'Sudeki': Magic and Martial Arts

Mary Ann Skweres talks with the developers of the role-playing game Sudeki about their creative and technical processes.

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The decision to make Sudeki an RPG was easy; its creators love those kind of games. All images ©2004 Microsoft Corp. All rights reserved. Microsoft, Sudeki, Xbox, Xbox Live, the Live Logo, and the Xbox logos are registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

In a world ripped apart by deceit, four heroes a sultry wizardress, a soaring gunslinger, a powerful swordsman and a dark huntress are about to become legends in their fight against the darkness. The team of heroes join forces in massive cooperative super-strikes to devastate a horde of more than 100 enemies from deadly dread spiders, spiny demons and horrific mechanical hybrids to massive battle fortresses. Fighting skills and magical abilities improve as they progress, preparing them for tougher challenges. A cinematic style, realtime gravity-defying combat, detailed fantasy environments and shocking plot twists make Sudeki a high-octane combination of magic, combat and team based role-playing. The Sudeki developers talked to VFXWorld about their creative and technical processes.

Mary Ann Skweres: Tell me about the team behind Sudeki: how many; how long they took to develop the game; what special talents and creative or technical contributions they brought to the development of the game.

Climax: The Team at the height of the production was 70 people strong. The game has been in development for some three-and-a-half years, and the team consists of a huge number of individuals from different disciplines: for example, one of our concept artists had established himself in 2000AD magazine, while one of the artists came from Japanese game giant Square-Enix. We had a mixture of experienced games industry veterans and fresh new people this kept the creativity going while still retaining firm focus on what can and cannot be done in video games. We even have people with backgrounds in theatre, which has proven invaluable in the creation of the story.

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Lighting is a unique aspect and it took almost four years and 70 people to complete the final build of Sudeki.

MAS: Why did you choose to make Sudeki an RPG (role-playing game) and why this is significant?

C: Our team is filled with people who LOVE role-playing games. It was a game that all of us wanted to do for a long, long time. This meant that the team has worked incredibly hard on this game, because all of us are utterly dedicated.

MAS: Where did the idea for the game come from and who is responsible for character development and story?

C: Climax is responsible for the idea and the development of the story. The whole world of Sudeki was created by Climax with feedback and support from Microsoft. Development of the characters was a mixture of our concept artists throwing around ideas and designers writing the background of the heroes and villains of the game.

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The battle sequences have a cinematic style. The games heroes move at full speed while their opponents are slowed to 5% speed to give the visuals a unique style.

MAS: What specific techniques are used in character rigging and in-game character design?

C: All our characters are drawn up in the concept stage this is where the ideas are thrown about. Once we have a design that both looks good and fits the style of the character it is then modeled in Maya using the concept artwork as reference. The next stage after the modeling is the rigging. A skeleton will be made specifically for the character that enables us to animate anything from a giant four-legged robot down to a tiny Venom Gnat. Each character will have its own rig with different features that enable the animators to bring them to life. We have had a lot of freedom in the way we rig the characters. The characters were rigged using IK and FK (different joint set-ups) and contain roughly 90-100 bones or more in each skeleton in a standard game youd have only around 20 [bones] per skeleton. This gave the animators a lot of control in the movement of the characters. We used smoothed weighting on all the character meshes giving us better deformation over the characters. Using this type of weighting allowed us to quickly make edits to the mesh by saving the weight maps to file and re-applying the weights once the edits were done with little or no tweaking of the weights afterwards. Blendshapes and Morph targets were created for speech and emotions. The PCs have up to 15 shapes and NPCs have eight shapes. With this many shapes we were able to create all the major phonemes needed for lip-synching.

MAS: The game is advertised as having cinematic style. What elements of the game are cinematic and how are they achieved? Are the same vfx-generating techniques used in films used in the game?

C: The realtime aspect of the combat and the cinematic cameras used in casting spells give the game a movie-like flavor, as does our One-Time feature. During skills attacks and spells our characters move at full speed while their enemies are slowed to 5% speed, creating a unique visual feel for the games many fight sequences.

MAS: How is lighting used?

C: The lighting system in Sudeki is exceptionally advanced. All the entities use self-shadowing and a mixture of direct sunlight and spotlights is used lavishly throughout the game. In some areas of the game you can see your character casting separate shadows for the sunlight and four other light sources such as torches. Artistically, the lighting is used to create the mood and feel of each game level. The Illumina Castle basks in light and bright colors, while the forbidding Aklorian Stronghold is very dark, only lit by lightning and an occasional flickering torch.

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Sudekis visual style, depth and accessibility make it unique from other games. The player controls all four heroes at all times.

MAS: What types of software, hardware and graphics engine are used in the development and playing of the game? Were they developed for Sudeki or adapted from other applications?

C: All the technology was created for Sudeki from the ground-up. The rendering engine, animation system and sound system were all created specifically for Sudeki. In addition we use the hard-drive of Xbox to stream the game data, so the player encounters a minimal number of loading screens during the gameplay.

MAS: In a complicated, fast moving game such as Sudeki, how do you deal with rendering, especially in realtime?

C: We sometimes throw as many as 20 enemies against the four heroes and the engine handles all this as well as the amazing special effects used in combat. There is still some optimization left so we are bringing the frame rate up as high as possible.

MAS: How does the pipeline work and has there been a convergence of movie and gaming pipelines?

C: We had a couple of Hollywood movie professionals come and give us pointers on storytelling and cinematics. As for the production pipeline, we spent a long time planning how our artwork, animations and game content get incorporated into Sudeki. For example, one person would build, rig and texture a character, another would animate him, and yet another artist would create the sfx for that character.

MAS: How does this game stand out from all the rest? What makes it so special?

C: It is the first game that marries the realtime combat with the depth of a turn-based RPG successfully. The fact that your entire party of four heroes is under your control at all times adds to the uniqueness of Sudeki.

MAS: How does the game fit into a larger trend for gaming?

C: At the moment all things fantasy are popular. I think the visual look is unique and offers an alternative to the gamers. I think our combination of depth and accessibility will make the game appeal to a great many different types of gamers. It is easy to pick up, but difficult to master as we say.

Sudeki, an Xbox game, will hit the retail shelves in June with a mature rating (Microsoft Game Studios, $49.99).

Mary Ann Skweres is a filmmaker and freelance writer. She has worked extensively in feature film and documentary post-production with credits as a picture editor and visual effects assistant. She is a member of the Motion Picture Editors Guild.

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