Not only is CGCG Studios doing motion capture but they also are producing 3D computer graphic video using motion capture technology. The studio is now located in Tokyo and Okinawa in Japan as well as Taipei in Taiwan with just under 200 employees under the direction of CEO, Koji Matsumoto. Needless to say CGCG has become the most competitive partner for movies, tv and gaming with series such as “Blade & Soul”, game “Kamen Rider Battride War” or even the iconic “The Clone Wars” produced mainly in the Taiwan operation.
On a sunny afternoon, Mr. Takeshi Yamazoe welcomed our team to the CGCG Studio in full motion capture costume to explain us the process of filming sequences using these high tech resources. Mr. Yamazoe explained how the studio is unique as it belongs both to the city of Okinawa and to private investors. It is also used as an education center as well as a commercial vehicle to produce state-of-the-art programming. Motion capture is now used in most special effect driven features, animated series and games manufacturing. With the team of CGCG studio the future is bright in this Okinawa hub.
To further our animated experience we also got introduced to the maverick young prodigy: Ujicha, director of “Violence Voyager”. For his animated short, Ujicha, who graduated from Kyoto Sag Art University, used the technique called Geki-mation which is a process where paper cutouts are moved in front of a background and special effects are added. This is a unique technique giving a vivid, life like appearance to the animated endeavor.
There is a richness and diversity to the CGCG studio team which contributes to their leadership position in the region as master magicians in their field.
By Emmanuel Itier
E3 always seems to maintain structure in the flux of economic downturn. Even in a balanced flow through there is always a progression of thought that shows a higher possibility of what is to be found. This year was no different but a lack of viscosity seemed to parlay the event
Disney Interactive Disney currently with its motion picture division and Pixar possibilities has a treasure trove of franchised inevitability. The one however which seems to be leading the pack lies within the perception of “Tron” which broke many barriers back in the early 80s but largely became that of cult status. With the new 3D resurrection next year, the idea of a connected world has finally come full circle.
The new video game incarnation called “Tron: Evolution” uses aspects of different ideas to be addressed in the movie as a first look perception. The lightcycle is a big part of the marketing campaign so different perceptions of it and the headgear were shown in life size replicas indicative of the sleek designs employed across the new world.
Unlike Comic Con last year which just teased at its playability, the actual demo played on the show floor at E3 showed almost interesting parallels at times to “Ghost In The Shell” with the white out relating to an almost anime goddess-type character bathed in white. The actual light cycle play through had similarities to “Pod Racer” with slow downs to increase cinematic superlatives but the cinematics themselves were missing from the demo and the actual set up seemed fairly vague. However depending on the density of the mythology employed in the game, this could turn into a must have for the fall.
Square Enix With different filmic intentions revolving around Kane & Lynch, the inevitable Anglo bent of the different games shown display a certain regional focus but the design elements especially of something like the new Deux Ex definitely play out to a global contingent.
Mindjack, using certain persona non grata progression of movies like “Freejack” uses the ideas of mind control to create an essence of texture in the characters. The problem is that the gameplay shown in the demo comes off as a bit stilted despite an overambundance of imagery in frame. It is a case of too much combined with too little.
While Deux Ex teased only with a “Knights Of The Old Republic” style trailer on the big screen, “Kane & Lynch 2” offered a multi- player demo which sees the two assassins moving in between a big score on the street while the police gun teams are in full pursuit. The demo necessitated that if you are killed by your own team, you tend to become one of the cops which makes the necessity of the death by criminals that much more intensive. The mood is brooding but not overwhelming.
Koei The techno evolutionary storyline seems to be one of consistent interest this year at E3. With Koei, the balance was highlighted with the inclusion of a Gladiator type game which understood the necessity of simple blood and guts campaign to get the adrenalin flowing.
“Warriors: The Legends Of Troy” highlighted this vision in its gameplay demo. While the initial peasant resistance was fairly easy to blaze through, dexterity was still needed in making sure the spears did not find their target. The bosses of each select group offered more opposition but the hard kills highlighted by easy-to-use button prompts allowed for some truly enjoyable immersive gameplay along the lines of “God Of War”. While not as immense at that game, it does use some of the same engine mechanics especially in climbing atop the battling statue at the end of the demo level. Of all the games sampled, the playability here despite a very basic mechanism worked well.
“Quantum Theory” works more alone an Alien-type mentality using similar employment techniques to “Mindjack” with a little more of the fantastical biotechnology emergence of “Dante’s Inferno”. With the use of a ghost fighter which jumps ahead of the action combined with a weapon altered hand, the main protagonist works through a motley blossomed level that beyond being very colorful doesn’t really engage the player.
