• "Killzone 2"- Production Focus, 16 March 2009

    Guerrilla Games is credited with producing one of the standup successes of the games industry for 2009. 'Killzone 2' is Sony's flagship shooter and we tracked down the crew for a chat about developing this scorcher of the game for the PS3.

    Together with our other features and the book produced with the crew at Guerrilla Games, Sony and Ballistic Publishing, we invite you to revisit and explore the production in detail.

    Guerrilla Games opens up on the production of the highly anticipated FPS from Sony. CGSociety talks to the development team in Europe.

    CGSociety :: Production Focus
    17 March 2009, by Peter Rizkalla

    Two things happen when you spend a large amount of money on a new game system. First, you will defend that game system through hell or high water against anyone who has a negative opinion about it. Second, you will be angrier than Satan on steroids if that game system ever malfunctions on you or if there is very little support for that system. There are a lot of really good PS3 games out there; However, PS3 owners would definitely tell you that great exclusive games for the PS3 are coming out few and far between. To be quite honest, my PS3 has been getting pretty dusty since beating Metal Gear Solid 4.


    Back at E3 of 2005 – before the PS3 was even released – Sony announced that Guerrilla Games was busy working on Killzone 2 for the PS3. Sony also promised that Killzone 2 would radically surpass the graphical face of any next-gen title on either the PS3 or the Xbox 360 and to prove it they showed off a trailer at E3 2005 which looked absolutely mind-blowing. Needless to say that gamers everywhere were skeptical to the idea that the graphical quality of this trailer would actually be retained in the final version of Killzone 2. I will say this; ‘optimists will always lead the way before skeptics’ and that’s just as true in the game industry as it is in any aspect of life.

    Now that Killzone 2 is released, all those game industry skeptics are swallowing their words and washing it down with some of the most gorgeous visuals found in any video game in the form of the graphics in Killzone 2. Needless to say, my PS3 is no longer dusty. I got to sit down with the Guerrilla Games team that created the outstanding visuals for Killzone 2 to find out exactly how they put together this visual tour de force. First, the story; players take control of Sgt. Tomas "Sev" Sevchenko. Sev and his team are at war with the Helghast army which is lead by the dictatorial main antagonist Scolar Visari.


    The whole game looks like a post apocalyptic earth but it actually takes place on the alien world of Helghan. The Helghast army are not your typical video game aliens but rather they look just like humans. Right off the bat the game treats you to an gorgeous looking speech by Scolar Visari who exhibits some outstanding facial animations and texture mapping. Lead Tech Artist at Guerrilla Games, Paulus Bannink, tells us that all of the animation was done in Maya 8.5 – with only some of the motion capture being cleaned up a little in MotionBuilder which - right off the bat - is out of the ordinary considering that most 3D games have been developed using Autodesk’s 3ds Max. Paulus tells us “If you can supply people with proper custom solutions they don't really care what tool they have to use as long as they can get their job done.”

    Speaking of custom solutions, Paulus also tells us that the 3D artists, animators and level designers all worked in Maya together. Paulus also tells us “In order to support these different disciplines in the same software we developed a large library of custom Maya tools and scripts. We have a few pieces of internally developed software for working with very specific game related systems like animation blending, destructible objects and particles. From a technical point of view it is very practical to have everyone work in the same environment, especially from a point of sharing assets between different departments.”

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    Guerrilla Games art director, Jan-Bart van Beek, also chimes in on the art and animation of Killzone 2. “Aside from the usual off the shelf software like Maya, Motionbuilder, Houdini and Photoshop; most of our tools for both the art and design departments are custom made. Even Maya has been largely rewritten by Guerrilla engineers and so we're now running a different version of Maya then the rest of the world.” When asked about these custom tools that they developed, Jan-Bart tells us that they completely did away with Maya’s viewport rendering software and added their own tools such as a lightmap rendering software that they call “Hyperion”.

    AnimationBlender is another tool they built to edit and create in-game animation. The Guerrilla engineers also created a tool which helps the devs edit particle effects. When I asked what it was called they said “Particle Editor”. I’ll say this for the Guerrilla guys, they are an imaginative bunch! One of their custom tools that really piqued my interest is something they call ColorTweaker which allowed the team to make color corrections in real-time on the PS3 which is amazing!


