Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bugfixing, VO and trailer!

The majority of my work on "Alley of Murders" has been bugfixing and VO.

Fixing bugs is one of those things that can only be done with time, and lots of it. I'm trying to make sure that I've got as many bugs as I can find eliminated before having a small closed beta test. If you're interested in participating in that, please let me know. (Contacting me via the BioWare social site is probably the most efficient means for that)

So basically this means playing through the module with a pen and paper handy and noting down everything that doesn't work exactly as I'd wanted, or anything that doesn't seem quite right. This could be a plot helper icon not popping up (or displaying when it shouldn't!), a small typo in a sentence or quest journal, or a real bug where pursuing a quest in a certain way causes continuity issues. But I think most of those have been done now, so the only things I still want to do are a few minor cosmetic touches here and there, be it an extra short cutscene for a sentence or a few changes to the sound or ambiance.

The other major time consumer that has been taking up my time is voice acting integration. As my wonderful voice actors start have been sending me in their recorded lines, it's been my task to get them in the game. There can be a little bit of work doing post processing on the sound here and there: simple format conversion, a little bit of extra noise filtering, or adding/removing pauses in sentences, or renaming the files to the correct line number.

After this, it is on to doing the real integration in the toolset. Automatically generated poses and gestures are excellent base for conversation animations, but you will often find you want to tweak them for important lines. Any line that is more emphatic is a good candidate for manual control, to give the line more impact. Any key lines that the player has to see (for plot reasons) are also good ones to tweak. While it's not necessary to preview every line in the toolset (and indeed, for large modules, this would be quite impractical), I would recommend doing it for any lines that have considerable pauses in a sentence. This is because it is entirely possible that an NPC will be gesturing in the middle of a pause in speech, which does not at all look good by virtue of being an immersion breaker.

I can't come up with any hard and fast rules for customising animations, except for maybe two key rules:
1: Always have a blend in and blend out time set on your animations. I would recommend at least .25, if not .5 for every animation in order to avoid jerky movement.
2: Avoid animations that extend past the VO length for NPC lines where they also speak the next line. Increase the end-offset to stop the animation name from being red to fix this. Again this is to prevent choppy character movement as the character automatically jumps from their position at the end of one node to the beginning of the next. This is potentially alleviated by the automatically generated cameras (which frequently zoom in for NPC monologues), but you may want long shots during these exchanges too.

Finally, for those who may not have already seen it, I posted a trailer on Youtube for Alley of Murders.

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