Bioware release extended Dragon Age 2 trailer

Bioware have released an extended version of the Dragon Age 2 reveal trailer first revealed at GamesCom. The new Dragon Age 2 ‘Directors Cut’ trailer gives us an extra 42 seconds of CG based Dragon Age goodness.

The video features Dragon Age 2 protagonist Hawke in a one on one battle with what appears to be a demon, with some very big horns. The swordplay and magic show that the hero of Dragon Age two has more than a few tricks up his sleeve when battling the dark forces.

Interestingly, the narration in the video appears to come from Flemeth. Dragon Age: Origins veterans will know Flemeth has a powerful witch of the wilds.

Is it possible Flemeth will have a role in Dragon Age 2?

Dragon Age 2 will be released in the UK on March 11th 2011, as revealed during EA’s GamesCom press conference last week.

While the Dragon Age 2 trailer looks very impressive, it’s highly unlikely that the actual game footage. However, the Dragon Age: Origins trailer at last years E3 didn’t feature in-game footage, but Dragon Age still proved to be a very impressive role playing game. Good news for fans of the series is that it isn’t over yet, with Bioware revealing more DLC for Dragon Age: Origins in the form of Witch Hunt.

But back to Dragon Age 2, you can watch the extended trailer below.

So, Train2Game what do you think of that? Are you looking forward to Dragon Age 2 being released on March 11th? And how effective do you think the Dragon Age 2 trailer is?

You can leave your thoughts about Dragon Age 2 here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Bioware reveal Dragon Age ‘Witch Hunt’ DLC

Bioware have revealed yet more DLC for their highly successful RPG Dragon Age: Origins, a game the Train2Game blog has  heavily praised in previous articles – and deservingly so!

The new downloadable content is called Dragon Age: Witch Hunt, but be warned, if you haven’t finished Dragon Age: Origins this news will reveal massive spoilers about the end of Bioware’s epic role playing game. You have been warned, read on and Dragon Age: Origins will be spoiled for you.

Dragon Age: Witch Hunt takes place a year after the events of the Dragon Age: Origins finally in which the Archdemon was slain and the Darkspawn threat has been vanquished.

One question remains: what happened to Morrigan?

If you’ve finished Dragon Age: Origins (and if you haven’t, you should really have stopped reading by now) you’ll be aware that no matter which one of the multiple story choices you made towards the end of the game, Morrigan leaves straight after the battle with the Archdemon.

Morrigan’s whereabouts have been unknown, but with reports that she has returned to Ferelden you’ll have the opportunity to tie up one of the biggest loose ends from Dragon Age: Origins. The official Dragon Age Witch Hunt site says “But whether you seek answers, revenge, or reconciliation with your lost love, you may find more than you bargained for.”

Will The Warden have the choice to slay Morrigan? Well, yes probably, seeing that many of your companions can be killed by your own hand in the many, many different available plots in the Dragon Age: Origins story.

Dragon Age Witch Hunt is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as downloadable content from September 7th.

So Train2Game, if you played Dragon Age: Origins, are you keen to play this conclusion? Or are you just waiting for Dragon Age 2 now? And do you think all this downloadable content from Bioware is a positive or negative thing?

Leave your thoughts about Dragon Age here on the Train2Game blog or on the Train2Game forum.

[Source –  Dragon Age: Origins offical website]

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.

All Train2Game students should appreciate Dragon Age: Origins

The first details of Dragon Age 2 have come to light today with US magazine Game Informer featuring some impressive artwork on its front cover. In this writers view Dragon Age: Origins was last years top RPG and it still continues to be a very impressive game. Why? The storyline, the setting, the characters and the dialogue are all extremely impressive, making Dragon Age a game that all Train2Game students – be they Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist & Animator – should take notice of. This is especially true of the Games Designers, the people who’ll be writing stories of future games. Though Games Developers and Games Artist & Animators, feel free to read on!

I’m a veteran of Japanese Role Playing Games; there isn’t a Final Fantasy title I haven’t played (Discounting handheld releases.) However, despite my interest in all things fantasy, until earlier this year I hadn’t played a traditional Dungeons & Dragons or Lord of the Rings style RPG. This is despite being rather tempted by World of Warcraft in the past.

