Cold Fear Development Diary #1

Darkworks lead programmer Claude Levastre tells us about the process of creating the creepy action game's unique components.

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Building Cold Fear

By Claude Levastre, Lead Programmer

I am the lead programmer on Cold Fear. At the beginning of the project I worked on the ship's movements and the impact it had on Tom Hansen. We have a very good development team of 10 programmers, all experienced and dedicated.

Rendering Ship Movement

With the Darkwave editor, the game designers have full control of the ship's movement to manage the rhythm of the game.
With the Darkwave editor, the game designers have full control of the ship's movement to manage the rhythm of the game.

We had two main objectives. The first was to create a stormy environment out at sea. The second was to make sure that the player was equipped to fight in this specific environment. Therefore, the challenge was to build a better control scheme than what is usually the norm in horror games.

Creating a Stormy Environment

We were quickly able to make the ship move. But to achieve a more realistic movement we had to develop a complete roll editor. When out at sea, a ship moves both on a vertical axis (roll) and a horizontal one (pitch). Our Darkwave editor allows us to separately generate the pitch and roll following two different curves, and it is the combination of both that creates a realistic movement.

Monitoring Movement

Creating the ship's movement alone was not enough. From a gameplay point of view, it was important to control it step-by-step in order to manage the rhythm of the action and give the game an element of surprise. In the end, the Darkwave system allows us to control everything that happens, just as if we were directing a movie like Titanic or The Perfect Storm. That means that each event falls in place at the right moment at the right place, delivering the best so that the best experience is possible.

New Camera Angles

Once the ship-movement scheme was built, the second challenge was the camera system. We had to efficiently render the movement of the scenery while making sure that the cameras were focused on the character, who is also behaving to compensate at that very movement. For instance, in the early stages of development the camera was constantly going through the walls because of the roll movement. So we had to develop an inertia-control system for the camera, just as if a cameraman is using a steady cam behind the hero.

The whaler offers very different and complex situations, including vast exteriors, like on the main deck, and confined interiors, like in most corridors. Each of these configurations means a specific constraint in terms of the camera.

For a horror game, another innovation is that we have a directing-oriented camera system combined with autonomous cameras that follow the actions of the player. Depending on the action, our directors have 12 camera modes at their disposal to let the tension grow, highlight the atmosphere of a room, or lead the player toward the next event or combat. And of course the player also has the opportunity to switch to the over-the-shoulder view at any moment.

Over-the-Shoulder View

The level designers have access to multiple camera systems. For this interior setting, the level builders focused on creating a dark, movielike atmosphere.
The level designers have access to multiple camera systems. For this interior setting, the level builders focused on creating a dark, movielike atmosphere.

Most horror games put the emphasis on hand-to-hand or close-quarter combat. In Cold Fear, we wanted to create the possibility that the enemy will shoot at you. We wanted to enrich the action gameplay and not have only creatures or mutants to shoot at.

We quickly developed an "over-the-shoulder" view to allow for shooting action and long-range combat. We opted for an autolock-free targeting system so that the player would have total control of his actions and not be frustrated by strong assistance. When compared to other horror games, this OTS camera really unleashes the action and makes it even more immersive. The player can strafe and move back while firing until the very last moment before being caught, which makes the combat more interesting and more tactical. It also makes contact with the creatures even more impressive and stressful. The camera systems and the OTS view prevent the player from being frustrated by the view of his game. This improvement gives the player the ability to fight the way he likes and creates a very immersive experience.

Managing Character Interactions With the Environment

In Cold Fear the characters spontaneously shift with the movements of the ship until the deck reaches a certain angle. At that point, they fall and begin to slide. While sliding, Tom can still turn back, stop himself from falling by catching hold of the hull, and continue shooting.

