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GDC London: LucasArts' Williams On 'Jar-Jar In Carbonite'

GDC London: LucasArts' Williams On 'Jar-Jar In Carbonite'

October 4, 2006 | By Simon Carless

October 4, 2006 | By Simon Carless
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In his keynote on the second day of GDC, LucasArts's Chris Williams discussed "LucasArts' vision for the next generation of gameplay", featuring Xbox 360 demonstrations of both the next-gen Indiana Jones and Star Wars technology.

Williams focused on "what can we do to be really changing the gameplay experience" at LucasArts, and concentrated initially on the recent re-organization of ILM and LucasArts to work closer together, discussing "how George [Lucas] really sees the companies converging".

ILM, LucasArts Convergence Discussed

Williams touched on Zeno, ILM's internal framework which is the pipeline for the War Of The Worlds movie pipeline, and explained that Zed, LucasArts' next-gen game editor, is created as a game development pipeline within Zeno, including a unified asset management system. He indicated that a WYSIWYG real-time preview is the next step within Zeno and Zed, making game development even easier.

A great deal of this section of the talk explains how ILM's extremely advanced CG work for movies such as Pirates Of The Caribbean and War Of The Worlds is informing LucasArts' work on next-generation games - Williams commented: "What we're realizing is that film and game techniques are really complementary."

The developer noted that LucasArts is working with ILM, and the company is asking of the CG division with regard to complex tech like water simulation: "How are you doing it?", and then stepping the technology back until it's possible to use it. He explains: "Instead of adding to what you've got... maybe go look at SIGGRAPH papers and find ways to step it back and optimize it [for real-time]."

Next-Gen Simulation, Not Scripting!

In the next part of the session, Williams explains the LucasArts mandate when the company refocused in 2004: "Focus on character and story". He explains, despite the next-gen technology slant: "We were very focused on the gameplay." A particular area of interest was an emphasis on simulating the player's experience and not scripting it.

Williams referenced Star Wars: Republic Commando, a game he worked on, as a particularly linear experience that all players would share, explaining LucasArts' new focus on character simulation (where "characters adapt seamlessly to their environment and the action around them", thanks to tech such as NaturalMotion's Euphoria). In particular, LucasArts is focusing on giving AI characters a sense of situational awareness and giving them the notion of self-preservation - teaching AI "how to survive" in the game. Breaking objects, Williams assured us, and the concept of material physics is another key next-gen tech.

Thus, LucasArts made some serious investments and partnerships is technology. The company partnered with Havok for overall in-game physics, and NaturalMotion in particular for their Euphoria tech for character simulation in real-time. Pixelux also worked with LucasArts on a material physics sim, Digital Molecular Matter - most interestingly, LucasArts funded co-development of this tech, they felt so strongly about it.

Indiana Jones For Xbox 360 Demonstrated

Next, a demonstration of the next-gen Indiana Jones title on the Xbox 360, which includes Euphoria tech. Indiana Jones is in the back alleys of Chinatown, and is throwing a thug against a car. Each time it's done, it shows a different effect, as AI and physics combine to make the thug slide off the car, grab his head and pivot in different ways. Much more sophisticated than ragdoll physics alone, the enemy characters in the game do indeed react very realistically.

In the next example, a balcony fell in the street, and the characters had AI and physics-based reactions to their imminent doom, each trying to grab on in different ways every time it falls. Williams explains that, thanks to Euphoria, characters will naturally "brace for impact while you're falling", or "look for something to grab to while you're flying through the air." Some of the art and animation are still somewhat early, but the weight and simulation of the effects are extremely impressive.

A cable car chase in San Francisco is the next demo from Indiana Jones, showing Indy on top of a cable car, grabbing and throwing thugs off the side, where they sometimes grab on, sometimes curl up in the fetal position, and show a multitude of different effects. The key, Williams said, is that no one experience is the same, so people will keep playing over and over.

A final Euphoria tech demo shows Indy on a rope bridge, where he is trying to keep his balance (still somewhat drunken-looking, due to early tech) as the demonstrator affects the bridge by tweaking it around. As noted, there wasn't a single frame of pre-calculated animation as Indiana Jones moves around the bridge, totters, falls over the edge, hops back on again, and gets hit by ever larger rocks, eventually getting squashed completely as the character curls up. Williams believes that "teaching little digital computer people how to do things" is the future here - and it's certainly an impressive concept.

Next-Gen Star Wars Demo!

Moving on, an Xbox 360 Star Wars tech demo was shown, not yet representative of a final game, but demonstrating the materials simulation created in the DMM tech. The demo shows throwing R2D2 at blocks of wood, with "highly unpredictable results" as he makes wood splinter, separate, and collapse in completely different ways every time. Glass was also showcased - with "internal forces traveling through the object" as it shatters in different ways every time. The final example was a stone statue on top of crystal - with different material effects for each part.

Next, we saw Jar Jar Binks in carbonite ("arguably where he belongs", Williams quips!), showing real-time denting of his Han Solo-like tomb like it's metal - then graphite (more brittle shattering), or even rubber. Clearly, this type of physical simulation looks spectacular - even more so when a 'Jar Jar in ice' demonstration shows some great graphics shaders and a subsequent 'Jar Jar in rubber' demo also looks extremely promising. Naturally, this tech needs to be carefully integrated into the game to make sense, but given Jedi powers of physical manipulation to throw objects around, it's a natural fit for a Star Wars game.

Now to the main room, where a Rancor skeleton is available to be shattered realistically - Williams notes: "You can envision two Jedi going to town in this room... and having these assets all shatter in the correct ways". In addition, wooden beams on top of the room are supporting one another, and stormtroopers are hurled at them in the demo - they grab the wood through Euphoria. Williams comments: "You can imagine Force Pushing 20 stormtroopers, and maybe one tries to grab on."

Next, we see a real-time environment demonstration of Felucia, which appeared in Star Wars Episode III and will be in the next-gen Star Wars game - this is real-time art from that game. Williams showcased vegetative and plant life which both looks spectacular, and displays correct soft body effects when brushed against or struck. He also showed, somewhat spectacularly, real-time tessellation on the plant life, worked on with ILM, to stop having artist-created multiple levels of detail or 'popping' between LODs.

As a capper to everything, a pre-visualization demo for the next-gen Star Wars game followed, with demonstrations of physics-style effects like Force Push in rendered environments as LucasArts is aiming for in the final version of the game. Though the next-gen Star Wars title is as yet undated, there's plenty of delicious Stormtrooper torture here featuring a female Jedi, with a climax of the character destroying a TIE Fighter by hurling debris at it - this is a fitting end to an impressive series of LucasArts demonstrations on the company's next-gen mandate.


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