Last weekend in Las Vegas at Sony’s inaugural Playstation Experience event we unveiled gameplay of Uncharted 4 to a cheering crowd of thousands. It was an amazingly tactile experience as game developers usually put videos out online and can only see the reaction from comments. Hearing the crowd roar when they realised it was live and ingame was incomparable; confirmed by an accidental drop into the abyss where we’d yet to create the death animation sequence. I hope the 15 minute video below shows the lengths to which the team has pushed the fuidity of movement and overall character fidelity – animating this guy for the last three quarters of a year has been a blast!
Later on, the character team gave a presentation on the Nathan Drake model and the level of fidelity they are achieving, from physicalised hair and clothing to shaders that render mud, water and sweat. At around the 50-minute mark you’ll get a glimpse of the 800+ poses we have at our disposal when animating Drake’s face, requiring animation controls that have been as much an exercise in usability as in displaying emotion.
Since moving to Canada almost a decade ago I’ve been making games that involve hundreds of characters with hours upon hours of systemic and open-ended narrative. Now I look forward to channeling all that energy into an altogether more intimate story and cast of characters. As of late February I am now based in sunny Santa Monica, California working with the talented guys and girls at Sony’s Naughty Dog studio on the next installment of the Uncharted series for Playstation 4.
When working at an art-centric studio such as Ubisoft Montreal I had been hard-pressed to find anywhere that takes video game animation as seriously as there, but I’ve long held Naughty Dog up as a titan in video game animation, ultimately being won over by their game-changing work on The Last of Us. It’s no understatement to say, in my opinion, that that game has set a new standard for tone and characterisation in video games.
GDC 2014 is fast approaching, and the guys over at The ReAnimators Podcast have interviews with all the speakers at this year’s Animation Bootcamp. Here’s the write-up of my GDC 2013 talk, (available on the GDC Vault behind a paywall), on the approach we took in refreshing the animation of the Assassin’s Creed series for its third major outing.
Assassin’s Creed III was my first game after arriving at Ubisoft Montreal back in early 2010. I can’t tell you how fortunate someone like myself was to work on Assassin’s Creed as to me it has been a standard-bearer for animation since it’s initial release in 2007. Many people at the time told me that AC was the studio leader in animation, so with the position of animation director came a lot of responsibility – the pressure from above to not screw up what came before was immense.
I’ve probably broken every rule laid out in my previous post on creating a game demo reel, but nowadays I don’t do as much finished animation as pre-visualisation for new gameplay features and general visual direction. I did, however, reserve the ground movement cycles of all three player characters for myself, including the Assassin at the various stages of his life. This reel also showcases sequences from our original pitch movie done at the start of the project which are now in the public domain, with the music being Pursuit by Gesaffelstein.
All game animation direction was overseen by myself, but as ever see below for a full breakdown:
The Game Anim Demo Reels vimeo group has now attracted 100 members of both students and professionals alike, with around 150 game demo reels on display. This is great start, and I intend to keep it curated as a resource for anyone looking to update their reel.
In other news, this recruitment ad appeared in the March 2013 issue of Game Developer magazine and will probably be popping up again for the foreseeable future. The shoot was a lot of fun, with me strapped to a reclining “stunt chair” and all manner of supports holding up my legs, clothes and a giant fan blowing my hair. Please overlook the homoerotic undertones – we spent so many years working together that a special bond was formed.
It was a champagne celebration friday following the news that Assassin’s Creed 3 won the Outstanding Achievement in Animation award at this year’s DICE (Design Innovate Communicate Entertain) Awards – essentially the videogame industry equivalent of the Oscars.
Competition was strong this year so I’m extremely happy that the Academy appreciated all the hard work and improvements made over the previous games in the series. I’m also incredibly proud of all the team-members that poured so much effort into a sequel – the collective drive to raise the bar at Ubisoft is something quite incredible to be a part of!
He didn’t win so it was never aired, but here is the video I created for the Spike VGA’s “character of the year” acceptance speech. Not counting the mocap shoot, it was only a few days work with a little help from those on the cinematics team, (the fight portion is a modified combination of two of our ingame double-counter-kills), but I never made any cutscenes for AC3 and wanted to familiarise myself with the entire workflow.
AC3 is now out in the wild and IGN has created a wonderful set of videos depicting many of the challenges that we overcame throughout development of this massive project.
Part 1: Origins – Discusses the initial production process of the game, starting back when only a small number of us formed the team in early 2010. At this stage we knew only the time period and setting, so created a test video to give an idea of how a typical play of the game might look and feel – from which point we began prototyping all the various systems and technology we’d need to make it real.
Part 2: Refining The Assassin – Because the titular hero is the single thread tying the entire game together, this video is devoted almost entirely to the development of our new Assassin, Connor.
Here is the full 30 minute presentation plus Q&A from our recent visit to London’s Eurogamer Expo at the end of September. It had been around a decade since I’d last been to Earls Court for the late ECTS trade show and was impressed by the scale of the overall exposition, as well as the smooth running of the presentation itself. Well done Eurogamer!
This presentation gives a fairly high level overview of our approach to the game and decisions we made due to the audience being fans rather than developers, but hopefully it provides some insight to the creative process behind our game. I’m especially happy to finally be able to share at least some of the “Target Game Footage” video we created over two years ago to set this massive project in motion.
As of last week Assassin’s Creed III is finished from a content perspective, and we’re having fun as a team playing through the game and really seeing how it all hangs together – I’m especially proud of the achievements of the animation teams, with those stationed in Quebec and Singapore only adding to the overwhelming size of this beast. I can’t wait until players get their hands on it on October 30th!
The press tour is about to begin, so it’s off to Boston next week and then I’ll be presenting a brief panel at Eurogamer in London at the end of September showing some behind-the-scenes footage of the processes we went through to arrive at the Assassin we know today as Connor. There are several “making of” web videos incoming also, so I’ll post them as and when they’re completed.