To achieve the best possible visual quality, the characters' animations had to perfectly match the movements of the ship. The characters must shift and compensate in all directions: forward, backward, left, right, and in all intermediary directions. Once you add them up, this gives us a total of nine animations that have to be mixed together to create a movement that constantly follows the deck's angle variations. This required us to implement nine times the animations that you'd find in the average third-person game. Even if we managed to use some techniques like Inverse Kinematics, we still have 250 animations for Tom and 150 for some enemies, not including compensation animations. Our animators did a tremendous job to achieve such a result.

The game engine manages the impact of the moving environment on all entities: compensation, fall, and slide. It's incredibly dynamic. Everything is rendered in real time, and even the corpses are still affected by roll movements.

Action

Intense action will be a key component in the Cold Fear experience.
Intense action will be a key component in the Cold Fear experience.

Having good animations was a key issue in Cold Fear, but we also wanted the game to be able to show many enemies on the same screen. So we optimized the game again and again to reduce the size of the animations in the memory, with good results. In some scenes, we have a dozen enemies, including mercenaries, mutants, and exocels, all interacting with each other and with the environment. This allows for really intense action sequences.

What I Like in Cold Fear

Cold Fear offers a never-before-seen visual experience in terms of animation richness. The interaction between the storm and the characters that are on the deck sometimes creates some really breathtaking moments. And on top of that, we managed to offer some really intense action sequences featuring far more enemies than in most horror games.

The player has no time for relief in Cold Fear; it is this mix of strong atmosphere and intense action I am the most proud of.

Designing Cold Fear

By Arnaud Barros, Lead Artist

I am lead 3D artist on the project, and I mainly work on the 3D scenery and environmental FX production. I also manage the production of the characters. Cold Fear requested the work of around 20 artists for those aspects of the game alone, not including the teams working on animations and cinematics.

The Sea Is a Living Environment

The Darkworks particle editor can display thousands of particles. It was used to create the sea foam seen above deck.
The Darkworks particle editor can display thousands of particles. It was used to create the sea foam seen above deck.

From an artistic point of view, I concentrated my efforts on the environment animation in order to make it as realistic and fascinating as possible. So I studied everything that was at my disposal regarding sea storms: documentaries, photos… I was seeking to identify all the visual elements that would create the feeling of a boat moving on a raging sea.

Then we had to create all the animations and objects' behavior in order to make the general impression even more realistic. This includes the waves, foam, and rain, and all the hanging objects like lifeboats, cables, or corpses. Many objects react to the rolling of the ship. Lifeboats help bring realism, but some objects can hurt Tom, like this big crate on the rear deck of the ship.

A Seamless Environment

Right at the beginning, most objects' behaviors were scripted, but we gradually replaced them with physics. It was really satisfying to see some elements of the environment become real parts of the gameplay. The most relevant example is the breakers that can wound the player or carry away the enemy. We implemented the same behavior on big cables and other hanging elements. I really enjoy it when the huge crate on the main deck of the whaler crashes into the hero. Of course we used all those elements again when we created the oil rig.

The Perfect Storm

I am quite proud of the weather effects: rain, water sprinkles, the foam of the breakers… We improved our Dark FX tool to efficiently render those huge waves. Now when you get caught in a breaker, there is foam everywhere, thousands of particles fill the screen, and you are really blinded. The most difficult part was to create a breaker that would look realistic no matter the camera angle. As we don't control the player's point of view, we could not cheat with this effect.

There are other aspects of the game I really enjoy, like how the wind is handled, for instance. It's something you have to take into account when using a flamethrower, because you could end up with a backdraft and lose some precious life points, if not worse.

Outside the Whaler

There are many things conveying immersion on the boat. From some places you can see the whole rear or front of the ship. Sometimes it can evoke the feeling of vertigo, standing 35 meters high over the raging sea (the boat is also 100 meters long). You can also hear some cracklings and rattling when the roll is at its maximum. It really makes you feel that the boat is about to sink.

Inside the Whaler

Even if the interiors are purposely nearby, there are many elements that create the feeling of movement on the ship. For example, corpses and the enemies compensate and lights flicker when something hits the hull.

