Hello, my name is Alejandro Gorgal (everybody calls me Alex or Linfo though); Im the character modeler and animator of "Depth", making divers so you can tear them apart.
We -PC gamers- play a lot of first person shooters, watching a gun being held in front of us is something we are very used to, up to the point that we sometimes dont stop to consider how this is achieved or if it can be improved in any way.
While making animations for Depth, I started to realize the difficulties of achieving a convincing experience, and also reinforcing a few theories I previously had about the genre.
To start off, the standard in most games is to have a pair of hands holding a gun floating next to the camera to give the player the impression of being able to see what their character see.
In Depth we use a very different system, we actually have the camera attached to the third person player model, meaning that you really do see what your character sees.
Alex Quick -our project leader- was the one who had the idea of using this system, and I've only seen two games that use this the same way that we do, "The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher's Bay" and "Thief: Deadly Shadows", both awesome games (actually, I think Mirror's Edge used this too, but Im not entirely sure).
A few other games have a mix of this and the standard "floating hands" system, where you can see the legs of your third person character if you look down and the floaty hands rendered on top of it (i.e. Crysis, Left 4 Dead), which is probably the best way to achieve a convincing body awareness experience whilst avoiding all the troubles of "real" first person cameras.
What are the troubles of a real first person camera you might ask? Lots of them, but so are the rewards if you decide to stick with it.
There's 3 fundamental issues you need to avoid if you decide to stick the camera on your character's head:
It's very normal with this setup to see your limbs going through the camera, the only way to make it work 100% like real eyes would be to adjust the FOV (field of view) to tunnel like proportions, so instead you must adjust animations to fix this issue.
Again a FOV related issue, if the character's hand/weapon is too far from the camera is looks ridiculously small. With the normal "floaty hands" setup this is easy to avoid since the hands are rendered in a different FOV than the rest of the world, but with our setup this is obviously not an option, so instead it (once again) requires some tweaking to the animations.
3-Being able to see your hands:
This sounds silly as hell, but's in fact the most important section of this post. The human's eye visual range is clearly greater than the one represented in a screen (about 170° vertically and 200° horizontally against whatever your flat screen supports), and you can also feel if you have a weapon in hand so you know it's there even if you can't see it (we also have another sense used for body awareness, so we know where our feet are even if we can see them, and no, Im not talking about the sense of touch).
What does this whole thing means to you? It means that all that you usually see in first person shoothers is a visual illusion.
Think about it, would you hold a shotgun directly in front of your head when you are "shooting from the hip"?
If you pick up an object, do you hold it directly at the same height of your head or do you simply look down?
We take these things for granted, but if you could see what your character does when he holds these objects you would agree that he/she probably has some kind of mental retardation.
Am Im sorry to break this up to you, but every time you aim down the sights of a weapon in a game the stock is going right throught your face.
Going back to Depth's camera system, getting the sweet spot between a realistic animation while veiwed from the outside, and one that also looks good from the first person perspective takes some work, but if you get it right it actually makes a lot of sense. You actually get a sense of "this is my body, these are my legs, this is my arm" which in a game like this I think it pays off, and you also know that what you see is what others see, which is something that I personally find missing in many games.
Incidentally, now you know why you can't aim down the sights on the speargun :D
Post by Alejandro Gorgal (aka Linfosoma), Depth's character modeler/animator and professional forum troll.
There's been some new media added to as well as some more info about the game, and you can see my models in-game and some of the animations I've been working on.
Most of these are WIP and have been or are in the process of being replaced by better ones, but it's still a good display of the game I think.
I also added some pictures to my profile of some models during production, it's mostly old and unfinished stuff and there's nothing you haven't seen completed on previous news updates, but it's there in case you are curious about it.
Lately I've been in a sort of retro mood, on the little free time I have I've been playing Outcast (first time playing it, impressed with the graphics and the sad realization that the AI of a 11 year old game is way better that the one in most modern games) and Shadowman.
I originally played Shadowman on the Nintendo 64 (I still have the gamepack and the console, those things last forever) and now Im playing the PC version, which has better textures and WAY better sound.
Shadowman is an action/exploration game, like Tomb Raider (maybe a bit more like Soul Reaver). It's incredibly moody and both the sound and level design are twisted and delusional, further enhancing the oppressive feel of the underworld.
You play as the Shadowman, quoting wikipedia he's "an African American man by the name of Michael LeRoi, a former English literature student made into the Shadow Man, a voodoo warrior", he sort of reminds me to SandMan in the way he belongs to a realm beyond life and death.
