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FMX 2010: Even Barbarians Follow Rules!

By Neil Schneider

Bruno Velazquez at FMX 2010

FMX 2010 had its share of memorable presenters and speakers, and Bruno Velazquez was no exception.  Bruno is Staff Animator/Lead In-Game Animator for Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA).  In the console world, his work is well known with the God of War franchise, and he proved thoroughly entertaining to a packed room of creative professionals.

God of War, a franchise that is concluding with its third instalment on PS3, is about a relentless and brutal warrior named Kratos.  Kratos is an ancient bad-ass who lets nothing get in his way, and kicks a lot of ancient Greek mythology butt.

God of War III

Bruno's team was responsible for animating Kratos and his doomed foes, and ultimately making this video game come to life.  Using the example of a "chimera"; an enemy featuring the heads of a snake, a goat, and a lion - Bruno shared the creative process they went through to make it all work.

He outlined the brainstorming process, and how they needed to consider its movement.  It's easy to take for granted that the more complex the character is, the more processing power it takes to move around!  They even had to consider how the character's personality impacted its movement style.  Using the example of the fearless and barbaric Kratos, he always moves forward, and never back.

I can't give Bruno's lesson plan the justice it deserves.  However, what struck me most were the efforts Sony takes to define rules and laws that need to be followed through during the entire creative process.  More than that, it's a top priority that everyone understands these rules.

Bruno shared a short film that featured the bloodiest and most violent clips from Gladiator, Braveheart, Spartacus, and more.  Heads and arms getting chopped off, spears in torsos...nasty stuff!  After joking that all SCEA employees are required to watch this, Bruno explained that it was actually an educational video for the third party studios so they completely understood what kind of character Kratos is.  It was critical that inside and outside Sony, everyone quickly understood and appreciated how this character thinks, acts, and moves.  Otherwise, there would be problems where the result wouldn't be true to the character or the franchise.

What was even more interesting is that these rules translated to other media as well.  Bruno's team did the animation for this God of War III commercial for Gamestop:

Even with humour, the character's rules of conduct are never broken.

Now!  Why was I so struck by this presentation?  For me, Bruno's words directly related to MTBS' 3D Game Analyzer (M3GA).  For those unfamiliar, M3GA is a customer driven database of video games that are tested in stereoscopic 3D.  By answering a series of questions, gamers get a listing of games, their required game settings, and a defined rating of how compatible they are with the different PC stereoscopic 3D driver solutions (DDD, iZ3D, and NVIDIA).

M3GA Logo

Similar to God of War's Kratos, it's all about everyone being on the same page and knowing exactly what is wrong, what needs to be fixed, and ultimately what quality is being delivered.  I have received some member feedback that we should be more lax with the rules, that gamers should be able to define which points are critical and which aren't on a game by game basis.  As Sony demonstrated: without rules, there is no definition, without definition, there is no consistency, without consistency, there is no quality, and without quality...we are all screwed.

Gamers buy into the God of War franchise because they have expectations of the character.  They know, even before opening the box, which character they are going to play.  To do any more or less would be an injustice to their customer's expectation, and would undermine their product's success.  Quality Assurance clearly needs rules as well.  Could you imagine what it would be like if every QA tester had their own standard of what worked and what didn't?  Chaos!

Kratos, God of War III

In summary, those that say "rules are meant to be broken" are treating the symptom and avoiding the problem altogether.  It's all about having the right rules in the first place.  Even Kratos, gaming's bloodiest no-holds-barred barbarian, would agree.