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Tool Postmortem: Climax Brighton's Supertools

June 26, 2002 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

Pick a random game development studio, and take a guess as to what software you will find their artists using. Adobe Photoshop, for sure. Probably also 3DS Max or Maya, with a small minority running Lightwave or Softimage. At the extremes, you might even run into the odd copy of Houdini or Deluxe Paint.

Those guesses would be badly wrong if you happened to visit Climax Brighton, though. Here, we use a trio of inhouse tools called SuperModel, SuperTed, and the Bastard Love Child.

Why?

Mostly laziness, I think. We had a lot of graphics to build in not much time (familiar story?) and we didn't fancy the idea of working weekends, so we needed tools that would get the job done with a minimum of fuss. Hence Bezier Loft Creator (BLC, affectionately known as Bastard Love Child), a simple, specialised lofting package that quickly churns out the basic geometry for race tracks, and SuperTed, which lets us apply textures to those tracks using the smallest possible number of mouse clicks.

We started out making environments in BLC, buildings and vehicles in Maya, and texturing everything in SuperTed. But all was not well...


MotoGP: Ultimate Racing Technology (Xbox and PC) was one of the first games to be built using these art tools.

In an ideal world, everyone involved in making a game would be equally good at design, art, and coding, but few such multitalented individuals actually exist. Most programmers can get along fine without being able to create artwork (to the extent that 'programmer art' has become a common description for primary colored placeholder graphics), but artists are not usually so lucky. They may not actually be required to write C++, but they often run into sentences like "although we refer to a dependency graph as a singular graph, be aware you can display two or more independent graphs of connected nodes in the same window" (from the "Maya Essentials" manual). We have a couple of artists who are fine with this sort of thing (one even knows some C++), but we also have plenty who are not, and rightly so. We hired them because they had a good understanding of color and shape and how to make things look good, not because they knew how to use a computer!


BLC creates the basic track geometry by lofting 2D cross section shapes along a central spline. It can interpolate between different types of shape, and can output any mixture of polygons, bezier patches, and bezier strips (which are similar to patches, but only tesselated along one axis).

The artists, being lazy, did not want to spend the next few hundred years learning how to use Maya properly. The programmers, also being lazy, would have loved to ignore this problem, but were unfortunately unable to do so due to our belief that the artists should be free to concentrate on the artwork.

We spent several months writing plugins that tried to make Maya behave a bit more sensibly, but the artists were still unhappy, and writing plugins is hard work. Also, our engine was doing some freaky things with curved surfaces (originally bezier patches, but these quickly evolved into various more efficient homebrew variants), and we were having a horrible time writing a converter that could reliably turn bezier patch source artwork into the optimal format for our engine.

Life would be simpler if the artists built their models directly using the same type of curved surface that we could render most efficiently, but adding new geometry types to Maya turned out to be hard verging on impossible due to API bugs. So, to our considerable surprise, the fastest and easiest solution turned out to be writing our own modelling package from the ground up!

It took two coders, six weeks, much questioning of the artists, and a few sessions of watching them work to see which functions were used most often, combined with a healthy dose of plagiarism as we borrowed some of the best ideas from Max and Maya. Today, we still use Maya for animation and Photoshop for textures, but everything else is done with our own tools.

Approximate landscapes are quickly churned out using BLC, which is the bulldozer of the trio. It can shift huge amounts of geometry, but is crude and imprecise. SuperModel is more of a skilled craftsman, adding the buildings, instances, and other fine details, as well as correcting whatever things BLC got wrong. Finally, SuperTed handles texturing, lighting, and object/camera placement, bringing the final artwork up to a high state of polish.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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Nick Ralabate
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whoa, ive never heard of an anti-detail texture


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