The game is hard, platforms are extremly punishing and enemies are creepy things that runat you and can kill you fast. Checkpoints are also few and far in between but it never feels frustrating, in fact, it increases the tension and makes enemy encounters much more scary since there's a tangible risk at hand.
This is all thanks to the fact that controls are responsive, and that the game is smart enough to know that platform sections and fights should be separate things.
The level design is amazing, you are in the spiritual plane known as Deadside (the place when everyone goes when they die), so levels are incredibly twisted and fucked up, but cleverly designed.
The sound design is also another highlight. The music is amazing, if not one of the best things in the game (specially the Asylum levels), and the sound effects are spot on.
I dont know who had the idea of giving a crazy running zombie that comes out of nowhere a cheetah scream but it works motherfucker, it really works.
Anyway, it's cool moody exploration game, It's really old so graphics are kinda shit (but who cares?) and if you manage to find the game somewhere you should give it a try.
It's like it never ends, I keep updating the weight paints on my characters all the time, and then I always come back for more.
But I can't stop now, Im very obsessive with these things, whenever someone moves an arm or something in a game and I see weird deformations or texture stretching it really puts me off.
These characters cant do that, specially since they have to swim which requires a wider range of movement than normal.
And I continue to work on the animations, looks like Im going to be the only one doing that for a while which I guess at least gives me the right to do things my way (having a lot of fun with that). And Im learning a lot.
Im thinking of making a full set of tutorials on how to model, rig and animate characters for UDK whenever I have the time. So look forward to it!
Im not sure if anyone actually reads my blog posts but whatever, it may be of use to someone.
Anyway, now that the characters for Depth are finished Im currently working on rigging and animations.
This is very fun stuff, and not that hard either.
There are several tutorials regarding rigging an animation that can be found in youtube which I can also link if required, but I will use this post to discuss the problems (and solutions) that I encountered along the way:
1-My rig is too small/offset:
If you import your psk into UDK and your rig is too small, you will need to resize both the armature and the mesh separately in edit mode before exporting. Resizing the armature in object mode will look fine in Blender but will cause your skeleton to be offset in UDK, so set the scale back to 1 if you did that by mistake.
Since you have to manually rezise both the armature and mesh separately, it's better to try and find the correct scale for your mesh before you start doing any serious weight painting work.
2-My animation is going super fast:
So, you made your first animation and import it into UDK, then when you play it it goes super fast.
There's two ways to solve this problem, the first is to adjust the framerate in Blender before exporting (try a value between 5 and 10 fps), the seccond is to adjust the "animation rate" settting in UDK.
3-My animation looks weird in other characters, but Im suing the same rig:
If you used the same skeleton in several characters (which is always a good idea for several reasons) you should be able to use the same .psa (animation files) in all of them. A problem that I encountered is that in some characters this would look wrong. Why? Because even though they have the same bones they do not have the same rotation/location/scale.
The best way to fix this is to clear the rotation of all the bones before you start animating (you can do this in Blender by selecting all the bones in EDIT mode, and hitting ctrl+N, then pick clear rotation).
You may need to manually adjust the rotation of a few bones, my suggestion is to make a very simple animation (one that is only 1 keyframe long works) and test it out in UDK until you get it right.
Ok, I think those are probably all the biggest problems I had to figure out on my own, at least with this Im hoping you wont have to!
If you have questions about rigging, animation, or inverse kinematics in Blender drop me a message and I'll see if I can help you out.
We have released the first picture of one of my models for Depth, here's the news update:
Alex Quick made the diffuse map (the texture on the head), Myles Lambert (awesome guy) helped me out fixing the UV maps and I made the low poly model you see there, and the high poly model that was used to bake the normal map.
It's still a work in progress mind you, Im actually still improving his facial expression at the time of this post.
We are working hard on making sure Depth kicks some serious ass, and I've never had so much fun (and learned so many new things) in my life. This is truly a great, talented team and Im proud to be part of it!
I have been invited to work on "Depth", a stealth/action game made by Alex Quick, the person behind "Killing Floor". More info can be found here:
This is truly an honor, not only I will get to work on such an interesting project under the lead of an accomplished pro developer, but Im also getting the chance to learn to develop for one of the most important engines on the industry, the UDK.
Truly a big deal, and also frightening challenge. Will I be up to the task?
I surely hope so!