To create a spectacular conclusion for the Gears of War trilogy, Epic Games extended its creative pipeline with a range of middleware and creative tools from Autodesk. The Gears of War 3 tour-de-force user interface (UI) features a highly polished gameplay experience with new and expanded multiplayer modes and the longest story campaign of Epic's games to date.
To create the UI, Epic integrated Autodesk Scaleform middleware with Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, and shared the complex data using Autodesk FBX asset exchange technology.
"Scaleform is just a great and simple way to bring awesome interfaces into games," said Maury Mountain, senior artist at Epic Games. "The middleware allows us to bring in animated 2D, 2.5D, or even pseudo-3D content and integrate it while preserving things like animation, ‘tweenings, and frame-by-frame timings, as well as many of the standard game interface practices, such as button press design, menu navigation, and content display," explained Wyeth Johnson, lead artist at Epic Games. "With Scaleform software's support for Flash content, assets created in Adobe Flash come through Scaleform directly, and then into Unreal Engine 3—with no problem."
"Gears of War is one of the most memorable and celebrated sagas in videogame history, and we’re proud to be a part of it," said Marc Stevens, Autodesk vice president of Games. "Epic brings the Gears of War UI to a whole new level and does an outstanding job demonstrating what's possible when designing UI with Scaleform. With Scaleform being bundled with the Unreal Engine at no additional cost to licensees, the integration is near seamless."
Beyond the UI, Autodesk Digital Entertainment Creation tools were at the foundation of Epic's art creation pipeline for Gears of War 3. The concluding title presented formidable new challenges for the Epic Games team, with twice as many cinematics as Gears of War 2, requiring the studio to rig 27 faces. Artists created and textured models in Autodesk’s 3ds Max software and animated them in Autodesk’s MotionBuilder and Maya software. The Maya scripting tools enabled Epic to write a custom auto-rig to help boost efficiency.
"At first, it was tricky to persuade our producers to give us the time we needed to create this tool set, but once we convinced them this would save us literally years down the road, they were all for it," said Jeremy Ernst, technical animator and character rigger. "I use the Maya script editor a lot. The syntax highlighting in 2012 is powerful, and the addition of Python has been huge."
Autodesk FBX was used to import assets into Unreal Engine 3, as well as to share files between MotionBuilder, 3ds Max, and Maya software. "We used to employ a proprietary format to import content into the engine, but with FBX, we have a centralized format to get all skeleton meshes, animations, targets—the whole works—easily into the editor," said Ernst. "It's a great bridge that enables artists to use whichever program they're most comfortable using."