Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 6 (June 2001)

Knight Moves

Players do battle in an on-line promo for A Knight's Tale

By Karen Moltenbrey

Do you have the strength, dexterity, and endurance to become a knight? Find out by pitting your medieval battle skills against those of a friend or foe by playing the Web-hosted computer game A Knight's Tale Tournament, created by WildTangent for Sony Pictures Entertainment to advertise its newly released feature film A Knight's Tale.

To participate in game tournaments, a player first creates a customized knight by choosing from various physical attributes and armor on the game site (www.aknights The player then "trains" the character by participating in matches that enable the knight to accumulate gold (points), which can be cashed in for additional strength, intelligence, speed, training, or weapons. "The more you play, the better your knight should become," notes Marsh Lefler, developer.
As a promotion for the movie A Knight's Tale, WildTangent created an e-mail-based 3D computer game that is hosted on the film's Internet site. (Images courtesy WildTangent)

Before issuing a challenge, a player chooses a game strategy-aggressive or defensive-that the knight will follow. A random selection of moves from that style of play is then programmed into the character's animation cycle. Through e-mail, the player summons a friend to a battle. If the friend accepts, he or she similarly customizes a knight and chooses a strategy. The action then ensues. An electronic message is automatically sent to the challenger when a fight is accepted and also when a "turn" has been completed, giving each player the opportunity to watch the action. A battle is completed once the knights dual for five rounds.

"The advantage to this game is that both players don't have to be on the site at the same time, allowing them to play at their convenience," says Jeff Buccellato, producer. "And because it is played on Sony Pictures' Web site instead of through e-mail attachments, there's no risk of contracting a computer virus, as you might with other games of this style."

Enabling players to customize and strengthen their knights gives them a certain amount of ownership in the character and game. But it also presented a modeling challenge for artist John Moore. "We have various types of armor and weapons that players can buy or swap," he says. "And I was concerned about the short development period. I knew I had to be as efficient as possible in terms of creating the geometry." So rather than make hundreds of warriors of all sizes, shapes, and modes of dress, the WildTangent team decided to create pieces of armor that players can choose from to assemble or re-assemble their own characters.

Each knight comprises approximately 20 separate parts, which were created by Moore using Discreet's 3ds max. When the first suit was completed, it was passed along to Lefler, who "glued" the character together programmatically.
Because of the limited amount of geometry in the game, the artists used higher than usual texture resolutions for all of the imagery.

After the initial model, Moore says it was easier to develop variations and combinations. In all, the team produced 10 unique, full suits of armor from which players can create multiple armor combinations. The group based the dress style for the period on books and films such as The Messenger and Excalibur, as well as a precut version of the movie A Knight's Tale. "[The filmmakers] provided us with some art content, such as a knight's crest that's used in the movie," says Moore.

Moore also tried to be as efficient as possible with texturing. Using Adobe Systems' Photoshop, he first developed a few basic textures with random pattern sets. "When I textured each piece of armor, it was a matter of randomly texture-mapping them until I achieved the desired look," he says. "And be cause there are only two knights on the screen at a time, I was able to create higher-resolution textures than I normally would in a Web-based game."

Using 3ds max, Moore created the animations for the characters as well. "We acted out the movements using toy objects, although there's only so much you can do with a sword and shield," says Buccellato. For attack- style moves, Moore created a range of sword strikes toward the opponent's upper, middle, and lower body, and aggressive hits using a shield. For defensive motions, he created a range of high and low blocks with a shield and sword.

These animation sequences were then given to Lefler, who programmed the motion using WildTangent's proprietary WTStudio tools. When a player selects a mode of attack, a motion cycle from a library of these movements is automatically selected and mapped onto the character.
Using 3ds max, modelers created 10 unique suits of armor for the knights, each with a multitude of different pieces. Players then choose from the selection of pieces to create their own game character.

To enhance the game's visual content, Moore also created special effects such as metal clashing against metal, dust, and sword trails, and ambient motion such as waving banners and cheering crowds.

Playing the game requires a modest download (approximately 2mb), which takes 10 minutes using a 56k connection. Players also need at least a Pentium-based system with 64mb of RAM and an 8mb 3D graphics card.

Buccellato admits that the images in A Knight's Tale Tournament cannot be compared to those found in the newer console releases, but for a Web-based title, he believes it is a quality contender that will be received well by gamers. "We're pushing polygon counts of 10,000 to 12,000 per scene, which surpasses those of most Internet games," he maintains. "And we created the visualizer and the game in two months."

3ds max, Discreet