• CGSociety :: Game Production Focus
    12 March 2009, by Peter Rizkalla

    The Naughty Dog team is brought together to talk about the creative variety in Game of the Year 'Uncharted 2: Among Thieves'.

    "A talented and passionate developer with an appropriately sized budget." That is how Evan Wells, Co-President of Naughty Dog game studio describes how to create a game with the presence and epic scale of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. With tons of support from Sony, Naughty Dog ventured into creating the most grand title they have ever attempted to produce. Uncharted 2 undoubtedly had one of the warmest receptions from the gaming public at E3 and now after the game's release, nearly a dozen Naughty Dog developers tell us how this gigantic project came together to form a shining jewel of video game art and design.

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA
    The whole concept and idea behind Uncharted 2 comes from Art Director Robh Ruppel. "Variety!" He says, plain and simple. "This game has many different and varied locales, each with a unique look and color palette. This kind of abstract thinking is extremely important in keeping the levels distinct, different and separated.

    As an overall macro, we wanted to improve everything that was great about the first game. Detail, color, texture, lighting… all of it." Ruppel explains how he is exceedingly proud of how the final product far exceeded the initial idea behind the concept art.

    "In a lot of the cases the background department 'plussed' it. Making it more rich, more detailed and…. just plain more!"

    Lead Lighting Artist David Witters chimes on the kind of lighting that was necessary to establish the feel for Uncharted 2. "We strive to push as much emotion as possible with our color and lighting.

    Within each environment and at all of the key locations we strive for a look that is truly compelling - a look that not only looks cinematic, but a look that reinforces or elevates story. Part of our approach methodology is to make sure we use it all - not just all of the SPU's, but all of the colorspace, contrast range, and inengine graphics tools. There is nothing quite like the moment when the screen full of color comes to life."

    All images courtesy of SCEA
    Speaking of lighting, Lead Graphics and Engine Programmer Pàl-Kristian Engstad explains that Naughty Dog chose to use not just deferred rendering and not just forward rendering but both. "We're using what we call 'deferred lighting', or what is also called a 'light pre-pass.' Essentially, we run a pass - well, actually several passes - before our standard forward-pass that handles lighting. This way, we're decoupling lighting from the geometry pass, hence alleviating the combinatorial explosion resulting from having to handle N materials with L different lighting schemes. It is similar to the "deferred rendering" approach used in Killzone 2, but it is also very different."
    All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA
    The environments in Uncharted 2 needed to grab the player. In order to do that the art needed to be stylized yet meaningful. Art Director Erick Pangilinan tells us about the environments. "In order to portray environments in Uncharted, we treat them like a caricature, exaggerating the key features and simplifying the noisy details. We build environments to complement and enhance game play. We play with shapes, colors and size relationships so that the environment will draw and immerse the player rather than confuse them. Finding this balance is critical in determining the amount of detail to put in, and how to keep the player focus to the path. In addition, we want the Uncharted world to feel bigger than what is actually constructed - that means crafting taller buildings, longer streets, wider views, steeper inclines, and opening up the world to create a heightened emotional connection and make every player gasp at how rich and vast our world is."

    All images courtesy of SCEA
    Lead Character Artist Richard Diamant talks about the process of putting together the character models. "We use Maya extensively for the polygon modeling and re-topologizing of our high res character models. Both ZBrush and Mudbox were used for sculpting all of the high resolution details as well as painting the texture maps. Everything was painted and sculpted by hand so we had to make sure we had a good pipeline between our sculpting and painting software. We used XNormal as well for sampling the detail from the high resolution sculpt mesh to the low resolution game mesh.

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    The task of animating those very same character models was handled by Character Animator Jeremy Yates "We developed a large number of animation tools to really enhance working with our character rigs and our Maya based pipeline.