Sega Last year this gamemaker motivated itself with the Cold War aspect of “Bayonetta” which truly understood its backdrop but also the paradox of war. Tone was key with that game.
“Vanquish” by comparison immerses itself in the bio-tech universe. The difference resides in the fast and furious gameplay. The 1st Person Shooter is tried and true and the “Halo” comparisons can be seen within its structure. In terms of gameplay, the sliding mechanism which allows one to cover long distances while evading enemy fire is a neat trick. However when actually taking down the bosses the inevitable “God Of War” comparisons again comes into play. Multi-player can be optimized during this specific exercise though the breakdown of the actual villain must be done in stages through the legs and eventually bursting the heart which sounds more gory than it actually is.
WB Interactive With LEGO continually overcoming the structure of many franchise elements, this year was no different with “Harry Potter” taking an overwhelming presence at the booth despite the possibilities like “Inception” and “Splice” which were not necessarily brought into the loop in time if at all.
“Batman: Brave & The Bold” is the perceived original entry but its graphics and outlay is only designed for Nintendo Wii and DS. The playability unlike a full console game is undeniably scroll based despite the cartoon basis being uncannily dead on. If the design was perhaps done along the lines of “XIII” it could be groundbreaking. However, the playthrough, especially with the combat scenarios, is fairly straightforward.
EA Electonics Arts always brings the intrinsic dynamic to the proceedings to E3. This might be in many ways because of the the sheer immenseness of their booth as one enters the main hall. However, alot of it has to do with the attention to finite detail in creating alot of their games. Last year, “Brutal Legend” which balanced elements with Activision motivated alot of the discussion as well as Guierrmo Del Toro’s influence on “Dante’s Inferno”. This year sees sequel progression overcoming an interest of original darkness.
“Crysis 2” uses visions of NY within a large scale “Cloverfield” style destruction using a more mechanized intruder while emphasizing real world mechanics. The private demo emphasized inside/outside shadowing elements where the player enters the area around Pershing Square in NY throwing cabs while trying to avoid falling buildings. The physics inside the building as you jump is pretty racheted but it is a showdown with a tentacled beast inside Grand Central that relies on a multi-tiered attack as the area crumbles around the player. The structure is replicated with such detail that when the team escapes and tries to rescue civilians before the would-be Met Life building falls, it has almost an eerie feeling to it being of the NY variety.
“Bloodhunt” is lost more in its reverie of blood letting and lust which has its own arena as well. The producer Jesse, a girl through and through and producer ultimate on the title, understands the underlying adrenalin rush that permeates through the game. The key is not just taking out your enemy but literally turning death into a game. Think “Death Race 2000” as a RPG. Different weaponry motivates this with such moves as “Fire In The Hole” and “Gang Bang” using more in depth moves than say Koei’s “Troy” but with less physical investment. The world here is like a motley Wonderland overcoming urban decay.
“Dead Space 2” following its dark visceral older brother has a lot to live up to. Walked through two levels by the Art Director Ian Milham who also designed the first game, the question becomes how much farther you move with the idea in terms of gore versus suspense. The idea of basically “The Thing” in space works best when, like its cousin “Resident Evil”, it understands that the thought of violence is much more scary at times than the violence itself. One distinct level that takes advantage of this ideal as well as new engine mechanics is the gravity control room. The dynamic of a twirling gyroscope keeping the station steady that creates a different environment for our hero gives flying kills an altered sense of reality especially when the gravity returns. Exiting into space as the horizon of the Earth looms below shows how far some of this technology has come over the years. The mutations can sometimes push a little bit into comedy so this balance has to be examined but the bar decidedly wants to be pushed.
In a quick vision of E3, the new imagery more seems to revolve around established franchises. While “Tron” created the buzz because of the efficiency of the Disney machine, the cinematics of Deux Ex from Square Enix and the playability of “Troy” shows that smaller but globally based brands have the ability to keep up with the more franchised fueled majors.
The inlkings of the first impressions of E3 show a change in structure but in impressing the point of some new ideas like “Dante’s Inferno” versus established franchise. The second iteration of what is shown takes the same balance.
Sony The insistence of new technology and offering integrations against competitor XBOX is always a challenge but Playstation on many points both hardware and pixel related have a tactical edge. Upstairs in the booth as the game play raged below, advance looks at games and hardware still in active production and development made the rounds, each with a decidedly different approach.
