The making of Red Dead Redemption’s music

Here’s something interesting for you dear Train2Game blog readers, Rockstar have released a video describing how they composed and produced authentic music for Read Dead Redemption.  They enlisted musicians to play authentic western style instruments including a Harmonica player with 60 years of experience.

I personally find it interesting when they describe how the music changes depending on player actions. You can check out the video below.

So, what do you think of the video? And how much thought have you Train2Game Designers and Developers put into music for your games? Which game do you think offers the best musical score?

Of course, if music doesn’t take your fancy, you could always watch the F1 2010 Developer Diary that we posted earlier this week. That one may be more up the street of Train2Game Artist & Animators.

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forums.

Popcap reveal new Disco Zombie

Meet Disco Zombie

Those Plants vs. Zombies guys’ sure work fast! Just one day after Popcap revealed that the Michael Jackson estate demanded they remove the Thriller inspired Disco Zombie, they’ve revealed their new design.

Popcap have this to say about their latest addition:

“‘I can confirm that there is in fact a new ‘disco zombie’ (see image attached) and I would really appreciate if you could ‘be nice to the new guy’…the disco zombie is starting to feel like a second class zombie citizen, which is really unfair considering the length of time he spent doing his hair! I actually managed to catch up with him earlier today and, while he’s a little adverse to public speaking, he gave me the following (badly) written statement:

“Dear Alive Peeples, I am pleazed too join the big brainz at PopCap and can’t wait to meat you all. And yes, I du my own heir.”’

Disco Zombie, likes disco music.

Do I get to say I told you so?  The latest addition to the hit Plants vs. Zombies does look like he shares the same stylist as Disco Stu, even down to the dead fish in the platform shoes. The Simpsons won’t be demanding its removal now, will they?

What do you think of the funky new design Train2Game? Do you think you could turnaround a new design in such a short time?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forum.

Guillermo del Toro working on games for ‘a big company’

Director Guillermo Del Toro has revealed he’s working on multiple video game projects. In an interview with MTV, the Pans Labyrinth and Hellboy Director said:

“One of the things we’re announcing in the next few weeks is a big deal with a big company. We’re going to do games that are going to be technically and narratively very interesting. It’s not a development deal. We’re going to do it. We’re doing them. And we’re going to announce it soon enough.”

Del Toro unfortunately couldn’t give MTV anymore details, saying that if he did, the ‘big company’ “would probably shoot me in the head.”

It’s nice to see a film director with positive views on video games – Del Toro has previously likened indie game Flower to Haiku poetry – especially after Harry Potter Mike Newell recently told CVG, ‘Video games chat bores the arse off me’

Del Toro was initially on board to direct a film adaptation of The Hobbit, but that fell through. However, could he be about to oversee a game based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic title?

Hopefully, ‘soon enough’ won’t be very far away!

So, Train2Game students, what do you think about the prospect of Guillermo Del Toro having a hand in the development of a video game? What do you think the game will be? And what would you like it to be? And who is the mysterious big company?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forums.

Microsoft defends Kinect price

The Kinect motion controller is ‘very competitively priced.’ That’s according Microsoft UK Marketing Manager Brett Siddons who also says out that Xbox 360 device offers a full multiplayer experience when compared to its rivals.

Speaking at the Kinect stand at an Amazon event, Siddons told Techradar:

“The price thing itself depends on how you look at it, its £129.99 RRP but it comes with a game within that price – so Adventures will be packed in with the camera.”

“If you buy it with the console which normally costs £149.99, [the package price is] £249.99 with the Kinect and the games – another 100 pound on top.

“The camera tracks six people – with two active gamers – you don’t have to buy anything else.

“I’ll let you do the maths but when you say Nintendo Wii or PlayStation Move you buy this and this, even for a two player games.

“What do you need and what do actually have to spend for a two player game for this device versus that device. You actually find that [Kinect] is very competitively priced.”

TechRadar helpfully do ‘the maths.’  They point out that while a basic PlayStation Move pack consisting of a controller and a PlayStation Eye costs just £49.99, buying another motion sensor controller and two sets of navigation controllers for multiplayer games brings the PlayStation Move price up to £150. Of course, Sony could still announce other packages before Move is released.

It appears Mr Siddons wasn’t asked why Kinect costs more in the UK than in the United States. If the price was directly converted from the $150 US price, Kinect would cost £95. It’s very unlikely that VAT on its own adds the additional £35.

So, Train2Game universe, do you agree with the Microsoft UK Marketing manager that Kinect is competitively priced. Or do you think the PlayStation Move, or indeed, Nintendo Wii offers more value for money? And what do you think of the difference between the UK and US prices?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forum.

Konami to showcase Def Jam Rapstar and new Castlevania at Eurogamer

Konami is the latest publisher to commit to October’s Eurogamer Expo – and they’ll be bringing three games for attendees to play. Def Jam Rapstar, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Saw II: Flesh & Blood and will all be on offer to Expo-goers, giving them the chance to try them out before they’re released in autumn.

