Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy Designer Diary #2

In the second edition of our designer diaries, Raven Software discusses animation and level design.

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Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
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In Jedi Academy you can create your own custom Jedi--complete with dual lightsabers--if you wish.
In Jedi Academy you can create your own custom Jedi--complete with dual lightsabers--if you wish.

Jedi Academy is Raven Software's follow-up to Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, the popular first-person action game released in 2002. You play a Jedi trainee who is guided by Kyle Katarn, the hero of Jedi Knight II, and Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Star Wars series of motion pictures. Jedi Academy recently went gold, so the designers have decided to share their thoughts on the game's development.

Jedi Academy in Motion

Jarrod Showers
Lead Animator, Raven Software

The biggest change from this game over previous games I've worked on is how we handled our cinematics. We've been able to animate whole scenes, with their level surroundings and vocals, to present the story in a more cinematic fashion. As animators, we've taken a more active role in how cinematics are presented. In the past, we've created many small animations that were linked up in a sequence. For instance, to open a door, there would be a walking animation and a separate door-opening animation, and the scripter would call these in the proper order and time. Everything also had to be animated in place, including walk cycles, only to be moved by the game engine. With Jedi Academy, we were able to get the entire level imported into our 3D animation software and actually animate the whole scene as if it were a mini-movie. For the viewer, this means we are able to have characters interact with each other--and the environment--to a much greater degree. In the above example, we are able to animate a character actually walking through the level and up to a door--and then opening it--all in one seamless sequence.

You'll fight battles in many different environments.
You'll fight battles in many different environments.

I really enjoyed working on some of these new elements, such as when I had characters pick each other up or use the environment to scale pipes and such. As these cinematics progressed, we were able to help out in other areas as well, like being able to set up our own cameras and add dialogue and sound effects to the game engine. That way, we could tweak out an entire scene without needing the assistance of another department. Overall, the cinematics took longer to put together and animate, but it saved time elsewhere for the scripters, who would usually be stringing animations together and painstakingly tweaking the timing.

I also had a blast modeling and animating characters that everyone knows and loves. Bringing the rancor to life was a fun and exciting challenge. Working on creatures and aliens is very different after coming from the realistic world of Soldier of Fortune. I couldn't believe all the great resources that were available to us so that we could be as authentic as possible. There are references for everything in the Star Wars universe! When we first started the project, I was the only animator working on the game until we made two more great additions to the animation team. We added Rick Lico, with his totally fun action style and game experience, and Nick Maggiore, with his technical expertise and cinematography background. We had a well-rounded team that worked great together, and we were able to learn from one another in the process.

One of my favorite game moments is when the player chooses either dark side or light side. This is mainly because of the variety of emotions I was able to portray with the same main character. I hope you enjoy the cinematics in Jedi Academy. I know I do!

Designing the World of Jedi Academy

Justin Negrete
Level Designer, Raven Software

The frigid planet of Hoth awaits you.
The frigid planet of Hoth awaits you.

First off, I have to say it is a true honor to be continuing the legacy of the Jedi Knight series of games. Star Wars is an awesome and expansive universe to design a game for. Our aim, during the design process, was to create varied gameplay with larger levels--and each with a unique look. We really want to make you feel as though you are learning and growing as you play, so a great deal of testing has been done to ensure this progression is tight. But that's not to say the beginning levels are easy!

One of the coolest design aspects of the game is the variation of unique environments. From broken-up temples and desert canyons, to dungeons and gritty factories, this brings a whole new freshness to the Star Wars universe. But we still mixed in some well-known locales to keep it familiar. Probably one of our most challenging areas, in terms of design, was the Hoth area. We obtained as much authentic source material as we could to make Hoth as accurate as possible.

We also wanted to make the game more detailed than Jedi Knight II, so the creation of more models was a must. We could get more detail and cleaner texturing on a model built in a 3D application than we could with our traditional level editor. The combination of updated tools and bigger design goals provides the player with an awesome Star Wars experience.

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