I started Dragon Age: Origins for the second time last Friday – that’s six days ago now – and I’ve already managed to spend over 24 hours playing it at the time of writing. Why is this? Well, partially there’s the classic ‘Just one more level/dungeon/search for loot’ factor, but Dragon Age is massively helped along by the fact that the Bioware created Characters just seem so real. This isn’t necessarily graphically, but when it comes to their different personalities, emotions and beliefs, it really feels like you’re engaging in dialogue with a real person

Your companions react realistically when in conversation with your character, no matter what option on the expansive dialogue trees you choose. They can react positively or negatively to not only what you say, but your choices as to how you complete quests in the open world of Ferelden. The sheer amount of effort the Games Designers and writers must have put in to all of the different outcomes is amazing. Of course, we mustn’t forget the Games Artists & Animators who provided Dragon Age: Origins with its look, or the Games Developers that programmed the game.

As I mentioned above, I’ve played plenty of RPG’s but none of them have drawn me in as emotionally as Dragon Age. The clue is in the genre title really – Role Playing – and I’m playing the role of a human female (as opposed to an elf, or a dwarf, or a male) Rogue. I’m starting to think that because of Biowares excellent character development I’m currently being overly consumed by my role.

Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m a red haired noble woman who’s good with a sword and a dagger – If I did I’d probably be locked away in a ‘safe place’ right now, but the combination of the Dragon Age approval system, and  the characters emotions and morals,  mean I’m really having to think about what dialogue options I choose.

This has actually gotten to the point where interactions with one of my party, Alistair, have gotten somewhat awkward. The reason being that he approves so highly of my character he keeps trying to chat her up. And while party members can become engaged in Romance or *ahem* sex, I’d rather my character didn’t get too involved with Alistair. So why is this awkward? Well, to put it bluntly I want my character to let him down gently but at the same time I don’t want to make him feel bad. This is partially because a reduction in approval will make him slightly less use in battle, and partly because he just comes across as a real person with real feelings. Now I know how girls I’ve awkwardly tried to show interest must have felt like…

What was my point? Oh yes, the fact the characters just seem so believable. They really do draw you in.  Dragon Age: Origins really is a brilliant game, and the Games Designers really deserve all the accolades they receive. If you haven’t already, I really recommend playing Dragon Age yourself in order to witness how an epic game should be designed.

So you budding Games Designers (And Developers, and Artists & Animators) How important are characters and storylines to you? Do you think you’d like to attempt anything on the scale of a massive RPG like Dragon Age? Or would you prefer to produce smaller titles?

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

Developing for the disabled gamer

Last Thursday, I had an unfortunate incident on my bicycle which resulted in a strapped up broken finger and the misfortune of needing to wear a sling for a few days. Naturally, this caused me some problems – I could only type using one hand making updating this Train2Game blog and the Train2Game Twitter account a slow affair, cooking became a pain, and worst of all I was extremely limited to what video games were available to keep me entertained over the weekend.

With only one functioning hand, it was impossible to hold a console controller which meant continuing my ride through the American west with Red Dead Redemption was out of the question. It also meant that I couldn’t get my usual fix of Team Fortress 2 on the PC, after all a person needs to move by pushing keys with the left hand and look around by using the mouse in the right. (Or indeed, doing this the other way around if you’re left handed) Thankfully, I managed to keep myself from going crazy in a temporarily game free world thanks to the point and click interface of Dragon Age: Origins which kept me happy for hours on end.

Thankfully I’m out of the sling now and though I still can’t hold a PlayStation controller due to my fingers remaining strapped together, I’m back to happily fragging my clan mates on Team Fortress 2 online servers.

Luckily for me, not being able to play any video game I want is a temporary issue. Unfortunately for the significant minority of people who have disabilities, not being able to play a wide variety of different games is a permanent problem.

However, slowly but surely this tide seems to be turning, with small groups of Games Designers, Games Developers and Games Artist & Animators working with scientists to provide research into – and create – video games for those with disabilities.