The first, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” capitalizes on its predecessor with the distinct enthusiasm and graphical brilliance of the team at Naughty Dog Studios in Santa Monica who made the game. Sitting down and talking with the producer of the game, you get a feeling of how these things come together. The game itself is not out until later this year but the angle of it is coming along. The game follows its lead character as he attempts to make his way through the levels of gameplay without destroying himself. The scenario shown to me takes places at the base of the Himalayas in Nepal. The city stretches out before you with both jungles and the distant snowy peaks. Everywhere in the city is discoverable and, according the producer, the city itself was hand built and not photo scanned which gives it more of an artful texture. The key of course is to catch the player off guard. One sequence played for me that makes it way through an office building shows a military helicopter hovering outside the broken glass of the building like Arnold’s Harrier jet within Miami’s skyline in James Cameron’s “True Lies”. What you don’t expect is when the building is hit by gunfire that it starts toppling while you are in it. The physics adjusts to it but it is something new to be seen in terms of the realism of it.
The second game explored was “White Knight Chronicles” created by Level 5 out of Santa Monica. Sitting down with one of the Associate Producers who splits her time between LA and Japan, the key was taking this initial Japanese property and adjusting and re-imagining it to appeal to a North American audience. The hunger for more things manga and anime continues to build. The key within this conversation that began the discussion was the ability to purely design your avatar. The controls of facial structure, expression and integration are further integrated than what has been seen before. Like recent manga like “HACK/G.U.” where the agreement that people who have avatars who look like them and have friends who have avatars that look like them as well will call more engagement in the online world. The thought is that it will be harder to tell truth and virtual online elements from reality. This is a disturbing but inevitable thought. This game which ships on the PS3 and has the full integrated online component gives you the ability to progress through consistent worlds in a mission basis. The worlds vary from deserts to jungles to beyond. The story was created by the principal at Level 5 and encompasses over a dozen worlds. The creatures (one seen was a three headed dog) draw a lot of influence from mythology. Characters can join guilds and in essence pool their power. Another interesting aspect of this game is the ability of characters to build their own towns which people can visit, much like a home away from home.
The third aspect explored upstairs in the Sony Booth was the physical inspection of the PSP Go. The new design of the PSP has interesting differences but also distinct similarities. The screen itself is smaller but the colors when experienced using a new game altered for the new system is much more vibrant when compared to the bigger and bulkier earlier generation. The slip up controls allow the device to be used for watching movies. The one thing that many basic users didn’t know about was the device’s Wi Fi compatibility. The keyboard element here is still not upgraded but the actual game controls are smaller. Unlike the UMD basis, this new PSP is based solely on flash drive interaction with an included 16 Gigs. Now the question of how high it is upgradable to is up for grabs. From what could be gathered, the content still needs to be side-loaded from a PC (or hopefully Mac). Also the ability to interact with the PS3 gaming system which was long been discussed could not be confirmed.
One of the games that was recently upgraded for distribution on the Go (which is set to be available within the next months for a retail of $249) is a sequel to the Jax and Dexter game. The response element on the game and the intense if not understandably anime graphics of the ported game show definite improvement in terms of fluidity of graphics on the smaller device (which is something that the DSi seems to be grappling with). The cinematic intro sequence which shows a battle in small catwing fighters moves like silk leading into game play situation in the middle of the title according to the Sr. In-House Producer who explained the essential controls. The game play offers the simulator inverted controls which give a more realistic vice to the proceedings. There are special moves which include circle loops and banks that can catch an enemy by surprise. The Alpha isn’t completed yet but work continues towards the release in fall of this year.
The breaking new game that look resolutely beautiful in terms of both ambiance, tone and sheer interactivity is the new game “Heavy Rain” due out next year. Designed by Paris Studio Quantic Dream, the game was explained to me by its managing producer as a thriller along the aspects of the film “Se7en”. While not a copy of that film, it takes a lot of the tonal elements. The opening vision show is that of an eye (much like the opening shots of “Blade Runner”) which establishes the visceral nature of the game. It is more an experiential game. The level that was played has the lead character in a construction area of sorts which is almost flooded and shrouded in rain. The soft focus element and especially the low angle (almost dolly like) movements give the game a sense of motion that makes it different. The different interaction options also let you hear what is going on in the guy’s head which let you make more informed decisions. The pacing is deliberate with the sound design truly immersing the player. The managing producer relates that the game itself has a wondrous array of different ways to end that is influence purely by the decision making process. The first character you run into is a construction worker that is both brute and dangerous but the key is whose side will he be on and can he be trusted.
Sega Certain companies make their progression know in incidental spots. Sega has always been in the game but with the advent of the PS3, the Dreamcast came down but the intensity of a given game can bring the brilliance out.
