Tag Archives: shapes

The cinematics of Arkham Origins, lessons learned from making both a movie and a game

I went to MIGS this weekend and had a blast, being surrounded by all these games, as well as fellow students, upcoming developers and professionals from major studios is quite frankly a dream come true.

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My undisputed favorite part of the presentation by Ben Mattes of Warner Bros. games of Montreal. He talked about making a movie and a game at the same time; in which they speak about their experiences creating the cinematics of Arkham Origins.

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We all saw the TV spots and trailers, those CG cutscenes looked so visually amazing, I honestly thought it was a live action movie at first glance.

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Naturally the process was very difficult, according to their stories, they had since late last year to create everything which is a very tight schedule. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Given that they were telling a story, they naturally had to follow a script. The problem was the script wasn’t readily available to them from the start as you’d expect. No, the script was written, reviewed and approved in increments for the sake of editing flexibility, which left Mr. Mattes team at a disadvantage with the time schedule. Considering how serious WB & DC are about their character, it was not like WB games could take any liberties of the sort. Anything having to do with the story and characters begun and ended with their property owners, the rest was left to the cinematic cutscene developers.

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In order to properly animate the characters of the game, they made extensive use of motion capture and shot everything at a studio with an army of stuntmen and stuntwomen enacting the actions of the characters. Everything from Batman’s martial arts to Joker’s over the top body language to Copperhead’s movements was done with motion capture. On the topic of Copperhead, things like climbing on the walls were simulated with walls and rails that they built. Every movement that required some specific environment, the team built them in order to properly capture the right animations.

Indeed, they put so much effort like you wouldn’t even imagine, and of course it was a difficult task given what resources they had to gather. They had to go through the trouble of casting each motion capture actor to perfectly suit their roles, in particular they had to find a large man in order to play Bane. Developers don’t just get people off the street to do these, in order to be hired to do motion capture, you need to be a credible actor and/or stunt person. I even met one at MIGS who told me this information. Like actors in movies, motion capture actors have schedules that they and the developers need to organize. This was a huge problem for them given the issue with getting a script on time.

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There is a faster method to create these cutscenes, an alternative to motion capture is performance capture; which is a recording method that encompasses body motion capture, facial motion capture and voice recording. The problem is as you’d expect, it’s far too expensive.

Fortunately the long way proved to be much more ideal in the aesthetics department. With voice acting, they did it separately with expert voice actors such as Troy Barker as Joker. As for the facial rigging, they did that by using blenders, changing the facial expressions manually in maya by interpolating using catmull rom between 9 different expressions.

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This ended up working better because they managed to avoid Uncanny Valley and retain the exaggerated expressions of comic book characters.

They captured all these movements with the usage of a virtual camera. But it’s not a traditional virtual camera that’s created in Maya and exported onto the engine. The animators used a portable camera that shot the motion capture set, projecting the objects and animations on a virtual space. Like a regular camera, it’s handled and moved in certain positions by a camera in order to get the exact angle they want. It’s barely different from traditional filmmaking.

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Arkham Origins is one of the few games this year that made use of pre-rendered cinematics which is higher quality but takes up more disk space. After all the scenes are shot they take them into the engine and composite them in order to have…..drumroll please…… SHADERS!  Adding lighting effects, dust particles and pyrotechnics to create a more lively and realistic environment.

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The lengths the animators took to create their cutscenes is no different from how regular films are shot; they hire actors to perform in front of a camera handled by a camera man, they need to follow the script and have to take the scenes and add effects later on in post-production. It’s uncanny how much effort they went through given the amount of obstacles they encountered, and to produce what they did at that caliber is to be commended. I think these cutscenes have better animation than most Pixar movies.

My only disappointment is not enough time to ask him questions, I had tonnes.

More on Havok, physics and collision

What is the most important aspect of a video game? That’s something that has been debated since the inception of video games, and said question could be applied to its technological, spiritual predecessor which are sports, board games and other sorts of games. Every individual has their own opinion on the matter, and my personal opinion is that the most vital fundamental aspect of any game is interactivity; the point where the player’s choices and the game’s mechanics meet on mutual ground and develop an agreement. All games have rules that allow players certain freedoms and limitations, the player’s enjoyment essentially comes down to what state of mind these boundaries put them in.

Last week we made a very general observation of the Havok physics engine. This relates to my thesis statement as physics are an integral part of a games internal logic; the ability to move your character and do any other action is part of your freedoms, whilst falling in chasms and not penetrating walls makes up your limitations.

Collision detection is important for every game in that regard. Take away any form of collision and every object would fall through the ground with the ground itself, making any form of interaction impossible, unless you’re making a kill screen, this is not a reasonable programming design.

Collision and physics are more often than not a tightly knit pair. This is because at the moment collisions are detected, they are always resolved as part of the engine’s logic in physics and constraint integration.

The purpose of collision in a game engine is to determine whether any of the objects in the game’s world are in contact. In order to properly address this, each logical object is represented by geometric shapes. The collision system of the engine determines whether or not these specific shapes are intersection, which means that the collision detection is system is nothing more than a geometric intersection tester.

Collision systems are more than a true or false question regarding shape intersection. Its purpose is to provide relevant information about each contact. That information can be used to prevent unrealistic visual anomalies on screen. For example, last weekend at game jam, I coded an invisible border at the end of the level to go to the game over screen, an example of collision utilized to convey certain information on screen through the programming interface.

This information is used to prevent on-screen anomalies by moving the interpenetrating objects apart prior to rendering the next frame. They can also provide support for an object, such as an object at rest on the ground thanks to the force of gravity on the geometric shape of the ground acting upon it.

Indeed collisions essentially make up most of the gameplay. Think about it; coming into contact with a health power up, shooting at an object to destroy it, even being on the ground is a form of collision. Collision is the main fundamental aspect of interactivity in games, it supports nearly all of the player functions while fulfilling the main objective of the game, to enforce an experience on players.