On the art side our process began with us scouring the graphic novels for inspiration. We looked at the Batman comics down through the decades paying close attention to the Arkham specific books like the beautiful 'Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth', and 'Arkham Asylum: Living Hell'.

Arkham had never been visualised in its entirety before so the environment team had the big challenge of creating every nook and cranny of the island for the first time. Arkham Asylum is an amazing place to set a Batman game. It gave us not only an environment, that from a technical and game play standpoint was suited to our design, being of a finite, contained size with believable borders, but it also gave us a setting so rich in creepy, foreboding atmosphere that it was an artist's dream location.

The Art Director Dave Hego had a very strong vision that Arkham should be like a living breathing character in itself that changes as time passes, that slips from dark reality to darker nightmare as Batman slides into the Scarecrow sequences, and that evolves as The Joker's plan unfolds.

Arkham is an island with a history and its buildings reflect this in the way they have been adapted over time to suit the needs of the Asylum, the architecture of one era juxtaposed with that of the next. This layering of architecture creates the richness and uniqueness you see in the game, from the Gothic architecture of the Main Hall, to the Victorian style of the glasshouses, to the dingy industrial warehouse feel of high security.

"We tried to use real places where possible as reference for our environments," explains Dave Hago, "an example of this being The Arkham Botanical Gardens which are inspired by the Palm House at Kew Gardens in South London.
The environment team spent time there gathering reference material in the beautiful Victorian glasshouses. We found this type of exercise invaluable in creating highly detailed environments that had a feeling of authenticity. We also used Alcatraz the real world equivalent of Arkham as another source of inspiration."

Unreal Engine
Rocksteady used the Unreal Engine for 'Batman Arkham Asylum'. They've been using Unreal for a year and a half on an unreleased title before starting on 'Batman'. During this time, they worked out how to get the most out of the engine and set up a solid pipeline.

So they hit the ground running when 'Batman:AA' came along, and moved quickly from preproduction into production."It was a pleasure to work with Unreal," says Coombes. "It allows a level of freedom to experiment without code assistance that I haven't experienced before. In particular the material editor is very powerful, and the node based system has a huge amount of scope."

Creating the characters for 'Batman Arkham Asylum' was both daunting and exciting privilege for the team. There is such an enormous history to these characters."We combined the stylisation and exaggeration of the graphic novels with highly detailed realistic rendering and lighting," Coombes explains. "We tried to be as true to the comics as we could while at the same time making the characters fit with the dark gritty atmosphere of the Asylum that we envisioned."

To be Continued...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Art Behind Metal Gear Solid 4 (Part 1/5)

Part 1 of 5
June 12, 2008 saw the simultaneous worldwide release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (MGS4) for the PlayStation 3. Gamers all over the world were waiting eagerly for this ultimate stealth mission game.
No doubt they had already been captivated by its powerful gameplay.

MGS4 was a huge project that took Hideo Kojima, the virtuoso director, about three and a half years to complete. The Metal Gear series has been around for 21 years, with many people regarding it as a masterpiece in terms of its scenarios, gameplay and realism. Making a particular impact is its world-class graphics that go beyond the boundaries of a conventional game. These graphics give the action such realism and immediacy that players feel like they have been transported to a real battlefield.

The Metal Gear Solid series was created by Kojima Productions, a development unit at Konami Digital Entertainment. Kojima Productions has also given us popular series such as 'Zone of the Enders and Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand'. The team has three directors: Hideo Kojima, Yoji Shinkawa and Shuyo Murata. There is a program manager, design manager, script manager and sound manager, as well as many other artists and programmers.

In the development of MGS4, about 100 staff were involved in the 3D content production. Extra personnel were added during busy periods, and by the final phase of development over 180 people were working on the project. By the end there were as many as 40 programmers working on MGS4, including the work required for online compatibility. MGS4 truly was a mega-project.

The main tool used in this game with its world-class video graphics was SOFTIMAGE|XSI. We interviewed the Kojima Productions team after they had finished development and as the release date for MGS4 was approaching. In this interview, we were lucky to be able to speak with staff from all the major development units, including characters, background, machines, 2D, event demos, motions and programing.

From a Single Storyboard...

The MGS4 video was first previewed to the public in a trailer shown at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show. The main character, Snake, was shown looking around a wall in a ruined building. From this single storyboard, the whole project started. After four months, the team finished a spectacular trailer that was over 10 minutes long and made a huge impression around the world.

This high quality video that made such a strong impact fully utilized the real-time processing power of the PS3. To transfer this to the actual game without losing quality, it took a lot of effort from the team to import the data and create a proper balance. In the initial stages of the project, they were still getting used to the performance of the PS3, and there were no precedents to any of the work they were doing. The data size required for the content was much bigger than anything that had come before.

Art Direction in Metal Gear Solid

Like the previous titles in the series, Yoji Shinkawa was in charge of art direction for all the character and machine designs in MGS4. In this game, the most important consideration was whether the design would pull the player into the game. It didn't matter whether it was expressed through an exaggerated effect or through a conventional illustration.

Mr. Shinkawa starts his design process by using a brush to make a drawing. The resulting design is a black and white image drawn in Mr. Shinkawa's distinctive brush style. Then, one of a number of different methods is selected to embody the black and white image. The original picture may be touched up, it may be transferred to a 3D figure, or if the design is complicated, it may be modeled out of clay.

In this way, the team developed a more concrete design from the original image, which they then used as a reference when modeling with XSI. For machines modeled from clay and some of the characters, they used 3D data obtained from image-based modeling. The team then imported the data into XSI for editing.

It is also possible to use 3D scanning to create 3D data. But because the scanned data requires a lot of modeling correction work, the team decided not to use this method. They said that using the calibration method results in less correction work and that it was relatively easy to import accurate image data into XSI. The calibration workflow is described in more detail using images later of this article.

Yoji Shinkawa's design workflow

In the design process, Mr. Shinkawa also selected all the color designs. He said that even when he was drawing the original pictures in black ink, he could see in his head the types of colors that he would use for the characters. He made his final selection after all the characters were ready, choosing colors that would achieve a good overall balance. He reproduced textures such as material colors, metallic expressions and complex patterns using the real-time shader. The textures that Mr. Shinkawa wanted were created one after another by programers using the real-time shader. Sometimes he would show a prototype that he created in advance with a mental ray shader to share his ideas on texture with the programers.

Many characters from previous titles in the series reappear in MGS4, which makes the fans very happy. But there were some characters that were being depicted in 3D for the first time, such as Naomi, who appeared in MGS1. The team worked hard to create attractive 3D characters that would not disappoint the hardcore fans of the series.

Mr. Shinkawa said, "When we first started to develop the Metal Gear Solid series, we just wanted to make a war game that we ourselves would really want to play. The fact that the series grew into one that is played by so many people is thanks to our loyal users. We are confident that MGS4 will live up to the expectations of these fans. But we are never satisfied with the way things are. We always want to work harder to push our creative abilities to the limit and create even better games in the future."

Character Production Workflow

Most of the characters that are animated on the console, including the main character, Snake, have been restricted to a data size (including the face model) of about 5,000 to 10,000 polygons. Further, characters are used that have the same polygon resolution in both the game action and the event demos. This means that the game screens and video clips are seamlessly connected, making it easier for players to become emotionally involved.

As mentioned above, with the exception of crowds, characters are used that have the same polygon resolution in both the game action and the event demos. Separate from the resolution model used on the console, high-rez data are also simultaneously modeled for generating the normal map. Details such as creases on clothes are then expressed with the normal map that was generated from the high-res model.

In terms of bones used for constructing the bodies of characters, about 21 joint bones were used that contained animation data and were activated through these data. But many auxiliary bones were also used to supplement movements such as the twisting of knees, elbows, legs and arms. These were not activated by animation data. Rather, they were linked to the values of the basic joints that were activated by animation.

The team used these specifications not only on XSI, but also on the console. They could perform the same control on the console simply by outputting an auxiliary bone definition file from XSI.

Because the auxiliary bones themselves do not contain motion data, the data size can be kept to a low level. Further, if auxiliary bones need to be added or deleted, the operation can be performed simply by changing the model data without having to reconvert the motion data.

New Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Scans and Images

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a direct sequel to last years Assassin's Creed 2. Players will once again take the role of Ezio with Rome as the games central city.

These scans below are from a Spanish gaming magazine and therefore are not in English. However as soon as a translation has been made I will update this post with the information.

Here is the official game description from Ubisoft:

"The critically acclaimed single player experience of Assassin’s Creed is back and better than ever as Ezio returns in a powerful struggle against the powerful Templar Order. Now a legendary Master Assassin, he must journey to Rome, center of power, greed and corruption to strike at the heart of the enemy. Defeating the corrupt tyrants entrenched there will require not only strength, but leadership, as Ezio commands an entire Brotherhood that will rally to his side.  Only by working together can the Assassins defeat their mortal enemies."

"And for the first time, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood offers a never-before-seen multiplayer layer. Players can help the Templars by using Abstergo to train in the art of Assassination to eliminate the Assassins once and for all. Players can choose from a wide range of unique characters, each with their own signature weapons and assassination techniques, and match their skills against other players from all over the world in different game modes."

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is due to release in November this year.

Monday, 31 May 2010

First Pro Evo 2011 Images and Details

 Today the Internet has been flooded with new information on Konomi's next football iteration Pro Evolution Soccer 2011.
As you can see the game has had a big overhaul in the graphics department including a nice motion blur effect. The games sounds, especially supporters chants have been improved to add greater immersion - expect more real to life chanting at better sound quality.

This picture below shows the new power bar that is situated directly below the football player in control that was leaked last month.
Playstation Move support is all but confirmed, take a look at this image below:
As you can see the image shows a interface for the PS3 version of the game that is very similar to the Nintendo Wii's version of the game. It has the drag and drop method of squad selecting which before now only the Wii version had.

I'm sure a lot more information will be revealed in the coming weeks about the game, E3's just two weeks away. However the Pro Evo franchise is going to have to do a lot more if it is to better EA's almost perfect football game.
UPDATE: Many more details of the game have emerged:
  • Defence "has changed massively". Using the dash button to close down and press the player with the ball has been replaced by a three-pronged system using the X button and directional input. For example if you hold X while directing the stick towards your goal to hold up play, a relatively passive option that makes it difficult for the attacker to pass you. The second option is simply to hold X and release the stick entirely. This stops your player and, if timed correctly, will halt the advance of the guy charging at you with the ball.
  •  The feints system has been overhauled. These tricks can still be performed manually using button/stick combinations; but there's the option now to automate and chain moves together into combos.
  •  A reworked animation system, with Konami claiming some 1000 new animations in PES 2011, equating to over 100 hours of motion capture.
  •  360 degree control
  •  Around 6000 players and "Yes" their are new licences
  • An option to change the game speed. You can change the speed at any point via the pause menu, from -2 to +2, with zero being the regular setting.
  • The promise of a major "surprise" to come.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 is expected to release in October this year.

The Art Behind God of War III

Due to the popularity of The Art Behind Uncharted 2 and The Art Behind Battlefield Bad Company 2 I have made put together this one on God of War III. This one however is much more in-depth and therefore does get a bit technical. I have tried to keep it simple for anyone to read but at the same time offer quality information for those looking into creating games.

Let me start by saying God of War III is an amazing game; it not only looks amazing but it plays fantastically as well. If you haven’t played it go out and get it, you won’t be disappointed.

God of War III can easily be considered as the greatest looking console game of all time, maybe even across all platforms. Its huge scale and extensive amount of detail produce a breathtaking display of awesomeness. This article will show and discuss how Santa Monica Studio managed to raise the bar in video game graphics.

Traditional art skills are still very much key in creating games and maybe even more so these days as more detail is needed. Programs such as ZBrush allow game artists to virtually sculpt their models on the computer, anatomy plays a major role in the designing of characters and creating believable animations. Without traditional art skills you cannot become a games artist. Luckily for Santa Monica Studio they have some very good talent in their team.

During the game design process the entire art department is linked together. For example the Art Director tells the Concept Artists what he/she wants and the Concept Artists create image references that then go to the Environment Artists who then work with the Level Designers etc. Complete team collaboration is essential and although GOW 3’s development team was around 130 people, these people worked together and created an epic experience.

PS3 technology has really increased the scale of the game. GOW1 and 2 used a lot of smoke and mirrors but GOW 3 does not. A good example of this is the huge titans that in previous versions of the game only a busk of the titan was used and some animation however in GOW 3 the titans are fully their and interactive.

To get this kind of scale and improvement in graphics more effort is required so bigger teams are hired. For example for GOW 2 the cinematic environment team consisted of just one person, on GOW 3 it moved up to 8 people.

The picture below shows a texture map of a dead man’s face. This image is then placed onto the model inside of Maya and then rendered in the game:

Where would the world be without Photoshop eh?

Autodesk Maya is main tool used in creating 3D models for God of War. It is used to create the basic shape of objects which are then taken into ZBrush to add detail to the object, such as scratches. This video below shows how detail is sculpted into the 3D models using ZBrush after they have been made in Maya:

Autodesk Maya is used to create the games 3D models and also the games animations, whether that is for Kratos or for particle effects. The images below show how Kratos' path is set out on a titan:

Below are images of an article which interviews some of the key Santa Monica Studio’s art team. It is a very insightful read that outlines the enormous amount of work that was put into God of War III:

Here are some in-depth videos on the art of GOW 3, however be warned they do include SPOILERS:

For more great behind the scenes look at God of War III I recommend you check out this play list on YouTube
God of War III is without a doubt a fantastic achievement in video game creation, setting the bar higher for all games to follow. If you are yet experience this game then you are truly missing out on a classic.