Bullet Witch Takes On Demons with a Little Bit of Magic
March 10, 2007 7:01 pm
Bullet Witch Takes On Demons with a Little Bit of Magic
By Alexandra Pasian
According to Japan’s Cavia Inc., the year 2013 brings humanity to the edge of annihilation. With natural disasters and demon attacks, the world’s population is less than 1 billion and those who are left are running scared. Luckily for us, Alicia, a beautiful young witch armed with her trusty Gunrod, a souped-up broomstick that doubles as a spell-casting rod and a powerful gun, is on the job.
Alicia is the main character in Cavia’s Bullet Witch, the action-fantasy third-person shooting game released for Xbox 360 by AC Interactive Inc. Set to arrive in North America at the end of February 2007, Bullet Witch is already receiving high praise for its game-play and graphics.
By taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies like HDR rendering, real-time shadows, and high-quality physics simulations, Bullet Witch mixes story features with magic and gun fights to produce a truly next-generation experience. In order to achieve the next-generation quality on Bullet Witch—as well as on its future titles—Cavia has incorporated SOFTIMAGE|XSI into its development pipeline.
Developing for the Xbox 360
Developing titles for next-generation platforms brings a new set of challenges and opportunities to game development. While developers are able to offer fans movie-quality visuals and more exciting game-play, it is not always apparent at the outset of production how this is going to be achieved.
According to Masayuki Suzuki, Graphics Team Designer at Cavia, “Developing for the Xbox 360 definitely took a bit of fumbling around at the beginning. We knew what kind of game-play we wanted, but we did not know how far we would be able to push the new technology.” In the end, Cavia was able to do much more than they had initially anticipated.
SOFTIMAGE|XSI played a major role in what Cavia was able to achieve on Bullet Witch. Says Suzuki, “It is safe to say that introducing XSI into our development pipeline is what made it possible for us to successfully develop a next-generation title like Bullet Witch.”
To create the characters for Bullet Witch, including the lovely Alicia, the development team at Cavia began by building base models in XSI. These models were then imported into Zbrush where artists modeled high-frequency details. The resulting high-resolution models, often comprised of millions of polygons, were then brought back into XSI where artists used the polygon reduction and Ultimapper tools to turn them into game-engine-friendly assets.
Says Suzuki, “The polygon reduction tool in XSI is a huge time saver for us. We were able to reduce highly detailed Zbrush models with millions of polygons to about 5000 polygons, which is ideal for in-game display. Frequently, we had only to tweak a single parameter to make sure that the reduction process preserved the original model’s shape.”
The team at Cavia also used the Ultimapper in XSI to generate normal maps for its game-resolution models. This allowed them to capture and reproduce highly detailed wrinkles and bumps from their high-resolution counter parts.
Additionally, the team was also able to create ambient occlusion maps. Says Tosihyuki Koike, Chief Programmer on Bullet Witch, “The Ultimapper feature allows us to easily create the high-quality maps that are necessary for next-generation expressions, and the ability to access quick previews is extremely helpful.”
Ultimately, the team at Cavia is excited about the direction in which the Ultimapper functionality in XSI is going. According to Akira Yasui, Design Team Manager on Bullet Witch, “We have seen a lot of improvements made to the XSI normal mapping tools. We’re very happy with the quality of the maps that we can produce with the Ultimapper tool.”
For the team at Cavia, the referencing features in XSI were an integral part of the workflow for Bullet Witch. These unique referencing features helped different groups to work more efficiently and in parallel on the same game elements.
The workflow was such that the character group built characters and saved their work to a server. At the same time, the motion group worked with basic dummy skeletons for their animation. Thanks to the referencing tools in XSI, updates performed by the character group were quickly and automatically made available to the motion group.
In addition to handling data for character development, using XSI also helped the Cavia team with the more global data concerns for the game.
Some of the levels of Bullet Witch required more data than a 32-bit operating system could handle. For these scenes, the 64-bit version of XSI was invaluable. Yasui, who oversees the production of event movies and data management at Cavia, says “The memory requirements for next-generation scenes are simply getting too big for 32-bit architecture to handle. Softimage was really ahead of the pack with their 64-bit version of XSI.”
According to Yasui, “Releasing the 64-bit version of XSI early has clearly allowed the development team at Softimage to focus on stabilizing and optimizing it. I am very impressed with the results. Between 64-bit and the constantly evolving real-time shaders, Softimage is consistently on top of new technology.”
Development for Alicia took three months. In addition to getting this gun-toting witch to look just right, part of the three-month cycle was dedicated to creating several interchangeable costumes for players to download. To accomplish this, the team at Cavia took full advantage of the Generalized Attribute Transfer Operator (GATOR) in XSI.
According to Suzuki, “GATOR gave us a single-click workflow to transfer Alicia’s important surface attributes to each new costume model. Even when the models had different topologies, we did not have to tweak or transfer envelope weights or vertex colors. And this was especially effective for transferring UVs. Using GATOR saved us from having to spend a lot of time on repetitive tasks.”
XSI for the Future
Based on its performance on Bullet Witch, XSI has a bright future with Cavia Inc. According to Tosihnori Asami, Programmer at Cavia, “The greatest benefits to the development environment in XSI are choice and ease-of-use. By allowing you to use standard scripting and development languages, including C++, VBScript, and Jscript, XSI offers a versatile development environment. And the fact that it is object-oriented makes it very easy to understand. I like that.”
Asami, who is in charge of XSI plug-in creation and developing the drawing engine for Xbox 360, says “Going forward, we hope to integrate additional XSI technologies, including the CDK and Custom Display Host, into our development pipeline.”
Suzuki concludes saying “Until now, game development pipelines have been focused on developing low-resolution models for in-game play while rendering highly detailed scenes separately. Now, next-generation technologies are allowing us to display huge amounts of detail on target platforms in real-time. With the powerful features like polygon reduction, Ultimapper, and GATOR that make our workflow much more efficient, XSI is ideally suited for creating high-detailed, next-gen content.”
You can also read this story in Japanese on the Softimage
About Softimage Co.
Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., delivers innovative, artist-friendly character creation and effects tools to animators and digital artists in the film, broadcast, post-production and games industries. Its product line includes SOFTIMAGE|XSI, the industry's only non-destructive digital character production software, and SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, the first production toolset that multiplies face animation productivity by simplifying the complex process of preparing the face for animation and by giving artists precise control over the results.