Eurogamer Expo: Enslaved Developer Session with Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West hits the shelves today, and after getting a decent hands on with it at Eurogamer, I hope its successful title for developers Ninja Theory. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West has been received positively by the gaming press, and arguably rightly so given the effort that Ninja Theory went through to produce their latest title.

Ninja Theory Chief Designer and the main man behind Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Tameem Antoniades hosted a Sunday developer session at the Eurogamer Expo, and it was very interesting indeed. The session provided a massive insight into the development and production of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and was well received by the audience. Many who attended the Ninja Theory developer session had been queuing for up to an hour, but the wait was surely worth it!

Tameem Antoniades provided a very interesting talk, which would have been useful to any Train2Game student. However, if you didn’t manage to make it to the Ninja Theory developer session, fear not, for I was there. So here’s a look at the development of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

For those unfamiliar with Ninja Theory, they’re a development studio based in Cambridge, and were responsible for the highly acclaimed, PlayStation 3 exclusive, Heavenly Sword back in 2007. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is their first multiplatform title but it looks set to improve upon the already excellent story telling of Heavenly Sword. Ninja Theory’s next title will be DmC, a reboot of the Devil May Cry series.

But for the past three years, the main focus of Ninja Theory has been on producing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. To start the Eurogamer developer session, Tameem explained that the original concept of Enslaved was to produce a game based on “a buddy road movie” exploring the relationship between two main characters.

But of course, an idea alone can’t make a game, so what Ninja Theory did next was to produce a concept trailer. Tameem explained that this trailer was pieced together by Ninja Theory, using various clips from unrelated films and TV programmes to show the main themes behind Enslaved.

The concept trailer is three years old, and we in the audience were lucky enough to be the first people to see it in public. The trailer was very cinematic, and full of robots, martial arts and Eastern themes. At this point the game was called Monkey: Journey to the West, but needed to be changed to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West for copyright reasons.

We then got to see another trailer for Enslaved, and this too was a first public viewing. In order to try and get a publisher on board, Ninja Theory produced a CGI trailer for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. This was produced almost three years ago and shows that the original concept of Enslaved was a lot darker than the game that’s been released today, but it was very impressive nonetheless. Tameem Antoniades stressed the importance of game studios producing good concept trailers, explaining that “Better trailers are more likely to be signed up” If that isn’t sound advice for Train2Game students, I don’t know what is!

The Ninja Theory Chief Designer then went on to discuss developing the art style of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, complete with plenty of images to illustrate the changes that occurred during development.

In the beginning, Monkey looked a lot more like a primate, with Tameem explaining that the character was originally based on a Gorilla in Barcelona zoo. The concept art for Trip was rather different to the somewhat innocent character in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The original designers were darker, more gothic, some would say sexier: the concept designs of Trip in a very low top raised many an eyebrow.

Tameem explained that when Ninja Theory were casting for the role of Trip, they sent this concept out work to agencies in order to get women who actually looked like the character. However, the developers were surprised when 40 girls turned up, in costume, in the same outfit as the rather oddly dressed Trip! Who knew that actresses were so enthusiastic about playing roles in games?

Next, we were shown concept art for locations in Enslaved, and once again these looked very impressive. Tameem was keen to explain how Ninja Theory wanted the concept art to be evocative. Of course the next step was to take the concept art and put it in a 3D environment. These art style tests involved creating 3D landscapes with cameras panning all around them in order to make sure they had the right feel for developing further. All this effort before even a single game level is produced!

We also got to see some exclusive character style and animation tests that were produced early in the development of Enslaved.  Tameem explained that this was much like casting the characters, with every movement they make in-game based on these original tests. Naturally, Monkey’s movement style is rather beast like with his own distinct style of running and jumping. Meanwhile, a more comic character in the form of Pigsy is slower, and bumbles a lot more. Still, in these basic tests it was entirely possible to see that the characters were already taking shape…and that was before the actors got involved.

Ninja Theory are well known for their use of actors and motion capture in games and Enslaved is no different. We got to see yet another exclusive video showing Andy Serkis – who plays Monkey – performing tests for motion capture in order to research facial movements. This involved the actor spouting random lines, most of which made no sense whatsoever! Tameem explained that when it comes to the characters faces, the only thing that’s added artificially is the eyes.

We also got to see plenty of clips showing the actors doing what they do best, acting! It was amazing to see how the main actors were interacting with each other, and items around them, then seeing their movements translated perfectly onto the characters in the in-game world. Motion capture in games surely has to be the way forward. The acting in Enslaved could equal that of any film.

Tameem closed the Eurogamer developer session by discussing writing for Enslaved, and the influence of Hollywood screen writer Alex Garland. We were shown an early scene from the game in which Monkey and Trip needed to get over a bridge. The dialogue went on for awhile, and Tameem explained how Garland pointed how scenes, in both films and games, should conform to “one scene for one purpose” We then got to see the final cut of the scene, with flowed a lot better than the original version. Apparently, Antoniades and Garland then repeated this process for most scenes in the game.

As you can clearly see, a lot of work went into producing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, with development from concept to release taking three years. If you want to learn even more about the game, you can take a look at this developer diary from Ninja Theory.

Still not had your lust for information from developers tended to? Then why not read about the Shogun 2: Total War developer session from Mike Simpson of The Creative Assembly.

So, what are your thoughts on the Enslaved developer session? Does it provide you with a better insight into how games production works? Has it made you keener to produce games?

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

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