SEGAs Virtua Fighter 5

May 14, 2007 11:44 pm

SEGA's Virtua Fighter 5

By Alexandra Pasian

The invitations are out for the Fifth World Fighting Tournament.  Seventeen of the world's best fighters are gathering for the final phase of their operation, but everything is not as it seems.  J6, the organization funding the tournament, has some very sinister plans, and winning this tournament might just mean losing everything.  After years of waiting, Virtua Fighter fans across the planet are more than up for the challenge.

Virtua Fighter 5 (VF5) is the first update to SEGA's ground-breaking Virtua Fighter series in 5 years.  Scheduled to be released on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 platforms, VF5 takes full advantage of current next-generation technology, including the LINDBERGH arcade board, HDRI lighting, and SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

It took the development team two and a half years to complete the competitive fighting game, and, by all accounts, it is definitely worth the wait.  With enhanced visual realism and character animation, it is setting new standards for the VF franchise and for all game development.
Displaying Cutting-Edge Graphics

Using SEGA's powerful LINDBERGH arcade board, the development team was able to deliver stunning 1280x768 resolution.  What's more, using pixel shading and the arcade board allowed the team to display realistic cloth, skin, and muscles, that ultimately made the VF5 world richer and more convincing. 

It was paramount, however, that the artistry not over-run the technology.  "The most important element for the Virtua Fighting series is real-time processing," says Yasuo Kawagoe, design lead on VF5.  "We needed to be able to display the cutting-edge graphics that the series is known for at a consistent 60 frames per second rate." 

To address this, according to Kawagoe, "We took a non-traditional approach to pixel shading for this project.  We needed to ensure that our solution would not slow performance, but we also wanted to avoid restricting polygon counts."

Using XSI, the team was able to optimize performance by testing and experimenting with various combinations of displayed objects, texture sizes, and camera positions.  Says Kawagoe, "The robust architecture and customizable environments in XSI were invaluable to us during the testing phase of development."

 Advanced Productivity With Net View

In addition to the architecture and environment in XSI, the development team on VF5 also appreciated what Net View allowed them to do.  Says, Munekazu Makino, character animation supervisor on VF5, "Net View provided a significant boost to our productivity.  The interface allowed our team to quickly switch between characters, to manage costumes, and to keep track of other character elements from a central location."

The ability to manage the assets associated with so many characters, as well as their props and clothing, was crucial during the development of VF5.  In addition to selecting from one of 17 characters, players are also able to choose from a variety of costumes for game-play.  Then, during the game, players are able to purchase articles that their characters carry on their bodies.  These features add to the immersive experience of the game, and using Net View helped to make it happen.

Says Makino, "Using Net View, the VF5 team was able to integrate frequently used custom views.  This meant that the team could, for example, create custom controls that allowed us to reduce model sizes by hiding the portions of a character covered by clothing.  They also created custom interfaces to control view port shading, to switch between different normal and specular maps, to change display options, and to execute routine tasks."

What Makino appreciates most about the HTML-based Net View is how easy it is to create and update dynamic custom interfaces.  By storing custom Net View controls on a server, the VF5 team was able to distribute the latest versions of their work to the entire group simply by updating files at a single location.

Unparalleled Workflow

It is no surprise that the development team appreciated the Net View in XSI since having an efficient workflow can make all the difference in game production.  But it does not stop there.  According to Makino, "The non-destructive workflow in XSI also made it easy for designers to quickly re-weight a character's costume and to change models simply by adding edges where we needed them.  This was particularly helpful when animators were posing an enveloped character only to realize that parts of the clothing were not deforming properly."

The team also found the texture editor in XSI extremely helpful.  Using features like the Relax tool, connection tabs for the UV islands, and the ability to display multiple UV sets, they were able to edit character UVs quickly and easily.

In addition to using XSI as a character animation tool, the team on VF5 was also interested in using its powerful expressions and constraints to control secondary animation.  According to Makino, "expressions offer a very flexible way to control detailed secondary animation."

As he explains, "when you raise a character's leg, you may not necessarily want his stomach to get pushed up.  But, you may also not want his stomach to be pulled forward when the leg is pulled back.  What's more, you might also want to constrain the hem of a character's clothing so that it does not stretch when the character moves or swings around.  It is difficult to control these kinds of animations using envelope weights, but it was easy to set up these controls using the expressions in XSI."


Authoring Real-Time Movies in XSI

On VF5, the team had to produce 450 real-time movies.  In order to keep the production running smoothly, they built custom tools and workflows.  One such workflow involved getting data into the Animation Mixer.  To do this, the team created a drag-and-drop workflow that allowed them to get each character's motion, lip-sync, and linked voice data from their custom Net View-based library into the Animation Mixer.

Says Syungo Seki, supervisor of the real-time movies, "For us, the real selling point of the Animation Mixer is its ease-of-use.  With it, we could control hand movement by blending clips of open and closed hands as well as adjust the weight of different mouth movements for specific frames.  It was a snap to try out different combinations of movements and to tweak them as we went along."

Using the Animation Mixer allowed the team to finalize movement, including facial and body movements, and to preview that movement on target platforms using a custom converter.  In addition, the Mixer was also used for timing sounds as it allowed the team to synchronize the sounds associated with punching or walking with the corresponding character movements. 

"Thanks to the Animation Mixer, we were able to adjust the timing of visual effects, like white-in, white-out, and time stopping, that were traditionally done by programmers," says Seki.  "Working with XSI allowed artists to control the timing of these effects, which is a much more efficient way to work."


 Working With XSI

By way of conclusion, Makino, who has extensive experience with other 3D packages including SOFTIMAGE 3D, says that "Now that I have experienced the XSI workflow, I am not exaggerating when I say that I am never going back to other tools."

And Kawagoe adds, "By using XSI, we have already seen huge gains in the productivity and efficiency of our production process, and we are expecting to see further improvement as we prepare the Play Station 3 version of VF5.  Ultimately, for demanding next-generation projects that require highly detailed, high-quality characters, XSI is the natural choice."

Look for Virtua Fighter 5 on PS3 at the end of February of 2007 and on the Xbox 360 later this year.

You can also read this story in Japanese on the Softimage Japan website.

All content and images within this article are copyright ©2007 Avid Technology, Inc. All Rights Reserved.,
and used with special permisson. Use of these images without written permission is prohibited.

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.
  • For more news from Softimage, visit their website.
May 14, 2007

Article Comments

calum5 ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 16 May 2007

XSi6 is incredible!I purchased it 4 moths ago and have now spent around $200 on tutorials!You need a fair bit of time to absorb the workings of the programme unless you have previoulsy owned maya or 3ds max.So Im at the bottom of a very steep hill but the view from the top is second to none!Wish me luck as I do you:-)

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 21 May 2007

It is amazing what you can do with the real-time engines these days. If you drop by the nVidia or ATI booths during the SIGGRAPH shows you see things that make you wonder how long it will be till you can render a photorealistic feature film in real time rather than wait long render hours till mentalray finishes its job. I bet it won't take THAT long till I see that happen.

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