Def Jam Rapstar can be simply summed up as an urban music version of Singstar, with some top hip-hop stars lending their tunes to the game.  But it’s more than that, and will also feature community tools that’ll allow players to upload videos of themselves rapping and dancing while playing, so wannabe hip hop stars take note!

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow brings the series into the world of 3D action for the first time and big things are expected from it. The main character, Gabriel, is voiced by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle.

Finally, Saw II: Flesh & Blood, is based on the film series, taking place between the second and third movies.  We can no doubt expect it to feature some gruesome puzzles!

Managing Director of Eurogamer, Rupert Loman, is pleased Konami will be attending the expo:

“It’s great to have Konami onboard with such a fantastic line up, particularly one that demonstrates the eclectic mix of games that will be on show and, most importantly, playable.”

Eurogamer takes place from October 1st to 3rd at Earls Court in London. Are any Train2Game students going, and if so, which one these games do you want to play first?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forum.

Interesting research into game facial animations

Emotions in games: More sophisticated than this.

Research by the University of Abertay into facial expressions could hold the key to making computer game characters with more realistic facial animations and emotions.

Robin Sloan, a PhD student and lecturer based in the University’s Institute of Arts, Media and Computer Games, has devised a set of rules that could help portray a more convincing facial animations and emotions. These rules will no doubt be very useful to Train2Game students, especially the Artist & Animators!

(Game Designers and Game Developers: you can read on, or watch the impressive F1 2010 Developer Diary that was pointed out yesterday)

The study involved a series of experiments examining how the upper and lower regions of the face move during expressions including happiness, surprise and anger.

The aim was to make every stage of the choreography as believable as possible. Actors were used in order to study realistic expressions induced by genuine emotions.

It was found that for sadness to look real, it needs to lead from the upper face with, the furrowing of the brow and lowering of the eyes should occurring before the mouth corners turn downward. If this expression unfolds the other way round, the study found it looked childlike or faked. (I’ve found the latter often occurs during Dragon Age: Origins, though the rest of the game is excellent!)

Similarly, for anger, initiating the expression with the upper face works best in practice with the lower face following thereafter – rather than gritting one’s teeth alone.

Choreography can also affect how clear the emotions are when observed by audiences, such as the gamer. For instance, disgust animations may look fairly authentic when the upper face leads, but the lowering of the brow can result in the expression being confusable with anger. In this case, leading with the lower face creates a more distinct disgust expression.

The team also studied emotional expression transitions, for example from happiness into sadness, or sadness into anger. Robin Sloan explains the findings:

“What we found in this second stage of the study was, for example with surprise into happiness, if the upper face moved before the lower face, this could result in an insincere happy expression which could be viewed as an exaggeration or, indeed, fake. This could be useful if animators deliberately wanted to create a fake smile, but would otherwise be unhelpful.

“On the other hand, when the lower face led the movement in this transition, the overall animation appeared much more believable. Likewise, for happiness into sadness, upper face leading seemed clear and credible, whereas leading with the lower face seemed childish or sarcastic, as if displaying an interpretation of sadness rather than genuinely portraying the emotion.”

He continued: “While much is known about the appearance and perception of emotional facial expressions, researchers and professionals still struggle to create perceptually believable animated characters. For example, films such as Polar Express and Beowulf are ‘performance-captured’ where the performance of human actors is transferred onto computer animated characters.

“However, the aesthetic results of this technique have not been fully embraced by the public, as it appears that audiences view the characters as fake and unrealistic. Indeed, we are often more likely to believe in characters from more traditional animation films such as Toy Story or Shrek – animations which are carefully crafted by teams of animators.

“While the computer animation research community is quite rightly interested in the technical possibilities of performance capture, we wanted to highlight the fact that traditional animation can still play an important role in research, and to show that an artistic approach to animation can yield tangible research findings. We feel that our research could, for instance, have implications for the development of believable computer game characters, as an understanding of what makes for believable facial expression animation can boost their credibility.”

Mr Sloan hopes that the results could be useful for Games Designers, Game Developers and Games Animators – like Train2Game students – seeking to create more believable and, more interactive characters.

The research was published in the Journal of Computer Animation and Virtual Worlds.

So, Train2Game universe,  what do you think of the study? How much have you thought about how animation works in your games? And what research do you do before animating characters?

As usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.

Jackson estate forces changes to ‘Dancing Zombie’

RIP Dancing Zombie...again.

The Michael Jackson inspired Dancing Zombie is to be pulled from the delightful Plants vs. Zombies.

Popcap told MTV that the move comes after a request made by lawyers representing the late King of Pop.

“The Estate of Michael Jackson objected to our use of the ‘dancing zombie’ in Plants vs. Zombies based on its view that the zombie too closely resembled Michael Jackson.

