With the relentless pace of advancements in gaming graphics, the dream of projecting oneself into a movie and playing the hero has been slowly becoming a reality. From casting celebrities for their voice talent, scanning their faces, and motion-capturing their movements, to simulating cinematic lighting, staging, and camera movements, game developers have been trying to re-create a cinematic experience for players. Recently, the artists at Electronic Arts (EA) have taken all these steps—and several more—to transport gamers into an interactive version of one of the most popular and enduring film worlds of all time: that of the unflappable secret service agent James Bond.
Billing itself as a real-time, cinematic action/adventure, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing
leaves players hard-pressed to find the slightest crack in its mirroring of a Bond
film. The fade-in of the iconic roaring lion of the MGM logo, the signature showstopping pre-title action sequence, the salacious opening credits set to an original song, and the writing by veteran Bond
screenwriter Bruce Feirstein—it's all in the game.
Also included are performances by a complete cast of real movie stars, many of whom starred in past Bond
films. Reprising their roles and lending both their voices and cyberscanned likenesses to the game are Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Judi Dench as M, John Cleese as Q, and Richard Kiel as the steel-mouthed Jaws. The all-star cast also includes Willem Dafoe as the villain, and Shannon Elizabeth, Heidi Klum, and Mya as the new Bond girls.
The result of this cumulative effort is the most complete cinematic experience yet in the interactive world of computer gaming.
The prologue to Bond's latest adventure involves the disappearance of nanoroboticist Dr. Katya Nananova (Klum) and the theft of her metal-eating nanobots, which are crucial in Nikolai Diavolo's (Dafoe) diabolical plan to seize control of his native Russia and return it to hard-line Communist rule. After Agent 003 disappears while investigating anomalous platinum levels near a mysterious mining operation in Peru, 007 sets out to find him. Eventually Bond locates him and tracks Diavolo to his secret facility on a Louisiana plantation in the Bayou and then to New Orleans, where Jaws (Kiel) plans to unleash the metal-munching nanobots on the steel-supported city.
The story unfolds with cinematic suspense and pacing, leading the player through myriad plot points without restricting the open-ended interactivity of the gameplay or the number of paths available to the player. "It's a balance to maintain, between giving players as much freedom of choice as possible and the feeling that they are playing the Bond character," says senior producer Scott Bandy. "Our solution was to construct a plot that Bond unravels in his inimitable style, and at the same time build an action game that gives players a broad range of tactical choices to overcome the obstacles in their path."
Indeed, the characters and conventions of the Bond
universe have become such a permanent fixture of pop culture that, for the artists, the greatest challenge was to meet the player's preconceptions about the behavior, personality, and appearance of Bond, the villains, and the girls, as well as the expectations of the cars and the action in both the real-time and prerendered settings. EA was meticulous in capturing every nuance of the Bond mythos—dispatching enemies with cool detachment, performing death-defying stunt work in his Aston Martin, making puns, and seducing women with equal aplomb. To help it achieve this digitally, the company enlisted film-effects specialists from the senior levels of ILM and PDI.
|EA used cyberscans of actors to create their digital counterparts for the game, including: (top) Pierce Brosnan as Bond, (clockwise from top left) Willem Dafoe as the villain Diavolo, Heidi Klum as Dr. Nananova, John Cleese as Q, Mya as an NSA agent, and
To create the CG characters, EA contacted Gentle Giant Studios (Burbank, CA), which dispatched a crew to the Santa Monica, California, recording studio where most of the voice-overs for the game were being recorded. There, the group scanned Cleese, Klum, Elizabeth, and Kiel using a Cyberware 3030 mobile scanner. The capture system was then flown to Pinewood Studios in England, where Brosnan was scanned in high resolution. Not only did they capture the base expressions of the actors, but to ensure even greater fidelity to their studio performances, also captured a wide range of emotional expressions, which helped significantly in the modeling of the blend shapes for the faces.
The cyberscanned heads were extremely dense—some pushing 100,000 polygons. So EA used the data, as well as the scanned and orthographic images, as references for constructing lighter, game-ready models, totaling approximately 1800 triangles apiece, in Alias's Maya. As a result, the rendering engine could quickly draw the heads in real time at any proximity to the camera.
Working in Adobe's Photoshop, the artists used the scanned texture maps as templates for hand-painting the final game-ready face maps, since those produced by the scan contained harsh lighting. "Painting brought out the personality and essence of each actor," notes Bandy. "Without these touch-ups, they looked like digital mannequins." Artists, in fact, spent weeks on each face map, carefully painting the specular maps that not only deliver the light-reflecting highlights of the skin, teeth, and eyebrows, but also modulate the glossiness and shininess of the hair, stubble, lashes, and brows.
|Because of the manageable sizes of the character models, including M (Judi Dench), only one level of detail was needed for each CG head used throughout the game.
Studying photographic and video references, the team modeled more than 30 blend shapes for each character. The greatest difficulty in using the likenesses of celebrity actors were encountered during the lip-syncing, which was done by hand. The more the animators studied the actors, the more apparent it became that many of them, particularly Brosnan, had undergone considerable voice training, so the way their mouths formed words differed widely from the way typical manual and automated facial animation methods form words. Consequently, the animators had to collaborate much more closely with lead character modeler Darren Pattendon to revise the modeled phonemes.
