We got to play a large chunk of the game early, we chatted with Dan Vondrakk, Project Lead for Raven Software during its development, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a game that comes from both a set of movies with a distinct look and three decades of comic books, two distinctly visual mediums. So we sat down for one last chat with Senior Technical Artist Doug Smith to talk about bringing the visuals from the movie and comics to home consoles.
Newsarama: Obviously, the art and graphics are a big part of video games, especially in the current generation. What is your primary duty as Senior Technical Artist?
Doug Smith: Well, I end up touching a lot of the different aspects of art in the game; I did effects, shaders, environment, environment and character lighting; I end up helping on pretty much all areas of the art.
NRAMA: For this game, you’re using character models and environments based on real-life people and places from the movie that are in turn based on years of comics. How does that change your job as an artist?
DS: You know, it’s a fine balance, cause you want to be true to the characters and true to the movie, so you do try to use the actors if you can. We ended up getting a laser scan of Hugh Jackman that the movie studio provided. We used that as a foundation, then made it a little more like the comic book, added a little more of hero proportions. We did that for a lot of characters, used a foundation of reality, then kind of upsized that reality.
NRAMA: Have you been a comic book fan? Are you a comic fan, or has your exposure to these characters been more through the multimedia stuff?
DS: Actually, I’ve been in the game industry for awhile, and I started working on a Marvel Comics fighting game when I was working at [now defunct] EA Chicago. So I had a background in it before this game, but that was my big exposure to Marvel Comics. So coming to the Wolverine team at Raven was a good fit for me, cause it was just focusing on a different area. Since then, I’ve gotten more and more into comics. I just recently picked up and went through the Windsor-Smith Weapon X comic and it’s amazing how much we were able to pick up and fit into this. You’ll go through, for example, and find audio logs, and you’ll hear some from Dr. Cornelius, who is in the comic. I think the fans will pick up on all the little things. We even have the helmet from that book that he puts on and get a little nod to it.
NRAMA: It was mentioned that each different environment uses a different model, so we’ll have a few different costumes and homages in that in addition to unlockable costumes right?
DS: Yeah, some of the ones you’ll see are from the movie, then there are some unlockable costumes from the comics. The Weapon X escape sequence was our own take on it, so we tried to stay true to the movie but through a little extra in from the comics. The movie did a pretty good job on that already though.
NRAMA: What was it like getting to design a Sentinel?
DS: The Sentinel was an amazing challenge, cause you have Wolverine who in the movies is a six-foot guy, and you’ve got him fighting a 200-foot robot. In terms of the technical side of things, in terms of resources, the Sentinel is pretty much a walking level. He’s got the same polygon count and different textures on him. So it was a big challenge to get him on screen, attacking Wolverine, and moving and expressing in a robotic way, then have Wolverine be such a badass that he can actually take him down. That was a huge challenge, but we really worked on it till we got it right.
NRAMA:A lot of times with games and animation, if there’s a piece of environment you can interact with there’s a notable difference in shading or color; I didn’t see that in this game. There are some nice surprises of environment that you can interact with. How did you overcome that?
DS: So working with the Unreal Engine it thinks of things that are static in the environment and things that are dynamic [that you can interact with] differently, and lights them differently, so that’s what you’ve picked up on before. We worked around that in a number of ways. Our characters each have a light rig that we built that follows them around and tries to respond as best it can to the environment. Actual interactive environment we had our artist go in and hand develop each piece of lighting on it so it completely matched and it worked out really well! But yeah, we spent a LOT of time on that, so it’s fantastic that you picked up on that. We wanted to hide all these things that you can interact with; we didn’t want the player hit over the head with it like you are in a cartoon.
NRAMA: Everybody I talk to that works on a game says they go into a project with one thing in particular that they really want to get right. What was the one thing you had to nail with this game?
DS: So, we wanted to have the game have a filmic look. When I started looking at it we hadn’t spent a lot of time on what’s called post-process. The game actually spends a good amount of its resources after it’s done rendering the world doing a lot of the same techniques that are used in film: color correction, de-saturating, and make it look like this really nice stylized image. So we went after that really hard to make sure we had this really cinematic, filmic style, and it really made a huge difference. If you see the before and after shots, it’s night and day. If you saw any of the early press shots that we had, they were all in engine, we didn’t use Photoshop or anything for any post-process.
NRAMA: Is that something you’ll only really get the feel of if you’re on a Hi-Def display?
DS: Well, Standard Def is the same game, just in a lower resolution, so the post-processing will still be there, just a little less detail. Post-process though is really a current gen feature, and even then it’s something that a lot of studios are only starting to focus on now. We pushed this really hard, and I would consider it one of our big successes.
NRAMA: Collectibles are always a big part of a game like this, and we’ve of course been focused on some of these other costumes. What can you say about those?
DS: The Brown and Tans are in the game, and they gore up really nicely; you’ll see him take damage really nicely in those. Those alternate costumes become the skin layer, so they’ll regenerate like his skin does, so you’re not running around naked through half the level.
NRAMA: How involved were you in the feral senses mode, where the colors get changed to highlight goals and objects in the environment?
DS: Yeah, I helped on that a bit. Feral senses is another thing done with post process. We wanted to color code our world, but we wanted it to be really visceral and have it make sense with what Wolverine does. So there’s this scent trail that you’ll see leading you along your way. Later, in Escape from Weapon X, you’ll see footprints on the ground that you can only see in Feral Sense to help you track your prey. We really tried to push it into the gameplay so it’s not just a crutch we had to identify things in the environment.
NRAMA: So what’s YOUR favorite part of the game?
DS: One of the things I think we really nailed, I love the Weapon X Escape. He gets out of the tank, he’s angry, and he’s just slaughtering guys, breaking out of this cell, and it’s just awesome. You really get a sense of who Wolverine is, he’s powerful, he’s vicious, he’s violent, and it just really worked out well.
NRAMA: Was there anything you wanted to do but the tech or time just wasn’t quite there?
DS: You know, not as much from a tech standpoint, but more from a locale standpoint. We talked about areas we wanted to see that we couldn’t fit into the game; unfortunately, we’re not doing feudal Japan in this one, but who knows, maybe in the future? It’s one of those things, we had enough to say “This is Wolverine” and we wanted to know how to polish the 12-15 hours of gameplay that we had and make it something really special rather than just throwing tons of stuff at it.
NRAMA: One thing that I’ve seen a lot of companies start to do is pushing cinematics in the in-game engine, but here you have both in-game and pre-rendered. What goes into the decision to go one way or the other there?
DS: Yeah, we do have both. I think the thought is, we’re really trying to make our next gen visuals something special. We do have Blur, and we wanted to use them for some of the bigger moments cause it looks so great, but the in-game ones come when we want to keep you more grounded in the game instead of taking you away from it. How can we tell this with gameplay, if we can’t, how can we tell it with and in-game cinematic, and then if we can’t we’ll go somewhere else with it.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine ships Friday, May 1st for all major game platforms. The game discussed in this article is the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC version