CGSociety :: Game Production Focus
25 November 2010, by Peter Rizkalla
The first Fable title in the series was released to the gaming public on the original Xbox in 2004 and if the only games you played since 2004 until now was Fable and all its sequels, then chances are that you would probably still feel pretty satisfied. Lionhead makes sure that their fans do not go wanting by offering quite a lot in each iteration of Fable, and Fable III is no different.
Being that this is now the second Fable title on current generation consoles, Fable III is about pushing the bar that much higher than the last title, both in graphics and in content. I got to spend a little bit of time with a whole lot of developers at Lionhead on what makes Fable III that much more extraordinary than it's predecessor.
First up is Art Director John McCormack to speak on the overall atmosphere of Fable III. "There's more of a sense of weight and urgency to this one, I think. It isn't a story told over the course of 30 or 40 years but rather a specific tale of a young hero's rise to the throne
over the course of several big events, so the feel and tone of the game is much more action
oriented and faster paced than previous Fables."
Senior Character Artist Ian Faichnie seems to be the perfect person to refer to when wondering what tools were used to put together the Fable world. "We used a number of different packages for Fable 3. Modeling packages included 3ds Max, XSI, Silo and LightWave.
Sculpting is done almost entirely in ZBrush though we do also use Mudbox occasionally. 2D work was done exclusively in Photoshop though our concept artists also use Painter. We also use a number of other packages; xNormal for all our normal maps, UVLayout for unwrapping and 3D-Coat for 3D painting. On the animation side the main tool is XSI.
Obviously we have a number of other custom-written inhouse tools and scripts for particular jobs. We have artists here who are always keen to try new packages and techniques so we're currently looking into things like Mari. So, all in all we use just about any tool available to us!" Ian Faichnie is also credited in designing the prostitutes in Fable III which range from hilarious to downright petrifying.
James Vale wears two hats at Lionhead in being the Art Outsource Manager and the Technical Artist. "We had a lot of help from Pearl Digital based in Shanghai," says Vale. "They provided a large amount of the Hero and Heroine outfit meshes and textures, based on
clothing concepts produced by the Fable concept art team. They also produced a large percentage of the environment meshes and textures as well."
Technical Artist Adonis Stevenson breaks down the lighting process by dividing everything in the Fable III world into two groups. "As with most games, we split all our objects into static and dynamic. Static objects never move; things like buildings, boulders and bridges.
Dynamic objects, on the other hand, are things that move or can get destroyed such as characters, weapons, crates and barrels. Static objects are lightmapped offline (with a level typically taking an hour or so to light on one machine), while dynamic objects are vertex-lit in real-time, with all objects having ambient occlusion included in their lighting."
The 'touch' feature of Fable III was properly shown off at GDC earlier this year which easily looked to be a gigantic endeavor into animation and programming. Lead Animator Si Jacques talks more about it. "The 'touch' feature was one of the design pillars from the outset for Fable III.
Stevenson also explains that all the lights are divided into three categories; one shadow-casting directional light acts as the sun, a few shadow-casting spotlights lovingly placed in levels to add mood and a few non shadow-casting point-lights that are mainly used for spells and weapons which means that every fireball you cast is accompanied by a parented point-light.
Two of the key areas which received the most amount of work were the hand holding and the 1:1 expression interactions. Hand holding involved a considerable amount of interative work between animation, design and code. Animation provided a number of partial body poses for the hand 'holder' and the 'holdee' which blend on top of run, walk and general movement cycles.
These adjust depending on the positioning of the two characters relative to each other. With the addition of IK, tweaks to slightly stretch bones to make the connection complete and some other clever code adjustments to the characters the hand holding functions really well. The second area of 'touch' which provided animation with a large amount of work were the 1:1 interactions.
Introducing the second character reacting to the hero in perfect synchronization came down to large hit on the animation schedule. There was no way around the fact that animating two characters interacting together whether its shaking hands, dancing or farting was a slow process and alterations to the animations being an expensive and time consuming affair."
Let's shift gears from the tech to the design. Jon Eckersley, the Lead Creature Artist on Fable III talks a little about what Lionhead was shooting for, as far as character design, and what they were trying to avoid.
"We try to avoid fantasy cliché where possible and invent our own mythos, or stay within the boundaries of the fiction that we've already created. It's also important to have some idea of the fiction of how the creature sits within the world and in the story - this ultimately makes the creature feel part of the world and real to the player.