Subscribing to the old adage that action is the determination of character, EA invested countless hours in developing one of the most sophisticated real-time animation blending systems, ensuring that each character captured the spirit of his or her real-life counterpart's personality and performance. In Everything or Nothing
, Bond appears in the third person for the first time, forcing the team to pay extra attention to the way he moves, talks, and glances. "We spent an enormous amount of time studying the way our Bond runs, walks, shoots, and takes cover, and we experimented with new ways to make him seem like that character we know and love," Bandy says. The artists also re-created Bond's manner of expressing such states as suspicious and aggressive, which clue the player to dangers lurking outside the camera frame. And interspersed throughout are "Bond moments"—actions performed with 007's unique debonair flair.
The process of creating the thousands of character animations began with extensive motion-capture sessions conducted at House of Moves (HOM) in Los Angeles and EA's own motion-capture studio in Vancouver, Canada. Employing more than 30 Motion Analysis cameras and Motion Analysis's Eva Real-Time software, EA captured countless run and walk cycles, hand-to-hand combat techniques, as well as punching, kicking, dodging, rolling, and diving variations. Meanwhile, using a Vicon 8 motion-capture system with 24 specially designed, high-speed MCams, HOM acquired dozens of individual "character minutes" of data, often recording as many as four performers simultaneously. Then, EA used Kaydara's MotionBuilder software to map the data to its Maya game skeletons, and HOM used its proprietary Diva software to process and convert the motion data into Maya files.
|EA's priority was to create a Bond character that reflected not only the look, but also the mannerisms and movements of the well-known 007, played by Brosnan in the franchise's most recent films.
Since celebrity actors are rarely available for mocap sessions, their casting often complicates the data refinement process. While various algorithms and data filters were scripted to synchronize the data to each actor's specific proportions, the results were rarely perfect, necessitating hours of finessing. According to Bandy, because the in-game animation system is so dependent on certain common poses and requires extremely refined and explicit starts, stops, and blend points, the team couldn't just insert the mocap file and expect it to blend seamlessly with the other movements. Therefore, while the mocap data remains largely unmodified in the prerendered sequences, EA used it primarily as reference for crafting the final in-game animations.
Meanwhile, EA's sophisticated animation blending system transitions the characters' motions from idle to running. Moreover, it can skip the slower motions yet still play a starting and stopping transition between them. Also, all the run cycles used for Bond and the non-player characters (NPC) can turn into various forms of staggering and limping. In addition, the characters' upper torsos were designed for maximum flexibility so they can be smoothly and dynamically articulated into a wide range of positions.
|The game worlds are permeated with hundreds of environmental textures that the artists generated in Photoshop. Using a custom particle-simulation engine, they also created a range of dynamic effects, including explosions, fire, sparks, bullet hits, and mo
Animators crafted each piece of animation to dovetail with any of the other 1800 pieces of animation used in the game; these were culled from a total of 5000 permutations created during the development of the system. Completing the system took six months of prototyping and hundreds of experimental variations of the blending procedure.
adventure would be complete without high-speed chases through exotic locales, and Everything or Nothing
delivers 10 vehicle-based missions that rival, if not surpass, those found in the best racing games. Missions involve off-roading in a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, flying through Egyptian canyons in an armored helicopter, racing through the streets of New Orleans in an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, speeding across rooftops on a Triumph Daytona 600 motorcycle, and invading Red Square in a platinum-coated futuristic tank.
In fact, the graphics engine used for the driving sequences is a direct descendant of the one that powered EA's Need for Speed Porsche Unleashed
PC title. However, the differences in the programming demands of Bond's high-impact, stunt-heavy driving missions require a much higher level of interactivity within the environments. For example, the vehicles of the player and the NPCs are outfitted with artillery, and when these weapons discharge, the impacted surface must react appropriately to the ballistic properties of the weapon. Surfaces must be capable of disintegrating, exploding, or registering scorch marks, and given their high level of breakability and deformability, all the vehicles must manifest progressive damage and changes in surface properties. This forced EA to improve significantly on the Need for Speed
engine by developing a more comprehensive animation system, and a better world collision and detection system.
|As femme fatale, the CG Klum required a range of expressions—nuetral, happy, anger—captured during the cyberscanning process.
Aside from the programming provisions made for the weapons, EA also had to cope with the driving action's second major departure from conventional racing games: the absence of timed races. "Most of the missions involve several staged objectives and typically contain hundreds of triggers and rules all painstakingly arranged by our mission editors," says senior programmer Brad Gour. Moreover, since all the driving missions unfold in the same settings as the on-foot adventures, the artists also had to confront the challenge of diversifying the same environments for the two experiences.
The solution lay in creating worlds of extraordinary size. Working from detailed top-down maps, the team used placeholder geometry to construct the worlds, carefully plotting out the track and the intricacies of the driving experience, which had to remain part of the connective tissue of the story, bearing all the danger, intrigue, and suspense seen in the other facets of the game.
For the game's three licensed vehicles—the Aston Martin, Porsche Cayenne, and Triumph Daytona—the team conducted extensive photo shoots that yielded a library of 200 pictures for each that were used as references during the modeling and texturing processes. The artists built the cars in Discreet's 3ds max; then, working in Photoshop, they used the reference photos to create a small swatch texture—16x16 pixels—for coloring the body paint, while relying on baked-in vertex lighting for shading the rest of the vehicle. In fact, Everything or Nothing
marks the first time EA has implemented dual parabolic reflections on all the vehicles, which resulted in more realistic, high-resolution, real-time reflections.
|Everything or Nothing features a number of exotic licensed vehicles used by the characters in the requisite action-packed race and chase scenes.
Artists used Maya's rigid-body dynamics for most of the collateral damage effects and collapsing structures, implementing them in a built-to-scale replica of Moscow's Red Square, whose walls are completely destructible. This huge feat of memory management was accomplished through EA's new proprietary technology for processing and streaming massive amounts of data. In fact, Everything or Nothing
features the most expansive free-roaming levels yet in a Bond
game. The data-streaming technology was, therefore, crucial to managing the graphical content of such levels as the Peruvian jungle, set in a massive open city where the architecture is adorned with unique murals and mosaics. For this high-altitude area offering deep vistas through the villages, the artists employed traditional matte-painting techniques that afford al-most limitless views.
In the Egypt level, the team placed multiple tracks across the vast desert, carefully coordinating the dual obstacle-laden routes of the vehicles with a train that intersects them at the precise time for the execution of the stunts. According to ILM effects wizard Habib Zargapour, the key to successfully integrating the stunts into the driving gameplay was creating a terrain that's fun to navigate without overly compromising the physics. The stunts are further complicated by the swarming jeeps and an endless onslaught of rockets, missiles, and explosions.
|Bond's adventures lead him to a number of exotic locales, most of which are teeming with a colorful array of non-scanned characters that were modeled and painted by hand.
Led by senior lighter Larry Weiss, the team illuminated the wide range of environments using a combination of vertex-based lighting for intricate, geometrically complex surfaces and light maps for large, planar surfaces such as floors and walls.
To light the outdoor exteriors, the group used ambient and directional lights arranged in a dome array. For the indoor locations, the team relied on a combination of points, spots, and directionals to capture the unique luminescence of light bulbs, hall lighting, chandeliers, table lamps, and other artificial light sources, using them as well for key, fill, and backlights to produce a sculptured look. Meanwhile, the graphics engine is capable of lighting Bond with up to four lights at a time, thereby enhancing the mood of a scene with dramatic, high-contrast shadows that backdrop 007's stealth or cast him in the proper lighting, no matter the setting.
Additionally, the EA group developed a proprietary tool used to generate the flashes of lightning during a torrential storm in New Orleans. The program includes adjustable parameters that enabled the group to alter the lightning's frequency, noise level, amplitude, color, and thickness.
Never before has such an impressive cast of actors been assembled exclusively for a video game. And, if Everything or Nothing
proves precedent-setting, Bandy believes that enlisting high-profile actors may become as critical to the marketing and success of a game as it is to a film. "Bringing such a great cast to our players lent a sense of authenticity to the game, and the result puts you right in the middle of the Bond universe," he says. "Not only are we telling you that you are Bond, Pierce Brosnan is telling you that you are Bond."
Yet the game represents the apex of the new genre of cinematic action/adventure by not allowing its gameplay to succumb to the trend toward "Hollywoodification." "We could have had all the talent in the world, but if the game wasn't fun, the fans would have rejected it," says Bandy. "Many of our team members were worried about the glamorization of games in general, and I think this concern is what finally drove us to achieve Everything or Nothing
's balance of gameplay and cinema."
Martin McEachern, a contributing editor for
Computer Graphics World, can be reached at email@example.com.
While the game allows seamless transitions from on-foot action to driving missions behind the wheel of the cars, it's astride the Triumph Daytona 600 motorbike that players will experience an unparalleled tour de force of visual effects. ILM's Habib Zargapour and his crew developed several innovative effects to maximize the sensation of speed and the loss of control.
Zargapour, inspired by the Hollywood camera tricks developed by Rick Fichter to convey supersonic speeds in the film The Right Stuff
, applied the same effect to Bond's Triumph. At maximum velocity, the bike enters a kind of speed zone wherein the sound of the engine drowns out everything else as the surrounding air condenses to produce "speed contrails," an effect that enhances the sensation of breakneck speed.
The game also boasts dynamic effects for heat ripples, sparks, and small particles that streak through the air and enhance the speed contrails, all of which EA created using a custom particle-simulation engine. In addition, the game worlds are permeated with hundreds of environmental textures, created in Photoshop, that dictate the friction, collision, and other physical properties of the objects to which they're applied—for instance, objects mapped with a wood texture will crack and splinter like wood when struck violently. Each texture is also associated with an array of particle effects, so that driving on dirt will cast plumes of dust around the car, and motoring through puddles will cause the splashing and spraying of water. — ME