3D artists in game development often need to use several different software packages to create assets for a modern console game. A video game artist has to adapt to a pipeline of tools and applications that have different user interfaces, workflows, and file formats. As a result, today's game artists are asked to create next-generation art using last-generation tools that are more like a collection of separate ideas rather than a complementary ecosystem. With the release of modo 601, Luxology has created a compelling modeling and rendering tool that seamlessly incorporates easy-to-use character rigging, texturing, and shaders -- which is strangely unique among 3D software packages.
I first encountered modo while looking for ways to improve the quality and speed of character production on Golden Axe in 2007 -- I picked it up to edit the UVs on my character models more easily than I could with comparable applications at that time. I gradually found myself using modo more often for other tasks, such as modeling and texture rendering and cleanup, as many of the tools were the same ones I had used to edit UVs.
Fast-forward to spring 2012 with the rather timely launch of modo 601. With its implementation of Non-Photoreal Rendering (NPR) shaders and character rigging tools, I am able to realize the promise of creating an entire game character from beginning to end, starting from concept art, to real-time content, to a polished high-resolution model and renders that fully represent what I had imagined when I started on a character idea or design.
Typically, a game character requires two models: a real-time mesh, and a more detailed version of the same character that is used as a source for texture maps to be applied to the in-game model. The high-resolution model is often generated in external sculpting applications, and is mostly used only for texture or re-topology reference -- if someone needs a detailed model for a rendered FMV or printed promotional images, the artist will either make a new model or just make do by rendering in-game assets and touching them up in Photoshop. The end result looks different (sometimes dramatically so) from the actual in-game character.
For Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, our goal was to make the in-game assets faithfully represent the original signature style of the classic Sly Cooper characters, while at the same time updating their look for a modern console game. With modo, I was able to create both the in-game and high-res models within a single scene by using its sculpting tools to convert the low-res model to a highly detailed Sub-D model. Since I used modo for the high-res model, I could apply the same textures created for the in-game model, quickly add a skeleton, and then use the PoseTool to position the characters into various poses that show off their personality or provide compositional narrative.
The last step was to render using a combination of cel shaders, material presets, and textures to get a rendered, slightly stylized, painterly look that matches to the overall style of the game. Since I had been reusing the same high-res models used to create the in-game geometry, the rendered images accurately and consistently represent the game characters and their subtle style and form.
Thanks to modo 601's new shader and posing tools, we were able to rapidly provide high-quality images to Sony for their marketing efforts; indeed even our quick lighting and pose tests were sometimes mistaken as final art from time to time.
John Hayes is a senior character artist at Sanzaru Games.
Avid Pro Tools
When it comes to digital audio, Pro Tools is considered the standard digital audio workstation (DAW). While Pro Tools was a must-have in every major recording studio around the world by the mid-1990s, it took a little longer to find acceptance among game studios due to its high price tag. But these days just about every publisher I'm aware of uses Pro Tools, as well as just about every major game-centric audio studio.
The main edge Pro Tools has over just about every one of its competitors is reliability. When you are faced with linking Pro Tools to your game engine to process hundreds of thousands of lines of dialogue in a complex chain of integration, you can't afford to lose data during a recording session or an export.
For example, I have used Pro Tools in conjunction with both commercial (Gallery Software) and proprietary voiceover software that will automatically trim voice recordings, perform a spectrum analysis, and based on scripting, correctly process and name VO takes. Many DAWs tend to stumble, crash, and hang the system from time to time. If your Pro Tools system is set up properly from the get-go, the chances of it crashing are almost zero -- and when you're recording expensive star voice talent, rock-solid performance is a must.
When it comes to dealing with recording a hundred orchestral players and foley sound sessions, where so many people are working that your hourly rate starts going through the roof, you need a DAW that doesn't let you down. Whether recording down the road or at Abbey Road most likely you'll find a Pro Tools system connected that the engineers "just don't have to worry about." Unless you are recording in the field with a Sound Devices or Nagra system, Pro Tools will be there.
In addition, Pro Tools has made an effort to be reachable to the PC user as well as the budget studio, so if you're looking for something in the same family as the huge studios, opt for Pro Tools Express or Pro Tools SE with an Mbox interface. When you decide your wallet and your needs require the top end, it's a simple matter to upgrade to Pro Tools|HD.
Another thing Pro Tools has going for it are its RTAS and AAX plug-ins, which are widely regarded as the highest quality in the business from amp simulation to compression. There are also a great deal of virtual instruments available.
I'm waiting for the day Pro Tools will directly connect with game hardware and software to create one pipeline from asset creation to integration. Hopefully, that day isn't too far away.
Alexander Brandon is the president of Funky Rustic, an audio outsourcing group, and vice president of the Game Audio Network Guild.