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WildStar Wednesday: Metal Maw - Cinematic

Written by Seth Kendall, Cinematics Lead on September 19, 2012

Hi everyone! My name's Seth Kendall, and I'm the Cinematics Lead for WildStar. In the past, I walked you through the process of animating Metal Maw, but today we're going to talk briefly about the process for creating an in-game cinematic in WildStar. And what better cinematic to show than the final in-game introduction of everyone's favorite fan-created boss creature, Metal Maw?

Step 1 - Planning

Now for those of you who've been paying attention, you might remember us showing a "birth sequence," or spawning animation for Metal Maw a few months back. We even showed it through an animated camera such that it looked like... well, an intro cinematic. And you would be right. However, you'd be forgetting one of the cardinal rules of game design... things change.

In this case, we now wanted Metal Maw to be held in a giant cage. He would force his way out by slamming into the bars until he finally burst through. Another requirement was that this event would not just be seen by a single player in "cinematic mode," it would be a public event that is going on in the actual game world, visible to all players in the zone. Additionally, if you are one of the people pulled into cinematic mode, you need to be able to hit ESC at any time, yet still see the events continue to play out in the world around you. Lastly, as soon as the cinematic was done, Metal Maw had to seamlessly move into combat. All of these factors make for a very difficult bit of technical shamanism in order to make this happen in an MMO world. Without going into anything too technical, we needed a point in the cinematic where Metal Maw's model could be swapped to his combat version without it looking jarring. Because we can't do seamless swaps on animated objects in our game, we decided to have "cinematic Metal Maw" fly into the air to attempt an escape, fade out because of the draw distance, have his machinery blow out midair, swap his model, and have him fall back to the ground as "combat Metal Maw", ready to fight immediately after getting up.

We already had an animation of him falling down from the sky, so we decided to use that for the end of the cinematic (with a newly animated roar), and just animate something new for the beginning. Here is the early progress capture out of our 3D software, with key poses crudely blocked in and camera animation roughed.

Step 2 - Animation

This is where the bulk of the work usually lies for cinematics. Working on a cinematic like this ends up being a little tricky, because an animation is created in a single scene file, but when this is transferred to the game, it then has to be split into separate files which get triggered by the game engine at the appropriate times.

Step 3 - Design Hookups

Cinematics at Carbine are hooked into the game engine by a cinematics designer, who uses a combination of our world editor, our development script, and a series of other in-house tools. Depending on the needs of the cinematic, this can be either an easy task or a complex and frustrating process of troubleshooting and thinking on the fly. Because the Metal Maw cinematic was the first we had done that was also a public event, the hookup process took a bit of work. We learned valuable information, however, that can now be applied to other similar cinematic scenarios.

Step 4 - FX

This is where all the cool stuff like the smoke from his jets, electricity on the cage and his body, explosion in the sky, and the impact dust and particulates from his landing are created. We have an FX team at Carbine that specializes in this type of 3D particle work and they did an amazing job getting Metal Maw to the level of epicness we needed.

Step 5 - Audio

This is where the entire scene finally comes to life. Most in-game cinematics get custom cinematic music from our composer, and a custom sound effects pass from our sound designer. Then this gets hooked up in-game by our cinematics designer to finish it off.

Here is the final, in-game version. Hope you enjoy!

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