Many objects on the ship will react realistically to the pitching of the waves.
Many objects on the ship will react realistically to the pitching of the waves.

There's another moment I really like. There's a flooded room inside the whaler where we managed to render in 3D the swirls of the water in a really spectacular way. When you fire a bullet it creates swirls and sprays on the water. When you use an automatic rifle it makes the gunfights in water really fun. The water also reacts when a grenade explodes, generating huge sprays that fill the whole screen!

Setting up the Scene

We chose to create a fully rusted ship to fit with the gore aspect and the blood. We also created some very specific areas to even further the gore ambiance, like with the propellers or whale-sawing rooms.

What I like in Cold Fear

There are many aspects of Cold Fear I really like. But as an artist, what I appreciate most is the good level of interaction there is between the visual environment and the gameplay. The waves can crush the player. If a character [engulfed] in flames enters the water, it will extinguish the fire and the electricity will propagate in the water. All these elements make Cold Fear very coherent and visually immersive.

Animating Cold Fear

By Antonin Delboy, Lead Animator

I'm the lead 3D animator on Cold Fear. I set up the roll system for the characters with Claude. With a team of three great animators, I also handle the production of all game character animations.

As an animator, Cold Fear is a great project to work on because the motion and animation are at the core of the concept, either through the environment or by the impact of the setting on the characters. Cold Fear allowed me to innovate and experiment with new techniques of animation.

For each basic move, Darkworks animators have designed four to eight additional animations to fit with the movements of the boat.
For each basic move, Darkworks animators have designed four to eight additional animations to fit with the movements of the boat.

During the project, all the technical decisions were taken in favor of animation, both in terms of quality and quantity, which is very rare on this kind of project. The programmer team also developed very useful tools for us.

Cold Fear: An Ambitious Project

Cold Fear is very ambitious and technical. With the rolling, we had to set up a system that allows mixing nine directions of each animation, depending on the angle of the boat.

The Production of the Animations

A basic animation was produced with 3D Studio Max software. With Inverse Kinematics we then created the animations in nine directions: in the front, behind, on the sides, and the intermediary directions. As we explained earlier, the engine calculated the level of compensation of the character depending on the angle of the boat.

Each motion of the character is made up of basic animations and compensation animations. Sometimes, more than 45 animations are mixed up together to produce a movement. With the animation team, we produced more than 900 animations for the characters in Cold Fear, which makes the game very rich. When including the compensation animations, we have more than 5,000 possible motions.

For the compensation animations, we programmed some Inverse Kinematics in the game to free some memory. We had to get rid of many animations that had already been produced and replace them with dynamically generated animations. It was pretty tough for the animators. But each time an animation was automatically generated and had a malfunction, we decided just to keep the animation that had been produced by the animators. That way we could preserve the quality of the animations as the project went on and also free additional memory.

Variety of Animations, Personal Behaviors

At an artistic level, what I like on the human characters are small details, such as the character reacting to the direction of the wind and protecting himself by putting his hand in front of his face. Dead bodies in motion are really great too, and really add to the atmosphere of the game.

Tom's animations, such as protecting himself from sea spray, will depend on factors of the environment, such as wind.
Tom's animations, such as protecting himself from sea spray, will depend on factors of the environment, such as wind.

But to customize the animations, our main innovation was with the additives animations system. Additives animations allow customization of a character by adding a behavior onto his movements. The behavior adds itself randomly on an existing animation to create a new, unique movement. For instance, we can add an additional dodge movement, so when the player begins to shoot at the enemy, the enemy can use his dodge move regardless of his current state (idle, running, aiming, and so on). Another example is the electrocution behavior, which makes the character shake. We also applied this system to the bullet-impact system.

What is great with additives animations is that it can produce combinations--movements that we animators would have never anticipated. So, each player can potentially encounter some unique reactions from enemies in Cold Fear.

What I like in Cold Fear

What I like the most in Cold Fear is that animations are essential and never underrated. Everybody made great effort on this aspect so that the game features both great quality and terrific animations.

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