Spy Game
Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 11 (November 2002)

Spy Game

And, the shagadelic spy Austin Powers isn't the only groovy British agent to re-emerge for a cloak-and-dagger sequel. The beautiful, hip UNITY operative Cate Archer has returned to the spy scene, investigating a secret Soviet project in Monolith Productions' computer game No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in HARM's Way. This time, she possesses a higher level of intelligence as she travels from one mysterious environment to the next, eluding foes that are equally intelligent and cunning.

Sexy spy Cate Archer returns in No One Lives Forever 2.

The overall tone of No One Lives Forever 2, like the Austin Powers film series, leans toward tongue-in-cheek humor—a different style from most first-person shooter games. Yet the release maintains a balance between humor, action, adventure, and stealth. "We're not making a straight-up parody of the genre," says Craig Hubbard, lead designer. "But we're aware that some of the concepts and conventions that audiences might have been able to take seriously back in the '60s are exceedingly campy to audiences today."

Advanced character intelligence pits the player (as Cate) against skilled bots. Players encounter dynamic effects such as fiery explosions, made possible through LithTech's Jupiter game engine.

In No One Lives Forever 2, players assume the role of Cate, a 1960s super spy who must save the world from the "nefarious machinations of a twisted megalomaniac and his sinister organization," explains Hubbard. The story line unfolds as Cate travels to Japan to investigate some bizarre ninja activity, only to find that the ninjas—who are working for the evil organization HARM—are plotting to assassinate her. Armed with an assortment of conventional and experimental weaponry and gadgets, she travels the globe, dodging attempts on her life while trying to stop the Soviets from waging a nuclear war.

"Many first-person shooters tend to derive their aesthetics from futuristic, medieval/fantasy, or military settings," says David Longo, art director. "Just the period alone in No One Lives Forever 2 afforded us great design opportunities, not to mention over-the-top environments, including secret villain lairs with a retro/futuristic look."

Employing an expanded tool set, including a recharged LithTech (Kirkland, WA) game engine, the Monolith team created more than 40 compelling, richly populated levels with "30 times the detail of the original title," contends producer Samantha Ryan. The LithTech Jupiter System features an advanced renderer for generating a high level of image detail and state-of-the-art character and environmental effects, including projected texture shadows, realistic dynamic water, and a multitude of particles simulating everything from explosions and fire to snow and ice. To take advantage of the renderer's full set of capabilities, players should use at least a Pentium III with an Nvidia GeForce 1 or higher graphics card.

In fact, the Jupiter engine is the driving force behind Cate's mission, which takes her to vastly different locales, including colorful India, exotic Japan, frosty Siberia, and a gritty trailer park in Ohio. "Each location has its own appeal," notes lead artist Wes Saulsberry. "Artistically, the Japan levels look especially beautiful, and the new water technology powered by Jupiter looks great in the opening scene as the lighting from the dusk sky reflects in the dark water."

To construct the game's exotic architecture and terrain, the artists used Discreet's 3ds max, employing the software's Boolean functions, lofting shapes, surface tools, and tessellation utilities. "We also used max's texture-mapping features, which enabled us to wrap textures around complex geometry for a richer look," says Saulsberry. Toward the end of the development cycle, the team also began to utilize the software's vertex painting and independent texture-coordinate feature to apply multiple texture materials and then blend them together, thereby eliminating the sharp edges that would otherwise be visible. This was done without adding additional texture memory to the game, Ryan notes. For example, a gravel trail now fades nicely into the grass, and the artists achieved this effect without having to make a new transitional texture for each orientation of the gravel edge.

Cate uses a variety of conventional and unusual weapons against her foes, including a banana, which she uses to "slip up" an unsuspecting adversary.

For generating the actual environmental textures, the artists used a combination of photographic and hand-painted surfaces created with Adobe Systems' Photoshop, and procedurally generated surfaces created with Darkling Simulations's DarkTree shader/texture authoring tool and Simbiont texture library. "This combination of tools allowed us to pre-render materials in 3ds max that otherwise cannot be rendered efficiently in real time," says Saulsberry.

The characters, on the other hand, were modeled, textured, and animated with Alias|Wavefront's Maya. "Using Maya's scripting language, the artists set up useful utilities that were tailored to our work flow," says senior artist Scott Albaugh. The Jupiter System's text-based file format, he adds, made it fairly easy to create an interface within Maya to accomplish certain tasks without extensive scripts, including the batch exportation of dynamic animations and models, and the storage of game model properties in Maya scenes.

The use of dynamic lighting and reflections enhance the background imagery.

The detailed characters contain sophisticated skeleton setups, resulting in complex body and facial animations that give the characters more emotion and life. For a greater level of realism, the team employed Puppet Works' Voice Works to generate phoneme-based lip synchronization. The group also wrote a customized interface script that quickly batch-processed every line for a given character, allowing the artists to easily add or tweak specific lines.

"We have a cast of characters that are campy but contain a realistic veneer, everything from French-thug mimes to sexy ninjas," says Longo. Cate, in particular, "is more fetching than ever," he adds. "It's the little details that make a huge difference, such as her range of facial expressions, lip sync, and eye blinks." Like the other characters, she will be more robust than she was in the previous title, and will be dressed in the latest retro fashions, thanks to an extensive wardrobe designed by the digital artists.

Like Cate, the bot characters are also more intelligent than before, and are able to make rational decisions, such as determining when to wait for backup assistance before pursuing their enemy. If Cate is hiding behind an obstacle using stealth mode, she will go undetected unless she accidentally moves or makes a noise to give herself away. Furthermore, any game sound the player hears can also be heard and interpreted by the characters. And, the characters are not oblivious to what is occurring around them. If they enter a room and notice that a compatriot has been attacked, they will react accordingly.

Aside from presenting interesting characters and rich environments, the game also introduces players to high-end effects, including dynamic lighting, reflections, and surface animations. "We created new subsystems for the Jupiter engine so the artists could create complex effects that make the environments extremely interesting," says John O'Rorke, Jupiter engineer. "We added a spring simulation to handle water surfaces, a flexible and fast particle system, a scripting language for texture coordinate generation, and support for easily controlling how objects are rendered." With these subsystems, the artists created dense, highly interactive environments. For instance, players can tip over furniture, open file cabinets and flip through files, and even search the pockets of a sleeping enemy.

Rather than using specific scripted events, the developers integrated AI cues, so the player is not always presented with the same scenario. Instead, the AI chooses a scenario based on the current situation—for instance, whether the player is running or shooting—thus offering a flexible solution based on the emergent game play. No One Lives Forever 2, which was released last month, also contains mission-based cooperative multiplayer action, in which as many as four players can work together as a team against the game's integrated character AI.

With all this new intelligence, will the deadly agents take Cate out of the spy trade once and for all, or will she outsmart them and save the world? The answer depends on you, baby. ..

Karen Moltenbrey is a senior editor for Computer Graphics World.

TOOLS<>br>Adobe Systems www.adobe.com
Alias|Wavefront www.aliaswavefront.com
Darkling Simulations www.darksim.com
Discreet www.discreet.com
LithTech www.lithtech.com
Puppet Works www.puppetworks.com