    Rather than utilizing motion capture in the more common way of using an offset rig on top of the motion, we wanted to be able to pull specific poses or frame ranges from the motion capture onto our control rig. We had two skeletons - the control rig and motion capture. Using our tools we had the ability to snap our control skeleton to the motion capture skeleton in world space for any poses we chose, with the push of a button."
    All images courtesy of SCEA

    Yates touches on the subject of motion capture versus keyframed animation. "We evaluated the question of whether to use motion capture versus keyframed animation on a case by case basis. We have gotten more and more comfortable with, when and where we use motion capture. On Uncharted: Drake's Fortune we were pretty much split evenly between motion capture based and keyframe based animations. For Uncharted 2 we're now at about 70/30 split between motion capture and keyframe animations."

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    The gorgeous facial animations of Uncharted 2 hold a whole different story, Cinematics Lead Josh Scherr talks a little about that. "They're made possible by a combination of great tools and talented animators. All of the facial animation in Uncharted 2 (and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for that matter) is 100% keyframe animation. We looked into facial capture techniques at the start of production on the first Uncharted, but ultimately felt that our character performances would be better served by animating the faces by hand. All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA
    Before starting animation, we first shoot reference videos on the motion capture stage. Since we record the vocal performance at the same time as our body mocap (our actors perform both the physical and vocal parts), th e video works well as a starting off point.

    Since all of our character designs are stylized to a certain extent, we aim for a more stylized performance with the face - largely to avoid the whole 'uncanny valley' effect you sometimes get when animating realistic faces. We'll push our poses a bit more, exaggerate the eyebrows, anything to make our characters look more expressive and less stiff.

    Our lead character animator, Eric Baldwin, is responsible for keeping everyone's facial animation consistent across the characters, and he works very closely with Judd Simantov, our lead character TD, on developing the ideal face controls for each character. Eric also usually takes the first crack at animating a new character to help establish a 'look' for their performance."

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    On that same note, Lead Character TD Judd Simatov chimes in on the character animation techniques that drive Uncharted 2. "Our primary rigging technique was a combination of an animation control rig, that allowed for IK/FK switching and all the necessary animation based controls, and a motion capture driven skeleton that was used as a layering tool to drive the control rig. This way the animators could plot poses or animation from the motion capture rig onto the animation rig and then tweak the animation as they please."All images courtesy of SCEAAll images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEA

    Correcting some of the problems that were present in the first Uncharted and solving new problems that arose during development of Uncharted 2 did not completely rest on the shoulders of Naughty Dog. Developers of Killzone 2, LittleBigPlanet and Ratchet and Clank lended a hand to the Naughty Dog crew. "We're very fortunate to have a great relationship with many of the talented first and second party developers making games for the PlayStation 3," says Evan Wells. "Studios like Guerrilla Games, Insomniac and Santa Monica Studios were great sounding boards for technical advice. Specifically Guerrilla and Insomniac helped us eliminate the screen tearing that was present in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. We're good friends with Alex Evans from Media Molecule, he gave us great advice from his experience with the online features of LittleBigPlanet."All images courtesy of SCEA

    All images courtesy of SCEAThe design of the Uncharted series has always been directly tied to the story. Creative Director Amy Hennig talks about the gorgeous looking cinematics "One of the things we're most proud of is the cinematic presentation of Uncharted 2, the way we've been able to blend narrative and gameplay by telling a fundamentally character-driven story.

    All the big set pieces and visceral excitement don't mean much if there's no investment in the characters - so whether you're on an escort mission helping a wounded ally, or racing across a speeding train to rescue a comrade, we always want the player to feel motivated by the emotional context of events."

    Uncharted 2 has already made a name for itself as one of the most stunning games to be released this year, if not the most stunning. With the Naughty Dog team working to protect that title, Evan Wells makes the promise of more content in the future.

    "We have a lot of really cool features, modes, skins and maps that are going to be made available through DLC in the coming months." If these new DLCs are anywhere near as beautifully designed as what's already in Uncharted 2 then they'll be more than welcome.

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