Develop sat down with Jeffrey Spicer, the Character and FX Production Manager at Ubisoft to talk about how the new generation is freeing the production team with the way they create assets.
So in general these new consoles ought to be improving the desity of most of the toys someone in your line of work gets to play with, right?
Yeah, we’ve been able to reach a new level with the effects, but not too much has changed in the pipeline - they’re just able to have denser, deeper effects. In the demo, we use a smoke bomb which fills the whole screen with smoke and makes it almost impossible to see anything. We wanted the tools to portray what they actually did in the real world (and provide real cover), so we’re now actually able to do that. We’ve got rich fire, and similarly rich atmospherics.
It’s the 1790s – it was a dirty time and it was important that we were able to portray that within the city, not just by buildings and the world itself but by making it feel living and breathing and that it was gritty and sooty. On the effects side, it just allowed us to make much richer effects because of the memory that was allowed us and the performance capabilities of the consoles.
Did this raise the bar for other areas as well?
The things is, in a next-gen city, you can’t be walking around seeing duplicate characters. With the progress that we’ve made in graphics, it just makes those issues pop out even more.
We’ve got the biggest crowd ever in an Assassin’s Creed with Unity. We’ve got the most unique characters and the most detail. One of the greatest progressions was on the character side, most definitely. Not just in the amount of characters we’re able to integrate into the game world (because it’s a huge world), but how we’re able to tie the system together and just develop unique characters. We’ve made breakthroughs in facial scanning, skin shaders, eye wetness – all of that comes together to really make much more believable and realistic characters that help draw you into the storyline and make them feel like real people and real characters with a real story to help keep you immersed in the game world.
Tell me a little about the process behind character creation with crowds that large.
At the level of detail that we’re able to put into modelling, my character artists essentially have to work like fashion designers. Instead of just modelling a single 3D unit, they model actual patterns (like how a shirt would be made with a front and a back), then they stitch that fabric together and each aspect of it has weight.
It definitely adds a lot. We didn’t just need modellers, we needed designers in a way, so that we were really able to tie in to the era with the clothing.
How detailed have you gotten with that stuff?
Well, every seam and every fold has a different weight. We’ve been able to do a lot with what we call ‘soft cloth’, where we give cloth real physics to make it feel like it’s living and breathing and it reacts to the game world. That’s evidenced on Arno. He has 200 gear items that you can equip through the customisation menu. Each of the character components adds different skills and strengths, but also just adds to the richness of the characters.
It’s almost painstaking. With every fold and every crease having weight, it really makes you think about design before it’s integrated into the game. The tools that we’ve developed at Ubisoft really allow us to iterate quickly. We can create a character and get them in the game world, see how they react and see how they fit within the visuals and the gameplay component of it to really make sure that we’re hitting everything spot-on very quickly and just keep what works.
But I think one of the biggest breakthroughs apart from the memory is in hair. We were able to get to a level with hair which was a lot more believable and a lot richer.
Per character or specifically on one character?
Per character. So we broke it down and we have Arno, who’s the protagonist, but then we have unique characters that play in strong leads to the core narrative. So we have over 50 unique characters that are really highly detailed, and then the rest of the world obviously is compiled of slightly less detailed crowd.
So are all of the crowds procedurally generated?
Yeah. You have to be smart with asset use, especially with the amount of detail that needs to go into them. This is the largest land mass ever in an Assassin’s Creed game in Unity, so it’s a really dense city. It’s comprised of seven districts, each of which has a different architectural and atmospheric style, but also different crowd components. You can’t have a bum walking around The Louvre, you know? So we’ve got a variety from paupers and beggars to military to the bourgeois, each of which has starkly different demands in terms of character components, so while we do try to re-use as many assets as possible (obviously, that’s just smart development), we also try to get the biggest array possible.
Thank you for your time!