Based on an ancient chinese story, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is the latest game produced by Cambridge-based studio Ninja Theory whose Lead Animator, Guy Midgeley and Senior Animator, James Stevenson joined us to talk about character animation, narrative, and the involvement of actor Andy Serkis and writer Alex Garland in the project.
It was important to consider character interaction and realism: Originally Monkey had a brutish nature and Trip was a futuristic goth, but the two characters need to relate to each other as their relationship builds, and so their physical forms were toned down for congruity.
For fidelity, ease and so the characters can perform actions in-game that you can't recreate in real life, the in-game animation was hand drawn rather than produced using motion capture. We were shown a series of videos shot at Ninja Theory HQ with the team acting out some character motions used as a reference point for their animations - a process which the team highly recommend in order to understand how the body works and create realistic looking in-game movement.
To avoid videogame cliches, Alex was brought in as a story writer, and Andy Serkis came on board as cinematic director and actor for the cut scenes which were shot using motion capture - he had worked with the team previously on Heavenly Sword. The cut scenes drive the story, develop characters and give the game a cinematic feel. To avoid the pitfall of disconnction between cut scenes and game play, Alex was involved throughout the process and played through the game to ensure its integrity.
In summary, the talk was a useful lesson in story and character development with the audience being taken through Ninja Theory's creative process and what to consider when you want a cinematic game with a decent story.
BAF 2010 day one came to a close with the Guardian Tech weekly podcast captured live in Pictureville cinema. Hosted by the Guardian's games columnist Keith Stuart, the session featured interviews with the aforementioned games guru Charles Cecil, writer and journalist Keiron Gillen. and games artist Dan Pinchbeck.
Look out for the podcast or listen from the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast page.