GamesBeat: Things like how many moments you linger on somebody’s face, that might make a difference between whether people think it looks real or notice something fake.
Salud: No, we’re going to have moments where you just look at someone’s face for a really long time, while they’re talking to you.
Halon: If anything, we’re trying to balance the pacing of that sort of thing with gameplay. That’s usually the bigger concern.
Salud: We’re showing off our faces now. We’re not obscuring anything. We’re putting the camera right there. We have these long back and forth dailies where all we talk about is the face — about the eyeballs, the hair, lighting on the face.
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GamesBeat: Do you feel the horsepower is there to do all this? Or do you wish for more from future hardware?
Salud: Oh, there’s always going to be more. You give me a 50-gallon tank of whatever, I’ll still want more. We can always figure out a way to fill it up. Maybe we can only afford two guys who look photo-real — well, then we’re going to want four.
GamesBeat: What about the speed of things, too, the moving objects on the screen? In what we saw today, there seemed to be a ton of things happening, with the drone swarm and so on. Is that also affected by how much hardware power you have?
Halon: It’s certainly tied to that. There are still lots of things that we’re used to doing to get our game running at 60 [frames per second]. That’s always been a key pillar of the franchise. There’s a lot of tricks and tactics we’ll use to do that. But at the same time, we’re taking advantage of all the power we have. There are times when we’ll blow that out of the water — when we’ll say, “OK, we need to get this look, this effect, but how do we do it in a way that’s more optimal?” LOD and things like that are happening behind the scenes. There’s still a lot of trickery going on to make sure we run perfectly.
Salud: Overall, we have what we need to convey the impression that we want to. Whether it’s a vista over an entire city, or–
Halon: Like your example before, we used to have meetings where we’d say, “Yeah, we’ll just do that behind-the-head thing and some [voice-over].” Now we’re not needing to rely on those tricks as much. Now it’s more just about time. We can do it, but we have to make sure we’re spending our time in the right places.
Salud: The bottleneck now is scaling, manpower. How much work can we do with the people that we have?
GamesBeat: What about the futuristic aspect of it? Some things you can performance capture because they already exist, but there are lots of things depicted in the game that don’t exist yet. How do you visualize that?
Salud: Everything goes back to what’s relatable. The design of it, there’s a couple of layers in there, but it boils down to everything being based on function. What’s it supposed to do? Then we think about, okay, what technology is currently out there? Then we extrapolate from that. Especially for the exo, we’ve talked to military advisors. We’ve hired concept designers who have worked on things like this before. One of the guys contracted for Boston Dynamics. There’s knowledge in there that motivates the designs.
On top of that, let’s say you have the knowledge to create a cool design. Then you have to package it for the fans. It might look so foreign that people just say, “I don’t even know what that is.” You have to look for elements that are relatable to the players and add that back in there. Then people say, “I can identify with that. It’s just more advanced. It’s cool.”
GamesBeat: I’m already looking at the Golden Gate Bridge and thinking, “That part’s familiar, but these ships floating past it are way out of the future.”
Salud: If you look at the new military watercraft out there, they’re shaped differently now. They’re a lot more slender and angular, stealthy. They have these really long noses up front. We were extrapolating from that. Have you seen those hydrofoil ships, the ones that start to raise out of the water? We mixed those ideas together. When people see them, they still look like ships. It’s not like a spaceship on the water. But it’s something different and familiar at the same time.
GamesBeat: I took a tour of DreamWorks this summer, talking about How To Train Your Dragon 2. They have these drawing tools now where they just draw with a stylus on the screen, and you see it immediately show up in the animation system. There’s no gap in between drawing something and seeing it on the screen. Are you guys reaching that point? Does the artist still have to work through another layer?
Salud: We have those kinds of stylus setups, where you can paint on the screen. The concept artists use those. It’s a preference thing. Some people like to paint directly on the screen, because they feel like it’s more interactive. Some artists feel like it puts their hand in the way, so they can’t see. It’s just a question of how people like to work.
Halon: We still have a concept artist who likes to draw on paper and scan it in. It’s all about the end result.
Salud: Some things in our pipeline are in real time. The materials are pretty realtime. Some of the animation elements are realtime. When we’re drawing, that happens in real time, obviously.
GamesBeat: What do you guys think of the sort of four-people-in-a-circle pod office environment here? It’s a lot different from a traditional cubicle setup.
Salud: It’s a big deal. It helps us a lot. It’s very conducive to collaboration. That’s the way our studio likes to operate. We like to talk to each other, for better or for worse. If you have walls up, that’s one more barrier for someone talking to the person next to them. Our studio is based on iteration. For iteration, you need communication. If you put walls up, if it even mitigates that by 10 percent, we don’t want that.
Halon: A lot of times we would have departments — like, the audio team has its own rooms, and that’s important for their craft. But within the pods, we’re purposely putting the animator next to the designer who’s next to the key artist. They’re all within earshot, so that when things come up — a director might be there dealing with an issue. All those other groups, it’s important that they’re part of the conversation. In the past, when we didn’t have that set up, there’s just a lag in communication. Now things happen a lot more naturally when everyone’s included in that conversation.
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