Ninja Theory Play Interview: Uncut
Play: It’s kind of amazing how much the game matches the colour palette of your concept art. Was that an important feature of Enslaved for you?
Tameem Antoniades: Heavenly Sword was so colourful and bright and we really wanted to go against the trend of greys and browns. We did watch this documentary called Life After People about what the world would look like when people are gone and it’s true that in few hundred years the world is unrecognisable. We wanted to give that sense of, almost, hope because nature finds its way in the end and it recovers, but it’s also quite desolate because most of the people you see are corpses. They’re calcified corpses like in Pompeii. So, it’s a bit sad as well.
Play: Would you say that the art style and animation are all there to make Enslaved as expressive as possible and to tie the gameplay with the cut scenes more?
Antoniades: On Heavenly Sword we did a lot of work on facial expressions, but it was very staccato, so you would have your gameplay and then you’d have the cut scenes. I think that it did feel like they were separate parts of the game and as much as possible we wanted to blend them in together. So we’re doing more with the dialogue bleeding out of the cut scenes into the gameplay. A lot of the story is told while you’re playing the game. We’re using things like partial animations to add more body language to the story while you’re playing. It really has been an exercise in trying to make the story all-encompassing and not something that’s restricted to cut scenes.
Play: You’ve done even more work with your motion capture this time, but did you get a chance to chat with Quantic Dream about Heavy Rain while you were still working with Sony?
Antoniades: Actually no. I think it’s inevitable that games will go down this route because the technology is proven now. Especially with Avatar, which has shown that you can do believable CG characters. I think in flashes Heavenly Sword also showed that you could do it in real time. So, I do think that it’s something that’s inevitable, that will spread throughout the industry. But the technology moves forward very, very quickly. We were always looking for new ways to exploit it. One of the things we’re doing with Enslaved is adding the facial deformation you would get from the faces and adding some of that to the bodies so that you can see the bodies tense, the muscles stretch the way they should do.
Play: As motion capture techniques have evolved have you been tempted to go back and re-shoot elements of the game?
Antoniades: We’re actually doing a lot of re-editing based on the story. We play through the whole game with the scenes that we’ve captured, but we captured all the scenes a year ago, so as we’ve developed the levels further certain story beats need emphasising. What we’ve actually done is re-appropriate a lot of motion capture and you won’t really notice it in the game because the freedom that motion capture gives you is that you can grab moments from different parts, put them in new scenes and reconstruct those scenes. It’s not something that we anticipated doing, but Alex [Garland, writer of Enslaved], because he’s a producer on a lot of movies, he’s seen a lot of re-editing, ADR and setting up different camera shots to make the story land with the viewer. We’ve been going through that process with Alex a lot. Ideally, in the future, as motion capture gets cheaper to do and better we will be able to just capture things in the studio. Anytime we need something we can just say, ‘OK, let’s shoot that scene’. That’s something you can’t really do in films.
Play: Would you say you’re approaching motion capture in a very different way to everybody else then?
Antoniades: I think that a lot of games treat performances as a technical exercise where often they capture the body and the voice separately. Someone in a recording studio does the voice and someone then acts to that voice in the motion capture setup and then even the facial mapping is done as a separate pass. So someone acts out or animates create the facial stuff. We really believe that the way you get believable scenes and drama is to get actors on set and capture everything so they’re playing off each other. That’s when you get the nuances and the little unexpected that you would see in a good movie, but you don’t see in videogames. We are still pushing down that road.
Play: Do you feel like you’re under less pressure now as a multiplatform developer than you were with Heavenly Sword being first party?
Antoniades: I guess. I think things were different on Heavenly Sword because it as the launch of the PlayStation 3 and there was that really bad PR day that Sony had at one point. I think that a lot of the games that were announced back then were tainted by that negativity about the price of the console and the things that people were saying about it. There was enormous pressure on us back then and that’s why we’ve kept quite quiet and this game has stayed under the radar for as long as we possibly could so that we could concentrate on making the game instead of making lots of demos. Every three to six months we were doing tech demos and it’s a relief to be out of that.
Play: The PlayStation studio community seems really strong now though. Did you get a chance to share ideas and air troubles with the likes of Naughty Dog or Insomniac?
Antoniades: Not really, when we were working on PlayStation 3. We were using and sharing tools and I think most of the communication and sharing came from the R&D divisions so we worked really closely on that, but everyone at the time was working on secret projects so we weren’t really seeing too much of each other’s stuff.
We were right at the beginning. We had developed Heavenly Sword for two years before the PS3 was even announced. We were just hoping the PS3 would be announced. We were kind of out on a limb on that game.
Play: Do you feel as if you missed out on the Golden Age of the PS3 then, which seems to be what we’re entering into now?
Antoniades: Yeah, but for all that it put us in good stead. We developed a lot of technology and systems that we’re still using to this day. It kind of put us on the map and our team is pretty battle hardened. When we went into this project instead of starting from scratch with absolutely nothing (the last game we did was Kung Fu Chaos, which was a small party game) we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted to do and how we could do it. The PS3 didn’t scare us anymore because we were so used to it so it’s been a lot smoother.