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One of the most important aspects of making a game realistic is its graphics -- a core conceit of the generational transitions the console industry is founded on.
And for a game like Infinity Ward and Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, that's even more strongly true; drawing inspiration from what's happening in the world now and bringing it credibly and viscerally to your screen, the Modern Warfare games live and die by visual veracity.
It's particularly worth noting that the Call of Duty games are driven as intensely by character action and interaction as they are by enemy combat -- two major, and complicated artistic problems to tackle.
To find out more about what goes into the visuals of what's already being billed as the biggest game of the year, Gamasutra sat down with Joel Emslie, the game's lead character artist.
Here, he discusses the processes by which the most respected name in war games gets its considerable visual punch:
The name of your game is Modern Warfare. By its nature, the game's characters have to compete with our intrinsic knowledge of the actual modern world we live in, and what we see on the news. How do you approach that as a character artist, along with the practical concerns of making gameplay-readable designs?
Joel Emslie: First and foremost, it's getting animation right. The human eye picks up on everything. It doesn't need very many pixels of movement to realize that something looks fake, so the movement is first and foremost.
We've improved all of our rigging. We've improved the way we make faces. We've really been tightening the screws with what we've been doing this whole time on the PC, Xbox 360, PS3 -- just really stepping it forward each time we make a new game and learning from all the mistakes from last time. But to set it in reality, the first thing is the animations, getting it to move right.
The second thing is that we're always inspired in trying to be as authentic as possible, but to get things to read properly in a combat environment with the fog of war, particles, tracers, and whatever else.
You need to step into a thought process that's almost more from a theatre standpoint. So you're looking at costume design. You're getting parts of your characters to read properly, or to make things look more realistic.
We have texture streaming; that really helps. The variation that we have in this game is a step beyond what I've ever worked with in my career. So we have that fidelity, but fidelity is nothing if you're not using it properly -- the way we lay out our characters, the way we're packing pixels into their arms and legs and packs. We're really pushing how we do ambient occlusion, so the packs and the gear sit on the character properly. They settle in to look more realistic.
You have to feel it's natural. Even getting characters like "Soap" MacTavish to stand out. I've been looking at certain movies for a long time. I'm a huge fan of [2003 war movie] Tears of the Sun. There's a character that caught my eye.
I've always wanted to do a character inspired by that, with a mohawk, which just pops. You can just spot him a mile away. He's a great character. He's in there telling you what to do, and you can spot him, which is great.
We're trying to bring that element into other characters as well, refining their headgear so they stand out, and trying to get them to pop.