Rhinofx helps envision the future of gaming

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As anyone witnessing a Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Auto marathon session can attest, videogame programmers have infinite imagination but limited technology to make realistic characters and environments in real time. In other words, the reason that videogame characters tend to look and act like crash test dummies is because realism requires too much data to make them move realistically, confining realism and drama to movie-like segments called cinematics in which gamers have no control. This is something that Rhinofx creative director Harry Dorrington acknowledged but chose to ignore when creating "The Double Cross," the 90-second demo for Ontario-based gaming technology company ATI. "I don't like to know my limitations," Dorrington says, "because when you are conscious about them, you tend to edit yourself." Case in point? "We break Maya a lot." Instead, he functioned as an agency creative would, originating and concentrating on story, concept and visual quality while guiding animators.

The demo features Ruby, a ridiculously curvaceous (yet gamer-appealing) superspy, who meets with and subsequently outwits an evil gangster and his ninja henchmen in a lair located somewhere in the stratosphere. Dramatic closeups, wide shots with depth of field, and action sequences display the technical feats in an entertaining storyline surrounding the hand-off of a fist-sized diamond. Intended to feature graphics that will be available through ATI's Radeon graphics technology in games and systems in 2006, "The Double Cross" was itself an exercise in limitations. Because everything had to be rendered on Rhinofx's Alias Maya files, the Rhinofx team were given a budgeted amount of light sources and polygons, shapes used in creating character, because of the amount of data that would be available to render real-time presentations to journalists and game programmers. In addition, the team had no experience working with real-time, and had to learn and adjust quickly during the five-month process.

To create realistic movement, Dorrington equipped stunt people with motion-capture suits to perform martial arts choreography and applied it to the modeled characters developed by using a standard versatile skeleton rig. In some cases, extra joints were added to hold the characters' shape, such as in the hip area. Lighting, hair and effects like explosions and a silk parachute release also lent challenges, but in the end were very well received in the gaming community.

"We had never really gone into real-time rendering because we'd never needed to," says Dorrington. "So we had to change the way we approach the job. We had to change the way we light things and how we build things. We had to work within those restrictions but at the same time, we had to make it as good as we possibly could."