Implementing emotion

This has been a crazy TJD scripting week for our entire team. Nearly all focus has been placed on actually implementing those gigantic piles of assets and features we’ve been working on for so long, and finally getting it all in place feels wonderful. The first chapter is currently fully playable from start to finish, with pretty much all interactions in place. What we’re still missing though is a gigantic layer of scripting polish, as well as a rather huge chunk of our cinematics. This, and a big load of testing is what we likely will be working on the coming weeks.

I personally have had the honor of implementing Lina’s animation, both close-ups and normal views, and am constantly blown away at how much emotion we’ve somehow managed to cram into these wooden characters of ours. Obviously much of the emotion emanating from Lina now comes from her brilliant voice actress, Cassie Ewulu, who really compliments the character flawlessly, but much of it comes from Henrik’s awesome facial animation skills that bring these otherwise petrified wooden masks magically to life. These two efforts combined, create a character with SO much more life than her no-speech counterpart in the original low-res version. Working with these assets and talents is truly a pleasure.

I wish I was this cool.

The original idea of using African masks to portray our characters, comes from a thought I had before even starting the project at all, I was asking myself how come I bonded so successfully with the characters of Grim Fandango. I realized one of the key things they did right in that production (apart from the brilliant voice cast) was to completely tear down the character faces to the extreme bare-bones (pun intended) minimum of the core features that were actually needed to portray emotions. Instead of wasting time on making the characters look “real” or life like, they put all their effort into actual emotion. This decision breathed more life and drama into the game than any fancy facial mo-cap production you might think of, and in my opinion still hasn’t yet been beaten by anyone.

In realizing that this is what made Manny Calavera, the player character in GF so easy to bond with, I pretty much decided to chose a similar path. Combining that with my earlier fascination with African masks, was a very natural thing to do, and now that we are finally implementing it all, I’m happy to see it’s all working out exactly the way I was hoping it would.

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