Last year, Duke University in North Carolina conducted research into modifying Guitar Hero that allowed it to be played by man with an amputated arm. BBC News reporter Flora Graham explains how it works better than I ever could.

“To play the game, users wear electrodes on their residual muscles, such as those found on their chest and shoulder. The system translates the signals from the electrodes as if they were coming from the game controller, allowing players to strum along, despite not having any hands.”

The researchers also realised that the movements in the game were similar to those required when learning how to use a prosthetic limb, essentially meaning Guitar Hero could in theory be used to teach people how to use their new arms.

In May this year, a video game project called VI Fit was revealed that allows blind gamers to keep in shape. Researchers at the University of Nevada modified a Nintendo Wii for the project which according to Gamesradar;

“Features two games – VI Bowling and VI Tennis – and both can be downloaded for free at vifit.org. The game utilizes Wii remote controllers and a Windows PC with Bluetooth support. Players are instructed throughout the game with the use of both audio and vibrotactile cues”

EA have even got involved with developing games for the disabled, by helping VTree LLC, create a Madden powered title called My Football Game for players such as injured war veterans with physical difficulties.  These are just a handful of a variety of projects that aim to develop games for those with disabilities, there are plenty more of them out there too!

There is a significant audience of disabled people– and according to Popcap, they make up 20% of ‘casual’ gamers – who just want to enjoy their hobby in the same way that the rest of us do. It raises an important issue for Train2Game students, be they Games Designer, Games Developer or even Games Artist & Animator – Do you consider the needs of disabled gamers when you create your games? Or would you like to work on a game designed to be played especially by those with disabilities?

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this once, so as usual, leave your comments here or on the Train2Game forum.

The PC – The ideal platform for Train2Game students?

Dragon Age: proof of a popular PC game

My spiffing Train2Game colleague Gabe recently published a blog about PC gaming, and as what could be described as a ‘hardcore’ PC gamer myself, it got me thinking.

Gabe’s blog came following remarks from Bioware that the PC “is made for gaming” which seemed rather obvious to me. It should of course be obvious to anyone who’s played a Bioware Role Playing Game, be it Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins.

When it comes to these RPG’s, it’s the PC that’s king, and in an interview with CVG, Bioware designer and writing director Daniel Erickson says the numbers speak for themselves.

“Every two or three years we hear the announcement of fantasy being dead, PC gaming being dead and RPGs being dead, and yet, all of the biggest games that ever come out – that set the records – are nearly always PC games, and a lot of them are fantasy games.”

The biggest game in the world is a fantasy, PC, RPG MMO. We all know the drawbacks of PC. We all scream at our boxes and try to make stuff work. But at the same time, the interface is made for games. The mouse/keyboard interface allows so much less restriction [Than consoles]”

Personally, I’ve not experienced Dragon Age: Origins on a console  – I play it on PC – but it’s certainly obvious to me how much easier it must be to play on a PC as you can easily access spells and talents using hot keys 1-9 and the space bar easily pauses the action. I’d imagine the whole process is a bit fiddler using a control pad, but if you can do so, feel free to prove me wrong!

The PC certainly gives Train2Game students, be they Games Designer, Games Developer or Games Artist & Animator, an opportunity to test their skills thanks to the number of games with large modding communities.  Half Life 2 and Fallout 3 are just two games that a loyal fanbase who are giving others the opportunity to try new weapons, new skins or even whole games.  Counter-Strike, one of the most popular online shooters of all time, started as a fan produced Half Life mod and shows that with the right ideas, modding a current game could provide a small studio with a big break.

Some developers even encourage the addition of community content to their games, with Valve perhaps providing the best example of this with Team Fortress 2. Valve have run numerous community competitions calling on fans to create items in the form of weapons and hats with the winners being able to see their creations in game. There seem to be a lot of talented Games Designers out there, and Valve are going to have a tough time deciding on a winner of the most recent contest!

The PC is the most popular gaming platform, partially due to the rise in the popularity of flash games which in itself provides even more opportunities for Train2Game students to create games.

So what do you think? Would you consider creating PC games? Have you already made mods? As usual, let us know here on the Train2Gameforum.