    The animation in Killzone 2 is mostly motion-capture but Jan-Bart van Beek tells us that there are certain aspects of Killzone 2 that they much preferred to animate by hand instead. He says “One important part that we always hand-animate are the reload animations.” The reload animations look beautiful albeit they can be pretty long sometimes. As far as how the animations themselves were put together, Jan-Bart tells us “We already had a good head-start with animation technology from the first Killzone. Our AnimationBlender [tool] is almost eight years old and over time we have demonstrated it to various technology groups.

    The philosophy behind it is still visible in similar, later developed tools such as those from Havoc, NaturalMotion and Sony's own tools.” We switched gears a little bit to talk about the facial animations in Killzone 2. There were multiple techniques used to create facial animations each for particular in-game circumstances. Paulus Bannink tells us “Our facial animation system is based on blendshapes, with bones for the jaw and the eyes. The main reason for going with blendshapes was the relative ease with which they can be transferred to different faces, it would also provide a more artist friendly way of editing the facial animation rig. In our case character artists were literally able to sculpt the various expressions that our characters would have to reach.”

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    When asked about the facial animations in the first cut scene featuring Scolar Visari, Paulus responds by telling us “Most of the cut scene facial animation was done with marker motion capture although at the end of the project we did do a quick animator pass of most of these animations.” The generic facial animations for in game dialog – or “battle chatter” – was a different story altogether. The Guerrilla devs used an automated process within MotionBuilder which – after plugging in audio files – would create generic facial animations. This is the same process of developing facial animations used for in-game dialog that was found in the development of Ubisoft’s most recent Prince of Persia title.

    We all know that Killzone 2 looks awesome but I also wanted to get an idea of what kind of effort and direction that Guerrilla wanted to take Killzone 2. To do that I talked to Senior Producer Steven ter Heide. I asked Steven what is one of the things that the average gamer would not know about how Killzone 2 was developed and he replied with this, “We had developers not just on the canals in Amsterdam, but people working out of New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Korea, the UK and the US. Killzone 2 takes a few gigabytes and sending such huge files around the globe has pushed our patience and the internet connection to its limits.”


    As if managing an exorbitant amount of enormous files wasn’t hard enough I asked Steven what he felt was the hardest part about Killzone 2 to which he said, “Having to stay quiet, and not respond to the forums to defuse the situation after our 2005 trailer. The only way we knew we could defuse it would be putting the controller in people’s hands and let them play it.” This is, of course, is a response to hoards of skeptics which I mentioned earlier. Being an optimist myself I couldn’t help but ask if, given the opportunity, could they have made Killzone 2 for the Xbox 360 to which the answer was a resounding “No.” “We have made our engine from the ground up based on the capabilities of the PS3. The game as it looks and plays now would not have been possible on 360.”


    Any good first-person shooter has to have an online multiplayer aspect to it and Killzone 2 is no different. Attempting to combat the already stiff online competition laid down but the Call of Duty franchise, senior online game designer Eric Boltjes tells us what has been done for Killzone 2’s multiplayer modes. “One thing that makes Killzone 2 Multiplayer quite unique is the way we have setup our missions. We have created a system we call 'Dynamic Missions' and what this does is that it switches between different mission objectives during a single round, really changing gameplay during the span of one game. What this system also accomplishes is a new layer of tactical gameplay, as you now have to think about the next mission as well as your current one!”


    Eric also lets us know that there are so many different, more specific aspects to Killzone 2’s multiplayer aspect such as tournaments, clans, customizable games, bots, badges and a truckload more.

    A game developer will know the best answer to the most asked question because they've been asked so many times. So what makes a good game? Jan-Bart happily replied “Just the right amount of fun, just the right amount of frustration. I like a game that makes me yell out and punch a pillow once in a while.” The minute he said that I thought to myself “Holy crap, how many times have I been down that road?!”

    There’s no doubt in the ridiculous amount of work that went into developing Killzone 2 and there’s also no doubt that PS3 owners would gladly welcome a new, exclusive PS3 title any day. Killzone 2 feels kind of like a mixture Call of Duty and Gears of War with just a little bit of Fallout 3 thrown in there. You got to hand it to a team of developers that come out of a project this huge with their sanity still intact.

    Related links:

    Killzone 2
    Guerrilla Games
    Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

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