On the hero, the difficulty lies in all the shades of gray between the most extreme ends of morality – just what does 67% evil look like? We've also tried to work on making the female hero a lot more appealing, which is something that came up a little short previously. I think we've succeeding in creating a powerful heroine that doesn't look quite like a shot-putter this time." Peter Molyneux made that same joke at GDC earlier this year. "We're also keen to retain the Fable style and humor that the franchise is known for and this is paramount to character design throughout Fable 3," says Eckersley.
Senior Concept Artist Emrah Emasli talks about the design of the environments of Fable III. "Working on the Environment Concepts of Fable 3 was a lot of fun! The Environment Art team did a really good job on translating these concepts into 3D. Every level has a unique feeling to it but if I have to pick the best I think Bowerstone Industrial would be one of them.
It was one of the first levels we completed and therefore it is one of the most polished levels. It's a grim place. There's poverty and child labor. So, we tried to convey this through the concepts and color palettes.
Each outfit consisting of jacket, trousers/skirt, shoes/boots, gloves and hat. That works out as 784 possible shoe and trouser combinations for the Hero alone. All these combinations needed to be tested and then fixed if there were gaps or clipping problems.
Then if you take into account trousers/skirts working properly with jackets, gloves working correctly with jackets and jacket collars working correctly with hats, you're looking at over 3,000 possible clothing combinations that all needed to be checked and fixed. So that's the Hero clothing.
Then there was another 3,000+ combinations of clothing to check and fix for the Heroines outfits. Then add into the mix the Fat and Strength morphs, used to shape the Hero/Heroine depending on the player's actions, which could distort the clothing items and cause them to clip in a variety of interesting ways, you're talking about a very fiddly job that took the best part of 2 months to sort out."
Much respect to you James Vale; very few developers are able to do, or would even want to do, your job.
The place is misty, colors are fairly desaturated and limited. On the other hand, if we look at Millfields, where all the rich and posh people live, the saturation is high and the colors are vibrant. Lush vegetation and beautiful landscape help to get the idea through as well."
Not only does James Vale have to wear two hats, but the poor guy also has to deal with huge problems that arise during development. "A huge issue that cropped up along the way was getting all the Hero and Heroine outfit meshes to work as a customizable wardrobe of clothing," says Vale. "I don't think anyone had realized the amount of scope there was, and the work that would be involved in getting all the clothing meshes to work correctly with one another without clipping or gaps between meshes. Take the Hero costumes for instance; including downloadable content, there are 28 outfits.
It's always great to hear about the kind of stuff that almost made it into the final product. Here to share that is Senior Artist Mike McCarthy. He first talks about the Hero's brother, Logan, whom has taken power as King of Albion. "Logan, underwent several incarnations.
Being the chief baddie in the first part of the game, we originally wanted to push his appearance towards the classic vision of a desperate, haunted King. When this didn't fit the story, he became a tall, blonde, militaristic king, somehow gaining a pet chicken called Evelyn along with a twitch and a stutter.
Eventually the Logan of Fable 3 emerged, darker and more brooding." Sure to be a fan favorite c
haracter; Sabine, the leader of the Dweller tribe, went through many iterations as well.
"There's a lot more to Fable III than just combat and adventure, as well. The characterization and story has been key in development.
You really care for the characters because they are fully realized and this is backed up with world class voice talent."
Speaking of which, the voice talents of John Cleese, Simon Pegg and Sir Ben Kingsley – among others – are all featured as the voices of integral characters throughout the entire Fable III adventure.
Chiming in on that very same subject is the man of the hour, Game Director Peter Molyneux who talks about not only what makes Fable III fantastic – in his own opinion – but what makes Lionhead fantastic as well. - also in his own opinion.
"The short answer to this is the passion, love and dedication we at Lionhead have put in. But to expand on this a bit, Fable III is a unique blend of action, drama incredible voice talent, combat, freedom, choices, consequences, varied game play innovation, dogs and cruelty to chickens! As for what makes a great game? That's the question we all ask from Publishers and developers to reviewers and gamers 'What makes a great game?' It's a bit like asking an alchemist what makes gold? Many games start off with the right recipe but mix it up in the wrong way. Here at Lionhead we're trying to get as close as we can to this recipe of greatness!"
One thing can definitely be said of the Lionhead crew; when they swing, they swing for the fence! It's not very common for any crew of developers to agree to such enormous tasks right from the start when developing a title which, in and of itself, also needs to be enormous. Regardless, Fable III stays true to the very same, unspoken tradition which I refered to earlier; that fans of the Fable franchise would not go wanting. There is plenty to savor. Fable III is available now for the Xbox 360 and will also be released on PC at a date that is still to be