Archive for August, 2010

Modelling and animating agents

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This week has been a bit of a rollercoaster with regards to Damzel. One of the biggest things in the game is that the player should be able to discern the intention of characters in the game visually. This means that players need to be able to see exactly what a character is doing from a distance. This also applies to bodyguards (lets call them agents from now on), in that agents need to be able to show a change in their behaviour through different styles of motion and gestures.

Old Box Guy

This was only a problem in so much as the original model I was testing with was from an older game prototype and as such was very limiting. As you can see, his proportions were superdeformed in order to try and give him more character. But at the expense of expressive control over his limbs and movement. Unfortunately this is very restricting for a game that requires you to understand differences in behaviour largely through motion. So I took some time to think about what needed to change.

New Box Guy

New Box Guy

So I’ve spent the week working out some art pipeline issues with a new character, working out proportions and looking at the animation workflow. The key part of it all, is that the character needs to have roughly human proportions so that I can use the motion capture data I’m going to collect. I was inspired by a music video I saw on youtube a while back, the “Polysics” video of “you you you” struck me as interesting. The human proportions of their characters made me wonder if I couldn’t try that in the game for now. So I took a shot at modelling (and by this I mean programmer modelling) a similarly proportioned character, which you can see above. Not exactly brilliant artwork I’ll admit, but his structure works and has enough range of motion to make motion capture data a possiblity at least.

Luckily there is plenty of motion capture data in the CMU Motion Capture Database for me to test with. Although the road to getting the BVH format animation files into collada and then into the engine is no small matter (using 3 applications and no small amount of testing to discern how to get them to talk together has been most of my week).

The upshot of the work, is that I now have a pretty firm grasp on the workflow, even though I’m still going to be using very placeholder artwork for now. Especially for the agents. My new “Box Guy” is more visibly human in proportion (although yes he looks like a dude from black shades before you say it!). This is a temporary thing until I feel the whole process is far enough along that its worth engaging a full-time artist to flesh out the look of the thing. Its frustrating to be using all sorts of programmer art and placeholder graphics, but the game really isn’t far enough along to require “proper” art and it would just distract me from the code to try and make it any better. Plus of course it probably wouldnt be within my power to do that anyway.

I’ll try and post a vid to the youtube channel later today with the new BoxGuy doing his thing with a clip from the CMU mocap database. Its kind of dumb, but its also pretty fun to have your characters doing rather random motions. I also borrowed some music temporarily as I put the audio library together last week and it is adding to the comedy feel to the game right now (little computer people by Athony Rother just felt so right at the time!).

Next week will be spent doing some work on squad control, specifically giving move order to squads and being able to face them in the right direction. I’ll post more about that whole issue of “how do you control squads” in more detail because its a very important part of the game.

In the meantime, thanks for following.

Less Quake, More Space Hulk

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Ok, so I understand its hard to tell what the game is meant to be like right now. Nothing is really set in stone and you cant tell from a single image what Damzel is meant to be about. But let me at least describe for you what its not about. Its not about FPS style escort missions! There was always a risk when talking about using a first person view, that it would evoke the first person shooter gameplay to mind. Add on protecting someone and its pretty natural to think “escort mission”. But as I woke up this morning I realized there might be a way to explain why game will feel different than that.

I’ll use the old PC game “Space Hulk” to explain what I mean. I know many of you wont remember this game, but certainly many of you will be aware of the setting.

Space Hulk game on PC

Space Hulk PC

I use the example of Space Hulk here to explain that in the game, you are controlling squads. Ok, in Space Hulk you controlled individual marines, but in Damzel you control squads of up to five agents. Space Hulk built up a lot of atmosphere with its presentation, but I’m interested in the tension of the game here. It was no dumb blast-all-the-aliens game here. You had to carefully plan your way through the Hulk, trying to get to an exit point. You had a squad, you had weapons and individual loadouts etc. But its the tension that I’m trying to get across here.

If people go into the game thinking “first person shooter” then I’ve lost. Because it wont feel that way at all. But there’s a dilemma in that I really love the immersion that the first person viewpoint brings. I also enjoyed the Brothers in arms squad control mechanic enough to want to try and recreate it somewhat for this game. So in effect the emphasis is not on an individual so much as it is on the arrangement of squads. Hopefully gameplay videos and teasers will be able to explain this when the time comes. But it does still worry me that people dismiss the game without really understanding where its coming from. The depth that comes from the sheer number of possible configurations of squads, enemies, world and protectee (I definitely need a better word for them) is staggering. But I think thats for another post.

Hope this clears a few things up and explains the game a bit more. I highly recommend reading the peice on Rock Paper Shotgun about Space Hulk, it was one of my favourite games of that era (I still have it in a box somewhere I think).

Here is the link again

Thanks for reading.

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