The first new game that piqued the interest was “Alpha Protocol”, a adventure of mercenary proportions from game studio Obsidian. The underling equation gives you the perspective of life in the ranks but the different AI proportions that the characters might have. The level that was shown was a capture of a stolen arms shipment in the heart of Moscow. Our bearded commando in aviator glasses has ultra sniper like precision as trains speed past him in the yards at breakneck speeds. His ultimate encounter after deciding to fulfill his orders by taking out the weapons dump is a boss mercenary Mina who seems to be attracted to his agressive stance. It could move either way depending on consequential responses and actions of a give player. You could take the shipment as your own and then live with the consequences. The aspect is what kind of mercenary do you becomes. The plethora of different weapns including incentiary grenades and the requisite mortar launcher can give a finite definition to the one man army.
The second new game show behind closed doors was the re-imagining of “Aliens Vs. Predator” for the next gen thought. The great aspect was the studio that created the original back more than a decade ago, Rebellion Studios is back in earnest using a new engine called Zero which allows for random shading and an overall tone that brings to mind the Aliens we all know and love. The level we were shown that was the most done was that of the Marine where you enter C Block where the sentries are set up as the alien move in. The fluidity of the creatures and the ambiance makes you feel right at home and the dialogue is familiar and razor sharp. You can be betrayed and betray. The producer and project manager were in full mode and the general party atmosphere with a heavy metal tinge ingratiates the pace of the game which comes out next year.
Lucasarts The last stop of E3 was the upstairs and almost secret lair of Lucas’ continual domination of the digital form. Stormtroopers guarded the outside of the door as showmanship is half the battle.
The big buzz was the new introduction of the MMO game “Star Wars: The Old Republic” which takes place 3000 years before the events of “Jedi”. Entering a would be Republic briefing room, a combination of team members from Bioware and Lucasarts proceeded to show the “Deceived” trailer which highlights the sacking of Coruscant by an evil Sith Lord that looks like Vader without the mask. Many fanboys were convincingly excited by the visuals that it shows since it is on the level of many of the CG scenes in the last trilogy. While it falls short of that bar by a tad, it is still very much a great interpretation of a major event in “Star Wars” canon as a huge ship crashes through the Great Hall as an army of Sith fights against the Jedi and wins as the capital city is consumed by fire. Granted the game play is nowhere as intense as this in the perspective of an RPG but it continually allows a different perspective. A new character in the case of Smuggler was introduced at E3. This character has cover and holds requisite blasters and the usual quick wit that was a stalward of Han Solo. Another interesting player is that of the Sith where the intentions of a Dark Master can change the command of a certain mission depending on who is willing to bow to the whims of a homicidal leader. The key with Bioware was in keeping time with canon for the universe while also taking into account elements of such games as “Knights Of The Republic”.
Two other Star Wars games took precedent on the outside demos within the Lucas arts suite. The first one was “Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron ” for the PSP which allows a portable game play within the confines of earth and space. The progression of being able to take off from the planet and get into a space battle definitely give a sense of scope to the game but the immediate engagement and possibly was not fully realized.
By comparison, “Clone Wars: Republic Heroes”, built to coincide with the Season 2 premiere of “Clone Wars” on Cartoon Network, knows the exact trajectory of what it needs to create. Using the current assets directly from the TV show, playing the game is exactly like playing the show down to nuances, character and most importance voices. The game play uses the same structure as the show allowing you to play certain characters in play through mode. All the requisite force elements permeate through allowing for an optimum of play. The actual story structure is meant to bridge the plot between the end of the first season and the beginning of the second but that revelation has yet to be shown.
The last game introduced was because of the immense popularity of the original. “LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues” shows more interpreting of classic Indiana Jones scenes in LEGO style. This time “Crystal Skull” is introduced into play with Mutt and Indy being shown getting into a piece losing fight inside the cafe. Also shown was a disco interpretation of the final Ark sequence in “Raiders” with definite ironic effects. There is also an addition of level building (ala SIMS) which seems to be something that quite appeals to fans of the game. The progression can be assimilation into a level which is also based in a new “Home” feature where multiple players can hang out in a split world between Cairo and Nepal and everyplace Indy has been in between.
E3 returned in its old form in full force but the balance was much more maintained. The exhibit floor buzzed with definite hype while hidden away in other rooms the creatives were able to break down for both buyers and media the essence of what is coming. Among the most intense and cool seen included EA’s “Dante’s Inferno” and Sony’s “Heavy Rain” with definitely more surprises to come.