After receiving this objection, PopCap made a business decision to retire the original ‘dancing zombie’ and replace it with a different ‘dancing zombie’ character for future builds of Plants vs. Zombies on all platforms. The phase-out and replacement process is underway.”

Interestingly, Dancing Zombie’s character description says “Any resemblance between Dancing Zombie and persons living or dead is purely coincidental”

Plants vs. Zombies was released on the PC in May 2009 – two months before Michael Jackson’s death – and reached the iPhone earlier this year. The tower defence game will hit Xbox Live in September.

Dancing Zombie will be ditching the ‘Thriller’ look in favour of a disco inspired outfit. What are the odds on influence from Disco Stu?

So, Train2Game universe, what do you think of the move? Do you think the Jackson estate was justified to call for Dancing Zombie to be changed? Or is it a mountain out of a molehill? And here’s an interesting one, what would you do if your independent title was threatened with legal action for one reason or another? Is it something you’ve even considered?

As usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.

Essential viewing: F1 2010 Developer Diary

Here’s a treat for every Train2Game student. Be you a Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist and Animator, you’ll find F1 2010 Developer Diary from Codemasters very interesting indeed.

Ok, so maybe you don’t like Formula 1, but even if that is the case you just have to appreciate the level of detail these developers, designers and artists have achieved and how they’ve gone about doing it.

The video takes you behind the scenes at Codemasters Birmingham and reveals the amount of painstaking work put into recreating the cars and circuits. The F1 2010 Developers have even enlisted help from Formula 1 driver Anthony Davidson who has been able to provide expert advice. In the video he says:

“Driving the real world circuits enables me to give that impression to the guys creating the game, there’s all these details that only a driver would know about.”

“For instance, turn eight in Spa; I know straight away any car I have ever driven there always understeers and it’s knowing that kind of detail as a driver that you can get over into the game. The circuits feel really spot on.”

It really is an interesting insight into the world of video game development and I really recommend every Train2Game student takes five minutes to watch it.

What do you think of the video? How would you feel about needing to conduct that much research before designing a game? Does anyone want to help develop racing games? And finally, I can’t be the only one looking forward to getting hold of this in September can I?

As usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.

Valve offer free game after ban blunder

Nothing says "I'm sorry" like zombies.

Well that’s certainly one way to apologise. Valve has offered not one, but two, copies of Left 4 Dead 2 to the 12,000 players that were accidently banned from playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 via Steam.

Poor, innocent gamers found themselves banned from online servers and the internet was flooded with forum posts pleading for help. Alas, Valve support staff could only tell these poor gamers that they were unable to help. It looked like many wouldn’t be able to play Modern Warfare 2 on PC anymore.

However, each of these players can now get back to shooting each other again, and have the option to pick up two free copies of Left 4 Dead 2. So, now they can shoot zombies too.   Players affected by the ban received an e-mail from Valve CEO Gabe Newell which said:

“Recently, your Steam account was erroneously banned from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

This was our mistake, and I apologize for any frustration or angst it may have caused you.

The problem was that Steam would fail a signature check between the disk version of a DLL and a latent memory version. This was caused by a combination of conditions occurring while Steam was updating the disk image of a game. This wasn’t a game-specific mistake. Steam allows us to manage and reverse these erroneous bans (about 12,000 erroneous bans over two weeks).

We have reversed the ban, restoring your access to the game. In addition, we have given you a free copy of Left 4 Dead 2 to give as a gift on Steam, plus a free copy for yourself if you didn’t already own the game.”

Well isn’t that nice?  It’s not often you see a Games Developer Apologise for their mistakes? Do Train2Game students think that other developers – we won’t name specific examples of course – could learn a thing or two from Valve? And have you ever thought about what you’d do if there was a mistake in one of your games?

As usual, leave your thoughts here or on the Train2Game forums.

Starcraft II finally launches

It has been one of the most anticipated PC games in years, but finally, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty has launched worldwide – and only 12 years after the original Sci-Fi RTS was released!

Here in the UK, a midnight launch took place at Game on central London’s Oxford Street, with hundreds of fans queuing up in order to be among the first to get their hands on a boxed copy of the game.

Of course, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is also available as a digital download, but many still see the advantages of buying PC games on a disc.

It’s widely predicted that Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty – the first instalment of a three part sequel – will sell exceptionally well for a PC title. Unfortunately, we may not know exactly how well the Sci-Fi RPG sells, because digital downloads are not tracked in the UK by Chart-Track.

Analysts suggest that Starcraft II could sell 7 million units and generate $350 million in sales which would nicely make up the reported $100 million the game cost to produce.

So, Train2Game students, have any of you already got your hands on Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty? If so what do you think?  Would you prefer it in a box or as a download? And what would you give to someday work on a massive title like Starcraft II?

As usual, leave your thoughts either here or on the Train2Game forum.