Naturalmotion’s Backbreaker

I just got my second Xbox Red Ring, leaving me out of the Read Dead Redemption multiplayer action for the foreseeable future. Given that I got the first one as soon as I stuck Rockstar’s last opus GTA4 in the tray I’m wondering if they’re overclocking the console in a similar manner to which Chains of Olympus did on the PSP. Is this even possible via software?

That old post reminds me that Rockstar are still one of the few developers that have fully adopted Naturalmotion’s behavioural physics-based Euphoria, (most likely due to NM’s stipulation of inserting their own guys onto your team), leading to some unresponsive controls which are thankfully greatly decreased in the recent cowboy offering. The big sell will undoubtedly be their soon-to-be-released “Backbreaker” above, featuring character-on-character interactions as a centrepiece.

Cinematics Sans Cutscenes

Due to the heavy reliance on video examples it was insufficient to simply post slides of the session I gave at the Montreal International Game Summit in November, so here is the full write-up outlining a proposal for a different approach to cutscenes as a form of delivering cinematic experiences in videogames.

Halo 3 Sniper Scope

First, a little bit of background about where I’m coming from. I’ve been working on games now for nearly a decade in a variety of both in-game and cinematic roles, with the in-game side mostly focussing on player control, cameras and animation-system design relating to gameplay, whereas the cinematic part is about pure art and storytelling, getting information across to the player in as efficient a manner as possible.

Continue reading Cinematics Sans Cutscenes

Sign Of The Times

Just watching the Golden Globes awards there, and the Best Animated Feature award was announced with the preface that the nominees’, (Wall-E, Bolt and Kung Fu Panda), collective box-office income amounted to the impressive half-billion dollars. That’s the same sum GTA4 took in just its first week – I guess kids just don’t have that much money any more.

Voicing Complaints

Three years ago, when I first began this site, I posted this about voice actors complaining over the videogame industry’s position of not providing the same financial rewards as other more traditional media given their percieved profits – most notably residuals, (an ongoing stream of payments for the completion of past achievements). Since then, I’ve not only worked on more than a couple of projects with a heavy focus on high-quality voice acting, but also directed motion-capture actors in hollywood. This has given me a better appreciation of the artform and of the difference that a real talent can bring to a performance.

Nevertheless, I still got really mad at this recent interview in The New York Times with Michael Hollick, voice (sometimes mocap – though if all the actions in the game are done by one guy I’d be surprised) actor employed to breathe life into the main protagonist of the recent hit GTA4, Nico Bellic.

Mr. Hollick is understandably upset about the fuzziness of his contract that, unlike those offered in the mediums of film, television or radio, does not offer him pay whenever his contribution is featured in promotional materials, and perhaps that should have been made more clear to him. However, if he or any other voice actor believes that the work he provides is IN ANY WAY comparable to the years of intensive creative labour, off-hours problem-solving, and let’s not forget, unpaid overtime by the hundreds of talented developers at any given game studio then he is very, very mislead. I wholeheartedly agree with the below statement from the piece:

The actor whose appearance or voice is used is more analogous to a session music for a band. The session musicians don’t get residuals on the sales of the CD. They get paid a session fee.” – Ezra J. Doner, a former Hollywood executive who represents entertainment companies as a lawyer at Herrick, Feinstein in Manhattan, N.Y.

Funnily, an interview in the April issue of EDGE magazine sees series creator Sam Houser talk of Ray Liotta’s similar comments following the huge success of GTA Vice City:

…I hate that kind of chat. It’s like, be cool. You know? I hate that – it’s so cheesy. Like he’s saying, “Next time I’m really going to pin it to them”. Well, how about we just killed off your character? So he doesn’t exist – there is no next time. That’s how we handle that.

No more Nico Bellic then.

Grand Theft Euphoria

I had hoped to post about the fantastic leaps forward in ingame animation brought about by the highly publicised (in the gaming press anyway) integration of NaturalMotion’s behavioural/physics-based Euphoria middleware in the recently released GTA4.

However, I was one of the unlucky few whose copy would invariably freeze during the opening stages of the game. Even worse, the XBOX360 would also lock up for the next few attempts even without the corrupt disc inside. I have since bought a replacement copy but the current situation sees my machine now sporting the dreaded Red Ring of Death, (much too close to be a coincidence), so it looks like I won’t be playing any games for the foreseeable future – cheers Rockstar, cheers Bill.

In the meantime, above is a video demonstrating Euphoria in a standalone manner, which looks very interesting indeed. Reports from colleagues tell me that the movement and ragdoll look incredibly natural, but the player character unfortunately handles looser than in previous games – something to be expected of any move towards visual fidelity.