The latest scoop from Autodesk Media & Entertainment looks at Ghostbusters

Autodesk Games Insight: Who you gonna call?

Gamers better keep their moist towelettes handy and prepare to be slimed! In Atari’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game, based on the 1984 action comedy, gamers must face the marshmallow madness of Mr. Stay Puft and other tortured souls as they navigate spook-filled Manhattan as a junior member of the Ghostbusters crew. The game is a hit and its developer, Dallas-based Terminal Reality, can take a large share of the credit.

It was a mammoth undertaking that spanned almost three years and involved a team of 65 developers, designers, and digital artists. Terminal Reality relied on Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya software, as well as their own custom-made development platform called Infernal Engine, to create a gaming ‘sequel’ to the first two Ghostbusters movies.

The Challenge: Make it Authentic
“There had been Ghostbusters games previously, but they were of varying quality and success,” says Drew Haworth, creative director. “Our objective was to give players an authentic experience for the very first time, to experience what it would be like to actually use the capture stream to detain and trap the ghosts.”

“We really had to get the characters and their likenesses down,” agrees Adam Norton, art director. “Getting the dialogue, timing and the comedic reactions between the Ghostbusters team was a difficult task.”

The Solutions
Terminal Reality’s concept artist got the ball rolling in late 1996 by putting together a series of high-end drawings that the team reviewed as their baseline environment.

“From that point on,” explains Norton, “We used 3ds Max. We then put together what we call a grey box level to simply block out shapes and prototype assets. This allowed us to get it all into the engine very quickly. The design team could then go on to populate the levels with characters.”

“One of the biggest challenges was taking 25 year old characters and making them seem life-like again,” added Haworth. “If you do a game using intellectual property and you can get the actors that appeared in that movie, you can grab some reference images from those guys. But we couldn’t do that in this case. So we ended up going to not only that movie, but other movies from that time period and just pulled out as many images as possible. The difficulty was that we didn’t ever get a really good side profile or a straight on headshot, making it difficult to get the likeness we wanted.

“So what we did with Maya was create a generic male head rig, which we called ‘Adam’. From that we were able to put multiple cameras based on the camera angle on the image that we were using. We could have up to ten cameras for the model to reference from any given angle and sculpt his head based on that camera angle. It worked out really well because we were able to get pretty good likenesses overall with every character.

 “We were able to use the Maya software scripting capabilities and tools to get us a really good robust head sculpting system. We ended up using one head for literally every male character in the game.”

The Result
Since the release of the game, reviews from gamers and critics alike have been enthusiastic. “At the beginning, we weren’t sure if we would be making a game that was funny,” says Haworth.

“We didn’t know if that would work, we weren’t sure if it was achievable, so that is something we put a lot of effort into. From the feedback we’ve had from players and critics, people actually laugh when they’re playing the game, which is a huge step for us. We think there’s a place for comedy in action games and blockbuster games going forward.”

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