Interview with Brian "BoBo the seal" Jones

Star Trek Elite Force II is visually stunning, to say the least. We talk to character artist Brian "BoBo the seal" Jones about creating character models and the advantages Ritual's technology offers there.

 

Brian, first off, you've been doing an amazing job on the game. Can you tell our readers what you do at Ritual and how you ended up at the company?

I've been here at Ritual for about 2 years now as a Character Artist. My primary duties include modeling, unwrapping, skinning and shader creation for characters (The latter of which has become much simpler with the help of our resident FX guru Wyeth Johnson). I also do the occasional character concept as time permits.

As for how I ended up at Ritual, I'm actually a product of the modding community. I bounced around the Polycount forums for a while as I submitted my portfolio to studios throughout the Dallas area. I lucked out and was able to convince Andrew Gilmore, Character Artist at the time, to pass my work over to the Art Director/Owner, Robert Atkins. Within a week or two I was officially working in the gaming industry.

Do you consider yourself to be a Trekkie?

I missed the TNG and original series but I was hooked on Voyager and now Enterprise. I also enjoy the occasional Deep Space 9 episode. I do have to admit that I have become much more of a Star Trek fan while working on this project. I never truly appreciated how in-depth the universe was until I started researching it. I think the whole team has a renewed respect in the franchise after putting so much of ourselves into this game.

Two Hazard Team members rescue a wounded Attrexian from an attacking Exomorph.

Characters and their appearance are an extremely important aspect of computer games. How much time do you spend working on the different models in the game? Do you go back a lot to improve and add to your creations?

In most cases I'm given a day or two to model a complete character, half a day to unwrap it, and about 3-4 days to texture it (this is spread over the course of the project). We make use of swappable heads within our engine so most characters consist of a new head on a base body. I usually spend a day modeling, unwrapping, and skinning a head model. We work in a phase system so we often revisit characters throughout the development process.

Let's talk about the process of actually creating these assets. What stages does a model go through before it ends up looking the way it does in the final game?

We knew that EF2 was going to be a pretty large game so we decided early on that we would work within a phase system (which means prototyping before creation). We focus our efforts towards getting as many of the assets into the game as possible at phase one. This is usually a first pass mesh and a rough skin. We go back at a later date to bring the characters up to a phase two status, which includes some model tweaking (if needed) and taking the skin to a near shippable quality. Finally, phase three consist of a final pass on both the model and skin. Working in phases allows us to get assets in the game quicker for testing and game development.

Ritual's phase system.

With that in mind, Alexander Munro's appearance has changed quite drastically compared to the build shown at E3. Why was this done?

This is a perfect example of our phase system. The first shots of Munro showed him in his phase one incarnation and later shots had him at phase two. Any shots of him released now have him in his final state at phase three. With any project in development for this long, artist will always increase in ability and technique along the way. Our phase system allows us to revisit assets along the way and bring them up to date. This helps reinforce consistency across all characters.

When designing the look and feel of the three original races in Elite Force II, what inspirational sources did you draw upon?

Many people within the project contributed to the creation of the new races. We really wanted each race to have a unique look. I believe the race that I really clung to the most was the Attrexians. I really liked the idea of this slothy industrial race that was in stark contrast to the visual look of Starfleet. The Idryll allowed us to incorporate some fantasy elements into the game, Kendall Tucker is really doing a great job with them. Exomorph's add a little horror to EF2, not to mention it's simply fun to shoot them. :)

Overall we were really pleased with the way the new races came out. Paul Richards did a great job capturing the look we desired within his concepts. I think y'all will be pleased with what you see.

How satisfied are you with the current technological standards available to convey your artwork in the game?

Heh, well I could always use more polygons, texture resolution, and shader passes but for the most part we've been able to pull off everything we've set out to do. Ritual has worked hard to create functionality and flexibility in the creation of characters. I'm a big fan of our TIKI system.

For those not in the know, TIKI is Ritual's proprietary model system. What are the advantages of this system?

From the character creation standpoint it's allowed us the flexibility to create a large number of assets without having to create unique meshes (models) for each. It has also allowed us to optimize our pipeline a bit. We can build a lot of equipment into a single character mesh and apply separate material ID's to each piece (A material ID is a number that we can assign to sections of our models within a 3d tool such as 3d Studio Max). With our tiki system, we can tell the engine to draw or don't draw specific materials ID's.

For instance if we have pouches on a character, we can create an instant variant by simply telling the engine not to draw that surface (material ID). We can also assign specific shaders and FX to individual material ID's. Any material ID within the mesh can be swapped with a material ID from a separate mesh, we can also attach models to any mesh. Basically the TIKI is a text document that sets the parameters for a model's texture assignment, shaders, animations, morph targets, and A.I. which ultimately determines the way a model is displayed and acts within the game engine.

So how difficult is it for someone who's used to Quake III or Elite Force 1 to bring new models into this game?

Although our game engine is based on the Quake III tech, Ritual has heavily modified it. You will not be able to use existing mod tools to get characters in the game but we will release tools that work specifically with our engine. The pipeline is different but the fundamental principles of creating assets is the same. Once you have an understanding of our TIKI system and export tools, it's quite easy.

You are also working on several personal projects in your spare time. Can you tell us a little more about those?

#13

I've always tried to maintain a presence within the modding community. It allows me to create things completely different from professional projects I work on. I currently have a couple UT2003 models in development.

#13 is a collaboration between myself and Legend Entertainment's concept artist James Hawkins. We wanted to create a character that would fit seamlessly within the Unreal Universe.

 

That's all for now, folks. We would like to thank Brian Jones for taking the time to answer our questions. For a more in-depth look at TIKI, visit our FAKKTools documentation section.

Keep visiting Ritualistic for the latest Star Trek Elite Force II news and announcements!

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The Tribe: Brian "BoBo the seal" Jones
Game Info: Star Trek Elite Force II
Tech Info: UberTools for Quake III