Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 8 (August 2000)

A Shot in the Dark




A game developer uses its own studio setup to capture the action in this Nintendo espionage thriller

By Karen Moltenbrey

Your mission, as the sharp and gifted young field operative Joanna Dark (code-named Perfect Dark for her achievements during training), is to infiltrate the multimillion-dollar dataDyne Corporation, which appears to be stepping up its technological developments for presumably sinister purposes. Aware that something questionable is occurring in and around the company-people are being abducted and animals are being mutilated-the Carrington Institute, which has been monitoring these events, is forced to act immediately after receiving an urgent plea for help from a dataDyne scientist. You are sent by the Carrington Institute to rescue the scientist from deep within dataDyne's labyrinthine Chicago headquarters. After whizzing past towering skyscrapers, you suddenly ap proach the building, where you rappel onto the roof from a hovering helicopter. When your feet hit the surface, this Nintendo 64 console game begins.

This first-person, action-packed multiplayer adventure, titled Perfect Dark, was created by game developer Rare, of Twy cross, England, known for its Nintendo 64 releases. In the company's newest espionage thriller, you perform Perfect Dark's mission, which brings you closer to a conspiracy that pits an alien enemy against one of Earth's allies in an intergalactic war. As you struggle to distinguish good from evil, you must also uncover the real "truth" and subsequent plots. Your plight takes you to 17 vastly different levels, from the guarded halls of dataDyne to subterranean laboratories, from top-secret air bases to seabed alien shipwrecks.
With its new motion-capture studio, game developer Rare created a multitude of high-impact motion for the game Perfect Dark. (Images courtesy Rare Ltd.)




"Basically, you hit the game running when Joanna steps off the helicopter," says B. Jones, a Rare senior artist. To achieve the most realistic moves possible for the game characters, a team at Rare used its own in-house Vicon 8 optical motion-capture system from Vicon Motion Systems (Oxford, England). The setup consists of seven cameras within a 40-foot square area, with a 30-foot ceiling, in the company's new headquarters. "It was simply a matter of ease," Jones says about constructing the in-house facility. "If I'm in the middle of a sequence and discover that I've missed a move, I can just whip downstairs and do it, as opposed to using a whole day to travel to Vicon in Oxford to redo the shoot."

Prior to simulating any motion, the mocap group, which was led by Jones, planned out on paper the kind of moves it needed. "This let us know in advance the type of person we would need for a particular capture-whether it would be a female, male, gymnast, or martial artist," says Jones.
Perfect Dark contains a great deal of action, most of which was achieved by capturing the motion of gymnasts and martial arts experts. In one instance, the movements of the martial arts practitioner had to be slowed down, as her kicks were too fast for th




Even with this preplanning, Perfect Dark was an ambitious mocap project. In Jones' estimation, the group captured about 2500 moves, 1500 of which were incorporated into the game. A typical session lasted about five hours and netted roughly 200 types of moves, from which the group could choose only the very best. "You're looking at about three weeks total for just capturing motion," she says. "And we were trying to pack as much action into this game cartridge as possible."

The reason for so much movement, says Jones, was due to the flexible "free form" game play, where the characters react based on your (Joanna Dark's) actions and reactions. "We wanted a character to be able to react in at least five different ways if he gets shot," she adds. "Because of the game's intelligence level, if you shoot one of the guards in the leg, for example, he may run away, come at you with even more force, call for backup, drop his gun, or just surrender, so the idea is to be stealthy in your actions." Enabling this extensive game intelligence is Rare's proprietary game engine, which in its earlier form was used for the company's 1997 GoldenEye game release.
Using MultiGen-Paradigm's GameGen software, the artists incorporated photographs of Rare employees with the Maya game models.




Once the motions were performed, the animators cleaned up the data using Oxford Met rics' (Oxford) BodyBuilder soft ware before applying the information to their skeleton models built in Alias|Wavefront's (To ron to) Maya. All the software used for the project was powered by SGI (Mountain View, CA) O2s. "We were cleaning about 35 moves a day, which would have been impossible to achieve if we had hand-animated the action," Jones notes.

In all, Perfect Dark contains more than 60 characters, created by a team of two modelers and two animators who actually immersed themselves and their co-workers into the game. Ac cording to Jones, the artists used digital photographs (side-view and head-on photos) of Rare employees, which were placed onto the Maya models using MultiGen-Paradigm's (San Jose, CA) GameGen and edited within its pixel editor. (Jones serves as the model for one of the guards.)

In addition to realistic-looking characters, the artists also aimed for realism in the backgrounds, which include a wide range of locales-from a futuristic industrial city scape of Chicago to the Arctic snow region to the US president's Air Force One jet. To project a familiar "feel" to the game backgrounds, the Rare team used photographs of actual locations, such as London's Chinatown, as references, which they then manipulated in Adobe Systems' (San Jose, CA) Photoshop. For texturing the other game models, the artists imported the Maya models into GameGen, where they were textured.
No detail proved too small for the animation team at Rare when creating the espionage game Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64. For instance, the group shot bullets through tin cans to achieve a realistic visualization for bullet penetration within the game.




Despite its small size, the team still managed to accomplish its mission by producing a game that pushes the limits of the Nintendo 64 game platform. "I think people will be impressed by the tremendous amount of detail we crammed into this game," says Jones.

Vicon 8, Vicon Motion Systems (www.vicon.com)

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