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The path of most Resistance
[Mon 19/01/2009 12:04:55]
Insomniac Games’ CEO Ted Price speaks to Zona Marie Tan about how Resistance 2 breaks new ground by utilising the Playstation 3’s Cell technology.
In a dark room with a 72” wide screen television, Insomniac Games’ CEO Ted Price cosies up with a Playstation 3 (PS3) controller in hand, playing Resistance 2. Price was in town to show off Insomniac’s latest offering and how the PS3’s technology and Resistance 2 game engine’s capability has allowed them to push the game to its gory limits.
Resistance 2, the sequel to the bestselling 2006 title Resistance Fall of Man, is an alternative history first person shooter (FPS) game developed exclusively for the PlayStation 3. The latest instalment boasts cutting edge technology that embraces the PS3’s new Cell processors.
“The Cell has a central processing unit called the PPE (power processor element) and eight SPEs (synergistic processing elements) which are very fast co-processors that can be used for physics processing, navigation processing, effects processing and more,” Price explains. “So the more work you put on the SPEs, the more you can do on the PS3.”
Insomniac’s team of programmers wrote the game engine in assembly and C. They designed it to take advantage of the Cell's unique architecture and to enable the kind of grand vistas and hordes of enemies seen in both the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance franchises.
The game engine was initially built for Resistance Fall of Man, overhauled for Ratchet & Clank Future which was released last year, and then completely overhauled again for Resistance 2, which boasts expansive game play, 300ft tall enemies, eight-player online co-op, an impressive 60-player online mode, infinite-looking maps and spectacular amount of detail designed into the game’s virtual environment.
As Price leads his game character Sgt. Nathan Hale through a forest in 1950s America hunting down invading aliens known as the Chimera, he points out the impressive lighting and environment detail. From sunlight pouring in through the trees to the wind rustling the grass, gone are the days when gamers had to settle with polygon break-ups and wallpaper backgrounds.
“We are drawing a lot more,” admits Price. “But we also use tricks like normal mapping, which fakes incredible detail in low poly characters. You can have a multi-million poly normal map applied to a low poly skin, and suddenly the character looks like one you might see in a feature film.”
At this point, Price blows up a Chimera with his weapon’s alt fire mode; blood and guts spray realistically across the screen. It becomes no question then that Resistance 2 warrants its Australian MA 15+ rating. As if that wasn’t sufficient, Price sets up the character’s view to an extreme close-up of the dead alien to demonstrate the 3D model’s bloody detail.
“You will never see this in a previous generation [Playstation]. This is a combination of normal mapping, specular mapping, detailed mapping, parallax mapping, BRDF shaders – lots of new techniques that we’ve employed during production.”
Of course, other than drawing a lot more, the 1280x720 HD resolution PS3 does do wonders in highlighting the game’s detail. Insomniac’s artists used Autodesk Maya to model and texture the environments and characters, and utilised their own proprietary tools their tools programmers built to place dynamic lights, characters, props, sounds and other non-static objects in the environments.
“It’s liberating from an artistic perspective because you can do so much more,” concedes Price. “We used a combination of real time dynamic lights and baked lighting to light everything in the environment. The dynamic lights cast real time shadows and create real time specular reflections on objects in the environments. The baked lighting creates more nuances in the shadowed areas. We also employ cube maps to simulate environment reflections on shiny surfaces.”
And another treat for the gamers? Interactive water. Price pilots Sgt. Hale along into the river and starts shooting at it. The water not only splashes in similar physical reality as it would in real life, but also ripples around Sgt. Hale as he trudges along the body of water.
“This is fully refractive and reflective water,” says Price. “To create full interactivity for the water and to support the water’s real time visual effects is very processor intensive. Hence fully utilising the PS3’s SPEs was very important.”
Another technology Insomniac applied in Resistance 2 was motion capturing real actors, which was key to the game’s believable character movement.
The team worked with two studios to produce the mocap. The cinematic actors mocap was shot at House of Moves by utilising 80 of their MX40 Vicon cameras; while the in-game mocap for the soldiers and bipedal enemies was done at the Sony Visual Arts Group's stage in San Diego with 124 MX40 Vicon cameras.
The Sony Visual Arts Group would deliver the in-game motion files exported out of MotionBuilder as Maya ASCII (.ma) files to be imported into Maya. Then the Insomniac animators would carry out the necessary editing of the data and conduct pose matching in Maya using their proprietary tools. Additionally, the cinematic mocap had to go through MotionBuilder in order for the Sony Visual Arts Group to assemble the scenes and shoot the Intersense camera work. Then again, these files would be delivered it to Insomniac as Maya files for editing and to key frame the facial animation.
While many games today use motion capture, Insomniac took it a step further by using the mocap camera technology previously only used in feature films.
“For the first time in video games, we used the IS-900 Intersense camera,” he says. “It’s the same camera used by Robert Zemeckis in Beowulf.”
“What’s cool is that it’s a physical camera that you can look through,” explains Price. “You don’t see what’s beyond the camera lens, you actually see the 3D environment and characters. Then the camera’s motion is captured to create a fluid hand-held feel for the camera – something you simply can’t get by hand animating a camera in Maya.”
Having such remarkable technology within grasp and the Resistance 2 game engine’s demonstrated ability can only mean considerable developments for machinima.