Epic Games and Flagship Studios in Asian Tour presented by Autodesk: 13th Nov. Mumbai

After last year’s successful tour by EA and High Moon Studios, this time it was Epic Games and Flagship Studios touring 5 Asian cities – Mumbai, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai and Taipei. The Mumbai session was held on 13th Nov. at the Grand Hyatt .

Arun D’Souza, Territory Manager for Autodesk, India and SAARC, began the session by giving a brief overview of the agenda for the afternoon – an introduction to Autodesk, games overview, presentations by Chris Wells of Epic Games and David Glenn of Flagship Studios, demo reel of games by studios worldwide and lastly a question and answer session with the audience.

He then made a presentation on Autodesk products and shared statistics on the various verticals that these products are being used for, namely film, television, games and design visualization. Worldwide sales have seen a cumulative software sales growth of 18.4 percent. Maximum growth has been seen in the APAC region because of China and Korea. The most number of games created and sold are console games rather than PC, mobile or online games. The mobile currently has more of 2D games.

D’Souza also touched upon some of the problems faced by the gaming industry. Higher consumer expectations mean that the bar is being raised very quickly. There is a high demand for HD quality content. ‘Time to market’ has greatly reduced. Data volumes are increasing rapidly and multiple SKU support is needed. Another problem is that the next generation systems are far more complex than they used to be and even data complexity is increasing.

He also announced the latest products from Autodesk- 3DS Max 2008, Maya 2008 and Motion Builder 7.5 Ext. 2 (Intel Mac version is also available). Autodesk has also recently aquired Mudbox which complements 3DSMax and Maya.

Next up was Chris Wells, Senior Character Artist, Epic Games Inc. who presented “From concept to creation – Making content for Nex Gen Games.”

“Start from the concept. Use it as a springboard to create the characters.” He then took the audience through the process of creation and showed some of the time saving techniques that they use at Epic Games. The audience also got to see trailers of Gears of War and the latest Unreal Tournament, coming out in Nov 2007.

Epic Games, established in 1991 by Tim Sweeney, uses Autodesk tools in their pipeline to create content for their games. Their early projects were – Epic Pinball, Jill of the Jungle, followed by the Unreal and Unreal Tournament series. The latest game, Gears of War sold 3 million copies within 10 weeks of launch.

Chris showed demos of the creations of two characters from Gears of War – Loque and Akasha. The lead artist and concept artist work together on iterations, beginning with a low poly model and building on it. Sometimes things may work in theory but not in practical so changes have to be made. After finishing the concept drawing, comes the modeling using 3DS Max and Maya, followed by Z Brush and Mudbox.

The characters are blocked out into 3 parts – Intricate common components, Organics and Hard Surfaces. A rough model is created for proportion check. It is easier to make changes at this stage on low poly rather than high poly. Make 2 or 3 different materials – light medium and dark. If it can be interesting in grey scale it will surely work in colour. Use silhouettes and negative spaces to make sure you can identify different characters especially in darkly lit scenes. Depending on the sketch you can play with negative space. Creating intricate negative spaces creates an illusion of higher resolution. A high poly model typically takes 15 days to model. They model a hero character from scratch. Using base models, a male and a female base mesh is made. Chris then described two ways of approaching detail-
1. Modelling intersecting shapes (multiple small parts)
2. Modelling by carving and double chamfering (1 major shape, less parts. But double vertex count so slower model and rendering)

“Use details to tell a story.” For example, use dents and scratches to show war worn armour. Chris also described the unwrap and processing pipeline and animation pipelines. He created a rough proportions model and quick animation to show how it works. Chris gave a parting tip, “Make one or two really good base models, as it helps maintain proportions and use paint over whenever possible.”

David Glenn, Art Director, Flagship Studios, has a degree in Architecture and worked as architectural renderer before he switched to games in 1996 as a contractor working with Maxis on Simcity 3000. After that he worked at Blizzard on Diablo II and Diablo II expansion. His presentation was on how Flagship uses Autodesk tools, especially 3DS Max, and customizes them.

Flagship Studios was set up in 2003 by 9 leads and founders of Blizzard North and has a long history of using 3DSMax. They began with AutoCAD R10 and transitioned to 3DSMax when it debuted. They have used 3DSMax to create 2D tile based environments for Diablo II. 3DSMax helped with quick prototyping for ‘Hellgate London’, which is their 1st title as Flagship Studios. They began in July 2003 in a basement and the game finally shipped on Oct 31st 2007. Hellgate London was conceived as a first person shooter meets Diablo. It has MMORPG elements with instanced gameplay and is set in future London, after a demonic invasion. Thematically, it’s a mix of fantasy and science fiction.

The audience then got to see a trailer of Hellgate London and also a video capture of the game being played.

David also spoke about the production challenges faced by them. They wanted to keep team small and outsourced some of the asset creation.They also wanted lots of levels and variations. The game engine was entirely new. Hellgate London had an iterative style of game develepment therefore assets had to be adjusted and re-exported. Although the desire was for a FPS feel but constrained by MMO style client server game engine

The solution is to keep it simple. Create as final of an asset as possible within 3DS Max and leave minimum work for post production.Explaining why he likes 3DSMax, David said that it is flexible, powerful, cost-effective, customizable, has a lot of 3rd party tools and game pedigree, that is a strong history of listening to needs of game developers.

David then showed how he customized 3DS Max – hot keys and scene navigation, scene organization; groups visibility, use of material editor, 2 screens with photoshop and multi sub object materials. He showed the custom UI. Building the blocks for Hellgate London, the process included creation of 8 modular stations in 2 months, render to texture: lightmaps and pre-rendered light maps for indoor scenes.

David also spoke about the DRLG System: Dynamic Random Level Generation – the theory of which was based on our experience with work on Diablo series 2D tile based systems. 3DS Max was used to create rulesets for creating multiple levels. Tanks and cars were outsourced as they are time-consuming and complicated. A useful tip he gave was that using combinations of data sets help create variety. He concluded by saying, “Simplicity of process allows for highly iterative design process.”

Finally a game show reel showcasing work from the top gaming studios was screened.

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